The Book Of Unwritten Tales Review

December 5, 2011 by  
Filed under PC, Reviews

For a game coming out the doors of a relatively unheard-of development studio, a title as awkward as “The Book of Unwritten Tales” (TBoUT) probably does little to help instill any form of excitement or anticipation in your discerning little mind, right?. “But of course!”, you say. Well, don’t let the awkwardness fool you; German-based indie developer KING Art Games managed to take their local community by storm back in 2009 when the game was first released in their native language, and now, they’re ready to do the same with the recent international release of the English version of their smash-hit point-and-click adventure. So buckle up, young lad, and let us aid you on your quest to further educate yourself about this seemingly cool game…

In case the caption of this article didn’t already get the point across, TBoUT is a true blue point-and-click adventure, carefully concocted from all the ingredients that you’d normally expect to find in games of the genre. There’s the lengthy storyline with some interesting twists along the way, a plethora of puzzles to solve, obstacles to overcome, and characters to converse with, and dozens upon dozens of locations to explore and find items in. In short, if you’ve ever followed along with games like Monkey Island or Sam and Max, you’ll feel right at home here; if you’re not too savvy with this particular genre, then TBoUT is a pretty good place to start off with all the same. While some adventure games will have you pushing your gray matter beyond its limits and foaming at the mouth over some insanely complicated puzzle, TBoUT is all about being accessible to as wide an audience as possible, and providing a fun, relaxing romp through an interesting fantasy world.

The story kicks off with an old gremlin, named MacGuffin, narrating his discovery of a strange book that divulges the location of a powerful magical artefact, capable of bestowing its owner with unparalleled power. He therefore prepares to embark on a journey to meet the Arch Mage, the highest authority in the land, so that arrangements may be made to protect the artefact from falling into the wrong hands and being used for evil. No more than a few minutes pass since MacGuffin expresses his concerns, and his hut is invaded by the evil sorcerer Munkus, along with his troll henchman. MacGuffin is swiftly taken prisoner for refusing to cooperate, and whisked off on dragon-back to Munkus’ lair. This opening cutscene sets things in motion, and you’re introduced to (and given control of) your very first playable character.

Yes indeed, you don’t stick with one protagonist for the entire duration of the game, but instead end up meeting three other characters and eventually gaining the ability to switch between them at different points. There’s Ivo, the Elf Princess (with whom you start off); Wilbur, a gnome who yearns for adventure and magic; Captain Nate, alleged adventurer and pirate; and his weird furry creature companion, Critter. Each of the characters have their own personalities, abilities, and quirks, and feel quite well fleshed-out in general. They fit in to the grand scheme of things pretty well, and you’ll get to learn a great deal about them as you guide them in their frenzied dash to recover the powerful artefact before the evildoers do. The same can be said for most NPCs too; you’ll run into dozens of them along the course of your travels, and more often than not, they tend to be quite memorable, with each of them having a different story to tell and varied bits of useful information to provide.

Orcs Must Die! Review

October 26, 2011 by  
Filed under PC, Reviews

Let’s face a fact: the world of videogame baddies has, over time, become overly saturated with concepts that have been done to death and beyond – zombies, vampires, mutants, demons – we’ve all spent countless hours tearing them a new one and shoving them six feet under across dozens of games for a number of years. Now for the most part, these scenarios still tend to be fun and quite easily become a source of immense satisfaction for us trigger-happy folk; but if there isn’t something significantly novel and unique for us to experience every once in a while, said satisfaction would be rather short-lived, and would quickly degenerate into boredom. So if you’ve been hankering for a change of scene, you owe it to yourself to check out Robot Entertainment’s brand new strategic fantasy-action romp, Orcs Must Die! – a game that seamlessly blends together elements of strategy, tower defense mechanics, and over-the-top quirky, cartoony violence, all in one fantastically fun package. Also, they decided to go with Orcs, thereby avoiding the slew of aforementioned stereotypes and giving us a different, not-so-often seen species to get down ‘n dirty with.

As far as the gameplay objective goes, nothing does more justice in explaining it than the game’s title itself. No, seriously. You take on the role of an apprentice war mage after your master succumbs to a particularly vicious Orc onslaught; with him ending up as a human shish-kebab, it falls on you to slay the seemingly endless hoards of Orc scum that keep breaking through your fortresses in an attempt to enter the “Rift” – an enchanted glowing portal-like orb and the source of your power. But if you’re thinking “Oh great, mindless button-masher!”, you’ve got it all wrong. While the plot is nothing to write home about, the sheer variety of methods by which you can do away with those green-skinned bastards is a real winner, and will guarantee hours of frantic, unadulterated fun. Instead of decking your character out with a load of weapons that would give even the Duke a hernia, the game grants you access to an increasing array of traps that can be set within the fortress you’re defending, in addition to a limited but fun set of both physical and elemental weapons.

