Saturday, January 29, 2011

Magicka

 

Another game that is generating a lot of noise on the QT3 forums is a little game called Magicka. Published by Paradox Interactive, Magicka is the work Arrowhead Game Studios and is their first release.

In the game you play a wizard. The meat of the game is the very nicely done spell system. You combine different elements such as water, earth, lightning, nature, arcane, fire, cold, and shield to create different spells which can be cast on yourself, cast as aoe, or cast at other targets. Friendly fire is a part of the game, and the hilarity resulting from such accidents due to the spell system are a great part of the charm of the game. It is definitely meant to be played co-op, but can be played solo.

There are some problems with the game though. I haven’t tried it yet, but multiplayer which is the way the game is meant to be played has had a lot of problems. While the spell system is one of the best game design mechanics I have seen in quite a while, they coupled it with a horrid design decision by having one of the worst save game systems ever put into a game. You HAVE to complete a level for it to progress your save. There are checkpoints in a level that you will go back to if you die instead of the start of the level, but if you stop the game prior to completing the level those checkpoints do not matter and you will have to do the whole level over again the next time you play. The graphics are decent, but the engine seems to be very taxing (ie not well optimized or poorly coded) on systems for the quality of graphics that it does have.

Luckily the devs have been hard at work patching the game and hopefully the issues that have plagued release will be resolved and a sane save game system will be implemented. For $10 though it is worth taking a chance that they will solve it all and enjoy the hilarity that is Magicka.

As of now I would rate the game 5/10 due to the save game insanity and the fact that the multiplayer is broken and mp is the heart of this game. Fix those and this game is 10/10.

Din’s Curse

 

DinsCurse intro

Recently on the QT3 forums there has been a lot of talk about a game called Din’s Curse. It came out early last year, and currently there is work going on release an expansion to it called Demon War.

Din’s Curse is an action rpg with a procedurally generated world. So the game never plays exactly the same way twice. You are someone who was evil in their previous life, and you have been cursed by the God Din. In order to remove the curse and gain redemption you must travel to villages that are in danger and save them. This will mean travelling into dungeons which are situated under the towns and defeating those bringing evil to the town.

The dynamic generation of the content is one nice aspect of the game that makes the game have high replay value. The other is the character class system. There are set of predefined classes which you can choose, which are comprised of 3 different specialties, or you can choose to be a hybrid class and mix and match any 2 specialties together to make your character.

DinsCurse character creation

DinsCurse character creation 2

DinsCurse specialty selection

You will start out in your first village receiving some quests from Din, and also from the local villagers. That will set you on your way down in to the dungeon. You can only have 5 active quests at a time ( a bummer), so you will have to head back to the surface to turn them in and get more. You have to complete all the non-optional quests in a village before you are allowed to move on to the next.

The village can be attacked, so on occasion you will have to hurry back to the village to kill the raiders before they kill everyone in the village. If they kill the apothecary, the steward, and the warmaster (the 3 main quest givers), then you will lose the city. If only some of them are killed you will get quests to help locate new people for those positions.

The graphics and sound are nothing to write home about, but for a small studio/indie effort they do a serviceable job and don’t get in the way of enjoyment of the game.

DinsCurse village

DinsCurse dungeon 1

DinsCurse dungeon 2

For the fairly low price and with the high replay value due to class combinations and dynamic world generation this game seems to be well worth the price while waiting for the next incarnation of Diablo to arrive.

8.5/10

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Battle of Wanat

 

Wanat is a village in Afghanistan where a battle took place between a small outpost of US Army soldiers and a bunch of Taliban. There is a scenario covering the battle in John Tiller’s latest release Squad Battles: Modern War. Someone at the Blitz wargaming club picked this scenario for our pbem game. After playing my first turn tonight as the US, I decided to try my hand against the AI.

I am new to the Squad Battle series so there are a lot of interface quirks left for me to figure out. Weapons seem to lose effectiveness very quickly so I guess the point there is to choose your shots carefully. Air Support that gets called might have multiple weapons for you to choose from, but only one can be deployed. Perhaps that is modeling a choice made prior to takeoff. I need to make more efficient use of my leaders in rallying pinned and disrupted squads.

The battle started with one squad out of the base when the attack hit, plus one squad manning an observation post outside the perimeter. The insurgents advanced and we were trading fire, but then they attempted to breach the wire around the perimeter in multiple places and things got hairy. They had some support weapons located in the village, but I had a hard time silencing them. The TOW launcher on a hummer was ineffective as was a 500 lb bomb from a B1-B. The insurgents managed to take out 2 of the HMMWVs at the entrance to the outpost and managed to start working in to the post there. In other spots there were still stuck in the wire on the perimeter. For the most part they were ignoring the OP and the fire team that was stranded outside the base. They couldn’t do much because they were demoralized by a well placed mortar round. Finally a pair of AH-64s arrived to provide CAS and they started to break the morale of a lot of insurgent squads. It was still hairy with the perimeter broken in multiple places. Another turning point hit though when the 1st squad of 2nd plt C co along with their plt leader counterattacked some pinned insurgents elements wiping them out. That squad was then able to secure the points inside the perimeter as the rest of the remaining soldiers continued to try and pin down the insurgents while the AH-64s worked them over. In the end the game scored it a major defeat for the Taliban with their casualty total being 128 to 35 for the US. I am guessing that that includes wounded as well as dead. Either way a very bloody fight.

wanat

If you click on the picture you will see that the squad out at the OP was demoralized. That is because I made the decision to try and maneuver them into the fight since they were being ignored. Well, they got paid attention to very quickly and made their way back into the OP.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Village



This weekend I finally got around to finishing The Village by Bing West. I had started on it last year I think, but had gotten sidetracked. So I started over again Saturday night.

