Friday, December 28, 2012

Pointing and Clicking and Walking and Dying

I've never been much of an adventure game fan.  All that pointing and clicking didn't hold much appeal for me.  The stories were too slow and the puzzles too obtuse to enjoy.  Every time I played an adventure game I felt like I would rather be reading the story in a book or playing a more active version of the game.

This all changed when my brother convinced me to play The Walking Dead.  I have never played an adventure game like it.  For the first time ever I was drawn in and captivated by all the pointing and clicking.

But there is so much more to The Walking Dead than just that.  There are truly meaningful decisions and the most difficult moral choices that I've ever made in a game.  In an undead apocalypse who can you really trust and what are you willing to do to survive?  I made a lot of decisions that seemed like the best idea at the time but ended up with unforeseen consequences.

I want to give so many amazing examples from my playthrough, but this is a truly a game I don't want to spoil for anyone.  My simple recommendation is to play this game.  It's definitely not for the faint of heart but it's worth it to see the power a game can have when the decisions are difficult and everything is morally grey.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

End of Summer, Start of Fall: Impressions

Life has been busy lately, but I've been playing games when I get a chance and I finally have time tonight to write up some quick impressions.  These are all games that I'm currently playing.

FTL: Faster Than Light is a game that I helped kickstart a while ago and it's great to see it doing so well on Steam!  It's a brutally challenging space survival game that I've been recommending to everyone.  My first round of impressions still stand.  For $10 on Steam you really can't go wrong.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
This is a fantastic refinement of the Counter-Strike series.  CS has been one of the quintessential competitive first person shooters since it was first released and I can see this latest iteration becoming huge in the esports community.  I convinced a bunch of co-workers to try it at work and we've been having tons of fun killing each other during lunch.  I also spent some time setting up a custom CS:GO linux server as a side project.  I don't sit down and play this for long stretches at a time, but I have been playing a match or two most days.  I was extremely impressed that Valve released CS:GO for $15 on day one for all systems.

Guild Wars 2
I've been having a lot of fun in this MMO.  I haven't played a MMO since about a month after Cataclysm released, so it's nice to get back into this type of world.  I'm picking away at it a little bit at a time.  I love all the little improvements and refinements, especially the downleveling that let's me play with my brother whenever we can both find the time.

The Walking Dead
I didn't think I was a fan of adventure games until my brother convinced me to play this one.  I've never been so engrossed in an adventure game before.  The classic zombie survival scenario is seriously given a human face here.  I'm invested in what happens to the characters around me and I'm genuinely saddened when they die or get hurt.  Having not played many adventure games I really don't know how to analyze this one but I'm really excited to dive back into the new episodes soon.

An amazing puzzle game with a hard name to search for (there are 8 zeros if you're wondering).  I obsessed over this game for 2 weeks straight and never got to write about it.  It's a twist on the classic match-3 style of puzzle game where the tiles slide around and you can make combos for bonus points.  The RPG style progression system build on top of the puzzle game is really what makes this one shine.  Every puzzle game fan should check it out.

Team Fortress 2
I'm still playing this regularly which I can't say about any other games that came out in 2007.  My wife and I have been having a lot of fun in the new Man vs Machine co-op mode.  It's a great addition to the TF2 roster.

Hero Academy
Another game that I've been playing for quite a while but that I'm still enjoying.  I play a couple turns in each of my games every day.  Check out my past impressions or just try this one out for free on the iOS app store.  It also recently released on Steam.

Final Fantasy III
I'm not having a lot of fun with this game so progression is really slow.  I want to finish it for my Final Fantasy Project but I'm only playing a little bit at a time.

What's everyone else been playing for the past couple months?  Are there any games you've been having a lot of fun with that I should look into?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Now That It's Live

Guild Wars 2 has been out for about a week and I've been spending most of my gaming time with it.  I still really enjoy it and my feelings toward the game haven't changed much from my beta impressions.

I have come to realize that the driving force behind my purchase of the game is that there is no monthly subscription.  It's amazing to me that the business model plays such a huge factor, but the truth of the matter is that I wouldn't be playing this game if I had to pay for it monthly.  It has all sorts of incremental improvements on the genre but nothing is revolutionary to the point where I would dish out $15 a month to play.

My in game time is mainly taken up with exploring and completing zones.  I'm an explorer at heart which makes completing vistas and collecting points of interest appealing to me.

I'm also loving the ability to play with friends easily.  I love the down scaling of player level for content because it lets me and my brother play together without worrying about our levels, something that has always been an issue for us in MMOs.  It also keeps low level content fresh while exploring.

If you're sick of hotbar MMOs you're not going to be happy with GW2.  If, however, you're looking for the next stage of hotbar MMO with improvements and no subscription fee this is the game for you.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Final Fantasy III: Virtual Analog Stick Woes

I've previously discussed my thought on the virtual d-pad implemented in FFI and FFII on iOS.  It generally works fine, it just doesn't have the tactile feedback I'm used to with a controller.  Final Fantasy III uses a virtual analog stick instead of a virtual d-pad and it's a totally different story.

The virtual analog stick is extremely frustrating to use.  The lack of tactical sensation makes it difficult to judge how far you actually have the analog stick pressed in one direction or another and which direction it's been pushed.  Not only is it hard to judge but the stick location actually moves around the screen depending on where your thumb is touching.  It's impossible to learn the area the virtual analog stick occupies because it is constantly moving every time you pick up your thumb and put it somewhere new.  If it wasn't constantly moving around I could at least learn to use it by spending enough time with it.

Final Fantasy III is a fully 3D game with 3D environments which means the player isn't confined to simple 4 direction movement like in FFI and FFII.  This makes having a reliable and functional input device a key aspect of the game design.  Unfortunately, it's sorely missing.

So far the graphics, story, and gameplay are all good but every time I sit down to play I immediately get frustrated with the controls.  I'll struggle my way through it for now and I'll write more once I'm farther into the game.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Now I'll Play It

Most of you heard last week that Star Wars The Old Republic is going free to play.  This really isn't a surprise since their subscriber numbers have slowly been dwindling.  At this point it's hard for any quest based MMO to have a subscription model since they're immediately competing with World of Warcraft and it's 8 years of expansions and polish.  Even if that game has a huge intellectual property, like Star Wars, behind it.

When SWTOR was released I said that the only way I would play it is if they dropped the subscription.  Now that there will be no subscription I will most definitely be playing.  I don't know how much I'll like it, but I'll give the game a try.  I really enjoy Bioware RPGs and would have loved for SWTOR to have just been a new single player RPG when it released.  I never thought that it needed to actually enter the MMO space.  If they had made KOTOR 3 I would have bought it on release day.

Anyway, you can find all sorts of commentary about what SWTOR going F2P means, so I won't spend time diving into an analysis.  I'll just say that I'm happy they've finally caught up to modern online financial models.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Boxed Up Fun Contests!

