January 4, 2022

End of Year Gaming

Tags: Games, Video Games

Is this becoming a gaming blog? I have a list of various blog topics and notes in a folder, but never seem to get around to writing them up. Anyone desperate to hear my tales of Malaysia and Spain? Anyway as the end of the year approached I tried out a few more games - I even finished two of them!

Fort Triumph (7hrs): The hook of this cartoonish top-down turn-based team combat game is destructible environments (so a valid tactic is pushing you opponents into areas where they will be crushed by falling or flying objects). There is also some team management and base building. The style and story is standard fantasy with some attempt at a comedy that landed flat for me. It is a decent game and kept me interested for a little while, but it is fairly generic in the end.

Pillars of Eternity (60hrs): I backed this classic top-down RPG on Kickstarter in a burst of nostalgia for similar D&D-based games from the late 90’s. It certainly succeeds in meeting expectations - it is a very good and slightly updated recreation of the old Black Isle style games. However, I at least have moved on since then. Taking 60 hrs to complete a “ok” story in an “ok” world with decent combat-based gameplay (but occasionally annoyingly stupid team members) is excessive. Much of the game is spent travelling between sites or reading text and making unimportant conversation choices (the blurb says they make a difference to the story, but I couldn’t see much effect). I completed the main story out of bloody mindedness. At half the size (or half my age) I would have thought this great. Instead I doubt I’ll play a similar game again - you can’t go back!

Driftland: The Magic Revival (4hrs): There are a lot of ideas (many of them good ideas) in this cross between a fantasy RTS and a battle-heavy 4X. I didn’t have the required patience to learn the details (not an uncommon condition in 4X games), especially given the weak tutorial and lack of tooltips. Having the game played on floating fragments of a destroyed world and joining them together with little bridges is a nice touch. A decent game that needs a better tutorial.

Dominion (6hrs): a computer implementation of the original boardgame deckbuilder. It is basically exactly the same as the tabletop version - including paying for numerous expansions. It is fun, but slightly dated and limited compared to the best modern computer deckbuilders (eg. Slay The Spire). Probably only for those who are already fans of the game - like me, so this is staying on the desktop.

Sheltered (2hrs): A postapocalyptic base-building survival game with lots of crafting. Nothing in the previous sentence excites me, and this game did not exceed expectations. It is fiddly, with clunky controls, and a need to know recipes to get going. It seems to require study online before starting as the tutorial is threadbare (I kept losing and had no idea what I was doing wrong). Not for me.

They Bleed Pixels (1hr): A super-hard 2D platformer with pixel graphics. Looks good, but way too difficult for me - I couldn’t even get through the prologue. No game for old men.

Iris and the Giant (7hrs): Cute little deckbuilder, where you play as a young girl fighting her inner demons. It has the interesting mechanic that cards can only be played once and are then gone - if your deck empties it is game over. Also a clever way to defeat the final boss (which took me way too long to discover). There is a lot of replayability with secret paths and powerups, but once I got the end I felt I had done enough. A worthwhile game.

October 6, 2021

Game Time

Tags: Games, Video Games

This is the third “short game reviews” post in a row, so I decided to quantify the amount of time spent playing games since the last post (over 2 months ago). I have added the amount of playing time (nearest hour) to each game review. Of course I chose to start this right before playing Civ6 and Battletech, oh no!

Control (3 hours): Well made FPS with high production values. I found this midly interesting as the game started building an interesting world. However, I was incredibly bad at this game and it quickly became more frustrating than enjoyable.

Civilisation VI (20 hours): The latest iteration of the iconic turn-based 4X. I played the first and second versions way too much when they were released (and tried out the others). I got away from from this one lightly. The new thing is that cities now sprawl out over the map rather than being constrained to a single hex. Otherwise it seems like another highly polished, but largely unchanged sequel - why break a winning formula? It still gets really fiddly in the end game with lots of cities and units, and there are tons of rules and options. The main thing is, it is as addictive as ever. I played a couple of learning games, then in my first proper game played 12 hours straight! I had to stop after that (completing a military victory first).

Voyageur (1 hour): A procedurally gernerated space trading game. Quite small and repetitive. Occasional hints of a story and some legacy mechanics between games, but after playing for just over an hour nothing really changed. Given the limited gameplay I stopped.

Shadowrun Hongkong (4 hours): This reminds me of Wasteland 2 - a turn-based tactical combat game with lots of RPG elements. You start by building a character, but with no guide on what is appropriate - did I do it right? No idea and this is a particular bugbear of mine. There is also lots of talking - I didn’t want to replay and go through it all again, so when stuck I just stopped. This feels like a visual novel with a bit of fighting. Walk, talk, walk, talk.

