DK2 Continues to Corrupt

So! Last night I’m playing Dungeon Keeper 2 when my younger daughter walks in.

(Longtime fans of this blog will be sensing deja vu right about now.)

After explaining the concept of the game and showing her the gameplay, she became fascinated by the “dungeon construction” aspect of the game.

(On a side note, I need to start working on Star Kittens, for crying out loud.)

While she was playing I asked if the voice of the Evil Mentor sounded familiar “No…” she said. “Have you ever seen Peppa Pig?”

She got it. “That’s Peppa’s dad’s voice! Except evil!”

My daughter, master of pattern recognition.

Galactic. Civilizations. III.

I have been waiting a long time to be able to say those three words. Here there be launch trailers!

Don’t be fooled, it’s still a 4X game. But it looks like Jesse Brindle’s combat engine is going to get even more of a workout than it did in GalCiv II.

Oh, and because I worked at Stardock…I know where those aggressive, invading humans are from 🙂

About Godus

Well…um…

Do you know why I’m making Planitia?

Because I want to play Planitia, and nobody else seems to want to make Planitia.

Several times over the course of Planitia’s development, I’ve been excited to hear about a different game that seemed like it would scratch my “play Planitia” itch. From Dust, Reprisal and now Godus all seemed like they might do that.

And every single one of them has let me down. From Dust turned out to be more of a puzzle game, with no multiplayer component. Reprisal has the basic Populous thing down but doesn’t have multiplayer.

And now Godus looks like it’s going in a different direction completely.

Even putting aside the myriad annoyances listed in that video (most of which will certainly shake out before launch), it looks like the basic design of Godus is that of a real-time empire-building game rather than a strategy game. Finding resources, using them to unlock technologies and advancing through ages make Godus more complex than Populous by at least one order of magnitude. And makes it sound like Age of Empires. Wait, wasn’t there already a simplified version of Age of Empires with guys dressed in little blue tunics? That’s right, there was!

And right now, the multiplayer looks horribly deficient – it’s not played on the main map, terrain alteration (a big part of Populous multiplayer) doesn’t appear to be a factor any more and the fastest way to finish off an enemy is to just send your units over to kill his before he can get anything going. Yes, it was an early multiplayer battle but even then you should at least be using earthquakes to slow down their villages.

It reminds me of Black & White 2, which was absolutely schizophrenic about how it wanted you to play the game. Your goal – conquer all cities on a map. But if you raised an army and did it directly, you were evil. If you spent hours and hours and hours slowly building up your influence until they decided to join you, then you were good. This means that, if you want to play as good, the RTS element of Black & White (which is sorely needed) was useless to you.

So once again, I am happy and sad. I’m very, very sad that unless Godus undergoes a complete redesign it’s not going to scratch my Planitia itch. But I’m happy that I’ll still get to bring Planitia to the masses instead of giving up on it because something better came along.

My God. It’s full of stars.

I do not swear often on this blog.

FUCK.

YES.

Jets are back! Even bigger maps (somehow)! Wholesale city destruction! The part where they flood the place then fight using speedboats! Tanks ramming through buildings to create new paths! Commander mode, which even my daughter expressed interest in! I WANT IT!

And it’s Battlefield, which means that you’ll be able to contribute even if you’re not the best shot (which I am not).

Now I know I made a big deal in a previous post about being “series agnostic”. And I’ve got nothing against the Modern Warfare series.

But there’s just so much more to do in Battlefield and this version just looks completely boss.

And there will be an open beta starting October 1 for pre-orderers and purchasers of certain previous Battlefield products, and starting October 4 for everyone.

I can’t wait.

Inaria in the Bundle-In-A-Box!

Got a LOT to talk about today, so let’s get it started!

First…I’m in my first bundle! I was contacted by the administrators of the the Bundle-In-A-Box, and they asked to include Inaria in their new RPG bundle. I said yes, and now you know why I needed beta testers for the new version of Inaria. I’m so excited!

This bundle features a whole bunch of RPGs, including the one from my good friend Jay Barnson, Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon!

So I can check that off the list now.

Saints Row IV

Stuff. Is. Happening. Good stuff, that you will like.

Unfortunately, I’m not in a position to talk about any of it yet, so let’s talk about what I did over the three-day weekend when I was supposed to be working: I played the ever-loving crap out of Saints Row IV.

The game has been reviewing…well, though some of the design choices rankled me. The same engine, really? The same city, really? You can easily set up a screenshot in Saints Row IV that would look just like one from Saints Row the Third. The shooting and driving mechanics are practically identical. Most of the activities in the game are recycled from previous games – Mayhem, Fraud, Racing, etc.

And none of that matters one bit once you get your superpowers.

The superpowers mean the gameplay is completely different despite the similarities described above. And they. Are. Awesome. This is one of the best superhero games I’ve ever played and I wish, wish, wish Volition had made a new IP for it.

Of course, if they had, the game wouldn’t have sold over a million copies in the first week, so…economics and all that.

The plot has you and all your homies abducted by an alien race called the Zin, lead by a huge member of their species named Zinyak. He imprisons each of you, linking your minds to simulations that represent your own personal hells. After breaking out of yours with the help of Kinzie Kensington, your hacker, Zinyak puts you in the new simulated Steelport and warns you that another escape attempt means the destruction of Earth.

