Wow, it’s been a particularly long time since I did one of these “What I’m Playing” posts. So much so, that I’m ignoring whatever I might have played in November/December last year, since I can’t quite remember everything.
Since I started being a full-time indie dev, I found I’ve had much less time to actually play games, since I’ve been so busy making them. As other game designers have noted, it also can be hard to enjoy games for leisure when you are constantly also treating them as ‘research’ – dissecting the mechanics and implementation. That said, I’ve probably played more interesting stuff in the last six month than the previous. Here’s a sample of the highlights I can remember:
Ossuary – great little puzzle adventure game that actually encourages some lateral thinking instead of just object hoarding and brute force testing of combinations. The dialog is all wonderfully written to fit the strange little world of the Ossuary, and the understated visuals in stylish black’n’white give it a real goth aesthetic. Purchased on the strength of the demo, and I haven’t been disappointed.
Anodyne – I was a caught a little off guard with this one since I didn’t expect too much, but it’s the most fun I can ever remember having with a [J]RPG. Not a fan of the jumping action sequences though – I hope there’s not too much of that.
Gone Home – a wonderfully crafted “first-person note reader” and burglary simulator. I sat down in the late evening and started playing this. Sometime around 3am I was finished & sheepishly crawled into bed with no regrets.
Electronic Super Joy – one of the better platformers ever made. In fact, if Super Meat Boy didn’t exist, this would probably be a massive indie hype train. My 9 month old son is always transfixed watching this.
BADLAND – You know when you start playing a game, and you kick yourself and say – “This is a great game. I wish I had made it. I could have made it !”. This is one of those games. It’s Flappy Bird, but smarter. With physics, glorious art and sound, that combines to create a world that feels dangerous, hostile, and darkly comical. I’ve been playing the Humble Bundle version of this sideloaded on OUYA – works great and looks stunning on the big screen. Also transfixing for 9 month olds.
NeonXSZ - a 6DOF Descent-like shooter, but with a massive tech tree of upgrades.
Descent – I haven’t played this for what .. 20 years ? It’s better now. Back in the day, my computer could barely run it and the default keybindings were tricky. Now it runs as smooth as butter in DOSbox, and since I can set up the keybindings to basically work like a standard FPS and it’s easier and more enjoyable. There is a lot to be said for standardisation of control across similar genres.
Giana Sisters : Twisted Dreams – I hadn’t quite grasped how stunning this looked until I played it for real. I would love some insight into how the mesh ‘morphing’ of all the scenery was achieved (Update: just did some Googling and found this turns out 3ds Max will do a lot of the heavy lifting, but there are some fiddly technical constraints on the art side. Looks like it’s also possible using Blender Shape Keys. Also for future reference – there seems to be a simple mesh morphing implementation for Unity here. Very very interesting).
Jets’n’Guns Gold – side scrolling shmup. Pew pew. Fun, quite tough. Gameplay is solid, but truth be told, I was slightly disappointed in the graphics (obvious tiled backgrounds, lots of indistinct, inconsistent and blurry art) – it looked much better in the promo videos for some reason.
Diadra Empty – an interesting ‘open field’ bullet-hell shmup that scrolls in both directions (a bit like Syder Arcade), with shot direction locking and pile of unlockable weapon options. I feel like the interplay of collection, scoring and special abilities in this game have more depth than I’ll probably ever find time to properly explore, since it seems generally more ‘complicated’ than your typical shmup.
Fallout: New Vegas – I liked Fallout 3. And this is more of that. I’ve really got to kick the hoarding habit though since searching EVERY SINGLE DRAW in an area is extending the playtime horrendously, while simultaneously compounding the problem through increased inventory micromanagement. It’s sort of part of the game, but I think I go a little overboard with it.
The Elder Scrolls V : Skyrim – finally played this. Wonderful looking environments. After ~60 hours play, for whatever reason, I just forgot to keep playing and didn’t have the urge to pick it up again. I guess if I’m going to burn so many hours in a epic like this, I’d prefer it to be in the Fallout universe.
Oil Rush – some stunning water graphics here, and a great tech demo for the Unigine engine … but the gameplay is a little uninspiring. One of the voice actors is an Aussie though, which is always amusing.
Acorn Assault (OUYA) – I’d heard this was good but hadn’t had a change to check it out. Great fun turn-based strategy, with some non-obvious strategies you’ll only learn by playing it a few times.