I'm really excited to announce that Boxed Up Fun is launching monthly board game giveaways!  This is just one of the features we've been working on and we're constantly striving to improve the site.

We want people to enjoy interacting with the site and this contest is all about leaving reviews and getting the word out about Boxed Up Fun!  You can see the official contest rules right here, but basically you get entries for writing a short (twitter length) review on a game, spreading the word about us on twitter, or posting on our facebook page.

This month we're giving away Eminent Domain.  It's a fun and fast sci-fi deck building game.  It has some interesting role selection mechanics on top of the deck building which all combines into a unique game.  I really like it because it's not too difficult to grasp, but it still has enough strategy to be enjoyable and it can be played fairly quickly.  Most of our play sessions have lasted 30-45 minutes.

Come visit, let us know what you think about the site, and interact to win a free board game while you're at it!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Me and My MMOs

Tesh posted a great recap of where he's coming from when he talks about MMOs and it inspired me to do the same. I don't know how interesting this will be for other people, but I'm hoping it will give you some perspective on my MMO history.

The main thing you should know about me is that I love the idea of MMOs, but when I go to play them they rarely stick.  There have been some exceptions, but in most MMOs I only dabble before moving on.

My first MMO was Everquest.  My friends and I played this in middle school when it first came out.  I can still remember most of the details of Crushbone, one of the first zones in the game.  It's crazy that in my mind's eye I can see all of the hills, catacombs, the castle, the different routes through the zone, and I still remember the spawns.  It must be because I played the game so much, but never truly leveled very high.  I played from around launch in March of 1999 through the first 2 expansions.  I remember how monumental those expansions were.  Today, expansions are basically expected, but back then it was utterly amazing to have access to new continents, zones, and levels.  The Ruins of Kunark came out in early 2000 while The Scars of Velious came out later that same year.  They both kept me entertained for quite a while.  After that I started high school and MMOs held less sway.  They faded into the background as I moved on to different activities.

When my friend got hooked on Dark Age of Camelot in 2001 I gave that a try, but only played it for a few weeks.  It just never clicked with me.  The same thing happened in 2003 with Shadowbane, a game that promised player run cities and sieges.  It sounded fun, but again, it simply didn't hook me.  That same year I enjoyed Planetside, but my computer never ran it quite right, so I had to give up on that game too.

Then 2004 happened.  That's the year World of Warcraft was released.  WoW immediately grabbed the attention of my group of friends because we were huge WarCraft fans.  I had played WarCraft 2, WarCraft 3, and all the expansion packs that went with them.  Any game set in the same universe was an instant purchase.

Vanilla WoW held my attention until endgame.  I don't know how many months I played, but I started at launch and worked my way up to max level.  I tried a raid or two, realized it wasn't for me, and retired my subscription until late 2008 when Wrath of the Lich King released and my friends convinced me to resubscribe.  They then proceeded to power level me through The Burning Crusade content so that I could play Wrath with them.  Once again I reached max level, tried a few raids, and promptly unsubscribed.

When I went back and played through Cataclysm the same pattern emerged.  You can actually go read my posts about Cataclysm from my archive to see my progression if you're interested.

Along the way from Everquest to now (and my current zero MMOs) I've tried out Tabula Rasa, Star Wars Galaxies, Puzzle Pirates, Dungeons and Dragons Online, Anarchy Online, EVE Online, Final Fantasy XI, Runescape, Travian, Everquest II, Guild Wars, and probably some others that I've forgotten.

I guess the moral of the story is that I've tried my fair share of MMOs, but it takes a lot to keep me interested.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

FTL: A Game of Many Things

FTL is a game about space exploration.  Well, that's what I initially thought.  Then I played it and learned that FTL is a game about survival.  But then I learned that the game is about managing the crew of a spaceship.  But the crew doesn't control the ship on their own, because the game is actually about balancing power and distributing it between different ship systems.  But... system power needs depend on what gear is currently equipped to the ship.  So I guess FTL is also about upgrading spaceships.

The truth is... FTL is a game about a lot of different things.  The important part is that they all work together and create something magical.  I've been told by others that FTL is a "Roguelike" but since I've never played a rougelike I don't know if that's an apt description.  I do know that in any one playthrough of the game you'll be doing all those things I mentioned above and, if you're like me, you'll be having a fantastic time doing them.

I could write for paragraphs about the different game systems and how they all interact, but to get a true feel for the game it's easier to give an example turn.  So let's do just that.

My FTL is fully charged so I jump to a nearby node in my current sector.  The node I jump to is in an uncharted nebula.  My scanners notice a ship trying to hide in the nebula and I decide to investigate further.  As I approach I notice that it's a slaver ship. It immediately powers up it's weapons and begins to unload on my ship.  I power up my lasers and - realizing they won't be enough to get through the enemy shields - I divert power from my engine to power up my missile launcher.  Now my ship has less of a chance to evade, but I have access to more firepower.  I use the missiles to target their shield generator room while using the lasers to disable their engines.  Unfortunately for me they decide to teleport 2 crew members to my ship to sabotage my shield generator.  I have to pull my weapons officer, engine officer, and shield officer off of their stations to fight the enemy in my shield generator room.  Our ships continue to trade volleys while our crews fight it out.  Mid-fight I have to send my weapons officer to the med bay because he's so injured that he might die.  My 2 remaining officers manage to eliminate the enemy but not before the enemy caused some damage to the shield generator room.  My officers immediately begin to repair the damage but not fast enough to prevent a laser volley from getting through to my O2 room and causing a fire.  Since so many officers are busy I have to pull my pilot out of the helm to extinguish the fire in the O2 room before our oxygen supply starts to dwindle.  While the fire dies down a final volley of lasers and a missile from me destroys the enemy ship.  I heal my officers, repair my ship, recover all the scrap I can from the enemy, charge up the FTL drive and get ready to jump again.

And that's only one node.  Not all of them contain battles.  Others have friendly encounters, interesting offers, stores, merchants, distress signals, and the occasional optional quest.  Each sector has around 25 nodes but on average you'll only get to visit 5-10 of them because you're carrying vital information for the federation and the rebel fleet is closing in on you.

The game becomes a precarious balance between maximizing how much exploration and upgrading you can do in each sector while still staying ahead of the rebel fleet.  When they catch up to you it's still possible to escape, but it becomes much more difficult.

I haven't even mentioned the difficulty.  I've sunk over 10 hours into this game already.  I've done a "full" playthrough 10 times.  I've played about half on normal and half on easy.  Every game has resulted in my death.  I still haven't beaten the game on easy.  This game is tough.  It really is about survival and one wrong move or bad jump can get you killed.  Honestly, I haven't been this challenged or excited by a game in quite some time.  I have a feeling that people who like devilishly difficult games are going to love this one.