From spike pits to sticky tar traps, ceiling crushers to arrow-dispensing walls, springy launchpads to wall-mounted spinning axes, and about a dozen other quirky mechanical contraptions, this game has it all. And here’s a heads up: if you’re usually the run-and-gun kind, you’re going to have to put that on the backburner and don your thinking cap if you don’t want to die a miserable death every few minutes. You see, you have limited funds with which to purchase and set traps, and in all honesty, your war mage dude can’t hold his own against the Orcs, so squander your precious resources, and you won’t be having much fun for long. On the other hand, take time to perform some recon in each fortress, and then choose and set your traps wisely, and you shall be rewarded with some of the most satisfying cartoony carnage you’ve witnessed in a long time.

There are 24 fortress to defend in total, and for each fortress, you have to hold off against a set number of waves of enemies, each of which gets progressively harder. The Orcs (and the occasional Ogres, Gnoll Hunters, and Hellbats) begin by smashing in through the fortress doors, and then make their way to the Rift, often times using multiple paths, which can get really challenging even on normal difficulty. The underlying idea is to ensure that by the time they get close to you or the Rift, they’re weak enough (if not already completely sliced, diced, and pummeled) to be finished off by your weapons or magic. Keeping yourself and the Rift in one piece at the end of all the waves nets you a win and a number of skulls, which are used to upgrade your instruments of pain. A slight downer here is the fact that each trap can be upgraded only once, and I personally feel the upgrades are a bit too expensive, but to be fair, you’re given a new toy to deal death with for every fortress you complete, which ensures there’s always something to look forward to and keep playing.

Ok, so we’ve established that the gameplay is fun and engaging at this point, but what about the rest of the departments? “Oh no problem, we’ll just nail those too!” say the developers. And they have. By realizing some well-made models and environments with a toon-based renderer and vibrant colours, Robot Entertainment have an absolute winner on their hands in terms of visual fidelity. In addition to throwing copious amounts of red blood cells at you, the game sports a truckload of particle and special effects, great lighting, sharp texture work, and some hilarious enemy animations, so whether you’re launching Orcs into lava pits, decapitating them with your bladestaff, or flinging them around using telekinesis, your eyes are in for one big joygasm. And don’t worry, your ears have been invited to the party too. Background scores are a nice mix of epic medieval tunes and some snazzy guitar riffs, every single event is punctuated by satisfying sound effects, and the voiceovers are done well too, although the protagonist’s cheesy one-liners and silly banter do tend to get repetitive pretty soon.

On the whole, Orcs Must Die! is one of those rare games that blends together concepts from existing genres and produces something totally fresh that feels genuinely fun and entertaining across the board. Despite its quirky, comical outer shell, it’s a game that has a surprising amount of depth to it, a characteristic that makes it both challenging and satisfying. Whether you’re a fan of all-out, balls-to-the-wall action games, or more of a strategy connoisseur, Orcs Must Die! definitely deserves your undivided attention.

Megastunt Mayhem Review

September 25, 2011 by  
Filed under iPhone, Mobile, Reviews

While there is absolutely no dearth of traditional racing games on the increasingly burgeoning AppStore, there are few titles in the genre that put you in the driver’s seat of a massive, hulking monster truck and pit you against nothing but a clock and a set of challenges that mainly revolve around reckless driving and destruction. Well, say hello to Megastunt Mayhem, a game that’s all about flinging monster trucks into the air, pulling off bizarre tricks, and laying the smack down on lesser, inanimate vehicles. Yup, there’s no AI controlled opponents to outsmart or outdrive here – it’s just you, your ride, and a bunch of arenas with varying objectives to plow through.

The game can be played in either “Career” or “Freeplay” modes, but it’s worth noting that even the latter imposes time limits on each play through, so strictly speaking, you can’t really take off in your beast and fly through rings of fire or vandalize property to your heart’s content without being interrupted by menus and load screens every few minutes. There are 4 different arenas to cause mayhem in, with the first one serving as the game’s interactive tutorial, wherein you’re introduced to the controls and the gesture-based stunts (more on that later). Each of the remaining 3 arenas have distinct modes attached to their 10 challenges; you either need to perform specific stunts, cause certain amounts of damage to certain objects, or pass through a certain number of checkpoint gates. So that gives you a total of 30 challenges to best, but that sounds good only on paper; you’ll soon find yourself breezing past more than half of them in a matter of seconds. Future updates will apparently bring more modes and levels.

