Clippings — 28 August 2013

My playthroughs of Europa Universalis IV and Ni no Kuni continue! The good news is, no more rebel problems in EU4. The bad news is, well, let’s just say this rematch with France is not going as well as I would have liked. Today’s news relates to three of my favourite gaming topics — strategy, JRPGs, and soundtracks:

  1. Ubisoft has announced Child of Light, a sidescrolling JRPG partly inspired by Final Fantasy VI! This will be one to watch.
  2. IGN has a good preview of XCOM: Enemy Within.
  3. Sid Meier’s latest game, iOS strategy title Ace Patrol, is now out on PC (Steam, Green Man Gaming, etc). Here is  a good retrospective on Meier’s career from several months ago.
  4. I’m keeping an eye on this Kickstarter campaign for Video Games Live: Level 3,  a proposed album of orchestral video game music.

The World that May Have Been, a Europa Universalis IV Let’s Play — Part 3: If You Can’t Beat Them…

This entry is part 5 of 12 in the series Europa Universalis IV

In 1584, under siege by French-backed Catholic rebels, King Augustus I of Great Britain renounced the Protestant faith. It was a last resort; the British treasury was empty, the army shattered, the realm ruined – and the rebels endless. One could almost hear the cackles in Paris as Augustus put his signature to the document reinstating Catholicism as the state religion of Britain; it was the greatest humiliation a British monarch had suffered since the Hundred Years’ War. Well satisfied, the Catholic rebels went home. The British Wars of Religion had come to an end.

 

eu4_pt2_001_endofreligiousturmoil

 

Or had they?

 

eu4_pt2_002_derbyprotestants Continue reading “The World that May Have Been, a Europa Universalis IV Let’s Play — Part 3: If You Can’t Beat Them…”

The World that May Have Been, a Europa Universalis IV Let’s Play — Part 2: The Best of Times, the Worst of Times

This entry is part 4 of 12 in the series Europa Universalis IV

The Navigator Queen

 

eu4_pt2_001_anne

 

In the summer of 1475, Anne, Queen of England, celebrated the fifth anniversary of her assumption of power from her regency council. They had been five fruitful years; her first act had been to standardise weights and measures throughout the realm. Some of these we still use today. Her second act had been to order the reconquest of Wales and Cornwall, which had broken away after the English defeat in the Hundred Years’ War. These campaigns did not last long: the English army was a pale shadow of what it had been a generation earlier, but it still outnumbered the Welsh and Cornish three to one. Now, as foreign ambassadors filed in to pay their respects, the queen seemed justified in resting on her laurels.

 

(Anne was a competent though uninspired ruler – she had a 3 in all her stats, out of a maximum of 6. Still, after Henry VI’s solid zeroes, this felt like manna from heaven.)

 

Then, as Anne waited for her next audience to begin, a man tumbled out of a rug. A moment later, he began to speak – very quickly, as the queen’s guards and the bolder courtiers were advancing on him. Apologies for the intrusion, but this was the only way he could think of to gain an audience. His name was Albert Gloucester, navigator and sea captain. He planned to sail west through the Atlantic, and that way reach distant Asia. Would the queen sponsor him?

 

eu4_pt2_002_quest_for_the_new_world

 

She would. The next year, in May 1476, Gloucester set sail from the Portuguese-controlled Azores with three ships. He was not heard from until the following January, when his three ships limped back into the Azores, badly damaged, their crews half-dead, starving… and bearing tales of a New World.

Continue reading “The World that May Have Been, a Europa Universalis IV Let’s Play — Part 2: The Best of Times, the Worst of Times”

Occult Chronicles Q&A, with Vic Davis

OC Poltergeist Mission

 

I am very pleased to publish an email interview with Vic Davis, the indie game designer behind Armageddon Empires (one of my favourite strategy games), Solium Infernum, and Six-Gun Saga. Read on for our conversation about Vic’s latest title, roguelike/board game hybrid Occult Chronicles, in which we discuss his inspirations, his lessons learned, the challenges of indie development, and more.

 

Peter Sahui: Hello Vic – welcome to the site! Occult Chronicles is your fourth game, after Armageddon Empires, Solium Infernum, and Six-Gun Saga. What lessons from your previous games came in handy for this project?

