Indie Rundown: The Rundownening

As promised, another set of indie games… FOR YOU! Let’s take the Russia circa 1945 approach to reviewing and make a lot of smaller posts, but do a whole lot more! That’s just as good, right?

Audiosurf

The simplest way to relate to Audiosurf without actually playing it would be to open up your music player, turn on the levels display, then try to keep your finger on the top bar as you slowly move it horizontally across the screen.

Audiosurf has you controlling a little ship as it moves across a track, collecting colored blocks to form big piles of points. As the astute among you might guess, everything is controlled by the tempo and intensity of whatever song is playing at the moment. And it can be any song, any mp3 file that is more than two minutes long.

It’s actually quite fun, if you plug in the right songs. Oddly enough, the perfect songs for Audiosurf aren’t the constantly intensive ones, it’s much better to have a song that has slow and very strong parts, in order to make an interesting track. If you don’t have any good music, or if you’re looking for something different, then you can tune into Audiosurf radio, a set of four songs (and one constant) that shuffles each week.

Gratuitous Space Battles

I hesitate to call GSB a “real-time strategy game”, because there is very little player input during battles themselves. The title itself should explain the basic premise, but for the slow folk out there: you command a lot of ships, an amount that could be described as “gratuitous”, as they engage in battles in space. Go figure.

The oddity of this particular RTS lies in the fact that you have no control of the ships after you say “go”. There’s two kinds of control: you can design the ships, as the game has a shipbuilding interface that reminds me of EVE Online, and you can organize the starting formation of the ships. The only thing past that is basic pre-battle priority-setting and general rules of engagement like “escort ship X” or “Stick together”, otherwise you have no choice but to sit back and watch the havoc ensue.

Is it compelling? I’m not sure, honestly. I haven’t had time to play it extensively, so I haven’t gotten into the higher-level math of it, but I can conclusively say that it feels somewhat random at the lower levels. However, it definitely has potential, and it’s certainly an interesting idea. We will have to see.

VVVVV

Perhaps I just don’t “get” it. Maybe there’s a cultural connection there that I’m too young to understand. However, I find VVVVV‘s gameplay very, very boring.

The game is a “retro” one, with the gimmick here being the ability to reverse gravity, pushing your pixelated little character from the floor to the ceiling and back. However, this isn’t utilized as well as a game like And Yet It Moves, because the game gets its movement physics from the same era as the graphics. Your character moves at one speed, very fast, whether running, falling, or whatever. While this may seem reasonable, quite a few of the “puzzles” involve you running towards a wall, flipping the gravity, and trying to aim for a hole in said wall of spikes and pain. However, you can’t make the little person move in an arc, since the character doesn’t realistically interact with gravity. You just have to hit that magic spot between moving sideways and moving up, which turns the “puzzles” into one part figuring out what you have to do to three hundred parts trying to thread a needle from across the room while riding a mechanical bull.

And before you say, as all the other reviews have, that it has value in how difficult it is. I’m fairly sure that the other reviewers have taken a little too much cocaine today. Being “difficult” and being “poorly designed” are two completely different things. A “difficult” game has a clever puzzle that takes a lot of thinking, and perhaps a lot of head-smashing-against-keyboard, to figure out. A “difficult” game is cathartic in its completion. On the other had, a game where you’re “one pixel out and you’re dead, slipping off the edge of a platform and up into spikes.” (quoted from Gamesradar) is not difficult, it’s just being obtuse.

I can’t account for the story, but let me say this: there’s a reason why we developed new software for games, people. Use it, please.

Beat Hazard

It’s musical Asteroids.

Really, that’s it. The intensity of the weapons and the number of enemies increases with the intensity of the music. But it’s still just Asteroids a bit of the ships from Galaga thrown in.

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Indie Rundown

Whelp, everyone, Steam is having another MASSIVE sale. I love Steam unabashedly, if you can’t tell, but that’s for another time.

