Spice Road, Culturally Confused Economic RTS

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If you’re like me, few things give you greater happiness in life than looking down on an anthill and watching them run around collecting food, attacking other bugs and working the land.  Occasionally it’s fun to spit on them or zap them with a magnifying glass, but even that is just to see how their society absorbs the blow.  Spice road is a game that allows you all the fun of watching an anthill, except that the anthill is full of people and they are establishing a regional trade-network.

To further enhance the insect-oriented analogy, the game regularly quotes economic magnates such as Donald Trump, Lee Iacocca and others.  This gives you the feeling of being a money machine without having the crappy toupee.  If you have a toupee, you have my sympathy.  When you start the game, you are looking down on a region that is clouded by fog and filled with possibility.  Your initial task will always be to establish a town, which will be your primary base of operations.  City-building is a major part of this game, and it is a lot of the fun.  As you build your towns bigger and bigger, you will have more people come to live in your town.  Pretty basic shit, really.

Aw, fuck no.  I am not going into the mysterious clouds of fog!  There could be naked cannibals in there!

Aw, fuck no. I am not going into the mysterious clouds of fog! There could be naked cannibals in there!

Some of the first things that you will build at any settlement will be houses, for the plebs, and scout camps, for innocent exploitation.  On the region screen, you will see your scouts appear as little blue bullet-shaped things.  While your scouts meander the terrain, they will discover resources, which appear as white diamonds.  As you uncover these resources, you will be able to establish more and more resource buildings.  Now, having fucking resources is great, food gets you more people and makes them happy, alcohol lets you get drunk at the saloon etc.  You will be able to manufacture goods from ores you mine and have a full, booming industry.  The thing is, you are in this game to make some serious fucking money.

This is where trade routes come in and make things more interesting, simultaneously making your settlements much fucking weirder.  To start trading, you have to build “trade route” buildings (The names of buildings in this game are pretty abysmal but it is still fucking fun).  Setting up the trade routes will allow you to trade with foreign trade routes (they appear as white arrows on the edge of the region map), other towns you may have set up or other factions.  Sure, you can set up a town and make that your only area of operation in a region, but that makes things a little lame.  If you limit yourself to one town, that limits how much money you can make.  Not to mention, if you can get closer to the foreign trade routes, you’ll have a significant advantage over competitors.  And on top of that, controlling a majority of resources in a region will (fucking obviously) give you an undeniable trade advantage over competitors.  So getting a couple towns, maybe even just a small trade camp or two alongside your towns, will put you above the competition.

Yes! Make me money!

Yes! Make me money!

Now, not everyone is capable of building a massive trade empire and making money appear out of nowhere.  There are some men who just want to watch the world burn, which is where bandits come from.  These guys are fucking annoying, and they will attack your trade caravans.  First, you have to find them, which can be quite a fucking chore; but if you have little angry-colored arrows going after your trade caravans, all you have to do is build a few extra scout huts and they will locate them.  All finding them will facilitate is a solution.  You can pay them off, but as you make more money, these parasites will want more, so paying off a bunch of bandits all the time is not a long-term solution.

Eventually you want to cut their throats and leave their corpses in the sand for the vultures to feed.  You can build a number of public-order buildings like armories and watchhouses to keep your citizens in line; but to deal with external threats, you’ll need to construct a few barracks.  These babies create expeditionary forces that you can use to guard caravans and murder bandits.  Once you have a few of them built, you can go to the region map and select the bandits’ camps to begin negotiating with extreme prejudice.  This is also the final solution that you’ll end up employing with competing trade-nations, because no one likes to share profit!

The goal is to not have your soldiers turned into bones.  That is bad...

The goal is to not have your soldiers turned into bones. That is bad…

Meeting some of the goals set out for you in the campaign is difficult, but once you get the hang of it, the game is a lot of fucking fun.  You can build a vast empire that encompasses and entire region and vie for control of trade routes, like a true imperialist dog!  You’ll also be able to unlock new buildings and upgrade your existing buildings.  For those more keyed up by micromanagement, you can go into each caravan, see its trade statistics and monitor the number of camels in a caravan to optimize the amount of money you are making vs. how much you are spending to get your camels out there.  Chaining trade across a region also becomes useful as having a smaller town is good just to get your main town into contact with a closer trade target and so you can trade across undiscovered areas.  There is a lot to do in this game, and it is a lot of fun for anyone looking for a great economically-driven RTS.  Combat is an option, but not the main thing.

Looking at the title of this article, you might be wondering what the fuck this game has to do with cultures.  Take a closer look at your town once you get it decently-sized.  Looks neat, huh?  Nations are mostly named after european powers like Burgundy and Moldovia.. You know, all the really important trade powers of their time.  The buildings that you use for trade routes look like these middle-eastern spires from downtown Baghdad and then there are these old-timey, wild west saloon that you build for your peoples’ recreation.  The town hall looks like a plantation from 1880’s Confederate America whereas the religious shrines are either little Ottoman-domed structures or Christian chapels.  Each settlement looks as culturally tangled as a set from Firefly so that you think one half might initiate a Jihad on the other half at any moment.  I was confused and a little terrified, but it just looks like a lot of ideas came together to make this game happen.  This is the only thing is suffers from is a serious thematic disparity.  If everything were added together and you told me this took place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and made things look like that, it might be less confusing.  But as it stands, it seems to be pulled between some kind of Age of Exploration and Age of Imperialism discussion with wild west tossed in there somehow.