Vic Davis: Well from a technical standpoint I have over a decade of experience with the development environment that I use (Adobe Director).  I’ve also got a huge library of code for doing everything from creating drop down menus to path finding for any AI.  On the design side it has helped a lot to have shipped previous games.  Even though attempting a rogue like is a new direction for me, I was able to draw upon the experience that I had gained while designing turn based strategy games.  In the end my new game is really just an adventure strategy game so it shares a lot of the same elements.

 

Peter: Compared to Armageddon Empires, random chance seems to play a much bigger role in Occult Chronicles. What made you emphasise luck, and how did you balance it?

Vic: Yeah, without any of the map or positional elements that most TBS games offer, the conflict resolution elements really pop out to the fore. And Occult Chronicles has a lot of rpg baggage so you have this paradigm of stats/abilities being used to influence some probabilistic outcome matrix.  Calling it luck though is something of a misnomer in my opinion.  Chance plays a big part but I tried to craft a system of mechanics where smart playing could nudge the scales in your direction.  In the Occult Chronicles you need to weigh risk versus reward when you encounter various “challenges” in the game. You are usually given various options that key off of your attributes so it might be better to talk to an encounter rather than attack it.  Similarly, sometimes it’s better to run away or postpone a choice. I do admit that the way I designed the results phase for the game where you basically pick random cards to determine your rewards or penalties for an encounter, does serve to really accentuate the idea that the game is really random.  And I’m not sure random is really bad especially in a rogue like.  It’s something that is demanded for the map generation and figures prominently in many other aspects like what you encounter on a level or whether you hit it.  Coping with the random elements is really supposed to be part of the fun. But then so is dying a lot so go figure.

Continue reading “Occult Chronicles Q&A, with Vic Davis”

Clippings – 21 August 2013

Big day today for strategy game news!

  1. First, 2K and Firaxis have taken the wraps off XCOM: Enemy Within, which turns out to be an expansion pack for last year’s excellent Enemy Unknown; details here. Enemy Within is due out in November.
  2. Meanwhile, here is a gameplay trailer for the newly announced The Sims 4. I’m cautiously optimistic at this stage.

Musical Monday: “World Map” (Ni no Kuni), composed by Joe Hisaishi

Besides Europa Universalis IV, I’m also playing Ni no Kuni, a PS3 RPG born from a collaboration between RPG developer Level-5  and legendary anime house Studio Ghibli. It is an utterly gorgeous game, and its music – composed by Ghibli regular Joe Hisaishi and the lesser-known Rei Kondoh – is just as effective at bringing the game’s fairy-tale world to life. Below, I’ve linked the world map theme — enjoy!

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The World that May Have Been, a Europa Universalis IV Let’s Play — Part 1: Never Pick on Someone Your Own Size

This entry is part 3 of 12 in the series Europa Universalis IV

The World that May Have Been

 

eu4_map_---_1444_11_11_1

 

 

Introduction

 

November, 1444. Under the Ming Dynasty, China is the greatest empire in the world:

 

Eu4 Ming Start

 

Further west, the rising Ottoman Empire dominates the Middle East and is pushing into eastern Europe:

 

EU4 Ottoman Start

 

Western Europe is a chaotic patchwork of kingdoms and duchies and free cities:

 

EU4 England Start

 

The world system that existed just a century or two ago, which saw Europe and China tenuously connected by the likes of Marco Polo, has fragmented; now Europeans and Asians and Americans carry on in their separate spheres.

 

The world will not stay this way.

 

Welcome to my Let’s Play of Europa Universalis IV, a grand strategy game from Paradox Development Studio set during the early modern era of world history. I am playing as England from the earliest possible start date, 1444; I will continue until either the game ends (in the early 19th century) or I stop having fun. In that time, I’ll explore aspects of the game such as exploration, trade, diplomacy, and war. I am also playing Ironman mode, which means I have just the one save slot and can’t abuse save/reload, and I am not using any mods except for one that enlarges the font (uncomfortably small by default). Lastly, I’ll emphasise narrative rather than gameplay, and if I do interject with an “out of universe” comment, I’ll mark it clearly, (like so). Onward to the game!

