Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Retro Archive I - Final Fantasy Tactics Advance

Here at IN we're hoping to make this a bit of a regular occurrence, so first on the chopping block we have a favorite of many - Final Fantasy Tactics Advance.  A classic GBA gem.

For me, at least, this game really opened my eyes to one of the best periods in gaming.  The GBA had a period in time where we saw multiple killer, must have releases. FFTA, Advance Wars, Metroid Fusion, multiple Castlevania titles, Golden Sun, multiple Pokemon titles.  A link to the past saw a release alongside four swords.  Alongside the backlit SP, this was an incredible time to be a gamer.  Somehow, though, FFTA managed to stand out against all of these releases.

We had seen FFT go before on the PS1, which sadly did not see a full release here in the UK, and whilst it had good reviews, in the FF community it was considered gold.  This game had incredible depth, even more so than desired considering people's ability to break the game with one Mathematician.  Now though, there was a GBA released on it's way.  Everyone immediately considered that this would be a port of the PS1 game, and whilst the SRPG style remained, this was much closer to a Tactics Ogre game, but with FF classes and lore rolled in - and this, it turned out, was no bad thing.

Upon firing the game up you're greeted by a short introductory battle, which shows you the basic system, then you're thrown into an alien world, given the ability to manage a clan, and the freedom to take missions.  These missions took the form of differing goals and requirements, but essentially boiled down to going to a location and battling bad guys until you win.  Sometimes you have to kill a boss, other times you're required to simply destroy all units.  Missions would have rewards and many times these rewards became requirements to open up further  missions.  Law's were introduced into battles to add a further layer of strategy.  Black magic could be banned due to a law in battle, so you were forced to work around this, and whilst that sounds like a restricting mechanic - it opened your eyes to the great collection of moves available on other classes.

It is important to note that less than a third of this game was required in order to complete the storyline.  You could, if you wished, simply fly through the game with minimal grinding.  Some party formation is required, like taking black mages to certain competition missions, but other than these requirements you could take on each story battle and do fairly well.  However, the real meat is to be found elsewhere.

Side missions could be taken at any point, with the completion of these leveling not only your units but your clan.  Each member of your clan could choose a class and learn abilities from items equipped, which in turn gains access to further classes.  Certain items gained from high difficulty missions, or achieving certain clan levels, gave access to very powerful spells.  The game turned from a story driven game, to a mission based hunt for items and levels, every time you powered it up.  

The quest for new missions, secret characters and powerful items became all encompassing.  This was no longer a game with a storyline, which was at best generic rpg fare, it became a quest to better yourself and your clan in any way possible.  Hours would slide by as days gave way to Tactics days, which were infinitely more enjoyable.  Do yourselves a favor, if you have not already, find a way to play this game again, it is so worth it.


Sunday, 25 August 2013

Monday, 19 August 2013

Guardians of Middle Earth - Doing it wrong

I can only assume the sales meeting was a singular occasion?  Filled with lines such as "They struck gold, but their market is saturated, we know people will pay for a triple A".  Scratch that, the meeting probably ended on a melancholy note after the decision had been made upstairs, and ended up with a bunch of genuinely talented guys feeling worried for their jobs.

Let me give a little more info.  Heading over to Steam for my bi-hourly check on titles and deals I couldn't help but notice a game in the 'Coming Soon' section.  Guardians of Middle Earth.  Now, I will be the first to admit I am not a huge LOTR fan.  I did enjoy the films, but the franchise holds no great water with me and as such, neither have the games.  People were reading the books at around about the same time I was sitting at home mashing as much JRPG into my face as possible. 

However, something about this game struck me.  It was a number - 85.43 - more precisely it had a pound sign in front of it.  You see, after a quick surmise of the 7 slots this took up on the coming soon list, that number is how much I now believe it will cost me to buy the game, with the initial outlay for the game being 13.49, and all or most of the heroes available for play.  Would you pay that for a game?  Triple A title?  I didn't think so, and nor would I.

So herein lies the doing it wrong section of my piece.  Now I will be the first to admit, I have probably dropped a load of cash on LoL, as I suspect many others have, but not like this.  When first asked by my friends to download League, I asked questions, and received answers.  Answers like, 'you can play the free guys and save up points' and 'sure you can buy them, but just save up, you get points by playing so it's all good'.  So I asked - is there a demo I can try?  'It's free, just download it and go'.

And where are we now?  30 million plus active players?  Dota 2 was fully released recently, almost a million people watched their International tournament and they recently reported 6 million accounts.  If you were releasing a moba into this market place, would you show 7 slots worth of cash requirements, asking people to drop almost a ton on it just to play all the heroes? 

