Sunday, October 7, 2012

My Terran Fleet

Recently I have had the joy of moving house several times in one year. An stressful affair definitely, but one that gives you to opportunity to rediscover items and memories from different times in your life. While I was packing up my bedroom I made an interesting discovery. Within an old faded plastic bag was a large collection of old sketch pads and notebooks, each one filled with scribbles and drawings I made throughout my childhood. When I was a lad I was a prolific drawer, constantly scribbling on my school books and filling up sketch pads on near weekly basis. As a quite nerdy kid who loved sci fi and video games, most of my doodles were robots, aliens, spaceships, monsters, war scenes, tanks and any thing else that could be considered dorkish.

So in this bag of old memories, I found a specific sketch pad that I had forgotten all about over the years. It was filled with detailed sketches and schematics of an entire fleet of spacecraft, each design complete with detailed information on how they worked and for what purpose. Looking through the pictures I was amazed at the level of detail young me had gone to trying to make them as realistic as I could. Not only had I tried to design a wide variety of ships, but also the industry and infrastructure that would have been required to build and operate the interplanetary fleet.

Through some minor detective work I was able to get a rough date of when I filled up this particular pad. Back in 1999 I was 13/14 years old and had just begun my first year in secondary school. I was just getting over my obsession with the table top wargame Warhammer 40K, I was enjoying playing my new Playstation and was beginning my foray into PC gaming. Judging by the different designs and some of the descriptions, I can say for certainty that I was playing a lot of Homeworld and Freespace 2. Another definite influence was one of the Star Wars Incredible Cross Sections books, this one to be precise.

I thought it would be nice to share these images for the amusement of the internet rather than leaving them to fade away in a plastic bag in my attic. These are the original scans so view them in full size if the text is hard to read. I wish I could say my handwriting has improved since then but hopefully it legible enough to be read.

So without further ado, I present my terran fleet!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Lair Defence: Dungeon

Lair Defence: Dungeon by DroidHen Publishing is a cool tower defence game currently available on the Appstore and Android Markets. The game puts the player in control of a nest of dragons, who must defend said nest against swarms of nasty humans. 

As tower defence games go, this one is pretty standard, but a lot of fun. Enemies enter the map at certain locations, travelling towards your nest along fixed paths. Within the nest is a number of eggs. When an enemy picks one up it will then try to leave along the same path to take it off the map. Once all your eggs are gone you lose. Each level pits the player against a set number of enemy waves, the goal of the game being to survive all the waves with at least one egg remaining.

Along the paths, the player can place dragons in static locations which then attack enemies as they move past. When an enemy dies it drops food which can then be used to place more dragons. There are 3 types of dragons; fire, frost and poison. Each one has their own strengths and weaknesses while being more effective against different types of enemies. They can be upgraded to make them more powerful. The higher level dragons possess unique abilities which can make a big difference when properly used. Each time a dragon is placed, the cost of that type of dragon increases. There is a total of 6 worlds, with 8 levels respectively. The different worlds all look unique and need to be played differently, each with their own paths and layout.

The three types of dragons attack differently. Fire Dragons emit a constant beam of fire that are very effective against high hit point enemies, but have a very short range. Frost Dragons fire individual projectiles and have the longest range while the Poison Dragon attacks cause damage over time. There are many different enemy types. Some are more vulnerable than others to certain types of attacks, so the player is prevented from using the same types of dragons too often. Some have special abilities like being able to turn invisible, regenerate health or have a protective shield. 

You have a mana supply which is used by two offensive spells, one rains down fireballs in a small area, very useful for stopping a group of enemies that has broken through to your nest. The other is an ice spell that freezes all the enemies on screen, giving your dragons more time to cause damage. Mana regenerates on its own, but the rate of which it does so can be increased by placing dragons on special mana fountains. These are placed randomly amongst the building spots in each level and for the player to have any real chance of winning they need to cover all of the available fountains.

Occasionally, slain enemies will drop coins. These can be collected and then used to upgrade your abilities. There is actually an impressive array of upgrades available. The dragons and spells can obviously be improved as can things like your mana regeneration rate, the amount of food you begin the level with and the amount of food enemies drop when they die. You can also increase your total amount of eggs and give them the ability to automatically teleport back to the nest if they have been removed for a certain amount of time. You can only reach the upper level upgrades in the higher difficulty levels which gives the game a good bit of replay value. 