 

Part 1: Never Pick on Someone Your Own Size

1444 to 1469

King Henry VI, Queen Anne I

 

War has many faces, yet one face everywhere: anguish for the victims in the middle of it. – Lauro Martines, Furies: War in Europe 1450-1700

 

The winter of 1444 saw the Hundred Years’ War between England and France enter its twilight. 17,000 English soldiers huddled in continental garrisons, split between northern and western France; confronting them were over 40,000 French soldiers on the northern front alone. Henry V of England had beaten those odds a generation earlier – but his son, the reigning king in 1444, was no Henry V. Continue reading “The World that May Have Been, a Europa Universalis IV Let’s Play — Part 1: Never Pick on Someone Your Own Size”

Tropico 5 announced

Well, this is big news – publisher Kalypso has announced Tropico 5, due out on Xbox 360 and PC in 2014. I was a big fan of Tropico 4, and while that was apparently an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary upgrade over 3, the upcoming 5 sounds like a far more radical change. Promised new features include a dynasty system, progression from the 19th to the 21st centuries, exploration, and trade fleets – the last sounding a bit like the Anno games. Below, I’ve embedded the relevant part of the press release:

Continue reading “Tropico 5 announced”

Clippings – 14 August 2013

By the time you read this, Europa Universalis IV – the first in a barrage of releases over August/September should be out. I’m planning something new and special by way of coverage; I think you guys will like it. Links for the day:

Games

  1. A very enjoyable narrative Let’s Play of Alpha Centauri. Here is Edge’s retrospective on the game.
  2. A few months ago I discussed an early beta of an interesting indie game, Papers Please. The full game is now out, and Eurogamer has an excellent review.
  3. Rationalising our video game violence. This sounds a lot like what I did in Bioshock Infinite and especially Dishonored.

Musical Monday: “Leaving for Philadelphia” (John Adams), composed by Rob Lane

With Europa Universalis IV just a few days away, this week I present another song from John Adams, the HBO miniseries based on the career of the second president of the United States. “Leaving for Philadelphia” is a gentler, bittersweet-sounding version of the main theme, which I also encourage you to check out. Enjoy!

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Waking Mars: The Verdict

The beauty of Mars. I took so many cool screenshots, but this was the only one that wasn't a spoiler.
The beauty of Mars. I took so many cool screenshots, but this was the only one that wasn’t a spoiler.

Science fiction, it is said, is the literature of ideas – a genre about going where nobody has gone before. Its iconic emotion is the “sense of wonder”; its iconic heroes are explorers and scientists. Now an indie game, Tiger Style’s Waking Mars, has distilled that spirit into a remarkable ten-hour package.

 

I wrote my first impressions of Waking Mars last year; you play an astronaut exploring a cave complex beneath Mars. Each area is home to a certain amount of Martian wildlife, and to progress to the next, you must increase the amount of life – the biomass – above a certain threshold. To do this, you flit about on a 2D, side-scrolling map of the area, planting seeds, tending to the newly grown plants, and collecting their secreted seeds to plant elsewhere or feed to animals. (While the game does look like a platformer, I found this is not the case; it emphasises exploration, not reflexes or timing, and in fact I recommend turning the difficulty down so you can focus on its strengths.)

 

This is a simple premise, but it’s done wonderfully. Over time, you encounter more, and more varied, species, each with their own ecological niche. There’s the Halid, your workhorse throughout the game: a plant with moderate biomass and the ability to produce a profusion of seeds. There are little scurrying creatures, which reproduce after eating Halid seeds; individually their biomass is trivial, but if you can fill a room with them… There are plants that offer high biomass, but that kill other organisms. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Along the way, you discover more and more species, more and more of the planet’s mysteries, and I wish I could spoil some of these for you – more than once, they made me think, “wow!”

