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

(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

Manhole

Reviewing my steam games, this time an old classic called Manhole from Cyan Worlds Inc.

This is an interesting little game, if that is the right word. What we have here is a classic 1988 program that has been recreated with full sound. This program took you into a world through the manhole, after the white rabbit. It wasn’t a game that had an evil wakened for you to kill, nor any foes at all to overcome. You just explored the world that was offered.

I didn’t know that when the game launched for the first time. So I spent half an hour just moving around looking for what barriers I was to overcome, what foes I needed to defeat. I didn’t come across anything that stopped my travels.

I don’t regret the exploring, but my brief visit left be confused. There was nothing for me to battle, so I ran to wikipedia to look up the game. That revealed that there was no goal to this game. No walk through to explain where I was to go and what I was to overcome.

The graphics are simple, about 520 by 360 pixel images done in 16 bit colours. They are fun and childish, and often very silly. You will find a sunken ship, and in the hold of that ship you will find a forest with a bear at a door that leads up to a castle. The bear says something to the effect that when the ship sunk the hold only had seeds, now it has a forest.

There is no story here either. The world is in status. So you can talk to a number of characters, but they will never change.

I’ll save this game for my son, I’m not sure what he will make of it when he is old enough to explore this world. I have put only 30 minutes but paid nothing for this game so I’m going to call that good enough. Not counting it as finished, but not going back until my son can take the helm.
John Ross

(no subject)

Reviewing my steam games, taking to the skies with Dogfighter by Dark Water Studios Ltd.

What Dogfighter is not is a flightsim. The trailer for it posted up on steam states that as the opening line and yet myself and three of my friends who tried it all hooked up a joystick before launching the game. This game is not designed to be played using a joystick and it handles really poorly for any sort of flight sim.

Instead what Dogfighter is would happen to be a not bad arcade style shooter best controlled by your mouse. If you play it that way, thinking of the plane aspect as a style choice more then anything else, it leaves you feeling happy. Seriously, don’t think about using a joystick with this one.

The graphics are fun and a little cartoony. The planes are not pulled directly out of the real world, nor are they bizarre creations that wouldn’t fit there. What we have is a stylistic middle ground choice. I haven’t played the game extensively but none of the areas grew dull and boring.

The game does feel missing something if you play it solo. There is no solo mode and basically the same multiplayer game types are available verse bots. No reason for you to go to any of these places in fact. Unlike the Crimson Skies (xbox version) game the environments seem to have made no concessions to all the planes overhead. Crimson Skies perhaps took it too far, with almost every farmer’s field having a landing strip, but it would explain how come there were so many planes in the sky.

Like most standard shooters, you have a number of power ups to collect. Better weapons, rear firing weapons, team boosts and team penalties. That last seems a bit out of place, where you can go to pick up a radar out power up and instead it takes out your team’s radar instead. The game basically says 50/50 chance. That is something I don’t think I would have included if the game was my baby.

No so many weapons are available that they overlap, nor are they hard to find. Enough pickup points appear to exist that even with a full 16 players you will not have anyone camping out a power up spawn point.

I personally never tried the multiplayer on this game. I have six friends who already own it according to steam, so the failure there is on my part not to try to arrange something.

With just under 4 hours of play time I will give this game a value of $3. So it is an improvement on what I spent, but I cannot say that with so many other games I will keep this one around unless my friends who do have it start throwing down the gauntlet. Then I will return to teach them a lesson.
John Ross

Zen Bound 2 up for review.

Reviewing my steam games, tied up this time with Zen Bound 2 by Secret Exit Ltd.

Zen Bound 2 is a little puzzle game. Puzzling in its very nature for the game is a little abstract. The goal is to use a length of rope to wrap up objects, covering as much of the object as possible. The game shows this your progress by painting the object as you wrap it. The designers believe the game is more relating then stressful.

When the game first was listed on steam the game design interested me. So it was with some happiness I picked it up when it went super cheap. So far it hasn’t disappointed me.

As the game is simple, the graphics look quite good. Each puzzle starts with a 3d object – usually an abstract shape- and a length of rope to tie it. The rope moves and shifts in a mostly realistic means. Sometimes you will see an odd and visible artifact as the textures on the rope sections don’t line up. But I have to say I was looking for those so it is possible the casual player will not notice.

There is no story in the game. You just have to complete all the puzzles on all the trees and finish all the puzzles. One little detail is that there are two achievements that I may never get. The first is to get three flowers (the highest rating) on all the puzzles in the game. The second is to erase your progress once you have gotten three flowers on all the trees.

