20 feet wide Touch Screen game tech: Fleet Commander

July 14, 2011 by  
Filed under News

Fleet Commander is a technological experiment game that was developed at the Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL) by MS graduate candidate Arthur Nishimoto. It tries to explores how a real-time interactive strategy game that would typically rely on complex keyboard commands and mouse interactions be transferred into a multi-user, multi-touch environment. The game is being played on a 20 feet wide multi user touch screen, and is an open source project. check its impressive display below:

You can find more about this open source project at Google Sites

Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale Review

July 12, 2011 by  
Filed under PC, Playstation 3, Reviews, Xbox 360

Dungeons & Dragons name comes with high esteem from the world of tabletop RPG games. D&D pen and paper RPGs are the source of all Role playing video games. So, when a video game is made based on that brand name, it comes with high expectations to do better than the rest of RPGs. But Daggerdale does nothing of that sort and will leave many a fans disappointed.

The game starts with an all familiar story: An Evil has risen, and you have been chosen to beat the crap out of it. That’s it! No dramatic twists, no rising from slums to become a champion in this game. Even the cut-scene is presented via low budget artwork. There are not even voice-overs for quest givers or heroes. So, overall it all gives a clear vibe of low budget production. Although the game is made as a downloadable game rather than a AAA commercial product; yet recent downloadable games have raised the bar and we expected the same from a game that comes from bigger publisher like Atari.

The controls are mainly tuned for a controller. We reviewed the PC version using both mouse and keyboard and a controller and found that controller was the obvious choice. Using mouse has a problem that the mouse movement actually turns the character rather than camera. This causes too abrupt motions during combat and navigation. There is no option to switch this camera lock mode. But if you pick up a controller then the twin stick controls make you feel just at home. Even the action buttons are mapped to four face buttons of controller, indicating that the true intention by the developers was the use of controller. There are four action mapped to the four controller face button for attack / interact keys. But by pressing and holding a trigger key, you get an alternate panel of four alternate actions which are mapped to your character special abilities or spells.

You can choose to play as a Human Fighter, Elven Rogue, Dwarven Cleric or Halfling Wizard, although the degree to which you can customize them is extremely limited. It is not just the looks but the whole RPG sense and fighting system has been dumbified. There is no elaborate spell book from which you mix and match spells, but instead the game is more tuned as a simplistic hack and slash with limited spells to upgrade and same mapped to your face buttons. There is ample loot for you to collect and shops to utilize that loot to buy some nice upgrades.

As I continued to play this game, it reminded me of experience I had while playing Lara Croft: Guardian of light: First I was pissed at Crystal Dynamics for turning Tomb Raider franchise into an isometric game, but then I started to enjoy the game when I felt that the whole idea behind the game was not an up and close third person action/adventure game; but instead it was made as a light hearted co-op game with innovative puzzles for player to solve. The objective behind Daggerdale is something same. Once you realize that this game is not meant to be a true RPG depicting any grand adventure but instead it is targeting a broader audience with focus on co-op and fast combat then you start to enjoy it.

Despite some visceral action this game does certainly become repetitive. You will never experience any environment other than the dwarven caves. The missions are all generic asking you to fetch something or kill monsters. Even the combat becomes mindless button mashing after a while. Overall my experience with this game was more of a short lived bell curve. First I was not impressed with all the simplifications, then my excitement increased as I accepted the fact that this was a simpler Combat RPG game, but then the excitement curve died again when the game got stale and repetitive.

If you are looking for a deep RPG game then Daggerdale is not the right choice for you. This game was not meant to compete with Dragon Age or Elder Scrolls. Daggerdale was made entirely with a different concept of easy to pickup combat with some RPG elements, and it does try to do justice to that concept. The game features both local co-op mode (for 2 players) as well as online co-op on consoles via their proprietary match making systems or on PC via Gamespy Arcade (for 4 players). And this co-op mode would make your trip enjoyable in this otherwise monotonous and uninspired game.

Aqua: Naval Warfare Review

July 2, 2011 by  
Filed under PC, Reviews

Aqua: Naval Warfare is a PC indie game from new Slovakian game developer: Game Distillery. The game is twin stick shooter set in alternate steampunk universe. The game was released as “Aqua” on Xbox Live, while on PC the same game has much more generic name: “Naval Warfare”. Regardless of platform, its exactly the same game on both the systems.

