Thursday, 31 July 2014

Early Access First Impressions: 'Aegis Defenders'

'Early Access First Impressions' is just that, first impressions. This is not a review, and is heavily opinionated.

I came across a Kickstarter this morning which I was compelled to write about. Aegis Defenders is 2D platformer, that also takes on board some tower defence elements. It's initial release will be on Mac/PC however other platforms will open up as stretch goals are reached.

Lost civilisations and ancient technology is always a tasty hook for me, but the first thing that grabbed my attention in the video was the Ghibli 'Nausicaa' vibe (one of my favourite animations). The Valley of the Wind inspiration is also apparent in the game's theme:

You play as a pair of Ruinhunters searching for the one thing that can save their village - a legendary weapon known as Aegis.

The player can control both 'Ruinhunters' throughout the level, utilising their different skills for both puzzle-solving and combat strategy. Micromanagement is necessary, as each character will only perform one 'passive' ability when not active. There is a stretch goal of local co-op, but I'd love to see some online support.

I'm a sucker for pixels too, and there's pixel a-plenty here, complete with a gorgeous colour palette and cute animations. Awesome audio design has been promised, as the team behind Towerfall: Ascension are on board to collaborate.

Overall, the project looks pretty strong with funding of $24,000; with 3 days to go I can't see how this could fail to reach it's target of $65,000. The Kickstarter itself is very well put together with simple stretch goals and ton of content. I don't have a load to say about this as the Kickstarter speaks for itself! Please go check it out! -oP

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Early Access First Impressions: 'Survive the Nights'

'Early Access First Impressions' is just that, first impressions. This is not a review, and is heavily opinionated.

I like crafting as much as I like turtles (internet reference), and I especially like it when the game I'm playing is unfinished. Sarcasm aside, there has been a plethora of indie survival games appearing amongst the pages of Kickstarter and Steam Greenlight and there's a damn fair amount that are still stuck in alpha/beta. At the time of writing, 'Survive the Night' has 11 days to go on Kickstarter and is described by the developers as:

Unique FPS survival focusing on teamwork, fortification, creativity and strategy. Secure a structure or roam free, the choice is yours.

I would hazard a guess to say that this probably isn't as unique as the developer thinks, especially since it's (arguably) jumping onto the crafting/survival bandwagon of the last 5 years. However, what's popular is popular and if there's demand for it, then having choice is always a good thing.

The game's premise is both simple and complex (as is the nature of the sandbox), collect resources, food and supplies, fortify your home, and then defend it during the night. Most of us are familiar with the model, and for me personally, I'm not too interested in the realism. I casually play Minecraft because it can be accessible, relaxed and sometimes beautiful. I play Project Zomboid, and I play Starbound. Realism is definitely something I'm not looking for, and visually I don't need to see the result of a texture budget of £100K. When it comes to the sandbox however, I like choice, flexibility and creativity (which is where a sandbox can become as complex as you make it).

Having said that, I like the idea of using vehicle trailers and wheelbarrows to move resources, rather than filling your bottomless pockets with planks of wood. The majority of vehicles on the island you inhabit will be usable, and you can insure your ownership of the scavenge by removing vital engine components. What I'm not a fan of, is managing your calorie intake; eating to survive is one thing, but I don't count my calories in real life!

I do also like the idea of hooking up generators to power your home, rather than light switches magically working. I appreciate the constant threat of starving, freezing and losing sanity as an incentive to explore and scavenge; rather than just an onslaught of zombie attacks (oh yeah, there's zombies by the way). There's an emphasis on player built content, and cooperative gameplay. However as with any survival sandbox, griefing will most likely be a standard day-to-day hazard.

Servers will be player run dedicated and persistent. The game as of now is island based. This will allow us to release alpha builds sooner. Islands will be added to the world and players will need to craft or find ships to travel between them. It's very important to us that the world is full and alive. Everything we design and everything we want to achieve with Survive the Nights has a meaning and a purpose.

Graphically it looks fairy, well, dull. You could ignore the fact that it looks probably just on par with Half Life 2 (now a 10 year old game), and forgive the poor texture quality because it's a small indie company from Hull, UK. However from the footage on the Kickstarter and the YouTubes and such, it looks very uninspiring and features sprawling woodlands with not much to admire.

Of course it is early access, and so there's a certain amount of flaws that should be overlooked because ultimately it's just not finished yet. But Day Z hasn't really achieved what people want it to achieve, and currently many consumers feel that it never will. So should we be less lenient when making judgements on an unfinished product? This game could tick all the boxes in the end, so maybe a bit of healthy criticism will be good for the developers. 

I will also add that the Kickstarter stretch goals are incredibly vague (throwing around phrases such as 'extended X system'), and it wouldn't hurt to go into more detail about what the pledgers are actually getting. The game has already been funded 5.5 times over it's goal, so it should get finished. If it sounds like it's worth your time, run over to their site and Kickstarter to check it out. -oP

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

If "....." Was Released Today: An Alternative Review

Considering many indie developers produce work reminiscent of the 8 and 16 bit glory days, it has become fairly standard and acceptable to see ‘retro’ sprites and pixel art in games of recent years. This, along with my current trend of revisiting old games, has inspired me to start a series where I take old games and review them as if they were released today. To clarify, I have a very flexible definition of what an ‘old game’ is, although I won’t be reviewing last years releases (unless for some contextual reason there is validity in doing so). As a starting point, the general criteria will involve games that are at least 10 years old. I have made a few rules to consider whilst I write, and whilst you read these reviews.