Actually the game did a good job of keeping itself true to a theme. You have a list of trees to complete, each with some loose theme. People, birds, and so on. Each puzzle has three levels of completion. Each level you achieve causes a flower to bloom on the tree. This gives you a very nice impression as you scroll up the tree to wherever you left off playing.

I have put in just over my hour into the game, so it has a value of $1 to me. This is roughly what I paid for the game so it is a break even at this point. But I have to say that I will keep this one on my computer as well. I do look forward to solving all the puzzles here.
John Ross

Reviewing Delve Deeper.

Reviewing my steam games, this time digging in with Delve Deeper by Lunar Giant.

Delve Deeper is a clever little turn based strategy game featuring up to four teams of dwarves digging in the name of their king for treasure. Each team is make up from Miners, Warriors or Scouts to the choice of the player controlling them. Then using the strengths of each type of dwarf you delve into a map trying to bring home more loot then the other guys.

I actually had some problems when I first got this game. It didn't want to run on my laptop, a secondary computer I have. The tech support from Lunar Giant was quite friendly, quick to respond to my request and had a patch out within a week that helped get the game running. Another week or two and a second patch resolved all the issues that I was aware of. I was also able to play the game on my main computer, so it wasn't a buggy release, just the age of the laptop in question.

My other first impression of the game was on the lack of online multiplayer. As a simple turn based game I had picked it up to test it out. If I enjoyed it I would have badgered one of my friends into getting it just for the chance to battle them online. I prefer to battle in turn based games over FPS because I can win in turn based ones. But the listed multiplayer feature is limited to a hot seat approach. Which would allow for up to four people to play against each other, if they don't mind sharing the same seat over and over.

The graphics themselves are fun. Each of the dwarf types animated for a walking, fighting and mining animation. The foes are also styled in a cute over realistic. This ties in to the writing style. Each of the official maps comes with some comments from the king before you begin. These brief little lines are often cleverly written – at least the first time you read them – and add to the game.

This is also another game where there is no story beyond what you want to make yourself. Each map feels more or less like all the others. Sure some have more grey goblins over green slime, but one monster is just like another in the middle of a battle. It will be hard to determine when I have finished this game. I am not sure which maps I have completed successfully and which I haven’t.

One last thing to find some extra value in the game is on the treasure descriptions. Most of them are based on making fun of the dungeons and dragons style treasure. As they are random collecting the whole set (which is an achievement) will be almost impossible.

I have put in over fifteen hours. I don’t regret it, but I am not sure how much more I’m going to get out of the game. I also cannot say without reservation that the game is worth collecting for full price. But the game was cheap enough during the black Friday sales.
John Ross

Tropico Reloaded Review.

Reviewing my steam titles, going out on a beach for today’s game. Tropico: Reloaded published by Kalypso Media Digital. It appears that the base game, the first expansion (Paradise Island) and the second game were all developed by different studios. As I played the first game with the first expansion included I am just going to thank the publisher.

Tropico is a sim game in which you control a whole island of people in the 1950's. The game lets you build your dictator, so you can be a farm worker installed by the KGB, or a college professor who won in a fair election. What your background is will effect how the people of the island see you as well as the cost of various buildings and other events around the island.

The game takes a humorous look at the idea of being a tin pot dictator, so you have the power to fix elections, assassinate or imprison your enemies or otherwise be a bad guy. You can also strive to win the people's respect and keep yourself in power by doing what is best for them or at least making them happy. The game only scores you at the end (but it does let you know how you are doing as you go along) so results are really all that matters.

The game, like most sims, can be seen to be fairly open-ended. After all, you are only scored after 50 years in power. But in order to add to the replayability of the game we have a number of scenarios included. From my research online it appears that most of them were added by the expansion pack, but I have over 50 different scenarios to pick from for the next time I return to the island. So I will have to decide if I want to have a simple mission (I'm a crashed KGB agent who is put in charge of the island until I can build an airport to take me home) or a harder one (I have to get the island population to below 100 people and still make 100,000 dollars so that I can turn the island into a Jurassic park experiment).

The graphics are quite nice for a ten year old game. We have enough detail to see what the people roughly look like (basically what their profession is) as well as a number of different buildings and shapes to the island. Ancient ruins, historical forts and other items of interest are quite well designed to be eye catching as you scroll over your island. And all the man made structures are quite well designed to be 50's style constructs. It does seem a little out of place for a 50's era apartment building to be constructed when the game is up to the 90's but that also fits the stereotype they are mocking.