Dammit!  Where is the level tree for nukes?!

Dammit! Where is the tech tree for nukes?!

Overall, if you are the type of person that likes to win an RTS through economic dominance and politics, this is a game for you.  There are a lot of features that add to the combat aspect, but combat is not directly controlled.  There is equal development to the city-building, economic and political aspects and it constantly allows you to find ways to make money.  The art is a bit on the minimalistic side, but enjoyable.  Music feels a little generic, but the overall design of the game itself feels and looks clean.  One feature of this game is that it eases you into the greater game fantastically.  It is complex and easy to fuck up, and the game itself gives you a number of goals and levels to screw up before you get to the game itself.  Steam will sell you this game for only 19.99$ and I will tell you, it is worth it.  Check this title out, it was a lot more fun than I expected it to be and is worth a few plays!

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Legend of Grimrock, Tearing Out RPGs by the Root

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Before all the cutesy, fluffy shit that inhabits most RPGs these days, before Final Fantasy and JRPGs had infested every corner of the genre, there were dungeon RPGs.  And they weren’t the Diablo-style one-button RPGs that breed tactical laziness; that’s right tactical fucking laziness.  Diable RPGs are allow for a wider range of motion and strategy, so you can hem enemies in with firewalls and nuke them with fire or something.  Tactics requires the careful execution of a concerted attack effort.  A small group of doomed warriors in a massive dungeon have a solid understanding of tactics.  They know if they break ranks and get isolated, they are doomed.

The first and last of these types of games I ever played was Eye of the Beholder, a game we played on SNES.  In the game, you play a group adventurers exploring the sewers of a place called “Waterdeep” to cleanse some ancient evil.  We did not understand the alignment system although we often chose whatever we wanted and joked about it like kids.  When we were in the game, we never got the gist of how to play.  We would throw our gear at enemies since it was the only way we knew to deal damage.  Eventually it got to where we were disrobing and throwing our clothes, desperately trying to kill the foes.  That never ended well… But we were idiotic 8 and 9 year-olds.

Grimrock makes a lot more sense to me.  Controls are easy and you barely need a tutorial.  Just click around, left click picks up an item and releasing it mid-screen will throw that item. Right-click to attack or to throw a weapon.  Everything is a pretty straight-forward RPG style and this makes combat more exciting, too.

Wait! I left the garage door open!

Wait! I left the garage door open!

When you start the game, your characters are assumed to have performed some transgression against King and country.  The vague nature of the opening titles leave you to think you could have raped the Princess all the way down to eating the last piece of strawberry cheesecake.  Doesn’t matter.  You’re fucked and they push you down a hole.  Best part is, at the top of the mountain Grimrock your crimes are all forgiven and you are free.  But the only way down is to descend into the bowels of Grimrock.  Oh, by the way, no one has ever fucking survived.  That’s ok, I don’t usually come for the accommodations anyway.

Down in the dungeons, you have to navigate labyrinthine corridors filled with unspeakable monsters, like giant snails, gargoyles, mushroom herders, little magic-casting mushroom guys, undead soldiers etc.  Each creature adds its own challenges to combat, and one should consider combat a feat akin to dancing.  If you just take two warriors and attempt to plow through, axes and swords swinging, you will end up a dusty pile of bones.  Many enemies are able to out-number you, out-damage you or can take a hell of a lot more punishment than you can.  Did I mention you are all prisoners?  Yea, this means they pushed your ass down in the pits with aught but your chapped asses to defend yourselves.  As you progress you’ll find the sparse weaponry left behind by other bands of hapless adventurers, so you’re not exactly a keen-eyed fighting force armed for rigorous combat.  The most common early ranged weapon is a rock while the most common melee weapon early on is a fucking torch.

When enemies come at you, the best thing to do is to lure them off one at a time where possible.  As they round corners you can stab them before back-pedaling toward an open area.  As you back pedal, you can throw rocks at them and ready up a spell.  Spells are a devastating way to deal damage, but you can’t unlock spells with the spellbook until you find the appropriate scroll, which can be frustrating.  Once you get them, though, they are profoundly useful.  Be careful, too.  If someone in your party dies, you’re all fucked.  Sure, you can keep going, but you’ll be needing the full group throughout the game.

Spartans!! Fuck this place.. tonight I'm eating at Denny's...