FTL is currently in beta but since I helped fund the Kickstarter I'm in the early access beta group on steam.  The team has been amazingly responsive to the fans and new builds have been distributed frequently, every one having new features.  With more features in every build  I can't wait for the game to release so that the rest of you can experience it.  I'll be sure to keep you updated.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Teaching an Old Story New Tricks: Media Influences on Birthright

Today's guest post is by a friend and fellow blogger, Professor Beej.  When he's not writing awesome geekery over at his blog he's busy writing fiction.  Not only does he have a serial novel in the works but he has an ongoing Kickstarter for his cross-genre novel, Birthright.  That's what I asked him to talk about today.

I love pop culture and geek media. Love it. I love the stories, the settings, the themes, the characters, all of it--and because of that, my novel Birthright is the exactly the kind of book I’d want to read.

Now hear me out. I’m not saying that in a self-aggrandizing or egotistical kind of way; I’m just saying that so that you get an idea of what kind of book it is. Because if you’re a pop culture fanatic like me, I think there’s something in Birthright for you, too.

In fact, I think there’s a lot of somethings in Birthright for you. You see, when Void asked me for a guest post about media influences, I thought it would be easy. After all, I describe the book as Ender’s Game meets The Lord of the Rings.

But as I really started writing about and digging into these pop culture and geek media influences, the more I realized how indebted I am to these works. Because without them my work wouldn’t exist. Couldn’t exist.

And so, in no particular order, I’ve narrowed down 5 major (non-MMO) media influences on Birthright.


Let me just get this one out there. You can’t really talk about cross-genre fiction without starting with Firefly. Joss Whedon’s cult-masterpiece is far too ingrained in the popular geek consciousness to avoid. So what role exactly did Firefly play in Birthright’s creation?

Well, primarily, I was able to look at Firefly to see the perfect example of worldbuilding. The Western conventions were never explicitly explained any more than the science-fiction ones were. They don’t explain why there are cattle-rustlers in space; there just are.

So in Birthright, I didn’t think it was necessary to explain why there are SF trappings like holograms and laser guns in a fantasy world. There just are. That’s just the world of Erlon.

Star Wars

I almost didn’t include Star Wars on this list of influences because it’s almost a cliche to say that Star Wars influenced me as a science-fiction writer. Because Star Wars has influenced every single science-fiction writer since 1977 in one way or another.

But I couldn’t leave it off. Not with as big a Star Wars fan as I am, and especially not with one of my lifelong dreams being to write a Star Wars novel. Cliche or not, Star Wars is a part of Birthright.

But what kind of part? Well, that’s kind of hard to pin down because Star Wars kind of permeates our popular consciousness.  It’s SF with a hero growing up, mysticism and pseudomagic, and an underlying theme of inherent ambiguity in good and evil.

And, like one of my readers pointed out, the villain even has the initials DV. Which I swear to you was unintentional.

Lord of the Rings

What’s a fantasy novel without an epic quest, right?

Tolkien did a lot for literature. Maybe even more than you realize. Not only was he the great-grandaddy of the high-fantasy quest and more genre conventions than we can shake a trope at, but he’s also the reason that us English teachers make students read Beowulf.

That’s right. Tolkien’s essay on the now-classic poem claimed that the important aspects of the poem weren’t the histories, but the monsters.

I love that idea, so I wanted to expand on it by bringing “the monsters” in Birthright to the forefront. In Birthright, the villain actually gets PoV chapters instead of being hidden away in a dark tower somewhere or presented through the goody-goody bias of the hero.

Ender’s Game

When I read Ender’s Game for the first time, I was struck by the idea of Battle School. I just loved the concept beind an isolated, high-tech academy for training the soldiers of tomorrow.

So in Birthright, I have the Inkwell Sigil, a ship traveling through the space between Instances, a ship separated quite literally from anything and everything else, where newly recruited technomages are trained for their service in the Archive.

Plus, as a different kind of homage to OSC and what he did with Battle School, the story starts out at Ennd’s Academy and circles back there from time to time.

Harry Potter

The Harry Potter series, like Ender’s Game, influenced Birthright with its unique take on a school setting. Nothing in my series is a direct parallel to Hogwarts, so put that out of your mind. Instead, I wanted Ennd’s Academy and the Inkwell Sigil and all other locations in the novel to feel like Hogwarts.

Remember how it felt to read the scene where Harry first enters the Great Hall and sees the enchanted ceiling? Remember that sense of wonder?

That’s what I am going for in Birthright. I wanted a sense of awe and wonder about the setting from the very beginning. And not just from the readers. I wanted the characters to experience that awe and wonder, too. Be sure to check out the sample chapters of Birthright and judge for yourself how well I did.


Obviously. After a life of geekdom, I know there are tons of others out there. From Stargate SG-1 to Michael Crichton’s Prey to Herbert’s Dune to pretty much anything that’s ever appeared in a SyFy original movie. It’s all in Birthright. Somehow.

Because there are no new stories. Just old stories told in new ways. And I think my new way is pretty freaking awesome.

B.J. Keeton is currently running a  Kickstarter campaign for Birthright, the firstbook in The Technomage Archive series.  He is is a writer, blogger, and teacher. When he isn’t trying to think of a way to trick Fox into putting Firefly back on the air, he writes science fiction, watches an obscene amount of genre television, and is always on the lookout for new ways to integrate pop culture into the classroom. B.J. lives in a small town in Tennessee with his wife and a neighborhood of stray cats, and he blogs about pop culture, geek media, and awesomeness at

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Sporadic: Offspring

I write this with a 4-day-old laying nearby on the couch.  He's my son, he's new, and he's awesome.  I won't go into a ton of personal detail, but me, my wife, 2-year-old daughter, and newborn son are all settling in at home.  My posts might be a little more sporadic until we find a routine that works and get used to having twice the amount of kids.

Don't worry, I'm still here.  I'll get back to a regular post schedule eventually.

Friday, June 15, 2012

A New Kind of Steampunk

I've never been a fan of steampunk.  Don't get me wrong, I like the idea of a world where technology advanced along a different path.  My problem with steampunk is that the setting is usually similar to early 1900's England.  It's too based in the real world to be interesting to me.  But what if a world powered by steam was placed in a different setting?  I could get behind that.

Enter Nimbus.  Nimbus is a serial novel written by a fellow blogger and friend, Professor Beej.  The world of Nimbus is run on steam, but that's where most of the similarities with traditional steampunk end.  The world is covered in a fog that kills or disfigures all who come in contact with it.  The only remaining bastions of humanity are places so high in the air that the fog doesn't reach them.  Since ground travel would kill everyone the only viable option for transportation is via airships that run on steam.

But water isn't just the power source for technology, it's also the base form of currency.  Most people don't have access to clean water.  Pure water is so rare that entire airships are dedicated to collecting water from clouds.  Since water is so valuable it adds an interesting twist to generating steam and powering technology.  People have to balance the benefit of technology against the cost of water it takes to generate the steam.