The learning curve is just right for this type of game. The challenge increases steadily, however this is offset slightly as the player improves their overall skill level. Money is accumulated relatively quickly, however the price of new and improved skills increases dramatically with each purchase. There is the option to buy more coins from DroidHen, but iv never needed the option so far. It is extremely satisfying to win, especially the later levels that can take many attempts to complete. 

Lair Defence looks awesome. The artwork in the title screen sets the bar up high and thankfully the rest of the game doesnt disappoint. There are a ton of enemies, all of them looking interesting and animating smoothly. The games 6 worlds all look amazing, each one richly detailed and colourful. The dragons themselves look cool, getting larger and more fearsome as they are upgraded. The music is suitably dramatic and fits the game perfectly as do the various sound effects.

Best of all, the game for Android at least, costs nothing. When it comes to free android games, you must be prepared for the inevitable popup ads that can occasionally distract or even disrupt gameplay. A good example is the free Angry Birds games where the ads actually block parts of the play screen. Thankfully, with this release the ads are limited to the menus and title screen leaving game play unspoiled. If your looking for a decent tower defence game that is addictive and lots of fun, check out Lair Defence: Dungeon. Lair Defence: Shrine is another release from DroidHen, which is basically the exact same game with different levels. I would recommend Dungeon over Shrine but its not a big deal as they are practically the same game. 4/5 Stars.

Monday, May 14, 2012


Since Christmas, I have been doing most of my gaming on my new Xbox 360. To date I have only one game, Skyrim, which I have been playing for nearly 200 hours. I am starting to grow weary of pillaging Tamriel so I decided I would have a small foray into the Xbox Live marketplace to see what I could find. I had a few recommendations from some friends and after some deliberation, I decided to get Outland, which has been well received since its April 2011 launch. It was also a bargain at just 800 MS points so I fumbled my way through the Xbox downloading menus and eagerly sat down to play. 

Outland is an interesting platforming game from Finnish developer Housemarque. They are responsible for Dead Nation for the PS3 and a rake of other games that I have never heard of. The player takes control of a nameless man who is the reincarnation of an ancient warrior who defeated two powerful beings, the Sisters of Chaos, who are responsible for the creation of the world. They are also capable of its destruction which is why this warrior imprisoned the two after an titanic battle 30,000 years ago. However the sisters have now escaped from their prison and it is up to the player to stop them again. The plot and setting have a mystical aspect to them with shamans, think jungles, magical energies and creatures, ancient crumbling cities and a haunting soundtrack.

Anyone familar with modern platforming games will have no trouble playing Outland. The game introduces a mechanic where the player has 2 different energy states, light and dark, which are blue and red in the game. These can be switched between at will and used for a variety of purposes. Enemies can be either light or dark and they can only be attacked by the player when in the opposite state. There is a power attack that will damage an enemy regardless of its energy state but these need to be charged with kills so may not always be available. Energy barriers and projectiles can be ignored while in the same energy state. There are many platforms and some switches attuned to either light or dark that can only be influenced when the player is aligned correctly.

First thing to strike you is of course the games amazing graphics. The slick art style is interesting has a very cool ancient Aztec/Mayan feel to it. The richly detailed and gorgeous backgrounds are intriguing and really do wonders to create an dark atmosphere. Outland is an excellent example of how great a modern 2.5D game can look when done right. The foreground of the game is dark and silhouetted which contrasts with the multi layered intricate backgrounds to create a lush visual experience. The red and blue elements glow with neon brightness in this gloomy environment, creating an electrifying air to the already beautiful game.

Outland is split into a number of sections, each ending in a boss fight. The bosses are varied and interesting and always look awesome. Each one is different and require a different approach to defeating them. The stage itself often changes as the boss's health decreases making the battles dynamic forcing the player to change tactics and preventing the boss from being defeated by using the same attack over and over. 

The games controls are responsive and easy to master. This was a big plus for someone like myself who is more used to a keyboard and mouse than a controller. In Outland you have your standard slashing and up and down sword attacks. Dark attacks only affect light enemies and vice versa. Switching between the two energy states is easy and will be a frequent action during game play. In addition to your standard attacks, you can slam the ground, slide and perform a power charge attack. These are useful for destroying walls and finding hidden locations. The player also has special attacks. These require energy to use, which is recharged/collected by killing enemies. These attacks are very powerful and will cause massive damage to an enemy regardless of their energy state. There are several power attacks that can be unlocked through the game. Each is unique and useful for different situations. There is a steady learning curve that keeps increasing the challenge in a manageable way. There are a few tricky spots and the boss fights can take a couple of attempts but it is not so difficult that it would lead to much frustration.

