Crafting & Building: There’s No Short Answer

… the great thing about being so deep underground is that the zombie menace plaguing the surface isn’t really a problem… nor is day or night for that matter. Sure, the music might change and the voice-chat gets a little busier as my friends moan about the house being attacked or whatever (I call those “surface problems”). Occasionally my view of the rock face is cluttered by a message letting me know which of my friends has perished at the hands of the undead hoards, but generally it is peaceful here, just listening to the gentle taps of my pick-axe against the granite…

My recent gaming hours have been primarily spent in the slightly glitchy world of “7 Days to Die” (the remainder has been spent on a super-secret project .. Shhhh…), which is an odd choice because if asked “Do you like mining, crafting, and building games?” my instinctive answer is “no”. 7DtD is made a little more magpie-shiny for me as our regular mid-week gaming group have rented a private server so I don’t have need to attempt to engage outside my own social circle and we can really team up against the zombie menace; well, we could, right up until I started my hole, now I barely leave the confines of my tunnel empire. It began as a simple hillside cave with a vague plan that I could fortify it and it might be more secure than the house we’re currently residing in, but it has now become a tunnel network, gradually linking the various key locations around our assigned home, secured by metal trap-doors and far enough under the rock that I doubt even the most determined of walkers would even know I was there. The appeal of this ingame project is tricky to articulate, especially considering that over the years I’ve had a rocky relationship with the whole mining, building & crafting type games.

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This is ‘Shaft A’ leading back up to the main house… why thank-you, it is nice isn’t it!

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QotM*: What’s the Best Easter Egg?

*QotM is a most excellent Later Levels initiative 

Like the trilobites from ‘Ecco the Dolphin’, Easter rockets around springtime, not quite knowing where to settle and so our thoughts inevitably turn to it around this time of year… possibly… it’s something to do with the moon and luckily my calendar always tells me when it is.

It is a special time of year for gamers when we all recall that legendary story of Warren Robinett & Atari for coining the phrase ‘Easter Egg’ in relation to a little game called ‘Adventure’; which I have never played. Since that fateful cartridge, whenever gamers think of Easter, we think of the many different hidden messages, features, jokes, and references that developers have carefully squirreled away into the lines of code; sometimes with the publisher’s knowledge and sometimes entirely in secret only to be unearthed many years later. Last year I took the opportunity to highlight a favorite subset of these mysterious little diversions when one game-world inexplicably becomes another. Continue reading “QotM*: What’s the Best Easter Egg?”

So long ‘Mad Catz’; at least I have my R.A.T. to remember you…

In an uncharacteristic move, I’m going to do something of a current gaming news type blogpost to lament the movement of staple game hardware manufacturer ‘Mad Catz’ from “Woooh! we’re a company” status, to “Urgh! We’ve filed for bankruptcy” as reported late last week. As a company they were dubiously renowned for producing opinion dividing products, specifically in their console market given some of the rants that I’ve just found on various forums, but it’s equally valid to say that anytime a company drops out of the market (particularly the less populated 3rd party gaming hardware market) we lose diversity & choice when it comes to how we bridge the gap between fingertips and machine. As gamers, when we’re wrapped up in that world, most of us would likely say that whatever control interface is forgotten… and that should be the goal of controller manufacturers… to make us forget that bridge from our hand to the game. I think this is why I struggle to write hardware reviews (as I discovered previously), the best compliment you can give many pieces of gaming hardware is that when it works, you forget about it.

So, in memory of fallen ‘Mad Catz’ (I’m avoiding making the 9 lives joke that so many gaming news sites have made) I’m going to give it the old college try and attempt to elucidate my thoughts on the R.A.T. 5 gaming mouse that has been a permanent fixture on my desk for the past few years.