Take some time and investigate the world of Nimbus if this sounds even remotely interesting to you.  Beej is releasing weekly chapters for free over on his site but I would suggest supporting this kind of writing by actually buying Nimbus: Part One on Amazon.

I can't recommend him as an author enough and it would be remiss of me not to mention his other project, Birthright.  It's a completely different world but it seems just as interesting.  His Kickstarter for the novel is going on now and has some free sample chapters included.  If you're a fan of quality world-building you should donate!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

GW2 Beta Further Thoughts

I had fun with the Guild Wars 2 beta last weekend, but the game isn't perfect by any means.  I don't like to get anyone hyped up without telling them about the negatives.  After thinking about it for a few days there are certain things that I think could use improvement.

Let's talk about quest flow.  The renown heart system is a step in the right direction for questing.  It let me wander into an area and immediately start doing a variety of tasks that fill up the renown heart.  Killing monsters, collecting items, and completing tasks all contribute to the overall heart.  All of this can be done without ever talking to the quest giver.  In a lot of ways this is perfect for an explorer like me.  I can just wander around and organically complete renown heart quests while exploring.

It would be great on it's own but besides the renown heart quests there are also personal story quests.  Renown hearts are great for exploring, but when I want story I would much rather do the personal quest line.  The trouble with the personal quest line is it doesn't give enough experience to sustain itself.  After a few quests the recommended level is higher than my character.  This effectively disrupts the fun I'm having with the personal quest and forces me to go grind out some more levels before I can continue.  I think this is a huge oversight.  Azuriel gives a great example of this over on his blog.

My other main complaint is that some of the weapon abilities don't really mesh well.  The two handed weapons are fine but when one type of weapon is equipped in a character's main hand an a different type is in their off hand there can be issues.  The first 3 skill slots come from the main hand weapon and the next 2 come from the off hand.  Some combos work. Some just feel off.

Arenanet seems to be all about changes and improvements between beta events so I'll keep watching as the game develops.  These aren't game breakers for me, but it would be nice to see the issues addressed.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Numbers, Releases, and the United States

I'm staying chronological with my Final Fantasy Project which means that next up is Final Fantasy III.  Before I begin, it's important to note that not all Final Fantasy III's are created equal.  What do I mean by that?  Well, it's time for a mini history lesson.

When Final Fantasy III was brought to the United States it wasn't actually Final Fantasy III.  The original FFIII was released in Japan in 1990.  The game that was released with the title "Final Fantasy III" in the US in 1994 was actually Final Fantasy VI from Japan.  The next U.S. release after that was Final Fantasy VII in 1997.  From a U.S. perspective it looked like the series had jumped from III to VII but from that point forward all of the numbers matched on U.S. and Japanese releases.

Final Fantasy IV through VI were later released under their correct numbers in the United States on new platforms like Playstation and Game Boy Advance.  This covered all the releases in the series except for FFIII.

We need to jump ahead to 2006 to find the release of the real FFIII in the United States.  It was remade for the Nintendo DS with 3D graphics, but after 16 years Americans could finally play FFIII.  In 2011 a port of the DS version was released for iOS and that, my friends, is the version I will be playing.  Since I've played the first 2 games on my ipod touch I'll continue my iOS streak.  Between finishing the last game and starting this game I've made the jump to iphone, so that's where I'll be playing FFIII.

I know that was a roundabout way of letting you know the version I'll be playing, but I think the history behind the game is interesting.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Guild Wars 2 Beta Impressions

This weekend is another Beta Event Weekend for Guild Wars 2 and I finally played enough to feel like I can comment on it.  I also played in the first beta weekend but it took until now to firm up my thoughts on the game.

I like Guild Wars 2 in it's current state.  I've been away from MMOs for awhile so GW2 is scratching an itch that's been building for me.  But, fair warning, GW2 isn't completely groundbreaking or genre re-defining.  It's just a hotbar MMO that's being executed superbly.

That's not to say that ArenaNet hasn't made improvements to the MMO model.  Public quests - called events - are interlinked and very fun.  They flow into one another and form interesting stories across a zone.  It's really cool to see players organically work together to finish these events.  Every player gets full experience and loot for each kill, so there's no reason not to work together.  The interesting thing is that I'm constantly working together with players around me, but I never have to formally "group up."  I haven't actually joined a group in the entire time I've played, but I've teamed up with more players than I ever did in other MMOs.

GW2 introduced a new game mode besides standard PVE and PVP.  World vs World (vs World) is an interesting approach to PvP that most MMOs can't recreate.  It's a persistent 3-way war between 3 different servers.  I think it's a bold design choice that WvW gives regular experience.  This means that a player can play GW2 from level 1 to 80 entirely through WvW.  There's also more traditional PVP gameplay, but I have a feeling WvW is going to be hugely popular.

GW2 includes adaptive leveling.  When you zone into WvW you retain all your skills and weapons but your effective combat level instantly becomes 80.  The same idea applies in PVE where your level automatically adapts to the surrounding content.  If you're level 15 but enter a level 5 area your effective level drops to 5 but you still gain the amount of experience you normal would at level 15.  It keeps the exploration and backtracking fun because you can never steamroll over low level content and you're always gaining experience.  It also encourages grouping with low level friends and guild mates.

A lot of other MMOs end up giving so many skills by the end of the game that you need 6 hotbars and a set of macros to control your character effectively.  At least that's how I always felt in World of Warcraft.  Guild Wars 2 gets around this by limiting skills to 1 hotbar of 10 different skill slots.  The first 5 skills depend on the weapon - or weapons - you have equipped.  The other 5 skills are bought with skill points gained from leveling and are determined by the player.  There are many skills that can be swapped in and out of each slot, but only 10 will ever be in the hotbar at one time.  This keeps combat from being overwhelming, but also encourages tactical thinking and experimentation with skill swapping outside of combat.

I haven't even mentioned how much I love ArenaNet's business model.  There is no subscription fee!  I've sworn off games with subscription fees, but GW2 only costs the $60 price tag.  I can't stand paying sub fees, but I'll gladly pay full price to be able to play a game for the lifetime of it's servers.  There are also some optional in-game store items, but they don't look to be critical to gameplay.  For the moment I'm not worried about buying extras in game.

Guild Wars 2 is shaping up to be a fun game.  It's cool to watch the leaps and bounds the developers are making between beta weekends.  With the new features and gameplay modes I'm getting excited for it's eventual release!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

I Am Runner 5

At night I run from zombies.  When my daughter is sleeping safely in her bed and my wife is relaxing in our home, I flee from the undead.  Someone has to do it in this post-apocalyptic world.  We need supplies.  Food, weapons, medicine, communications equipment, entertainment.  Everything to keep a small township functioning.  At night I run from zombies... and it's a thrill.  The best part is that you can run from them too.

