So everyone is talking about Torchlight 2, but being the really up-to-date gamer that I am (/sarcasm), I just finished Torchlight 1. I repeat, you’re about to read about Torchlight 1. If you’re not interested, I understand completely. Here are some thoughts:
A) I’m a sucker for cartoon-y artwork. So even though it might make the game “less hardcore” (what does that even mean?) it is fun and I enjoy it. I will also say, all of the armor looked good! How often does that happen? I hate having to pick between form and functionality in games like Mass Effect, where great armor looks disgusting. Thanks, Torchlight artists. You done good.
B) If you haven’t played this game yet, be sure to carefully read and believe the descriptors for the difficulty settings. Not only did I not read them carefully but when I selected a difficulty, I kind of did see the descriptors telling me that “Normal” was for new adventure game players, and I didn’t believe it. Subsequently I died about a handful of times throughout the whole game. I’m not sure how many hours it took me, I didn’t do much side-questing, and I do love to dominate in wicked sweet equipment, but come on . . . I gotta die a little! That makes it more interesting! Anyway, bottom line: not really a Runic Games problem, more of a reading comprehension and dumb person problem. Don’t play on normal unless you’re a child.
C) The game play and the story were . . . straight forward and uninspiring. But tried and true, I suppose, and therefore had some base appeal. Don’t get me wrong, I had a good time, but it felt tedious at times, simply clicking and walloping baddies and doing nothing else. There was no real “world” exploration, just dungeon exploration, which doesn’t hack it for me. I don’t love open worlds like the Elder Scrolls series because I get overwhelmed, but I want a bit more than just going through dungeon level after dungeon level, which is all you do in Torchlight. To the game’s credit, the dungeons do not have the same layout every time, but . . . same feel; got bored.
At the end of the day, I had a good time playing it, for sure. I bought it awhile back as a bundle: pre-order Torchlight 2, get Torchlight 1, so I’ll be playing 2 . . . soon. I think I need a break from this point-and-click adventure genre after pushing through Torchlight 1 this week, but the series overall does good things, even if the things they do are unoriginal.
HA. I made a deliberate effort to not mention Diablo even once in this post. Mission accomplished! That sentence doesn’t count. Why does it matter at all? I guess it doesn’t, but I think it’d be nice if a game could just stand on its own for once, instead of always being second chair to a predecessor.
When I read the synopsis of Splice in the back of the PAX program, with the rest of the PAX10 games (ten indie games at PAX, highlighted by industry experts for how awesome they are), I was pretty sure it was going to be over my head. But I had made a goal to try and play all ten PAX10 games before the doors of the convention center closed two days later. Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to play all ten games (I couldn’t find six of them whatsoever, so that’s on you, PAX), but I did get a chance to try out Splice and pick up a coupon code so I could buy it on the cheap after PAX, which I did.
Splice was made by Cipher Prime Studios and is currently available in the iTunes app store as well as on Steam for Mac and PC. The marketing copy boasts over seventy levels, and the company also offers a deluxe edition that comes with the soundtrack. That was my first tip off about the music. Just like Catch-22, in the exhibition hall at PAX I couldn’t hear the soundtrack but when a game starts offering their soundtrack along with the game, not as an afterthought months later, you know it’s going to be a good soundtrack.
I didn’t get to talk much to the Cipher Prime guys at the booth because some “big wig” who “voted for their game to be in the PAX10” or something lame like that walked up right when I did. Sheesh. The nerve, huh? /sarcasm. Anyway, I pieced together a little bit of the game play, got stuck on the seventh strand of the first sequence, congratulated them on the game, and left. I finally got around to buying, installing, and playing the game last night.
As for the actual game play, all the player has to do is move around microbial units (sure, that’s what we’re gonna call them) to fit in the frame that the level provides. But when you move one microbe, it effects where the others are and they move as well. You have a limited number of splices, or moves, to get all the microbes to match the shape of the frame. In later levels, microbes get special actions, such as splitting in two to make more microbes, and other actions that are harder to explain. I heard one YouTube reviewer compare the sequences to worlds in a platformer, and the individual strands of Splice to levels in a platformer. So when I say sequences and strands in the rest of this, think of it like that. Strands are levels essentially, and they’re grouped into sequences, which are pretty much only there for organizational purposes. The funniest phrase of this paragraph is “all the player has to do,” because for its simple objective, I found Splice stupidly hard.
