06Mar (For Shame) City
Back when I was in high school, I first played Sim City 2000 on our family’s first real computer. It was a revelation in gaming that quickly became an obsession. To date, it is still one of my most-played games. Since then, I have generally followed the series, and spent quite a lot of time playing (and modding, and enjoying the music of) Sim City 4. So, when it was announced that there was going to be a new SimCity game, building on the promise of SC4, I thought that it would be a game that I would purchase without question on release.
Sadly, this was not the case.
I would like to sum up my feelings with two related items. First, an image, as first seen on RPS:
And then, a link:
Found this in the Guardian, via RPS:
It’s a fairly in-depth and comprehensive discussion about the role of frustration in gaming, including quotes from a number of prominent game designers.
I agree with many of its premises, including frustration as an inescapable and perhaps essential component of certain genres of games (a topic which I covered extensively in a previous post). I certainly also agree with the idea that games which can have frustration also include alternate paths and outlets so that a particularly frustrating bottleneck cannot derail your enjoyment of much of a game (such as more linear games like some modern shooters). I don’t agree, however, that the GTA games given in the example always do this well, as they are notorious for locking out huge portions of the game world behind a series of badly-checkpointed missions with arbitrary difficulty spikes – instead, I would point to Saints’ Row 2 and 3, which allow for generally complete game exploration at any time and missions are generally only necessary to advance the narrative and provide occasional bonuses.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t spend much time on an issue that I think is even more relevant with frustration: what it means in an industry that is competing for an ever-dwindling slice of entertainment time. If indeed most gamers are those in their 20s and 30s at this point, then it means that between work, family obligations, continuing education, and a whole host of other things, leisure time is limited, and needs to be managed to allow for the most entertainment possible within that time. While it’s true that books and movies can be bad, they have a fixed consumption time; put compulsive frustration into a game, and it can eat far more time than necessary, while providing you with a diminishing return on pleasure in exchange for that time. Again, as I mentioned before, this is contingent very much on the game type: while I’m generally okay with playing pinball for long enough to enjoy the experience, whether I get to an endgame mode or not, replaying and failing the same awful mission in a shooter that prevents me from playing the rest of the game is frustration without reward. As a result, my purchasing decisions have definitely changed – if I see that a game has issues with that sort of bad frustration, I probably won’t even touch it on sale. Instead, I find that I spend my gaming time far more on open-world games with a multitude of options, and the ability to make my own fun for a while if I don’t want to tackle a particularly vexing mission. The point here is that in today’s gaming landscape, hardcore gamers who are willing to jump on any challenge are probably a dwindling slice of the pie, and that for a game developer, it is very important to consider whether the elements of frustration in your game are enhancing or harming the overall experience.
Or, simply heed the warning, in this quote from the article by Mike Bithell, developer of the game Thomas Was Alone:
“… Players are pretty tuned into spotting when the frustration is through bad design rather than challenging gameplay, and it’s a very quick way to lose someone. I’d always aim for accessible complexity and challenge, rather than deliberately setting out to frustrate.”
I’m not quite sure how to properly express how I feel about Borderlands 2. I had a considerable amount of praise for the first game in the series, and so Borderlands 2, when it was announced, automatically became one of the very few games I considered buying at full price this year. This is something I generally do only if I can be reasonably assured that I will get a considerable amount of play time and enjoyment out of a game, as otherwise I am usually content to wait for a sale on AAA-priced games (last year’s exceptions, Skyrim and Saints Row 3, both more than delivered on their purchase price for me). If you’re measuring simply by time spent in the game, Borderlands 2 certainly delivers: I’ve spent well over 30 hours in the game so far, spread across a couple of different playthroughs, and have yet to reach the final boss in either.
Getting into the gameplay, though, things are… considerably different than the previous game. If you take the expansion packs for the original into account, the difference is somewhat more evolutionary, as certain aspects of the game seem to follow on more from the gameplay in the Knox expansion (most notably the humor, more tightly-packed combat environments, and the more frenetic pace of combat). The new game certainly has a number of improvements and optimizations for the PC (including better netcode and a much-needed field-of-view setting). However, I’m not entirely certain that the core gameplay itself is necessarily improved: rather, it’s different, in occasionally frustrating ways.
As this site is primarily focused on difficulty, frustration, and accessibility, I’ll cover that first. Simply put: this game is much more difficult than the original, although I do have to qualify that. Like the original, the player levels up with experience, and the enemies also have levels – fight one a few levels lower, and your weapons can destroy them easily, but fight one a few levels higher, and they can one-shot your character while your weapons can barely scratch them. Because of this, you can in effect set your own difficulty levels: jump ahead with the main questline, and you’ll have a very tough fight on your hands, but if instead you do zones multiple times and grind through every side mission, the main missions (which also usually contain the toughest fights) can become significantly easier.
That being said, though, the actual gameplay itself is generally tougher. In the original, while there were some rushing enemies, most were quite happy to hunker down behind cover, which generally allowed you to duck behind cover yourself and regenerate your health and shields. In many cases battles turned into glorified shooting galleries, but it made for a somewhat more relaxed style of gameplay. The enemies in B2, however, have considerably more AI, and they are usually constantly on the move, steadily advancing to flush you out of cover, throwing grenades more often, flanking you and firing at you from any break in your cover. This means that you usually need to be on the move too, constantly engaging in combat, and constantly exposed to the risk of gunfire.
By itself, this new enemy behavior definitely adds some additional challenge to the game, but part of the challenge has nothing to do with combat changes, and everything to do with unnecessary changes to other aspects of the game, namely the methods by which one can recover health. In the original, there were several ways to do this: some classes had special abilities that allowed for recovery, and for others there were various shield classes that also restored health over time. Additionally, if you were willing to sacrifice a backpack slot, you could carry a health pack with you for an instant recovery. The sequel, however, eliminates many of these methods. As far as I can tell, there are no healing shields (or if they are, they’re exceedingly rare), and you can no longer carry health packs – you can only stumble over insta-health vials on occasion. Furthermore, of the new classes, only the gunzerker has a special ability that immediately features health recovery. While the mechromancer class does have a recovery option available early on (although it’s only available as DLC or for preorders, a gripe I’ll get to in a moment), most of the others don’t have a health recovery option available until many levels later. Couple this with the fact that your shield (unless you luck out) will generally be much smaller than your health, absorbing only a few hits and usually taking several seconds under cover to recharge, and all of a sudden your character’s survival is very precarious, often hanging on with tiny bits of health and constantly needing to duck out of combat to let the shield recharge. If the game featured the original style of combat, this might be a viable strategy for survival – however, with newly aggressive enemies advancing on your position from all sides, you can quickly be overwhelmed. Taken together, these factors represent a significant spike in difficulty, and anyone used to the somewhat leisurely combat of the original may be unpleasantly surprised here. Even if you were good at the original, be prepared for the sequel to mop the floor with you. Unless you are incredibly good at FPS games, you should be prepared to die – a lot. (And don’t even get me started with the tightly-enclosed areas with no cover, where enemies ambush you by spawning all around you at once – not fun at all.)