Zombies, Run! is a project I backed on Kickstarter in October.  I've been actively playing the game for the last month and I'm in love with it.  It's a game designed for runners (or walkers) who want to play something while exercising.

When I play the game I'm Runner 5 from Abel Township.  Our township is fairly secure, but I'm one of the designated "Runners" who run outside the gates to collect supplies, track zombie movements, find out what else is going on in the world, and do general recon.  I have a radio operator that tracks my mission and updates me along the way.  Once I successfully complete a mission I bring the supplies back to the township and use them to upgrade different buildings.

Not only is the game fun and well produced but it's encouraged me to run regularly, something I've never been able to do before.  I'm basically going for a run every other night.  Before I started playing this game I would run maybe once per week, but now I can't wait to get out there and finish another mission.

The story of Abel Township unfolds through the radio operator in contact with me via headset and through other runners and bystanders who are out in the field.  Each mission is also mixed with my music from my iphone.  Essentially there are story segments intermixed with my own songs while I run.  There are around 4-6 story segments per mission and each mission takes around 30 minutes to run.  The sound design for the game is fantastic and I've grown fond of the voice actors that I've been with for 30+ missions.

All of the regular running app features are present.  GPS tracking, pace information, total distance, steps taken, run logs, and more.  A whole community is spawning around this game and encouraging the creators to add new features all the time.  I'm pretty impressed with the community so far but I suppose there's a lot of appeal.  Seriously, who doesn't like the thought of surviving a zombie apocalypse?

Currently there is one season worth of content.  That's 23 story missions and 7 supply missions.  All of the missions are repeatable and the supply missions in particular are designed to be never ending.  There's an interval pack of missions added on the way soon followed by season 2 sometime in the near future.

Zombies, Run! is currently available for iphone and ipod touch with the android version due out on June 14th.  It usually costs $7.99 and it's worth every penny, but if you catch it on sale then you shouldn't hesitate to pick it up.

Friday, June 1, 2012

NBI Successful

Hey again fledgling bloggers out there.  May is over, which means that the Newbie Blogger Initiative has also drawn to a close.  But fear not!  Syp has a roundup of all the participants and a reflection on the month over on his site.

I'm glad that the NBI drew so many newcomers.  I think it was a huge success!  Not all the blogs will stay active, but any time we can get some fresh ideas into the community we should.  Good luck to all you new bloggers out there, I hope you stick around for a long time!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Hero Academy: The Tactics I've Been Craving

Hero Academy is the game I've been longing for.  I didn't know how much I needed a game like this, but now I'm playing it more than anything else.  I've been in the mood for a nice tactical game without twitch elements, and Hero Academy fills that role perfectly.

The premise of Hero Academy is simple.  On your turn you get five actions to spend how you will.  The game plays out asynchronously over multiple turns.  If you destroy your opponent's crystals or kill all of their units you emerge the victor.

These five actions can be to move a unit, attack with a unit, or bring an object into play from your current available "hand" at the bottom of the screen.  The objects you'll bring into play are more units, equipment for existing units, and spells that you cast on the battlefield.  At the end of every turn your current hand of objects refills up to six.

Those are the basic mechanics of the game, but it's far more interesting than it's moving parts.  It's a deep game of strategy and tactics that requires a careful balance of deploying, equipping, attacking, and defending.

It's a game full of interesting choices.  Is it better to go straight for a crystal kill or to slowly dwindle enemy forces over time?  Should I spend a turn re-positioning five different units or spend all five actions attacking with a single unit?  Is it more important to get many units on the battlefield or should I deploy one unit and deck him out in as much equipment as possible?  The answer is... it all depends on the situation.

With asynchronous turn based combat there is plenty of time to think your options through.  This game will appeal to you cerebral players out there.  I find it really fun to watch my games play out over the course of multiple hours or, more often, days.  Fortunately, Hero Academy doesn't limit you to only playing one game at a time.  I regularly have 30-40 games going at any given time that I check on a few times throughout my day. I'll take ten minutes, play through one turn in each game, and then put it out of my mind for a few hours while I wait to see how my opponents respond.

There are currently four different teams in Hero Academy.  They function like different factions or races do in most RTS games.  The Council is the standard human-ish race and is totally free to play.  They have a nice all around balance and lots of healing power.  Since they are completely free there is no excuse to not try this game.

I'm so in love with Hero Academy that I ended up buying access to the other three teams for about $2 each.  The Dark Elves are all about lifesteal, regeneration, and increasing power over time.  Dwarves have lots of area of effect attacks and are great at getting crystal kills.  The Tribe is modeled after Orcs and specializes in aggressive combat tactics.  Every team is good in their own way, which helps keep the game fresh and exciting.  Robot Entertainment, the developer, plans on adding even more teams as time goes on.

Hero Academy has gotten more play time from me than anything else since I bought my iphone.  I've played it more than all my PC gaming and console gaming put together in the last month.  I can't recommend it enough, especially if you're someone who likes tactics and turn based combat.  It's currently available on iOS and will soon be out for Android too!  Feel free to send me a challenge in game, my Hero Academy name is Void19.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Paying for Content, Not for Time

I really like the Free to Play business model.  I have no problem paying for game content in chunks.  It gives me the freedom to spend the amount of money I want on the parts of the game that appeal to me and that's awesome.

In the past few months I've spent money on content for Tribes Ascend and Hero Academy.  In Tribes I unlocked some classes and in Hero Academy I unlocked different teams to play with.  In total I spent maybe $20 between the two games and it was money well spent.  I unlocked some content and got to support good developers in the process.

I'm planning on spending a little more money on both Mech Warrior Online and Mech Warrior Tactics when they come out this summer.  Depending on what's available in the Guild Wars 2 store I may spend some there too.

The coolest part of F2P games is that I don't have to spend money.  These games are all designed so they can be played and enjoyed for free.  But, once I play a game and have fun with it I want to support the developer while unlocking new content.  I know in the long term this is how they'll stay in business.

The flip side is that I can no longer stand subscription games.  The idea of paying for game time seems like a horrible deal to me.  Renting time instead of permanently buying content... that just seems like a rip off.  And that's what it really comes down to, paying for time or paying for content.  I have no problem paying for content.  But, unless something unbelievably amazing comes along I don't see myself ever paying a subscription for a game again.

For the foreseeable future I will most definitely continue to support the F2P model by buying game content in any game that I think is fun.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Finished With Final Fantasy II

I finally wrapped up my time with Final Fantasy II.  It feels good to get another game done on my quest to complete all the main (numbered) Final Fantasy games.  FFII provided me with around 25 hours of play divided mostly into 5 to 10 minute chunks.  It was great for killing a little time here and there, even if playing it that way made the game take months to complete.

I've already posted some thoughts as I was going along, but what do I think about FFII overall?  Well, it's an improvement over the first game.  I can tell that the designers were stretching themselves and trying new ideas which is always worthy of praise.

