Saturday, 26 December 2009

American McGee's Scrapland Review

Scrapland is a 3D action shooter game in a vein similar to Descent with the open world freedom of GTA. In the game you control D-Tritus who has arrived from outerspace on a journey to explore the galaxy. On arrival to Scrapland, D-Tritus lands a job as a reporter. Thanks to an alien artifact known as 'The Great Database', any robot who is registered in the database is automatically revived provided they've paid the bishops who maintain The Great Database. However, the robot matrixes of prominent figures are stolen and then the figure is killed meaning they can't be revived. As a reporter it is D-Tritus' job to investigate the crimes along with assistance by a mysterious figure known as 'Deep Throat'. D-Tritus quickly gains a special ability to morph into other characters unlocking their abilities as well.

Being an open world action game with ships, you fly around the various places in the city and perform missions in order to earn money and upgrades. Overall My initial impression was that it's a fairly solid action game and contols and weapons feel relatively solid. Graphics are amazing and each area feels different both in terms of art and layout. I really enjoyed the artstyle of the game which is a mishmash of Noir, Tron, late 70's early 80's sci-fi and steampunk. The ships that you drive in particular look fantastic and every single screenshot you can take while flying around the city looks great! The map/radar is simple and functional and if a mission objective is on a different level, the map and radar will actually point you towards the stairs.

Aside from flying, you can also enter various buildings in the game such as the Bank and Temple. On foot you can walk around and using your transform ability perform various actions. Becoming a police officer for example, will allow you to demand protection money from others while being a bishop grants you a powerful attack.

But as I played the game,a couple of problems which I felt dragging the game down. And reading the reviews at the time, they generally have the same sort of crticisms as I do. Anyway here are the issues I found with the game:

1) Customisation isn't enough
Normally in games lke this such as the X series or Privateer you get a variety of weapons you can choose from to customise your ship. Unfortunately, the game simplistic and gives you only 7 weaons in this game and several countermeasures severely limiting tactical choices. Also countermeasure are linked with the currently selected weapon so you have to mount that particular weapon if you want to use that counter measure. In a similar vein, there are only 2 weapon upgrades per weapon which you can choose between. For example, you have the choice of making Vulcans shoot faster or target better.

Aside from changing ship class, adding armour, changing the engines and equipping weapons, there isn't any actual way of customising your ship. Not even the paint job. Similar games would usually allow you to equip special artifacts or tweak or modify your ship further. I think it's a real let down frankly. I particular miss being able to modify the boost ability which would have really helped in avoiding enemies.

2) Lack of factions and missions
Most RPG's and space games like this will usually let you choose between different factions or sides which will give you access to different equipment and missions. Unfortunately, athough there are factions and sides in the game story and plot, there is no effect to the gameplay itself. You only have the main quest missions, the missions from a character known as The Crazy Gambler and ship plan hunting missions from your mechanic. That's it. Admittedly the side missions from The Crazy Gambler are fairly varied in this sort of game. For example, it might involve you killing a certain number of enemies as a character, destroying a number of parked ships or stealing a certain amount of money as a Banker robot. It would have been great if there were more missions from different people and factions that you could join to increase the variety.

3) Poor character development
The game could have really shone with some awesome cinematic cut-scene moments with the noir-like style of many of the characters and locations. But there aren't any particularly noteworthy cut-scenes or cool moments except for possibly the murder sequences of prominent figures and many of them lack a certain punch in the sound direction.

One glaring issue is with the main character himself. Who is D-Tritus? We aren't really given any particular insight or background into the main character aside from he's exploring the universe is curious and that he built himself from scrap. Along the way, he doesn't really reach any conclusions by himself nor seem to think much for himself.

Despite the relatively smiling young robot that is painted by the game and the youthful optimistic voice the character has, I think D-Tritus is actually a rather cold-blooded murderous robot willing to do just about anything to discover the truth even if it means switching sides and backstabbing just about everybody he works for. We never hear him voice his thoughts or feelings or show any particular remorse for possessing people, switching sides, hurting them or destroying property. He seems to take it all in his stride from the first second he steps on Scrapland. Perhaps one hint as to his true nature is the fact that his innate special ability is destroying matter allowing him kill other robots by sliding through them.

Here's a list of things I had to do as part of the main quest:
Forcibly possessing people
Destroying other robots with D-Tritus' special ability of destroying matter
Leading Police Officers to beat up a Functionary to extract information out of him.
Destroying political opponents of the mayor
Cause a massacre in the middle of a busy area
Switch sides repeatedly
Hack into databases
Getting people's attention and challenging them to races and duels by insulting them and swearing at them instead being nice about it

Admittedly, one of the key points of the game is the fact that everyone is revived by The Great Database. But robots are still quite capable of being hurt as is evidenced during the cut-scenes and conversations. It is strange that he involves in the troubles of the cities as he doesn't reveal his motivations at all aside from wanting to find the truth. All in all, I would say he comes across as an Anti-hero more than anything else although that may be a bit too generous as he just isn't as interesting as other anti-heroes with his lack of motives and over reliance on others to provide the answers.

Definitely a wasted opportunity here.

With regards to other characters,although their responses do get updated with every passing event there isn't really much interaction with them beyond challenging them to a race or duel.

4) Missed photo opportunities
Taking photos involves just standing near the object and left clicking. In the game it is used mostly for taking snapshots of ship plans and if I'm not mistaken there is only one instance where using your camera is actually requried to advance the game It is a bit of a missed opportunity when you take into consideration games such as Beyond Good and Evil which has you pointing and shooting as if you were using a real camera and rewarding you with cash for snapping shots various creatures. In Scrapland, you can take photos of a crazed functionary class robot in the Bank which gives you money however snapping photos for money seemed a secret feature rather than a prominent gameplay element with no real indication you could earn money that way.

Having a camera minigame would have fitted well well with the detective and noir like story and setting which the game draws somewhat heavily from.

5) Lack of combat areas
In games like Freespace you have the opportunity to face some huge capital ships and take part of a number of space battles. Such battles although scripted prove memorial and extremely nerve-wrecking. In Scrapland, there are scripted mission but in keeping with the open world GTA style combat mostly takes place in the various areas within the cities or in special arenas. In the cities you only see normal ship traffic and large transports similar to cars you would see in a modern city which don't even react to your attacks! They just keep on moving along their predetermined path. Also nothing in the environment can actually hurt you or reacts to fire. So you can't for example, lead the enemy into a electric fence or smoke to distract them. This makes combat seem less organic than it should be despite the twists and turns around the city environments. The same issues plague the areana battles which are sealed game environments with no traffic and just the opponents. As well-designed as the arenas are, they lack the organic chaos of the cities. Again, another missed opportunity.

6) Lack of viewpoints
You would think in a game like this you would be able to look behind you but you can't. So it's hard to know how close or far you are from your opponents chasing you or which direction you should swerve. At the beginning this isn't a problem but it can get harder later on when you're facing multiple opponents. It's not too crucial to the game play.

7) Walking areas are kind of boring
Throughout the game, you will travel on foot as well as flying. As mentioned at the beginning, during this portion of the gamemplay you can
However the experience on foot is similar to the flying sections in the sense that there is plenty of activity within the various buildings but very little to actually do. For example, there will be policemen and bishops walking around even attacking each other but because of the large prevalence of police everywhere, becoming other characters and utilising their offensive abilities becomes less fun than it sounds. If you try to kill a character to get money, the alarms go off and it becomes a large messy brawl until you find a place to hide and the alarm goes off. Thanks to the resurrection ability granted by The Great Database, clearing a room of policemen will only grant you a 5 second gap to run away. If you try a sneaky approach like stealing money as a banker, it will usually go better albeit slower. But there really isn't anything else. No additional characters to give you quests or funny interesting scenery or mini-games. There are a couple of half-hearted extras like the banking collecting game but the activity in one building is the same as any other building.

Overall, while Scrapland was pleasant enough as a distraction, I'm not sure if most gamers would really want to spend their money on this when there are better games out there. It's probably worth a couple bucks but not a must have unless you really enjoy buying games because of the graphical style.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Tex Murphy 1 + 2 Free for a limited time

GOG is currently offering Tex Murphy 1 + 2 for free. until 24th Dec or a special alternative gift if you've already purchased the game. You just need to register for GOG to download it.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay Developer's Cut

I recently finished the PC version of The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay which is also known as the Developer's Cut. Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay is a well-rated but very short action stealth and shooter hybrid and most reviews were right on the mark when it comes to talking about the gameplay and issues so I won't go into it with too much detail. I noticed however that very few game reviews talked about the developer's commentary mode. As a someone who aspires to be game developer I really enjoyed the in-game developer's commentary which gives a very detailed analysis of the creative and production process and for me really adds value to the product but your personal preference may vary. Few reviews actually mention how it works so I thought I would cover that in greater detail.