That being said, death is not a phenomenally huge problem in the game. Die, and you’ll be resurrected at your last save point, minus a fraction of your in-game currency. Given that you’re far more likely, it seems, to come across decent equipment from loot chests than you are at the in-game vending machines, the currency loss doesn’t have a hugely dramatic impact. More annoying is the fact the the save points are often too few and far between, which means that a death can involve a minutes-long slog across a sizable map to get back to where you were, something that is decidedly less than fun. Your experience, though, isn’t affected, and so you can, should you desire, keep throwing yourself at a difficult area, dying repeatedly, until you finally level up and/or loot better weapons, grinding the area down slowly (although I personally find this approach incredibly boring).
One distinct problem for some classes, though, beyond the health and shields issue, is one of ammo supply. True, there are ammunition crates scattered liberally around, but the pickups from those only contain a small fraction of your supply, less than a clip’s worth for some types of guns. This is compounded by several factors: a very small ammo reservoir to start off with, no guaranteed ability to buy upgrades (which can now only be bought with a separate “currency” that drops only rarely, and must be shared with other upgrades), and the fact that most of the harder-hitting weapons can now consume anywhere between 2-4 rounds per shot. Taken together, you can easily get into a situation where you can run out of ammo for your primary weapons during a prolonged boss fight, leaving you with backup weapons that don’t suit your play style, or no weapons at all. Some classes may have ways to regenerate ammo (the gunzerker, and possibly the commando), but for the others, you can be easily stuck.
Probably the worst situation involving this I’ve seen so far involves a boss fight against a constructor at the bloodshot ramparts. While you have an opportunity to restore your ammo at the start of the map, you then have to fight your way through a ton of robots, with ammo appearing only sporadically. Then, at the end of the map, there’s the boss fight, with no vending machine that allows you to reload before it, as there almost always was in the original. You’re then placed up against a tough bot that’s constantly creating more robots, each of which take many shots to destroy, and the constructor itself features a tough shield that takes many round to whittle down even with the appropriate weapon. You’re soon locked into a battle of attrition, and if you die during the battle, the constructor returns to full health – you, meanwhile, don’t resurrect with full ammo. Eventually, you run out of ammo entirely and have to retreat from the area, one you can’t fast-travel back to… meaning you have to redo the whole set of maps to get back to the area and take on the final boss again. (Oddly enough, in my first playthrough, there was no option but to retreat as I was never able to take down the constructor’s shields before running out of ammo. Playing through with another character, though, after a certain amount of time the constructor fled to another map entirely, one which did have an ammo vendor reasonably nearby, and where I was finally able to take it out after another monumentally frustrating battle). Needless to say, the additional backtracking was immensely frustrating (along with the fact that going through the fortress on the second try saw a mid-boss being randomly handed a gun that just about obliterated my character in one hit, shields and all, which made it that much worse). The thing is, as I mentioned earlier, the original game got it right, always giving you a chance to restock your ammo and heal up before a big boss fight. Why the sequel doesn’t do this, I don’t know, but it’s the opposite of an improvement.
Another thing that seems to have changed a bit from the original is the distribution of loot. It is true that there is somewhat more loot variety now, but the way you acquire it is much more frustrating. For starters, it used to be the case that when you were fighting an enemy that had a really tough gun, or grenade mod, that it would often drop that weapon for you to use once you defeated it. This, sadly, is no longer the case: many enemies will take you on with a randomly-assigned, fearsome weapon, and then go on to drop nothing at all (which was the case with the enemy from earlier: upon defeat, he dropped a little bit of ammo, no awesome railgun in sight). This takes away from one of the fun aspects of the game: knowing that you could get decent rewards from defeating enemies, because you could see them in their hands. Now, the rewards are completely random, and are usually few and far between: sometimes a badass enemy will drop something interesting, but for anything else, you’re lucky to even see a green drop: only occasionally will an enemy even drop a common shield or weapon, and mostly won’t drop much of anything at all. Furthermore, rare items are now really rare: even in vending machine items of the day, you’ll be lucky to see anything green, and most items are near-worthless. As in the original, “common” items, the lowest rarity tier, are almost completely useless, most not even worth picking up. You will find the next tier of items, the green ones, on occasion, but the “rare” tiers above that really are rare: while in the first game I’d racked up several blue, purple and orange weapons, even now I have mostly green ones. This is partially compensated for by the fact that green weapons can now actually be decent, instead of barely adequate as in the previous game. Still, it’s not nearly as fun to play a loot-driven game when it’s a rare day that anything at all interesting shows up.
This is compounded by the fact that there are no longer any areas that you can “farm” for gear easily. In the original game, there were several easily accessible loot chests scattered around, which you could visit to reliably get decent new equipment. This is important because chests have randomly-generated gear, and if you’re playing a pistolero and get several chests full of shotguns, you need to be able to have chests you can get back to in order to try again and get what you need. In the sequel, however, the chests are almost all at the end of extensive combat areas, and given the lowered enemy drops, there are no longer any places like Old Haven where you can reliably get new equipment through combat. Add this together, and you can be stuck using crappy equipment for quite some time waiting for something good to drop. (Oh, and for those of you who say “that’s how it’s supposed to be, play co-op to get better gear,” consider this: if I have to spend an evening working instead of playing, I’m all of a sudden too different in level to play with my friends, and doing matchmaking simply means that without a proper loot system, you have to fight with random strangers over every cool piece of gear… no thanks. The game needs to be able to hold up under singleplayer too, and in this respect, it doesn’t.)
These loot issues also affect how the game is to play, from aesthetics to combat. Admittedly, given the randomness of the game the loot you find can vary between playthroughs, but get stuck with the short end of the stick and you can be left struggling. As in the previous game, accuracy is by far the most important statistic on any weapon, and most of the common weapons aren’t so hot at it, meaning you miss more shots, which means your ammunition drains without doing damage, and you’re stuck whittling down enemies as they charge you relentlessly. Or, to put it another way: get crap loot, die constantly and gnash your teeth in frustration. Add to this the fact that aside from the bandit weapons, the common items are generally boring to look at and boring to fire: compare a plasma caster, with a futuristic design, wild colors and metallic glints, to your average gray or beige SMG, which might not even have a scope. Admittedly, even the more common weapons do have better designs and more variety than in the original, but it’s so rare to find anything interesting or game-changing that loot is rarely anything to look forward to. And as far as the rarest weapons go? So far, I’ve found about one per playthrough, and while that one has often been awesome, it’s far too rare to get a gun that actually does something particularly different that you look forward to using it over something else. (This is compared to at least a half-dozen or so per playthrough in the original).
