All posts by Mister Adequate


A few days ago one-man indie outfit Shining Rock Studios published their medieval city builder Banished, a game which I had been looking forward to since coming across it a few months ago. So after spending a few days messing with it and giving a couple of villages a go, I’m here to give you my report on the thing.

I want to begin with by observing that Banished is, for me, a highly polished product. I have encountered no crashes, no slowdown, and no bugs, even of a graphical nature. It’s a small thing really, but it’s both impressive and a little damning that a one-man outfit can produce a game which in this regard is up to snuff where huge mexabux companies sometimes seem to struggle with it. Obviously my experience is an anecdote and in no way representative, but still nice to see.

Now to the game itself. You start with a handful of villagers, some food and tools and clothes and, depending on your difficulty level, a few starting buildings and useful things like seeds and livestock. Your task is very simple: survive. You do this by building houses, making coats, and chopping firewood to keep warm, by hunting, fishing, gathering, and farming to provide food, and by establishing the secondary industries needed to perform those tasks most efficiently, like making sure you have an educated populace using good tools, and making sure they’re healthy by providing a good mix of foodstuffs and having some medicinal herbs on hand. And you have to carefully balance and plan, otherwise you’ll be in some trouble. Expand too fast? People starve. Expand too slow? People don’t have enough kids to create the next generation. Not enough firewood and winter coats? People freeze to death. Plus there are disasters like fires and tornadoes, and they can really do a number on you. It’s a game about survival, and survival can be a brutal struggle.

A pleasant, bustling idyll. Until a tornado arrives.
A pleasant, bustling idyll. Until a tornado arrives.

One of the words I’ve seen in connection with this game is “shallow”. This game has no overarching goal beyond survival, there’s no kings to overthrow or Orcs to fight off (no combat of any kind), there’s no grand monuments to build, your only task is to keep your village going and grow it as much as you can. It’s refreshing in its simplicity and for the most part I like the lack of direction as precisely what a good city builder should provide, but it does go a bit too far in that direction, I think. There needs to be at least some higher-tier content to work towards; a grand cathedral, a big phallic monument, stuff like that. There also needs to be a bit more in the way of random decorative stuff like trees and small statues and whatnot. This sort of thing would be pretty pointless in the early game, but would help prettify your city a lot, and isn’t that what a city builder is ultimately all about?

I’m a little hesitant to just call the game shallow and leave it at that though. It’s a solid, compact title that I’ve already more than got my money’s worth out of, and I recommend it to anyone looking for a game in the genre, especially those burned by SimCity 2013. It’s by no means perfect, there are some balancing issues to work out, and the pathfinding probably needs to be tightened up. There definitely needs to be more content of some sort as well, but the dev has voiced support for modding and hopefully we’ll be seeing modding tools soon to aid in that. All in all I don’t expect this game to overcome SimCity 4 for city builder addictiveness, but it’s a very nice starting point that’s entirely playable right now and will, with some time and affection, almost certainly grow into something really special.

Y’all can get Banished on Steam, or, or from the Shining Rock site directly:

The Merits of Experimentation

I was recently seized by the desire to play some Final Fantasies so I went back to the beginning and played through I in a couple of days, and then I started II. Now, like Pike when she started it a couple of years ago, I had never played FF2 before now. And like Pike I had heard a lot of polarizing talk about the game, especially with regards to its somewhat unconventional character growth system.

See, in FF2 you don’t gain experience points to level. Instead, much more in the vein of western RPGs like The Elder Scrolls, your characters grow according to what they do in battles. If they take a lot of hits they’ll gain HP and Stamina. If they cast magic, MP and Spirit or Intelligence, depending on whether it’s White or Black magic. Dodge and you gain dodge and agility. You get the idea. This doesn’t just apply to stats though, but also to your weapon proficiencies and magic. Use a particular class of weapon more and you’ll get better with it. Use a particular spell more and it will grow more powerful and more accurate, though also costing more MP.