  1. Game must be reviewed as if it were a brand new release.
  2. If the game is part of a series, then the other instalments must be ignored and no comparisons can be made.
  3. Comparisons made from any other game old or new are allowed regardless of how factually and contextually (in)accurate they may be (therefore the review may have fictional elements).
  4. Game documents, data and statistics can be researched, however no existing reviews can be read prior to writing.
  5. Game must be scored on a scale of 0.0 to 10.0, and compared to the Metacritic Metascore (or User Score if this is unavailable).

I already have some games lined up, but I would like some input before I begin. I plan on making this as a written series on my blog, however do you think it would work better in video format? Do you have any other ideas for rules to follow? Also what games would you like to see reviewed in this series? I think this would be an interesting concept to follow through as it may open up some interesting critical perspectives which could potentially end up with me ripping apart games I love dearly.

Let me know what you think! -oP

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

How Much Do You Value Your Games?

The long awaited annual event on every gamers calendar has now been and gone. Some of us are smug whilst we bask in our own glorious ability to keep our hands firmly off the mouse and away from the 'add to cart' button, whilst many of us I'm sure, are smashing open the piggy bank, counting the pennies and wondering if we can live off dried pasta for the month. Yes of course I'm referring to the Steam Summer Sale where gaming consumers allow themselves to buy any game that they may vaguely play in the distant future that's at least 50% off, usually resulting in accidentally going over your budget reserved for a single AAA title anyway. 

I know people that practically sunk their whole wage packet on the sale, with the justification that they would play their backlog of games throughout the year. A statistic I plucked from last April stated that 36% of registered games on Steam are unplayed, which is quite high! Remember when you would go to a shop, buy a title at £40 and actually play it? This got me thinking about my games and how many I actually play, not only on steam but on my shelf. I've been wanting to upgrade to a PS4 (other consoles are available) so perhaps now is the time to really look at my hoard of games and be ruthless about what NEEDS to stay and what, in all honestly, could be let go and traded in.

Unlike my Steam digital shelf, I've played ALL of these games a decent amount.

I tried some online trade-in price checkers and was pretty disappointed at some of the offers I was getting. My limited edition copy of Halo Reach (black box with Halsey's journal etc) is apparently worth a whole English pound. I know it's almost 4 years old but still, compare this to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (which came out about 10 months before Reach) currently available on Steam and you will see it priced at £19.99 (not including map packs). Assuming my physical copy of Reach is in perfectly good working condition, is this product really only worth 5% the cost of the digital version of an older game? Sure there are some advantages to having a digital copy of a game - you can download it as many times as you like, you don't need to worry about losing it, storing it; you're paying for convenience. I am partial to the odd digital download myself, but I would much prefer a physical copy. This brings me onto pricing structures for digital games generally.

Physical copies of Grand Theft Auto V can be bought from multiple online stores for around £30 (Xbox 360/PS3), however if you browse the PS3 games on the Playstation store you will see it priced £49.99. I cannot fathom why this is the case, and perhaps it explains why we as the consumers wait until those ridiculous 80% off offers appear online before we commit to a purchase. This model is broken, it surely de-values not only the products, but the jobs, the time - and if you like, blood sweat and tears - that individuals have invested into these projects. I have no problem dropping £40-50 on a new AAA release if I can store it on my shelf and touch and read the manual (although in this day and age, even that's a luxury), but I cannot see me ever buying a digital copy for the same/higher price. If digital pricing aged appropriately with the physical games, then maybe we would be more willing to spend our cash on them and less likely to be sucked into flash sales which de-value games when we already have plenty of things to play anyway! 

£20 difference, surely only the impatient would choose the digital copy over waiting a few days for delivery?

Who is this hurting? You'd think the AAA publishers a little but no I don't think so, I think they will be just fine. They'll keep their digital prices nice and high so ultimately it's the 'little people': you, me, indie game dev and consumer alike that suffer because we don't have the willpower to say no to a sale and because digital games 'aren't worth buying' until they are in one. Even after all these flash sales finish, we get on with our lives and many sad looking games sit on our digital shelves, collecting digital dust, unplayed and unloved; so what, we only spent £2 on each of them, right? I haven’t even mentioned the new Playstation 'NOW’ streaming service and it's pricing structure - but there are plenty of articles about this already of which Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a common case study. In short, Playstation value a short duration of gameplay ridiculously highly when compared with how much the game costs outright on Amazon and other stores. This won’t help to balance the games/digital download economy.

 The Summer Sale has ended apparently? Nope, it never ends.

I'm not an expert in sales, and I have generalised quite a lot, but I think this 'de-valued digital download' mentality exists. I have said 'we' a lot, but I am guilty of all the things I have mentioned above, and assume that many of you who read this will agree that this applies to you also. I currently have unplayed 39% of my Steam games, and this isn’t even truly representative considering the average duration of play of the other 61% is about 4 hours. I will also add that my library, ignoring any sales prices, is currently worth £837.97 with the value of my unplayed games being £273.67. I will say though, that this summer I have done quite well for the most part. When I saw a game I wanted on sale I pulled myself together, checked my existing library and installed one (of many) games I bought years ago and played it for the first time. 

I would love to hear from indie developers who have games on Steam and other services and your thoughts on how you structure your prices, generally and during sales. Give your existing Steam library some love guys, and when you do have some spare cash don't feel bad about spending more than the price of a sandwich on an indie game - it will satisfy you for longer. -oP