Neon Shadow (OUYA) - finally up to the final boss after losing my saved game after an OUYA factory reset !
Mystery Castle (OUYA) – a Sokobanish game with a sense of humour. I can’t really explain why I bought this and kept playing it since it doesn’t feel super innovative or new (say, compared with something like MacGuffin’s Curse, of similar genre), but it’s got that ‘one more level’ thing happening, and is just generally well polished and presented with a well tuned difficulty curve.
House of the Dead Overkill : The Lost Reels (Android) – I love me a good on-rails shooter, and I wanted to see how they handled this franchise on mobile. Turns out, not the obvious way – you might expect a ‘tap zombie to shoot it’ control scheme, but they actually went for a ‘drag crosshair, tap button to shoot’ control scheme. I think it works better than the former option, since you can maintain a challenge without having to spawn a zombie every half second. It’s not terrible as a mobile casual game, although some elements feel a bit ‘cheap’ (like lack of variation in zombie models – when you are already at 100 Mb download, a few more isn’t going to hurt). Fair warning – this is a paid game that also includes in-app purchases and cross-promotional adverts. For a paid-up-front game, the including the option to buy ‘kash’ or whatever to bypass earning upgrades feels sleazy, as does the option to view adverts for virtual currency. The option to buy an extra level (traditional DLC) feels fine since there’s enough in the core game for it’s price (if you get it on sale as I did). There’s an interesting pricing experiment going on here – the Android version on Google Play costs $4.99. The iOS version on the iTunes App Store is now ‘free’, and as far as I can tell includes the same levels that Android users pay up front for. This is contrary to the usual advice that Android users won’t pay up front for games, but iOS users have been carefully trained by Apple to do so, and might.
Zombie Gunship – a great example of a simple game milking visual effects & great audio design to make it more interesting than it might otherwise be.
EMPIRE “Deck building strategy” – a curious mobile strategy game. Here’s my attempt at a whirlwind explanation, glossing over lots of details: Two phases – (1) town building / upgrading, army building and exploration. (2) Battles. For me, the battles are the most interesting part – the pieces in your army start semi-randomly arranged at the start of a grid, the opposing monster army at the opposite side. You have three unit types with different health and attack ranges and patterns – archers, warriors and cavalry. A hand of 6(?) cards drawn randomly from your deck. Cards allow you to do things – like move a single unit one square, or all units of one type up on square, move one an archery behind a calvary unit, or skip moving that turn. All units move forward toward the opposing army each turn. Every time you lose a unit, you get a useless “strife card” in your deck, decreasing the chances that you’ll have a useful card in your hand as the game progresses (unless you can use one of the upgrade mechanisms, like Keep, to discard strife cards) [Update: I just noticed this rule was removed in a recent update. Honestly, not sure if I like that]. I really like the puzzle & problem solving nature of the battles – since you aren’t able to move units freely, usually you are forced to make a best compromise in where you place them in the first few moves before they meet the enemy in the middle of the grid.
Intern Saga : Trademark Lawyer – too hot for iOS .. how could I resist ! Scan a generic mobile ‘app store’ for allegedly trademarking infringing titles and fire off cease and desist letters for you clients. Starts off trivial, where you are essentially just memorising a list of keywords. Quickly becomes brainesploding as you have to remember which ‘genre’ a keyword is associated with (yes, as of just now brainesploding is a word).
XCOM: Enemy Unknown – pick this up again after getting well and truly slaughtered in my first game. I folded and read a few strategy guides around the web. Seems like satellites are uber important, so I’m doing a little better this time, but resource management is deceptively difficult.
A whole pile of Ludum Dare 29 games – there were lots of good ones … and let’s face it, a few that I wish I didn’t have to waste time playing. It’s a game jam after all. In the spirit of community, I play stuff pretty much at random rather than focusing on games from ‘rockstars’ that I know will be decent, and give detailed and hopefully constructive feedback where appropriate. A month or so after the event, a few of the most memorable are: Kinetectonic (@headchant), Our God Lives Underground (Andrew Shouldice), Hot Diggity (DragonXVI) and Ant Simulator 2014 (@ETeeski). I Twitch streamed most of my plays, as my baptism by fire into livestreaming.
Okay … back to work :)