Come on guys, wake up.  You're riding on the coat tails of giants here.  The precedent has been set and you're deviating.  Yes, I realize that you can probably earn the heroes through in game points, and if we were to add up the prices on heroes from other games you might be good value.  But they didn't shove it under our noses with a cash value on it, nor do they display a barrier of entry.  Further reading reveals that, according to the Steam blurb, I can buy items and buffs with that which I earn in game.  So.. can heroes be purchased in this fashion.. Or not?

I always feel bad slating a game who's fate has seemingly been decided by the suits upstairs.  I don't doubt that the game would be enjoyable, and that the development team put their heart and soul into it, but this is the wrong way to go about it.  The titular name may bring it some attention, but damage has already been done. 

Other moba give new players so many angles to get in, so many reasons to play.  Your game is showing up on a competitors platform, a platform that plays host to multiple millions of users every day, millions of potential customers always looking for new experiences.  There are 10 days until release on Steam, so perhaps it is not too late.  Alas, though, all I see are 85.43 reasons to stay away.

I thought we all learned these lessons years ago?


Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Indie Awareness - Terraria

Hoping to make this a bit of a regular thing, I thought I would take some time out to write about one of the games that has recently grabbed me once again.  Let me give a little history:

Last year my friends and I picked up this small game on Steam, +Terraria, very much riding on the coat tails of Minecraft, and figured we would give it a shot.  Little did we know it would consume our evenings and weekends for a good month.  Each night logging onto our own server to run around mining, creating, falling, getting up again, mining some more... We even discovered a 'hard' world, which came as a surprise considering the difficulty of a certain wall of flesh boss that we, in our pitiful gear and bow and arrow pings, had battled to the death many a time.  Our deaths, mostly.

We even built our own castle.  

Then shopkeeper's moved in, a jungle was discovered, and even a dungeon at the far end of the map.  We discovered new metals to mine, new weapons to make, new accessories and enemies to defeat.  This is indie, creative, open world heaven.  In fact it is so open to your whim, that we decided one day to dig directly down from our castle and create our own 'Hellavator' to reach the hell level in one drop.  Sure, we used a small fortune in explosives, spent hours removing the lava in our way, and there is a good chance you might die if an enemy gets in the way of your drop, but we didn't care.  It was, and still is, fun.  Besides, there's nothing quite like a small, insignificant low level bat ruining your well equipped, rich, high geared friend's day just by being in the wrong place.

I have recently played the game again and it has lost none of its shine.  There is something special about being dumped in a world that you can gleefully destroy and collect in the same breath, in whatever way you feel.  Want to live in a cave, run out at night to salvage and fight as much as you can, then retreat?  By all means, go ahead.  Want to get a group of friends together and build a castle, then rampage over the foreign lands laying waste to it all?  By all means.

This is a brilliant little game.  No other game offers this value for money either.  You can get it for pennies on Steam now.  You waste more money than you'll pay just thinking about games good enough to spend money on.  Pick this one up, you will not regret it, and I'll see you in a month when you get out the other end.


Saturday, 13 July 2013

FF7 on Steam - Square dipping their toe for a reason?

As I am sure most of you are aware, recently +Square Enix released Final Fantasy 7 on Steam.

I for one loved the game at release, so much so that I refused to complete the game many months after most of my friends had done so.  I did not buy it day one of release, since money was not an object in good supply during my youth, but my mother did her best and bought me it for christmas of '97, and after waiting through people talking about this great experience - I was not about to let it end quickly.  I ground like a madman around the map, refusing to take part in the storyline until I had discovered everything.

I did not fight Reno for the first time until I had Bolt2.

Back in the now, though, and we see this as the first Final Fantasy released on Steam.  Could this be a portent of things to come?  We are all aware of how popular the platform has become.  From the messy client I was forced to download just to play CS 1.6, I now login every single day to check on deals, see if my friends are online and check up on community news.

Granted, the release was not entirely smooth.  There were complaints about the music, you still actually need a Square account and the lack of a full graphical overhaul does remind you just how constrained they were by the PS1.  Regardless though, this is a big 'FF' title on Steam, which is a step in the right direction.  Could we see Realm Reborn on Steam?  More classics from the archives? 

These epic RPG experiences are why I buy consoles at all, but if they're available on Steam, and handheld devices, well...  Is there really much point in that box under my TV any more.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Rogue Legacy

I did have a weekend planned.  It contained many things.  I intended to watch thousands of people watching smaller numbers of more skillful people, virtually jousting with each other at MLG.  I even considered visiting family.

Clearly, I had forgotten that this weekend was Rogue Legacy weekend.  It has taken over, spread it's wings upon my time spent doing anything else.  I will get little else done this weekend, but I do not care, not when it feels so warm under here.

It never fails to surprise me.  Just when you think the Indie scene is going somewhat quiet, that their games have lost their shine somewhat, one comes along and reminds you how in touch they are.  Rogue Legacy is a fantastic little game, and one you can sink many, many hours into.  It rewards you for winning, and it rewards you for failing.  If, like me, you're a little put off by that notion at first well, fear not, they have done well.  