I’m playing the PSP version which has enjoyed some years of refinement and polish over the original so it’s quite possible that the original’s balance was all out of whack. But I can safely say this system is one of the most engaging I’ve encountered in a JRPG in a long long time. I’m enjoying it tremendously and I cannot even begin to fathom what the complaints are. (I mean, I know what they are because I’ve read them, but if I hadn’t read them I’d never have figured them out by myself.) It’s deeply satisfying to get such feedback and results to how you play and it feels like there’s a lot more freedom here than in typical party-based RPGs.

wow very hate much dissent very opinion
very hate
much dissent
very opinion

But this goes, in my eyes, further than just being a system I am enjoying. What I’m finding is that I’m very naturally finding roles for my party members and that it’s not based on preset things but rather what feels sensible when a role needs to be decided. For instance, at the start of the game Guy, a big dude, seems like the obvious choice for heavy hitter. And he is a pretty heavy hitter. But he’s also loaded with the exact sorts of spells that have moderate, occasional, or intermediate use. I don’t need to stick Teleport on a dedicated mage, and I’d rather have Life on someone with a ton of health. The thing that makes this work is that you can level your spells as well. Guy doesn’t need to spend much time on his magic to still be useful with it. On the other hand Firion is carrying my offensive spells and because the spells grow as you use them, I find myself ensuring I do some casting regularly. I’m still early in the game but it already feels like a much more natural and sensible system than many RPGs manage. It’s a system which influences how I play without dictating it, and a system which rewards investment without being too malleable and having characters end up being very easily swapped because their abilities are tied completely into equippable items. It’s pretty simple to turn Barret into a mage and Aeris into a heavy hitter once you’ve got the materia to do it.

Ultimately what I’m enjoying is that character development fits into this wonderful niche of being freeform and not constricting without simply turning the characters into identikits of each other. By the standards of Final Fantasy this was a highly experimental game and I’m very glad Square made the choices they did with it because it has resulted in a real gem.

What about you guys? Do you have opinions on FF2, or perhaps you’ve come across interesting leveling systems in other games? Feel free to share your opinions, and remember we’re as interested in hearing about games that tried and failed as much as those which succeeded! Not every experiment will succeed, but learning about why one failed is at least as important as why another succeeded.

Atari Breakout!

Hello friends! Of course, when Pike and I resolve to get the blog going again, we both fall deathly ill and can barely rouse ourselves from bed that exact week! Still, I have largely recovered so here we go with a little blog post!

Here’s what you do: Go to Google Images and type in “atari breakout”. As you will soon see the screen will morph into that precise game, using the images for the blocks! Breakout is one of my very favorite classic games, one I’ve always adored, and it provides a really useful launching off point to show how very very simple systems can still make a very engaging and deep game. If you’re not familiar with Breakout, well, here’s your chance to get acquainted with it – though you might want to hold off if you’re in the middle of an important project ;)

Awwwwwwwwww yisssss dat 2600 goodness
Awwwwwwwwww yisssss dat 2600 goodness

That’s what Breakout looked like in the beginning and very little has changed. Those colored bars across the top consisted of a number of ‘bricks’, and you use the paddle to hit the ball up towards them, with the objective of breaking every brick. Sounds pretty simple, right? Well it is. But marrying such a simple concept with such a sense of satisfaction is the genius that makes Breakout such a great game – all you’re doing is breaking bricks to clear the screen. You’re not fighting wars like in Hearts of Iron, you’re not shooting mans like in Call of Duty, you’re not going fast like Sonic and All Stars Racing Transformed – you’re just breaking some bricks. You’d wonder how it can be so fun and addictive. But that simplicity might be the very reason for it. Anyone can figure out the conceit of Breakout within a few seconds of watching or playing. There’s nothing extraneous to it, not even graphically in the beginning, it’s what you might call a very ‘pure’ game. And when you managed to breakthrough the bricks and get your ball to bounce along the ceiling and the top row? Well, that’s one of the more satisfying experiences in gaming, simple as it might be.