There is an actual story this time, something that Final Fantasy I failed at.  FFI had the general knowledge that bad things were in the world and needed to be destroyed.  Final Fantasy II, on the other hand, had 3 main characters that get caught up in a rebellion against an oppressive empire (I already see precursors to FFVII).

I find myself glad that my characters had names, friends, enemies, and families.  It wasn't a party of Warrior, Black Mage, White Mage, and Thief.  Instead, I got to explore the world with Maria, Guy, and Firion.  The fourth character slot featured a series of allies that came, went, grew, and died along the way.  I'm greatful this game had a cast of characters instead of a bunch of generic NPCs.

This skill advancement system must have been mind blowing when FFII was originally released.  The idea that characters can only advance skills by using them is a departure from the standard "level up" system.  It's amazing to me that designers are still trying to perfect it today.  Just look at Skyrim, an RPG totally devoted to that system of advancement.

Final Fantasy II was another classic dungeon crawler that I enjoyed spending time on.  I'm already having fun seeing the Final Fantasy series advance in small amounts.  Next up, FFIII.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Blogging Tips and Tricks

As part of the newbie blogger initiative all of the sponsor bloggers are writing posts this month with advice about blogging.  Definitely check the forum for links to a lot of helpful people.

My biggest tip for you is to just start writing.  Starting to type is the hardest part of blogging.  The empty page is more intimidating than most people think.  The sooner I can get a sentence written out the better off I am.  If you can take a first pass at your post and get everything down on the page you're in a really good position.  It doesn't have to be gold, it just has to be on the page.

Which leads me to the fact that you can, and should, revise what you write.  When I first started blogging I wouldn't always re-read or revise after I had gotten words on the page.  That was a mistake.  Now, I make sure to do at least one revision pass on everything I write.  Sometimes I barely change anything, but other times it makes a world of difference.

Once it's all down on the page and you've done at least one revision pass then it may be time to post. Some posts you'll want to let simmer in the back of your brain while you tweak them over the course of a week or two and that's fine.  But for the most part it's better to post it for the world to see.  Don't agonize for weeks over whether to post or not.  Get your thoughts out there and get the discussion going.  You can always write a follow up post later.

Finally, write for you.  People may read your blog, or they may not.  If you are writing for yourself then you'll always be proud of your posts and it will feel good to get the thoughts out there.  You won't overanalyze page views or try to maximize your traffic generation.  You'll be writing about what you're interested in and you'll have a better following because of it.

In my mind, the best example of this is my friend and fellow blogger Professor Beej.  He writes about games, movies, tv, writing, reading, academics, pop culture, and random thoughts.  His blog isn't constrained to a particular niche, but he has a loyal following because he writes about the things that interest him.  Don't be afraid to do the same.  Write what you want to.  After all, it's your blog.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Newbie Blogger Initiative

Start writing!  This month Syp is organizing a Newbie Blogger Initiative and all are welcome to be a part.  This is your chance to start a blog and get a ton of support from the blogging community.  If you've ever thought about seriously starting a blog or just trying it out to see if you would like it then this is the perfect month to start.

There's a forum set up here that will have helpful information as the month goes along.  It seems like there's going to be a lot of support, so don't be shy, ask for some advice or help on the forum.  A lot of the bloggers pitching in are from the gaming community, but any blog is welcome.

If you want to get started blogging I would recommend using Blogger or Wordpress.  Both of them have free versions and are fairly painless to set up.  Blogger is a little easier to use if you're new to having a web site while Wordpress has a ton of extra plugins and customization options that you can use farther down the road if you feel like it.  It doesn't matter what you use, just have fun writing.

All of the bloggers supporting this initiative are going to write advice posts this month, including me.  For now let me give you the best advice I have:

Just write.

Don't worry about your quality or quantity.  Don't worry too much about grammer or punctuation.  Just get some words on the page and publish your first post.  Worry about refinement later.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Wave of the Future

I gave in and got a smart phone.  I had been putting it off for a couple years because I knew that as soon as I got a smart phone I would never be able to go back and the data rates are still killer.  But the reality of my job is that it's stupid not to have one, so I finally caved.

I got an iphone 4s and I love it, just like I knew I would.  I used to carry my cell and my ipod touch with me everywhere, but now they're combined in one device.  I went with an iphone because I already had 100+ apps for my ipod touch and they all transfer over.  I didn't want to start from scratch with an android device when I had already invested money elsewhere.

Besides using it for work, I've been using it to play games that were incompatible with my ipod touch.  The games that have gotten the most play time from me are Hero Academy and Infinity Blade.  Hero Academy is the best turn based strategy game that I've played in a very long time and when I launch Infinity Blade I'm just blown away that the unreal engine is running on my phone.

Don't be surprised to see an influx of iphone game thoughts from me in the next few weeks.  If you have any suggestions for games I should check out, please let me know in the comments.  Or, if you want to play Hero Academy with me, my username is Void19.  Feel free to challenge me to a game.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Playing to Explore

I never really wrote about my time in Skyrim.  I played for about 60 hours, got bored, and moved on.  The most fun I had while playing came from the exploration.  The quests, battles, loot, character advancement, graphics, and everything else came together in an interesting package... but the exploration is what kept me coming back.  Sometimes I find that to be the most interesting part of single player RPGs and MMOs.

When a game can capture my sense of curiosity and make me wonder what I'll find around the next corner I'll come back and keep playing.  Now, I know that every game has limited content and that eventually, as a player, I'll be able to see everything.  But it's the sense of entering the unknown that truly matters.  That feeling in my gut that says, "Better be careful, who knows what's next?"

Usually games that capture my explorer side are few and far between, but I'm always on the look out.  Any suggestions?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Tactics, not Twitch

On a recent weekend away with my family I had the chance to use my dad's ipad for awhile and I downloaded Hero Academy.  It's an amazing turn based tactic game for iphone and ipad that I was instantly addicted to.  I played for hours against other people online.  If Hero Academy was compatible with my ipod touch I would be playing it every day.

After latching onto the game so fast, I realized that I'm starved for a good turn based tactical game.  I don't have as much time to game as I used to, and time is what's required to get good at a twitch game.  So, while I love Tribes Ascend, League of Legends, and Starcraft 2 I always feel like I'm at a slight disadvantage.  I don't have the 8 hours of free time each night like I did in high school.

Instead, I'd like the emphasis to be on my mind and not my reflexes.  Unfortunately, there really aren't that many on the market right now that are turn based.  I could dive back into my catalog of GBA and DS games, but newer games are hard to find.  So now I'm on the hunt for some solid turn based games.

It's probably no surprise then that I became a backer on Kickstarter for The Banner Saga, Wasteland 2, and Shadowrun Returns.  All three games have turn based combat, lots of potential, and an awesome development team to back them up.  That means that in about a year I'll be all set for my turn based tactical needs.