I picked up 10 “indie” games for ten bucks, and they’ve been giving me a great time. Thus, let’s have a indie rundown! I’ll do three for today, perhaps more when I get through them all.

Iron Grip: Warlord (Demo on Steam)

This one was actually a wild card for me. I downloaded a demo of it off Steam because why not, but I never got around to actually playing it since the page’s screenshots made it look like yet another bland RTS game. Boy was I wrong.

IG: W is a steampunk tower defense game of sorts. You play as a soldier in a militia-like army that is repelling the far more numerous but under-equipped and under-trained invaders. You defend the “stronghold”, a building in the center of the map that slowly regenerates morale, from destruction while simultaneously killing off enemy waves and officers to destroy their morale in turn. Defenses include explosive traps, MG emplacements, AT guns, all of which are built with power, which is gained by killing enemies on top of the fixed rate. Pretty standard tower defense fare.

However, here’s the kicker: the game isn’t played by the top-down view, it’s a FPS. Thus, you’re building these emplacements, but you’re also down in the action, killing the baddies yourself. Throw in the cooperative multiplayer and you have a game that is actually really compelling. Perhaps it’s the walls of firepower that you can put up, maybe it’s the steampunk feel of it. While both of these things add to the game, I suspect that it’s just the wholescale slaughter of all kinds of enemies, without a ton of focus put on “reality”. Since all the enemies were trained at the Imperial Stormtrooper School of Marksmanship, you can get away with some pretty major death-dealing if you’re quick enough. Plus, with no worry about “balance”, you can use molotovs and rifle-grenades to your heart’s content. Hell, you spawn with five molotovs, and you can get as many as you want… it’s good fun.

I didn’t realize this until later, but I actually did a tiny post on the man that did the art for this game as one of my very early posts.

Recettear (Demo on steam)

“Capitalism, ho”! Have you dreamed of being buried under mountains of debt, forced to shovel your way out by working day in and day out with the threat of losing your home?

Let me rephrase that. Have you dreamed of owning your own shop, with a bit of debt hanging off to the side in order to prevent you from dicking around too much? Sure you have! There’s nothing more entertaining than capitalism!

Recettear took off surprisingly well in the Western markets, digging a little niche for itself on the internet. In short, you play a little girl that wakes up one day to find a fairy in her bedroom, one that informs her of the mountain of debt that her father left for her to take care of while he went off adventuring/dying. Recette decides to take advantage of the family store, and starts selling adventuring gear in order to make the scheduled payments on the debt.

It’s actually a very deep game, one that takes quite a bit of accounting; although it never really gets in the way of the gameplay. Perhaps that’s because the game is economics, and if you get into it then you know what you’re buying into. Compare that to EVE Online, which is five parts accounting to one part shooting guys; most players play for the latter and resent the game for the former.

There’s a lot of “RPG elements”, which are most noticeable in the dungeon-crawling system where you hire an adventurer to bring you back treasures to sell. There’s also your “merchant level”, which increases by making sales and gives you new abilities at each level.

Really, it’s a game about capitalism, one that any good entrepreneur would dig. Plus, the writing is pretty good, as is expected for Japanese games with a decent localization team. The dialogue is done in the storybook style that is so popular over there, with pictures of each participant and text boxes below, but it’s decent enough. In all, a fun game.

And Yet It Moves

And now we move onto the rest of the indie games, the physics puzzles. Seriously, I think that most of the games that I bought revolved around the “Look at this physics engine, now use it to get around the map”. AYIM is an interesting specimen for two reasons. First, the engine itself: you can rotate the world around your character, which allows him to walk on any surface. So, as an example, hit Right twice and you are now standing on what was your ceiling. This is fairly standard fare (VVVVV does the same thing, albiet just on the up-down scale), however it is used in fairly interesting ways.

For example, one of the early puzzles at the end of the first area has you trying to fly some bats into a lizard to drag him away. The bats always nest on the “roof”, so you have to twist and turn the world to move them towards the lizard, while simultanously avoiding death yourself. You wouldn’t think that it would be that much fun, but it has its moments.