As the name implies you will be spending all your time in water controlling a cruiser firing at waves after waves of enemies as they come to attack you. You play role of Captain Gray piloting a Cruiser in the Emperan Navy (British). The war with Gotheans (Russians) has recently ended and you decide to go on a small treasure hunt on your own. But on the trip you encounter a twisting tale of another incoming war, if you don’t do anything to stop it. The story is presented in pencil sketched pictures, which look stylish and very much like a motion comic. The voice acting although sometimes lacking but fulfills the purpose. The character voices really fit their roles and era they are trying to portray.

You control your boat using keyboard (or left thumbstick) while aim and shoot using mouse (or right thumbstick). This control scheme will be all too familiar to players of Geometry wars, which is always a nice thing if you can just get up and start playing a game. For firepower you have option of infinite ammo on primary guns, a finite supply of missiles and option to place primity mines. There are different types of primary guns which you can collect and use to suit the combat requirement on the fly; like Gatling gun, shotgun, flame thrower etc. The missiles are collected from debris of enemies, or from crates in water. Although controls feel very comfortable but sometimes the awkward physics ruin the fun. E.g. your boat moves slow while firing, so if you are going fast and at once you start firing, the boat comes to an abrupt stop for a moment and then starts moving slow, similarly abrupt changes of directions is sometimes faced with halt of boat. Although this maybe slightly true to physics, but it does ruin the smooth motion you would want in a “fun arcade” game.

The game graphics, water effects, Victorian building design and steam punk boats all look really good and should be main attraction of this game. The level design is good too, which was surprising for me as with a game which is based in oceans, you would expect too much of same thing. But using the alternate universe setting the developers have created detailed levels with lot of reefs, sluice gates, facility walls built in the waters to make you traverse about the level rather than just sail your boat in endless ocean. The level of difficulty is sometimes unfair by being too easy or too difficult without consistency. The variety of multiplayer maps is good too but all are small maps since game supports local co-op only so they had to fix the screen and thus map size.

There are three type of ships, light weight speedboat, medium spec cruiser and heavy weight gunship. But there are some AI controlled small support boats too which you can unlock on some of the missions. It would have been better though if purchasing them was player choice to take them with you on any mission you want, by using the gold you collect.

All things considered the game at heart is still a typical shoot ‘em up which puts you in the waves of ocean rather than in vacuum of space. Although it is a good game, yet nothing in it is memorable. Once you complete the singleplayer campaign, you wouldn’t want to revisit it again. Multiplayer mode desperately asks for online ability as well as bigger maps. So, it isn’t perfect game but still has good enough content to keep you busy and entertained long enough.

Section 8: Prejudice Review

June 14, 2011 by  
Filed under PC, Playstation 3, Reviews, Xbox 360

As I plunge through air making a Halo (high altitude low opening) jump from the drop ship, with Anti-aircraft guns blazing around me, I could spot enemy choke points, there was gun fire below as my fellow comrades try to make the final push to enemy control center. Just before hitting the ground I applied the brakes and smashed right in the ground sending shockwaves around. At once, I switched to sniper rifle and fired at the enemy from behind who was suppressing my mates. But one shot was only good enough to bring down his shield as he jet packed up to get out of my sight. He was moving too fast, I had to use lock-on to grab him in my sight, I fired my second round and his dead body fell back to earth. Dust to Dust! Ashes to ashes!

There was no use of snipers anymore they already knew I was coming. Their defenses were heavily guarded by two missile turrets, idiots had set them up too close, perfect for me as I brought the perfect tool. I called in the mortar strike to cripple their turrets. At same time my comrade: Shani got hit in the sky while doing his Halo jump. Damn those AA turrets were not letting my comrades do insertions close to the assault line. Shani was a fine soldier, he had a wife and a little daughter. They will surely miss him.. until the next respawn. But I had to make sure this doesn’t happen again. The enemy was fully concentrated at holding the assault in front, The AA guns were left unprotected in the back. I knew what must be done. I had earned enough money to buy a Supply crate. I called in a drop in a crevice so that it was not directly visible to enemy. Replaced my sniper for a missile launcher and I was on my way to take down the AA turrets in no time.

