Postcard from a world of Russian dolls

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Stacking

Stacking, Double Fine’s Russian doll-themed adventure game, is a treat for the eyes as well as the funny bone. In the above screenshot, a mismatched crowd queues up for tickets at a train station; their distinct designs, and the station’s warm ambience, speak to the love and craft with which this game was made.


Stay tuned for a full review once I’ve finished!

Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion beta – my first look & postcards

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion

When the Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion beta opened to pre-order customers, I jumped at the chance to give the game a test-drive. I played a single 1v1 game vs AI (both of us as the TEC Loyalists, the game’s specialist turtle faction) on a small map. Here are my quick observations:


This is still recognisably Sins of a Solar Empire: Compared to the base game, the UI is the same, 95% of the units are the same, and the overall “look” and “feel” are the same. As a stand-alone expansion, it’s probably best to think of this as Sins of a Solar Empire: Deluxe.


… but some of the graphical effects have been improved. Missiles, in particular, look far prettier, which benefits the Marza and the Javelis. Incoming barrages have never looked so spectacular:


For what we are about to receive…


Titans are powerful but not unstoppable: These super-ships are one of Rebellion’s most heavily-promoted additions; however, while formidable, the TEC Loyalist titan (pictured in the foreground of the two screenshots in this post) is no instant death machine. While my titan fought an upgraded AI starbase to a standstill (yes, I know, I should have brought torpedo cruisers, but I wanted to test the titan in action), it couldn’t damage the starbase quickly enough for me to keep my fleet in-system once enemy reinforcements showed up.

The new victory conditions seem geared to larger maps: Rebellion contains four new victory conditions: (1) lose your homeworld; (2) lose a starting special unit; (3) science; and (4) hold a victory location. I felt the original Sins could really have used (3) and (4), so I enabled those two in my test game, but I found it simpler to just steamroll the computer player. The science victory requires 8 civilian research labs and that you research 50 techs first, preconditions not likely to be met except in a very long game; and the independent fleet guarding the victory location – including a starbase and a titan! – looked like a tougher nut to crack than any of the AI worlds. As such, I expect the new victory conditions to be most useful on larger maps or in games with more than 2 players.


As the in-game loading screen reminds us, Rebellion is still very much a work in progress – for instance, the Advent and the Vasari aren’t even in the current beta yet – so for now I’ll probably hold off until it’s closer to release. I look forward to writing a more detailed preview at that time.


For now, here’s another screenshot from my Rebellion game. At the same time as my titan was shooting it out with the starbase (foreground), my conventional fleet was exchanging missiles with the enemy (background). I’ve played Sins for so long that its visuals have lost their awe for me; Rebellion has restored some of that magic.


Now, witness the firepower of this fully armed and operational Titan!

Postcards from Sengoku Japan: The Mori’s Last Stand

This entry is part 5 of 10 in the series Total War: Shogun 2

Making a game’s visuals spectacular is a technical achievement. Making them beautiful is an artistic one, and at its best, Shogun 2 delivers both. Here, as a vastly superior enemy army marches out of the fog, the Mori clan prepares to make its last stand. (To be precise, my last stand. This is what happens when I attempt an econ strategy before securing my borders.)