Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Tower Defence

I was chatting to someone yesterday who, it turned out, had never heard of tower defence games. Admittedly it's a strange little subgenre. What's most strange about it is that despite being one of the more OCD elements of the real-time-strategy milieu it seems to have become largely the province of "casual gamers".

The premise is that a bunch of enemies will troop across a screen from point A to point B, and it's your job to install a bunch of automatically firing turrets along the way to wipe out the nasties before they reach their destination. Typically the enemies will come in waves; you'll have limited resources to build your towers, but every enemy killed or wave cleared will grant bonus cash.

As far as I can tell the first instance of tower defence gameplay appears in Atari's classic Warlords (1980), although it's more properly inspired by Westwood's Dune II (1992), where correct alignment of your turrets and tanks was key to success.

Anyway, to educate the uninformed I thought I'd trot out three of my favourite browser-based tower defence games, and let the gameplay therein say more than the written word ever could.

Desktop Tower Defence 1.5: The undisputed king of browser-based tower defence. Clean, engaging graphics, a good mixture of depth and intuitiveness, and a wide range of modes to try.

Vector TD 2: Deeper than Desktop, with more turret options, and with more freedom to set your own pace. Simple vector graphics emphasise the tactical element of the game.

Bloons TD 2: Monkey versus balloons in a kid-friendly grudge match. Turrets here don't snap to a grid, which can throw off those who like an orderly turret layout, but a lot of charm and a wealth of turret options compensate.

Try them out, but be warned - these are very addictive games!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Duke Nukem 3D on XBLA

In this season where Fallout 3 got pinged by the Classification Board for the use of real-world drugs, and where Silent Hill Homecoming is in trouble for graphic violence, I just thought I'd remind you that classic PC shooter Duke Nukem 3D has snuck onto XBox Live Arcade with nary a qualm from our censors.

If you haven't yet had the opportunity of consuming steroids, visiting porn stores, tipping topless strippers and reducing aliens to quivering chunks of gore, then now is absolutely your time to shine. And, of course, it's all in the context of a complete lack of overriding artistic merit.

Just saying, is all.

Ian Dallas on The Unfinished Swan

I blogged a couple of days ago about Indiecade finalist The Unfinished Swan, and mentioned that I'd love to see a playable version of the game. To that end I emailed its creator, Ian Dallas, for more information.

Says Ian:

The game at this point doesn't really exist. What's been shown is basically a tech demo for how those mechanics might work in a game. The tech demo is not being released.

We're hoping to have a bare bones version of the game by the middle of November and a more polished version ready for the Game Developer's Conference in March.

The music in the tech demo comes from songs Moby released for use in non-commercial projects and isn't likely to reflect what will be in the final version.

The feeling of the tech demo is kinda cold and desolate, because that's initially the direction we thought the game was going to go. Now it's become more of an interactive children's book. Aesthetically we're shooting for a mix of Dark Crystal and Japanese ghost story. I have no idea what that means musically, but it'll be interesting to find out.
Sounds great. I'm looking forward to seeing more of this as it develops.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Music of Simlish

Katy Perry doing her song Hot N Cold in Simlish as part of the trailer for Sims 2: Apartment Life. For those not in the know, Simlish is the fake language used in the Sims games, which helps give them their international appeal or somesuch. I'm not sold on Ms Perry as a particularly wonderful human being but this is one fine, fine trailer. Almost makes me want to play The Sims again.

While we're on the subject of Simlish-meets-singing, I thought I might direct your attention to some other gems of game-related re-recording that you may or may not have been aware of. By and large they don't run to my tastes in music but almost anything can become listenable in Simlish. Check 'em out:

Black Eyed Peas - Let's Get Retarded

Lily Allen - Smile

Pussycat Dolls - Don'tcha

The Veronicas - When It All Falls Apart

Datarock - Fa-Fa-Fa

They Might Be Giants - Take Out The Trash

Silent Hill Homecoming Refused Classification

The title speaks for itself. Silent Hill Homecoming (aka Silent Hill 5) has been refused classification by Australia's Classification Board, which has the effect under state and territory law of banning it. Which is to say that it would likely have fit into an R18+ classification if one existed, but it's been shafted by the lack of such a classification for videogames.

Canberra residents who are outraged by videogame censorship are strongly encouraged to vote for me in the ungrouped column at the October 18 ACT election.

