Tearaway – The Verdict

Tearaway - riding pig
“Look, Mum! No hands!”

A good toy is an object that is fun to play with.

A game is a problem-solving activity, approached with a playful attitude.

– Jesse Schell, The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses


One part game, one part tech demo for the PS Vita, and one part toy; that’s Tearaway, the latest platformer from Media Molecule, the studio behind LittleBigPlanet. It’s short and easy as far as games go, but what makes it special is how those ingredients come together.

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Paradox’s Latest Games

Paradox has announced two new games and two new expansions, all of which will come from Paradox Development Studio, its first-party arm. The games are Hearts of Iron IV and a new IP — Runemaster, an RPG set in a world inspired by Norse myth. The expansions are Rajas of India, which will expand Crusader Kings II‘s map all the way to the subcontinent, and Wealth of Nations, which will flesh out EU4‘s trade system and — it seems — add chartered companies such as the British and Dutch East India Companies. Detail is scant at this stage, but I can speculate…


Of the four, I’m most interested in Rajas. It should be reasonably likely to pan out:  Paradox has plenty of experience producing expansions for Crusader Kings II, a game that has been out for two years. It’ll be unique: other than Champion of the Raj, have there been any other historical strategy games set in India? And I can’t wait to see the alternate histories that’ll arise from the collision of Norse, Indians, and Mongols. (It makes me wonder if anyone at Paradox has read a delightful book named GURPS Alternate Earths 2, which contains a timeline in which super-Vikings made it all the way to Southeast Asia.) I’m also interested in Wealth of Nations, which promises to cover one of my favourite aspects of the period, but I’d have to see more specifics.


The new games are more of a wild card. Hearts of Iron 3 was an interesting but unsuccessful design experiment, and IV could be very good or very disappointing, depending on the extent to which Paradox learns from past mistakes. About the only thing we know is that “battle plans”, a HOI3 feature allowing players to doodle arrows on the map, can now be used to give orders; this suggests that automation, HOI3‘s central (and most unique) concept, will return in hopefully improved form. I’d guess HOI4 will improve over 3 Crusader Kings 2 and EU4 marked a clear upturn in the quality of Paradox games — but for now, it’s too early to tell.


Meanwhile, Runemaster will be Paradox’s first in-house RPG. (This surprised me, incidentally — I was expecting a strategy game in that setting, along the lines of Holistic Design’s Hammer of the Gods.) Paradox describes it as follows:


Runemaster is an RPG set in a fantasy realm based in the rich, majestic traditions of Norse mythology, casting each player in the role of a unique champion in a time of chaotic upheaval. Procedural maps and quests will ensure that no two playthroughs are identical, allowing players to tell a saga that is uniquely their own. Explore vast vistas through the six worlds of Norse myth, command troops in tactical combat, and define your champion through the choices they make.


It’ll be interesting to see how Paradox, a strategy developer, adapts to the new genre. Perhaps as a newcomer, it’ll be more innovative — compare Dragon Commander, a genre-blending strategy game from a RPG studio. Like HOI4, I can see this going either way, but it may be one to watch regardless.

Clippings – 19 January 2014

I’ve recently finished Tearaway, the PS Vita platformer from the folks behind LittleBigPlanet, and it’s a real charmer. Details coming in my review — I’ve already written half, so stay tuned!

  1. As a reminder, I’d love to hear your suggestions for Musical Monday. I’ve had two entries so far, both from longtime reader Josh – any more?
  2. Final Fantasy VI for Android is now out — but not everyone likes its visual style. Speaking of Final Fantasy, I’ve seen Lightning Returns, the latest Final Fantasy XIII spin-off, compared to the sainted Valkyrie Profile, and now I’m intrigued. Anyone tried either FFVI (Android) or Lightning Returns?
  3. A purported attempt to smuggle escape aids into German PoW camps… via Monopoly sets.
  4. This meme/cartoon is about Victoria 2, but it also applies to every other AI ally in a strategy game.
  5. And here is a (temporarily) themed Dark Souls cafe in Tokyo, complete with “estus flasks”.