Another cool feature are the projectile emitters. These release streams of red or blue shots in beautiful mesmerising patterns of fire, forcing the player to duck and weave through gaps, often having to flick between light and dark mid air to avoid particles and navigate through successfully. Several varieties of enemies oppose the player through the game, several variety of warriors, giant spiders, floating jelly fish and a host of others interesting designed foes dwell within the games world. Combat is satisfying as is killing enemies. Rapidly flipping between energy states to fight groups of light and dark foes adds a new level of complexity to the overall relatively simple combat.

Some decent platforming sections are well integrated with the combat and exploration. There is a well designed and implemented map screen that lets the player get their bearings so getting lost is nearly impossible. The player collects coins from fallen enemies and numerous jars and other containers throughout the game. These are used to purchase some upgrades such as increasing max health and power attack energy. Other than that there is no inventory or item collection with the exception of a few keys for opening doors. This is not a major issue for me as it kept the focus of the game solely on action and platforming. 

There are some multiplayer co-op modes but I have yet to play them. From what I read they are an excellent addition to the game.

Overall I really enjoyed Outland. The gameplay is fun and rewarding, the graphics, sound and art direction really blew me away. The level design is top notch and the difficultly and learning curve are balanced perfectly allowing the player to progress while keeping the game challenging. I highly recommend Outland to anyone looking for a high quality modern platformer, its cheap, beautfiul and a worthy addition to anyones collection. 5/5 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Angry Birds: Space

Angry Birds Space is the latest incarnation of Rovio's hugely popular physics game. The tried and tested gameplay formula that made the original game such a hit is back with an interesting new twist. All of the Angry Birds titles tasks you with destroying your enemies, green amoebic pigs, who are usually perched in or around structures which can be destroyed by flinging amusing looking birds at them via a large catapult. The same applies here, however the earlier games were all based on Earth, albeit with strange shape-shifting birds and even stranger sentient pigs with limbs or visible means of locomotion. This time you are in space, no longer constrained by a large and all encumbering gravity field. Now when you fire a bird they keep on going until they hit something.

This has been implemented very well. The structures you must destroy are now free floating, with the pigs all wearing glass space helmets. Now when struck by a high speed bird, they fly apart in a spectacular and immensely satisfying fashion. The pigs now react when things around them change, making scared or alarmed facial expressions when they are jolted or something nearby disintegrates.

Another really cool feature is the addition of asteroids or small planets that have a gravity field around them. Anything inside the visible gravity field is pulled down towards the centre of the asteroid. This adds lots of scope for interesting and challenging levels. Depending on the speed and angle of the shot, a bird can be fired in such a way that it just skims the gravity well, altering its trajectory in a way similar to that of how real objects would behave when passing planets in space. Sometimes birds can be launched in a way that results in them actually entering a stable orbit around the planetoid, endlessly circling it and adding another obstacle to avoid. Sometimes structures are in orbit with can be brought down to the surface if they are nudged with some well place shots. This looks great and is very gratifying.

Usually there are several asteroids of varying size and strengths of gravity. Many of the tricky shots needed to pass the later levels in the game force the player to plan out their shots carefully. The bird will then meander through the asteroids, each pulling on it to aim it correctly. The whole thing reminded me a lot of some of the levels in Super Mario: Galaxy for the Wii. Some levels take place entirely within a gravity field of a large asteroid, however the curvature of the shot is proportional to the size of the asteroid and still make a big difference. Occasionally things can be knocked out of orbit and sent crashing to the surface. The is plenty of variety and as usual a ton of levels. New ones seem to be planned and there is a nice 'Coming Soon' placeholder at the end of the world selection screen. 

Overall an excellent game, really cheap or free. For those playing the free version, the usual poorly placed ads from the are still present unfortunately, but easily overlooked for something that cost not a cent. If you enjoyed any of the other Angry Bird games then you will not be disappointed with this!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Rage Review (PC)

Well its finally happened. My beloved gaming PC has at last encountered a game where I have had to set the graphics to low settings. This is a major blow to my nerd ego as I used to pride myself on my beasts potency. However now I must face the realisation that it is finally time that a new computer is in order or else a major upgrade. Due to my recent acquisition of an Xbox 360, thanks to my significant other, I feel it may be a while before I'm in the position to get a worthy machine. So I reluctantly began to play ID software and Bethesda Software post apocalyptic FPS, Rage.