Spartans!! Fuck this place.. tonight I’m eating at Denny’s…

Character customization is excellent, and you can choose between human, minotaur, lizardfolk and insectoid.  I usually pick two humans, a minotaur and a lizardfolk.  I like having two rogues, as this allows me to have a ranged rogue and a dps rogue.  You know, for extra damage for the rogue since rogues prefer it from behind.  Then there is my mage, human female full of glorious spellcasting magery, and likely the smartest of the entire group.  Finally, I like to take a tank, too.  That is my minotaur.  He has a trait called headhunter where he gets extra damage for collecting skulls.  Finally a use for those useless collectible items!  I also use the minotaur for a pack animal, since they also get major strength bonuses.

The ambiance is terrific, and you get the sense of an ever-present evil throughout the game.  All the time some dark whispers can be heard in your ear, muttering in a chthonic  language some horrid curse, luring you deeper into the dungeon.  The music in the title screen also brought a tear to my eye the first time I heard it and filled me with the glee of a glorious adventure.  Throughout the game there is little more than ominous noises.  Sometimes you can heard the groan or squeal of some distant creature lurking about, waiting for its next meal to come trundling down the corridors.  There is also the fantastic element of eating whatever food you find lying all over the ground, like some kind of mad baker was damned to imprisonment here and he found some magical means to leave bread everywhere.

Hm.. I guess the Keebler elves didn't make it too far either...

Hm.. I guess the Keebler elves didn’t make it too far either…

One of the things this game does really really well are secrets.  Notice how the walls are all constructed of a similarly-colored, moss-grown mortarless masonry?  Well, every once in a while you will see a chink in the stone or a brick out of place.  Click that shit!  Somewhere nearby a door will open and permit you access to a secret room and you’ll get some badass loot, much needed food or a magic scroll!  It takes me back to the old days of Wolfenstein 3D and Thief: The Dark Project where you had to just run along the walls at a certain angle to open secret doors or cut down every wall-hanging you could to unlock secret doors.  I find the best way to search for secrets is to stand in the corner of a room and look from afar.  Secret switches are pretty obvious if you know what you are looking  for, but they can often be just as easily over-looked, so stay sharp!

Probably the only thing that bothered me about this game was the straight-forward manner of the enemies.  This game could be very well served by some wall-lurking enemies that you don’t see until you are right up on them.  Granted, the current combat system would make that a tad difficult, but putting in enemies that climbed out of grates as you walked by or changed from statues into flesh and blood foes when you walk past them would make this spooky game into a fantasy-horror adventure.  Don’t mind my little intrigues, though.  This game is worth every cent you can throw at its creators.  It is a load of fun in a genre that I have not seen since I was disrobing for battle.  On Steam this game is an overly-reasonable 14.99$, but wait there’s more!  This game has a community of dungeon-dwellers who create new content and new levels and games with the map editor of Grimrock!  It’s fucking fantastic.  And THEN you have Legends of Grimrock 2 to look forward to!  Just in time for Halloween!  You can pre-order it now!  Screw trick-or-treaters!  Crawl the dungeons and unlock the treasures within!

The Best Rash I’ve Ever Had

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When I was a kid, my friend would come over with a copy of Road Rash for Sega Genesis.  We’d race for hours while beating each other over the head with any number of clubbed and bladed implements.  Ah, the joys of youth!  It has been many years since and I hadn’t even heard the name of this spoken, and I had begun to wonder if it was ever real at all.  I played Twisted Metal on the Playstation and any number of other games that tried to emulate it, but none that tried to recreate the balls-to-the-wall motorcycle racing gauntlet that was Road Rash.  Then yesterday, it happened.  I heard of a projecton Kickstarter that was to emulate this game, and it had already reached its funding goal.  Its name was Road Redemption.

In this title, you will be playing a Katana-clad member of a mid-western America motorcycle gang.  You have to move your way up in the ranks and take control of drug trading routes.  It’s a visceral title that will actually hit harder than its spiritual predecessor.  Thing is, it won’t be made by the same people that made Road Rash.  In fact, a lot of these developers grew up playing games on the same systems I did, so they remember the good old days of games that make you earn their respect rather than the spoon-fed titles of today.

Who says real badasses never look back at an explosion?

Who says real badasses never look back at an explosion?

This looks like a title that will take esports to an awesome new level and bring people away from their Xboxes and Call of Duty.  You’ll earn money by racing, sure, but if I can wield a shotgun on a motorcycle, why would I just want to race all the time?  Luckily there will also be assassinations, robberies and other challenges.  Getting the goods will allow you to level your character, buy better hardware and upgrade your bike so you can really take on the tough guys.

The storyline is a sort of made-in-America Mad Max routine.  You are part of stated motorcycle gang in post-apocalyptic mid-west America, and the country is run by a ruthless dictator.  You gang-leader decides that it would be a great idea to ride into the capital with the intent of killing the dictator.  I guess it doesn’t go too well, since the game description implies heavily that shit hits the fan for you and everyone you know.  You then have to track this guy down and, pending his judgment at the gang’s hands, decide what to do about the whole dictator situation.

