January 20th, 2011

John Ross

(no subject)

Reviewing my steam games, going in deep with Aquaria.

Aquaria was a game that I picked up on the cheap as part of the Indie Humble Bundle. The idea at the time was that five independent developers of games got together and offered up five games for a single price. That price was whatever you thought those games would be worth to you. Each developer also had their game available for PC, Mac and Linux systems, so everyone could buy it.

They tracked the stats an some of them were interesting in the numbers are fun kind of way. PC users were cheaper on average then Mac or Linux, that sort of thing. But like all numbers they can be adjusted to show whatever you like. As the games were cross platform and I actually have a computer running one of each of those formats, it seemed like a great deal.

That being said, I didn't actually get around to playing the game until today. About two months ago I noticed that anyone who bought the Humble Bundle was able to get them to send unlock codes to access the games via steam. No doubt this was done to take away downloads from the indie team's own servers. Steam does so much traffic the small games that are the one included in the bundle would go unnoticed.

So what does this small indie game actually play like? That is where it starts to fall down for me.

The game has a paper cut out animated character as the lead. By which I mean you have a character who moves an arm by rotating the upper arm from the torso and the lower arm at a join at the elbow. The hand gets swapped out when it needs to change. This is the site of animation I personally connect to flash, but that is because it is the style I learned while getting into flash myself years ago. This fact is only important because the fish around her are a more flowing animation style, giving a very strong striking contrast.

The world of Aquaria is a very rich one, with other fish swimming in the waters around you. Some are hostile and some are neutral. Only there is no easy way to tell them apart until you take damage. The visual language isn't used to have all the purple, yellow or orange fish to be dangerous and the blue and green ones friendly. Instead the game has you learn through trial and error.

The game doesn't give you any reason to explore its world at first. The game implies that you are at first a simple creature not really thinking about anything. Then an event brings you to full awareness and comes wrapped in a flashforward/flashback to a homing missile firing version of yourself. Even then you are free to stroll around a world map without any goal. A point was lit up to visit, but it just gave you a handful of resources with the goal of scavanger hunting up bits and pieces.

I think the game wanted you to feel like you have the whole ocean to visit. But what I found instead was a series of dead ends that stopped in doors I knew I could open later in the game. It was not endearing me to the game.

After about 45 minutes or so I find the plot key to start an info dump of what I should be doing. But by then I was not into the game at all. I played out the rest of the hour just to see if the game would speed up, but no. I broke down and pulled up a walkthrough from the internet. It seems that most of the game is spent going back and forth from one side of the ocean to the other, collecting items. Then the final battle is the usual multi-state endboss nonsense. Four stages too. Ugh.

Floated around in the game world for just over an hour, which gives it a value of a buck under my scale. I don’t recall what I chose to pay for the Indie Humble Bundle, so I’m just going to call that good enough. I do not see myself returning to this game but I may point my son at it when he hits three or four.
John Ross

Sticky with World of Goo

Reviewing my steam games, this week looking at World of Goo by 2d Boy.

The first thing I want to say is that World of Goo first came to my attention by sharing their users statistics as a comment on video game piracy. Specifically they had sold one copy for every ten people submitting scores to their scoreboard. Which makes it sound bad, but there would be lots of reasons for this.

The first is that they offered the game on all three computer platforms. So if you have two different computers or even two different operating systems on one computer you would show up twice. Adding to this is that World of Goo is such a small program that transporting it on a usb key (or downloading it again) onto work computers or other systems is easy. So I think the nine out of ten people would steal a video game claim that was being made based on those stats is false.

I would also say that the numbers are no longer so warped. Thanks to 2d Boy pushing their game as hard as possible I’ve ended up owning three copies myself: One by buying the game direct from them, a second from the Indie Humble Bundle and the third was included on a Steam Indie bundle. So I’ve played World of Goo on seven or eight computers and own three copies. And the game is good enough I’m not upset about paying for it three times. (That and times I didn’t pay more then 25 dollars combined and got nine additional games.)

World of Goo itself is a puzzle game. At the start of each map they tell you the objective, usually get X number of goo balls into the pipe somewhere on the map. To keep the game interesting they keep introducing new types of goo to play with. But at first all your goo balls will do is stick together to build towers or bridges.

The game is mostly a physics puzzle engine. The goo balls stick together, but the mass of the tower being built is taken into account. You can build your tower to thin and have a strut break. Then you have an often heartbreaking scene as tower collapses, bouncing as bits of it hit the ground.

Some goo builds better, stronger bonds then others. Some goo can be removed from a tower as it is being constructed. Others are stuck once placed. Some goo is flammable, other goo is sticky. One type of goo is able to float upwards like a balloon. Other goo can form long chains.

No map has more then three types of goo on it, which helps keep the game focused. The maps are interesting and colourful. And while you do return to some puzzles, the map and the challenges have changed. These changes are in line with the storyline as well.