Breakout is a stellar example not just of how videogames began but of what makes them special. With a very simple premise, controls that are simply “left” and “right”, and almost nothing in the way of aesthetics, it’s not something that modern gamers, used to all kinds of razzmatazz and particles and trillions of polygons on Lara Croft’s breasts, might immediately see the value in, but it’s about as pure as a game gets. You’ve got your objective and the means to achieve it, and the only enemy is your own mistakes. It’s pure gameplay, nothing else. That’s something maybe some developers could do with a gentle reminder of in this day and age.

Assassin’s Creed IV, or Pirates!: Murderbowl Edition

I, too, am now making a triumphant return to blogging. As Caesar once crushed Vercingetorix and rode through the great boulevards of Rome, the Votive Games beginning, his conquest of Gaul complete, so I crushed sheer bone idleness and ride through the great cables of the Internet, the Video Games beginning. And I would like to get started by talking to you about the recently released Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.

Assassin’s Creed, or AssCreed as it’s affectionately called, is a series with a rather interesting history. Back before the first game came out it was quite a curious beast – a game where you play as a member of the Hashshashin order at the time of the Third Crusade, where the Christians have invaded the Holy Land and the Kingdom of Jerusalem exists. This setting comes up now and then in strategy games (Crusader Kings 2 being the obvious example) but an action-adventure game? Much rarer. Also of interest was the fact that the game apparently had a lot of weird futuristic stuff going on. That conceit was well handled by their marketing department because in actuality the framing device of the Animus is revealed in the first few minutes of play.

The game itself was interesting and generally enjoyable but not quite as good as it could have been. Enter AssCreed 2, with the now famous Ezio as the lead. The Ezio Trilogy, including the Revolutions and Brotherhood games, took everything good about I and polished it while taking everything bad and removing or overhauling it. Renaissance Italy is similarly far from a commonplace setting for a videogame of any stripe, let alone an action-adventure game. The step from AC I to II is perhaps one of the seminal examples of how to make a worthwhile sequel that meaningfully improves upon the original. And the same is now true of the step from AC III to IV.

Well… baby steps.

See, the thing with III was this: It was a shiny new engine that allowed all kinds of neat new acrobatics. It included hunting and crafting and the exploration of the American frontier around the time of the Revolutionary War. A fascinating setting and, although perhaps a touch less unusual than the previous ones, still very far from a boring well-worn setting. On the other hand it felt like something of a regression in many ways. The exploration wasn’t tremendously interesting and the story failed to engage. The protagonist Ratonhnhaké:ton, or Connor seemed a promising character but soon felt too cliched and too typically “videogame lead”, a brooding sort without a sense of humor. In comparison to Haytham Kenway, Connor’s father and the protagonist of the opening chapters of the game, Connor felt uninteresting and uninspired. Kenway, by contrast, wasn’t exactly a beacon of joviality but he was an extremely refined and strong man who projected the utmost confidence and direction. This is not to say that III was a bad game – it was a decent one and I didn’t regret the money or time I spent on it. Nonetheless it lost something that Ezio’s adventures possessed and felt consistently like something was missing.

That something is back with a vengeance. AC IV sees you in the role of Edward Kenway, father of Haytham and grandfather of Connor, and a man of low character who plunders the High Seas of the West Indies. His only real motivation is money and it is deeply enjoyable to see him brush off all this nonsense of Assassins and Templars because he gives no shits, he just wants dosh. I admire that sort of single-mindedness and after Connor’s extreme seriousness it’s quite refreshing to play as someone who barely comprehends morality, let alone cares about it.