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Flying blurry men never did know how to ride bikes well…

One of the more vague features of this game comes with the life-system.  There will be no extra lives, but the experience, gear and upgrades you earn should stick with you.  What does this mean? Fuck if I know, but I guess you have a lot of family members who are willing to step up and take over your cause.  You’re probably from one of those massive Irish-Catholic families you see all over television.  What’s more is that multi-player mode will be all about you building your gang and then taking to the internet where you will join up with or against your friends.  Hey, competition is just as much fun as working together, sometimes.  Personally, I cannot wait to throw someone under a bus.. fucking literally!

The best part about all of this?  Road Redemption comes out tomorrow on Steam as Early Access.  So get those bike helmets ready.  We’re info for one hell of a ride.  Get ready for the best rash you’ve ever seen!

Dwarfs!? Man-boobs of Glory

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Tripewire, the same looney bastards behind Killing Floor and Red Orchestra, are the ones that made this game.  It still has me scratching my head, but I try not to think about it too much.  This game, like basically everything else they’ve ever made, is a lot of fun.  It is sn RTS simulator that really lets you sit back, relax and control a colony of dwarfs.  As per the usual mythology, these dwarfs all seem to be male, though the thought of a bearded woman just kind of creeps me out.  Either way, you are talking about a magnificently man-boobed populace out for some digging!  Check out more about the game on Steam or the game’s site!

Ale, Gold and a Pickaxe are the three things necessary to sustain life for a dwarf.  These beardy little buggers probably eat dirt, since it seems to disappear and mysteriously produce gold.  So the game starts with the town hall, which produces the only two types of dwarfs in existence, diggers and warriors.  Your town hall sits on the only green patch of land in a massive cavern and just produces diggers via spontaneous generation, most likely using the combination of dirt, gold and ale.  As each of these dwarfs magically appears, they begin wandering aimlessly around digging randomly with their pickaxes.  At first the game feels like an ant simulator, but then you realize that these dwarfs have no real system and they live only to dig like robots and find shiny objects.

For the most part, this game is peaceful, but there are spontaneous issues you might experience like a subterranean version of Sim City.  First there are the natural disasters: lava and water.  Both of these have the same ultimate solution, but each poses its own version of the same problem: stopping the flow before it destroys everyone in your colony.

MUST FIND GOLD... MUST FIND GOLD...

MUST FIND GOLD… MUST FIND GOLD…

That is pretty much a visual representation of what happens every time your dwarfs find water or lava.  This is glowing and hot!… but there might be GOLD!  The reason you don’t just stop them yourself is because you really don’t know, although the outward signs should be pretty obvious in real life.  Of course, it’s a fucking game, so get over it.  As your dwarfs dig out into the.. um.. earth.. they will find small pockets.  These caves can contain nearly fucking anything: treasure, enemies, lava, water etc.  When your dwarfs break through one of two things happens: something comes rushing out, or the digger goes rushing in.

Water is fast, and that is really the biggest challenge that comes with its discovery.  Building a wall will be enough to block it off from the front, but a digger could still break through on another side and you’ll be right back where you started.  To prevent this the game lets you solidify dirt into rock. With beer-magic, I guess.  Once you build the wall, you have to solidify the dirt on all sides of a water cave.  Once that happens, you have to blow a hole with dynamite in front of the wall because.. fucking… IT COULD STILL LEAK THROUGH OR SOMETHING MAYBE!!!!  Not really, but that is how you effectively trap an underground lake.  I thought that dwarfs might use it for plumbing or maybe making ale.  Fuck no.  They trap that shit off and never fucking talk about it ever the fuck again.

Next is lava, which poses its own collection of threats.  Lava moves slow as shit, but it can burn through walls.  Normally, when breaking through into a lava cave (after the unlucky digger has been burned to a cinder), I fill up the cave leading to the cave with walls.  Why the fuck would I do this, you ask? Well, it’s not in case the digger gets wise and decides to run, though it might be fun to watch him shriek in horror as he realizes the hegemonic overseer has condemned him to death encased in liquid rock, that is not the case.  The lava burns down the stone walls, and with the way the dwarfs randomly dig, chances are that the nearest other digger is miles away.  I will need to buy him some time to get there and set off the dynamite to trap the lava.  The best part is that you lose two dwarfs for sure when finding lava or water.  One that finds it and the other that traps it, since the dynamite dwarf runs in like some kind of madman with a heroic martyr complex and kamikazes on it.  I guess these dwarfs haven’t progressed past bite-activated igniting mechanisms.

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That’s right. Dig to your death, you little maniac.

Dealing with random water and lava hazards wasn’t enough for the sadistic Tripwire team, though.  They had to throw in some enemies because, realistically, what kind of game doesn’t have actual enemies?  Well, aside from those super-boring simulator games.  I gave up on humanity when I saw rock simulator.  Anyway!  There are goblins, too.  They could be just one or two hiding in a cave, or you could find six of them.  They are pretty easy to deal with though.

