Clippings — 31 July 2013

Games

  1. When choice is bad“, an article by Soren Johnson of Civilization IV fame.
  2. Kalypso has announced a medieval trading game called Rise of Venice, and here is Strategy Informer’s preview (including caveats). I’m intrigued by the setting, although I still have Patrician IV in my backlog…
  3. An interesting-looking strategy game named Skulls of the Shogun has landed on Steam; here is Eurogamer’s take on the Xbox 360 original.
  4. 2K Games has announced new DLC for Bioshock Infinite, including an arena/combat pack and a two-part story expansion, Burial at Sea, which stars an alternate-timeline Booker and Elizabeth and is set in pre-fall Rapture. The Burial at Sea Part 1 trailer is here, and here is my review of Bioshock Infinite, from back in April.
  5. ChinaJoy is bigger than E3, it’s hotter than E3 and it’s louder than E3.”

Anime

  1. These model mecha are a marvel to behold. They are from a show named Armoured Trooper VOTOMS, rough-edged but one of my favourites.

Musical Monday: “Boss Battle” (Final Fantasy XII), composed by Hitoshi Sakimoto

With a song named “Boss Battle”, you know exactly you are going to get, and this track from veteran Sakimoto (Final Fantasy Tactics, Valkyria Chronicles) doesn’t disappoint. Enjoy!

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Clippings – 27 July 2013

Games

  1. The Steam sale is now over, but for Playstation owners, there is a juicy-looking Atlus sale on the US PSN. The highlight is Persona 4: Golden for 33% off (US$20), but the rest of the Persona series is also on sale, as are several other titles. For myself, I’ve snagged a couple of less-known PSP RPGs, Growlanser and Gungnir. Details over at the Cheapassgamer forums.
  2. Here is gameplay footage from the Total War: Rome II campaign. Stay tuned for my detailed thoughts on the game in September!
  3. Publisher Slitherine has uploaded a number of gameplay videos of Pandora, an upcoming TBS that looks inspired by Alpha Centauri. Screenshots are available on Pandora‘s official website.
  4. The Escapist has an interesting preview of upcoming indie game Redshirt, which simulates life as a Starfleet… well, redshirt.

Movies

  1. In a case of “turnabout is fair play”, Ken Watanabe will star as a veteran samurai in a Japanese remake of Unforgiven. This, I want to watch! There is a trailer (no subtitles) here.

Hardware

  1. PC Gamer reviews a 1TB SSD priced at £500/US$650. Getting cheaper!
  2. Two new gadgets from Google: a new version of the Nexus 7 with a 1920×1080 screen, and the Chromecast, a stick that, once plugged into a TV’s HDMI port, can be used to receive content streamed from smartphones, tablets, and PCs using Chrome.

Heroine’s journey: The Twelve Kingdoms, episodes 1-13

12K Street scene
The world of the Twelve Kingdoms is a treat for viewers.

A girl becomes a hero.

 

That is the premise and appeal of episodes 1-13 of The Twelve Kingdoms, the anime adaptation of a series of fantasy novels by Japanese author Fuyumi Ono (1). The show runs to 45 episodes altogether, spread across four story arcs – each based on a different book and focusing on different characters. It was one of my favourites as a teenager, and after rewatching episodes 1-13 (which constitute the first and, from memory, one of the better story arcs, corresponding to book #1, Sea of Shadow), I was impressed all over again.

 

But that didn’t happen straight away. I’ll be honest; the first couple of episodes were a real slog. You see, this particular story arc follows Youko, a modern-day girl flung into the strange world of the Twelve Kingdoms; and while her initial terror is understandable (and believable!), her cringing passivity made me want to yell. Nor was her supporting cast any more likeable. But things don’t stay that way: over those thirteen episodes, Youko overcomes her demons, learns courage and maturity, and discovers the wonderful, imaginative world around her.

 

As such, while there is a little action, this is not a show about action. There is affection, but this is not a show about romance. This is not a fluffy or frivolous or ‘light entertainment’ show; it is an emotionally intense one about internal conflict and character growth. That first story arc exemplifies the show: the Youko of episode 1 is not the same Youko of episode 13, and her transformation – sometimes trying, ultimately heartwarming – would not be so remarkable if she were not so pathetic to begin with. The end result is a set of episodes that, while initially painful, are rewarding and mature – and that make a promising start for my rewatch.

 

(1) Sadly, I understand it is an incomplete adaptation; the anime never adapted the last book in the series, and I do not believe the author ever wrapped up the series itself.

Musical Monday: “Milky Way (Battle)” (FTL: Faster than Light), composed by Ben Prunty

This week, I present one of the battle themes from last year’s indie hit FTL (my coverage here). It’s a catchy and cheerful song, which may just help counterbalance how sadistic the rest of the game can be! Enjoy.