My previous admission about how terrible I am at puzzlers still stands. So it shouldn’t be surprising when I got stuck on the same strand of the same sequence two weeks after I played it at PAX. I eventually got it on my own, but it took me so long, it wasn’t even gratifying. I was still shaking my head, like “Man, how could I have figured that out faster?” I got stuck again on sequence two, strand three but not wanting to waste more time (which is how I always view beating my head against puzzles, i.e. as a waste of time), I googled a solution. Thankfully (for my pride, anyway) the reviewer explained some more mechanics of the game so I didn’t have to watch the full solution; I realized the solution now that I understood what the new microbes actually did.
I stopped my brief run through at sequence three, strand five. Like all puzzle games I play, it might be awhile before I actually finish this one because I am impatient and apparently an idiot. I recognize the deliberate choice to go minimalist on the game play by not explaining how to play the game, but at the same time, players get nothing to go on . . . For as much as I love progressive gaming, the lazy, puzzler-handicap in me shakes its head at setting up gamers to fail. And it’s more than others. Limbo, for instance, explains nothing. But it’s such a familiar backdrop (i.e. platformer) we instinctively figured out what to do. Splice is breaking boundaries all over the place, so our frame of reference is limited, if not gone entirely for those of us who don’t play puzzle games often enough. I think at the end of the day however, I’d rather developers assume I’m too smart than assume I’m too stupid. This rant is just because I’m mad that I’m really bad at this game.
Far and away though, this has got to be one of the most beautiful indie games I’ve ever played. There isn’t a ton to go on visually throughout the game, it’s true, but again the minimalist art style and controls, as well as a superb soundtrack (officially called Flight of Angels) that I’m going to buy off of Bandcamp in just a few minutes, creates an ephemeral place in which to ragequit. Ahh, how pleasant.
If you like puzzle games, you will love Splice and you should definitely spring the $10 to buy it. It’s only $4 for the iPad, and I don’t see anything telling me that it has any fewer levels, so if you have an iPad, save some dough and buy it in the app store. If you don’t like puzzle games, I think this is still a beautiful enough game that if you like being challenged in non-puzzle games, you’ll appreciate the experience in Splice. Just wait until it goes on sale.
I should’ve posted this yesterday but I realized if I get into the habit of daily posts, I’ll be beating myself up to maintain that and I don’t want to sink into gaming as a chore again. So I paced myself, played another one of the PAX10 (ten of the best indie games shown at PAX, chosen by a panel of industry experts) called Containment, and had a fairly good time doing it. Good, not great.
I happened to wander by the Bootsnake Games booth in between waiting in line for panels. It was on the sixth floor and not in the hubbub of the AAA title company booths on the fourth floor, which I preferred. I set out at the beginning of the weekend to make sure I played all the PAX10 games (which didn’t happen), but I saw this booth fairly early in the weekend and confidently stood behind someone else playing a demo to listen to an explanation of the game (I did in fact play the game a few days ago, have no fear).
Containment is a zombie puzzler, where you manipulate people in four classes (primarily designated by four different colors) to surround a zombie in the four cardinal directions. Once a zombie is surrounded on all four sides by one color (e.g. all pink, all green, all blue, or all orange) the colored characters kill the zombie and more characters slide down from the top of the screen to fill in the spaces that were just occupied by the zombies and the attacking characters. You can swap characters from any spot on the grid to strategically place a character. Don’t be fooled though, it’s not a turn-based game. As I sat for the first few seconds pondering what I wanted to do first, a zombie ate the character next to it and turned it into a zombie as well (the primary zombie movement mechanism – infecting others). You can surround groups of zombies with one color of character to defeat them as well, and edges of the count as the color of character you’re using, automatically. Defeating all the zombies in a grid before another zombie can crawl it’s way in advances you to the next grid and through the game.
Different classes drop different items. Surrounding zombies with all pink doctors will sometimes mean these pink ladies drop a hazmat suit item that protects three horizontally adjacent characters of your choice to be protected and to act as character color wildcards, still swappable anywhere on the grid. Surrounding zombies with all green soldiers will occasionally net you a grenade to blow up a cluster of people, whether zombies or friendlies. Blue groups killing zombies will sometimes drop a sniper shot to take out one zombie outright (there are varying classes of zombies that are harder to kill as the game progresses), and orange characters that kill a zombie or group of zombies sometimes drop a Molotov cocktail that will burn a cluster of zombies and allies without discretion.