Each chapter consists of a score of maps. Each chapter is based on a single theme. And as you complete each chapter you see a story unfolding. You see the goo attempt to understand industrialization and even escape into a virtual computer system. The instructions for each map are written on little signs usually whimsically written by an unseen game character called ‘The Sign Painter.’

I quite enjoy the game, and steam tells me that it took six hours for me to finish it this time. I have finished it twice more, but I’ll not count those for assigning the valve of the game. With six hours and finishing the game gives it a value of $11. I don’t think I’ll keep the game installed on my computer, but I could see myself returning to it eventually.
John Ross

Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days

Shooting through my steam games, this time with Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days by IO Interactive.

Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days is a 3rd person shooter set in a dark Shanghai. I played the game co-op, over two nights. Playing with a friend was the way to go, as the gameplay itself wasn’t anything special to bring be back to the game.

Actually I cannot decide if the style choices the game when with harmed it or helped it. The game chose to look like a gritty handheld documentary style game, with the issues a low quality camera would have in the places the characters go. Adding to this is a curious drive to make it a dirty realistic game and still have a pg-13 rating. All the extreme acts of violence as well as the nudity have a digital pixel distortion going on. The look was clearly meant to be what you would see for a TV documentary.

Most of the issues they faked, lens flaring, vertical lines and so on, can be turned off. And I did, because they got in the way of actually shooting people. The digital distortion couldn’t be removed officially, but you can download tools from the internet to remove it if you want. While I didn’t my co-op player did for the second night. His reports were that you didn’t see anything, as there was nothing to see. So a face that was blurred out because it took a shotgun blast at point blank range was just the characters face normally.

The game really wanted you to play it as a multiplayer over and over again experience. Which I think is why they drove to have the low pg rating. If you could get six or eight teens to play the game for a couple of hours a day and talk about it to their friends you can get a stream of income. It would also explain the downloadable content (DLC) for sale. None of it adds to the main game, but rather exists just to change up the verses multiplayer. Some of it even gives better weapons, which seems unfair. I personally didn’t try any of the verses multiplayer.

The story is quite bad, almost lazy. The characters are so stereotyped, and the world so two dimensional, that it was physically painful at points. And short, as I was able to finish it in less than five hours. I think the writing and design team just gave up, which is why you have a level in which the characters are naked trying to escape from the mob through a closed mall. Clearly they thought we have this centering software in place we might as well use it as much as possible.

Calling it finished and just over five hours of playing I’m going to give it a value of $10. About as much as a new movie, and it was about that much fun. But two player co-op was the only way to do this.
John Ross

Going to the Loom

Reviewing my steam games, pulling threads on Loom by Lucasarts.

Loom is an early point and click adventure game. Coming out between the text adventure games like Zork and the full point and click games of Monkey Island. As a puzzle game you will face a number of challenges that have only one specific answer.

Compounding the existing issues of point and click puzzle games you have the early prototype teething issues. Specifically you have only a single interaction option, click. There is no look, take or anything else. Clicking does one (or sometimes two) thing on each object that you interact with. Sometimes it treats it like a look. Sometimes a take. Sometimes a break, or learn the magic of or a sneak up and listen in on. Not knowing before you click what will happen can be annoying.

They haven't bothered to update the graphics for this release, so you have the same limited graphics that were the best they could do in the late 90s. It is hard to say if they are cute or just really dated. I’m going to go with dated because of the sour taste the ending left in my mouth.

Loom used sound as the source of magic. So almost everything used 8 bit sounds and when you heard a four note pattern you could count on it as being a source of magic. Four holes in the trees with owls that hoot different notes on a scale become the magic for a light spell. And the logic is about that fuzzy for most of the other magic as well.

But the game doesn’t tell you in game that reversing the pattern can reverse the effect. I found it annoying that when you first encounter a water spout on your path you need to know that the four notes the water spout makes can be reversed to untwist it. And that it is a twisting magic you are learning. So when you find a staircase that needs to be untwisted you do the same spell again. My mind wasn’t in the same space as the game designers.

Having finished the game I felt the ending was weak, left open clearly for a sequel that never game. The character you play seems poorly constructed. He is from a mysterious clan but knows all the other characters in the game. You don’t, so all you get is a brief bit of text. “It is the Bishop” and so on. I was completely disconnected from the world and never brought in. Made more vexing by some of the puzzles being solved by game world knowledge that you don’t have. One example that stands out in my mind is that your characters hood hides something dark and perhaps evil. So when another NPC wants to look under your hood it removes him as a threat.

I think with a walkthrough and knowing just where to go a person could finish the game inside an hour or so. It took me longer as I explored and bumbled around, but I got madder and madder at the game. I spent the first hour of playing the game just walking around without finding the first seed of the plot because I didn’t realize I could walk on a black space as a floor to get to the Mcguffin.

Calling the game done at 4.9 hours of playing, giving it a value of $9 under my system. I actually feel the game is worth much less, as the ending and content left me unhappy over all. I cannot suggest anyone else get the game unless the old classics really interest you.