Name That Game 100 – Haiku II!

•July 14, 2016 • 1 Comment

Yeah, I figured I’d go ahead and do this. I was going to make it this fantastic and incredibly complex but it turned into this huge thing that I was working on along with everything else…so that can sit on the shelf for a while.

In the meantime, I decided to do more gaming haiku!

all of history
is at your beck and call
screw Montezuma

villain tropes give way
to a gentle tale about
improving oneself

your enemies die
in horrifying fashion
as you pump them up

dry wit and light hands
a steampunk world with magic
silent in the dark

your maid will insist
that you do her job for her
before you can sleep

your phone can find them
but be careful that you don’t
get hit by a car

choose your noble house
betrayed by the emperor
the essence of war

Good luck!

Fargoal 2 Beta – July 2016

•July 5, 2016 • 36 Comments

Greetings, Fargoalians! Here are the links to download the most recent beta of Sword of Fargoal 2.

UPDATE! UPDATE! HUGE UPDATE! I have now updated ALL THREE BETAS with a bunch of requested bugfixes! Feel free to redownload and try them out! If you want to verify that you have the new version, from the main menu click “More…” and make sure the version number in the upper-left is 0.9.2.

Windows Beta – This version requires the most recent Visual C++ redistributable.

Mac OS X Beta

Linux Beta – To run this version you will need to install the following libraries: SDL 1.2, SDL Mixer 1.2, SDL Image 1.2, SLD Net 1.2 and Boost Filesystem.

For all betas, you’re going to want to delete your old savegames and settings before you run the new version. On Windows, this will be in “Documents > My Games > Sword of Fargoal 2”. On OS X, this will be in “~/Library/Applications Support” where ~ represents your home folder. If you can’t see this folder, open a Finder and go to the View menu. Select Go and type: ~/Library to open it.

Okay, let’s talk about the bug I’m having trouble squashing. Some of you are reporting that in certain resolutions, GUI elements like menus or the minimap aren’t positioned on the screen correctly. If you are having this problem, I’d very much like you to send me a save game and a copy of your settings file. You can find these on your computer in “Documents > My Games > Sword of Fargoal 2” on Windows.

If you find any bugs, please send me an email at anthony.salter@gmail.com with the word “Fargoal” in the subject line.

Thank you guys for your patience, and thanks to Ed Perkins and Rob Hammond for help troubleshooting these betas. Also Rob, you have the coolest email address ever.

Godus Wars

•February 4, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Holy crap. Yesterday, Peter Molyneux announced Godus Wars. What’s Godus Wars?

Well, it’s a simple RTS with god powers. Watch the trailer:

Yeah.

So my immediate question was, if Godus Wars exists, is there any reason for me to complete Planitia?

In order to find out, I played Godus Wars for about three hours last night, about halfway through the first continent. The basic gameplay consists of flattening out the terrain (using the same sculpting tool from Godus) to allow your villagers to make new abodes, which give you mana. You use this mana to create fortresses from which you create warbands of archers. Your goal is to take over the enemy mana silo, and you can only do this with a warband. Upgrading your fortresses allows you to support more warbands, hopefully giving you the advantage over the enemy. You can use god powers to both help your own villagers and hinder your enemy.

Sounds great, right? Well, the game has a lot of problems.

The first is that sculpting is still done using the sculpting tool from Godus, meaning you have to pull around one layer at a time – and if you’re sculpting anywhere but on the beach near your village, sculpting requires a lot of mana. While sculpting in Populous was a bit tedious, it was nowhere near as bad as Godus/Godus Wars. Expanding a flattened area requires you to individually sculpt the layers below first. Flattening a mountain requires that you delete it, layer by layer. It’s tedious, it’s time-consuming, and half the time you end up sculpting in a way you didn’t intend, wasting time and mana.

Second, god powers almost don’t exist in this game. As you play through the lands you’ll unlock cards that represent benefits. You can pick up to four cards before starting a land. Some of the cards are passive benefits (warbands build faster, you start with more villagers, etc) but some require mana. These are your “god powers” and they mostly consist of buffs to your warbands or debuffs to your enemy’s. Only as I started level 7 was I presented with a real god power – Swamp, which makes a small patch of land uninhabitable. It wasn’t very effective or graphically appealing and I soon decided to save my mana for upgrading my fortresses. After all, warbands win the game.