So before I continue, my panic about having to play the game on low settings turned out to be rather premature. Despite the game being played at about 30% of maximum power (that info provided by the useful benchmarking feature in the games video settings), Rage has ridiculously beautiful graphics. Incredibly jaw dropping scenes of spectacular scenery would often have me stop and try to find a vantage point where I could simply gawk and drool. Crumbling cities, shattered landscapes and amazing desert scenes all greet you in the opening few minutes. So the games graphics are amazing, the character lip syncing can a bit rough at times however the is some great character and environment design. We are rapidly approaching an age where stunningly realistic graphics will be standard, so I will not linger too long on the games presentation. The music is unremarkable but more than adequate, nothing really sticking in my mind. The voice acting is pretty good, John Goodman appearing on the cast and I can even recognise some of the voices from my ongoing epic adventure in Skyrim. Bethesda obviously likes to keep the same voice actors with them through multiple projects. Overall the games graphics are amazing but also as good as I would expect for a new game in this day and age.

The tired post apocalyptic setting, despite its beautiful presentation, no longer holds as much fascination for me as it once did. So the Earth was devastated after a gigantic asteroid obliterates human civilisation. Blah blah blah. Before the impact, Arks were built all over the world to house genetically and nano-technically engineered people to emerge and repopulate the Earth when the time is right. However upon emergence you find that a great deal of humanity has in fact survived, eking out a savage a existence amongst the ruination. Advanced technology still exists, but it is mostly controlled by the Authority, the primary antagonists of the game. However despite the clich├ęd setting, I enjoyed Rage, it has many redeeming features that left me feeling sated after a few hours of play.

So within about an hour of beginning the game, one thing struck me immediately. Rage is essentially the mutant child of an ungodly coupling between Fallout 3 and Borderlands, where Mad Max was hiding under the bed. The bandits, buggies, ruins, mutants, salvage, desert landscapes, sandbox style gameplay, extended driving scenes and a native population of redneck survivors living in ramshackle towns are all represented here. So infact, rather than playing Borderlands, Fallout and watching Mel Gibson back when he was still Australian, you could just play Rage. Considerable time saver. The games developers even inserted some strange mementoes and easter eggs referencing these games. Well it is amusing I guess if a little strange.

Combat is fun and when played on hard mode can be quite challenging at times. The game has the standard weapon selection. Each gun has different types of ammo and can be upgraded from the games various merchants and shops. The weapons are the usual sort we have all seen before but nonetheless, shooting mutants and other enemies is satisfying and rewarding. The games enemies are decent enough and varied. Some of the mutants are very fast and acrobatic as they scale walls and climb along pipes and other hardware jutting out of walls and ceilings. Several huge boss characters and large monstrous mutants add some variety and new challenges as the game progresses. Ammo is plentiful and cheap and you can easily fill up on what you need after each mission in the games towns.

Rage has several expansive driving sections as the player moves from place to place. Each different mission is usually based in a location that needs to be driven to. The game world is known as the 'Wasteland', an desert region scattered with settlements, towns and bandit hideouts. It is split into 2 sections, but they are small compared to the settings of some more recent titles. There are plenty of jumps and long straights allowing for some excellent high octane travel. You are also occasionally attacked by groups of motorised bandits who attack and pursue you within a certain region. They can be ignored or destroyed, the result of the latter is cash from the towns bar owners for clearing the roads. This can get a little annoying sometimes and ironically can happen in some of the more interesting outdoor areas, often meaning you must clear the bandits before you can get out and look around.

Rage uses a standard RPG format, with the player moving across the wasteland, receiving missions from various NPCs scattered across it. You are based in a particular town between each mission. Each town is richly detailed and enjoyable to explore, though are quite small. They remind me of the towns you could visit in Borderlands though much more interactive and alive. The games cast of characters is also pretty standard, though some are memorable, Dr Kvasir, Mayor Redstone, JK Stiles as well as some of the characters who challenge you to one on one racing can have funny dialogue and are designed well. There has been an attempt to add more detail to the world by adding lots of mini games into the game world. A card trading game, 5 finger Bishop (this), some music mini games, holographic fighting robots, high speed mail delivery and a ton of off road races are all playable at each of the towns from different characters. The mini games were not that exciting and sometimes frustrating, but a nice touch. The racing sections of the game are well developed and can be fun to play. Especially the rocket races where your car is armed with a variety of deadly weapons.