Actually, as far as easily accessible crates with rare weapons in them… well, I suppose that’s not quite accurate. There is, in fact, a large, golden crate sitting in the middle of the primary town, which always gives out various types of rare weapons and items. The catch? It requires the expenditure of a special key every time you open it, a key that can’t be acquired through actually playing the game. How do you get one? Why, by preordering the game, of course! (Or, to be fair, signing up for Gearbox’s totally pointless and so far feature-free “social gaming” thing, but that’s not something that’s particularly obvious in-game). This is what was on offer for those who pre-ordered the game, along with a handful of weapons that you’ll discard about a half-hour into the game, an item that barely increases the rare drops in the game, and a pretty decent fifth player class that was released several weeks after the game shipped. Again, if you happened to buy the game at release date, at the exact same price, you would not have any of these things. Would you still have a complete game in itself? Technically, yes, but it’s still aggravating to go without parts of the game, or pay an additional fee for them later, simply because you didn’t want to plunk down cash sight-unseen. Oh, and if you didn’t buy it through X specific retailer? Then you didn’t get some extra arena thing. There’s also a season pass for the expansion packs, and more DLC things beyond that, which I don’t mind so much, but this preorder nonsense is beyond ridiculous.
Okay, so I’ve just spent a couple thousand words largely slagging this game. So, now that it’s dripping all kinds of purple goop off of it, let me tell you why I’ve spent 30+ hours with it so far, and will probably continue playing it for quite some time. Despite all my grumblings and frustrations, the game is still fun: the gunplay itself, assuming you get ahold of some good weapons, is quite enjoyable, and the quests in general are more interesting than those of the previous game. The areas of play are quite expansive (in some cases a little too expansive), and while there’s not a ton of variation, there are a lot of places to explore, and various secrets to find. The humor is on the whole pretty decent, and the ambience is better – NPCs are still not particularly interactive, but they’re no longer rooted to the spot. The classes themselves, at least the ones I’ve tried so far, are quite fun to play – the gunzerker is great for no-holds-barred shooting, and I’ve gotten enough weapons to put together a viable sniping mechromancer that I’ve had a good time with so far. (yes, I did admittedly get the pre-order stuff, but as I was going to preorder this about as soon as it was announced based on my experience with the previous game, I can’t say that the inducements had a major effect on my purchasing decision. Still, I feel a bit guilty about it, and it doesn’t change my opinion that this kind of nonsense has to stop.) Weapon-for-weapon, rarity aside, the weapons are generally more fun to use than their counterparts from the previous game: sniper rifles aren’t so insufferably wobbly, you can find more accurate pistols and SMGs, and there are some nice variants including minigun-style weapons, double-barreled sniper rifles, and an assault-rifle variant that rapid-fires grenades. There are also some interesting “E-tech” guns, such as the spiker pistols, along with the mythical railguns and plasma casters that I have only encountered while using a key on that golden chest in Sanctuary (btw, preorder or not, there are ways to get at that chest if you want, although such things are beyond the scope of this article. As an aside, though, it does seem strange to keep your coolest weapon designs hidden away where most players will seemingly never encounter them during the course of the game). The enemies are also generally interesting, with a much wider variety of enemies than were present in the first game, alongside most of the old favorites (assuming you for some reason really, really liked skags and rakks a lot).
All together, it generally adds up to a fairly fun game, and there’s rarely a moment where you don’t have something to do. If Gearbox had kept some of the things that worked well in the first game, instead of introducing mechanics that served to frustrate rather than do anything particularly interesting, I think this game would be a vast improvement over the already generally good original. As it stands, balancing both the cool and frustrating parts together, there’s a fun and interesting game there overall, but I’d like it far better if I could complete more of my play sessions with a feeling of fun and accomplishment, rather than a sense of frustration and boring grinding to get around unpredictable spikes in difficulty, with game mechanic changes that only add to the problem.
If you’re looking to find out information on the newly released F2PMMOFPS that is Tribes:Ascend, about the worst place to go is their official site, which provides the sum total of a download link and a 46-second gameplay video. However, the video is telling in a certain respect – an awful lot of projectiles are fired, and very few are shown actually hitting anyone.
The game, which has been in beta for a while, recently released, and I just as recently gave it a spin. Two things come immediately to mind: playing the game is reasonably fun, and if you’re used to playing most modern shooters you’ll most likely be absolutely rubbish at it.
The thing that sets Tribes apart from most games is the fact that it has a ridiculous amount of mobility, at least on the surface – while it is a multi-class game, each class has a jetpack, as well as friction-reducing boots that let you “ski” across any terrain, as long as it’s downhill or you have momentum. Theoretically, you can chain these two abilities together for almost limitless movement across an entire map at ridiculous speeds. In practice, I found that you’ll often lose momentum and run out of jetpack energy fairly quickly, leaving you trudging slowly towards the next peak to get some momentum again.
The other main difference is that unlike most gun-based FPS games, almost none of the projectiles are instantaneous. The primary skirmish weapon of most classes, the bizarrely-named spinfusor, is kind of like those foam-disc shooters you might have had as a child, only with discs that explode on impact. Or, put another way, the game is more akin to something like Quake 3 Arena, where the name of the game is jumping and hitting people with rockets, which are basically what the spinfusors are. Even the gun-type weapons such as assault rifles have slow-moving bullets that most classes can outrun as they’re skiing around.
Now, consider the facts of the game together – slow-moving projectiles with some splash damage, combined with players constantly moving at high rates of speed relative to each other in three dimensions. These factors add up to an FPS game where it’s a minor miracle to actually hit another player with your weapons. Most of the time you’re moving along so fast, and so is everyone else, that you have mere moments to line up a shot – and the speed coupled with the slow-moving rounds means that your shot most likely hits where someone else was a second ago. Essentially, you have to predict, instantaneously, where another player is going to be when your shot hits a second or two later. On the one hand, I suppose it is interesting just how well people can intuitively react to this style of gameplay, where in the real world it would take a significant amount of complex physical equations to make the same determination that you’re making on the fly. On the other hand, it’s a drastic recalculation from most any other shooter on the market, and unless you were a Quake expert back in the day, this game will present an unpleasant learning curve.