Speaking of warbands, they have some problems that can make them frustrating to use. They require wide paths to move – odd in a game that so often connects areas with narrow sand bars. Giving warbands a command they can’t fulfill can cause them to become completely unresponsive. Ordering warbands to attack can also be risky. While all warbands have a flag above them, you cannot click the flag to attack an enemy warband. Sometimes your warband will interpret your attack command as a move order and will blindly march right into the enemy warband, ignoring all attempts by you to correct the problem and leading to free kills and XP for the enemy.

To make matters worse, one of the aspects of gameplay is that all units have to perform a little “stair climbing” animation while moving from one elevation to a higher one, and can perform no other action until they find secure footing. This means that if you order an attack on an enemy warband on higher ground, your warband will get cut to pieces while performing cute little animations and pathing around for solid ground.

And to top it all off, the AI cheats. Only a few levels in, the AI will start making two warbands at once even if they only have one fortress. A few more and it will start making warbands that already have veteran status on creation. This is the most blatant artificial difficulty and it completely breaks immersion. And there’s no multiplayer!

There are other problems as well. There’s no minimap and the camera speed is very slow, making it difficult to pop back and forth from your village to a battle. There also aren’t any hotkeys that could make this easier. A “make warband” button on the side of the screen for each of your fortresses would be all that is necessary to allow you to keep producing units while fighting, but Peter is still in “no interface” mode. And the game has performance problems – strange given the simple modelling and texturing of its units and structures. Perhaps that multi-tiered terrain is slowing it down?

Does the game do anything well? Yes. The basic premise is solid (and I should know). You create fortresses by circle-selecting a group of abodes; these then “bunch up” into the fortress in one of the most adorable things I’ve ever seen in a video game. The models and animations are simple but stylish, just like in the original Godus.

But Godus Wars just isn’t good enough.

Let me be clear – this isn’t sour grapes! I’m making Planitia because it’s a game I want to play! If Godus Wars was good enough to replace Planitia I’d be disappointed, yes – but I’d also be happy that someone had finally filled this hole I see in the market.

I’ll continue work on Planitia. Perhaps, if Peter puts enough work into improving Godus Wars, it’ll make nice competition.

My Friends Continue…

•November 10, 2015 • Leave a Comment

…To be more interesting than I. My old friend Eric Peterson, who ran Warthog/Fever Pitch back when I worked there on Hit & Myth, is now in the process of bringing the original Descent back from the dead. I think it looks damn spiffing.

Descent Underground is now playable on Steam Early Access, and while I know there are some quality issues with Early Access, I promise you will get more from DU than you did from Godus.

A Specialized Desire

•November 4, 2014 • Leave a Comment

If you’ve ever wanted to see the quicksort algorithm expressed through Hungarian dance, today is your lucky day.

And if you poke around, you’ll probably find some other sorting algorithms as well.

Game Archeology – Zarch

•July 17, 2014 • Leave a Comment

As you may know if you’re a long-time reader of this blog, I like Populous. I like Populous 1, I really like Populous 2 and have a love-hate relationship with Populous: The Beginning (though with mods that made it easier to play it’s swinging back towards love).

So I was browsing Wikipedia. You know how it be.

And I ended up at the entry for Populous (again). Only this time I noticed a little sentence I hadn’t earlier.

Peter Molyneux led development, inspired by Bullfrog’s artist Glenn Corpes having drawn isometric blocks after playing David Braben’s Virus.

Virus? What the heck was Virus? I knew a lot about David Braben (co-creator of Elite, creator of Frontier and founder of Frontier Productions, which, among other things, published Roller Coaster Tycoon 3.

But I had not heard of this game.

The game named as “Virus” was actually Zarch, a game for the Acorn Archimedes. (Virus was the name of the Atari ST version). In the game, you…well, just watch the damn video.

This game was released in 1987. Braben expanded on his groundbreaking work with Elite (which was the first game to use 3D polygonal objects with hidden line removal) to move up to a fully 3D, heightfield terrain using shaded squares to represent terrain types, altered the color of squares based on how far they were from the camera to simulate lighting, and had particle effects. As the game progresses, the terrain changes as it gets corrupted by the aliens – the colors go from green to brown and red and the trees become twisted and mutated. The game also had an incredible frame rate due to the fact that the Archimedes was quite a powerful machine for its time.