But as important as I’ve come to feel a good protagonist is for this series – the lighthearted Ezio, the amoral Edward Kenway, the serious but extremely driven Haytham all outstrip the pride of Altair and the anger of Connor by miles – the game itself has seen meaningful changes. As befits the protagonist the game takes place in the West Indies during the Golden Age of Piracy, in the aftermath of the War of the Spanish Succession. A whole lot of sailors were left with not much to do when the war ended and a good number of them turned to piracy to get by. So although a large part of the game revolves around the typical AC play of clambering up walls, hopping from rooftop to rooftop, and stabbing dudes in the back/front/face/neck/spine/kidney/liver/stomach/guts/eyes, a huge part of the game also revolves around sailing the seas aboard your ship, the Jackdaw, and getting into a variety of japes with her crew. Most fun of all is fighting naval battles, as you can use a good number of weapons to cripple an enemy ship and then draw alongside her to board her and fight the crew. Upon their defeat you seize her cargo and, well, off you go for more piracy. Now, to be clear, the general sailing and naval battle stuff existed in III and was widely praised as perhaps the game’s strongest element, but it’s still a pleasant surprise to see a late addition to a series be integrated so expertly and given the care it needs. There are gameplay reasons to commit piracy, sure, but I’ve fought a whole lot of Spanish ships just because it’s fun to do rather that for booty and I think that is the mark of a damn sound piece of game design and implementation.

As this article’s title suggests I can feel something of a parallel between this game’s naval aspect and Sid Meier’s Pirates!, which is one of the few games out there to have the same general setting and theme. Obviously they’re rather different games but AC IV definitely feels, to me, like something of a successor to that game – one with a different emphasis and different flavor, true, but still a game which captures what was fun about its spiritual predecessor. Roaming the Spanish Main, singing sea shanties (good luck not singing along IRL when your crew starts bellowing something out!), seeking plunder, and upgrading your ship; although there’s a lot of differences there’s a thread of the same feeling from Pirates! to AC IV and it’s an unexpected and very welcome thing. Combined with the refinements to the on-foot parts of the game and the fact that just running around collecting things is a huge amount of fun, we’re looking at a pretty solid title right here.

Plus, oh my god, forget what I said about Connor that one time – Edward Kenway is the sexiest man in videogames.

Sonic After The Sequel

The clever guy behind Sonic Before the Sequel (one LakeFeperd) has recently released another Sonic the Hedgehog fangame, Sonic After the Sequel. Set between Sonic 2 and 3 this game follows the oppressor Sonic and the heroic liberator of the proletariat Dr. Robotnik in the aftermath of the Death Egg’s destruction and as they notice Floating Island’s appearance. But the storyline is always tertiary at best in going fast games so that’s all I’ll say on that front. Let’s get down to brass tacks:

This is the best Sonic game since Sonic 3 and Knuckles. This is a genuine, bona-fide, old-school 2D Sonic game. If you took someone who had never heard of Sonic, had them play through the series, and inserted this between 2 and 3, I’d honestly be surprised if they could tell this is not a canonical Sonic Team game. The most important things to know are that Sonic handles near-perfectly and that the levels are extremely well designed. In a series which is famed for extremely tight controls this is obviously vital. The only handling flaw I can point to is that the spin-dash feels a little weak at times, but it’s a minor quibble and never actually causes any problems.

This is how I look when I play  this game.
This is how I look when I play this game.

The levels are many and have the typical Sonic variety, with the twist that there’s no annoying Carnival Night-esque levels that make you pull your hair out. No, every single level is interesting and fun, and often (as in Cocaine Coast Sugar Blast Zone) have gimmicks that are actually neat and fun to play with.cks that are actually neat and fun to play with. What’s more each of the Zones hides a special star which, upon collection, opens up a fourth, bonus act in that zone. The actual amount of content is pretty nuts and there’s a lot to do. Oh, and the special stages where you collect the Chaos Emeralds? I’d rank them as the best special stages in Sonic history. They’re perfect. The only objective is to Go Fast and it’s massively fun when you do so.