Another quibble I have is with the matchmaking system. The system automatically dumps you into a game – as of yet, there are no real dedicated servers to choose from, so you don’t get to choose where to play. You can select a game type, but you’ll end up on a random map with a random set of people. Worse, there doesn’t seem to be any post-round auto-shuffling, which means that one of the two opposing teams tends to get stacked with better players, and once people notice which team has the undeniable upper hand, they all try to join that team, with the top players generally sticking with it as well. This leads to the unfortunate situation where determining whether you will win a round in the game is based less on your own individual skill (unless you are one of those few people who top the leaderboards anyway), and more on whether you happen to luck into clicking fast enough to get on the team that wins the round over and over again.
However, the good news: Since the game is free to play, you can download it and play three basic classes to your heart’s content, and there admittedly is something quite fun about zooming around the battlefield at breakneck speeds, even if you have my skill level in the game and are resigned to a staggeringly awful kill/death ratio and a basement position on the postgame rankings. And, theoretically, you can even unlock most of the other classes and gear if you are stubborn enough to play for the amount of time necessary to rack up enough in-game points to purchase them. Of course, you can also buy gold to speed up the process, but unless you’re actually good at the game, I can’t see any compelling reason to do so – if you can’t score hits with the basic gear, it’s not likely you’ll do any better with the optional unlocks. Oddly enough, this is one of the few F2P games that I’ve seen thus far where you can enjoy a reasonable experience in the game completely for free, as what’s unlocked at the start gives you enough classes to choose one that best fits your playstyle.
So, if you’ve got a few gigs of disk space lying around, I can’t think of any reason not to try the game. Just be aware that if your main FPS experience is playing Battlefield or TF2, it’s quite a jolting change. You will miss, a lot. You will die, a lot, especially if more than one person decides to gun for you at once. But if you’re not particularly concerned about losing or being stuck on a team that gets stomped on repeatedly, there’s a fairly fun and reasonably grind-free (if you don’t care too much about unlocks) core of a solid, old-school shooting game amidst the frustrations and F2P trappings.
A while back, I wrote about A Valley Without Wind, the latest title from Arcen Games available as a preorder, in one of my alpha-funding roundups. In that earlier entry, I was unsure about the game, which at the time felt pretty rudimentary (although, while re-reading that entry, I also appeared to be against the idea of complexity, so perhaps I should explain: Complexity is just fine, but the fact remains that complex problems are something I spend time dealing with for work and study, and for a game that I play during my free time, the last thing I want to do is spend it working on solving complex problems, as it is the opposite of the fun relaxation that I often seek in games. And in reference to Arcen Games’ first entry, AI War, the complexity of its systems seem to make the average RTS game as complex as Pong in comparison). Ranting aside, though, AVWW was definitely intriguing enough to pick up, although when I last examined the alpha version things were in a sufficient state of flux that the gameplay (and even basic stats) changed dramatically from one update to the next, making playing the game in that state rather confusing.
However, the game is now in a “late beta” stage, and while significant development is continuing (a new beta was released between my play session yesterday and my writing this article), the gameplay is much more stable and feature-complete. Having heard this, and after updating the game to its latest version, I decided to start a new playthrough to see how things were shaping up.
So far, I’ve played through the new tutorial mission, as well as a nearby random area and one of the “boss tower” missions. Overall, things are definitely looking more polished, especially as far as gameplay is concerned.
The thing that immediately stands out, at least from my usual perspective on game difficulty, is the considerable granularity that the game provides for difficulty settings. When you first start a new game, you are provided with about a half-dozen different difficulty levels for both combat and platforming (the latter providing more assistance and negating fall damage on easier settings). The game also provides both an easy start with the tutorial, a normal start, and an accelerated start for those who want to jump straight into the more difficult content. As usual, I selected the easiest settings, which to my surprise felt almost too easy after my previous experience with the game, but provide a great starting point and mean that even very casual gamers can at least get started with the game and see how it works. Additionally, the difficulty level can be re-set between missions if you want more or less of a challenge.
The tutorial mission is also very well-done for this type of game, and it carefully walks you through all of the major things you need to know without being too intrusive – there are a few pop-ups here and there with important information, but most of the tutorial is provided on cleverly snarky advice given on the tombstones of characters that have apparently run through, and failed, the mission before you. It displays a surprisingly ready humor that the previous iterations had seemed to lack, and makes the game’s tone seem a bit less dark than it had previously (the game also has some interesting referential humor now and again as well, like the titles for the platforming difficulty levels based on how much desire you have to be the guy). The tutorial also ensures that you enter the game proper with a decent amount of starting materials and a reasonably wide range of beginning spells, which were few and far between in earlier iterations. As a result, your character starts out the game being reasonably capable of dealing with most situations. Plus, the tutorial throws in a few interesting (but optional) boss fights, and is varied enough to keep things interesting, feeling like a real mission and exploration area from the game rather than a simplified tutorial zone, while ensuring that you have the equipment and knowledge to complete it easily.
Once I got out into the world proper and picked a zone for exploration, the game began to slow down a bit, and I noticed a couple of issues. The terrain generation is a bit different from when I played it before, and is now considerably more extreme, meaning that most areas can only be successfully traversed by building platforms and stacking crates, and I found myself running dangerously low on supplies by the end of the first exploration area (although the home base area has some crates where you can replenish them to a basic level between missions). The exploration was definitely more controlled, though, as there were only occasional enemies rather than the swarms present in the earlier version.
As far as actual exploration goes, the zones themselves don’t offer as much in the way of variety or immediate rewards as something like Terraria, and trudging through eight screens of mildly frustrating platforming and very similar environments, with only the occasional enemy encounter to break up the monotony, make it a bit difficult to stay interested. However, at the end of the section was the first boss tower, which made things much more exciting.
The boss tower is truth in advertising – it’s a big tower, alternating platforming rooms filles with ladders, loot and enemies, interspersed with large, fairly complex arenas in which to fight one of the hulking, menacing boss characters (in this case, a supersized version of a skelebot, one of the basic enemies), of which there were three in total – beating the mission rewards you with a cache of resources, which allow you to build new and better spells (which are your primary mode of attack).
On that note, the basic mechanics of fighting haven’t changed all that much – mouse over an enemy, click or hit a hotkey to discharge a spell – but some of the surrounding systems have been much improved. Instead of having to spend a ton of time poking around for health and mana potions, as each spell would quickly drain your mana gauge, mana now regenerates after a short delay, and defeated enemies leave behind a health “aura” that can help to replenish the damage you take. Of course, having some other resources on hand just in case is handy as well (although, as the game states, it’s not a matter of if your character will die, but when – as the premise of the game is to take on the roles of multiple survivors all striving to build a better world and expand their community).