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I’d Like To See Less Symmetry

My wife and I have a perpetually watchful eye trained on the Steam new releases section for something which could be good co-op fun. We’ve worked our way through most of the classics that jump to mind whenever co-op PC gaming pops up its head during conversation and, thanks to the magic wizardry (albeit slightly glitchy wizardry) of the Steam Link, have also partaken in some couch co-op classics which might have previously been reserved for console gamers. A few weeks ago, whilst idly browsing a list of ‘possibly-interesting-co-op-games-for-PC’* I stumbled across an intriguing small title called “We Were Here” from “TotalMayhenGames”. It comes with the luggage tag proclaiming that it is a two-player asymmetric co-op game and a price tag reading ‘Freely available on Steam!’, so a few evenings later when we decided to fire it up for a run through.

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… ok, so it’s not a “traditional” library…

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Weird Retro Mumblings: Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty… a Retrospective

Spoiler Warning: This post discusses the plot & themes of Metal Gear Solid 2 … also you probably should have already played it… 

Only a few gaming powerhouse franchises sit in the dubiously privileged position of making gamers everywhere say “Sooo… how many of these games are there now?” upon each new offering; spanning generations, decades, and poor numbering conventions will do that to a series. The ‘Metal Gear Solid’ franchise fits comfortably into that mitten with five numbered sequels, a few canon but non-numbered games, at least one sub-series (the gloriously bizarre ‘Metal Gear Acid’ which, and I’m looking at you my secret Konami readers, is due for a PC re-release), a few remasterings, and that’s without opening the pantry door to find the “old” Metal Gear titles from way back into the 8-bit era. It shouldn’t surprise me (but it does) that we’ve recently passed the 15 year marker since Hideo Kojima’s misunderstood sequel was first rattled into PS2 disc trays across Europe and, given that this title probably represents the peak of my interest in the series, I began to turn it over in my mind.

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Owlboy: PixelArt Elegance

I don’t think I’ve seen anyone comment on ‘Owlboy‘ without using the word ‘Beautiful’; D-Pad Studio’s troubled little owl has captured the hearts, of what seems like, everyone who has had the pleasure of soaring with Otus. The reported 10 year development time is striking, not only for the commitment and dedication from the small dev team, but because I’ve seen the evidence of that dedication in every screen of the game thus far in the hours I have spent with Otus. It would be easy at this point to reach for Hundstrasse’s “Big Book of Cliches” and use one of the many appropriate phrases such as “Owlboy is a love letter to the 16-bit era“, or “The creation of ‘Owlboy’ serves as an homage to the retro platformers that crossed swords in the fabled console wars of the 90’s“, but this would be doing a disservice to what ‘Owlboy’ ‘is’.

‘Owlboy’ is a beautiful and engrossing sprite based platform game.

The developers may have intended ‘Owlboy’ to be a 16-bit inspired metroidvania style action-adventure-puzzle-platformer*, but my experience with Otus tells me that it doesn’t need to carry a disclaimer that it is trying to be something; it stands very easily as its own thing.

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It is .. erm.. detailed!

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Not Just a Hat Rack: Deconstructing My 8-Bit ‘Masterpiece’

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Any of my regular followers who are so committed to the cause that they’ve also ventured to follow me on Twitter may have noticed sporadic postings in shaky phonecam footage of a curious little device known as an Arduboy. This credit-card sized GameBoy inspired curio is powered by that staple of the maker community, the Arduino, neatly packaged together with a sharp 1-bit 128×64 OLED display, 4 directional buttons, and 2 action buttons. It was a guilty impulse purchase sometime around October last year, and I wandered into it without holding out much hope that I’d get around to making anything worth releasing. I was initially drawn in by the promise of constraints, which is a strange pull, but I’ve often been amazed at how programmers for early systems were able to squeeze so much out of some very limited hardware (This article about the original Zelda is a great example). The Arduboy is a neat re-imagining of these early restrictions: A screen where each pixel can only be either on or off; The bare essentials of controls; and strict limitations on processing power, memory, and storage. The game making community has risen to this challenge with a wide range of neat offerings showing off just what can be done within about fixed envelope; the excellent Team-ARG and Jonathan Holmes (check out ‘Circuit Dude’) are just a couple of examples from the dedicated programmers who have adopted this little system. Continue reading “Not Just a Hat Rack: Deconstructing My 8-Bit ‘Masterpiece’”