Special mention also has to go to the soundtrack, which was provided by a number of composers who clearly understand their videogame music. There are tracks here that rank among classics from the series and it’s just another example of how solid this game is. Basically if you want free Sonic of high quality, then download and play this game.

Get it here. And get it soon in case SEGA sends a C&D

Grim Dawn

Grim Dawn is an ARPG made by Crate Entertainment – largely refugees from Iron Lore, who made Titan Quest – which I have previously mentioned being excited for. Now that the game has reached Alpha stage it has been available to various backers and such, and having spent a decent amount of time with it now I’m ready to share some thoughts on the game. Do remember it’s still an alpha so nothing I say should be taken as absolute.

If you’ve played Titan Quest then Grim Dawn will immediately feel very familiar. The engine is the same and there haven’t been truly revolutionary changes in that regard. That said they’ve not been idle either and the engine is certainly a lot more impressive than it was in TQ. At first I was a little wary and wondered if I hadn’t just booted up a reskin of TQ, but Grim Dawn soon reveals that it has made a lot of changes from that game and the engine similarities aren’t indicative of the whole experience.

There are two major things I want to praise about this game. The first is that the pacing and character advancement seems to be spot-on, even though it’s still just an alpha. Leveling is far faster than the incredibly slow experience in TQ, where it rapidly became a chore. You similarly pick from a ‘Mastery’ – a skill tree – and can pick a second after a few levels to make a hybrid character. As you advance through these trees you obviously gain more powers and abilities, both passive and active, and there’s a pretty nice big mix of different things you can choose from. You can also spread skill points thinly or focus narrowly, and I’ve not played enough different characters to say for certain yet but it does seem both are viable in different ways. I never felt really overpowered unless I went back to older zones, and challenges were commonplace without being either overbearing or unreasonably hard. Basically GD has taken any criticisms and comments about TQ and worked to address them, and it has done so very successfully. Given that TQ is one of the better examples of the genre to begin with that says something about how GD is handling things.

This is the Demolitionist tree. It's not terribly glamorous but it does the job perfectly adequately. The Demolitionist herself is, however, both effective and explosively glamorous.
This is the Demolitionist tree. It’s not terribly glamorous but it does the job perfectly adequately. The Demolitionist herself is, however, both effective and explosively glamorous.

The second, and perhaps even more impressive achievement, given the genre’s pedigree, is that loot is damn well balanced. Not just in terms of giving you appropriate items, but inasmuch as you’re not inundated with tons of useless crap and vendor trash. You pretty quickly are able to graduate into only picking up yellow or better items for sale, and for my part I never felt like I was being punished because I wanted to get on and play instead of constantly warping back to town to sell stuff. On the other hand rare drops are indeed fairly rare, but they tend to come with stats that really do make them unquestionably better than anything else you’ll find at that level. Unless you get something for a totally different class it doesn’t seem likely that you’ll very often discard a new blue item because your current green is better. There does need to be a little more tweaking of the ‘gem’ equivalents in the game, I think, but nothing terribly drastic there.

Between those two major factors already existing at this stage the game really seems to be refining the ARPG genre to a fine polish so I’m eagerly awaiting new content updates with the arrival of the beta. That all said there are a couple of things that could do with some improvement. The sounds in the game aren’t terribly inspiring and contribute to a niggling sense that your weapons and attacks lack ‘Oomph’ (the music is superb though). Guns especially feel like they fall short of this, and whilst guns in reality rarely sound like they do on the movie screen, these more subdued and realistic sounds in GD make the things feel quite weak. Similarly, although there’s not much you can do about it given the nature of the genre, attacks in general can sometimes feel rather lightweight regardless of the damage they actually do. It’s especially strange because I never really shared this feeling in Titan Quest, where combat wasn’t the most immersive ever but never felt like it fell short either in that regard. So I would say the one big area the game needs to look at improving over the coming months is that the combat needs to become more visceral, to feel like there’s more impact and power to blows, and a bigger bang with guns and bombs.