As I said, one of the first game play features I noticed was that it’s not turn-based. Zombies don’t want for you to strategize before munching on your citizens. Initially I thought this was clever because it forces players to think and act quickly, which isn’t always the case for the puzzle genre. Later in the game though, I realized more and more that I was approaching levels with a brute force approach because I felt time was more important than finesse. It’s a fine line to be sure, and one that might be praised by some and criticized by others. I vacillated between the two, as I said.
Another strength to the game were the characters. While the animation was clean and neat, but nothing special, the characters you move on the grid to surround and kill zombies had some really clever short lines of dialogue, and the voice actors did a good job in their brief appearances.
Now to reference the title, and my easily contained excitement for the game. I was impressed that the team at Bootsnake Games bothered to put in a story at all, and the exposition that rolled onto the screen in between zombie grids had some funny one liners every so often. However, overall it was your standard zombie tale, without novelty. Also, I couldn’t imagine a more boring font. I’m no typographer so I don’t want to purger myself but the font of the story was something like Helvetica or Arial. Seriously? I would’ve preferred the cliche zombie font over reading three acts with five levels a piece entirely in the plainest sans serif font available. A small detail, you’d think, but from the time the first bit of plot was scrolling off of the screen and to the next grid, I was already bored of reading it the exposition in such a boring font.
Overall, the game was a little easy. I didn’t die once until sometime in the middle of the second act. In Bootsnake’s defense, I only played through the campaign mode. There is also a survival mode that I would bet gets pretty difficult. Additionally, there is no penalty for incurring collateral damage. In fact, killing more of your allies unlocks Steam achievements. I think an easy way to up the difficulty would be to penalize players for avoidable friendly fire. Without that penalty, I was dropping grenades, warheads, and Molotov cocktails willy nilly, just to get a few zombies.
Update: I just jumped into Survival mode for a few rounds to double check, and not be a lazy/crappy reviewer, and you do get ranked on how many civilians you kill per round. Having said that, I wasn’t too careful about it, and I got an “A” in the first three rounds so . . . maybe it’s still not that hard.
And again in the game’s defense, there is the company itself, Bootsnake Games. I said it once and I’ll say it again – the nicest people go to PAX. I listened to one of the people working the booth explain the game and gently guide the PAX attendee playing the game to make better choices. Another booth worker came up to me to answer the rest of my questions, invite me to try it out on the iPad, and convince me to buy it for $3 there at the booth. Supporting the indie devs! My favorite pastime.
The game is available on Steam for the PC (which is how I played my copy when I got home from PAX) and it’s in the Apple App store. For $2, I would recommend giving it a shot on the iPad, just because it is generally fun and I bet you can get more traction out of the survival mode than I got in the few hours it took me to complete the campaign. For $5 on the PC right now . . . sure, I recommend it too, so long as $5 is chump change to you (right now, $5 is a day of food for me so Containment wouldn’t be a priority. Catch-22 would be, just for reference). Like I said, I just love giving independent developers all of my money.
Any zombie games you guys have totally loved? I usually try to avoid the genre, but this was a pleasant introduction. Leave suggestions for me in the comments!
Quick post before my next review, I just wanted to celebrate the great advice I got at PAX about posting to other outlets – I got published! http://venturebeat.com/2012/09/10/more-fun-playing-catch-22-than-reading-catch-22/
Bitmob.com was a suggestion from Chris Kohler actually (that wasn’t even a joke, I swear I will stop saying his name) that I had never heard of before. Community writers populate the website with content and editors of the site go through and pick their favorites of the day to put on the front page. They’re also partnered with VentureBeat which has a sub-community/page called GamesBeat that gets the same features. SO! I’m on two sites! I’ll save you the time of reading it by saying the content is nothing new, but they did edit the beginning a bit for clarity, which is a really good point for me to take away (i.e. always making descriptions and set ups as clear as possible). Anyway, again, just wanted to share for a minute. It’s probably a lot less important than I’m making it, but at the same time, it feels pretty gratifying, since I’ve applied to about a dozen jobs and haven’t even heard back from any of them, that’s how far away from achieving my goal I feel. So this is a small victory, in the small bout of failure I’ve been in. Woot!