Shani was now back on my side, my comrades were dropping like hailstorm right on top of enemy control center now that the AAs were down. But who knew enemy would be holding off an armored mech suit with them. That behemoth picked up our guys like moth and smashed them into earth for sweet kills. Shani and me planned to take it down using its main weakness…it was slow to turn. Shani fired pulse round on his back, to bring down the mech’s shield. My machine gun rounds would have been no good for its shield so I circled around to reach its front. And by the time mech turned to spot Shani, his shield was already down; and now I was taking a position on its back. Time for my incendiary machine gun rounds to burn through his rest of armor. I opened fire and it just took two guys a bit of good team work to destroy the enemy mech.

Final push was upon us, 3 of us covered the control panel while 4th guy started to hack the console. It was this we had all been fighting for. One of the enemies came running over the ramp for a direct assault, poor guy never saw the proximity mine we had dropped there! But we didn’t knew that he was a sacrificial lamb, a distraction as the rest of them approached from top via jet packs lumping down grenade and shotgun rounds. One of the enemy guys dropped right next to me; bad time for jet pack to run out of juice I say.. as I switched to my knife and pulled a fatality move: punching the poor guy twice and then executing him with a stab to the neck with my jagged knife.

They were cunning but we were fast to recover as their wave died at our feet. Shani repaired his auto turret, just in case they try to pull another stunt like this again. But the battle was already won, the control point was ours. It had been a long day but now it was time to pack bags and go home, return to our women and warm beds again. Section 8 was victorious once again!

That is how my friends one of the many matches go in Section 8: Prejudice. The original Section 8 game was released back in 2009 and it got decent scores of around 72% on metacritic. But despite the good nature of game, it was ignored by most of the community in front of other million dollar marketing budgeted games. Section 8: Prejudice is a sequel that remains true to its roots of fun sci-fi FPS multiplayer game. S8 has taken the best bit of games from Battlefield 2142, Halo and Tribes to make one grand shooter. And the best way for me to explain most of things you would be doing in it was to take you with me through a session of the game, which I did in above paragraphs.

Steel Storm: Burning Retribution Review

June 12, 2011 by  
Filed under PC, Reviews

Steel Storm is a top down action shooter. On first look from screenshots you may think that it is a pure shoot ‘em up in 3D, but difference is that in old shoot ‘em up games, the scenery below was auto scrolling as you flew around shooting enemy space ships while dodging enemy fire. That is not the case with steel storm as you have freedom to move around at your own pace, back up, rotate or roam around the 3D map.

An old style shoot ‘em up in modern 3D maps.

Although similar in looks to a space craft, you actually drive a modern hover craft in an alternate universe. The game is fast paced straight forward shooter as you try to dodge enemy fire and kill them before they kill you. Multiple weapon upgrades, alternate attacks etc. are there, but very limited in choice. Rest everything you typically expect from a shoot ‘em up is all there and works very well. The controls and camera are very flexible, allowing you to move and view the ship as you feel comfortable with.

The graphics of the game are cell-shaded, with heavy emphasis on hard edge lines. Which may look stylish to some, but as a personal choice I think the current look didn’t make it very eye catching. It made the looks very “dull” for a game with so much futuristic industrial look (steel) in it. What would have given it a more polished look are: reflective surfaces, smoke and sparks coming out of pipes and walls, explosions that are not the quality of mobile games, good use of point lights casting hard shadows, detailed textures that aren’t just made out of plain colors with grain filters applied to them. But devoid of all these polishing touches, it leaves the scenery very flat and unattractive.

Level design is nice as it is not just straight open areas, where you fly through beating down enemies; but routes and obstacles feel well planned and laid out. Although most of time you will find yourself flying through narrow corridors. This has been probably done to reduce the dodging area to increase difficulty but it becomes a bad design from multiplayer point of view. There are some good old school arena maps in multiplayer, but rest of the time you will find yourself fighting in congested areas with not much room to maneuver.

The ice canyon level are nice change of scenery.

Although you would not care for the storyline in a straight forward shooter, where in the end its all about shoot anything that moves. But still the game does get credit for varying the mission by adding branched out routes and objectives like opening blocked routes to continue further. And this does help in keeping things interesting and fresh. Enemy variety is good and to increase the difficulty level, enemies do sometimes spawn anywhere on the map; which sometimes feel like a gimmick to increase the difficulty.