Despite those concerns the game is shaping up to be something pretty darned good, especially for still being in alpha. Due to the limited content so far I can’t really recommend the buy-in price for alpha access at this point ($50) unless you’re a huge fan of the genre and really jonesing for a fix, but if you want to hop on the beta bandwagon when that rolls around I’d be very surprised if you don’t get your money’s worth, and I’m confident that by the time release rolls around we’re gonna have a pretty damn good ARPG on our hands.

The Old Gods

A few days back Paradox Interactive released the latest DLC for Crusader Kings 2, entitled The Old Gods. The primary focus of this expansion is the Pagans, most especially the Norse, hence the name. After eagerly snapping it up I’ve spent the last few days playing it pretty intensively and I can safely say now that it’s my favorite of all CK2 DLC and I don’t want to ever play without it again.

The big change you’ll see right away is the new start date – 867 AD, when Ragnar’s sons are leading the Great Heathen Army out of Jorvik and seeking revenge upon Ælla of Northumbria, the Pagan faiths remain mighty across much of Northern and Eastern Europe, the Umayyads control most of Iberia, Charlemagne’s descendants control the Frankish Realm, the Magyars are migrating westwards, and a few small territories cling to the ancient faith of the fire, still following the words of the Prophet Zoroaster. Given that the game used to run from 1066 to 1453, adding another 200 years extends the game time by 50%. The new starting date gives a completely different set of possibilities and the world can go in radically different directions as a consequence.

Even the words of Mani can revive. The AI did all this by the way.
Even the words of Mani can revive. The AI did all this by the way.

There are many new features to play with as a Pagan, especially the Norse, who got the most love in this expansion. Perhaps the most fun is the raiding mechanic. You grab your lads, toggle them into being Raiders, load them onto the longships, and then you sail off to find some rich, fat provinces to loot. You can claim a percentage of the province’s loot just by standing in it, or you can stick around to win the siege and you’ll get whatever wealth was behind the castle walls as well. It’s exceedingly powerful in the early game, especially as the Vikings can navigate major rivers. You can sail up the Elbe, or the Danube, the Vistula, the Rhine, and so on, and pillage inland provinces as well as coastal ones. However, as forts grow mightier, rivers start becoming impassable, cutting your options – and as provinces develop, they grow richer, but can summon larger armies in their defense as well.

You can also do such things as taking captured maidens as concubines, raising runestones to yourself or your parents (and if you have the lustful trait you can insist the runestone makes reference to your massive cock), hold Blots at which you sacrifice people to the Allfather, find magical +2 axes that boost your martial score, and try to reform and standardize your faith in order to help it stand against the very convincing missionaries regularly sent by Christian rulers to try to convert you.

In short, with The Old Gods installed, Crusader Kings 2 becomes the greatest Viking Asshole Simulator ever put to code and if you like CK2, or grand strat games, or Vikings, or just generally being a massive troll to the Christian rulers of medieval Europe, this is the DLC for you. It also bears mentioning that Paradox are one of the few who get DLC right – you actually get regular, significant content additions for very fair prices, and the other stuff like portrait and music packs are entirely optional and in no way required for you to enjoy the game.

XBox One, but actually XBox three

Yeah I went to see Iron Man One recently it was a pretty great conclusion to the trilogy AAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRGGGGG WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU MICROSOFT. Anyway with that out of the way we’ve had our presentations on the next gen consoles, the PS4 and XBox FUCKING THREE. The WiiU also exists I guess but that’s “next gen” in a strictly chronological sense only. But don’t let that scorn mislead you – I’m not insulting Nintendo because I prefer one of the others. No no, this coming generation doesn’t seem to be offering an obvious place to plant one’s flag, and if you’re an idort who gets every console then you’re just getting suckered out of even more money – the difficulty choosing doesn’t stem from multiple excellent options. Quite the opposite.