Here's how it works, once you've finished the game once, the developer commentary mode is unlocked. To access it, you have start a new game again and below the difficulty selection there is a new mode called developer's commentary. Unfortunately, starting a new game in this mode wipes out all your saves. In the developer's commentary, there will be Starbreeze symbols floating all around the game environment. You walk up to them and press the Use button where the developers than begin to speak. All sound and music will fade out and you will hear the developers speak.

Some of the features to note:
  • The commentary segments are fairly in-depth and some over 15 minutes long
  • Some have screenshots attached to them.
  • Hilarious swedish accents (okay okay that's just because they are Swedish, and actually they speak pretty good English)
  • Original stand-up comedy from the developers (okay okay, really its just explanations of in-house jokes)
  • Around 9 hours of commentary (according to the developers during the credits)

Problems with the commentary:
  • On the same vein as the save wiping issue mentioned above, I didn't really want to replay the game all over again and they really should have given you access to some sort of God Mode cheat so you can quickly go through the game and just listen to the commentary.
  • The commentary bits are way too long and they really should have broken it up into smaller chunks.
  • A couple of sound bugs appear because of the commentary.
  • I think they should reward you at the end of the commentary with something special like unlocking all the secrets for you since you had to replay the entire game again and listen to the weird ramblings of developers.
  • There was one section where the developers actually switched you to 3rd person perspective and I was thinking it would cool if they had more tricks like that. I was thinking they should have put in more secret sections specifically just for the developer's commentary.
  • It would have been good if they had put the energy into creating more additional levels or weapons.
Interesting pieces of information mentioned in the developer's commentary:
  • In order to create realistic blood in the game, the developer's actually used fake movie blood and sprayed it all over the shower in the office.
  • There are two simultaneous tracks running at the moment, a quiet one and an action one, hence the reason why the two can blend so smoothly together.
  • The first level you see is one of the last levels they created.
  • Pope Joe was originally designed like a bishop in rags but was changed later as a request by VUG I think (well basically whoever was funding it).
  • When facing a heavy guard, the high detail version explosive casters on the rails are corrupted and there is a vertice sticking out if you look at it at close range.
  • There is a context sensitive kill in the game in the mines where you can push someone into a grinding machine. Apparently there are a couple more.
  • There a bug where there is a small chance you can actually teleport from the space platform near the end of the to the upper mines again by pressing the use button around a door.
  • Part of the reason why the level are so claustrophobic is due to the processing power of the Xbox which wouldn't have been able to handle very large levels with so much detail (I think that's right).
A bug I found:
  • If you drop a minigun and pick it up again it goes back to full ammo. Weird.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Mighty Ape Weekend deals

Mighty Ape has a number of price cuts going on at the moment for just this weekend:

Recommended Budget games:
Prince of Persia Trilogy Pack $19.99
The Witcher $24.99
The Last Remnant $34.99
Battlefield 2 Complete Collection $24.99
Dark Sector $15.99

Recommended games:
Operation Flashpoint 2: Dragon Rising $59.99
Batman Arkham Asylum $59.99
ArmA II (armed Assault II) $59.99
Prototype $59.99
Call of Duty World at War $59.99
Grand Theft Auto IV $49.99
Command & Conquer Red Alert 3 Premier Edition $49.99

Not worth it:
Stormrise $12.99
Far Cry 2 $29.99 -> Yes, I don't think its worth it. It's not a good game.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Time Gentlemen Please

Time Gentlemen Please an indie adventure game is now only half price (about $NZ3.60) so if you love funny adventure comedy games, buy it now! Don't forget to follow the instructions and put in the code! It's only half price until Modern Warfare 2 comes out.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Team Fortress 2 - Halloween Special Continues

Yeah, the special continues and you can buy it for US$2.50 again until 2nd November. Check it out here. It's good multiplayer FPS fun so I certainly recommend it as a gift to FPS fans.

Tribes 1 and 2: Released to and Supported by the Community

To promote Tribes Vengeance back in 2004, Tribes 1 and 2 were released for free along with CD keys. CD key distribution eventually stopped and although the games were still freeware and playable over LAN, you couldn't play over the Internet with other players.

The Tribes official servers were shut down last year and the community has stepped in over the last year or so. You can now get setup and play Tribes 1 and 2 here and here respectively. I'm pretty sure Tribes 2 works not so sure about Tribes 1 unfortunately.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Mighty Ape Labour Weekend Sale

Mighty Ape is having a Labour Weekend Sale.

There are plenty of good choices for console or PC. Here are my recommended purchases for those on a small budget like myself:
Dreamfall: The Longest Journey Game of the Year Edition (includes the original The Longest Journey and the soundtrack of Dream fall). Highly recommended! - $16.99
Civilization III Complete (all expansion packs) Highly Recommended! - $14.99
Sid Meier's Pirates - Highly Recommended! - $14.99
Titan's Quest Gold Edition - $14.99
Still Life - $14.99
Gothic Universe (Gothic 1-3) - $24.99

I really must stress that you should get Dreamfall: The Longest Journey Game of the Year Edition. Seriously if you haven't bought the original or the sequel, now is the time! The links use my referral code in case you're wondering.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Strange Adventures in Infinite Space

Strange Adventures in Infinite Space, the game which promises galactic exploration in 15 minutes or less is now freeware! Get it here. Now that it's free, there's really no reason not to get this game.

What do I think of it? It's definitely fun and I spent the whole afternoon after I downloaded it playing it. The game deliveres in its promise of 15-20 minutes of fun gameplay. The objective is quite simple, explore the universe in your spaceship and then return home in the alloted time alive. You will then get a score based on how much of the universe you explored, how many alien races you met and what you have when you return.

However after playing it for about 6 hours, I realised to my great dismay that I had discovered and experienced nearly all the game features; something which I confirmed when I checked online with other websites. In randomly generated games like this, part of the fun is discovering new aspects of the game. SAIS really needs more variety in events, ship choices and aliens.When contrasted to a free dungeon crawl like Stone Soup, the lack of long term replayability makes it all the more disappointing. In Stone Soup, there are combinations of races and classes to choose from and a fairly large variety of creatures and places in the dungeon giving a large replay value. You're constantly discovering some new aspect of the game or have the option of choosing a different race and class which alters how you play the game.

The core gameplay is quite solid and definitely fun but I feel SAIS doesn't quite cross that threshold and give you bang for your buck in the area of replayability at the time of release when it was still a commercial game. Fortunately, there are several very good mods which bring SAIS up to scratch and provide a much more varied experience. But a game company shouldn't be relying on its community for such content.

There are several other minor gripes about the game:

  • There's too much reliance on the trader to give you good items. As I understand from reading another review and my own experience, the trader is always in a star system adjacent to the starting star system. To counter this, they really should have just given you a wider choice of ships and technology at the beginning of the game so you can customise your ship to survive. Indeed one of the mods acknowledges this issue and does just that.
  • I don't understand why the ship only travels in a straight line and you can't have a ship plot around certain obstacles like black holes and nebulaes which greatly slow down your progress.
  • Sometimes you start off in a nebulae which is very aggravating as nebulas really slow your ship down.
  • There is no individual score telling you how much your items are worth at the end of the game which would really have helped in determining what items I should keep from the trader.
  • The gun descriptions could have been more helpful in giving a clue as to how effective they are against certain ships or shields. For some reason the gun descriptions for the mid-range guns are particularly cryptic. This doesn't apply to other items such as the missles because the game tells you how many megatons the warhead delivers making choices fairly easy. As such I'm curious as why they made it so difficult for mid-range guns.
I suspect many of these issues were fixed in Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space but I haven't played it yet. Anyway, SAIS is now free and a small download and it will keep you occupied for an afternoon. So get it anyway!

World of Goo Sale Extended

Seriously, if you haven't paid the 2 New Zealand cents to get World of Goo get it now! The sale continues until 25th of October!

World of Goo Sale on now!

World of Goo's birthday sale is currently on and you can get World of Goo for as much as you like, 1 cent or $20 or whatever but the offer is only valid until the 19th of October. Highly recommended by everyone in the gaming world. Definitely worth the 2 New Zealand cents I paid...