Musical Monday: “Memories of the City” (Persona 3), composed by Shoji Meguro

For the first Musical Monday of 2014, I’ve chosen a song first heard when the heroes of Persona 3 welcome in the new year, and unlike most of the songs I post, this one is not cheery, exciting, or energetic. There’s a sadness to it — but also a sense of quiet, determined strength. I like it a lot, and I hope you will, too.


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Games of the Year: 2013

This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series Game of the Year Awards

1st Place Award RibbonAs promised, here is my list! As with last year, I’ve highlighted noteworthy achievements, as opposed to trying to single out favourites (so you will see some that I thought were more interesting than fun). I’ll kick off with what I thought were the year’s overarching themes:


Theme of the year I: march of the small games. Every year has its notable short and/or cheap indie games, such as FTL in 2012, and in 2013 these included Skulls of the Shogun, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Papers: Please, and Gone Home. However, the year also saw a large publisher, Ubisoft, throw its hat into the ring with Call of Juarez: Gunslinger and Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. Ubisoft is set to continue this trend with Child of Light, and it’ll be interesting to see the extent to which other publishers follow – especially after Tomb Raider missed Square Enix’s expectations, sparking the latest bout of soul-searching about the future of AAA games.


Theme of the year II: iteration. In 2012, my favourite games (XCOM, Wargame: European Escalation, Analogue: A Hate Story), as well as other notable titles (FTL, Journey) were all quite novel. Even XCOM, while thematically faithful to the 1994 original, was mechanically unique. 2013, though, was more like 2011 in its preponderance of evolutionary rather than revolutionary games, from the big end of town (Assassin’s Creed IV) to the little guys (Dominions 4), plus expansion packs (Civilization V: Brave New World, XCOM: Enemy Within). That said, we’ll see exceptions below.

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Announcing Tataraba: A Princess Mononoke Mod for Dominions 4

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Dominions 4

I am very pleased to unveil a project I’ve worked on for some time — a Dominions 4 mod inspired by the classic anime movie Princess Mononoke! The mod is fully playable, although it doesn’t yet have its own sprites, and balance remains a work in progress. It adds one new Late Era faction, Tataraba, whose features are below:

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2013 in review

Happy New Year! Every year, WordPress prepares a nice little report on this site’s activity, and it’s interesting stuff. Did you know that out of the 5 most popular posts this year, 4 related to Paradox games (and two were guest pieces)? And that I had two hits from Greenland, of all places? It was also the site’s most successful year in terms of traffic, with 92,000 page views – 30% higher than 2012 (71,000) and almost four times the traffic in 2011 (25,000).


2013 was a success in other ways.  It was the year I got serious about interviewing developers, starting with Jon Shafer (At the Gates) in February and culminating in Johan Karlsson and Kristoffer Osterman (Dominions 4) in October. After the success of 2012’s XCOM Let’s Play, I had a lot of fun creating LPs for two of the year’s strategy games, Europa Universalis IV and Wargame: AirLand Battle. And I’m quite proud of my analysis of Total War: Rome II, which used Rome II as a starting point to explore what makes a good strategy game.


That said, this came at a price — some of my most rewarding pieces have been retrospectives and thematic articles, but I was too caught up in new games to write many of those in 2013 (though I did write about how several games approached violence). This means I have several JRPG retrospectives on my to-do list going into the new year — in particular, one about Valkyrie Profile, a classic that I replayed and re-loved during 2013.


Over the next few days, I’ll be posting about my favourite games of 2013. Beyond that, a number of games in 2014 may be worth watching: the first single-player instalment of Banner Saga; the third game in the Longest Journey/Dreamfall series; Elite: Dangerous; Mad Max; Watch Dogs; Tropico 5; The Sims 4; Wargame: Red Dragon; the PS3/Vita versions of Final Fantasy X & X-2; and the Android version of Final Fantasy VI.


Finally, none of this would be possible without you — the readers. Thank you for your time and support, and I look forward to seeing you around!