Bottom line: if you want to get published about games stuff, try bitmob.com! I’m in such a good mood, I won’t even pretend to keep this to myself.
Hardy har har, what a clever title. I actually really enjoy the novel, Catch-22. But the point is that the game Catch-22, a puzzler that was one of the PAX10 (ten indie games selected by a panel as the best indie games at PAX), is truly delightful.
I am notoriously bad at puzzle games. I talk about how bad I am at them all the time. I googled my way through many spots of Portal, I watched a lot of YouTube videos for Braid levels, I am basically the worst. Hell, I even looked up how to get through a couple spots in the A Book of Unwritten Tales demo I played. Perhaps the worst part is that I don’t even feel bad about the internet searching I do for answers and experiences that aren’t my own. So for me to play a puzzle-type game (maybe more a strategy game? I’m not sure what genre to put it in exactly) and then get really hyped for it is notable.
Built by a three-man team that started the development company Mango Down, Catch-22 features a green ball and a blue ball circling a pink sphere in opposite directions. You first control the blue ball as you jump over the green ball to collect gold coins hovering above the pink sphere’s surface. Once you collect all the gold coins (which increase in number with every level you pass), you swap to controlling the green ball and have to collect the same gold coins which then reappear. The catch (HEY-O!) is that the blue ball remembers the exact trajectory it took while you tried to collect all the gold coins the first time. So you have to dodge its jumps, and collect coins. After you move back to the blue ball, the green ball remembers its most recent path, so on and so forth.
It’s a total brain bender for me. It’s so beyond the realm of my intelligence that I can still laugh every time the balls collide and I lose. For a brief moment after all the gold coins are collected, both balls look slightly shattered and if you can maneuver them to collide in that brief window of time, then both balls forget their past paths and you get a clean slate for the upcoming coin collection, which is a bigger bonus than you realize until you play the game. The video below is a demo of a slightly earlier build of the game, but the premise is the same.
The art is really simple, which I’m a sucker for. Warm tones and cartoon-y fonts give it all a whimsy feel, and I love that it doesn’t try to make it anything more than it is – a fun, simple game to play on your mobile device when you’re waiting in line. One piece of the puzzle I didn’t get at PAX due to the noisy exhibition hall was the music playing in the background. When I started playing it on my PC, I was pleasantly surprised by the warm strings and mid-range notes that guide you through the game. Very beautiful and soothing, a great addition to the experience.
And perhaps best of all, when I stopped by at PAX to play this, the guys were so incredibly nice. I’m not sure which one of the gentleman I talked to, but he answered all of my questions, didn’t laugh at my abysmal lack of skills, and just seemed genuinely happy and enjoying the spotlight of the PAX10 (which with the high caliber of indie games that were there, is a huge and well-deserved accomplishment for Catch-22). More than the gameplay, the artwork, or the music, that makes me root for Catch-22 to be a roaring success.
The game doesn’t have a release date yet (a couple of false dates are floating around on their Facebook page and website, but it is confirmed in Facebook comments that it isn’t available yet), but when it does come out it will be on iOS and Android platforms. To be even more awesome, the guys at Mango Down put out a completely free Facebook app version, found here! Great practice before the app officially releases for mobile devices. To play, just install the Unity web extension (which it will prompt you to do when you click the link) and wait for a not short amount of time for it to load.
My high score is level 8, 25,087, which I’m proud of now but I feel like once you all start playing and commenting your high scores I’m going to be severely disappointed. Leave a comment, what’s your high score? Better yet, are you hooked already?
Update: Hi to all the new readers! If I’ve convinced you stick around, consider liking the Little Sister Gaming Facebook page or following me at @littlesisgaming on Twitter to keep up on new posts. Thanks for visiting!