If you’re already groaning about how only 4 arenas and 30 challenges is too little for your hard earned 3 dollars, we might as well add to your woes by mentioning that you only get 3 monster trucks to toy with by default. If you feel so inclined though, there are another 3 beasts waiting for you the moment you let go of another 2 dollars via an in-app purchase. The question here, though, is whether you’ll actually like the game enough to spend any extra money on it or not; personally, I’d rather not, extra vehicles and future game modes be damned. You see, while the game’s premise may sound appealing in theory, several bits and pieces of its mechanics are the exact opposite in practice, thereby taking the overall fun factor down several notches.

My first gripe is to do with the controls; there are two modes on offer, and unfortunately, neither feels tight enough to allow you precise control over your vehicle. You can choose to steer using either an on-screen steering wheel or the inbuilt accelerometer. The former is absolute rubbish and will have you driving like an alcoholic with severe hand-eye coordination issues, so you’ll pretty much end up sticking to the latter, which is quite usable, but feels noticeably “loose” – no matter how much you tweak the sensitivity options, turning left or right still feels clunky.

Secondly, there’s the performance of the vehicles themselves. Each one has different stats that can be upgraded with the cash you earn, but this seems totally superficial, as there is no noticeable change in actual in-game performance. Also, you’re forced to spend all your cash at the upgrade screen on your current vehicle each time you complete an event, and if it happens to be fully souped-up already, then you’re balance is automatically brought down to nil. Yes, it’s retarded. And thirdly, there’s the finicky in-game camera over which you have no control. It’ll occasionally take on weird angles when you’re performing mid-air stunts, which will have you believe that you’re in for a straight landing when you’re actually not. The result – your vehicle lying on its roof, and all your stunt combos getting cancelled out, since you need to land straight to rack up points successfully. It doesn’t happen too often, but a more robust camera would’ve certainly helped.

Game Development 101 – Part 2/2

August 29, 2011 by  
Filed under Editor's Picks, Features, Spotlight


As a self-proclaimed tech-lover and video game enthusiast, Rohan Anchan has been with MEGamers for a little over 4 years now, spending most of his time ranting about the good and bad stuff that comes out the doors of the video game industry. However, having recently acquired a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science with specializations in Games Programming & Software Engineering, he now shares his insight and opinions on the various matters/issues that come with preparing oneself to make a break into one of the most commercially successful and rapidly growing entertainment industries today – video games.

In this second and final part, we take an overarching look at the diverse roles that exist within the field, the kind of skills and expertise it takes to land a job in one of these roles, and what potential candidates can do to appeal more to prospective employers.

= = = = =

Welcome back, fellow gamers and wannabe game developers! Having touched upon the subject of game development and obtaining a formal qualification for the field in Part 1 of this series, we’re back again to contaminate your mind with more nonsensical ramblings of a similar nature, and secretly hope that your brain magically processes it into some sort of useful information. So, what new shenanigans are we bringing your way this time? Well, it’s time to take a step beyond those degrees and diplomas, and check out what the real-world job scene is like for aspiring developers. As with any complex, vast subject, it is impossible to cover every aspect of game-related careers in detail here, but thankfully, the bits that we’re concerned with can be generalised into fewer categories.

Before we dive in, it’s probably best to drive this all-important fact into your head: if you think that, at the end of 3 or 4 years of hard work, you’re just going to be able to walk straight through the doors of companies like Valve, Rockstar, EA, Ubisoft, or Bethesda, solely on the basis of your oh-so-cool degree, you’re sorely mistaken. “But…but…I spent countless nights awake, trying to understand those damn Quaternions and make sense of that Fuzzy Logic crap! And…and fifty thousand dollars for the whole course! And damn you, I sacrificed my social life and partying and all the good stuff that goes with college…all for my career!”. Yeah, yeah…you and everybody else, princess, so shut it. That little piece of parchment only bears testament to the fact that you’ve been formally educated in the art and science of making games. It is, in no way, a direct indication of you possessing ninja coding skills or the ability to churn out lifelike 3D models, and so on. Getting to play with the big guns in the industry takes way more than just a degree. The talent and skill required to produce today’s games comes from years of experience, tonnes of trial-and-error, and a whole lot more knowledge than what came with your qualification. Moral of the story? Be realistic and focus on finding your footing with smaller ventures first, and when the time is eventually right, look at moving up the ladder.

With that bit out of the way, let’s take a look at the different types of roles available in the corporate world of video games, and what the big players really look for when hiring. While the title and number of job roles will obviously vary depending on the total number of people required on a team, they can be examined under a bunch of general categories. Programming, art, audio, writing, and project management – these are the meat and potatoes of any game project, the main set of tasks that shape the final product. So, on with the details.