For those elsewhere in Australia, the path is to get the attention of your state Attorney-General, preferably in person or by phone, but in the alternative by snail-mail or polite, literate email.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Unfinished Swan

I think I'm in love. If this isn't intentionally a horror title, it sure should be. It's an Indiecade finalist, but I can't for the life of me figure out how to actually find a playable copy of the thing. Its website is singularly unhelpful. Any suggestions?

Thanks, obviously, to Joystiq for drawing my attention to the game and providing the video in an embeddable format. (YouTube, for once, has failed me.)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Silent Hill Origins

I come from the backwards world. I thought that Silent Hill 2 was easily the worst of the franchise, while Silent Hill 4: The Room was the series' creative peak. I realise I'm alone in this, but to be perfectly honest, I'm right and you're wrong, so you can all go to hell.

Which brings me to Silent Hill: Origins, which I'm going to have to describe as "the worst Silent Hill since the second one". It originally came out for the PSP, and then, because the PSP is crap, got ported to a real system, in this case the PlayStation 2.

The Silent Hill franchise is about ordinary people who, upon visiting (or living near) the titular town find themselves inexplicably transported to a hell dimension where everything is similar and yet horribly different. That, in fact, is exactly how I felt upon firing up Silent Hill Origins. This is definitely Silent Hill, but it's Silent Hill as performed by a really dodgy cover band.

It's developed by Climax, a western company whose previous track record consists almost entirely of bad ports. All the previous games had been by Konami's Nippon-based Team Silent. It's pretty clear that the distinctive Japanese sensibility for horror has gotten lost somewhere along the way, because Origins is less creepy than it is shocktackular. A rising sense of terror is replaced with the "suddenly, zombies" syndrome, where opening any given door leads to nasties immediately in your face, without explanation.

Origins is a direct prequel to the first Silent Hill. You play as Travis, a truck driver who has an encounter with series poster-girl Alessa and then decides to play explorer in the nearby abandoned town.

The "prequel" angle leads to a lot of opportunities for fan nostalgia. You'll encounter plenty of characters from previous games, often in a fairly forced fashion, and revisit key locations from the franchise including Alchemilla General Hospital. There are some great moments, like seeing the iconic "Welcome to Silent Hill" sign come looming out of the fog, but there are a fair helping of points that are just silly, too.

The silliest aspect of the game comes from the re-tooled weapon system. In previous games, firearms had limited ammunition, while melee weapons lasted forever, meaning that melee was often the best choice for most fights. Origins addresses this by making melee weapons incredibly plentiful, but having them break after a couple of hits. It's a system much like that employed in Dead Rising, where any number of regular objects can be picked up and used as weapons, including wooden planks, IV stands and toasters. Unfortunately, it looks stupid. Wandering around a creepy hospital carrying a toaster just makes Travis look like a particularly incompetent burglar.

Also, the combat is clunky and unresponsive, even by the standards of Silent Hill. To make matters worse, to see the game's "good ending" you'll need to down less than 70 foes over the course of the game, so in the end you'll almost entirely bypass the combat portion of the game and just run past most foes.

The developers apparently playtested this "running past things" strategy and found it too easy, so they've compensated by giving practically every enemy the ability to grab you from about half a screen away. There's no defence against these grabs, and escaping them involves an irritating button-mashing minigame. On the whole, the game's monsters seem not spooky but just annoyingly cheap.

The one redeeming feature to the game is the soundtrack, which is by franchise composer Akira Yamaoka and is some of his best work. The music is absolutely gorgeous and you'll sometimes want to stop playing just to make sure you've heard the entire music track before moving forwards.

Music can't save a tragically poor game, though. If you're a Silent Hill fan you might want to get this just for the sake of completeness, but if you've got a limited budget for survival horror then this is not the game you've been waiting for.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

LHC Edutainment. Word.

It's time we all learned a little something about the Large Hadron Collider. A little funky something.

Here we see workers at the Large Hadron Collider being careful not to cause a resonance cascade dropping some fresh beats, or somesuch. It's good to see the under-representation of the Higgs Boson in modern music being addressed.

I'm also disturbed to realise that the scientific community has still not learned its lesson about giving things acronyms that form girls' names, particularly where said things are involved in giant cutting-edge research installations.

Massively Multiplayer Ugliness

Can't get excited about Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning. Sorry. I tried.

I'll grant you that I haven't seen the thing in motion. I've seen screenshots, and that's about it. But they're such ugly screenshots.

Is it so hard to make an MMO that looks nice? The Koreans have practically turned good-looking MMOs into a cottage industry. And yet iteration after iteration of the Western-developed flavour seem to involve piloting skanky witches around endless plains of brown.

