Monday, August 31, 2009

That's So Meta

Achievement Unlocked is a little flash game I came across a while ago, where the actual game is secondary to your need to earn all the achievements, which are dished out with comic abandon (there is one for moving left, moving right, jumping, pausing the game, clicking on the scroll bar, pretty much everything). Despite the extremely basic nature of the game, I found it suprisingly compulsive, which no doubt says lots of things about me, none of them good. It does also have an awesome soundtrack, though.

Bear in mind I had to stop to take screen caps

I discovered later than the creator of Achievement Unlocked had made another flash game, Upgrade Complete, which similarly satirises the way many games extend themselves by playing off our desire to accumulate with a simple vertical scrolling shmup in which the gameplay takes a back seat to the need to unlock pretty much everything in the game with in-game currency. There is a more wordy post about Upgrade Complete here, if you want to check it out.

My fully upgraded ship pwns all

These meta-elements are becoming more and more common as gaming becomes more mature and self-aware. We have long since reached the stage where we can watch a movie that is so awful it actually becomes enjoyable, so have we reached the same point in video games? To an extent, I think we have. Most of the games on and Double Fine Production's website are entertaining simply because they are so rubbish, with the idea behind them being far more important than the actual gameplay. It is a similar story with most of the games from The Independent Games Source's hilarious Video Game Name Generator and Bootleg Demake contests.

Yes, these are all actual games, in various stages of completion

However, all these games have two very important elements to them: they're short, and they're free. Games require far more active participation and contain far more repitition than movies do, so if you are going to take up any significant amount of the player's time or money, then no matter how funny this sort of meta-humour is, the joke is ultimately on the player.

Matt Hazard takes on a JRPG boss

I was quite interested in Vicious Cycle's Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard, which set itself up as the return of a fictional gaming hero (they even went as far as making up a back-catalogue) to the "next gen" era, in which they could make fun of all sorts of gaming tropes. It seemed like a great idea to wrap a serviceable third person shooter in, but unfortunately the game itself was savaged by the critics, proving that you need to have a solid game first if you want to charge money for this sort of thing. The idea of the game still appeals to me, and it seems like the sort of game that would get ridiculously cheap at some stage, so I might even give it a try if the price is right, but would remain to be seen who would have the last laugh in that case.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Serious Sam HD Supermercial

Sorry folks, it's another embedded video rather than a proper update. Does anyone have fond memories of Serious Sam? Well, I don't really, as the only time I played it was was four player co-op on a PC which couldn't really handle it, leaving me to die and respawn constantly in the midst of the game's near endless hordes of enemies. It was a bit like being stuck in FPS purgatory, especially when combined with the game's throwback, open area running and gunning.

However, Croteam have released a trailer for their upcoming high definition remake of the game, and it's pretty much made from pure win.

Serious Sam HD is way better than a loveless marriage!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Adventure Games: They're Not Dead, They Just Smell Funny

Monkey Island 2 and Gabriel Knight: Sins of the FathersMonkey Island 2 and Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers

You can always spot cranky old gamers by their insistence that everything was better in the earlier days of gaming, and one of their chief laments is that they don't make adventure games any more. It's not not hard to fathom why - those of us who had played the Space Quests, King's Quests and Police Quests, the golden age of LucasArts games, from Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis and Monkey Island 2 to Day of the Tentacle and Full Throttle, the Gabriel Knight series, probably the last of the high profile adventures of the era, will probably include one or more of these games in their favourite games from the past. Some of us may even remember playing text adventures before that (while I remember them, I don't think I ever got very far in any of them, in the pre-GameFAQs days when it wasn't the gamer's right to complete every game).

So where are these games now? It may surprise some to know that they're still around, and in fact more plentiful than they've been in over a decade, it's just their profile has changed a bit.

Runaway: A Road Adventure and Secret Files: TunguskaRunaway: A Road Adventure and Secret Files: Tunguska

For one, Spanish, German, French and Eastern European studios continue to produce these games. These markets tend to be more traditional than the UK and US markets, and haven't shifted as strongly towards the action based, console-centric ethos (perhaps PC games even make money there?), so a lot of games from older genres are still made their. The problem is, with a game as story and dialogue driven as a graphic adventure, language is a big deal, and these games reportedly often suffer ropey localisation to go with their already ropey programming (smaller developers in these markets often hark back to the old days of gaming in more than just genre selection). Probably the most notable are Spanish developer Pendulo's Runaway series German developer Fusionsphere's Secret Files series. No doubt anyone actually more familiar with the genre will be incensed that I've mentioned those but ignored something more worthy, but I'm not sure how many of those people actually exist, and I'm pretty sure none are reading this blog.