The games plot is not particularly strong. Before the advanced people were sealed in their arks, a renegade general set the time to release himself and his men earlier than originally planned, allowing them to take control. They form the Authority and eventually rule over what is left of mankind in this part of the world. So you must destroy their organisation and liberate the world yadda yadda yadda. Nothing ground breaking but it  moves at a good pace and the Authority technology, soldiers and locations all look distinctive. However it seems to be very similar to Half Life 2's Combine. 

One thing really irked me about Rage. Early on in the game I was in a fire fight with some bandits. All I had was a shitty pistol that did little damage whilst my opponents were armed with assault rifles. The reward for this mission was a shiny new shotgun. So I thought great, I'll kill these two, grab their rifles and then get my shotgun at the end of the mission. After I had dispatched the two bandits I ran over to where they dropped their weapons to pick it up. However I was unable to. I was looking right at it pressing the 'use' key but the gun simply sat there. Confused I then checked the settings went through the controls to see if there was a specific weapon collection button. Finding none I retuned to the game, only to watch the two assault rifles begin to lose detail, became intangible and dissolved to nothing. The two bandits I'd recently killed then began disappearing in a similar manner. It then dawned on my that you can only get new weapons at certain scripted events in the games plot. In this age of epic free roaming adventures and in horrible contrast to the games it tried to emulate so much, Fallout and Borderlands, this was a huge issue for me. Being blocked from picking up a machine gun that landed at me feet after I surgically removed the head of its wielder with a semi-intelligent boomerang from 80 feet behind the skull of a giant neo prehistoric dinosaur suddenly lost its realism. A strange design decision I must say and I felt a little unfair, especially when a mini gun is dropped by a particularly powerful enemy and you must simply ignore it.

There is a basic levelling and inventory system, but it pales in comparison to a proper RPG action titles. Armour can be purchased at certain stages of the game that improve defence, but there are no stats or attributes that can be improved individually and no real character creation settings. You can construct different machines and items using scrap you find around the Wasteland provided you have the blueprints, but this feature is serves more of a distraction. Most of the parts can be bought from vendors so it seems a little pointless and time wasting to need to scour every environment to find the right bits. Constructing many of your items is easy and quick, but if your missing a part it can get annoying when your in some difficult location and need the item in question. The game is also pretty linear. While there are extra missions and jobs to be done, they are all based in areas already visited and seem a little over simplistic and repetitive. But if your anal about certain things like completing everything you can, like me, there is enough here to give a few hours of extra game play without it feeling too tacked on.

To conclude, I enjoyed Rage. The great visuals and fun combat give the player a rewarding and straightforward shooter. While it would have been nice to have some original settings and to see a little effort gone into creating something truly unique but I am aware this is a tall order in these days of recycling old ideas and game franchises that produce sequel after sequel. That said if your looking for a fun but standard shooter I would recommend this. Anyone looking for a decent RPG with any depth should look elsewhere. Overall Id give it 3.5 stars.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Looks cool but maybe not for me.

Cool piece of gaming hardware I reckon, though I wonder if it could take me slamming it against my desk as I do whenever the mouse courser stops moving on my PC. I believe my habit is the result of some reflex wired into my subconscious where I seem to be trying to unjam the ball, long since obsolete in modern mouses. Ah well I guess I'll have to wait until there is a metal version out, though then I foresee needing a new desk... On second though I might just avoid this altogether.. Cool though

Word IT Released!

For the last few months, I have been working with a collegue from my masters course to create the artwork for some of his games, which has been making under FreeWheel Games. He has 3 games created so far, two word/number puzzlers and then an excellent and addictive little casual adventure type that is still under construction. So the first of these is known as Word IT. This is a simple but fun little game where you need to create as many words as you can from the letters you get given on the screen. You get a time boost for each word you create and the objective is to get the highest score possible by making as many words as possible!

My first play through of this game was a lot of fun, so, as much as I'm trying not to sound like I'm shamelessly advertising, I do believe that Word IT is a genuinely enjoyable time waster! The only catch is its not yet ready for Appstore or iPhone release and it is currently only available on Windows 7 mobiles. Click on this link to check it out!