I enjoyed Guild Wars, and that was a fine looking game even during its blasted-brown-plains levels. I spent a lot of time with World of Warcraft which was known to flirt with the occasional poo-brown wasteland but was mostly breathtaking.

I've also played City of Heroes, which, I'm sorry, doesn't have an artistic bone in its body. Never have I been more conscious of my surroundings having been designed by human hands. (My brief experience with Tabula Rasa was similarly underwhelming.)

This is the reason I'm not touching Age of Conan, no matter how much you beg. With the lifetime artistic output of Boris Vallejo to draw from, it's unacceptable for that game to be anything less than stunning.

If you're expecting me to sink hundreds of hours of my life into your MMO, you'd better offer me a world that is at the very least more interesting to look at than the inside of my lounge room. With games like Braid raising the bar for artistic excellence on a shoestring, it's just not acceptable for big budget MMOs to look like they're set on the mud planet.

By the way, all you WAR players out there, if I've done Age of Reckoning a disservice please feel free to direct me to the good screenshots. I'm sure they're out there. Try looking behind your couch.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Red Alert 3 Talent Remix

I'll be honest - ever since I first played Starcraft I just haven't been able to enjoy a Command & Conquer game, despite an abortive flirtation with Tiberian Sun.

But if someone had told me that Red Alert 3 would have giant samurai robots I probably would have been more excited. It's all in the context of the excellent "Hell March" remix above, which should be seen and enjoyed. Still not sold on Jenny McCarthy as Tanya, though.

Also, the code to embed a GameTrailers video on my blog is as long as a freaking novel. What's up with that?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

R18+ Rating For Videogames: Facebook Group

Just a quick post to let those of you who are Facebooky know about this group, which I mentioned to group founder Mike Bryce that I'd blog. It's of the "we need an R18+ classification for videogames" persuasion and you can really never belong to too many of those.

Facebook Group: We **NEED** an R Rating!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

GH Aerosmith Demo: Better Than The Real Thing

Guitar Hero Aerosmith sounds like a bargain. For the same price as a real Guitar Hero game you can get less songs, by less bands, with less unlockables and less replayability. How can anyone pass that up?

It's possible, however, that some die-hard GH fans (like myself) might have been a bit uneasy about missing out on some genuinely classic Aerosmith tracks. Luckily, the GH Aerosmith demo on XBox Live fixes all that. More or less the best five songs in GH:A, cheap as free, and available as a single download. It's better value than the full game, and heck, it's better value than any of the commercial DLC currently available for Guitar Hero 3.

The demo includes "Walk This Way", "Sweet Emotion" and "Dream On". There's also a couple of other tracks in there just to remind you that there is, in fact, non-Aerosmith content in the game. ("Dream On", it should be mentioned, is already available as a DLC track for Guitar Hero 3.)

"Zero" is an unarguably good price to pay for three Aerosmith tracks plus some stuffing, and my urge to pony up money for the full game is now completely erased. I'm not entirely sure that's how demos are supposed to work but I'm very much not complaining. Good work, Neversoft.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Disaster: Day of Awesome

If someone asked me to name the three greatest movies ever made while, at the same time, not in any way telling the truth, I'd absolutely have to say Daylight, Cliffhanger and Dante's Peak. Which is why the forthcoming Wii title Disaster: Day of Crisis is pushing all the right buttons for me. No zombies, no aliens, just all disasters, all the time.

It's giving me a real Snakes on a Plane vibe. Despite being, apparently, stuffed full of more gameplay mechanics than a Raving Rabbids title, it's made out of win. I'm sure that the final product is going to be so ball-breakingly terrible that you simply have to love it, and punch anyone who disagrees.

Just to recap, in case you weren't paying attention to the trailer, you get to outrun a tidal wave, disarm a bomb, dodge meteors and fight a bear all in the same game.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Gaming Liberty - New Mailbag

By the way, while we're totally not on the topic of "things written by me", there's a new "Ask Greg" mailbag up at GameArena's Gaming Liberty mini-site that you should go check out.

Once you've read it, like I know you will, post a question. If I don't get questions, the GameArena guys will come around to my house and beat me in the kidneys using phonebooks. True story.

Large Hadron Malarkey

Now, I don't want to be accused of scaremongering, so treat this as less in the way of factual news and more in the way of extremely awesome news. (It's also quite old news but let's not let that get in the way of me writing about it.)