Now, the second reason: the art. All indie games pride themselves on having some kind of artistic kick, whether it’s VVVVV‘s retro look, Eufloria‘s minimalistic feeling, Audiosurf‘s cyber-look, the whole lot. AYIM is based all around paper. The character is a moving sketch, moving around on torn cardboard and avoiding deadly printouts of animals and falling cardboard rocks. It’s certainly an interesting idea, indeed.

That’s it for now. More to come later!…?

Nostalgia

Those of you that play WoW, and probably quite a few that do not, will know that tomorrow marks a big day in the history of the game. That’s right, everyone, the Shattering is coming tomorrow, and it’s going to be big.

Since this patch will effectively destroy every place that I have fond memories of my wasted time and youth tied to. Thus, I thought that I’d take this time to recall some of my favorite places and the associations tied to them, as well as I can. Feel free to join in the comments section!

  • An obvious one: Orgrimmar, a name that I still can’t get right on the first try. This was the home of many newbies, especially my thousand alt. It wasn’t as pretty as some of the other cities, definitely, but it fit. However, Org is nothing compared to…
  • Undercity. My first character was an undead warlock, and I still love him dearly. Walking into Undercity, trying to navigate to the elevators, /sit-ing on the king’s throne (as all must do)… this was basically my home through level 50 or so. A lot of people didn’t like it for reasons that I wasn’t too clear on. The design was efficient, it was relatively difficult to raid straight through (as far as I can tell) and it hosted the Forsaken! What could be better!
  • Hellfire Peninsula, immediately post-WotLK. I was one of the poor saps that was leveling my lock main through BC during the Great Death Knight Explosion (Yes, I was a late bloomer). I will never forget searching for people to group with to run the instances and seeing page upon page of nothing but that infernal red text that indicates a Death Knight player.
  • Ulduar: Not for a feature of the dungeon itself, not at all. I’ve never been an instance that got farther than XT. However, that dungeon was the reason why I went from a new recruit of a fairly large, established guild (That I can’t remember the name of, it has been a while) to raid leader in less than two days. Personal record? Hells yeah.
  • Hall of Lightning: I swear to whatever dark gods govern my life, I must have run HoL a thousand times when I was trying to get to 80. I can still play through the entire thing in my head. Before LFG you had to take whatever group you could find, and EVERYONE always wanted to run HoL…
  • And while we’re in Storm Peaks, let’s not forget Boldercrag’s Refuge, where I went through the Level Cap. Note that I said “went through”, not “reached”, because there’s a certain thought process involved with hitting the level cap:
  1. “Holy shit, I finally did it! Level 80! I finally get to train my top-tier abilities, and I never have to grind quests for experience again”!
  2. “What should I do now? Train my abilities, of course!” (You train your abilities)
  3. “Okay, let’s do one of these ‘raids’ that I’ve been hearing about!” (PM a raid caller, get turned down because your gear is shit) Here is where you hit what I affectionately call the Gear Wall, the gap between hitting the cap and having decent enough gear to get into bigger instances. Now that the auto-LFG system lets you power through emblems this wall is much easier to break through, but pre-LFG it was a bitch and a half. I actually stopped playing intensively because of the wall, for a while.
  4. “Well, I can’t raid, quests don’t do anything for me but give me more money, instances are a pain in the ass to do… now what”? And that’s the last stage of the Level Cap.
  • Western Plaguelands: Any Undead-area-leveler knows exactly what I’m talking about. There’s a border between the Western Plaguelands that leads into Tirisfal Glades, which is what, a 40-level difference by conservative math? If there’s a single newbie that didn’t stumble in there and get insta-killed by the Level Death bears, I will eat my hat.
  • The Barrens. Oh, the Barrens. I know WHY they are changing the Barrens. I have to admit that it isn’t exactly the most interesting place to level, what with the gigantic open plains filled with nothing but mobs, but c’mon, it’s the Barrens. Every Horde player that wasn’t Undead had to go through there at some point, and the shared memories of the torture of the torturous fetch quests and Barrens Chat is something that the Alliance will never hold over us. And who could forget Mankrik’s Wife?