XBox VI’s presentation a couple of days ago was maybe a little better than the PS4 presentation that took place awhile back, because they actually had a console to show and the whole thing seemed to hang together a bit more professionally than the Sony affair. Unfortunately they didn’t leverage that into provoking even the tiniest bit of excitement about the thing!

If you’ve not yet seen it, here’s the Microsoft presentation in full:

They did mention a sports game that wasn’t Cawladooty, but it was something weird called Quantum Break that provided no information whatsoever on what the hell it is. At first I actually thought it was some crazy successor to old-school FMV games which would admittedly be rad as hell, but the confusion doesn’t exactly serve to sell games or consoles.

Microsoft did announce 15 exclusives in the first year of release, of which fully 8 are new IPs – and that part is interesting and positive. Perhaps among those will be some good games that make genuinely innovative used of the new hardware. But between the pseudo-always-on requirements and the shenanigans to fuck over used games, I’ve got very very little interest in getting one of the things. I’ve got very little interest in any of the new generation in fact – someone’s going to have to impress me at E3 if they want my moolah because otherwise I’m just going to upgrade my PC.

What do you folks think about it all? Am I being too harsh on the next generation? Are you similarly dissatisfied with the state of console gaming today? Do you, like me, already have an XBox One sitting right there in your house WHAT ARE YOU DOING NO MS I WON’T CALL IT THAT, I WON’T

On Game Development and Rusing

A small game which came out recently hit the headlines for a reason that wasn’t to do with the game itself so much as the game’s response to piracy. It’s pretty hilarious! But let’s have a word about the game itself before we get into that.

Game Dev Tycoon takes its cues from Game Dev Story, an iOS/Android game wherein you control a videogame development house with the intent of making money and great games. I’ve not played GDS but GDT is a very enjoyable little game that’s well worth the few bucks it costs to get – in fact it’s got one of the better money-to-time ratios of games I’ve recently shelled out for. The game starts you out in around 1980, working out of your garage, making games for the C64 era – you decide on the theme and genre, hopefully ones that go well together (Although I did once put out a Fashion RTS that sold surprisingly well) you choose various base options such as whether the game will be text based or 2D or what have you, and then you assign time to various aspects of development, so you can spend loads of time writing backstory at the expense of graphics. Then you watch your little girl or guy beaver away as the game gets made, and it gets sent out for review and release – your choices in development influence how well it does, and high review scores translate into high sales, and that means money – allowing you to invest that much more into your next game!

Where GDT triumphs is that it is constantly tantalizing you with some new aspect you can work with in your games. Your first few games will be very simple affairs but soon you’ll be able to knock together an engine that affords you more choices, better graphics and sound options, and so forth. New consoles will start to come out, loving parodies of real ones such as the Vintendo Super TES, and different systems tend to appreciate different genres and so on. Then you’ll move into a small office, which is where the game really opens up as you can hire new staff, train yourself and them, and start making bigger and better games. Ultimately you can create MMOs, put out your own consoles, invent a Steam-equivalent, and spend tens of millions on Triple-A games that take your team a year to make only to result in 5/10s across the board and imminent bankruptcy.

>mfw upon being offered a loan with a 100% interest rate.
>mfupon being offered a loan with a 100% interest rate.

Indeed, the main failing I can point to in this game is that there’s just not enough of it, which is hardly fair to say of something made by a two-man outfit and is faint damnation anyway. But I do hope they think about an expansion pack or at least some more patches, just to increase your choices and options. Anyway as I said it’s an enjoyable little game and if you’ve got a few bucks and want something that doesn’t strain the brain but will keep you engaged for awhile, there’re worse choices than this.