Let me explain the process you will go through when you first start to play.  Almost immediately you will consider Castlevania, and rightly so.  There is a castle, it can be explored and there are secrets to discover.  Treasure chests litter floors laced with traps and unfair mobs only too happy to end your characters life with relative ease.  You will not find health pots in every corner willing to hand hold you through the next room.  It's pretty much you, that health bar, a jump button and an attack button.  Well we all know how this is going to end, and pretty soon it does.

After a short amount of confusion upon being whisked back to the title screen after a measly ghost finished me off, you get to choose an heir.  Granted, I had been told about this feature prior to my purchase, but I did not realize it would be handled so well.  You choose an heir from a small selection of characters, each with their own slant on life in the game.  Pick an heir with Vertigo and well, you'll be playing the game upside down.  Pick one with gigantism and yes, you've guessed it, your character is larger than normal.  Dwarfism?  Smaller than usual, ADHD?  Your character runs faster.  Colorblind?  You play in black and white.  This is tongue in cheek game design, and were it that alone it would all come crashing down.

The hook, though, is the system of keeping what you've earned.  After all, the castle is different every time you enter, so you're never keeping your exploration.  Instead of this, or keeping a single character for the gamer to get attached to, you're allowed a few concessions.  You keep the gold you've earned when you die, to be spent on your heir or lineage before the next voyage.  There is a talent tree-esque system of building up your power.  You spend gold on talents, they give you more health or mana, your next trip is a bit safer.  You can spend gold on weapons and equipment you find blueprints for within the castle, which carry over onto each heir.  

It can and will become compulsive, getting enough gold to create the first set of items at the Blacksmith, only to find that you still die in a very similar fashion, but on your way to doing so discovered the blueprints for a new weapon and well shit, here I am back on the road again.

I have only touched the surface here really, on what is a fantastic and affordable little game.  Sure the controls arent quite SOTN tight, and some will not like the fact that skill level means nothing when faced with a puzzle only an heir of a certain type can solve.  Nevertheless, this is a game sure to keep you entertained for a few weeks, and given the amount of times I have thrown to the gutter full price purchases within a few hours, I am pretty happy with this little purchase.


Wednesday, 19 June 2013

E3 Thoughts - Part 1

Now that the furor surrounding E3 has died down, and we've all finished soaking up the excellent coverage over at +GameTrailers, it's time to put some thoughts to paper, or rather musings to keyboard.

Let's start with Microsoft.  There is no denying the presence of games.  Titanfall looked good, I think it's safe to say, if you like the shooty robot type thing.  Let's face it, we're not fishing in any unknown waters here, it will be lapped up by many and going by first impressions - enjoyed.  I will not comment further, since I believe FPS have delved deeper into the deepest of subterranean pockets to bring something new to the table and frankly I am no longer excited by them.  Destiny did the most to pique my interest, given that they're essentially shooting for the holy grail of WoW but in FPS form.  They have a good shot too, despite the somewhat shaky build.
    But enough talk, have at you!


Bonus points will be awarded to those who recognize the line.  You may award them to yourself, unfortunately I will be unable to attend the ceremony, but you really deserved it etc.

Back to the point in hand.  I will not apologize for the lack of attention anything to do with streaming, TV or functionality will get here.  I buy a console for the games, very rarely pay attention to television outside of a few key shows, and let's face it I can watch them on my television right here. One VGA cable and I am set.

Outside of FPS and sports games, I enjoyed the Killer Instinct information.  It does make you wonder exactly how jam packed the wallet had to be to secure that exclusive, but no doubt it has some clout.  The reception was fantastic and the game looked fun.  I cannot help wondering though... How many consoles will a fighting game shift?  We need only look at esports and how difficult fighting games find it to get a foothold anywhere near the size of Moba, FPS and RTS games.  It's nice, but is it enough to pry eyes away from the veritable toasting Microsoft received later that day?

The dangers of simply hosting your conference earlier, the backlash the community is capable of, there are many lessons to be learned from that week of work at MS.  I get the feeling that a certain amount of employees, prior to E3, were already attempting to get the attention of their management by pointing at the negativity.  I also get the feeling that post E3, the overwhelmingly bad response to some of their decisions combined with the positive response for Sony, may actually be opening their eyes.  

Yes, you've done fantastically well in the prior generation.  Yes, you've implemented exactly what you wanted to with the 360 and people still paid the money, continued to play and enjoy your games.  But there is a threshold to everything, there is only so far you can push people, no matter who they are or what walk of life.  When a competitor asks less of the consumer, in both price and functionality requirements, has a seemingly more powerful product and says the exact opposite of your statement's in theirs... Alarm bells should be ringing.

If the next piece of Microsoft news isn't waving a white flag in some way, well, I'm sure we have some space left in the landfill we piled all those copies of ET into for the 2600 right?