Oh, the list goes on and on. Some of these aren’t changing, but so much of it is, and we can never go back.

Farewell, my sweet, sweet Azeroth. You may be ravaged by the flight of a dragon, but your spirit will never be broken. And I guarentee you one thing: your citizens will have their sweet, sweet revenge someday. I promise.

With love,

Cat.

    Orgrimmar

    The Last Days of FOXHOUND

    For those of you who care, the Desert Bus for Hope is going down on the Escapist. Check out the feed to watch geeks play the most boring game in history. It’s like watching the product of the existentialist art form.

    The Last Days of FOXHOUND

    Chris Doucette

    500 comics

    Comic is completed.

    First off, if you haven’t played/gotten into the Metal Gear Solid series then walk away from this piece. Really.

    Okay, now that we got that out of the way, greetings my fellow fans!

    I’ve been a fan of the MGS series for a long time. Well, at least the story, technical issues prevented me from playing #3, sadly. Still, great games.

    The Last Days of Foxhound is basically jokes around in the world behind the games, looking at how the characters in FOXHOUND acted when they were on their days off.

    I will admit that I haven’t read a lot of it, just the beginning. However, I did like it for what I did read, so you might enjoy the whole thing.

    So, yeah, it’s an informative post. Have fun with that. I’m off. Finals week and all. Not that I’m studying or anything, but it makes for a great excuse. So long!

    Internet Sorting Algorithm

    The ISA has come up in recent thought, and I reference to the idea a fair bit, so I thought that I’d cover it.

    On the by, the name is a bastardized version of this trope. So, yeah.

    The internet works in a peculiar way when it comes to products. In the “real world” an inferior product can be destroyed by negative reviews, as people won’t spend money on something that has bad press. Take a game, for example: if everyone says that it’s crap then you won’t pay for it, denying the creators the profit.

    However, websites and their content can be viewed for free, which generates profit for the owners through ad revenue. Thus, any viewing of the page will pay the creator off, regardless of the opinion of the reader.

    There’s an old saying that “There’s no such thing as bad press”, and that applies to the internet doubly so. If CNN were to find the deepest, darkest pit of the internet and write a five page thesis on how terrible it is, that site’s pageviews will skyrockets from people just wanting to know what all the fuss is about.

    Thus, the only way to get rid of something bad on the internet is to ignore it into oblivion. People won’t keep sites going if no one is visiting, why do you think so many first-time bloggers fail? Especially if they are paying to have them hosted somewhere.

    That’s how we tend to treat truly bad things, we just don’t talk about them. We ignore them, and they fade from the consciousness of the Hive Mind that is the Net in a process that I’ve lovingly stolen titled the Internet Sorting Algorithm.

    The ISA is why I always say that I only review topics with some measure of worth. Okay, I made an exception for one comic, but only because the creator advertises like he dumped Scrooge McDuck’s bank account into Project Wonderful. As a rule, however, I don’t write on utter shit because there’s no point to it, and I really don’t want to give them justifying pageviews. I just let them sit on their own little corner until they get better and people start noticing or the domain 404’s for good.

    You might be wondering why this is a pressing concern all of the sudden; it’s because of the 4chan-tumblr fiasco that occurred a few days ago. And before you channers start calling me out for blogging about it, you idiots made “4CHAN” trend on fucking Twitter. I don’t want to hear about it. Learn to keep your mouths shut.

    If you hadn’t heard about it, Tumblr has been stealing content, 4chan got sick of it, and decided to DoS attack Tumblr. However, the entire thing backfired to the point where both sites are full of members of the other, and (/cringe) “Chumblr” content has been posting everywhere. Plus, various news sites and the aforementioned Twitter nonsense added to the press.