Game Development 101 – Part 1/2

As a self-proclaimed tech-lover and video game enthusiast, Rohan Anchan has been with MEGamers for a little over 4 years now, spending most of his time ranting about the good and bad stuff that comes out the doors of the video game industry. However, having recently acquired a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science with specializations in Games Programming & Software Engineering, he now shares his insight and opinions on the various matters/issues that come with preparing oneself to make a break into one of the most commercially successful and rapidly growing entertainment industries today – video games.

In this first part, we look at the process of video game development, touch upon the kind of technical knowledge required for it, and get some insight into gaining a formal qualification for the field.

= = = = =

Of all the gamers and readers that we have out there, I’m sure a good many of you have, at some point, entertained the thought of taking your passion for video games and turning it into a career choice of sorts. At some point, you were so intrigued by and drawn into the happenings of the virtual worlds that were unfolding in front of your eyes, that for a few moments you couldn’t help but wishfully indulge in dreams that had you conjuring up the next GTA or Half Life game. Well, guess what? If you can relate to my merry banter over here, then now is probably as good a time as any to take the next step and start working towards turning those dreams into a reality. Today’s video game industry is one of the fastest growing segments in digital entertainment, a fact that also makes it highly lucrative.

And these two facts coupled together drive the fact that getting in and staying put takes an insane and unrelenting amount of hard work, determination and dedication. Make no mistake; as video game technology continues to mature and their quality reaches absurd new heights, development houses will settle for nothing short of brilliant workers with razor-sharp skills and tonnes of knowledge and experience. However, don’t let that deter you – with a little bit of knowledge on the subject and some careful planning, you too can pave a path that ultimately leads to that “dream job in the gaming industry” you crave for. So, let’s pump your gray matter with some of that knowledge now, shall we?

Developing video games: What and Why?

Let’s start with the basics: what exactly is video game development, and what does it entail? From solely a consumer point of view, not many gamers take the time to ponder the answers to these questions; they just know that they’d love to jump straight in and somehow start creating hoards of interactive pixels. Obviously, that’s not the way things work out in the real world; there’s no magic “make an awesome video game” button, and there’s no shortcuts. Video game development, at the outset, could probably be defined as a directed, controlled, and coordinated creative process that seamlessly brings together aspects of computer programming, art and visual design, interactive storytelling, audio composition, and project management, for the purpose of producing a real-time, fully interactive software program.

As you may have guessed, that is indeed a lot of work when you break down the individual aspects into their constituent tasks. For every facet of a game, countless hours are sunk into planning, preliminary designs, concept artwork, prototyping, testing, and whatnot; everything has to meet a certain quality standard, only then does the actual work of producing the final product begin. With that comes the massive pressure of producing high quality work within strict, often unforgiving deadlines, and that’s where the crazy marathon begins. There are numerous “horror stories” detailing the real-world working conditions that developers have been put through for the sake of meeting deadlines, and from these, working 14 hours a day, 6 to 7 days a week comes as little surprise.

Given these bitter truths about working in the industry, I wouldn’t really blame you for wondering why any sane person would want to subject themselves to that kind of pressure and stress on a daily basis for months on end. In short: if you need to break so much of a sweat over it, then why bother getting into games development at all? The keyword here is “passion”; believe it or not, but the desire to contribute to the field is so great within some people, that they’d gladly jump in at the slightest opportunity, horror stories and nightmares be damned. And hey, gotta give those people some serious respect – they’re the reason we’re able to get our regular doses of gaming goodness, after all! If you’re the kind of person who enjoys solving challenging problems, you’ll get a big kick out of making games, as there are countless issues to be tackled through the life of a project.

Then there’s the benefit of working in a rather informal environment where you don’t have to spend a day at your desk choking in your old necktie, or give mundane, monotonous business-like presentations to a board of grumpy looking old-timers. And finally, there’s the “cool factor” behind getting to tinker with some fancy equipment and cutting-edge technology on a daily basis. All this, while getting to know a bunch of other talented people, having games and beer/pizza nights, and bringing home a decent paycheck. Does it still sound all bad? Not in my opinion. Sure, there are problems to tackle and milestones to be met at every turn, but if you hold on to that initial passion of yours, there’s plenty of fun to be had and knowledge to be gained too.

Blog: Social Gaming

March 9, 2011 by  
Filed under Blog, Spotlight

It’s no big secret that gaming and video games have crept into nearly each and every aspect of our daily lives in various forms. And I’m not just referring to us gamer folk; for us, video games are a way of life, a staple feature in our repertoire of “things to do for self-amusement and entertainment”. This worldwide, all-encompassing electronic form of entertainment now features a lot more prominently in the lives of common, ordinary folks who were, at some (now forgotten) point in the past, quite content using the web to simply get information and their mobile phones to simply make phone calls. And one of the factors that a significant part of this change may be attributed to, is the vast improvements in social media and networking tools over the past decade. Yessir, nobody really thought much about having interactive pixels embedded into little applets and then splashed across websites and online apps that bore no semblance to video games 10 to 15 years ago. But now? You can slay zombies, screw around with the mafia, play taxi driver, mine gold, and tend to bored, halfwit animals that can’t even reach out for food lying two pixels across (talk about lazy!), all while chatting up your buddy from school, making plans with a bunch of friends for the weekend, or even discussing finances with your accountant (in that last case, you might as well tend to those animals, eh?).