There is no specific story to the game, outside of that set by the scenario, and most of those scenario guidelines are only a handful of sentences each. Not that you really need one, as this is a fairly nice sim.

The complexities of the game are balanced by the scale. Each citizen has opinions on food, shelter, entertainment, your leadership and so on. At least a dozen bars define them inside the game world. But you will be dealing with less then 200 of these citizens; and in most games less then 50 or 60 when you have to worry about them. So if you see a brave but low in leadership citizen you can ignore them as a threat to your power. But a high in leadership, mostly brave citizen might be the seed that starts a revolution against you.

So you could fire that individual from his job, or increase his pay and make him happy with you. The scale lets you see inside their minds (at least as far the game is concerned) and while you cannot control anyone directly you can change the environment to make them do different things.

It is important to note that the game expects you to pay attention to little details like this. A citizen will have to go home to sleep at the end of the day, and then they get up to go to work. It is possible that they will take half a day to get from their job to their home. And half a day back. So even though a job may show as fully staffed, your workers may not actually be spending any time doing their job.

I put 3.5 hours into the game so far, which got me through the tutorial and one scenario. So the game can move fast for those people who don't want their sims to be more then a single sitting. (I'm looking at you sim city) This gives the game a value of $3 under my system. I know I'll return to the game, but I think I will give the other game in the pack I got from steam a try first. So next week some time I'll try Tropico 2: Pirate Cove and see what they changed and what they didn't.
John Ross

Looking at Cogs for my steam game review

Reviewing my steam games, today’s game is Cogs by Lazy 8 Studios.

Cogs is a clever little puzzle game. You slide tiles around 3D objects attempting to connect pipes, link gears or otherwise bridge gaps to make the 3D object work. I am not personally a big fan of those one piece missing slide the tile around games, but I really do enjoy Cogs. Perhaps it is just because I am fond of computer games that this one reaches me.

When I first launched Cogs I didn’t know quite what to expect. I believe that I got it as part of a five pack of Indie Games. Cogs wasn’t the game I was getting the pack for but I have to say that sliding bits and pieces around to solve puzzles is a great five or ten minute time waster.

Graphically the game is simple, but far more detailed then it would need to be. Each puzzle is modeled in 3D, even if it is only a 2D problem. This lets you use the same interface and handling when you come to a 3D problem, getting steam to both sides of a cube or similar. I don’t think you could increase the graphics on this game and actually improve the game in any way. Well done to Lazy 8 Studios for finding that perfect mix of simple to complex balance for their game.

No story to speak of, just 50 puzzles to solve. Each time you solve a puzzle you are rated on how many moves it took you and how long it took for you to solve it. The better, the more gears you are rewarded. You need 300 gears to finish the game and view the credits (which may or may not be a puzzle). Each time you solve a puzzle you are awarded 3 gears and then you can earn up to 6 more. So you have to earn six gears on average for each puzzle to be able to finish the game. It means I’ll have to do some of my completed ones over again.

I’ve put in only an hour or so into the game but it was a good hour. So it has only earned a dollar under my value system, but it will be sticking around as a good way to spend those spare moments thinking.
John Ross

Reviewing Chime, from my steam games

Reviewing my steam games, this time looking at the musical game Chime, by Zoë Mode.

All chime happens to be is putting down different shapes on different game boards while music plays. And on the surface of that it is hard to see why it is a very addictive game.

So it is in the little details that this game comes alive. Each of the six levels is really just a different song. Each time the beat bar goes down the playing field left to right it triggers different sound loops based on what shapes it encounters as it goes. When you have created a block of three by three or larger rectangular section a different sound will be triggered. The section you have activated will start to fill up. While it is filling you can add to the sides of the section and spread it. You score points based on the final size of the section. The more of these sections you can create all the stray pieces are cleaned up the higher your score multiplier.

I played each level once with the sound on, but for my replays of the game I have just been leaving the sound off. As neat as it was the first time to hear the game react to how you were mixing up the pieces, it loses something after the first six minutes. And with easy mode being nine minutes on a map I honestly felt the music overstayed its welcome by the time I was done.

This last is especially true for the song 'Still Alive' by Jonathan Coulton. I am a big fan of the song, but unlike the other five it was added to the game because it was popular not because it fit the format of the game. So they broke up the lyrics and you only hear them when you complete a certain amount of the map. It is very distracting as you find yourself waiting for the next verse to start so you can sing along, or the final line repeated twenty some odd times as you attempt to finally clear the map.