Sam & Max and Wallace & Grommit
Sam & Max and Wallace & Grommit

Next up is plucky American upstart Telltale Games, who had been making adventure games since 2005, based on the CSI license as well as the family-friendly Bone comics, but were really noticed when they released the new series of Sam & Max games in 2007. Telltale was actually founded in 2004 by former LucasArts staff who were working on a sequel to the 1993 classic Sam & Max Hit The Road when LucasArts cancelled it. In addition to Sam & Max, they've released Strong Bad's Cool Game For Attractive People (in conjunction with and Wallace and Gromit's Grand Adventures, and have been entrusted with the new Tales of Monkey Island series (not to be confused with the release of the Secret of Monkey Island Special Edition, which they did not work on). Telltale has probably been the most successful publisher of episodic content in the games industry, as the adventure genre is suited to the release of short but regular chunks of game. I've played both seasons of Sam & Max, as well as SBCG4AP, and it's a company I'm usually pretty happy to throw money at.

Space Quest 3 and The DigSpace Quest III and The Dig

If you aren't interested in these new games, it's actually easier than before to play some of the old games, even if you don't want to dig around abandonware sites (although most of these games technically aren't abandonware) and mess about with Dosbox. As I mentioned a few weeks back, LucasArts have release an aurally and visually upgraded version of the first Monkey Island, but the game itself is as before, and the old graphics are only a button-press away (just be aware that the PC version is a big download). LucasArts have also starting re-releasing some of their classic games onto Steam. Currently, only The Dig, Loom and the two Indiana Jones games are available, but it's a good start. Good Old Games has a fair number of old adventure games available, and you can get Lure of the Temptress and Beneath a Steel Sky for free. Sierra (now part of the ActiBlizz hegemony) have released collections of their Space Quest, King's Quest, Police Quest and Leisure Suit Larry games (but sadly, no Hero's Quest/Quest for Glory compilation).

Peasant's Quest and Ben There, Dan ThatPeasant's Quest and Ben There, Dan That

Finally, if you're looking for some sort of freakish hybrid of old and new, there are several free games which pay homage to / gently mock the adventure games of old. A good example is Host Master, which sets up adventure game legend Tim Schafer's presentation to the Games Developers Conference in 2008 in the style of one of the old LucasArts games. An even better example is Peasant's Quest, a nearly full length pastiche of old Sierra games put together with so much love you'll feel nostalgia from the moment you hear the simulated PC speaker music, even though the game itself is entirely new. Also highly recommended are Zombie Cow Studio's Ben There, Dan That (which is free) and it's sequel, Time Gentlemen, Please! (which is a measly £3). There are also hordes of amateur attempts created in Adventure Game Studio, but I'm fairly certain that most of these are rubbish. I did download The Dig-inspired creation The Infinity String a while back, but while it sounds interesting, I just haven't got round to playing it.

Beneath a Steel Sky and The Infinity StringBeneath a Steel Sky and The Infinity String

Actually, one thing which has occurred to me while typing out this horrendously long post, is how many of these games I haven't played, despite the fact that I have bought or downloaded them already. I actually bought a copy of the first Runaway game when it was on a clearance sale for R40 or so, but it's still in the wrapper, and unfortunately, it's a long way down in the queue. I've downloaded Beneath a Steel Sky, Infinity String and Ben There, Dan That, but have yet to play them. Despite enjoying the previous Telltale games I've played, I'm not keen to add any episodes of Tales of Monkey Island to the backlog just yet. So the problem clearly isn't the lack of games in the genre, it is perhaps that we've moved along a little. As actual games, I don't think adventure games are that strong; they live and die on the strength of their writing, and perhaps the interactivity doesn't add to the experience as much as it does in other genres.

