As 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.
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:
Spring, Year 4 of the Ascension Wars. The rival empires of Jomon, T’ien Ch’i, and Pythium have soaked their borderlands in blood; the prize, the Thrones of Ascension that will allow a pretender god to rule the world. For years, they have battled to little avail; but now a breakthrough seems imminent. After months of siege, a T’ien Ch’i army stands ready to storm Jomon’s fortress in the province of Carnag — and once it falls, the way will be clear to march on Jomon itself.
Morale is high in the besiegers’ camp. T’ien Ch’i soldiers, backed by the steppe horsemen who recently made themselves overlords of the empire, have repeatedly shown themselves equal to the samurai of Jomon. Numbers are on the attackers’ side. Yes, Jomonese shugenja and onmyo-ji mystics have been seen inside the fortress. Yes, rumours suggest the great celestial dragon the Jomonese worship has been raising an army beneath the waves. But so far, neither the mystics nor the dragon have amounted to much. What could possibly go wrong?
Johan Karlsson and Kristoffer Osterman of Illwinter Game Design are the creators of indie masterpiece Dominions 3, a strategy game of near-unrivalled imagination, depth, and player choice. With Dominions 4about to launch (and following my July preview), I am very pleased to present my email interview with Johan and Kristoffer, in which we talk about Illwinter’s history, its inspirations, the future of Dominions, and more. Did you know that Illwinter even considered adding real-time battles and a 3D map? Read on:
Peter Sahui: Hello, and welcome to the site!
I’d like you to start by telling us about Illwinter Game Design. How did you get started developing games?
Johan: My first game was a long time ago just before I moved out to go and study computer science. My favorite old game was Chaos, a game for Spectrum 48 where up to 8 wizards battled it out in a very simple fashion. I got my Atari ST computer after that and felt that you could make a much better Chaos game on that computer. So my first attempt at a game was to create a Chaos clone for the Atari ST, written completely in basic. It got to a playable state and was better than the original in many ways, monsters had hit points and there were more of them as well. But it was not good enough to be sold, so it never got played by other than me and my friends.
When I started my Computer Science education I began to create a more sophisticated game that was called Conquest of Elysium. That’s also when I met Kristoffer who joined in and took over the graphics part. Being 2 people helped a lot I think and we managed to finish the game and sell it as shareware. Shareware was the thing back then and I remember that it was really bothersome and crappy compared to how it works today with Desura etc.
Illwinter Game Design had started to exist now and we continued to create a new game every few years until we had 3 CoE and now 4 Dominions as well.
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:
* While most of the nations in Dom4 arereturnees 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).