The book is about the experience of a Combined Action Platoon in the village of Binh Nghia. The CAP program was an attempt to provide security in the villages by using a small mixed force of US personnel and Vietnamese. The book details the experience of one combined action platoon as they slowly but surely won over the local populace and pushed the VC out. The main thing I took away from it was the importance of always maintaining discipline, and the importance of having a strategy such as this integrated with the overall strategy. There was a lot of disconnect between the CAP units and the line units in the region. Reading about the 1st attempt by the NVA and VC to destroy the CAP in Binh Nghia was sad, but the CAP fortunately learned from the incident.

If you are interested in small unit actions, and a look at a strategy that might have proved much more successful if the US had pursued it more enthusiastically I recommend reading this book. It is a nice complement to McDonough's Platoon Leader, which describes a somewhat similar program except that the US forces were not integrated with Vietnamese forces or the village they were protecting.

Books read this year: 2

Friday, January 21, 2011

Losing is Fun!

That is the motto of the game Dwarf Fortress, and you will lose. Your goal is to build a thriving community of dwarves. You start with an expedition of 7 dwarves and some supplies. You can decide what professions they have and also decide what supplies they bring with. From that point on it is you against the world. You have to come up with food and other things, build a fortress, and try to survive. The game is the product of Tarn Adams, with some input from his brother Zach. It is one of the most detailed games ever, with some very interesting design ideas. Unfortunately it suffers from a rather steep learning curve, and the interface, in particular the map display, is not for the faint of heart. Below is a picture of the default ascii interface (click for original pic). Some people say after a while you will be like Cypher in the Matrix and be able to decypher the ascii characters subconsiously, but I think it is more work than it is worth.

DF_ascii

Fortunately people have come out with tile sets that make the display much easier to digest and comprehend. An example (pretty much same view as above) is below which is clickable as well.

DF_tileset

That lets you spend more time figuring out the interface and what you need to do so your dwarves can thrive. That will take some trial and error, but it is a fun experience watching your dwarves. It almost takes a dark sense of humor to watch the tragedies that can unfold, such as accidental flooding of your fortress; goblin forces invading and slaughtering your people who havent been adequately protected by you; dwarves going insane and killing fellow citizens.

Basically fortress mode is a combination of a SimCity style builder game with an Anno 1404 ecomony game. So you are building a fortress and managing resources and production chains. There also is combat and trade involved.

One very neat aspect of the game is that the world you generate is persistent. It develops a history, and you can play multiple games in that same world. You can even play another mode called adventure mode and go find old fortresses that have been abandoned and find out their history (developed through game events) via journals, artifacts, and engravings you find.

I think that even though it has a primitive graphics interface which can be a hindrance as described above, it is also a strength of the game. Like games from back in the times of the C-64 it causes the player to use their imagination to paint a picture in their mind of what they are seeing represented in the game. That tends to provide more powerful imagery than even modern day AAA titles can produce, and allows the developer to focus on the game design itself. That is one of the main strengths that pen and paper RPGs have always had.

So far in my 1st attempt at providing a happy home to my dwarves, I have had a dwarf go insane and go on a murdering rampage until I figured out the military interface, created a squad, and had them attack him (even though I think he died from dehydration after running all over killing thins). I also had the majority of my population slaughtered by a goblin raiding force. They cut down my basically unarmed squad with ranged weapons and proceeded to rampage through my fortress. That is something that will need to be focused on more in the next game.

If you can get past the initial stage of dealing with the interface it is a fun game to play and I recommend that people try it just to see what some people are capable of developing instead of the same rehashed games that major publishers put out these days.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Towers of Midnight


Friday night I finished reading the latest book in the Wheel of Time series. This series started in 1990 and is still going strong. I started reading it when introduced to it by a friend in 1999. Towers of Midnight is the 2nd to last book in this series (unless Sanderson can’t fit everything in to one last volume). This is Brandon Sanderson’s second title within the series and he has done a decent job of taking over for Robert Jordan. It seems like to work they did together prior to Jordan passing away really paid off.
A lot of things are starting to come together, but I still have a hard time seeing how they will be able to wrap everything up in one last book. I think some of it will seem hurried as they try to wrap up the rest of the plots in under 900 pages. That being said I have enjoyed the series as a whole, and this entry is no exception. Probably my only complaint would be the interweaving of plots with disregard to their chronological order. I think some of this has to do with the final 3 books originally being worked on by Robert Jordan as 1 volume. There are a couple of plots involving Tam al’Thor there are interweaved together in the book which leaves you wondering what is going on with him until he abruptly leaves in one of them to apparently head towards the start of the other which I think the beginning occurred in the previous book.

Books read this year: 1