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Installing Lode Runner Online: Mad Monks' Revenge

I was thinking of playing Lode Runner Online which is freely available at the developer's personal webpage. However, I've been having issues installing it. The game claims to be "Unable to find setup.exe or libraries" or something similar whenever I ran the setup.exe. Normally I don't post technical advice on games however I couldn't really find any other place posting this advice so here's my tip for solving this.

Once you've extracted the files, you should see the C:\lro_install with the subdirectory MMR containing the files. Try copying the files from MMR out into the c:\lro_install directory and then renaming the directory as C:\lro instead. In other words, all the main files should be under C:\lro . For some reason this fixes the problem and you'll be able to run the installation program via setup.exe . You may have to run it in Windows 95 Compataibility mode.

When it comes to the installation directory, don't change the defaults and ignore the systems test. You should be able to play Lode Runner Online, again you might have to run in Windows 95 compatibility mode.

By the way, I notice a number of other older games where this trick might work so give it try.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Engima Rising Tide for Free

Enigma: Rising Tide is a well-received naval simulator that has now been released for free by the developers as reported by Rock, Paper, Shotgun. The iso which can be downloaded here. It's the Gold version of the game which lacks a number of minor options and doesn't have a soundtrack but otherwise is the same as the retail version. The developer who released it has stated that they'll get around to updating it to the retail version eventually.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

The Incredible Machine Mega Pack

GOG has just released The Incredible Machine mega pack including almost all the incredible machine games for only US $9.99 Not a bad bargain if you're American. For us in New Zealand it's an okay price (around NZ$20) but I would personally wait for the price to drop or buy a slightly more modern game at GOG.

Still its good to see TIM back in action!

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Y's Online

The Y's series in Japan has been going strong since the 1980's and one of the aspects that made it famous is its very memorable music. The soundtrack for Y's Online, the new MMO of the Y's series, has just been released for free as covered by Massively.

Go check out the free OST here!

Update: Unfortunately, one of the tracks "Blood on my hands" seems to be missing any music and is completely silent from the single downloads and the OST compilation even though you can download it. Hopefully they'll correct it shortly.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

The Shivah - Free for a limited time

The Shivah, an adventure game where you play a Jewish rabbi to uncover a murder mystery is now available at Wadjet Eye Games for free for a limited time! If you're an adventure game fan, definitely get it. Its slightly under 90MB and features full voice acting (I think). It's good fun and apparently made quite a splash in 2006 when it was released.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Mighty Ape Birthday Sale

Mighty Ape is having their birthday sale, so if you live in New Zealand now's the time to check out what they have on offer.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

ASCII Portal

Clocking in at just under 10MB, Asciiportal is inspired by the game Portal. A fun game that even has some gravity and physics in it. Check it out. It's a fun game even in its own right.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Majesty 2 Released + My Majesty Review

Previously on my original blog (now closed) I posted a review on Majesty. Here's what I wrote (slightly edited):

Majesty is an interesting fantasy kingdom game which is similar to Populous or Dungeon Keeper. You manage buildings rather than individual units and collect taxes to fund your kingdom. Heroes are your main units and although you pay to recruit them, you don't have direct control over them. Instead they will do whatever suits their character class. For example, if they are a rogue, they will explore and loot treasure chests. If they are a warrior, they will buy armour and weapons from the blacksmith before going off for monster hunting. To earn money, your tax collector will then collect taxes from your buildings such as the blacksmithwhich you can then spend on upgrading your kingdom or building your buildings. You can motivate your heroes to act by placing bounties onareas you want to explore or monsters you want slain.

It is both frustrating and fun to see your heroes running around doing what they like at first. But as you understand how they 'think' and who they work well with, it becomes easier to manage them. Sometimes they still act completely silly like fighting against overwhelming odd but that's what heroes are like after all. As a sovereign you have spells at your disposal which cost gold and can assist your heroes. When they are in trouble that's when you use a spell or two to save them.

All in all, it's surprisingly addictive despite sounding a little boring at first. Highly recommended but try out a demo first as it may not be your kind of game.
Recently Majesty 2 came out and I'm surprised few reviewers mentioned the original. As far as I can tell, Majesty 2 contains the same hands off gameplay we've come to expect from Majesty with new graphics and some additional bounty types and a couple of gameplay tweaks to make controlling characters easier. Should you buy it? I believe that like the original, there will be a core group of gamers that will absolutely love the game while others will hate the hands off approach. I suspect like the first there will be a niche following but won't make a real impression on the general gaming public. I plan to definitely buy it once the price drops.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Drill Dozer

Just finished playing the main quest of Drill Dozer. It's an action adventure game featuring a girl name Jill riding her Drill Dozer. The Drill Dozer itself has the ability to drill through walls by holding down the L and R buttons and has three gears allowing you to power up the Drill Dozer's drilling speed although you always have to start from gear one and locate the other gears within the level.

Naturally fighting enemies requires you to drill them until they explode or in the case of certain bosses, drilling through them. You can also use the Drill Dozer in other ways such as turning keys, drilling through tunnels and using the drill to hook onto moving silver drums. There is also a built in rumble pack turning your GBA into a force feedback device.

Overall it is a pretty fun game and I would certainly recommend it however there are a few issues I found with the game personally. The main game itself is relatively short and generally the level design lends itself quite well to the drilling although at times this can make certain action sequences more aggravating than you would normal expect as the game has an over reliance on the drilling to do everything in an attempt to make the game unique.

For example, every now and then, you will be required use special cubes to "drill jump" across dangerous areas. This involves Holding the L or R button to drill, and then pushing the opposite drill button to be reverse boosted across. The higher the gear you are in, the further you are boosted. As you can imagine this can get very aggravating as you have to remember to keep shift gears at the right time and then reverse drill to push off before your drilling finishes.

So to boost jump to the right, I have to hold down the drill button, wait for the drill reach the end, push the same drill button to shift into a higher gear and then push the opposite drill button to boost off. To the game's credit, most levels are fairly forgiving and you just have to try again but in some areas you're also under attack or the platform you land on isn't stable and it can get more annoying than fun. This issue is demonstrated in the secret levels which you can unlock by spending money at the shop where sometimes you have to repeat the process four or five times before reaching a rest area and occasionally my hands get all tangled up trying to remember which button to press.

There are also some underwater and air sequences and again because of it's over reliance the idea of drilling, it tends to get more annoying than fun at times as you have to use your drilling action to propel you through the water or air. The level design underwater isn't too bad but I feel the air levels are more frustrating than necessary particularly as getting hit can send you back down to the bottom again.

Sound and music is average. Music is shockingly repetitive and it seems like there are only a handful of tracks. I know this isn't an RPG but considering this is from Game Freak, the company that is responsible for Pokemon you think they would have at least created several other tracks.

I would say this is an above average game that will certainly keep you entertained. Just don't expect anything particularly too revolution once you get pass the third area. I'm surprised that most reviewers gave it 80%. I would say it probably hovers around the 70% mark.

Unfortunately sales weren't that good for Drill Dozer so I doubt we'll see a sequel. But if they did, I think they should give the Drill Dozer a couple more actions like double jumping at the very least and maybe a drill missile for long range attacks. Understandably it would make Drill Dozer less unique but maybe it would make the game flow better.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Tales of Monkey Island - Free - Today Only

Get it while it's hot. Telltale Games is offering Tales of Monkey Island free to all registered users for today only. Get it now here!

Dictator Wars by Gamelayers: Impressions

As mentioned earlier, I've tried out Dictator Wars by Gamelayers (former creators of Nethernet). So far, I've been somewhat underwhelmed. It's a clone of any other Facebook "Wars" game, a light strategy game with an emphasis on doing missions to improve your country. I don't really play those sorts of games but I do feel that it isn't as innovative as Nethernet was.

In a previous post I mentioned that Gamelayers teamed up with rather spammey advertisers in an attempt to monetise Nethernet. I'm sad to say that this sort of advertising is also incorporated into Dictator Wars and I believe it hurts Gamelayers' credibility.

If you're into light social strategy games than try it out but don't expect too much.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Gamelayers returns with Dictator Wars

Gamelayers, creators of the metaweb game Nethernet (originally PMOG) has just announced their release of their Facebook based game Dictator Wars. Unfortunately the Nethernet Refugee Camp isn't particularly impressed by this complaining that it lacks the innovation of The Nethernet.

Is it good or bad? I will be trying it and reviewing it later this week.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

The jamendo iPhone application

The jamendo iPhone application, now in 4 more languages!