(It was also very difficult to play because of its mouse-only control scheme but that’s irrelevant to my point.)

Now that I’ve seen Zarch, I think it’s clear that it was an absolute inspiration – not for Peter Molyneux, but for Glenn Corpes.

Glenn was the landscape programmer for every Bullfrog game made, from Populous all the way through Dungeon Keeper. Populous actually got its start after Glenn played Zarch, got fascinated by the landscape generation, and came up with his own isometric version. But Glenn didn’t stop there.

Here’s a screenshot of Zarch:

Zarch_screen

Now compare it to Powermonger:

maxresdefault

It’s obvious that Zarch sparked Glenn’s interest in terrain generation in general. But now I think it’s clear that Powermonger was Glenn’s attempt to both replicate and improve on Zarch in every way he could. Powermonger even used a particle system almost identical to Zarch’s!

And here I thought I knew everything about the development of these games. That’ll learn me.

Pinball Arcade

•May 20, 2014 • Leave a Comment

(Note to Fargoalians waiting for a Fargoal update – you will be served. Yes, you will. You just wait.)

In the meantime, I ran across this thing called Pinball Arcade.

Now, I had never been a big fan of pinball. Every time I played a pinball game it was over within moments, the balls caroming randomly off everything. I felt like I had no control and that the ball was attracted to the outlanes like they were magnetized or something. I never got it.

Then, while YouTubeing, I ran across this video of a guy absolutely owning a pinball game called The Machine: Bride of Pin*Bot.

It became clear as I watched this video that this game was complex and subtle, with many objectives to fulfill and many different ways to score. It also wasn’t nearly as random as I thought pinball games were and definitely rewarded skill.

It was also emulated, which appealed to me. Anyone reading this site should already know about emulators. Right? There’s tons of them. NES, SNES, Game Boy (Color) and Game Boy Advance, classic arcade games, the original PlayStation – all these platforms have been solved, with emulators providing experiences indistinguishable from the originals. If you’ve got a super-hot computer, you can even get near-perfect experiences with GameCube and PlayStation 2 emulators.

But unlike an electronic platform where you just emulate the CPU and memory and all the games suddenly start working, each pinball game must be emulated individually. The guys at Farsight Studios have to get a working machine (or a non-working machine and restore it to working order) and then spend months translating the machine’s internal workings, LED display and programming into their system. And of course they desire to be as accurate as possible.

This is more than emulation – it’s preservation. There are millions of working SNES machines in existence; you don’t need an emulator to play SNES games. By contrast, a very popular pinball machine would sell about five thousand units. And when all five thousand of those machines are gone – either sold for scrap or junked or just left to rust in a storage unit – then the game ceases to exist.

Unless it’s been emulated.

So I looked up Pinball Arcade and discovered that you can play it on practically any electronic device known to man. There’s a PC version (through Steam), PS3 and Xbox 360 versions, and versions for iPhone, iPod, iPad and Android devices. And they all play practically identically.

At this point, Farsight Studios has emulated almost thirty pinball machines through Pinball Arcade. They are living up to their name, doing the work of the gaming gods and making sure that these games do not die when the machines that contain them do.

You can download a version of Pinball Arcade on whatever you happen to have and it comes with a free boardTales of the Arabian Nights. You can then buy boards in two-packs or buy whole seasons of boards for a lower price.

Give it a try; it may just change your mind about pinball like it did mine.

GameStop Sucks

•May 12, 2014 • 1 Comment

I mean, I knew this. Right? Deep down, everyone knows this. Penny Arcade has been called GameStop “glorified pawn shops” for years and it’s true. But sometimes I want a game that’s been out a while and I don’t want to wait for it to come in the mail and I may not want to pay full price and…you know. Excuses, excuses.

Well, a few months ago I was in the market for a PS3 (to replace our stolen one, may the thieves rot in hell) and I wasn’t in the mood to pay full-price. So I succumbed to temptation and went to GameSpot.

I had another motive besides price – I wanted to see if I could find an older one with backwards-compatibility. All my kids have old PS2 games that they would love to play again (like Amplitude, Katamari Damashii and the Spongebob Movie game) so it seemed like an older “fat” PS3 would be a good buy.