Your town hall will let you generate 8 warrior dwarfs, which you can allow to patrol around your town hall or you can divert their patrol to wander out into the caves.  If they get too far out there and you’ve an impending attack, hit the bell to recall your little troops.  A base-level dwarf warrior is usually enough to take on goblins one at a time, but if you have a tribe coming, get those fuckers back to base!  If they destroy your town hall, that’s the end of the game!  Of course, having eight little dwarfs can be limiting if you have a massive army of diggers wandering around an endless map.  At that point, you’ll need to create outposts, which expand your warrior army by 4 more dwarfs.  Doesn’t sound like much, but the outpost can also train them up so they’re powerful as heck.

Another main feature comes in handy when you discover a shaman, which is a giant goblin boss that has the power to summon goblin minions, perform cone area attacks and change the music into a doom dirge.  Often you’ll have to create an outpost just to deal with a new boss.  Once you have it in place and the warriors trained up, though, you can fire the whole squad out of a cannon on top of the outpost.  This springs a little surprise attack on the shaman and they surround and annihilate him!  Make sure you are quick to kill him, though, as he can summon up so many enemies that it becomes impossible to deal with, and you become overrun!

Kill them! Kill them all!

Kill them! Kill them all!

Other than that, this game is drawing arrows for retardedly simple AI and mining gold and minerals.  It is a little on the simple side, but it is still a lot of fun.  I often find myself wishing there were more to it than just all that, but the endless mode makes it a lot of fun.  I feel like there should be a way to trade with other cities, or a way to contact the outside world.  There are little objects that randomly appear, too, but it might be more fun if we could actually build a small city that had some purpose?  Maybe go to war with some sissy dandelion-eating elves.. mimsy fuckers…  If you really look at this game though, there is a dark undercurrent.  Think about this a second.  You are the dwarfs, living underground on the only piece of fertile land in this entire cave system.  You have these goblin, which probably need to cultivate some mushrooms or something to survive, but your dwarfs can just eat dirt, as long as they have their ale.  So you go on, killing the goblins and depriving their starving children of food until you have consumed everything.  Terrible. Tragic.  Oh, well!  Let’s go dig for some gold and get wasted on ale!  Definitely a lot of fun, and it’ll cost you 9.99$ on Steam.  Worth it, I’d say, but I love dwarfs in general.  So yea, a little bias there : P

Eufloria, Tripadelic RTS Invasion

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Eufloria is a game that defines some of my earliest days with indie games, and it’s far from showing its age.  There are those who would have you believe that indie is a style that can be encapsulated in a game with a whacky storyline or super-artsy hand-painted backgrounds, but I call bullshit on that.  You don’t have to put girls in cakes to make an indie game: what you need is balls.  Eufloria shows a lot of that brazen attitude in the way it took a bizarre concept, ran with it, made it work and did the whole fucking job well.  That is how you indie.

Eufloria is a game where you take control of an army of flying seedlings, and then impregnate various ‘asteroids’ with them.  The key to this army is their flexibility.  depending on the characteristics of the asteroid that spawns them, they will have a mix of 3 traits: energy, speed and strength.  Depending on their combination of these traits, they will look different.  If they have a higher strength, they will have a longer tail, of they have higher speed they will have wider tails and if they are energetic they will have longer beaks.  Each of these traits translates into something completely different in game.

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Like little, zappy death bugs…

Each of those little flying things is a seedling, and they serve any number of functions from soldiers to colonization.  When you send a collection of these little guys at an enemy, they will start zapping them with a little laser.  No fucking clue how that works, I will get back to you on that.  When you hit that button down there, they kamikaze into the asteroid and a tree starts to grow.  Logical in a sort of odd way.  As far as I have progressed, there are two trees: a dyson tree, which generates more seedlings, and defensive trees, which lob explosive pods.  Planting a dyson tree will generate seedlings with traits mimicking those of the asteroid.  Some important things to keep in mind on this point: speed seedlings are fast as fuck and are great for rapid reinforcements, strength seedlings are great for taking out enemies and defensive trees, energetic seedlings are great for taking over enemy asteroids.

Eventually, you will start dealing with enemies, and a fucking lot of them.  They swoop in low and start zapping fucking everything, and you have to counter.  Now, the way you direct your seedlings is by clicking and dragging.  This will launch all the seedlings circling an asteroid at the target in an awesome attack formation that makes me want to turn on Flight of the Valkyries every time I do it.  If you want to send only your fastest seedlings (in case you have to contact the Dread Pirate Roberts), you double-click and select the fastest seedlings.  This will turn your cursor blue, for speed, and then you drag from origin to target.  This can be done with any of the types.

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Ba bada ba ba, ba bada ba ba, ba bada ba ba, ba bada ba ba, ba bada baaaa!!!!!

Reading the placement of the asteroids is important, too, because where you can go depends on which asteroids you control.  Each asteroid has a range that you can fly from it to reach other asteroids.  Once you get there, you’ll have to lay waste to the enemies like a swarm of genocidal gnats.  The best part comes when you take the asteroid.  To achieve this, the seedlings zap a tree until it explodes.  They then fly down into the remaining roots to attack the core, where they fucking explode.  If you have a fear of bugs flying into your ears and laying eggs in your head, this is not an okay game for you.  I fucking love it, though.