Networking (of the informal type) plays a massive role in our lives today, thanks to the likes of FaceBook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and whatnot. If you’re not signed up on either one of those (more so one of the first two) services, you’re met with a slew of reactions from peers, from being scoffed at to being ridiculed to being called “unfashionable”, or more shockingly, “anti-social”. Wait a minute. How the heck does being hunched over a keyboard in a dank corner of a dimly-lit room for 5 hours straight qualify as being “social”? That has got to be the epitome of anti-socialness, I should think. But the flak and teasing doesn’t stop there. Why aren’t you helping your best friend’s Italian mob beat the crap out of your worst friends’ (???) Russian mob? Why aren’t you trying harder to level up your Level 2 vampire so you can go kick that Level 50 werewolves’ butt? And why the hell did you not feed your little sister’s pink cows, damn it? Just how freaking incompetent are you?

If you’ve heard similar rants being thrown around before, and have wondered what the big effin’ deal is, you’ll see where I’m going with this. See, social games have taken off in a really big way ever since the first lot of them crept up onto the interwebs. And with games being as awesome as they are, it’s just got to be the best thing ever, right? Being able to control little virtual people and creatures and units and whatnot, while still staying connected with a mate or two is great, isn’t it? Erm, no. Not cool. Quite the opposite, in my books. First off, most of these social “games”, aren’t very game-like at all, they’re downright ridiculous. I mean, I can still understand a Poker simulation or a game of chess, but farming animals, and zombies fighting werewolves, and so on? Some of it is utterly clichéd, while some a plain waste of time, and more often than not, a whole lot of them are rather poorly executed, degenerating into little more than a whole bunch of pointing, clicking, and watching a few progress bars or reading a bunch of text.

Oh, and then there’s the question of all those “notifications”, little requests that your friends send you because they think you’ll love joining in all the happy, giggly, childish fun that they’re having. “Would you like to water Dan’s Plant Monster and help him grow his farm today?” says the little blurb at the top of your news feed. Or try, “Aww, Jack found a wandering baby elephant on his farm! Help him by adopting it now!”. No, you bunch of whackos, I don’t want in. I’d rather see Dan be regurgitated by a giant Venus Fly Trap, and Jack being trampled to a mushy pulp by a full-grown elephant, before being devoured by rabid hens. These sorts of things simply make the whole experience (already vanilla and tainted with oodles of boredom, mind you) that much more annoying and ridiculous – for everyone. I have no idea how the people who actually choose to put themselves in these kinds of situations actually manage to live with themselves.

So, coming back to the main keyword of being “social” here…there is no other activity that I can think of that would qualify as being more anti-social than these so-called social games that plague the internet these days. In addition to being contaminated by nonsense, they are a pointless waste of time, tend to detract from the original intended purpose of the sites they’re hosted on, and have a tendency to be annoying for everyone else but the person who plays them. And the biggest downer of them all? People are actually attracted to these things and indulge in them like the world’s coming to an end tomorrow. Oh and of course, the fact that an application whose code you will never see has full access to your personal information doesn’t matter one bit. After all, it’s not like computer software can do anything bad behind the scenes now, can it? Nah, just look at all these cute lil’ cuddly, fluffy animals! Awww!

Pathetic. Run along, now. Go wrap up your prissy little market stall, or kiss your pigs goodbye or something. Maybe that’ll give you some closure as you lie blurry eyed on the muddy ground you toiled over for a year, watching me bring that very same shovel that you used to care for your seedlings, down into your face.

Geared 2 Review

February 26, 2011 by  
Filed under iPhone, Mobile, Reviews

A while back, we reviewed Geared for the iPhone, an original, innovative puzzle game, one which packed in some rather mind boggling, addictive fun and exceptional value for the asking price of a buck. And today, we’re ready to give you some insight into the highly anticipated (and similarly priced) sequel, delivered to us by the same ingenious fellow behind the first iteration, Bryan Mitchell. As gamers, we normally tend to have an ongoing love-hate relationship when it comes to sequels, as trends show that developers either do a fantastic job of it, or botch it up extremely badly. And there’s nothing more disappointing than waiting on a sequel to a great original, only to find it fail miserably and be doomed to crash and burn. However, you can rest easy; whether you’re a returning fan looking for more of a challenge or a newcomer to the series, know that Geared 2 easily plays the part of a fantastic, worthy sequel to an already great original with much aplomb.