Crying Suns (10 hours): This mix of roguelike and realtime tactics (with pause) set on a spaceship reminds me heavily of FTL. It also shares many story elements and that same red tide pushing you forward across the map. The story is dark and it is not set in a fun world. Interesting art style, 8-bit for items and characters, but most of the GUI is very smooth. A good game and a lot easier than FTL, but not nearly as charming.

Battletech (50 hours): Turn-based tactics and fairly faithful reproduction of the old 80’s tabletop minatures game (which I used to play). Teams of giant mecha blast eachother across a hex map. Beautiful graphics and satisfying turn-by-turn gameplay led me to finish the game over the course of a fortnight. To nickpick minor issues in a great game: 1) the uninspiring story that I skipped through as much as possible, especially as I could detect no impact to the conversation choices at all; 2) each instance of a particular mission type is similar to the others of the same type and always goes the same way, making the game more like a puzzle. Despite that, a very enjoyable game and pleasant trip down memory lane.

7 Billion Humans (1 hour): Humourous programming game where you work for HR giving tasks to humans in computer controlled world. Seemed interesting, but programming games feel like work to me so I didn’t play long.

We Are The Dwarves (1 hour): Action RPG about sci-fi (or steampunk?) dwarves exploring an underground world. The tutorial was hard to understand and they even gave me an achievement for unintentionally not following it (hmmm). Graphics felt dated. These games are not my thing and this one didn’t come close to changing my view.

July 30, 2021

Too Many Games

Tags: Games, Video Games

I am playing too many games. I need to do more work instead.

Frostpunk: Interesting citybuilder in steampunk apocalyptically cold world. Build in circles around steam generator to keep warm. Some storytelling elements mean that society building is as important as constructing buildings. All the building and story builds towards surviving a huge and extremely cold storm - very nice, I had to keep playing until I got past this. After that no reason to replay unless attempting harder difficulty levels or scenarios. Above average builder with some interesting mechanics.

Sokobond, Cosmic Express & A Good Snowman Is Hard To Build: Series of 3 very similar puzzle games by the same publisher, listed in order of increasing cuteness. The idea is to move components around a greatly constrained playing area in order to construct something (chemicals, train tracks or a snowman). In total they kept me entertained for a hour - maybe longer for people who like puzzles.

Sidewords: Casual puzzle game to create words inside a grid using the letters on the outside of the grid. Clever little idea, but I’m not a big fan of puzzle games or word games so this didn’t grab me.

Luck be a landlord: Surprsingly addictive game mixing deckbuilding and slot machine mechanics. The theme of struggling to pay rent is very loosely applied as you spin a slot machine and receive a payout determined by the wide array of symbols available - many combo off eachother for higher scores. At the end of each spin you choose a new symbol to add. True 8bit graphics. Wish I thought of this. In the end I had to delete it as I know I would play it too much.

Calico: Cute cat cafe management game with a stardew’esque feel, but a cell shading look. Told me repeatably I should play with a gamepad, that I don’t have. I quickly ran into issues that may be bugs or more likely control problems. Didn’t have the patience, interest or gamepad to continue.

Baba Is You: Very clever puzzle game where the rules of each puzzle are spelled on on the screen and to solve the puzzle the player needs to rearrange the rules. True 8bit style (just like I remember it). Kept me interested far longer than most puzzles.

Clockwork Tales Of Glass and Ink: I was given this Hidden Object game and thought I would give it a try. Simple puzzles solved largely by clicking around. Ok art, but dodgy animations. Not very interesting to me.

Fez: Old puzzle platformer where the puzzles are often solved by rotating the 2d view to show the scene from a different angle. Great idea, and it kept me intrigued and playing for several hours until getting stuck on a few levels that required pixel perfect movement. Superior game for this genre.

Windward: A decent age of sail trading/piracy game with strong RTS elements. The graphics and gameplay have some rough edges, although nothing unforgivable for a small indie game. Kept going for a while, but just a little too slow and grindy, so I got out before being hooked (as could easily have occurred). I suspect this is supposed to be a multiplayer game.

Company of Heroes 2: I quit playing this well-regarded realtime squad-based tactical wargame after an hour. The tutorial crashed on me. I didn’t know what I was doing in the campaign, other than just keep running forward. Maybe that is a comment on Soviet tactics during Stalingrad (which is the setting), but it’s not particularly interesting for me. Disappointing.