    So, basically, in their attempt to attack Tumblr the Channers gave it a thousand points of free publicity.

    Here’s the kicker: many people had no idea what Tumblr was before the attacks started, myself included. Thus, why would you bother with it at all? Why not let the ISA take care of them, pushing the crazy hipsters into the peripheral until they were so sequestered that they didn’t bother anyone, or they disappeared forever?

    In short, the internet has its own way of purging the crap from itself. There’s no need to attack the obscure crap, because that only validates their existence. This was intended as something of an informative piece, but take away something from it: the next time that you’re going to click through “just for kicks”, think twice. Do you really want to give away that pageview? You’re just feeding the creator, who will take your traffic and push on to make worse and worse material.

    OUR VALUED CUSTOMERS

    Terribly sorry if this is odd, I’m a little *whooo* today.

    OUR VALUED CUSTOMERS

    MRTIM (Mr. Tim?)

    Updates daily

    I came across this sweet nothing while… well, I don’t really remember where. That’s not important.

    Anyways, the idea of the comic is that the author, MRTIM, is the proprietor of a comic book store. As an budding comic artist that is forced to view the dredges of our society, he digs through the nuts that visit his store and writes them down.

    I’m tempted to call “bullshit” on some of them, but then I remember that people are insane as a rule.

    Really, it’s fascinating to see some of the things that people come up with in their idle thoughts. The nutjobs are broken down into a few catagories: Creeps, Crazies, Jerks, Fighters, and Jus’ Folk, although you probably won’t be using those subgroups as the most efficient browsing method is to start at the home screen and go by pages.

    The only thing that bothered me about CUSTOMERS was that the comments section is black text on a black background. I don’t know if I simply have something set wrong or what, but it seems like an odd choice for design.

    CUSTOMERS is an insubstantial lunch-time comic that you laugh at while scarfing down your nutrients; it’s simple catharsis. I won’t write much about it because there’s not much to SAY. However, I kind of enjoyed it, and you might as well.

    And if this is the first post that you’ve read in my archive because it’s the shortest, then you will LOVE CUSTOMERS. Yes, all you tl;dr little shits, this is the comic for you.

    Kinect

    Whelp, it looks like it’s time for me to do a piece on the Kinect. After all, what self-respecting geek blogger would I be if I didn’t put my three cents (inflation) into the subject? So, here it goes!

    First, the obvious comparison, the Wii.

    I’m betting that most of you have a Wii. Now, tell me, when’s the last time that you “serious gamers” broke out that little white box? A month? Three? Personally, I hadn’t used my Wii for at least half a year until recently, when I rented No More Heroes. Why? Because it’s not for the “hardcore” gamer.

    I take back that last statement, as what constitutes “hardcore” is a subject that has been widely debated. After all, there are hardcore Farmville players. Perhaps the more appropriate term would be “violent” gamer. You know, the kind of gamer that doesn’t mind a little blood and guts in a game; in fact, they usually prefer it. This is the traditional “gamer”.

    The Wii came out with a few titles for the “gamer”: Metroid Prime: Corruption, Zelda: Twilight Princess, Mario Galaxy, so on and so forth. However, there were limitations, as there always are.

    1. The Wii’s processing power was crap.
    2. The motion sensor didn’t operate on a 1-to-1 basis.
    3. It’s Nintendo, by the terror of the Dark Gods. That’s almost synonymous with “kiddy”. (Note the “almost”, fanboys. Don’t rage on me.)

    The Kinect can deal with #1 and #3, but what of #2?

    The system supposedly works very well, tracking every part of your body via the camera and sensor. On an aside, the first time I heard about the sensor on your spine I couldn’t help think of the plugs from the Matrix… huh. Anyways, let’s pretend that you have the ridiculously large room needed to play the Kinect correctly, and it can sense your movements perfectly. Does that make it a good system?