 

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Clippings – 21 July 2013

Hi everyone! Since I’ve recently started a regular (non-gaming) link roundup at my other site, I thought I’d do something similar here — every week, I’m going to post a roundup (like the one below) of news, links, and thoughts that don’t warrant their own blog post. Here goes:

Games

  1. This is a brilliant take on Steam sales. (hat tip: reader Wolfox)
  2. Speaking of the Steam sale, my haul so far has been modest – a map pack for Civilization V; indie action-puzzler Gunpoint; and Wild West shooter Call of Juarez: Gunslinger. The highlight so far (I’m several levels in) is Call of Juarez: Gunslinger, a game with a unique premise — it is a chronicle of its hero’s adventures as recounted to an audience at a saloon. In other words, it’s in-universe fiction, and everything reinforces that: the art is vibrant and colourful, the music (and the hero’s bullet time ability) are an obvious homage to spaghetti Westerns, and levels will actually change mid-way as the speaker alters or embellishes his story. The actual game mechanics are nothing I’d write home about, but that’s not a huge problem; the atmosphere is the real draw. Here is a more detailed review from Polygon.
  3. Meanwhile, Episode 2 of Back to the Future: The Game is a worthy successor to the very fine Episode 1.
  4. Previewer quill18 is posting Let’s Play videos of Europa Universalis IV on Youtube. I’ve seen four instalments so far (out of five posted), and they’re interesting stuff. He’s playing England, the same country I intend to play for my (text/screenshot) LP, and his strategies are giving me some useful food for thought.
  5. A remastered version of Transport Tycoon is coming to Android/iOS! Owen Faraday of Pocket Tactics has rounded up screenshots, and Gamasutra has an interview with creator Chris Sawyer.
  6. The bad news is, Age of Wonders III has been delayed to the first quarter of 2014. The good news is, there’s now a dev diary on the official site.
  7. There’s an interesting-looking tactical RPG on Kickstarter named Liege, which has a week left to run.
  8. I never got around to posting this link from a few weeks back – the gist is that (a) EA’s chief creative officer estimates there are 25-30 AAA console game teams worldwide, (b) this number is down from 125 seven years ago, but (c) they employ the same total number of staff (i.e. each individual team is 4x larger).
  9. I’m planning to eventually buy a Vita and a 3DS, so this Eurogamer article was encouraging news.

Books

  1. Ben Aaronovitch’s latest urban fantasy novel, Broken Homes, comes out at the end of this month in the UK. (Unfortunately, American readers will have to either wait until next year, or import.) These books are a great read, and I’ve already pre-ordered Broken Homes; look forward to reading it!
  2. After a promising (and entertainingly whimsical) start, I was disappointed by the way Jasper Fforde’s comical fantasy novel The Last Dragonslayer panned out. Oh well.

Race to Mars Q&A, with Szymon Janus

ea628dec4e69fbbbccb3b223ca0bca11_largeInspired by tycoon games and the classic Buzz Aldrin’s Race into Space, indie developer INTERMARUM is raising funds on Kickstarter for its upcoming turn-based strategy game, Race to Mars. RTM will task players with helming a private space company, with the end goal of establishing a base on Mars. Read on for my email interview with INTERMARUM CEO Szymon Janus:

 

Peter Sahui: Hello, and welcome to the site! Could you please tell us more about your team & your previous experience?

Szymon Janus: Hello Peter. My name is Szymon and I am the owner and founder of INTERMARUM, a game development studio in a small little city called Opole. Right now there are 12 people working on Race To Mars with different levels of involvement. Up until now we did mostly contract work and this is our first independent production. We cooperate with many different developers from known Polish companies though.

 

PS: How will the typical Race to Mars campaign will play out? It looks like the basic “flow” of gameplay will be: (1) accept simple contracts, (2) use the profits to develop new facilities and technology, (3) use the new capabilities to take on more ambitious contracts, and so on, until you finally have enough money and technology to settle Mars and win the game.

SJ: Roughly speaking – everything is correct ;) . Adding to that is making sure the tech has a good enough degree of quality or the safety level. It will also be important to deal with random events or training your team.
What it will definitely NOT feature is being able to choose just any contract – we will compete with different companies and, for example, we will not be able to compete with them on price at a certain stage, which will force a change in expansion strategy.

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What’s new in Dominions 4: Thrones of Ascension

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Dominions 4
A game of Dominions begins with creating your pretender god. In my case, I've chosen the Celestial General, a powerful air, earth, and astral mage whose land is thriving and prosperous.
A game of Dominions begins with creating your pretender god. In my case, I’ve chosen the Celestial General, a powerful mage whose land is thriving and prosperous.

I’m several hours into a preview copy of Dominions 4, the follow-up to one of my favourite strategy games. Dominions 3 was user-unfriendly, a beast to learn, and a devil to master; it was also deep, rich, and rewarding, both in its gameplay and also in its mythically-inspired lore. For newcomers to the series, Gamespot’s review is very fair and, I think, very good at identifying who will like and who will not like Dominions; meanwhile, for those interested in what made Dominions’ atmosphere and worldbuilding so remarkable, check out a guest piece I wrote at Flash of Steel several years ago. For series veterans, Dominions 4 is recognisably an evolution, not a revolution; going from 3 to 4, the differences are much less visible than going from 2 to 3, or 1 to 2. However, the changes are real and, from what I have seen, positive. Here’s what I’ve noticed:

 

New content:

* While most of the nations in Dom4 are returnees from the previous game, each of the three Dominions eras (early, middle, late) has received a new nation or two.