So, yes, adventure games still exist, but they aren't the headline releases they used to be, which is perhaps one of the things the retro-gamer misses about them, but due to the fairly widespread incidence of "genre creep" in modern games, their place has largely been taken by RPGs, which now usually contain all the exploration, interaction and storytelling that adventure games used to, just without the obscure object puzzles ("use duct tape on stray cat"), and the adventure game is not going to reclaim its former prominence. Still, if you want to play another, there are plenty of options out there.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

There Is Only Defeat

Anyone who has had the misfortune to talk to me about PC games will know that I bang on endlessly about how much I love Dawn of War II. While I found the single player campaign to be a step backwards from a more traditional RTS, the multiplayer in Relic's latest game really hooked me. Dispensing with most of the usual faffing around you get in an RTS, it was a game that you would be killing each other within a minute of starting a game, and it would be all over in 25 to 30 minutes at most, while still retaining a lot of tactical choices and strategic variety. Plus, it has Space Marines in it, which is an immediate plus in my book. I've clocked up over 300 ranked matches in it so far, and it has almost stopped me playing any other PC game for the last few months.


When Relic released the "There Is Only War" update last week, I was pretty excited. This update promised to completely rebalance the game, as well as more than double the number of multiplayer maps. Well, having downloaded and played it for a few days, I'm hating it. They seem to have ruined the game for me.

The changes are too many to mention, but I think the root of the problem is that Relic increased the power cost to advance to tier 2 enormously, thinking that players wanted to stay in tier 1 and fight it out for a while. This doesn't appeal to me, because I've never been a big fan of the swarm theory in RTS games. I much prefer having small skirmishes with 2 or 3 diverse units, rather than a huge clump of low-tier melee units trying to overwhelm the opponent.

Of course, this by itself would be too much to bear, but they've wrecked the two races that I play. The Space Marines, previously one of the stronger and more versatile sides in the game, are now completely hopeless. Space Marine units are now expensive, slow and poor in melee combat (they always were expensive and slow, but they used to be good in any situation), which means that in tier 1 you just get rushed down, as every other race now has a cheap, powerful melee unit. Because it is now harder to retreat, if you don't leg it before you've even fired a few shots, you are going to lose one or two units before you make it back to base, which is not such an issue if you've got between six and eight units in a squad like the other races do, but when you've only got three in a squad, this is a serious problem, and you end up having to spend all your resources just reinforcing injured squads. Because you can't control territory, you can't accumulate resources to advance to tier 2, where you get some (expensive) methods to deal with swarms. By the time you tech up, the game is usually nearly over, and you don't have the resources to build the units you desperately need.

This happens to you a lot post-patch

The Eldar, on the other hand, are now far stronger than before. Guardian squads are stronger and tougher than they used to be, but what really swings it is how ludicrously powerful howling banshees, the Eldar melee infantry, have become. Banshees just rip most units to shreds, especially space marines, and because they now have no power cost, you can build them as soon as the game starts. You'd think I'd be happy about the increased potency of the Eldar, previously one of the more difficult races to play, but I don't like the way the changes have modified their playstyle. With the power of banshee and guardian squads, they're effectively now another swarm race in tier 1 (which is where a lot of the game is now taking place). I appreciate that they've made rangers more deadly, but there is still not much reason to use them, and by the time you get to tech 2, where you can use warp spiders, wraithlords and falcon grav-tanks, the units I really like, the game is often nearly over. Eldar are now like the tyranids were - easy to win with, but not that much fun to play.

Playing Dawn of War II is now just making me angry as I lose game after game. I still have this urge to play, but it's mainly from remembering how much I used to enjoy it rather than how frustrating I am finding it now. I've had Eldar and Ork opponents tell me that they used to be Space Marine players but have had to switch because it's impossible to win a game with the marines, but unfortunately, they're now the only race that plays the way I enjoy playing. Hopefully Relic will get a balance patch out soon, but even if they weaken banshees and make marines better in melee again, the basic nature of the game will still have been changed in a way that I'm not very fond of.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Free Stuff

Free games giveaway! It's almost enough to make you think that this is a proper website or something. Unfortunately, this is mainly stuff I offered to other people a while ago, so the fact that I still have it would indicate that you shouldn't get too excited by this announcement. Still, I figure I might as well put them up here.

I have the following:
These are all redemption codes for the full versions of the game. The MMOs include activation and a month's subs. Note, however, that you will have to download the games, which may be a problem if you're on capped internet. Speedball 2 is 1GB, and the MMOs are many, many times larger than that.

If you'd like any of these, leave me your email address in the comments and I will email the code and instructions on how to use it.