June 28, 2021

Sitting At Home Games

Tags: Games, Video Games

Thanks to illness (not Covid) and lockdowns (yes, Covid) I have had some time to game over the last few weeks. So…

Elite: Dangerous: I have probably played the original Elite from the 80’s more than any other game. I was hopelessly addicted to it in my early teenage years. When the most recent iteration was given away free on the Epic store, I had to give it a try. After a few hours of play it became clear this was a very large game that I didn’t have the time to master. Especially considering that my tastes have moved away from the flight combat simulator. I could focus on the trading part of the game, but I’ve done that before with Eve Online and I didn’t want to go back there. On the positive side, this game is incredibly pretty.

NeoCab: Pleasant cyberpunk visual novel. You play as a taxi driver, and decide who to pick-up and then talk to them (standard multiple choice). Along the way you discover secrets about how the city works. There is also an interesting little game mechanic where the dialog choices both modify and may depend on your emotional state (as displayed on your bracelet). Short and entertaining.

Offworld Trading Company: A realtime strategy game with far more emphasis on the economic side of things (in the form of building, trading and conflict) than direct fighting. There is also a simple supply and demand system - it feels like a good start, but under-developed to me. A nice cartoonish art style, set on early Mars colonies, with a very mild sense of humor. Full of good ideas, but the realtime aspect turned me off. I don’t want to rush, and this game encourages at least feeling rushed. I suspect if it was turn-based I would have played a great deal longer.

Duskers: Control drones exploring abandoned, but still dangerous, procedurally generated space ships in an empty universe. It has a roguelike feel. It uses a stylised top-down view with realtime controls. There is the impression of a story, but despite several hours of play it doesn’t seem to go anywhere - I suspect it might just be scenery. This is a game that rewards planning and caution. My sort of game and I would probably still be playing it if not for the grind of getting a game going after wiping out most my of drones with too slow reactions.

Islanders: A casual city-builder where the player builds towns on small, procedurally generated islands and gains (or loses) points based on network effects. I couldn’t see any aspect of simulation, so this is the extreme puzzle end of the genre. My attention waned after a few hours once it became clear I had a choice between studing the puzzle to attempt mastery, or quit. I chose to quit. Fun for a little while.

King Of Dragon Pass: Very interesting procedural story / economic simulator game where the player runs a bronze age tribe in a low magic fantasy world. The hook seems to be that you have to think like a bronze age leader to survive (and then need some luck to thrive). So its all about status and respecting the completely implicit rules (you just have to work them out). I liked this a lot despite the very old style UI and static graphics (it was originally released in 1999 and it shows). It is still on my desktop and have hopes to return to it and finally win a game!

Slay The Spire: I can’t believe I haven’t written about this game before. A couple of years ago I played about 80 hours of this hugely addictive card battler with deckbuilder mechanics, where the player navigates through a series of procedurally generated rooms (usually containing an enemy to fight) to the top of the “spire” (and the final boss). The artwork is simple and cartoony, but inventive and interesting. The game is definitely strategic and rewards thought and planning. There are a huge number of cards, powerups and other unlockable rewards. Luck plays a small role, but the player has many ways to reduce reliance on luck. Most times you know why you have failed, and just want to try again. Recently, I was sucked back in for another 50 hours after the addition of a new main character. I wanted to try it out, then I needed to finish the game with them. Highly recommended, but comes with an addiction warning!

May 25, 2021

Short Trips in WA

Tags: Travel, Australia

As travel restrictions continue in Western Australia, it is near impossible to get outside the country, and risky to go interstate. So when the opportunity came to get away for a few days, it was time to look close to home. Hence why I spent 3 days in Kalgoorlie and another 3 days in Hamelin Bay despite having visited both before (but in the 80’s).

Some notes:

  • Do not go camping during school holidays! The camping site in Hamelin Bay was at capacity. I think the spot they gave us was normally a footpath. It was also noisy.
  • The Cape to Cape seems like a good multiday hike. Might be worth a look someday.
  • The Margret river region has become surprisingly built-up over the years, especially the northern end near Dunsborough. Head south or inland for the scenery.
  • The area around Kalgoorlie had far more flora than I remember. It was just scrubby bush and small trees, but definitely not a desert.
  • Kalgoorlie is clearly a working city (and very large by WA bush standards), there are few concessions to tourists. Mining clothes are worn on the street. Most of the pubs looked rough, and one even advertised skimpies (barmaids wearly little clothing) - something I haven’t noticed in Perth for decades.
  • The train the Kalgoorlie is so slow. The buffet car barely qualifies as such and runs out quickly, bring your own food. Although I like that some of the stops were just a platform and carpark with no other sign of civilisation visible.
  • The main streets in Kalgoorlie are very wide and empty. Also many of the old 1890’s buildings are still there. You can get a good idea of what it must have looked like a century ago.

Some photos from the trip are in a short slideshow available here.