What that doesn't help me with is what to play right now.  I'm still craving some delicious turn based action in my games.  Do you have any recommendations?  Please help me out readers!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Mass Effect Finale

I'm finally done with Mass Effect 3.  I've been reading all sorts of reactions about it since the day it came out, but I wanted to finish it myself before passing judgement.  First let me say the ending wasn't absolutely horrible.

The game itself was great.  I loved how 3 games worth of content slowly came together in interesting ways.  The combat, dialogue, and general flow of the game were all improved.  I had a great time through the first 60 hours of gameplay.  Only the last 10 minutes let me down.  If you've played Mass Effect 1 and 2 then you should definitely play Mass Effect 3.

I also dabbled in multiplayer but wasn't too impressed.  I play Mass Effect for the single player campaign.  The 3rd person shooting is satisfactory, but if I wanted to play a multiplayer shooter I have about 10 other games that are better suited to the task.  Single player is where the strength of this series lies.  I was also really sad to see the "galactic readiness" tied into how much multiplayer I played.  I completed 100% of the missions and side objectives in the single player game, but because I didn't play much multiplayer my galaxy still wasn't very "ready."  Sigh.  I wish they wouldn't have done that.

Anyway, onto the ending.  Minor Spoilers ahead.  I won't expound too much on what has already been written by others.  I just wanted to say that the last 10 minutes of the game were ok, but they had the potential to be so much more.  All of my choices across 150+ hours of play could have been used to create a custom set of end cutscenes just for me.  But that didn't happen.  Instead Bioware chose to go the route of giving me 3 choices totally disconnected from the rest of the series.  This is even more disheartening when you consider that Chrono Trigger, a game made in 1995, has 13 distinct endings with many sub-ending variations.

For some in depth analysis of the ME3 ending read this well written article by Doyce.  Overall the game was good but I was disappointed with the wasted potential at the end.  The final scene could have been so much more... sadly, it wasn't.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Kickstarting Stuff

I've been on a huge Kickstarter... kick... recently and I'm finding it extremely fun.  I've had a chance to support indie games and movies, which is fun in itself, but rewards come with support as well.  I usually pledge enough money so that I'll get a copy of the final product (game or movie) and maybe some beta access.  So far this policy has served me well.

I'm getting semi-addicted to checking for new projects, but for now I just wanted to share some of the projects I've backed.

FTL is a sweet rogue-like crisis management game in space.  You command your ship's crew and have to manage crisis after crisis while fleeing from an enemy armada.  I've heard nothing but good impressions from people who've tried the game and I could really go for a tactical space game right now, so backing it was a no-brainer.  FTL just surpassed 1000% (not a typo) funding and still has about 15 days of pledge time left.  Apparently, other people are impressed by it too.

The very first project I backed was Indie Game the Movie.  I've written about it before, but it's gaining more attention now and it's making the rounds at the festivals.  It won an award for editing at Sundance and had showings at SXSW.  I can't wait to get my copy!

A spiritual successor to Jedi Knight 2 by the name of Blade Symphony caught my eye a while ago.  The creators are making a multiplayer sword fighting game in the source engine and it looks sweet.  This one has been fun to track as game development continues.

Last, but definitely not least, is Legacy: Gears of Time.  Legacy is a time traveling strategy board game.  That concept alone almost won me over.  Once I saw how far along the game was and the level of care and polish that had already been put into it I was sold.  As a kicker, I later found out that the creator lives in the Twin Cities, so I was supporting a local artist without even realizing it!  I always like supporting art in my city.

Readers, do you know of any other Kickstarter projects I should look into?  Is there anything out there that made you put your money where your mouth is?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Top 5 Most Fun FPS Weapons of All Time

Over the course of FPS history, developers have created many, many weapons. They come in all shapes and sizes; ranging from the realistic, e.g. Counter-Strike and Modern Warfare, to the fantastical, e.g. Unreal Tournament and Team Fortress 2. As time has passed, some of these weapons have stood above the rest.

Whatever it is about these few special weapons, they're just more interesting, more intriguing, and more fun to play with. I'm sure everyone has their own set of favorite FPS weapons from the games they've played, but here's my top 5 picks for most fun FPS weapons.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The MMO I Want

I'm tired of MMOs all feeling the same.  Guild Wars 2 looks to be doing some things different and moving in a positive direction, but it's still a hotbar MMO with classes in a fantasy setting.  I want a departure from the norm.  I want to be a dragon.

Now here me out.  Every MMO I've played has made me play as a humanoid.  I don't know if there are MMOs that let you play as anything else at all, unless you count playing as a ship in EVE Online or STO.  But I want to be something more.

Let me be the dangerous predator in the night.  Let me soar above humans, breathing fire and striking fear into their hearts.  Let me swoop down and snap a humanoid in two with my jaws.  Let them form raids in a pathetic attempt to destroy me.  Let them try to unseat me from my hard earned pile of treasure.  Let me be the terror at the end of the dungeon.

The idea of switching around the roles of Player Characters and NPCs is simply fascinating to me.  There's a lot of untapped potential in different roles yet to be explored.  I hope someone decides to explore it.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Dota 2 and a Look at Past Dota Games

In a recent article, which can be read here, Game Informer announced that Valve is creating Dota 2. Creating a Dota 2 is a very interesting move by Valve. For years now, Valve has been a FPS developer. That's what they were, that's what they are, and that's their forte. Meaning, Dota is a very interesting choice for a project, and a huge retooling of their source engine will have to take place, or has already has taken place, to turn the FPS engine into an RTS engine.

Not only is it a huge technical project, it's a dangerous one. They're essentially taking something that's free right now, and trying to turn it around into a retail product. This means, that to some extent, they're going to have to improve the product to make it worth paying for, all while not screwing over the well established gameplay. Those are some big shoes to fill.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Bored Gaming and Board Gaming

I haven't been posting much lately because I haven't been playing new video games.  I'm still killing some time with Starcraft 2, League of Legends, and Tribes: Ascension but my play sessions have been few and far between.  There's nothing that I'm excited to play every night once my 18 month old is sleeping, and that's weird for me.  I love video games, but nothing new looks interesting or exciting.  Mass Effect 3 is a few weeks away but it's just about the only thing on my radar.

Indie games still have a huge appeal.  I've been investigating them as much as possible.  Between downloading trials, reading development blogs, and contributing to a few Kickstarter projects I've gotten more and more appreciation and anticipation for indie games on the market.

Instead of video games I've actually been devoting a lot of time to board games. Since my co-workers started showing me the world of modern board games I can't get enough of them.  We've played about 8 different games as a group since we started playing board games last month.  They all have their own style, mechanics, and feel.  The best part is that these co-workers of mine have a big backlog of games they want to play, so they keep bringing in new games all the time.