Jamendo just released an iPhone app so you can listen and browse their free music on the go. Cool.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Act of War: Direct Action Review

Just finished the single player campaign of Act of War: Direct Action. The game is clearly based around a similar concept as Command and Conquer: Generals released several years previously and I think they've tried to go with a more realistic approach than Command and Conquer: Generals.

Here's a quick summary of my thoughts on Act of War: Direct Action

What I liked about it
Ragdoll physics
High level of detail
Realistic looking
Fairly interesting single-player campaign - There are lots of mission plot twists that make sense in the context of the war.

What I didn't like about it
Units are too small - In an effort to be a bit more realistic, all the units are a closer to real life proportions and wear similar camouflage clothes to what they would in real life. Large environments make it hard to locate soldiers and tanks amidst the urban concrete and desert locations. I think the game should have used a squad system for soldiers in this case to make them easier to locate.

Units look all the same - Again, in an effort to be more realistic, all units look very similar and its hard to tell at a glance which soldiers are which unless you zoom in a bit more.
Buildings blend into the environment - Again, the buildings are a bit too realistic and have camouflage. Unfortunately this makes looking for the US barracks a real pain amidst the other similarly shaped buildings like the sandbag shelter.

When I was playing C & C Generals I didn't like the toy-like vehicles and tanks. But in hindsight, it's clear that the reason why Westwood made the tanks much smaller and troops much larger was to ensure that the vehicles didn't eclipse the soldiers and it would be possible to see at a glance what the troop and vehicle composition of a group is.

Garrisoning - This makes the game is somewhat frustrating experience at times as you have to order your troops to exit buildings and move to the next one. If you're trying to clear out a city, this can really slow down progress as troops that enter the building become a separate selection group. Any units outside get deselected so if you want to move on ahead to clear another building you have to have your troops exit the building, then reselect everybody again, reorganise the formation so your troops are protected and then move along.

Having played both C & C: Generals and Act of War I find that garrisoning often turns the tide of battle around quite easily. My gut feel of garrisoning is that it should be limited to one or two buildings so as to make the buildings focal points of combat as opposed to allowing every single building to be garrisoned making it a game of whoever can click faster to slip more troops into buildings.

Clunky healing interface - Super Weapons and Airstrikes are located on the task bar so it's easy to call in airstrikes. But repairing and healing troops is a real pain. For example, to heal Task force talon troops, you have to locate your Nanowave healing centre and then relocate to find your troops and then heal them. Why not place nanowave healing on the interface bar like airstrikes and superweapons? That would have made it way easier. Its a bit easier for the US army. You can call in the helicopter to medivac your badly injured troops with red health. What I don't understand is why you can't call the helicopter in for troops which aren't totally injured. It makes no sense. Vehicles on the other hand, can call in repair trucks or repair helicopters anytime. Weird.

One gripe I have with gameplay is why doesn't Taskforce Talon get some sort of healing unit near the beginning or at least some way of healing wounded troops? I remember in C & C Generals you could at least send your troops back into the barracks to get fully healed. Why didn't they implement something like that? This is especially heart wrenching when troops become critically wounded can't actually move and then subsequently bleed to death. Unless you've leveled up to get a nanowave healing centre, which is quite high up on the technology tree, your Taskforce soldiers have to be left to die. I mean, there they are wounded in combat, you've cleared the area of enemies and even though you're suppose to be a hightech fighting force you can't even send an ambulance to rescue them. It's even funnier because you can actually get a vehicle repair unit before getting getting a nanowave healing centre. Is this how a hightech fighting force is suppose to do things? They value equipment over their soldiers?

Resource collecting - Oil derricks are usually isolated and relatively far apartment so you have to build a refinery right next to them anyway. This means more micromanagement. The makers should have just collapsed the refinery and oil derrick into one building.

There is also the ability to take prisoners of war and hold them hostage for money. Often the ground will be littered with troops afterwards and I have to order my troops around to go around collecting them. Whenever they capture one soldier, they will also try and capture other nearby troops as well. I found however that the radius for this capture zone was really small so I had to continually tell my troops to capture troops just outside of their capture zone. Each POW gives you $500 so its definitely worth capturing but having to continually babysit my troops while capturing is annoying.

Overall, I found the game very high in micromanagement and I think it makes the game more aggravating at times than necessary. You might note that nearly all of my criticism is centred around interface rather than gameplay as I haven't really had a chance to play multiplayer so I can't comment on gameplay balancing. It's a decent competent RTS with good graphics and animations but I don't think it's quite polished enough to reach classic status. I don't believe it will be viewed favourable over time particularly since C & C Generals was there first. At the time it got around 70-80% but by today's standards although the graphics hold up quite well I would probably give it a 5 or 6 because the interface and gameplay isn't quite up to scratch.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Might and Magic 6-pack: Limited Edition

GOG as promised has released the Might and Magic 6-pack: Limited Edition for just US$9.99. Plus you also get the Swords of Xeen game which is a bonus scenario included in most Might and Magic compilations. For me, the bonus material such as the soundtrack and cluebooks are the draw cards for me. Definitely a ground breaking foundationally series.

Burnout Paradise NZ$25

In today's daily deal - Mighty Ape is offering Burnout Paradise The Ultimate Box (For the PC) for just NZ$25! Definitely worth checking out considering places like Steam are selling it for US$40.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Good Old Games - Interplay Promotion

Good Old Games is having a promotion for Interplay games where every Interplay purchase entitles you to another Interplay game for free. All games are $US5.99. Check it out here.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Google Books and EPUB

The official Google Blog states that Google Books' public domain books can now be downloaded as EPUB format as well. What makes this significant? Don't we already have pdf?

The reason it's significant is because the EPUB format (unlike pdf format) is designed with 'reflowable digital books and publications' in mind. This means that the text and structure of the book can be easily reformatted to fit whatever device you have in mind unlike PDF which is fairly static. The EPUB format is also open source and so improvements and changes can be made by anyone so you don't have to pay anyone to use the format.

By switching to this format, Google book's library even more attractive to people who don't necessarily have access to a large screen all the time. Now they can read those books on their mobile phone or PDAs knowing they will be properly formatted.

If you're into more free books, don't forget to check out Project Gutenberg since they also have plenty of public domain books.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Warioland II

Warioland II features Wario on a quest for recover all the gold that was stolen from his castle. Initially released in 1998 a colour gameboy edition soon followed a couple of months after. Unlike other games like Mario where death always seems just round the corner, Wario is practically indestructible. Often, getting injured (such as being squashed) will result in a transformation that will allow you to access different areas. In order to create a challenge in the game, Wario must collect coins instead and spend coins to unlock treasures and map panels. Getting hit will cause you to lose coins and be paralysed. Wario also has a charging attack and a butt slam attack as well as the abilities to pick up enemies and certain objects. Unlike Mario, whenever you bump into enemies, it's more likely the enemies will get paralysed instead of you.

Because of Wario's abilities as a player you don't have to be particularly great. You'll still be able to finish the levels. But if you're wanting to complete the game and get the treasures you'll have to practice. You're only setback a little. Never blatantly punished.

So what else is great about the game?
1) Small bite sized levels - Perfect for portable gaming. Most level are completable within five minutes. The small size also encourages exploration as you know the secrets can't be too far away.
2) Mostly Self contained rooms - Everything you need to do to get to the exit in a room is in there. There are only a few locations where this rule is broken in the case of switches that need to be flicked to activate something else in a different room.
3) Tight gameplay and controls - Controlling Wario is very easy and he is extremely responsive.
4) Multiple story lines - Great for extending gameplay.

So what does it do wrong? Despite being such an awesome game, there are some issues:
1) Alternative story lines conditions can be hard to figure at times - Some of these conditions seem to assume you're a mind reader or something.
2) Some secret areas a bit hard to find
3) Lack of content in the colour version - Aside from the colour, the gameboy colour edition featured no real extras.

Despite it's small flaws, I can only say that Warioland II is a masterpiece and I believe that it deserves a place in the halls of greatness. It is a pinnacle of 2D gaming in the same way Lode Runner: The Legend Returns is. Hundreds of years from now, Warioland II will still be an awesome. It should be a game that every aspiring platform game designer should play. This is the closest one can get to perfection in the action genre.

If you haven't played it yet you can't call yourself a real gamer.