I don’t think I should talk about Chris Kohler from Wired any more (Chris Kohler), but while I was waiting to talk to Chris Kohler, another aspiring games journalist/writer/designer like myself, named Ted, came up to me and took the panelists’ advice to network to heart much more directly than I did (and he is awesome for doing so). As we discussed our backgrounds (both English majors, from Washington, etc.), his friend came up and Ted introduced me to Arian, a newly-minted tabletop game designer and indie developer himself. Even though Arian and his game Pocket-Tactics had just gotten picked up by Wired for investing in a 3D printer and taking care of all the manufacturing of the game himself, with the rest of his team at Ill Gotten Games (one of the best company names I’ve heard in awhile, I must say), he graciously agreed to meet up with me the next day, let me play through his game, and review it. I’m telling you, the nicest people go to PAX.
On a Tuesday night some months ago, Arian had an idea for a dice-oriented tabletop game, inspired by the game play of Final Fantasy Tactics and its strategy game predecessors. By the end of the night, the idea was finalized and by Friday of that week, the first copy of the game was printed, painted, and fully playable. Not too shabby, by any standard. Its first iteration features two factions, the Legion of the High King and the Tribe of the Dark Forest. Each faction has strengths and weaknesses, so picking a side is a part of the strategy, not an arbitrary color or figurine preference. Arian said that there are more factions in the works to be released so players can have a wider variety to choose from. There are six classes per faction, ranging from strong melee characters to necromancers to archers. Each faction also has an accompany stats sheet so you can see each class’s defense and attack points for melee, ranged, and magic attacks. The stats sheets also show terrain advantages and abilities for each class.
The most exciting part of the game to me was the map. Players take turn picking one hexagonal piece out of a small bag at a time and placing it around one player’s base. There are some placement rules that force players to build at least slightly outward. Each piece is painted and designed slightly differently to differentiate terrain types. Different factions will have benefits depending if they’re on a forest tile, a hill tile, etc. A different game play experience every time for a map-based tabletop game is a cool innovation, and I can only imagine how experienced players can use it to their advantage, or their opponent’s disadvantage. As a super noob, I didn’t really implement it myself, and I think Arian was too nice to just wipe the floor with me with that particular strategy.
Each player only starts out with three figures on the board, which they get to choose, and more pieces can be added on subsequent turns but only to specific tiles near each players’ home base. The object of the game is to defeat the other player’s base, which in turn usually requires you to destroy all of their individual fighters. The base itself has 3 defense points, which means every attack against the base, the defending player can roll three blue dice. The attacking player uses 1 to 3 red dice (depending on how many attack points for that specific action that player’s figure has) and whichever player has a net total of higher dice either successfully defends or is defeated off the board entirely. The same process applies to attacking other figures as well (which have 1 to 3 defense points and can use 1 to 3 blue dice), not just bases. Each turn, a player can only move, spawn, or attack with one figure.
There are more intricacies than that; I’m doing the game an injustice, just as I did the day I reviewed it when I had to do a rushed play through to get into a panel that was starting. The strengths of the game lie in the fact that I found it to be a pretty simple implementation of an advanced strategy. Figures get defense bonuses depending terrain and if allies are nearby, move bonuses for nearby allies, and disadvantages for standing on water map tiles. And yet in the quick thirty minutes I had with Arian to review this, I remembered all of that and I thought I was doing all right strategically during the short time we played.
And maybe that’s the biggest point – Arian would probably be too nice to tell you if I was really blowing it anyway. I’m not trying to say that people should lie in favor of my skills (but it’s nice when they do) but I’m saying it’s really awesome to see good people like the team at Ill Gotten Games getting some coverage from Wired and some success for following their passions. I love small companies and small projects to get big time coverage and success, so I’m happy to spread the word about a game that I will definitely buy, Pocket-Tactics.
That opportunity to buy the game will be coming sooner than we think, Arian said that in the very near future a Kickstarter campaign is launching to raise funds to print Pocket-Tactics on a massive scale. I’ll be sure to post when that goes live so you can all get in on the fun earlier than the rest. And that might be the only downside to the game at the moment: while Ill Gotten Games may be printing the pieces, it remains to be seen who will be painting them, players or the manufacturers. It seems like it will depend on the success of the fundraiser; if it does well enough, we might be able to fund Arian painting board games pieces for fourteen hours a day until ship date, heh. Time, and the details of the campaign, will tell us.
Ill Gotten Games’ other project is an RPG game, similar to the style of GURPS, but unfortunately we didn’t have time to delve into that too much. I hope the group has more games slated to release in the near future, if they can keep churning out fun and simple yet strategic games like Pocket-Tactics.