Rather than changing things around drastically or introducing a whole bunch of new things to the series, Geared 2 settles for mechanics and gameplay that’s near-identical to its predecessor, while throwing in a limited but great set of new features, and taking on a new approach in terms of visuals. Yup, you’re still going to find yourself scratching your head and thinking hard about how to power up multiple stationary gears by chaining them to the one spinning gear, no changes there. The level/puzzle design is still as clever and wickedly challenging as it was in the original, only this time around, you shall be introduced to a few new objects that’ll do their best to up the challenge quotient even more. But fear not, as it never gets to that point of frustration where you’ll just throw your hands up in exasperation and give up on the game altogether. Like the original, there’s a good, non-linear balance in the difficulty level at work here.

Alright, let’s look at the new additions on offer…First off, the stuff that actually changes the way you play – new gear types, and a new obstacle. In addition to the regular yellow, blue, orange, and gray gears we’re used to from the original, Geared 2 introduces a “ghost” and a “sun/moon” gear. The two actually go hand in hand in terms of functionality. Ghost gears are pre-placed in a level, can’t be moved around, and must be “activated” first. You see, like their namesake, the ghost gears can be seen but not touched or used, until you, umm, bring them to life, so to speak. And that’s where the sun/moon gear comes in to play. These emit a circular beam of light of a certain radius, and the ghost gear must fall within this light to become activated, solid, and usable. It’s a nice little touch and has been used pretty well to amp up the difficulty in certain levels. And then there are walls, which is exactly what it sounds like – solid, rectangular blocks of brick that obstruct placement of gears. So you could have your starting gear on the extreme left, the goal gear on the extreme right, and a little vertical wall in the centre, which thus forces you to build your connection upwards and over it, kinda like climbing a fence to get to the other side. Not as complex as the two new gears, but something different and interesting nonetheless.

Doc Clock: The Toasted Sandwich Of Time Review

February 22, 2011 by  
Filed under PC, Reviews

And as you play through this indie offering from Stickmen Studios (if you choose to endure the extreme exercise in frustration, that is), you’ll see why those white-coat dudes at the loony house were absolutely right. You see, Doc Clock, like many successful indie games, does manage to bring an interesting, innovative concept to the table. The difference, however, lies in the fact that the execution of said concept is so flawed, and it manages to fail so miserably on certain other fronts, that you can’t help but feel totally cheated and let down. The level of technical polish that’s missing from this title comes as a rather rude shock, it’s extremely hard to find value to match that $10 price tag, and if you’re anything of a veteran indie/casual gamer, you’ll know there’s much better value and quality in the genre out there. Anyway, let’s get on with the nitty-gritty…

Absurd as it may seem, the title does well to convey a sense of what the game is about. You take control of the titular protagonist, Doc Clock, as he embarks on his quest to build a time machine that will allow him to return to his lab in the past and prevent certain events from happening; events which turned his pet cat into a cactus, more specifically. Oh and that “toasted sandwich” part? He just happens to have a penchant for them, and so wishes to perfect the science (art?) behind making them. Oh, enough already. That’s the lowdown on the rather quirky story, and its events unfold in the form of some very simple platforming, even simpler destruction of crazed robots, and some very complex “inventing” – the innovative but broken concept I mentioned earlier, which we’ll examine in just a moment. Aiding you on your adventures is your compact, talking, living storage chamber, Sack, who unlike Doc Clock, has a penchant for insulting. Not everyone, just Doc Clock. Yup, this little guy is ever ready to talk you down, taking digs at your incompetence in almost everything you do, lamenting about how you’re both lost or going to die, and whatnot, and to a point, you can enjoy some witty one-liners and dialogues thanks to his addition. However, Sack has a purpose too – he stores the various items that you encounter along the path, which come in handy at later stages.

Right, so it’s time to examine the core concept of the game – inventions. Turns out that Doc Clock is not completely insane after all, and he can actually build stuff, much like you’d expect a scientist to be able to. He’s got a robotic grappling arm which can be used to pick up the strangest of paraphernalia which just happen to be conveniently lying around the levels – chairs, tables, couches, umbrellas, wheels, wash basins, and such. These items can then be connected to one another in almost any way you see fit, and then used as vehicles and flying machines to aid you in your travels or overcome obstacles. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Sure, it does on paper, but execution-wise…this is where things start to get ugly. Since there are no predetermined points at which connections between various items should be established, you can very well end up assembling something totally useless, only to then find it fall apart when you try to use it, leaving you to try again. At other times, you might think you’ve done it right, since it looks right, only to discover two minutes down the line that you were entirely wrong when you’re “ride” fails to get you over a simple obstacle. Oh and then there’s the part where you can plow through some solid contraptions blocking your path, but can’t propel your way through a little oversized snowball. Yet another gripe I have is to do with the fact that once you’ve assembled something, you can’t manipulate it in any way as a whole – you can only pick at the individual components. I mean, come on! Where’s the damn sense in all of this? At this point, I can’t help but wonder if the dev team grew too over-ambitious with their game plan and ended up biting off more than they could chew.