To clear a map, the objective of the game, you need to fill every square with a completed section at some point. Not all at once, but just at some point. When a section has finished being filled in as stated above the beat bar will touch it and 'stamp' it down onto the playing field. This allows you to place new shapes overtop and prevents you from having to panic if you drop something in the wrong spot.

I personally cannot think of anything else to say about the game, it is really that simple. I have 7.3 hours of game play on record, plus I have finished all the maps. So a total value under my system of $12. Much higher then what I paid for it, and if you get the game cheap I can suggest that playing each level at least once is worth it.
John Ross

Looking at my Steam games, this time Genesis Rising

Reviewing my steam games, a young boys game called Genesis Rising by Metamorf is up to be talked about.

Now, I have to say that I got this game because my friend bought it as well, and it listed Multiplayer as an option. I thought that it would be fun to do a space based game in the style of Command & Conquer 3. I never actually played it multiplayer, which if it is a saving grace I’ll never know.

This game has a very ugly interface; it makes it hard to get into. Combined with the 2d space battle fights, the really bad story and battle animations I was not able to enjoy my hour with this game.

The graphics themselves are not bad, they were looking for something unique. But I find the character designs to be so bad I was offended. The game feels like a bunch of 30-somethings trying to sell a game to 12 year olds. We have extreme blood whenever you kill a ship. Yeah, ships explode into a shower of blood. The female character has a bare mid-drift and design that makes Lora Croft from the first tomb raider look normal. Insulted because I know I could personally do better. And there is no way a paid professional designer couldn’t do better while drunk unless this was their objective.

The tutorial missions introduced me to the game concepts. You kill other ships, drink blood from their corpses to heal and steal their genes to upgrade your own weapons. Not a bad idea. But then the controls are this swirling 3d view trying to control objects in a 2d plane. So if you are not looking directly down on the plane you cannot say for sure where your ship is going to end up. (You can also ask the computer to draw the reference plane as a grid, but that isn’t as helpful as they thought.)

Thinking about it, that 3d controls on a 2d plane felt much like my 3d modeling programs. You can swirl, twirl and zoom around a fixed point in 3d space and then use the arrow keys to shift along the 2d axis. All this viewing control makes for a fine control scheme in a slow placed design environment. But when you are in a battle situation you should have the controls maximized for action which response.

So the tutorial missions left me in a bad mood, unhappy with the game. But they have this 8 minute long cut scene that was the final straw.

We start with the mission with your father giving you this ship. And then takes you to another ship that is actually your birthday present. I watched the scene twice to make sure I hadn’t misread that. It is clear your father gives you the ship you are in (as a young boy, too young to own your own space ship, as the game points out.) You then fight in a mission so lopsided that you can seriously not give your ship any orders at all and still win. As I said this was the final straw and I did it twice to make sure it happens as I will complain about.

From this fight we go to eight minutes of cut scenes. In these eight minutes we are told it is forty years later, making your character at least fifty yet looking maybe late twenties. You get info dumped hardcore as to who these people are telling you what you need to do. The Emperor of mankind is telling you to go find this McGuffin out in the same zone of space in which your father vanished years before. You get to have dialogue options of blue (choir boy) or red (jerk) with a handful of people. And then you watch these battle scenes in which armored aliens and armored humans fight with pistols and assault rifles within arms reach of each other. Seriously, they could reach out and push the gun away sort of close. And in mixed formation, humans and aliens standing (not running, but standing and shooting) around killing each other. It just struck me as a really poorly thought out scene of a dozen alien models and a dozen human models not animated at all well.

And I was done with the game. Perhaps the tutorial missions were lame and hard to control was because they were more interested in teaching us instead of making it fun. Perhaps the game play improves once you get into the game and the missions. I personally doubt it, from the reviews of others.

I also read a walkthrough for the game, talking about what missions are coming up. You go back in time to your young self and help your father against an attack that seeks to alter the time line. And then as your young self you return to your fleet in the present. So if you were the target 12ish year old boy then “Yeah! I could do it” should be going on inside your head. I personally would be twitching and suffering a minor stroke if I understood the walkthrough correctly.

So I never played the multiplayer, and I didn’t give the game more then an hour of my time, including watching the same eight minute cut scene twice to make sure it was as bad as I thought the first time. Under my value system that gives it one dollar. And even that it didn’t really earn.

As soon as this gets posted I will delete the game off my computer and never see it again. With any luck.