The game also improves the exploration somewhat. Complex buildings and cave systems have clearer mapping that automatically highlights areas of interest so that you can get what you need and avoid exploring a ton of samey rooms in the hopes of finding anything at all (and the rooms now have some actual props, making the buildings feel at least somewhat less empty). Additionally, most large areas have “warp gates” at multiple points that allow you to easily backtrack back to the region map without having to retrace your steps through the entire zone.
All in all, most things are improved, from the addition of more spells, powers, and “enchants” to improve your characters, to a clear system that highlights goals and needed equipment so that you always have something to do, and don’t feel completely lost in the game’s mechanics. That’s not to say that the game lacks in complexity – after all, one of the menus features a “big honkin’ encyclopedia” of just about everything in the game, and as I’ve only played a few levels, I haven’t even touched the civilization-building aspects of the game, which offer a whole new level of gameplay on top of the basic platforming and combat.
About the only thing that hasn’t changed are the graphics and animations, which are still a bit on the “love it or hate it” side. Personally, I think the look is okay, although most of the characters and enemies look like they could use at least a half-dozen more frames in what appear to be sprite-based animations, and as a result, some of the actions look a bit on the jerky side. However, it doesn’t really affect the gameplay, so it’s more a matter of personal taste, and I think the environments do tend to do a good job of evoking the kind of ambiance the game is striving for – a bleak, mostly destroyed world that can still look vivid and interesting when it has a need to.
Overall, if you’re at all interested in exploring procedurally-generated worlds or want a decent metroidvania-style platformer, the game is definitely worth a look, and you don’t need to be an expert at jumping or throwing fireballs to jump into the game, as it’s accessible at just about all skill levels. Given that these are first impressions, I can’t speak to how deep the gameplay eventually gets, but it’s certainly promising so far – and given the rapid pace of updates, will probably be even more polished soon.
Oh, and one other note: the game is still on sale for 1/3 off until its official release on April 23, and the game also has a fairly extensive demo that allows you to get a decent sense of whether the game clicks for you before you buy it. And while it’s not perhaps a perfect game, my time with it so far has definitely been a worthwhile experience.
Edit: Okay, okay, just one more note. Like most indie games nowadays, it’s DRM-free, and available for both Mac and PC, which I’m certainly in favor of as I own both (although I have no idea if this would run on my fairly old laptop’s pathetic integrated graphics, but given the nature of the game it just well might). However, as a result of being unfettered by encryption and DRM, if you’re willing to poke around in the file structure and do some audio converting/already have an Ogg Vorbis music player, the game (and even the demo) comes with a full copy of its soundtrack, which is actually quite good, especially if you like chiptune-inspired music as I do.
Just a quick note that due to a significant influx in the number of spam posts, I have added a captcha to the comments section. I’ve set it up so that it should generally be readable without too much effort – if you have issues with one of the captcha images, just hit the refresh button a few times and it usually hits on a permutation that’s very readable in a few iterations. Send me an email if it’s causing you too much grief and I’ll see about tweaking it some more.
Some things which I am finding interesting in the world of gaming, as of now:
-I came across the game Nitronic Rush recently (http://nitronic-rush.com/). It’s a racing game with a very nice aesthetic and I hope to try it out tonight. Also, it’s totally free, so why not download it? Also free? It’s entire 23-track soundtrack, which I have listened to, and it’s quite respectable techno.
-Also, found on a linked page to the first one: Solace (http://solacegame.com/). From the site, it’s “an interactive aesthetic experience utilizing dynamic audio and bullet hell overtones to provide a unique perspective on the five stages of grief.” Dunno quite how that translates into actual gameplay yet, but it sounds kinda interesting. Also free.
-There’s a kickstarter-esque campaign going on for an interesting project called CraftStudio (http://www.indiegogo.com/CraftStudio?c=home). It’s a sort of Minecraft-esque tool that allows you to visually assemble your own games from scratch. This is something that should definitely happen, and I’m glad to seed that they’re already over halfway to their funding goal. I’m definitely planning to contribute – $20 gets you the CraftStudio program and a full-length game created in the engine by the development team.
-”On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness,” one of the few good turn-based RPG games I’ve played (or even seen) recently for the PC, is on sale on Steam today – you get both episodes for the almost-free price of $1.50 each. At that price, if you like JRPG-style game mechanics, it’s more than worth it (at the time of this writing, the deal was still good for roughly 16 hours).
As you may be aware, this blog often touches on the topic of gaming difficulty and frustration, and the issue with difficulty being a roadblock that prevents the player from experiencing the whole of what a game has to offer. However, I should probably clarify that sentiment. When I talk about being able to explore the entirety of a game’s content, I am generally talking about games where doing so is important in order to get the full experience, narrative-based games especially – if you run up against a difficulty spike in a Mass Effect game, for instance, you miss out on a large part of the story which is the underpinning of the game, an issue you would not have with a game like Minesweeper. Or, for games without a narrative, you should at least be able to unlock all of the different modes of play (for an example, I recently played some Bejeweled 3, and while I generally do quite poorly at many of the game modes, even at my amateur skill I was able to fairly easily unlock all of the game modes), or for a racing-type game, to be able to have access to all of the tracks to at least play around on in time trial (a good example of this is Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, where unlocking the additional courses is handled based on how long you play the game, rather than how well you do, so that you can eventually unlock just about everything).
There are, however, other games where the entire mechanic of the game is based around simply doing as well as you possibly can before the game-over screen that don’t necessarily work with the model of unlocking everything. SHMUPs, for example, the scrolling shooters where you’re constantly bombarded by enemy fire, can work with a level-select function (although the most recent on I can think of was Bullet Ex, for really old Mac computers), although given how such games progress in difficulty, warping to the later levels will still only yield scant seconds of gameplay before you’re overwhelmed. In a situation like this, I would still suggest giving players the option to try all the levels, but having a system like the game Jamestown does make sense, where you can select levels, but the harder ones are locked until you can pass the initial levels with reasonable proficiency. I’m certainly conflicted by that design, but I can see their point – if you focus on the first levels and gain reasonable proficiency with them, you at least have a chance on the more difficult later levels, and it does counteract another factor in allowing the choice of any level at any time – people complaining about difficulty by jumping into the last level first and then growing frustrated at the difficulty, when they could have jumped into the easier level without issue. There’s also the issue that with a SHMUP, a lot of the challenge is seeing how far you can get each time, and hoping for a good run where you finally get just a bit further than before, and I can see how jumping to any level can short-circuit that kind of motivation. Still, I like to explore games as much as I can to see what they have to offer, and I like having the flexibility to jump in and check out all of the game’s environments, even for a few seconds.