*I also spotted a number of new pretender chassis, new magic items, and some new spells (e.g. some painful-looking high-level direct damage Water spells; new Nature buffs/debuffs).

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Musical Monday: “Radical Dreamers ~ Unstolen Jewel” (Chrono Cross), composed by Yasunori Mitsuda

This week’s song is one I haven’t heard in its original game – it’s the beautiful, mellow closing credits theme to the never-released-in-PAL Chrono Cross.  Enjoy!

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A formula for success: Back to the Future: The Game, Episode 1

For a fan of the movies, Episode 1 of Back to the Future: The Game strikes just the right balance between familiarity and originality.
For a fan of the movies, Episode 1 of Back to the Future: The Game strikes just the right balance between familiarity and originality.

 

 

I’ve just finished Episode 1 of Back to the Future: The Game, a 5-part point-and-click adventure game from Telltale Games of Walking Dead fame. (I estimate Episode 1 is around 3-4 hours long, which suggests that the entire series is 15-20 hours.) Rather than overlapping or rehashing the Back to the Future movies, the game is an original story that “begins” sometime after the end of the trilogy. It is very much a traditional adventure game, in which players control Marty McFly as he solves puzzles, uses items on the environment, and makes wry observations on his situation; if there are any elements of action or reflexes in BttF, I haven’t seen them yet. So far, I very much like it for two reasons: it succeeds both as an adventure game and as a homage to the movies.

 

As an adventure game, Episode 1 of BttF has the genre’s traditional strengths: it’s witty to the point of being laugh-out-funny, and solving puzzles makes me feel like a genius. The puzzles themselves are sensible and well-designed – no cat-hair moustache here! – and one, in particular, is amongst the best puzzles I can remember in an adventure game; while not challenging, it’s unique, hilarious, and perfectly fits the characters’ situation (1). Production values are a mixed bag; I do not find BttF’s graphics very attractive; but its excellent voice acting makes up for it.

 

As a homage to the movies, Episode 1 works equally well. The voices, as noted above, help; Christopher Lloyd reprises his role as Doc Brown, and AJ Locascio does a great job as Marty. But the writing is key, and I wish I could spoil it for you! As is, all I can say is that Episode 1 strikes the right balance between familiarity (“hey, cool, this is just like the movies!”) and originality; while it recycles the movies’ formula, the juicy details are all its own.

 

Overall, if you enjoyed the Back to the Future movies and you are a fan of adventure games, you should definitely check out Episode 1 of Back to the Future: The Game. While I can’t vouch for the quality of the other episodes, I do look forward to trying them out.

 

(1) For those of you who’ve played the game: “You’re treating me like a BACTERIA!”

Musical Monday: “Xaltocan” (Expeditions: Conquistador), composed by Leonardo Badinella

This week’s theme is one of the overworld tracks from Expeditions: Conquistador, a sort of alt-historical King’s Bounty in which players command a band of Spanish explorers/conquistadors in sixteenth-century Central America. It is a good game, and it owes some of that success to the atmosphere created by the music. Enjoy!

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Does a good game make a good anime? Persona 4: The Animation – eps 1 to 9

This entry is part 7 of 8 in the series Persona 3 & 4

Persona 4 Anime - Our HeroesI’m nine episodes into Persona 4: The Animation, the anime adaptation of the excellent PS2/Vita RPG; as I would like to eventually finish the game (I am “only” 30 hours in), I have paused at this point in the anime to avoid spoiling myself. The anime is a lot of fun, worth the money I spent on it… and yet, I can’t shake the feeling that it is a guilty pleasure.

 

The anime does a number of things right. For one, it has very strong source material, with a great premise: Persona 4 follows several teenage friends who, in the course of investigating murders in their sleepy country town, end up fighting their own literal and metaphorical demons. P4’s characters are goofy (perhaps a bit more so in the anime), amusing (I’ve laughed so hard, the other passengers on my commute probably think I’m bonkers), and yet human and relatable. The anime’s fight scenes are spectacular – the titular Personas have never looked better – and its production values are excellent; the anime’s art is vibrant and attractive, and I routinely grin when it uses music from the game’s soundtrack. So what’s the problem?

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Musical Monday: “Trilltrall” (Dominions 3), performed by Anna Rynefors, Erik Ask-Upmark

This week’s music is the lovely “Trilltrall”, as featured in the classic strategy game Dominions 3. Dom 3 is set in a world of myth and folklore, and its soundtrack — apparently comprising traditional Swedish folk songs, performed by the duo of Anna Rynefors and Erik Ask-Upmark — is the perfect match. Enjoy!

 

(Addendum: to my delight, I have discovered that the performers’ music, including this track, is available for purchase from Amazon and Google Play. As I type this, I am downloading my newly bought album…)

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