The older your trees, the more seedlings or explosive pods they will generate, so size matters.  Watching an old asteroid take hits is a bit gut-wrenching, but the respawn rate for seedlings is pretty good; I still recommend filling up the max tree level as best you can, though.  Once you strike an enemy, they will ALWAYS try the fucking dick move and strike at the asteroid you vacated to attack theirs.  That’s ok though, you can always pull a few from another location to clean those guys up.

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So… whatever is on that rock is about to fucking die.

As you can see, the art takes a minimalist style, utilizing color to make the world feel warm and alive.  Every time you start a level you will have a different color and each level has its own challenges to overcome.  The way the colors seem to vibrate with life takes on a role of its own in the game though, and it really starts to feel more like a full region than just empty space.  As you conquer and cultivate each asteroid, you can zoom further and further out to see all of what you’ve created, and the later levels get pretty expansive.  The music combines with this warm sensation to create an ambient space of wonder and interest.  This is like playing an RTS painting and each factor is shaped specially for the task.  Despite feeling like you are a swarm of dust mites conquering the equivalent space of someone’s nostril, the game itself really has a life and style of its own.  I would like to see some major fucking publisher with the balls to release this one.  It’s available on Steam right now for 14.99$ and I recommend it highly.  It is a magnificent game that really draws you in and challenges you, but in a soothing and enjoyable way that isn’t like every fucking RTS Blizzard made since Warcraft 3.  It’s wonderful.  Fucking play it.

Valley of the Dead Pre-Releases

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Before any gets clever, I am not asking about the dinosaurs; I am referring to a mass extinction event going on within the confines of digital media.  Early Access games are out there and comprise a large part of Steam.  I have nothing resembling exact figures, but it feels like there are at least 5 unfinished games on steam for every complete title.  Want a more solid idea of how many there are? Early Access is its own searchable category on Steam.  It contains such prestigious titles as The Forest, DieselStormers, Galactic Civilizations III and others.  The three I will be discussing today are those shown above: Towns, Terraria and Stomping Lands

What is Early Access?

Once upon a time there was a magical viking who had an idea for a video game.  You can mine and mine and mine, build a house, a fortress a town, farm, breed animals and fish.  You’ll be able to use portals to travel to other dimensions and work magic.  Monsters will come out at night, but you can defend against them!  And in the End, you’ll fight a dragon!  This game was slow to catch on at first, but once kids and gamers found it, they fell in love.  It rapidly became one of the most popular games of all time, spanning generation gaps and giving everyone something they loved.  This was the first instance of an unreasonably popular early access game.  It was called Minecraft.

Since then a number of companies have vied to create an early access hit like Minecraft.  Steam has been the most successful in its push, encouraging devs to submit their games for rigorous vetting by Steam’s community through Steam Greenlight.  Once the games have been selected, they are allowed to provide an early version of the game at a reasonable price for purchase.  This was awesome at first, but then Steam became progressively more inundated with games that aren’t finished.  And worse than that, some games die in this public-run games incubator.

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This is a brief description from Steam’s website about what early access is and here is a link to their complete explanation about what all of that entails.

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Many people are familiar with this title.  The idea is that you start a small, 16-bit town of sprite people and then guide these people through building a town.  You can do all kinds of fun things from farming and animal husbandry to combating foes.  You can also create a little stairwell down to the mines below.  Of course, these mines are filled with all nature of foul monsters, so you need to attract heroes to your town to battle the enemies and delve deeper.  By doing this you can get better materials to build with and make a fabulous town!

So how did it die?  Sales.  In a lengthy post on the Towns official forum, gamedev Moebius went into detail about why Towns is no longer being developed.  Hardly news, this post goes back to May 2014 and details his reasons.

“When I signed up for working on Towns I was told that we sell a minimum of about x copies/month of the game. I agreed to work on Towns for 15% of what would remain after removing all the taxes and the Steam fee. Xavi and I agreed that this would be a fair amount, and I still think it is.  After getting used to the source code and publishing the first new version of the game, we talked about the agreed payment and it turns out that the sells are getting down rapidly. So we are now selling less than a third of the x copies a month, loosing about 33% of sells per month.”

Yea, that is the most of it.  The game wasn’t selling anymore and the most of the money to be made there was lost in the initial rush of sales.  By the time Moebius was conscripted, it was too late.  If you keep reading that little post by Moebius, down at the bottom they make some spectacularly upsetting statements.

“Xavi and I were talking about a possible Towns2. At the moment this is just in an idea stage and we can’t really say if he, I or eventually Ben have the time to create a Towns2. As faithful fans of Towns we would of course reward you in some way, when/if the new game is released.

“A new game will give us the following advantages:

  1. we can implement all the cool things that are not possible at the moment due to how the core mechanics works in Towns 1
  2. we can also rise attention as this is a completely new game and a successor for once great runnning game
  3. this will also make it possible to have a financially sound basis for a long development of Towns2

“I want to end this post by thanking you for reading this and for all your support in these two months. Again I’m sorry that we had to pull the plug right here, but I sincerely hope you can understand why we had to make that decision right now.”