PAX break – to accept a very nice nomination from the guys over at At the Buzzer for a Lovely Blog Award!
I really admire the guys (and gal) that run At the Buzzer. They have put together a quality blog with tons of content and great humor and insights into games and sports and whatever else they like talking about. They also graciously highlighted my blog a few months ago, and yeah . . . man, a nicer blog around you cannot find. I think they were also one of the first blogs to start following me. Basically, I owe my first born child to At the Buzzer. And recently they just hit their 40,000 hit mark which is incredible! And deserves a huge round of e-applause from us all.
There are some other rules to accepting this nomination, apparently (I’m new to the “professional” blog-o-sphere so I haven’t ever seen this before). I gave a shout out to At the Buzzer, now I have to share seven things about myself, and then I have to nominate fifteen other blogs and tell these fifteen other blogs that, via a comment.
- I love Ke$ha. This came to mind first because I was recently rebuked for such a travesty, but my second fact will explain the first.
- I’m a dance-a-holic! And no, I don’t mean that I actually know how to dance, but I just love hearing a good beat and flailing limbs around a dance floor. So, Ke$ha facilitates that in an incredible way, and I can’t hate people who bring me good dance jams. Thanks, K-dawg.
- When given a choice to eat a chicken sandwich or a hamburger, I will always choose a hamburger. Even when someone says “Oh, the chicken sandwich here is really good,” I think, “Yeah, but they also offer hamburgers so . . . why would I order anything else?” Since this is such a weird and useless “fact” about myself, I’ll include that I feel the same about chocolate versus fruit-flavored desserts. Oh, the cherry ice cream is really good? Cool, but I can get chocolate so . . . I’m definitely getting that no matter what.
- I only turn on the A/C in my car if I’m on the freeway or driving with someone who I can tell really wants me to turn on the A/C. In Seattle, that was never a big deal, but in Utah, it means I usually drive for five minutes and then my face is beat red and I’m sweating. I just think it’s wasteful, which I empirically know isn’t true, but still do it anyway.
- These are some ridiculous facts, because I can honestly not think of anything that I haven’t already shared in a blog post . . . I enjoy watching sporting events? Football, basketball, soccer, tennis, baseball, others. Live or on TV. Usually not my first choice but if I’m bored and it’s on, I’ll go for it.
- I did the macarena at PAX for a crappy deck of Magic cards because I want to start playing but am too cheap to buy the cards myself. I think I’ll break down and do it eventually, but hey, I got a free deck of cards.
- Speaking of cards, the first card game I really got into was Pokemon and I still wish I had kept those cards because that game was freaking awesome. I imagine I’ll have the same passion for Magic eventually.
Whew, that was much more difficult than I imagined it would be. Most “facts about myself” have to do with video games, I guess, and I’ve already shared most of them with you. Finally, nominations. I honestly don’t think I know fifteen bloggers . . . and actually if I do, they’ve already been nominated. So, this will be less than fifteen, but they are all quality, quality bloggers I enjoy reading.
- Link Dead Gaming (great podcasts and posts about all things gaming related, very thorough and enjoyable content)
- IPGR (professional, yet personable and thorough gaming reviews. I was really impressed the first time I read their stuff, it’s very high quality)
- StuckButton (a smorgasbord of pop culture posts from movies to games and more. Fun site to follow!)
- MicrowavedCoffee (great perspectives and musings about games and life, always interesting to read)
- CaptainAggro (a blog that’s just getting started, that shows a lot of promise in covering gaming news as well as gaming opinion)
- Tech Filled Fantasy (a great tech blog that I always enjoy posting on [and my comments are usually too long] that has great brain teasers about where tech is going in the future)
- What’s Your Tag? (more great, personal writing about gaming news! I’m kind of a one blog genre horse – lots of gaming, but all great writers!)
- Space Giraffe (gaming musings, covers a lot of game music which is awesome, musings in general, always entertaining)
Other bloggers I would’ve nominated had they not already been nominated include, Recollections of Play, NUReviews, and Vinny. Bottom line, I need to follow some more blogs! I’ll be perusing everyone else’s nominations list this week to find more great bloggers to follow. Thanks again to everyone that follows the blog, and another big thanks to everyone at At the Buzzer!