About the really final secret chapter
By the way, the last secret level you unlock when you collect everything is probably the toughest brutal and most insane level I've ever played and proof that even with a great concept like Warioland II, level design is paramount. It's easy to see how things could have gone seriously wrong if levels like that were the mainstay of the game. Fortunately it's confined as a secret.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Steam Store - THQ Collector's Pack

Steam is offering their THQ Collector's Pack at $US74.99 which translates to probably around a bit more than NZ$160. And you get:

Dawn of War II
Company of Heroes
Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts
Frontlines: Fuel of War
Juiced 2: Hot Import Nights
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl
Titan Quest
Titan Quest - Immortal Throne
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War - Dark Crusade
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War - Gold Edition
Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War - Soulstorm
Full Spectrum Warrior and
Full Spectrum Warrior: Ten Hammers

Definitely worth taking a look at as nearly all these games are critically acclaimed.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Nethernet Officially Dead

The Nethernet is finally dead as proclaimed on the official site.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009


Policenauts, an adventure game by Hideo Kojima of Metal Gear Solid fame, now has an English patch. If you've played Snatcher than you'll love Policenauts. If you're a twitch gamer and not a fan of adventure games, then you'll probably want to give this one a pass.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Broken Sword: The Angel of Death - Review of the Interface

Broken Sword: The Angel of Death is the fourth game of the Broken Sword series. I'll assume you've played the previous games as I'm going to discuss the interface of this game. First of all this is the second 3D game in the Broken Sword series the first being Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon. However it uses a very similar engine to Broke Sword: The Sleeping Dragon.

In Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon the game was designed for the console and PC at the same time. As a result the game has you controlling the main character directly like in an action game. As you approach an object you get several options for the item via the interaction menu that pops up. There were 4 interaction menu buttons mapped onto the 4 buttons of a console controller in a cross. Many PC gamers were unused to this and complained about this interaction but I personally this was a good way of presenting possible interactions with the environment and increased the immersion. For example, if I wanted to climb a ledge, I approached it and pushed the top interaction button where the climb button was mapped on. If I wanted to drop, I pressed the bottom button where the drop off button was mapped on. There were also a number of quick time events where for example, you press left or right swing an object at an enemy for example or down to duck.

In Broken Sword: The Angel of Death, Revolution decided to return back to the old system of point and click while using the 3D engine. Unfortunately, upon the first 10 minutes of the game, it became very clear that they had tacked this interface on to the 3D engine of number 3 without making proper alterations to accommodate this change.

I found basic walking to be utmost torture in the larger environments. When you click on spot, George moves there and then stops. Sometimes this will shift to a new camera angle and you'll be able to do something. But other times, all the camera angle does is shift to the new location so you have have to click again for George to continue walking. This is particularly annoying in long corridors or passages where you have him unnaturally stopping in the middle of the corridor.

The best way around this is to actually hold down the left mouse button so when he reaches the new area he simply continues in the direction indicated but you have be careful because if he actually touches the left mouse button he'll stop and you have click again somewhere else. This actually happened on to me on numerous occasions due to camera changes. Alternatively you can play with the arrow keys on the keyboard which solves this problem remarkably easily! Solving this problem in my opinion is pretty easy, break out large environments into several smaller scenes and create a 'scene exit' icon so players know that they are moving into a different part of the environment.

Also the ledge climbing and crate moving from number 3 is back but this time you have to point and click your way while doing it. Just like walking, ledge climbing can be really annoying as you try to lead your character using your mouse pointer from one end of the ledge to another end while the camera changes. Sometimes it's hard to know whether you can drop off or climb ledges as there aren't any particular indicators a ledge can be climbed unless you've played number 3 before or are an action gamer like me. Crate moving isn't too bad in this particular game but you can also climb the crates meaning instead of grabbing the crate, you end up climbing on it or vice versa. When it comes to actually moving grates, the camera angle caused me to end up grabbing the wrong side occasionally. Perhaps the only good thing is that there are way fewer ledge and crate puzzles. But frankly I still didn't like them that much.

Based on my experiences with this so-called 'point and click adventure' the worst part is that they actually left out the ability to play using the gamepad so you're stuck with this awkward mouse problem throughout the entire game.

Let's compare this to a more recent adventure like the Sam & Max episodes which also uses 3D graphics. In fact, Sam & Max uses a nearly identical interface and yes, there is the unnatural halting in the middle of the room is present in the games as well. So what makes it so different?

Two things, the camera angles and the rooms. In Sam and Max games, the rooms are rarely larger than two screens and the camera rarely shift except to pan a little. In the games, you are playing a relatively 2D game with only occasionally changes into 3D.

In my opinion, if you have small rooms or environment, a 2D style of game play is fine and point and click is fine. If you have large rooms, you should either break them into small rooms or go for an action type interface where you control the character better.

Friday, 21 August 2009 gets more Ubisoft Games

Good old Games agreement with Ubisoft has been extended to even more titles so we'll be getting games like The Settlers 2: Gold Edition, Might and Magic 6: Limited Edition which includes all Might and Magic games up to number 6, Heroes of Might and Magic II and Heroes of Might and Magic III Complete edition . Not bad at all.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Nethernet Refugee Camp

While the Nethernet crumbles we now have a place to go. The Nethernet Refugee Camp on Ning. So check it out for more discussion on the game.

GRIN Closes - Another Game Company hit by the Recession

Swedish game comany GRIN now famous for creating the two new Bionic Commando games has gone bankrupt.

I must say although it is sad that I'm a bit ambivalent considering their games weren't that great unfortunately. Take for example Bandits Phoenix Rising which had great game play mechanics but really faltered on the single player and wasn't marketed properly as a multiplayer game. Or take Bionic Command Rearmed which is basically a rehash of Bionic Commando for the original Nintendo Entertainment System. As for Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon, they only worked on porting that to Windows. Their latest games Wanted: Weapons of Fate and Terminator Salvation scored poorly on Metacritic.

If you look at what the critics have been saying over the years, ultimately their games are shallow and lack interesting gameplay. I have to agree with their reviews on this having played Bandits and Bionic Command Rearmed. They lack a certain flair that pushes them to make them exceptional or at least memorable like say MDK or Rise of Legends or Grim Fandango.

Goodbye GRIN, I wish I could say I missed you more.

Farewell to the Nethernet

GameLayers announced that support for their metaweb game will cease shortly and they are asking the community if they want it to limp on to its death or if they should pull the plug now for a quick painless death.

As Divide by Zero sums it up very nicely:

Personally I smell the investor’s hand in this. Gamelayers and the Nethernet was quite a bit backed by venture capitalists and their board of directors is practically run by them. As such, it was a matter of time before a resource-heavy game that failed to find a business plan to monetize all their traffic would start to raise questions about its viability by the investors. My impression is that the developers were given an ultimatum on this by their investors: “Either find a way to make money out of this within the next month or we stop funding you.” Or something to that extent. As such we saw the wholly misguided attempt to introduce “bacon” (ie micropayments) to the game which had the effect of driving a very considerable number of the community away (Just look at the comments on their post about it).

And now, almost exactly one month later, once it became obvious that their community abandoned them (or once a deadline was crossed?) the plug is pulled. The question is, what now? I mean, it’s obvious that the hosting won’t continue for much longer by Gamelayers (possibly until their server leasing expires?) so at some point the Nethernet will go 503...

But where Gamelayers failed, perhaps the community driven creativity, from players, for players, might make the Nethernet what it could have been. I can only imagine solutions such as federated servers, each of them possible to be hosted by any person’s desktop, sharing resources to allow the game to run smoothly. A team of free software programmers simply coding in the tools that people really want to have, that will make the game far more immersive and exciting, instead of the semi-boring event it is now. And by the nature of Free Software, you might see other versions of the Nethernet spring up, based on different universes rather than the same Victorian Steampunk one PMOG was always based on, again connected via distributed, The end of the Nethernet(?), Aug 2009

You should read the whole article for more information. It is full of information and contains plenty of points to think about.

Personally I believe it is a huge shame that Nethernet will be going. I believe they were doing many of the right things in metaweb pioneering. I think we should pull the plug straight away but leave the message boards open.

To the community, I hope we will band together and come up with a free open source distributed computing solution.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Sourceforge Explorer: Magic Set Editor 0.3.8

If you're into battle card games like Magic The Gathering or Marvel VS and over 15 you're a gaming geek. Say what you will, but if you're still playing battle card games at that age you probably own at least one D & D rulebook and quote passages out of the latest Forgotten Realms novels.

So I'm sure somewhere along the lines of being a battle card player you'll have wanted to make your own cards which is where the free program Magic Set Editor comes in. It's a really cool program that allows you to create your own battle cards very easily. The full installation package for version 0.3.8 comes with templates for Magic The Gathering, Marvel and Yu-Gi-Oh. To create your very own custom deck full of magical cheeseballs, possessed household items and toy tanks all you need to do is choose a card template click on the card template and away you go. In addition there are plenty of useful features like a statistics feature and a search function.