And it was! The hard drive was only 80 gigs or so but I’ve never found half a terabyte necessary on a console. We got it home, set it up and started enjoying all the PS3 games we hadn’t been able to play for years, like Fat Princess and Scott Pilgrim vs The World. I also bought Kingdom Hearts 1.5 Remix for my son and the Ratchet & Clank trilogy for everybody. (The appeal of Ratchet & Clank is universal.)

Then, about two weeks ago. The PS3 died while my son was playing Kingdom Hearts. Now, we had just turned the thing on so heat wasn’t the problem. Attempting to turn off the PS3 and then turn it back on resulted in a green light, then a yellow/white light and then a continuous blinking red light. We never get video. Heck, we can’t even get the Kingdom Hearts disc out of it now.

So I did my Google-fu and found out that on the old PS3s, the continual heating and cooling cycle would eventually cause the CPU or GPU to separate from the motherboard, thus rendering the whole device inoperable. There are YouTube videos that will show you how to disassemble the unit, reattach the chips and then put the device back together, but most people warn that this fix will only last a few months before the chips separate again.

“Well,” I thought, “this is annoying, but there’s a fix, hopefully if I do this it’ll last longer than a few months. I just wish it had happened during the 30-day return period…”

Penny. Drops.

GameStop already performed this procedure on this PS3. They bought it broken, “fixed” it themselves with a fix they knew wasn’t permanent, and then sold it to me knowing that the device would fail, but would probably last longer than the return period.

So, because I didn’t pay $100 for an extended warranty (which would have driven the price of the device so high I may as well have bought a new one) I now have to nursemaid this thing and hope my fix is better than GameStop’s.

GameStop sold me a piece of hardware they knew was defective and would quickly fail and there is nothing I can do about it. Except never shop there again, which is exactly what I intend to do.

Get Ready for Name That Game 100!

•May 9, 2014 • 1 Comment

Once upon a time, a long time ago, there was a magazine called Games Magazine.

(Okay, technically it still exists in an online-only format, but I fear it is but a shadow of what once was.)

GM did everything. They’d review board games, video games, card games, RPGs, you name it. Some issues came with complete boardgames inside, usually ones designed to use existing gaming pieces. Every issue came with “The World’s Most Ornery Crossword Puzzle”, a staggering full-page grid with several pages of clues. They also always included logic puzzles, word games, trivia – you name it. If it amused, you could find it in GM.

And sometimes they’d get really deceitful. Some issues would include puzzles that weren’t even identified in the table of contents. If you were clever and scanned every page, you might be able to find a hidden message that, when decoded, described yet another puzzle. Sometimes they would even make a contest out of this, giving prizes to the first people to figure out there even was a contest.

I loved Games Magazine and I miss it a lot.

So I’m going to pull out all the stops for NTG 100. Be prepared. There will be puzzles within puzzles. There will be hidden clues. There will be red herrings. Many games will be involved but there will only be one right answer.

And yes, just like with NTG 50, there will be a prize.

Needless to say, this will be more fun the more contestants we get. So spread the word far and wide – think you got gaming trivia chops? We’ll see. We’ll see.

More on Fargoal 2

•May 8, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I’ve been asked how working on Fargoal 2 will impact the developent of my own games, specifically Planitia. The answer is that since this is paying work, it would be inappropriate of me not to give Fargoal 2 my full attention. So work on Planitia (and Zeta and Chitin and all the other little projects I’ve got going) will be suspended until Fargoal 2 is done, just to make that clear.

On the other hand, while I’ll be posting a lot here about Fargoal 2’s development, I’ll also be doing my regular commentary/review/Name That Game thing.

Speaking of which…

The next Name That Game will be number 100. My intention is to create a series of deadly traps that my readers must go through, each deadlier than the last, until finally a single victor emerges who must then fight me in a gaming trivia contest to the death! I’ll stream the whole thing on Twitch.tv, of course.

Hang on, someone’s muttering in my ear.

(So I can’t put people in deathtraps for my own amusement?)

(And we couldn’t afford to construct them anyway?)

(And it wouldn’t be fair to have someone challenge me in a video game trivia contest, since I’m the best at video game trivia?)

Okay, that’s out. Aaaand of course it was just a joke. In case this blog post ever shows up in court.

I’ve got an idea on what to do for NTG 100, though. See the next post.