The multiplayer is one of games focus point. The whole campaign can be played with another co-op buddy. There are also 8 player Deathmatch and Capture the flag mode which I found more fun to play with. The game has dedicated server files too, so if you need to host a server in your area then its a great thing. But the problem you will face is lack of players online. Servers are empty mostly. One good feature every game developer should always consider implementing in their games is what I call “online active mode”. What it means is that while you play singleplayer game, the game should still try to contact online servers and find players willing to play. So, even though you are playing singleplayer mode, your game will show up in servers and others can join it or challenge you in competitive game mode. This way you don’t have to wait around on a server browser scheme waiting for someone, as most of people just turn away from server list if no one is there. This “online active mode” can be seen in Street Fighter 4 and Frozen Synapse, where if you have set it on then during singleplayer session u get online challengers. But since Steel storm is devoid of this intelligent feature, so for now if you do plan to play in multiplayer; I suggest getting your buddies to set time to play co-op or competitive matches. And then it gets pretty fun.

The server browser, showing the grim situation that most servers are always empty.

One thing to be appretiated is the mission designer which lets you make your own missions using easy to use level editor. And it greatly enhances the life of the game, since you can create missions not only for yourself but also to play it with friends.

Overall Steel storm is very fast paced old school shooter. It is not without its problems of repetitive gameplay, limited ship upgrades, small online community and mediocre graphics. But that doesn’t mean that it is devoid of fun. The good control scheme really makes you play as easily as you pickup an FPS to play these days. The constant action will bring back nostalgic memories of games like Raptor while giving you modern 3D environment and multiplayer options. Its a good game if you used to like shoot ‘em up in past. And if you can set your timings with rest of Steel storm online community, and then its a great blast in multiplayer.

Anomaly Warzone Earth Review

May 31, 2011 by  
Filed under PC, Reviews

Anomaly warzone earth by 11 bit studios is a PC game that reverses the tables in a tower defense game. Instead of setting up the towers, you will be controlling a wave of units fighting against the invading alien towers.

The story is setup in a scenario that something has fallen on earth in Baghdad and Tokyo; and it has created an anomaly on earth: a region of unexplainable phenomenon. To find out more ground troops must be sent in this anomaly zone to explore. But whatever it is, the aliens don’t want you to reach it, by creating defensive turrets to hinder your path. Thus, your overall mission will be to counter the turrets, and save your team till they reach their goal.

The game is given a very action oriented control scheme. Although the game itself is viewed from birds eye view, yet [;ayer controls a commander directly on the ground rather than acting like an invisible god figure from space.
The units under your command are your main firepower. You decide what formation they take, what route they take, what type of more units to buy, which units to upgrade etc. There are variety of units as expected. As you play you unlock new units.The enemy turrets likewise are of different variety and you must find and exploit their weakness (range, speed, action radius etc) to really gain the advantage.

The commander tactics are what puts a pace of continuous action in the game. In other turret defense games, you would just place turrets and just “look” how it goes. When starting this game for first time I was expecting same thing that you decide route of troops and then “look” how it goes. But that is not the case at all. Every second you are involved. You zoom out to blueprints view to change routes of units every now and then.

You will be switching the formations of units to gain tactical advantage against different type of turrets, or for units own safety. Plus your major task as commander will remain “tactical support” commands which include powers like repair, smoke, decoy, air strike etc. You setup these zones which temporarily provide your units advantage. Proper and timely usage of these powers, and salvaging them on battlefield will keep your commander occupied all the time. Thus giving a very lovely action pace to the game.

One more thing I really commend in this game is the mission structure. If you have played Blizzard RTS (Warcraft 3 / Starcraft 2) and other RTS games then you would have seen a huge difference in mission structure of Blizzard games that each mission is a unique experience. Anomaly Warzone Earth delivers that beautiful variety of flavor in missions. Even though core mechanism or gameplay is same. But you will be doing variety of stuff in each mission, like rescuing, escorting, gathering back scattered units, clearing drop zones, crippling enemy shield generators and what not. This really helps keep things fresh as compared to other stale tower defense / anti tower defense games.

Other than the brilliant story mode there is also a free play mode in which waves after waves of tougher alien turrets are evolved on battlefield and you will be given time limits to complete the different objectives. This adds the needed longevity to the singleplayer only game.

For perfectionists there are lots to look forward, with online leaderboards, difficulty levels, steam achievements, medals for how fast, straightforward, brutal etc you were in each mission. These add lots of replay value for those who just don’t wanna wade through the game.