(In fact, there’s a similar progression to the track unlocks in the driving game TrackMania – while certain tracks are easier to unlock, in the harder difficulties, even if all the tracks were unlocked, if you did not have the skills to unlock them you would most likely not get much further than the first section of track anyway – and, to be fair, there was always at least one of each set of harder tracks unlocked for you to try your hand against. Again, though, and this is true with most SHMUPs as well, there’s not much story to tie the tracks together, and you can still see as much of the environment of the game as you want through the easier tracks, or the built-in editor).
Beyond those games, however, is a realm of games where eventual failure is inevitable as an essential part of the game mechanic, or is in fact a major goal of the game. A good example of the former is pinball, a game where the entire concept is that the ball will eventually, inevitably drain, and your goal is to score as much as you can before that happens – even if you complete everything a table has to offer, it loops around and you can do it over again, until the ball finally drains and you receive your score. Admittedly, some of the more complex tables, like the later entries in the Pro Pinball series, have some narrative to them, but those tables also allow highly customizable settings that allow you to play for as long as you want, if your main objective is to follow that story. For most pinball tables, though, the primary goal is the high score, and the fun is in playing the game itself for as long as you can. In this case, it’s unclear what an unlock or easy mode could achieve – for the most complex story-based tables, it has some use, but I know from experience that playing a table endlessly gets boring quickly, and that the finite nature of pinball means that it is a self-contained experience that can keep you entertained for just long enough while you go for that high score, before it plateaus and starts to feel like a chore.
The second type of game includes roguelikes, such as the recent games Dungeons of Dredmor and The Binding of Isaac, and certain types of platform or puzzle games like VVVVVV and Super Meat Boy. In all of these games, failure is generally inevitable and sort of the point – Dredmor even congratulates you each time you die. The notion of these games is a bit different, though. The roguelikes are generally procedurally generated and quick to play, so each game is a bite-sized experience where you often see something new and unexpected, which then often proceeds to make mincemeat of your character. Again, though, the fun in the game is in the experience, and the challenge of seeing just how far you can get with what the game gives you on that playthrough. If you could simply progress through the game without challenge, the games would lose their point, as the overall mechanics are fairly simple, along with the fact that due to the generation, even a complete playthrough would only offer a small bit of what the game has to offer, which you can get with each new game regardless of how far you got on the last one. I’ve played both, and I’ve enjoyed both quite a lot, despite never having gotten very far in either, because you do get a new experience each time, and all a death means is that you set up a new game and go exploring again with a different setup to see how well it fares.
Similarly, there’s less frustration in something like Super Meat Boy because there’s little penalty for death – die, and you’re ready to make another attempt just about instantaneously. (Similarly, VVVVVV saves after most puzzles, but you do sometimes have to do a bit too much to get between saves). In fact, completing a level in Super Meat Boy then gives you a simultaneous replay of all your attempts, showing your entire progression along the way to your successful run. In this way, even failure is entertainingly rewarded, and it sends the message that the failure is anticipated. That doesn’t necessarily make the levels less frustrating, but knowing that you’re expected to fail multiple times before you succeed certainly makes you more willing to try multiple iterative attempts before the frustration kicks in. Additionally, while it is true that there’s not a new, randomly-generated experience to be had each time, games like this are stage-based and generally save after each challenge, meaning that they’re easy to pop into, play a bit, and then pop back out before a lot of frustration sets in – the fun is in each of the individual challenges, and you’re generally not just grinding through them and getting frustrated because they stand between you and the next part of a story you’re involved in.
What I’m trying to get at here is that when I talk about gaming difficulty and frustration, I’m not necessarily saying that I’m against game difficulty in all cases, or that having an easy progression path is even desirable in every single game genre (as, in fact, many of these genres would have a tendency to get boring without their challenge – there’s not much to Super Meat Boy if it’s just one giant series of jumps, and I know from experience playing certain easier pinball games that I’m far more likely to quit from boredom than actually run out of balls). However, there are certain caveats – if a game has any sort of meaningful story or narrative that is the main focus, I should be able to experience all of it, without running into frustrating, impassible barriers. Similarly, in games with different tracks or environments, I want to be able to access them all, even if some are technically beyond my skill level – in the aforementioned Bullet Ex, I tried the final level many times from the level select, and managed perhaps a minute of play each time before my ship was obliterated, but I still had fun trying, and I don’t think being locked out of even giving something a try is worthwhile. And, if it’s a game based primarily on exploration, I want to be able to explore everywhere possible whether or not I can pass some arbitrary mission (an area where the Saints Row series, for example, excels, and one where the GTA series consistently fails). All that being said, though, I have no beef with difficulty per se, and I do enjoy a challenge when it’s done right.
So, it’s been a while since I last checked in on the various alpha-funding projects I’ve mentioned before, and I wanted to do a quick roundup on how they’re doing, as well as some of the other new projects I’ve been looking into.
-Minecraft, of course, has had its official release, with some fairly decent post-release support. I’ve been busy with other games, though, so I haven’t really touched it since then. It’s still the best at what it does, although there are a number of entries in this space, including Cube World, and the similar-in-looks-only game 3079, which I’ll talk about in more detail below.
-Overgrowth continues to grow, with considerably impressive technology and just about the most brutal combat you’ll ever see in a fighting game. I’ll have more to say about this when I have a chance to check out one of the more recent alpha builds. It is, as of this writing, still available for preorder.
-Interstellar Marines, after a long period of dormancy, finally released Deadlock, their multiplayer combat preview that should show off some additional gameplay – however, it is apparently restricted to those who have actually submitted a preorder, which I have yet to do. Interestingly, they do offer two preorder options, one for the first game, and one for the entirety of the planned trilogy (which seems like especially long odds given their pace of development), but it might be worth it if you want to support a high-quality shooter that’s not CODWhatever (and admittedly, you can preorder the trilogy for about 2/3 the price of a single current FPS game).