In only a couple of hours they are turning on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The LHC is a device 27 kilometres long installed in a series of tunnels one hundred metres below the Franco-Swiss border.

What can the LHC do? Hopefully, say scientists, it will produce the previously theoretical Higgs boson, also known as the "God particle". Also, says British Astronomer Royal Martin Rees (aka Baron Rees of Ludlow), it has a one in 50 million chance of destroying the world. Them's good odds.

Possible candidates for an LHC apocalypse include a micro black hole, a magnetic monopole, the incredibly cool vacuum metastability event, or the creation of a strangelet, which could in turn result in an "ice-nine" disaster scenario.

Now, I've had a bit of a hunt around about the LHC and as far as I can tell no one involved in the project is an obvious super-villain. That's a bit disappointing, really. You'd think a giant doomsday machine located in secret tunnels beneath the French border would draw megalomaniacs like mice to cheese. Joystiq does have an excellent photo demonstrating that Gordon Freeman is attached to the research, though.

The infinitessimally small chance of the world ending is a bit of a worry, I'll grant you, but it's totally balanced out by the massively jaw-dropping science-faction involved. Thumbs up, LHC. Thumbs up.

Fallout 3: Australia Censors The World

It turns out that the rest of the world will get to "enjoy" the work of Australia's Classification Board. Rather than create different versions of Fallout 3 for different territories, developer Bethesda has decided to just release the single edition, that edition being the one which was edited to keep Australian censors happy.


Full story at Kotaku.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

WA Greens AGAINST An R18+ Classification For Games

Probably too late to catch you Western Australians before you head to the polls, but Kotaku (of all places) has just drawn my attention to the fact that the WA Greens are vocally against the introduction of an R18+ classification for videogames.

Sitting Greens member Giz Watson appears to be responsible for the policy, and to be fair to her it looks as though she's just a bit underinformed rather than totally rabid, but it's still a bit disappointing from a party that's traditionally done better on civil liberties than this. WA Greens policy would continue to see games unsuitable for those under the age of 18 outright banned.

Check out the coverage at the amusingly named somebodythinkofthechildren.com

Wednesday, September 03, 2008


Look, I was going to do a whole post about Braid, telling you exactly how awesome it is. It's pretty awesome. I mean, this is a game that rescues babies from burning buildings dinosaurs while simultaneously beating robo-Hitler at Guitar Hero. That's at least nine out of ten awesome stars.

But Braid really can't be described. It's a 2D platformer, but that's clearly not helpful as I despise platformers but love Braid. You control time - you can rewind it, pause it, and do all sorts of other time-related shenanigans. But it's nothing like Prince of Persia and it's whole worlds better than the disappointing TimeShift.

Braid is a game about relationship breakdowns. Seriously. I don't mean metaphorically. It's actually about relationship breakdowns. The protagonist, Tim, likes to take time out from all the running and jumping to muse about how hard it is to pull when you're wearing a wedding ring.

But more to the point, Braid is clever. Not only is every level exquisitely well-constructed, but the game manipulates your expectations about gameplay and progression with a deftness bordering on genius. Rather than feeling like an extension of games you've played before, Braid operates on a whole new plane, giving the impression that it's travelled from some distant future where James Joyce's resurrected corpse designs Mario-clones.

Even if you're not drawn in by the gameplay and the narrative, and even if you're not blown away by the powerful ending (which will hit you like a punch in the baby-maker), you can't deny that Braid looks and sounds fantastic. Every level is so gorgeous that you'll want to put your monitor up on the wall in a frame, and the music easily equals or exceeds that standard.

Braid is short - maybe five hours, or more if you're shy about FAQs - but that only adds to the appeal. It's a focused, intense experience, with deliberate pacing and a clear conclusion. Much like Portal it knows exactly what it wants to do and gets it done.

This is everything that gaming should be, and it's an excellent showcase for the merits of small-scale downloadable content. If you haven't already coughed up the necessary funds to acquire Braid from XBox Live Arcade then there's probably something wrong with you, and you should consult a doctor immediately.

Monday, September 01, 2008

The Blank Page

There's a new article by me up on BigPond GameArena's "Gaming Liberty" section, entitled The Blank Page. It's on the subject of games as communication, and particularly games as political communication.
Gaming is a blank sheet of paper, and people around the world of all political creeds and agendas are picking up their pens. What they write is yet to be decided, but the course of society will only, can only, be decided by those who have written.
You all should wander over and check it out. Better still, support the article and the site by leaving some comments over there. (I've disabled comments on this post.)