So let me get this straight.  Not developing the game anymore because of a decrease in sales, so the money isn’t there.  Got it.  Now we are considering a Towns 2 as a sequel to this farce?  What the fuck?  I mean at least they were open about saying the idea is just a way to get more money out of the game, but how do you make a sequel to an unfinished game?  Granted, there have been 2 updates to the game since this post, but they were the only two updates to the game since September 30, 2013.  So fans of the game are left with an occasionally updated title that is a testament to what could have been.

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I am pretty sure this title is older than Towns, but there is a reason I am listing it here.  Terraria is a game where you build 2D houses and dig in the ground for stuff.  At night evil monsters come and try to kill you.  God what the fuck is with all the similarities here…

Back in 2012 the developers of Terraria declared the game had received its final update and that it was “time to move on”.  In this PC Gamer article, it is explained that one of the developers even went to work on Starbound with Chucklefish, which, for lack of a better term, is Terraria in space.  In my opinion, it seems like CF stole the developer for this game to prevent it competing with their own game.  Shady horseshit.  Despite the developers apparently jumping ship, the game is still receiving updates on the Steam store, which makes it seem like the whole “boo hoo we’re ending the game” thing was a cry for help.

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Now we’ve got this game, The Stomping Land.  I was originally planning to review this game, but I spent hours in-game and realized how much it sucks when you play it alone.  To give you an idea, when I first came in, I was a naked caveman.  I was on a beach for about a couple seconds when an idiot burst out of the underbrush riding a raptor and hurling bolas.  Someone else was trying to stop him from killing me, and I managed to use the terrain to conceal my escape.  Crafting was boring and you couldn’t stash your shit except in a box, which you dragged along behind you.  It was utterly unfinished, and now I read THIS horseshit.

Apparently the game has gotten no updates in months, which really got Kickstarter backers nervous.  The company also went radio-silent for a while too, but they came out and said that they were switching to Unreal 4.  That is not so bad, but with the game itself being pulled from Steam, everyone with that game in their library – myself included – shat many bricks of frustration.  Of course, before Alex Fundora, SuperCrit founder, announced the engine change, he effectively disappeared for two months!  Tumultuous, scary shit.

So what does all of this mean for Early-Access games?  Tread lightly.  Many of these games are financially on the ropes as it is, so a heavy measure of trepidation is urged in investing.  Buying these games isn’t you standard I give you money you provide a product, it is literally a form of speculation similar to stocks trading;.  Certainly it is not nearly as volatile or risky, but you might not get your 20$ for that game back, nor might you get a finished game.  It might be a sign that all of these games attempt to emulate Minecraft’s basic structure despite adding new elements to their games.  Just like so many other MMO’s attempted to emulate World of Warcraft’s success and died trying.  In some of these instances you even have games that died and came back from the dead, which gives a new meaning to the term “zombie-game.”

I spoke briefly with my friend Dave about these types of games and he echoed the same frustration that many long-time gamers feel.  When you buy a game, you want a finished product.  You don’t want to play a game up to the point where the bugs are too much to handle and then have to put it down.  Sure, there will be more content later, but it will trickle in; then you’ll log on each time to experience that new content, effectively experiencing the finished game in pieces until the finished product feels as worn and old as the other games in your library.  It is irritating and many of us just want to play a finished game.

Some people seem to be over Steam Greenlight and similar services altogether, but just how many I am not sure.  VG247 had a pretty interesting article back in January 2014 about Greenlight closing, which might not be the complete answer, but I am not sure that too many people would be upset about it.  What are your thoughts about early-release games?  Join me in a discussion about it on Crotchety Gamers United!

Obludia, Story of a Dungeon-Running Madman and His Little Dog Too!

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Demon are among the safest enemies to place in a videogame.  They are a generic representation of evil and they are often pretty ugly, so you don’t even have to give them red blood.  Demons can be smacked, berated and blamed for all the problems in the game because, simply stated, many people do the same thing in real life.  Obludia is a game that embraces these old-fashioned theories, employing a retro arena-shooter aesthetic to make you rage with overpower fury.

Now, before you grab Satan by the balls, you have to set up controls.  This is something I am becoming more and more frustrated with, and maybe it’s because I still have to install the appropriate software, but the standard for gaming right now is to use the mouse and keyboard or the Xbox controller as input.  Personally, I prefer the DualShock4 since I plan to get a PS4.  This is not supported by most games, especially indie games.  The simple fact is, it likely takes extra time to code in and the xbox is a microsoft product, so I surmise that means the Xbox controller is more natural for the PC to pick up and easier to code for.  I am not a developer, but can’t people at least start adding it as an update later on?  Moving on.

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Uhh… hey guys! Is this the place for synchronized chanting practice?