I'm sure this is on the too-do list but the most glaring omission is the lack of an easy to use template creator. You can manually create templates using scripting and adding files in the directories but it is somewhat inaccessible to most people at the moment. But you can't really complain about something like that when the program is free right?

Check it out here.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Chzo Mythology + 1213 Special Editions for Free

The Chzo mythos is a bunch of free short adventure horror games created by Ben 'Yahtzee Croshaw. They are entitled 5 days a Stranger, 7 Days a Skeptic, Trilby's Notes and 6 Days a sacrifice respectively. They are considered one of best freeware horror adventure series and have won numerous community awards. The special editions with author commentary which original required donations are now free so download them here. What are you waiting for?

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Sourceforge Explorer: MegaMek

MegaMek is a conversion of the Classic Battletech boardgame allowing you to play against other players via hotseat or network. The program is designed for Battletech players already familiar with the game so you'll probably need to buy/borrow a Battletech manual. It covers the core rules and maps and the developers are working on including the optional rules. You can also create your own maps as well. I'm sure the Battletech gamers will love this.

For those of you who need to get introduced to Battletech and the glory of commanding giant mechs to blow each other up. Check out Classic Battletech. They even have free rules for new players!

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Sourceforge Explorer: JSesh Hieroglyphic Editor

I thought I would spend some time browsing through Sourceforge and looking up some cool programs. And what's cooler than Egyptian hieroglyphics? Being able to write your own!

Available free from Sourceforge, the JSesh is a hieroglyphic editor so you too can make your own hieroglyphics and be uber cool! Of course, if you're an academic it will be probably be very useful when you're writing up that journal article on your latest discovery.

Personally I would rather use it to print random nonsense on a t-shirt and sell it.

Check it out here.

Friday, 31 July 2009

Should a smack as part of good parent correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?

Today I received a citizen initiated Referendum "Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?"

Although this blog about gaming, I think this referendum is important enough for me to blog about. This is a very loaded question which any academic would rigorously reword. By placing the word 'good' in front of parental correction, we are creating the idea the smacking is 'naturally' a good/positive part of parental correction. Who doesn't want to support 'good parenting'? If smacking is part of 'good parenting' than we should support 'good parenting'. Hence we should not criminalise good (smacking) parenting. It is after all 'good'.

However the real issue here is smacking. Smacking is often used as part of parental correction and has only recently been made a criminal offence in New Zealand over the last couple of years. Seen in this context, this question favours the pro-smacking side and this referendum is clearly misleading. It is an attempt to sway the opinions of politicians to support the pro-smackers. I hope people will realise that this is a very poorly constructed referendum question and I think can not be used as a proper measure of public opinion for the reasons covered in the previous paragraph.

For more information, please check out . It's a website devoted to retaining the existing laws and is anti-smacking.

Update: I don't forget to visit Referedum Generator where you can generate your own (nonsensical) referedum!

Disclaimer: I don't think smacking is right.

Relic Games Sale on Steam

Steam is having a sale on relic games and if you're into strategy games but still haven't bought Dawn of War or Company of Heroes you should definitely check it out. With the currency exchange rate though, you might find that some games are almost the same as in Mighty Ape with games such as Soul Storm.

I recommend getting
  • Relic Super Pack for US$25 which includes the first Dawn of War up to the Dark Crusade expansion and Company of Heroes and the first expansion pack.
  • Company of Heroes Gold (US15) which includes the Company of heroes and the first expansion
  • Dawn of War II for US$30

Curiously, the Dawn of War Anthology which includes Dawn of War and the Dark Crusade expansion is exactly the same price (US$25) as the Relic Super Pack so don't even bother buying that!

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Good Old Games - Business Model

Good Old Games is a game company that recently launched focused around offering 'good old games' for a cheap price. Considering they are DRM free, I thought I would do a quick run down of what they offer and what I think their marketing strategy is.

1) Work with the Community aka Trust the customer -
All games are DRM free and this is quite a bold move by a games publisher. They are relying on community support rather than trying to convert pirates. It seems they've been paying attention to Star Dock's Brad Wardell's Gamer's Bill of Rights and his general comments on not treating paying customers as pirates.

2) Convenience
Many of these games are hard to find in any retail store. Perhaps more importantly, they are also made Windows XP compatible which is something quite hard to do as I've found out.
GOG has also expanded its catalogue and is trying to become a one stop shop for all your old gaming needs.
Finally you can redownload a game you've purchased as many times as you like where ever you are.

3) Extras
As recently mentioned in an interview by Gamasutra, their games "frequently includes additional pack-ins like soundtracks and development-related materials". For the collector types (like myself) which probably make up a substantial amount of their market this is good news.

4) Service/Support
The original publishers have long given up supporting these games. So now takes upon itself to not only update the game for Windows XP but also to provide technical support.

Do you agree or disagree with my breakdown? Go ahead and comment if you like.

Monday, 27 July 2009

SCUMMVM wins awards again

SCUMMVM once again wins the Sourceforge choice awards. Yah! Adventure games aren't dead!

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Digital Presvation in the Cloud

The US library of congress announces that it will start trialling cloud technologies as a way of preserving their data. Check out the press announcement. Hopefully this is the start of an international precedence for using cloud computing within the academic world.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Bungie parts ways with Halo

As Kotaku reports, Halo: Reach will be Bungie's last game and I for one feel that Bungie deserves gamer's support for doing that. It's tough walking away from such a successful IP as Halo but I believe that also frees Bungie to create another IP. Few Halo players remember that Bungie as a game studio has been famous for creating other memorable games such as Marathon and Myth which were revolutionary in their own way. Let's forget about the terrible action game Oni for a moment which did nothing for any genre.

Here's to hoping for another amazing game series, whatever it is!

Adventure games in European Game Stores

While I was in Europe, I took a peak at the European game stores and was pleasantly surprised to find that adventure games (as in the traditional point and click adventure games) occupied an equivalent amount of shelf space as other genres. Obviously, adventures as a market are still quite popular in places like Europe and has a much more stable niche than in the US, Australia or New Zealand.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

League of Legends will be Free

League of Legends will be embracing the free to play model of gameplay allowing players to play the game free. Similar to Battlefield Heroes and Savage 2, they expect players to go for premium features with 'content customisation' (i.e. Hero appearance and clothing) as their source of income.

It worked for Gaia online I suppose but I'm still not sure if gamers are the sort that would pay for appearance customisation. People who play Gaia Online are playing it for the social aspect and customisation is part of that social aspect. Gamers on the other hand, more choices or an edge and might be more inclined to pay for that edge.

As a gamer myself, I am well aware that forcing gamers to pay for gameplay enhancements introduces an element of potential gameplay imbalance or at least the perception of it. After all if someone else can spend money and instantly level up, what's the point of you playing?

Like many freemium business models, its clear they're trying to get a large customer base and hoping that the small amount of paying customers will be able to support the other 95% of nonpayers.

Paradox interactive Sale

Strategy Gamers (and the odd adventure gamer) will love the sale ending 26th that Steam currently has on Paradox Interactive with 50% off all their games.

Recommended buys:
King's Bounty
Knights of Honour
Penumbra Collector's Edition (Adventure Horror)

And if you're into tough complex strategy games:
Europa Universalis III
Hearts of Iron III

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Explore the Moon on Google Earth

Google's official blog announces the launch of the Moon on Google Earth...wait...shouldn't that be like, Google Solar System now or something since we now have both the Moon and Mars on Google Earth?

I suppose people who believe the moon landing is a hoax will take this as an even greater cover up by the US government or something.

Mobile Web = Mid 90's internet

USA today reports that Nielsen Norman released a study showing how the Mobile web is very similar to the internet in the mid 90's ie slow and clunky.

As anyone who tries to browse the web on their mobile phone will tell you, that's exactly right! It's difficult and annoying. What we need is menus that provide more buttons and less keyboard typing. Many of the best mobile websites don't really require any typing just selecting.

PecoBoo by VeryPC - Not quite ready for public testing just yet

According to ZDNet VeryPC is a company dedicated to making green energy efficient PC's and recently announced that they have released a program called PecoBoo that could help you save monitor energy using your webcam. It detects if you're there via it's facial recognition software and if you're not, it switches the monitor off.