-I do want to report that Proteus now has an official beta preorder, which I have picked up, and the game really is shaping up to be properly brilliant. While I’m sure some people would argue whether or not it’s properly a “game,” what it does provide is a vibrant, procedurally-generated world to explore, without the interference of goals or quests, where the whole point is to wander around and enjoy the environment, as well as the dynamic soundtrack that changes with your interactions. That explanation hardly does it justice, though – it’s really something you need to experience firsthand. It’s an incredibly beautiful and relaxing experience, and it’s a great project that you can just fire up for a few minutes to unwind – given that there are no set goals or savepoints, it’s the kind of game you can play for whatever duration you want. (and, in fact, it’s the kind of game that I can’t help but wonder might have uses outside of the standard gaming environment – a virtual world called SnowWorld already shows promise for treating the pain of burn victims, and it seems like there might be a real space for a game/virtual world like this in certain therapeutic environments, or to help with relaxation and stress management). There are multiple levels of preorder, and I would highly recommend getting this one, as the current build you can access through the preorder is considerably more impressive than the alpha build, and looking to get even more impressive still.
-Starfarer and A Valley Without Wind I haven’t kept up with much, although I’ve heard that Starfarer has made some impressive progress towards a proper interstellar campaign mode. What I can say about it, though, is that it has perhaps the most detailed and meticulous ship combat that I’ve played, certainly since the days of EV Nova, and that I’m properly rubbish at controlling them so far – but if you’re willing to deal with a bit of complexity, it’s definitely worth it, and it’s certainly much easier to control than your average simulator. I did, in fact, also pick up a copy of AVWW, and I have played it occasionally – however, while I was playing it the game was updated quite frequently (don’t get me wrong, this is a good thing), but the core mechanics were also undergoing a lot of updating that left me confused as to how some things worked between updates (and the update notes are surprisingly copious). I do want to give this another look once things are a bit more stable on that front, which they may well be by now, and once some of the game areas are a bit more fleshed out (more on this once I’ve played a recent build).
-Indie Royale recently ran an Alpha Fund Bundle (which may or may not still display on that link by now), where people could support three recent games in development. The one I’m most familiar with is 3079, which I’ve actually been following for a while before it became added to the bundle. As I mentioned earlier, 3079 has a block-style world similar to Minecraft, but that’s where the similarity ends – aside from the procedurally-generated world, the heart of the game is a modern/future combat Action-RPG, where the idea is to fight in a war between two factions of creatures, leveling up your character and amassing better equipment, while seeking out the underlying cause of the conflict. So far, I’ve rather enjoyed the game, as I’m quite fond of these types of RPGs. The combat is pretty fun, with plenty of types of weapons (some of which can deform the environment) and fairly dynamic gunplay. The environments also look fairly nice in their own right, and now have some rudimentary biomes. The game also features dynamically generated quests based on your level and location, which adds some nice variety. The only thing lacking is that for an RPG-type game, the story is so thin as to be almost nonexistent, with the combat taking the fore. That being said, the game is still under very active development, and in fact if you play a current build you will most likely see a few features here and there that I suggested (the author of the game is very responsive to suggestions, and I can only hope his inclusion in the bundle doesn’t leave him too overwhelmed with feedback). While that bundle is over, I am happy to see this sort of alpha funding taking off, and even without the bundle, I would recommend a preorder on this one, as for about $9 you get an already enjoyable beta version, with more features being added constantly and a lot of ambitious plans for future updates.
I’m sure there are many more I haven’t mentioned, but these are the ones I’ve recently been involved with. I’ll keep updating with more interesting alpha projects as I find them. This really is an interesting way to look at game development, and it’s hard to think of a more direct way that you can vote with your wallet to see the kind of games built that you’re interested in, especially if your interests fall outside of the mainstream genres that are served by the AAA-level game publishers.
About a year ago, I wrote an article talking about the shabby relationship major games developers have had with the people buying their games (a trend that, as previous posts I’ve made this year illustrate, is still alive and well), coupled with the ability to vote with your wallet – if you’re not always looking for AAA high-definition graphics, there are a lot of indie projects that you can help fund with a “functional preorder” – that is, a preorder where you get access to the current development builds of the software, and can follow it all the way through to its full release (and afterwards, in some cases). By doing these preorders, you can directly use your funds to support the completion of projects you want to see realized, as well as get a fascinating under-the-hood look at how the game is developed, and how the gameplay evolves over time. This trend still fascinates me, and so, one year on, I’d like to talk a little more about it, as well as mention some new games that I’ve looked into with this model.
A year on, and the commercial setup is about the same – the only games I bought at full retail were Fallout: New Vegas, a couple of DLC packs for it, Test Drive Unlimited 2 (and you probably know what I thought of that, ah, car wreck), and Mass Effect 2 (I think it was this year?). Everything else was bought on sale, at a deep discount – 50% of retail or less for games not all that much older. Looking forward, I’ve earmarked some funds for just 2 games: TES V: Skyrim, the sequel to Oblivion, and Saints Row 3 – two wide-open sandbox games in which I’m reasonably certain I’ll be able to make my own fun, whether they’re buggy or not (as previous games in the series had bugs out to here, but I managed to enjoy both of them immensely despite it). There’s nothing else I can think of on the horizon from a major publisher that I couldn’t take a pass on and buy a bit down the road for a small fraction of the price – there’s just nothing that compelling out there. The only things I’ve been excited about have generally been various smaller, indie projects that are actually doing interesting things, and are generally priced at a level where you’re fine taking a risk. Buy a big game for a lot of money, and you feel seriously burned when it fails miserably to meet your expectations – buy an indie game with a new mechanic for cheap, and even if it disappoints as well, you’re only out a little and you’ve had a chance to try (maybe) a slice of a promising gaming future.
Of the games I mentioned in the last piece, most of them are doing quite well. Overgrowth is still a work in progress, and is coming along quite interestingly – it’s been enlightening to watch some of the weekly dev blogs and see new gaming technology coming together piece by piece, including some of the most realistic and fluid fight animations I’ve ever seen (as well as a truly harrowing, bone-cracking damage and blood flow system, which makes it the only game in recent memory, or at least since Soldier of Fortune 2, where I saw a character get hurt and viscerally cringed because it was just that realistic). While it’s still a long way from completion, it’s getting more functional, and can be “played through” in a rudimentary way now (I have yet to install the latest build, as I’m currently having some trouble with their download system, but I’ve been able to download fine in the past so I think it’s just a temporary issue).
Minecraft, as I’m sure you’ve heard every gaming outlet ever say, has become one of the “next big things” in gaming. It is, I suppose, a rarity, a game that’s sold millions before even coming out of beta due to creating a type of gameplay that hadn’t really been available before. The game is still in beta, with a release planned for later in the year, with post-release support and potentially new features after that. In certain ways, it’s advanced a lot, although the basic gameplay has remained similar throughout – build what you want, mine stuff, build stuff, survive and have fun. I’ve only just barely touched the most recent update, which promises to add in “adventure” elements, such as new in-game villages and a somewhat opaque “leveling” system, along with basic needs (hunger), along with a revamped creative mode and other sundry improvements. I’ve had a lot of fun with the game so far, including an epic exploration session in the vein of Towards Dawn (and then went back and marked the path and all the various safehouses along the way, in a map that I should probably post here already), and while I’ve taken a break from it lately, I always find myself jumping back in every so often to see what’s new.