But wait, there’s more to bitch about. First off, Doc Clock doesn’t possess the ability to jump, and so, you’re simply left staring at anything that happens to be a foot taller than you if it’s not placed at an angle. If it is angled, then the Doc will manage to get on top of it by clambering like a lazy, bloated, rheumatic squirrel, which as you may imagine, is not what good animation should look like. Secondly, that robotic arm of his can lift entire bathtubs and fridges, but it can’t be used to flip a switch or crank a lever that’s at two arm’s length from you? And thirdly, there are some rather awkward collision detection issues in various spots throughout the game between the Doc and the environment, to the point where even simply walking left or right can feel unnatural at times.

“Jeez, don’t all those half-baked, poorly implemented mechanics cause you to die real often?”, you ask. Yes, they do, and that’s why, we have the trusty Time Slider at our disposal. This allows you to rewind time at will up to a certain point in the past, so that you can undo some of your clumsiness and have another shot at overcoming whatever’s impeding your progress. It’s a handy thing to have in a game that’s this riddled with glitchy mechanics, but even that can keep your patience for only so long. You know there’s something inherently wrong with a game when you spend more time rewinding your actions than you do actually playing. Now if only I had a time sliding thingamajig to take the world back to the point when this game was being made…

If you were thinking that the graphics and sound would probably be the game’s saving grace, you might want to think again. While the audio component is pretty much above average in terms of background score and quite decent in terms of sound effects, the visuals just fail to impress. Granted, the environments look colourful and varied, but they’re nothing to ogle at, and everything else from character models to objects are very simplistic, and even a bit rough around the edges at times. And as far as animations go, the less said, the better.

My incessant rambling about this game so far should’ve gotten the point across loud and clear, so I’m not going to do anymore bashing or try to churn out some witty, snide remarks in this little outro. All I’m going to say in conclusion is that if you value your time, money, and sanity, don’t commit either one of them to this title, because as it stands, it’s pretty much a lost cause.

Geared Review

February 15, 2011 by  
Filed under iPhone, Mobile, Reviews

Whoever penned the lines “Good things come in small packages” and “Less is more” in some prehistoric era long before most of us were born (don’t quote me on that) must’ve been secretly aware of Bryan Mitchell’s plan to create Geared. Why? Because the game takes a minimalist design approach, laden with simplicity in terms of mechanics, visuals, and audio, and yet turns out to be an extremely satisfying, challenging, and addictive puzzle game, one which surely stands out amongst the mountainous pile of apps of the same genre floating around aimlessly in the App Store. Now for some of you, my highly enthusiastic introduction is probably enough of an indicator to head over to the App Store and get the game right away, but for those skeptical about the aforementioned “simplistic” and “minimalist” parts, worry not – the information to follow should put your skepticism to rest and banish your fears about your hard-earned dollar going to waste.

In case the title hasn’t already given it away, the entire theme of the game revolves around gears (no pun intended). You start off a level with a minimum of two gears in place – one stationary (blue) and one in motion (yellow) – and using a given set of gray gears of different sizes, you are tasked with powering up the blue gear by connecting it to the yellow one. You do so by dragging the gears with one finger to the spot where you think they should settle, and then simply letting go for the action to take effect. Later levels will require you to power multiple gears, and will also introduce a few gameplay challenges along the way, leaving you to think really hard on how to solve them – all 150 of them, that is. Yes, the game actually features those many levels from the get-go, all unlocked and available for play in any order you wish. And if that doesn’t quench your thirst for sharpening your thinking skills, then you can avail of an additional 50 levels as an in-app purchase for another dollar. Given that the difficulty level is not linearly progressive, you can spend anywhere between 10 seconds to 5 minutes trying to solve a particular level, so in my opinion, two bucks for 200 such levels is adequate value for your green.

The main source of difficulty stems from the level design and layout of the gears themselves, and this fact persists throughout the game. The first few levels are plain vanilla compared to the rest, but this is expected as they also serve as a tutorial of sorts. Later levels introduce new concepts, such as marked areas that don’t allow direct placement of gears within their boundaries, orange gears that are affected only by gravity, and pink gears that will jam all your other gears should they connect. Making things just a wee bit more difficult, while simultaneously promoting player freedom, is the fact that there is no invisible “snap-to-grid” working in the background. You can try to place gears anywhere in the scene you see fit, and the game will just indicate if your move is possible or not by changing the gear’s colour to either green or red. So rather than having one set way to complete a level, Geared offers multiple possible solutions for each challenge, which is a nice little touch. The physics, though very limited, work as expected and needed, and there’s no lag or delay whatsoever.