I haven't just been playing other people's games either, I went out and bought Citadels, which is the best board game out of the bunch we've played.  It's actually a card game with some lightweight tokens to represent a few "board game" elements, but there's no actual board.  Since buying it, I've already converted about 6 other people to the game.  It always goes over fantastically.  I'll probably write a post about it soon.

Besides that, we've dabbled in deck building games like Ascension, Rune Age, and Dominion.  We've played what are called Living Card Games(LCGs), which is like a self contained Collectible Card Game(CCG).  In CCGs, like Magic: The Gathering, you constantly have to buy booster packs and invest hundreds of dollars to make decks.  In these LCGs you buy one boxed set which has everything you and your opponents need to play a game.  LCGs like Lord of the Rings the Card Game and A Game of Thrones have been fun.  Dice games aren't usually my favorite, but I had a blast with To Court The King and I went out and bought Zombie Dice which my wife and I are having fun with nightly.

The most important thing I've learned is that modern board games are NOTHING like those old "classics".  Monopoly pales in comparison to the games out on the market right now.

I can't get enough board games at the moment.  A couple of my favorite sites for browsing are Boxed Up Fun, Fantasy Flight Games, and Shut Up and Sit Down.  Side note: Sorry this post has been so link heavy, but I really want to share all these awesome games with you readers.

Here's the most important paragraph of this post.  Readers, do you have any board game recommendations for me to try?  Please tell me you do.  Tell me what they are.  I want to know!  There's a comments section.  You know what to do.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Battle Rifle: One of the Worst Weapons Ever Added to a Game

Halo is one of the best selling and most played franchises in all of gaming. I've been on board the franchise since the original, and have beaten all the campaigns on at least heroic and a fair chunk on legendary. I never got that hardcore with the multiplayer, but I have played countless hours as a casual player. Like everyone else I have given it well deserved praise. However, one red mark stands out starkly in my mind. The battle rifle.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Project Gorgon

Eric over at Elder Game has sent out the call for testers for his indie MMO.  All of his posts about designing his MMO from the ground up have been interesting to read.  It's awesome to watch ideas get planted and then grow over time into a full product.

If any of you are interested in helping out an indie developer by testing his MMO answer the call over on his blog.  I'm sure he would appreciate it.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Graphic Fatigue

I'm playing through FFII on my ipod touch and I'm getting sick of looking at the same 2D sprites all the time.

They aren't bad, poorly designed, or ugly to look at.  The problem is simply fatigue.  I've been looking at the same character sprites, spell graphics, attack animations, and re-skinned enemies for over 15 total hours of play.  The problem is most likely compounded by the fact that I immediately went from playing FFI to FFII, both of which have been redesigned in the same style.

For some reason the 2D sprite art style really brought this phenomenon to my attention, but it's definitely not limited to 2D games.  How many games have you stopped playing, not because of the gameplay, but because you were sick of seeing the same graphics over and over?  I know it's happened to me a bunch.

Gameplay is definitely the centerpiece of a game, but don't underestimate the impact of the art style and graphics.  Look at games like Limbo and Bastion to see the truth in that.  They're games with decent, but not wonderful, gameplay but they're unique selling point is their art style.

I really appreciate it when developers take the time to introduce variety and creativity in their art style.  It can keep me playing a game just to see what's around the next corner.  And that sense of wonder and excitement goes a long way.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Air Units in Starcraft 2

Recently evizaer wrote a post over at That's A Terrible Idea titled "Air Units in land-based RTSes". In it he wrote about how air units in RTS games are "awkward". Saying they're either to powerful and become the only option, or they're just "ground units that ignore terrain". He goes on to wrap up his post by saying, "making all air units off-map call-ins tremendously increases the seeming realism and fun of air units while doing nothing to damage the metagame."

This finishing statement, in my opinion, is completely and utterly wrong, and what better way to prove my point, than with Starcraft 2.

Starcraft 2's air units fall into evizaer's category of "ground units that ignore terrain". On a surface level, this is true. However, there is much more to air units in Starcraft 2 than what that statement lets on.

There are two states in Starcraft 2, when refering to air units, that a unit can be in. These states are, of course, air and ground. All units have to be either one or the other, or, rarely, both. Ground units act as all well behaved ground units should and obey the laws of the terrain. Air units, as already mentioned, ignore the terrain.

While air units aren't that much faster than ground unit, this ignoring of the terrain make it so they can easily attack the back of a base when the enemy isn't expecting it. When defending against air units, it forces the player to rethink their defenses so that they encompass their whole base and not just a choke point.

But these states hold more significance than just terrain rules. They also determine what can attack what. In Starcraft 2, weapons can attack either ground, air, or both. This can create a weird kind of, for a lack of a better term, rock paper scissors effect. It allows for situations where air units wreak havoc when an opponent only has units that attack ground, or ground units that steamroll because an enemies army can only attack air. It makes powerful defense units, like the Siege Tank, have a weakness because they can't attack air. It adds a whole new layer of thinking when selecting which units to produce.

Lastly, I want to cover a concern evizaer brought up.

"When given the viable option at the beginning of a match, a player should almost always choose air units before they begin to use ground units to cement map control. An air unit that is equally as effective as a ground unit at ground attack is significantly more valuable in that it can ignore terrain to harass the opponent from any angle. Since games have a sharp divide between units that can shoot air units and units that cannot, the early game units generally are putrid at air defense. If they were good at air defense, then air would never be a viable strategy because building basic units would hard-counter it."

About air units being the only viable option in Starcraft 2, this is false. There are two things that stop people from massing air unit and getting away with it. One, air units are expensive, and when I say expensive, I mean very expensive. Two, if your opponent catches on that your massing air units, it is very easy to produce a counter force that will annihilate all the air you've been producing.

As for air units being equally effective as ground, this is also false. Air units in Starcraft 2 fit into niche roles. Banshees do massive damage to single ground units and are great at harrass, but can't attack other air units. Void Rays destroy heavy, high health units, but suck dish water against a group of low health units. Mutalisks tear through groups of light, small units, but fall quickly and easily to AoE damage. No unit is 100% foolproof in Starcraft 2, air units included.

Finally, about basic units not working against air, Starcraft 2 does something amazing that not many RTS games accomplish. Depending on what your opponent builds, every unit is worth getting throughout the whole game. As for air units, the example that stands out in my mind is the Void Ray. Void Rays will fall very quickly to a handful of marines, which are the first attack unit Terrans can build.

To wrap it up, everything that I've mentioned here adds layers and layers of strategy that changing air units into off-map call-in abilities would not. As for the off-map call-in abilities, that air strike could be an artillery barrage, the air drop could just be teleporting supplies in, and that recon plane could just be a satellite scan. And when you put it that way, you're back to having no air units in your game at all.

This post originally appeared on Lost in Neurons Wednesday, August 4, 2010. As part of a clean out of Lost in Neurons to make it more focused, it has been moved here, where its author feels it better fit.