Interstellar Marines is, well… still in progress, I suppose. Since the last time I checked, the only really new thing is that they released a fun little Unity demo thing for the holidays, and that they now have regular bulletins on their site talking about doing things, but there are no further interactive demos to play on the site that weren’t there a year ago. I’m still on the fence with this one, but I’ll probably give it another look once the multiplayer segment comes out and there’s a good sense that the game is moving forward.
Those were the ones I looked at last year, and all of them are still moving forward in some capacity – small-number statistics, I know, but generally a pretty good sign. This year, I’d like to talk about a few more that have come to my attention.
The first one is Kairo, a somewhat abstract exploration/puzzle game slightly in the vein of Myst (although definitely emphasis on the abstract). Right now, there’s a version that is generally playable, and includes the first of three planned areas for the game. I’m still not quite sure how this game came to my attention, but the notion of a game of this type, but focused a lot more on exploration and finding interesting things over a heavy emphasis on puzzles, definitely piqued my interest. The one thing that always bugged me about Myst was the limits to what you could explore (even RealMyst had rather restricted boundaries to where you could go). I’d always wanted a game like Myst or its sequels, but with much less focus on puzzles, one in which you could just wander around an interesting landscape and interact with interesting things, without much of a structured or linear gameplay path (which, I suppose, is why I like open-world games so much, but there isn’t much exploration in those that isn’t generally accompanied by shooting or swording something or other through the head). Uru was a little better, but still… not quite it. So, does Kairo deliver in that respect? After playing it a bit, I’m still not quite sure. It’s certainly very ambient, and you can spend a lot of time just wandering around and looking at the various interesting things contained within its world, although eventually you reach a dead end with a puzzle of some sort in it. Whether this will change in the final version, I’m not sure, but it’s been an interesting bit of exploration thus far, and I’m quite interested to see how it will develop further. (Additionally, browsing the game’s IndieDB news feed gives some interesting insights on the challenges and puzzles of game design, including how to make puzzles that aren’t obstacles or frustrations to the core gameplay, and insights on how to show a solitary, single-player experience to a crowd at a games expo.)
(I suppose along the same vein I should mention a game called Proteus, which should theoretically be available soon as a fairly cheap preorder, a fascinating game where the focus is almost entirely on exploration, as well as a world that interacts dynamically with you in the form of a constantly evolving pattern of sound and music. It’s fascinating to experience, and according to their blog, there should still be an alpha version that you can download and play around with.)
Another game which I can only say a little about is a game called Starfarer, which is a semi-strategic squad combat game, only in space, with surprisingly complex action gameplay. I honestly haven’t gotten very far with it yet, as I’m a bit, well, horrible at it so far. There’s a part of me that wants it to be something like the original Escape Velocity, and while I realize that it probably won’t be, it has a lot of promise, as it’s more directly action-oriented than something like Gratuitous Space Battles (which is another awesome game that I am horrible at) while still having a serious amount of depth and customizability. Since I’ve started looking at it, it’s continued to evolve, with a lot more systems, the full customization system, and improved squad command. It’s looking to eventually be a full-fledged tactical action-RPG in space, and honestly, that’s a niche that I’m happy to see more games fill (as I can only play EV so much without wishing for something more). It’s cheap to get right now, and I’d say the price is definitely worth the potential.
The last one I’ll talk about for now is A Valley Without Wind, from Arcen Games. Arcen is one of those developers that I’ve heard great things about, but could never really get into their games. Their first game, AI War, is a complex space strategy game that I installed the demo for, started up a test game, felt my eyes spin round in their sockets from the sheer complexity of it all, and shut it down after about 5 minutes (given how much I’m not good at GSB’s much more limited campaign mode, and how something more like Dawn of War is more my speed for RTS-type games, AI War, as brilliant as it might be, is simply too daunting for my usual gaming attitude). Their second project, Tidalis, was, interestingly enough, a complete departure from their previous game – a casual block-matching game with a somewhat unique mechanic. However, it also quickly collapsed into complexity, and I dumped the demo for it as well. Once again, their upcoming new game takes another radical departure into different territory – but this time, I’m more than interested. That’s probably because the new game is a procedurally-generated, open-world game with near-limitless territory for exploration, split between an RPG-style overworld map and individual map areas with 2D, “metroidvania-style” gameplay. While the game is not yet in a playable form, it will apparently be released for preorder this month, and this is one I’m definitely looking at with some keen interest (as well as a probable purchase, at the very least to encourage more games like this one). Right now, it’s a bit tough to tell how it will eventually turn out, as the game has already changed perspectives from top-down to side-scrolling, and the internet chorus regarding the somewhat dubious graphic style of the game (read: heavily tiled graphics that look like they’ve been pushed through some of the default Photoshop filters) may indicate another approach to graphics in the future (and wouldn’t be unprecedented either, as AI War got a graphical revamp, and I think an entire engine reworking, after launch). Given that, it’s hard to know exactly what to expect at this point, but assuming the preorder price is reasonable I think it’s probably worth it just to see where this game goes.
Those are the games that I’m looking at so far in terms of alpha preorders (there are also a lot of other, released indie games that I’m enjoying, and thinking about interesting things to write about regarding them). However, I want to finish this article by mentioning a more formal version of this project: Alpha Funding, by indie game and mod distribution platform Desura. While the games I’ve mentioned have mostly used their own sites to solicit preorders, and some others have used crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter, this program is the first one I’ve seen directly integrated into a game distribution platform. Admittedly, the currently slate of games that are currently up under the program don’t really interest me that much (with the possible exception of King Arthur’s Gold, but it seems a lot like Terraria, which I’ve played quite a bit, and probably have a lot to write about, occasionally through clenched fists). However, I think the concept is an excellent one, and that having something like this coupled with the high visibility of a game-distribution platform could help to realize a lot of innovative new concepts in gaming, and giving someone who has a great game idea and wants to create it a viable way to fund pre-release development.
(Super-quick edit: I actually had an email announcement from the Kairo developer come in this evening, announcing that there’s a new alpha build with a number of bug fixes and refinements to the parts that have so far been released. So, it’s definitely making some progress, and should be even better to explore now – I’ll take a look at it tomorrow and update the above info on it if need be. )