Continue reading “Waking Mars: The Verdict”

Clippings – 8 August 2013

Over the weekend, I narrated and recorded my first ever Let’s Play video, containing about 40 minutes of Skulls of the Shogun gameplay. Then I discovered (a) I hadn’t captured the sound properly, and (b) even at lower resolutions, the video file was too large for my puny connection to upload. Oops. From what I’ve played — a couple of hours’ worth — Skulls is a very promising strategy game, combining elegance (there are only a few decisions each turn, but they are important ones) with charm, an original setting, and funny dialogue. Definitely worth keeping your eye on! Here are today’s links:

Games

  1. A history of Paradox Interactive, with some fascinating anecdotes. Did you know that in one week, Fredrik Wester and two other Paradox team members packed and shipped 4,000 boxed copies of the original Crusader Kings by hand?
  2. Christine Love’s visual novel Hate Plus has a new release date – the 19th of August, just a couple of weeks away. Love is tremendously talented — here is my take on her earlier works, the wonderful Digital: A Love Story and the dark, emotionally intense Analogue: A Hate Story — and I look forward to what Hate Plus has to offer.
  3. Speaking of visual novels, here is a piece on the localisation of niche Japanese games, from RPGs to VNs.
  4. The problem with video game cover art.

Books

  1. A salute to Harry Flashman.

Musical Monday: “Reign of the Septims” (Oblivion), composed by Jeremy Soule

For this week, I present another classic video game theme – “Reign of the Septims”, aka the main theme of Oblivion. (Specifically, I present the version performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra for the Greatest Video Game Music CD.) Personally, I think the Morrowind theme (“Call of Magic”) edges it out, but it remains a solid piece of music. Enjoy!

 

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Expeditions: Conquistador & Occult Chronicles impressions

I’m long overdue to post my impressions of two recent, interesting games, Occult Chronicles (still officially in “buy-in beta”) and Expeditions Conquistador. While they are very different, they have enough in common to be worth discussing in the same post, so let’s take a look:

 

Occult Chronicles is the latest project from Vic Davis (of Armageddon Empires fame); it is inspired by roguelikes and “haunted house” board games. The player controls a single investigator who wanders around a haunted mansion, uncovering tiles with each step. Most tiles are blank, but some contain encounters, which are represented as a series of randomly selected cards (e.g. a three of Wands, a Knight of Cups) that the player’s own random cards must beat. The player character gradually levels up or acquires new goodies from beating these encounters; and ultimately, s/he must descend into the basement of the house for the final encounter. Strategy is a matter of resource allocation and balancing risk/reward: Do I use my finite pool of items to modify this card draw, or do I save them for a rainy day? How do I allot my skill points? How much time can I afford to spend levelling upstairs before the – luckily customisable – in-game timer (1) pressures me to head into the basement? My biggest reservation is that there is still a lot of chance involved, especially visible (a) on higher difficulty levels (I’ve never won on anything above the easiest setting!), (b) early on, as low-level characters have few ways to influence the cards, and (c) in the occasional bouts of random sadism (2).

 

Conquistador is a bit like a cross between a tactical RPG and an Age of Discovery-themed King’s Bounty. The player character rides around the overworld map in search of quests, resolves them via dialogue or violence,  and fights out battles on a hex grid using a squad of up to six. Character customisation is fairly limited, but combat is distinct and satisfying. The basic strategy (use tanky characters to slow down the enemy, while healers, ranged specialists, and fast-moving characters play to their respective strengths) comes from Tactical RPGs 101, and can safely be recycled in every battle, but the details change:  I might use a barricade (3) to block off a given route on the battle map, then park an arquebusier there to snipe from safety; or use Character A to stun an enemy so the injured Character B can safely slip past. In between battles, the player must manage the camp to ensure food and medicine don’t run out, though in practice this is simple with the right party.

Continue reading “Expeditions: Conquistador & Occult Chronicles impressions”

Clippings – 4 August 2013

Games

  1. 2K is set to reveal something named “XCOM: Enemy Within” on 21 August, at Gamescom. An expansion pack, perhaps?
  2. A retrospective on the current gaming generation. I disagree with the headline – IMHO console gaming peaked with the PS2 – but it’s still an interesting read.
  3. GamesIndustry International speaks to EA’s former CEO, John Riccitiello.
  4. HG Wells, wargame designer.
  5. JRPG fans, here’s an interesting Siliconera interview with XSEED.