The game surly is bang for the buck. Even though made by a fresh indie studio and priced as an indie game; there is nothing short of a AAA quality in this game. From brilliant graphics, special effects, voice acting, cinematic feel to hours and hours of gameplay hidden in this title. Two things that I look forward to in this game are a level editor and DLC. Currently no word from developers have come regarding these two things. But they will be really essential to prolong this game. Developers are currently busy in releasing this game for iOS devices, but hopefully once that is out of the way; we will surly see some more free / paid DLC coming out for this gem.

Frozen Synapse Review

May 28, 2011 by  
Filed under PC, Reviews

Just like in high schools there are two groups of people: a bunch of jocks – dumb and strong, and a group of nerds – intelligent yet weak; Similarly games can be pretty much divided in same stereotypes. Where games like Halo and Call of Duty are straightforward dumb shooters taking all the glory and then there are some nerdy games like Frozen Synapse which enjoy people using their brains to get things done. Frozen Synapse is a tactical turn based action game. If you ever played X-com or Laser tag nemesis then you would have a great idea what to expect, but with modern touch.

The game pits two teams (red and green) in randomly generated arenas for battle. Each team has variety of soldiers hauling machine gun, sniper, shotgun, grenade or rocket launcher. Overall objective is that each player takes turn to finish off the other team. But there are twists to the standard turn based mechanics. The game features “simultaneous” turns. Which means that while other player makes his move you don’t sit around and wait like in chess. But you plan your own moves too. And once both players have selected their moves, the overall result is calculated by the server and both players pawns move simultaneously carrying out the orders planned out.

How your soldiers move and command is very detailed and yet accessible by anyone to start using the graphical interface. The game comes with detailed tutorial to make you understand the GUI control scheme. You basically decide way points for your soldier to move. and at each way point certain commands can be given. e.g. which way to look/aim, make a run for it ignoring enemy, engage enemy on sight, duck/stand, wait etc. Although you would not have an idea what other player has planned for his current move but there is a nice mechanism in the game that just like you can command your soldiers you can also “fake” command enemy soldier, as per your thinking what enemy will do next. and then you can press “play” in controls to simulate how it will work out. Once you are sure you have a solid plan, just press the “prime” button to send your move to server. And then you will see what other player actually did and what are the results.

The game is brilliant if you love to make tactical strategies, calculating what your enemy will do next. and how you should counter it. Use some different route to attack, take advantage position from behind a crate or window, use rocket launcher to blow open the walls and make your own route to enemy hideout etc.

There are many game modes to keep things fresh. One is simple “Extermination” which is vanilla deathmatch mode. “Hostage” rescue where your few team mates are captured and must be set free. In “Disputed”, 5 boxes are randomly placed in map and you must collect more than enemy and then escape the map. In “Secure”, one team selects a stronghold zone and must protect against the attackers. But my favourite is “Charge” mode, in it whole area is distributed into zones like American football field. Both teams bid how far they can reach. The player who selects farther zone wins the bid and becomes charger, while other team must defend them from crossing the zone till turns run out. These modes add a great variety plus all of them feature a “dark mode” variation, in which you don’t see the enemy unless you have direct line of sight. With such variations and randomly generated maps, no game is ever the same. In other multiplayer games, maps become predictable for best routes, and choke points, but here you would not face any such problem.

The game may look a little daunting to casual players with its birds-eye view, complicated timers and waypoint / eye-sight lines on GUI, in the start but once you start playing it gets real easy to get sucked into it. The visuals of the game leave a lot to be demanded. The theme of graphics is Tron like “digital” world, but I think they could have done much better if there was more variety than an all blue design every time. The in-game context menu and Main menus in same way are rather dull and old style with lots of text. Those are my only complaints which bring the visual aspect down of the game.

The game features Singleplayer skirmishes as well as a campaign story mode. But the main focus of this game is the multiplayer portion. The game features very flexible multiplayer system. Once you start a match and have primed/sent in your move. You can easily join another game and start playing that too. You can play as many multiplayer games as you like turn by turn. Even if other player goes offline, its no problem. Game session will be saved, when offline player logs back in game he will see that his turn is awaited and then can play those rounds. This whole server scenario saving system is a great blessing.

The game carries a $25 price which is quite high as expected from regular $10~$15 priced indie games. But its innovative simultaneous turn-based multiplayer and addictive potential makes it a definite buy.

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