Clippings: New and Shiny

Kings Quest startI’ve just picked up the first episode of the new King’s Quest, which came out at the end of July. As a newcomer to the series, I like what I see! One hour in, it’s a pleasant, charming fairytale that has made me laugh out loud a couple of times. My only complaint was a single, reflex-based action sequence – I’m horrible at those things! – and even then, it was manageable. KQ was well-received back at launch, and I look forward to playing more.

Meanwhile, Satellite Reign, the cyberpunk strategy game, is now out to positive reviews (Metacritic link here). From the few minutes I’ve played, I am not entirely impressed by the game’s technical performance – my high-end gaming laptop sees frame rates in the 10-30fps range regardless of whether I set the graphics to low, medium, or high. But when my plan broke down at the end of the tutorial area, and my agents fought for their lives, technical issues melted away in the thrill of the moment. Cautiously optimistic.

In other news:

  • Eurogamer profiles Fredrik Wester, CEO of Paradox. For a more in-depth account of how the Paradox team ended up packing Crusader Kings 1 boxes themselves, check out this Polygon article from 2013 – that has always stuck with me as an example of the travails that come up in small business.
  • Here is an interesting piece about the implicit urban philosophy of Cities: Skylines. Note that I disagree with the old cliche, briefly referenced in that article, that The Sims is an exercise in materialism. That hasn’t been true since Sims 2, which added lifetime desires and an underlying ambition (such as Fortune, Family, or Knowledge) for each sim.

Musical Monday: The Battle Themes of Sins of a Solar Empire

This week, I’ve chosen to highlight the soundtrack of Sins of a Solar Empire, the game that enticed me back to real-time strategy after almost a decade of burnout. I associate the three pieces below with the phases of an engagement: “Battle 8”, with its opening drumbeat and ominous brass, makes me imagine the rival fleets jumping in, their admirals manoeuvring into position. “Battle 12” makes me think of the battle itself. And the triumphant “Upbeat 3” makes me think of the moment of decision, when the TEC Marza-class dreadnoughts unleash their missile barrage, when the enemy fleet crumbles and the survivors flee for the edge of the gravity well. Enjoy!

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Clippings: Steam and Stars

Several interesting interviews this week:

Space Game Junkie has a Q&A about Paradox’s upcoming Stellaris. Some interesting tidbits — Victoria-style internal politics sound long overdue for the space genre.

The Wargamer interviews the designer of Rule the Waves, the Dreadnought-era naval simulator. Did you know that Master of Orion inspired the ship design in RtW? If you ask me, RtW makes better use of that mechanic than 90% of the space 4X games that followed MOO’s footsteps.

Meanwhile, the Flare Path’s write-up of Pike & Shot: Campaigns has prompted me to add the game to my wishlist. Between QuadrigaVietnam ’65, and Rule the Waves, that column has become hazardous to my wallet…

A retrospective of Circle of Blood/Broken Sword, the classic adventure series.

In non-game news, here is an interesting article about the rise of ebooks on mobile phones, buoyed by larger screen sizes. The article doesn’t discuss “cell phone novels”, which have been around for some time in Japan, complete with a prose style adapted to the medium.

Finally, check out this high-resolution concept art from Endless Legend. Beautiful!

Clippings: Gamescom & Guesses

Update: Paradox has officially unveiled Stellarishere is RPS’ preview, the best I’ve found. It is neither related to Coriolis, nor like EFS. Instead, it sounds more like Distant Worlds, with a dash of the procedural generation that characterised Paradox’s abortive Runemaster. A galaxy populated by randomly generated species, an emphasis on discovery and exploration that will last throughout the game, new factions popping up… I look forward to finding out more.

Gamescom has kicked off, with the big news – for me – yet to come. If my guess is correct, Paradox may be about to announce a new space game!

The facts: Paradox is working on “Project Augustus”, a new mystery game that will be unveiled at Gamescom. Pending the announcement, it has released a number of cryptic hints, which you can find here.

The speculation: Based on the arguments in this post, plus the subsequently released hints, I’m convinced the game will be set in space. Paradox has published an ebook named Coriolis: Dark Between the Stars, apparently set in the universe of a Swedish tabletop RPG. And it has recently registered a new trademark, “Stellaris”.

The wishful thinking on my part: Could Project Augustus be a spiritual successor to the sadly underappreciated Emperor of the Fading Suns? “Dark Between the Stars” is a term from the Fading Suns setting, and a Crusader Kings-style character-driven game would be perfect for a “feudal future” setting such as EFS. I’d love a remake – EFS was one of the most unique games I’ve ever played.

In other news:

Musical Monday: “Main Menu Theme” (Total War: Attila)

While I find most of Attila‘s soundtrack pretty bland, its title theme (and, to a lesser extent, the rest of the Huns’ music) is the exception. Enjoy!

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Quick Impressions: Vietnam ’65

2015-08-01_00003Vietnam ’65 is an iPad/PC strategy game with a deceptively simple concept: patrol villages on a randomly generated map (above) and prevent the Viet Cong & North Vietnamese Army from doing the same. It’s simple, short, and sweet; after two matches, I am impressed.

V65 is built on extreme asymmetry. When all goes well, US infantry can race from village to village in their transport helicopters, while tanks, gunships, and howitzers dominate the countryside as far they can reach. Not everything will go well:

  • There are 10 villages to cover, and too few soldiers and helicopters to protect them all.
  • There are a lot of demands on those helicopters – ferrying troops, resupplying them (out-of-supply units are eventually destroyed), and evacuating injured units.
  • The helicopters have finite fuel, limiting the time they can spend away from base.
  • Enemies can be difficult to find, spawn continuously, and lay ambushes of their own…

At times, there were moments of panic: when supply convoys came under RPG fire, making me wonder if my distant troops were cut off; when the Viet Cong emerged at 2-3 points and I only had enough firepower to respond to one; when my only helicopter gunship came crashing down.

Eventually, I won both games1 with a two-pronged strategy: I carpeted the map with outposts, extending the range of my helicopters and artillery, while training enough South Vietnamese troops to hold the line. Now, I feel that I have a good enough grasp of the basics that I can experiment with different game modes, or just move onto another title.

Overall, V65 turned out to be precisely what I wanted from a strategy game: quick to play (a few hours per match), simple to pick up, and at the same time, fresh and thematically evocative. For $10, this is well worth a look for genre fans.

Further reading (and listening)

The Three Moves Ahead episode that sold me on V65. Contains a great discussion of the game, its depiction of its topic, and some really handy tips.

Tim Stone’s review.

Rob Zacny’s review.

  1. One on “regular” difficulty, the other on “veteran”.