Checking out the software's official website reveals you need to register with your e-mail and phone number or give them a call. Looks like the rest of us will have to wait. Still it looks interesting.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Rise of the digital game download - What consumers are paying for

The release of Battlefield 1943 reminds me that the digital downloads and the shift away from physical packaging. What exactly are people buying when they pay for a digital download?

Content - The initial game content itself
Multiplayer service - Ability to socialise with other players
Additional content - Post release extra maps, mods, content update
Technical Support - Patches

For a game with a one off purchase, gamers expect the company to provide all of these services for a year or two minimum. Gamers expect a subscription based service like massively multiplayer service to continually provide all of these as long as they pay.

Most companies like EA and Activision are starting to realise that selling a game isn't just like selling a bicycle or a music CD. It isn't quite like selling a service like power or a telecommunications package either. It's somewhere inbetween.

Games to Movies - Still a bad idea

I don't know why people still try to convert games to movies. The recent announcement of Uncharted: Drake's Fortune being turned into a movie shows Hollywood has yet to learn their lesson.

The reason why games make bad movies is because they are different mediums. The major advantage of games is their interactivity; turning YOU the player into the protagonist. You decide where your warrior or (superhuman) soldier does.

In movies, there is little interaction and we are expected to passively enjoy the experience. Rarely does a character ask you what they should and viewers have no control over the characters' actions.

Coming back to Uncharted, the game puts you into the shoes of some guy trying to find some treasure. That's a fairly generic plot and one that has been seen millions of times in movies. And there have been good island action movies, average island action movies and there have been bad island action movies. There is a good chance that Uncharted will end up being an average or bad island action movie. A game is fun because it allows you to participate and decide how they deal with the various problems obstacles on the island.

Hopefully Hollywood will understand that one day. If they want to pick a game they should pick one which would make an interesting movie. Not simply because it sells well.

PIrate Bay's Future

If you've been keeping track of the news around the Pirate Bay trial, you'll know that Pirate Bay is in negotiations with Global Gaming Factory to be sold to the. TorrentFreak mentions that Pirate will become a paysite but will promote file sharing with the subscription being used to pay off copyright holders.

Like TorrentFreak, I'm wondering if this this work? What's to stop users from grabbing the copyrighted material and uploading them to another torrent site?

Surf Safer and Smarter by WOT

The Web of Trust comapany recently released a 'Surf Safer and Smarter' firefox addon collection featuring:

Surf Canyon
Adblock Plus
Roboform Toolbar
Web of Trust

I use Adblock Plus and Web of Trust so I definitely recommend those to keep yourself safe. I don't recommend Robofor Toolbar because the free version is limited to remembering only 10 logins. Firefox already has a built in password manager system and there are other free ad-ons without the 10 login limit. I use Secure Login myself.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Nethernet goes 1.0 - Becomes Freemium

Nethernet the meta-browsing game (formerly known as PMOG) has finally gone 1.0 and is now a freemium service.

Just a brief recap on how Nethernets gameplay works; as you surf the net you get datapoints which are then used to purchase tools. For example, You could purchase a portal and plant it on your favourite site pointing to another related site. Whenever another Nethernet player visits the first site, your portal will pop up inviting the Nethernet player to take it. There are a variety of tools which serve various functions including mines which serve only to annoy visitors by shaking their browser! Advanced tools such as grenades and puzzle crates now cost bacon which is purchased using real money.

On the forums, there are already players grumbling about this new pay-to-play development. It's easy to see why as many of them don't quite see the need pay for a social-browsing experience considering similar social-web services like delicious and stumbleupon are free. We'll see if this transition into freemium works for Gamelayers.

Update: Took a look at some of the free ways to get Bacon. Unfortunately it involves signing to gambling sites and to usless mobile phone text alerts. Disappointing! I was hoping they would have partnered up with a website like Trial Play or a games store.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Underground Railroad - What hapened to the Video Game Controversy?

Kotaku reports that a new video game about the American Underground Railroad is being funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and will be made by Norfolk University history professor Cassandra Newby-Alexander. AS Kotaku reports:

The player will be forced to make decisions - which path to take; who to trust - and not every decision will be the right one. The player, in the role on an escaped slave, can potentially be captured or even killed, but Newby-Alexander assures, "Even wrong choices in the game will lead to learning." In fact, while the game is aimed at middle and high school students, the plan is to make it challenging enough that success isn't always a foregone conclusion. "I don't want to dumb-down the game."

Now hang on minute! That sounds suspiciously like another game that was created over a decade ago by MECC called Freedom! released in 1993. In the game, you play a slave trying to use the Underground Railroad to escape to freedom. MECC at the time of Freedom!'s release was well known at the time for Oregan Trail which simulated the life of a settler trying to reach Oregan. Unfortunately, Freedom! was pulled from the market because some parents sued MECC over it.

An old computer magazine called Compute! (as transcripted by Atari Magazines) writes about why the game was pulled. The two main objections was the the

slaves' uneducated, dialect-heavy speaking manner presented the wrong impression of African-Americans to a predominately white student body.


that that Freedom! reduced slavery to game and ""Nintendoized" a traumatic and difficult period".

This seems like another good example of misunderstanding the computer game media. In the first place, African slaves really did speak with such an accent back in those days so that feeds into the historical accuracy. Mark Twain himself attempted to convey this accent in books like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Would parents have them speak with a modern American accent?

It seems a shame that MECC, which at that point was already well known for crafting well thought out games at that point, was attacked for creating such a game. Indeed, I believe the parents did more harm than help by forcing MECC to pull the game from the market.

Coming back to the present new game being created, I hope that this new game will live up to MECC's high quality edutainment standards. In my opinion one of the first things that Professor Newby-Alexander should do is to help make Freedom! available once more! Maybe this time, the parents will keep quiet and not sue them like they did MECC.

Jamendo creates plugin for Moovida

Jamendo announced some time ago that it had launched an integrated plugin with Moovida, a free media player, so Moovida users can browser and download Jamendo songs. It was reported on several blogs but it looks like the main news media hasn't noticed that Jamendo is slowly but surely gaining popularity.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Kerchoonz - Portable Speaker and Marketing Strategy in One

Kerchoonz, a free music site has released a portable speaker called K-box that allows you to use any surface as a bass speaker. Several hardware and music blogs have reviewed the speaker which is apparently quite good as portable speakers go.

None of them have really mentioned that this is part of Kerchoonz's freemium strategy, giving away free music and creating new streams of revenue by selling hardware instead. Its similar to what Apple is doing with its ipod and music store. Will this marketing strategy work? Time will tell but I think the K-box has certainly got the attention of the music hardware community and blogs.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Two new superhero games

very recently two super hero sandbox action games were released for the consoles. One of these games is inFamous, where you play a person granted electricity based super powers and can choose to be either good or bad. The other is Prototype where you play as a person transformed into a living biological weapon. Unlike inFamous, prototype casts you very definitely as an anti-hero and is designed around the idea of killing and absorbing civilians and enemies while fighting is crucial for staying alive.

Both games have obtained fairly good reviews and like Battleforge and Demigods, it'll be interesting to see how both new superhero franchises develop.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

New Zealand Copyright Reform

According the the National Business Review, the New Zealand National government is looking at scrapping our current copyright act bill and rewriting completely. Part of the reason is the changing nature of information technology. This is certainly a positive sign as the government recognises that with the rapid changing technological landscape such acts are simply outdated.

The question remains, when will the copyright act be rewritten and who will its contributors be? Certainly, Creative Freedom hopes to contribute to this but the news article declines to mention the government's stance on this.

While this represents an opportunity for supporters of say creative commons copyright this also represents an opportunity for even more stringent copyright laws to be created.

From what I've learnt in university, historically New Zealand has actually had a history of pioneering legislature. For example, Woman's Sufferage climate change and bio ethics. Part of the reason is that we are a small country, have less levels of bureaucracy and are heavily dependent on international trade. Many of these changes and initiatives have been used as examples by larger countries in a positive light.

Have faith in the democratic process and don't forget to have your say when the dialogue begins!

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Dawn of War II Music

If you're a fan of Warhammer 40K, you'll be happy to know that the Dawn of War II music sound track is free from the steam store. Can't beat free music right?

I think it would have been a smart move to release the soundtrack from the previous Dawn of War games and discount all Dawn of War games at the same time. I'm sure the soundtrack is drawing lots of traffic and this would make it perfect from a marketing and consumer perspective!

Friday, 1 May 2009

Pacific Islanders iphone game protest - More Manufactured Game Controversy'?