Now, let’s talk about how I heard about the thing – as an indie game it’s obviously going to struggle to get much media attention, but a very clever little play on the devs’ part got it out there like whoa. See, the devs – brothers Patrick and Daniel Klug – were well aware they would suffer from piracy when this game hit the torrents, but rather than making a lot of bluster or seeking out an attackdog lawyer they did something subtler and cleverer. What they did is upload the thing to torrent sites themselves. Crazy, right? Well the thing is the version they uploaded played normally up to a point, but after awhile in-game you would start getting messages about how all your games are being pirated and you’d start losing money due to it no matter how good your games are. You wouldn’t be able to finish the game due to this, instead going into ignominious bankruptcy.

So, this is a pretty neat solution anyway because it’s essentially a fairly decently sized demo that might encourage a few purchases they wouldn’t otherwise get. The real comedy gold started when people on the forums began to complain about the pirates in-game, as apparently self-awareness is something some people utterly, totally lack. Perhaps the greatest line I’ve seen written is the simple, plaintive question, “I mean can I research DRM or something?” Beautiful. You can take a proper look at the whole story on the dev’s blog here if you’re interested, it’s well worth a read if you want a laugh!

Prison Architect or, Jesus Christ How Did You Smuggle A Shotgun In Here

Introversion, makers of widely-acclaimed games such as DEFCON and Darwinia, are currently working on their newest game, called Prison Architect. In another case of games being accurately named, in PA your job is to design and run a penitentiary, somewhat in the vein of Bullfrog’s Theme Hospital. But the comparison isn’t totally accurate because although Prison Architect has a fairly goofy graphical style it plays the prison theme fairly straight, unsettlingly so at times.

The basic premise is as you’d expect from any such management game – you need an array of services (divided into rooms in this case) such as cells, kitchens, canteens, admin offices, etc., and you need to plan these out in a way that is efficient with regards to the space you’ve got to work with, your finances, and to ensure things run smoothly. This last point is where Prison Architect is clever and differs from a lot of similar games. Prisoners, of course, are not there by choice. Many of them are there for violent offences, and the stresses of prison life will mean they’re often close to breaking point and minor provocations can set them off. Prison Architect is rare, perhaps even unique, in that rather than designing a theme park people want to visit or a hospital people want to move through easily, you’re fighting against your inmates insofar as you’re trying to keep them in the prison and out of trouble.

Shape up Hannevig or you're back in Solitary!
Shape up Hennevig or you’re back in Solitary!

This creates a lot of interesting dynamics that work against each other to create tension. You want a prison that keeps your inmates in, but you also want one that minimized time spent moving around and which your staff can navigate easily. You want to keep your prisoners out of trouble, but the same gentle hand that might reduce their propensity for it will also make it more difficult to rein in if trouble does start. Conversely if you’re a brutal sonofabitch that seems fine to begin with, but your inmates will find a way to express their anger and then you’ll have to repair their toilets or replace their beds or even inform some guard’s family that he’s a goner.

Part of the reason PA is a fascinating game is of course the subject matter. Introversion have said they intend to tackle most of the issues which might arise in a prison – violence, gangs, smuggling, and so far that does seem to be borne out. It stands in contrast to games like Theme Hospital, as disease and death are serious issues but can’t be taken terribly seriously when the diseases are things like Bloaty Head Syndrome and Hairyitis. In this game your inmates are there for crimes like armed robbery, murder, and assault, and the tutorial revolves around a repentant man being sent to the chair. It’s rather affecting stuff and it’s going to be very interesting to see how the game tackles these issues at it continues to develop and more mechanics are implemented.

You may also be interested in watching this presentation by the Introversion devs; it’s a fascinating look at where PA came from and what they’re hoping to do with it.

Prison Architect is still in alpha, and it’s rather pricey for an alpha, but it’s already a very enjoyable and playable game and it’s from an eminently talented developer. If management games of this sort are your thing then rejoice, because there’s finally a good new one in the works.

I don’t want to know where Lim was hiding that knife whilst naked.