    Answer: Not really. See, the problem with the Wii’s controls was that they weren’t perfect. Note that I didn’t say that they were “bad”, they simply weren’t perfect, and that was the reason for their downfall.

    Motion controls work on the same principle as the uncanny valley. It’s okay if they’re completely crap, because then you simply won’t play the game. If they’re perfect then there’s nothing but flower and unicorns. However, if they sit in the valley between unplayable and perfect, where they’re good enough to tear through the game but still annoy you to no end, then that’s the real problem.

    The key to the success of the games I mentioned before was that the motion controls were reserved for what were essentially gimmicks, mostly. Okay, Metroid had you point and shoot, but that barely counts. They took advantage of the motions, but they didn’t rely exclusively on them. When push came to shove, there was always good old buttons to get you out of a jam. This was especially useful for the twitch aspect of gaming, where you don’t really have time for the system to figure out if that imperfect motion you made was to draw your bow or swing your sword.

    However, the Kinect won’t have the ability to use buttons for anything. This might be their big position, the “Pff, who needs buttons?” idea, but let’s face it: games will have to be fairly easymode to compensate for any kind of mechanical failing. Basically, the Kinect has two options: it either works flawlessly out of the gate, or it’s going to find itself in a cardboard box.

    And before you lot say anything, yes, all of these things apply to the Move as well. But at least *that* has buttons all over the lollypops.

    However, let’s pretend that the motion controls are perfect, for the sake of the argument.

    It’s still not going to surpass the controller. Why? Because the end goal of gaming is to lose yourself in the game, which motion controls simply can’t do without a holodeck situation.

    Why? Immersion. That all-too-common word that we hear again and again from game reviewers everywhere. The exact definition of immersion varies, but the general idea is that the game draws you in enough to make you forget that you’re playing a game. It’s like reading a really good book, eventually you stop noticing the words and the fact that you’re turning pages.

    Motion controls kill immersion like no other, because thinking about what motion you need to do in order to perform a certain action will rip you out of it faster than… I don’t know, a really fast thing. You don’t want to know what my first thought for that analogy was.

    Anyways, in order to cut back on movement failure you have to have one motion, such as pressing a button, always respond to one action. If you want to convert that idea into motion form then you need to make your body waggles very specific, but also very forgiving. You couldn’t have your sword slash as a horizontal slash but have your Magic Death Spell be diagonal, because then you would have players casting that spell by accident when things got hectic. Plus, arm flailing? Not quite immersion-making.

    Thus, it isn’t for the gamer.But hey! It’s not meant for us, it’s the system for the casual gamer, right?It’s the toy that the nuclear family will play with in-between going to family reunions and telling each other how much they love each other!

    Except for the fact that selling the system to what we affectionately will call “non-gamers”, who will be referred to from here on in  as “your mom” (yes, I am going there. It fits!), will be an uphill battle the entire way, as it’s only cost-effective if the family already owns a Xbox.

    Think of the mindset of the average person. They want a videogame system. There’s three choices: the Wii, the Xbox, and the Playstation 3.

    First, let’s examine the sheer cost of the systems, which will probably be first and foremost on the minds of the Kinect’s target audience. Your darling mother doesn’t care about brand loyalty, or exclusives, or backwards-compatibility, or any of that. She just wants a game system. Thus, which is she going to favor the heaviest in the trio? The Wii, of course, which costs half as much as the Xbox.

    Secondly, the Wii has already been well-established in that classy lady’s mind. It has been the baby of the media for a long time, with so many stations running stories about how the system helps the elderly, how it brings families together, and so on. Thus, when your matriarchal figure thinks of a gaming system then she is going to think of the Wii.

    Thirdly, it’s fucking Nintendo. Enough said.

    In all, I’ll be really interested to see how well the Kinect actually sells over Christmas. Microsoft is predicting 5 million sales, and I have to say this: I sure hope that launch is outrageously successful, because who knows if they’ll get a post-season.