Game Politics and the NZ herald reports that Pacific Islanders are protesting about a iphone God game that allows you to create and kill people that resemble Pacific Islanders.

As the comments in game politics points out, we have games like Populous, Sim city and the Black and White series where you can create and kill citizens and even level cities. It's much more apparent in the Black and White series where you can actually pluck and fling citizens across the maps or feed them to your creature. We also have games like Galactic Civilizations and Master of Orion which regularly feature military domination and genocide as a possible victory condition. Finally in first person shooters we have games like Blood 2 and Duke Nukem 3D which have had their fair share of controversy but ultimately no one outside of gamers really care about now.

So I think it's a bit of a manufactured game controversy. Like my previous post on Faith Fighter, I wonder who actually directed people's attention to this? Did someone buy it on the iphone and show a family member or friend? Reading the article headlines, you will also notice the strong words of murder and torture to evoke a strong emotional response.

Reading the general game reviews around the net, the game is skewed towards being an evil deity and you get funnier reactions when you do evil things like tossing them into the volcano although maybe the reviewers preferred to be evil. Perhaps it was a bit insensitive to depict 'islanders' in such a way but I'm not sure how much different it is from the other games I've already mentioned above. Maybe they should have added more benevolent actions in the game or make the islanders purple skinned aliens instead?

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Battlefield Heroes Beta Keys

Heaps of Beta keys have been released for battlefield heroes if you sign up to one of the partners. Check out the announcement! I got mine!

Game Controversy: Or Maybe Not

Game Politics reports Faith Fighter a game released over a year ago in 2008 has recently been noticed by 'religious groups' that are now calling for its removal off the internet. Gamer blogs like Kotaku note the extremely long period of time in which religious groups took to even notice that game. A quick glance of the actual Faith Fighter website shows the following response:

On Monday April 27 a misleading article titled "Calls to ban online game of Holy hatred" was posted on the tabloid newspaper Metro UK.

As often happens on the Internet and in our nowadays lightspeed mediasphere, the news got re-posted and further distorted by several other sources.

We feel compelled to give some clarifications:

- The game has been around for more than a year, it got international news coverage, it has been played by millions of player on the Internet and it has been exhibited in several artistic venues around the world.

- So far we received a couple of letters of complaints from individual catholic players but NO communications from any religious organization.

- The whole article on Metro UK is misleading, we assume the anonymous journalist pointed the game to the 3 individuals in order to get statements and give the impression that some kind of huge controversy was happening. At the present moment NO official statements from actual organizations related to the game can be found.

- The "censored" version was part of the game since the beginning, it is in NO WAY a response to protests from religious organizations.

- The anonymous journalist from Metro UK never contacted us, the sentences "The makers of the game ... have shrugged off criticism" and "the spokesman of Italian-based molleindustria said..." is simply a fantasy of the amateur journalist looking to spice up a blunt article.

Said that the game was obviously meant to be provocative but it was more meant to be a response/complement to the one-way western satire of the infamous Danish Mohammed cartoons.

So what we have here is an almost artificial controversy generated by the Metro UK.

At the same time we have another report by Game Politics that the controversial game Six days in Fallujah has been dropped by Konami with all the bad press it has been receiving. As with any other media, controversial topics such as this in the US tend to become less controversial as time goes on.

If we remember, Francis Ford Copolla's Apocalypse Now, now regarded as a masterpiece of film, was surrounded by controversey as the Vietname war was a sensitive topic at the time. Today however, we have games like Battlefield Vietnam and Shellshock: Nam which seem to have flown completely under the conservative radar. We also have modern games like Full Spectrum Warrior which was developed with the assistance of the US army which takes place in a fictional middle eastern country close to Iraq and Afghanistan. In some ways this controversy shows a double standard and a jarring one at that. Time does heal wounds and I suspect games like Six days will eventually be made. But not in today's political climate.

I think these demonstrate the failure of a democratic society to uphold the concept of 'freedom of speech'. Freedom of speech isn't about allowing you to say something 30 years after its occurred when nobody cares anymore, it's about the freedom to debate about the topics while they are still 'hot' so you can influence society or provide a commentary on it. If film makers or game makers want to make a documentary we should support their right to do so.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Web 2.0 has Matured

Recent news shows MySpace continuing to lose ground to Facebook while Geocities is now closing and Windows Live as also launched a new social network type interface.

All this activity It looks like Web 2.0 has finally reached the mature phase of development completely booting out Web 1.0 . The social web is now part of the mainstream surfing experience. For example, I now expect every site to have an RSS feed for me to subscribe to and I expect the ability to share links via Facebook. Web 2.0 has transformed the way we think about the web now and what we demand from the web.

So what's the next phase? Well many commentators say its the mobile web. I also believe the metaweb will increasingly become important. What do I mean by metaweb? I'll post about that later in more detail but check out Nethernet or Rocketon for a hint of what I mean.

Mother 3 Translation

Mother, or Earthbound as it is known in the US is a fairly successful series in Japan. It's an RPG which takes place in a fairly modern setting where the main characters use baseball bats and everyday items to attack. Only Earthbound (number 2 in the Mother series) ever made it in English. I've finished Earthbound but I didn't really think too much of it frankly. Games like Breath of Fire, Persona and Final Fantasy appeal to me more I guess.

Anyway, Mother 3 was released on the Gameboy Advance and the English fan translation was recently completed. I've played about the first hour of the game and I still don't understand why everyone thinks its great. Perhaps its charm lies in the almost serene clear nature of the game, the eco-friendly themes, the simple graphics that harken back to a more innocent time along with the concepts of a warm loving nuclear family. Who knows? I prefer games like Shin Megami Tensei with its serious dark tones and philosophical underpinnings.

Anyway, go check out the translation patch here.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

League of Legends

DOTA (defense of the ancients) is a very popular Warcraft III mod focused around heroes. There are troops and defence towers but you don't actually control them, you just control your hero. As your hero fights the hero gains experience and gold which can be used to upgrade your hero. It's best described as Real Time Tactics as opposed to Real Time Strategy as the base building has been completely removed.

The recently released Demigod is a good example of a professional game based around the idea. League of legends, is another game that is currently in the works with similar gameplay. Part of the time worked on the DOTA mod which is quite an interesting piece of news. With such similar games being released, it's inevitable that people will compare them. I'll be keeping a close eye on both to see which is more successful.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

The Pirate's Dilemma - Free

Torrent Freak previously posted a guest post by Matt Mason about piracy. In the post, Matt reminds us of reasons one of the reasons why piracy exists is a failure in the current market system.

I wasn't familiar with who Matt Mason was so I decided to check out his website called The Pirate's Dilemma. What Torrent Freak didn't mention was that Matt Mason has published a book called The Pirate's Dilemma and according to the website is
the first book in the history of the world to hit the number one spot on Amazon’s economics/free enterprise bestseller list, and the rap bestseller list, at the same time
. It's also available for purchase online on his site. You can determine the price you pay so you can download for $0 if you like.
The book covers a variety of topics surrounding piracy and also reminds us that the actions of today's filesharers are very similar to the actions taken by other youths of other periods in history. An interesting read and it costs as much as you want. So go check it out and tell more people about it.

Update: Looking at Twitter, a lot of people have twitted on the TorrentFreak post but no one seems to have realised you can download Matt Mason's book for free on the official website.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Prince of Persia - Epilogue

The latest Prince of Persia was released without DRM from Ubisoft at the end of last year. Ubisoft remained fairly sceptical that this would maintain sales as Ars Technica and Torrent Freak state.

Earlier this year Prince of Persia: Epilogue was quietly released for the consoles as downloadable content. Unfortunately Shack News reports that it won't be coming to PC due to 'business reasons'.

Does this mean that Prince of Persia isn't selling well enough on the PC and Ubisoft isn't willing to release it on PC? I hope not, but I can't help but read between the lines when I read this report. Hopefully Ubisoft will release some figures on how well Prince of Persia is doing later this year.

Residual: Grimm Emulator

If you're a big fan of 2D adventure games like Secret of Monkey Island and Broken Sword, then you probably know of SCUMMVM which is an emulator to play those games.

But if you're wondering how to play later games like Grim Fandango and Escape from Monkey Island which use a 3D engine called GrimE you'll need to use a spin-off of the SCUMMVM project, Residual.

Residual's aim is to emulate the GrimE engine so those games can be played on modern systems. They've just obtained their own site so keep a close eye on it. Hopefully you'll soon be able to play Grim Fandango and Escape from Monkey Island the way it should be.