You play the role of a masked, fedora-sporting bandit (?) whose sole purpose in life is to kill and plunder.  Then again, you spend most of your time swatting flies and killing rats that it feels a little more like a crossbow-wielding extermination service.  Granted, you also have a fair number of zombies, blobs and other classic enemies.  Fans of Smash TV will likely enjoy the hell out of this title.  Your numerous weapons all have a particular poor-man’s Van Helsing feel.  They are a sword, crossbow, pistol, shotgun, machinegun, mines, TNT and magic.  Though I’ve had trouble getting the magic to work properly, this is mostly because I spend a lot of time avoiding enemies.  I consider TNT to be pretty magical, though.  One of the biggest issues with this game is that you have to sort through your weapons in one direction.  You scroll through by rolling the mouse wheel one way, but backing it up doesn’t scroll your weapons back.  It’s frustrating and requires me to pay too much attention to my current weapon.

Again, while enemies start off basic and typical, they slowly ramp up in difficulty.  The challenge is the number of foes you face.  In an arena there will usually be four doors that will spew enemies into the room.  Sometimes one is boarded up, sometimes there are only two, but they typically come from all directions in droves.  Luckily, there is help.

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First there is the shopkeeper.  Now, I am not sure if he eats bean burritos all the fucking time, but his standard animation has him squint before farting every couple second.  I shit you not, he must shit his pants.  Couped up in a small, windowless dungeon room full of enemies is likely just baking that shit into the walls.  And there is a shop every 3 – 5 floors, too!  And you go down, not up!  That means these burrito-munching cretins are farting up a storm with the reek permeating upward through the dungeon.  I cannot imagine the smell, but now I know why the main character is wearing a mask, although he should probably have sprung for an oxygen tank instead.

The shopkeepers each have a shop full of breakable items, so even if you don’t have much gold when you get there from slaughtering foes, you can get plenty on arrival.  You can even stab the shopkeeper with your sword until he farts out a modest pouch of burrito-money.  That’s right, we’re trying to save you calories you nasty fucker.  The first time you join Bob the Shopkeeper, he has a dog named Kiwi.  Adorable.  Grab Kiwi, cause you’ll need him.  In a fight Kiwi will grab money and drops and bring them to you, once you start getting hit, Kiwi loses his shit like the incredible fucking hulk, grows Popeye arms and starts man-handling enemies.  This phenomenon is seen in the above screencap.  I guess Kiwi thought Bob’s farts were suffocating the character.

There is also a little bat in a cage.  If you free him, he’ll follow you around and fire a purple.. uh.. bat fireball at enemies.  I guess the little guy was some kind of mage leftover from a race of super-intelligent, mystical, pacifist bats that once inhabited this dungeon.  Or a game mechanic.  That’s also possible, I suppose.

So THAT'S where all the extra-bean burritos went!

So THAT’S where all the extra-bean burritos went!

Another noteworthy feature of Obludia are the bosses.  They are inventive, difficult and remind me of every boss in A Link to the Past.  Honestly, though, they are tough, and you need to employ all of your skills running around like a terrified maniac launching TNT and firing shotgun rounds at these guys.  I didn’t have many issues with Obludia outside the lack of DS4 support, somewhat slow character movement and frustrating inventory mechanics.

In order to remedy some of those problems, there are a number of pickups that you can get to accommodate.  There is the berserker doll, which makes you slap on some woad and go ballistic.  You shoot faster, swing your sword harder and take on a generally more sociopathic demeanor.  Pickup the wooden cross to kill everything in the room or you can grab the swift feet pickup to run much faster – great for enemy avoidance.  I don’t know why the main character can’t just do more squats, but hey, whatever works.

The music is enjoyable, and not ear-grating at all.  The sounds are a menagerie of old-school game sounds, but the graphics look more like a flash game off of Newgrounds.  Indeed, the game itself has a “new-retro” feel that is definitely appealing.  To make this a really awesome play, however, some serious dusting up would need to be performed.  One peculiarity is that the game starts in windowed mode which can be changed to fullscreen.  I would have no desire to put it in windowed mode if it wasn’t so irritating to fucking exit the game.  Seriously.  Fullscreen it then exit the game.  There is a “thanks for playing” screen that makes you look at it until it disappears, and it is there for what feels like too long.  We see the words, enjoy the ambiance and get the gist.  Thanks.  You’re welcome.  Can I move on dammit?  It just makes the game feel like a overly-attached girlfriend that is like “WHY ARE YOU LEAVING IF WE BOTH APPRECIATE EACHOTHER SO MUCH!?!?!?!?”  I know it is a fairly trivial thing, but it does get irritating when you want to rage quit a game and can’t just log out from fullscreen mode rapidly.  Honestly, simple solution.  Cut five seconds off it. Done.  Otherwise, go buy this game if retro arena-shooters are your thing.  It’s fun, has a heightened sense of gaming tension and a sort of humor that permeates the game like Bob’s bean-burrito farts.  8.99$ on Steam feels a bit much, but they seem to be making regular updates to fix issues with the game, so hopefully the price will encourage the devs to make necessary changes, and maybe even add a little extra content!