Going hand in hand with the simple mechanics are the visual and audio departments. The game sports a brightly coloured, hand-drawn look for all the objects, and a simple grid as the background. While this may sound obnoxious to some (hello there, graphics whore!), it’s perfectly in line with the philosophy that seems to underlie the rest of the game: keep it simple, and provide only as much as is required. It’s subtly done, and it’s done well, so no complaints there. Audio, on the other hand, is even more minimalist than the graphics, in that there are only little sound effects for player interactions and level completion, and no background music at all. But you know what? That seems just fine too. And hey, it’s better than having some god-awful track hammering away at your ears in a loop just for the sake of being there – so just fire up something of your choice from your iPod playlist and shaddap.

Geared is the kind of puzzle game that doesn’t take itself or the genre too seriously, and instead focuses on delivering just enough that’s required to have a fun time. It provides great value for money whether you decide to opt in for the extra level pack or not, and an even greater sense of satisfaction, especially when you go around beating the harder challenges. It’s an addictive romp over hundreds of levels that’ll keep you engrossed for heaps of time. Don’t let the minimalism drive you to do stupid things like not getting this game – after all, good things come in small packages, y’know.

Blog: Welcome to the Stereoscopic World

February 9, 2011 by  
Filed under Blog, Spotlight

With the technology industry skyrocketing to new heights at absurd speeds month after month and year after year, we see new products and services emerge at blisteringly fast paces. The extraordinary ones manage to leave a long-lasting mark of awesomeness in our otherwise ordinary lives, while the not-so-extraordinary ones just crash, burn, and fade from memory swiftly. And one such “product” (if you can call it so) that’s the topic of much debate, excitement, and hype these days is, of course, stereoscopic vision – known more simply as “3-D” amongst the general masses. Having once been a thing of the past, it’s now back again in full force, vying for everybody’s attention in a bid to snatch up all the glory and hog the limelight that its technically inferior counterpart of the yesteryears failed to bask in before meeting an untimely demise. It started out in cinema, as did the old concept of 3D, but this time around, its managed to make a huge leap and sink its hooks in to the much more lucrative, highly successful industry of electronic entertainment – gaming. And before you know it, 3D vision is gearing up to be the next best, biggest and most innovative concept in all things video games. Yup, it ain’t about motion-controlled devices or bleeding-edge graphics any more, kids. It’s about dismembered limbs being able to fly out the screen and virtually smack you in the face now. Fun times.

There’s a catch here, though, and there always is one with new innovations, especially of the technological variety. As I previously mentioned, you can either strike gold or go totally bust when trying to pull off something new and relatively uncommon on a bunch of highly expectant people, and I personally think that no other bit of innovation in the gaming industry till date would have undergone as much scrutiny and extensive examination as the concept of 3D vision will. A quick online search on the topic, and you’ll find thousands of differing opinions and levels of acceptance, along with picking up a few new words to add to the “18+” section of your vocab. People are judgmental about 3D gaming based on what they’ve seen in 3D cinema, and while I myself don’t blame them entirely, I’m not one to go around town rabidly screaming negativities about it before I get to try it out and see for myself.

What I do have my apprehensions about, though, is the effect (read that as “strain”) 3D vision has on the human body – or mind, more appropriately. A lot of people, myself included, can’t stand prolonged exposure to the effect, and others can’t stand it at all. On the surface, we might feel the strain on our eyes or complain of mild headaches, but underneath the hood, it’s actually our gray cells that are paying the price, according to numerous research studies. Oh and that doesn’t mean we’re a bunch of sissies – you folks who claim to feel no side-effects of viewing 3D are still having your gray matter scrambled anyway – you just won’t feel it happening like the rest of us. Lucky you? I don’t think so, but hey, each one to their own, huh?

3D vision has made a big comeback from the netherworld, there’s no mistaking the fact, but this time, it looks like it’s here to stay. Far from being confined to just cinema screens, this little bit of mind-boggling (literally!) technology is preparing to soon invade our everyday lives. The advent of 3D-capable laptops, HDTVs, consoles, and handhelds is being heralded and welcomed as the next big thing the world over. So, what’ll it be? A boon? A bane? A luxury for the rich and spoilt? A nefarious mind control device? That’s a question we can’t answer at this point – only time will tell whether this  supposedly wonderful technical accomplishment is welcome to stay or destined to die all over again.

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