It’s because this Steelport is a “simulation” that the superpowers work. Remember Neo flying at the camera at the end of The Matrix? The Wachowskis said that they whole point of that entire movie was to set up a “realistic” scenario where humans could have superpowers – they have them because they’re nothing but code, and code can be reprogrammed. Saints Row IV takes this premise and runs with all the way to the end zone. You’ll be super-sprinting, super-jumping, gliding (no actual flight, though), throwing fireballs and ice blasts, picking up things with the POWER OF YOUR MIND and stomping on people from great heights.

The superpowers also mean that the “same” activities play out completely differently. You now use super sprint when you race instead of a car. Mayhem takes a lot of different forms, my favorite being the one where you use telekinesis to throw these huge dodecahedrons at things. Plus, there are tons of new activities that are built around the superpowers. You will have lots to do.

And while having super sprint means you’ll never use a car again, the other superpowers are made to work in concert with gunplay. One of my favorite ways to take out a group of aliens was to hit them with an explosive fire blast, which makes aliens who are on fire explode when they die. Shoot one and he’ll blow up, blowing up the next one, who blows up the next…I cleared entire flashpoints with one blast and one bullet and it made me feel like a complete badass.

The tone of the game, as you may have gathered, is even crazier than Saints Row the Third. Thankfully, the raunch of that game has been replaced with tons of game and movie references. One of my favorites is an absolutely brutal deconstruction of the relationship systems from Bioware’s games. You can mod your pistol to look like Deckard’s from Blade Runner or Malcolm Reynold’s from Firefly. There’s an extensive spoof of the movie They Live. All of the titles of Matt Miller’s missions reference the movie The Prestige. All of Shaundi’s missions are named after Queen songs. Zinyak, who sports a cultured voice and demeanor, will appear on the classical radio station and read selections from Pride and Prejudice and Shakespearean plays.

And as if that weren’t enough, the game seriously rewards people who have been with the series since the beginning by referencing events in both Saints Row and Saints Row 2. Helping your friends fight through their personal hells so you can rescue them from the simulation actually gave me a very Psychonauts feel at times.

Overall, a great game. I almost wish I hadn’t shotgunned it like I did but I just couldn’t stop. If I have a criticism, it’s that the game feels a little short; I 100% the game in about 25 hours. I think a longer first act that forced you to play the game in a more traditional manner before you started getting superpowers would have rounded the game out more. But that’s a quibble. My advice: get it, play it, love it, especially if you enjoyed Crackdown, Infamous or Prototype. And if you hated Saints Row the Third, still give it a shot because this game is basically an author’s saving throw for that one.

WRONG

Wrong wrong wrong, wrongy-wrong-wrong.

Garrett concerned about power and wealth inequities in the City? Garrett does not care. Garrett does not give a damn about your revolution. Garrett only cares about himself. Garrett has saved the world before, but only because he likes standing on it.

Plus, the civil unrest and disease aspects give it a very Dishonored feel, which makes this game look like an also-ran instead of a reboot of the original stealth action game.

And the voice is all wrong. Stephen Russell is not dead; indeed, as anyone who played Skyrim can tell you, he is still doing voiceover work. Why aren’t you using him, you dumbasses?

Overall, not impressed. I guess it was too much to hope for.

Stardock and Star Control

When I initially wished that I could still be at Stardock so I could work on Star Control, I didn’t have all the facts. I didn’t know that Stardock only got the name, not any of the content, and because of this they say they’re going to “reboot” the franchise.

Um.

As every schoolchild knows, the name Star Control had been trademarked by Accolade, so when Paul Reiche III and Fred Ford left that company they couldn’t take the name with them. They did, however, retain rights to all the content of Star Control, which meant that nobody could make another game featuring the Syreen or the Melnorme or the Ur-Quan without their permission.

Which they gave to a ragtag group of programmers intent on re-creating the original game (which for a long time was available only second-hand or through nefarious means). This group of codiferous rebels produced a new version called The Ur-Quan Masters and it’s a really good version of the game – anyone who played the original will feel right at home. Except that the exploit that allowed you to sell more planetary landers than you actually had to get infinite money was removed. Bummer.

Now, Fred & Paul gave the permission to use their content because it wasn’t a commercial project. This is not the case with Stardock’s Star Control game. And Fred & Paul sold their company, Toys for Bob, to Actiblizzion back in 2005. Which means that they are still Blactivizzard employees.

So, I’m seeing a few options for Stardock here…and most of them aren’t that good.

1. License the Star Control 2 content and get Paul & Fred to consult on the project. This will give the highest chances of success but will be damn hard to pull off. Fred & Paul may not be in a position to actually license the content for commercial use (I don’t know the legalities there). And Fred & Paul almost certainly won’t be in a position to consult on the project since they work for, you know, a competing game company. But if the stars were to align in this manner I feel confident Stardock could pull off a good new game. The fact that the original developers were involved would also cause the fanbase to be more forgiving of any missteps.

2. License the content but go it alone on both gameplay and story. This would tie the game back to Star Control 2, but unless they do a great job themselves it could result in a poor game hurting the Star Control brand. This is exactly what happened with Star Control 3.

3. Do a complete reboot with completely new aliens, story and gameplay. This is the worst possible outcome; the lack of involvement of any of the previous developers and the complete break with the original Star Control storyline means that fans will judge the game as harshly as possible, so unless Stardock pulls off an XCOM, there will be significant internet backlash and they don’t need that after Elemental. Again, it would be very easy for Stardock to ruin the brand like this. Elemental was supposed to be a new version of Master of Magic, but Stardock couldn’t get the license. Imagine if they had, and the shipped version of Elemental had been called Master of Magic instead…

So, I’ve got some misgivings. But at least there’s a chance for a new good Star Control game, which is better than no chance.