29 May, 2011

Keepalive: GameTap Casual

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 29 May, 2011

Not a lot's been going on lately. A lot of people jumped to Brink, which I wasn't getting much out of. And we're in the news lull just before E3, which starts June 7th. In the meantime, I've been scouring GameTap to see if my subscription fee is still justified. They have a lot of casual games there now, stuff I wouldn't try if I had to buy it piecemeal.

Time Management Games

Take orders. Prepare them in several stages. Deliver them to customers. When it's done decently, it's lively and challenging. I enjoyed Potion Bar, Terrafarmers, and Mystic Emporium. They weren't perfect, but they were enjoyable. Surprisingly some of the long running series, CakeMania and Farm Frenzy, weren't nearly as fun.

In the case of CakeMania: Main Street, there are four separate games, but flower arranging plays almost identically to cake making. And making sushi is almost identical to making fast food. It got old. And Farm Frenzy was way too much waiting around to live up to its name.

Royal Envoy

Royal Envoy is still a time management game, but there's a bit more math to it. Should you build more housing, or a market to sell that lumber instead? Would you make more with another house for raw income, or a bank which adds 50% to the income from your existing houses? Late in the game the developer became overly fond of obscuring the map, forcing the player to restart to have any chance at a good finishing time, but overall the game worked.

Tradewinds Legends

This game is a puzzle. I mean, the game itself is fairly straightforward. Run errands, buy low; sell high; fight pirates. The puzzle is that it's appearance and interface are right out of the early 90s. It makes some pop culture references from the late 90s or early 2000s. And it's set in mythic Arabia which, outside of Prince of Persia, doesn't come up much, especially in post Gulf War games. The credits feature Lakshya Digital, a small Indian developer judging by the names, and a lot of work by Sandlot Games. There's definitely a story or two buried in there somewhere, but since I'm not getting paid to write, I should probably leave it alone.

What I will say is that Melissa Cuthill and Dana Hanna did a great job with the localization of the game. The mechanics would never have held my interest. But the text describing the events and supporting characters was so silly that I had to see what came next. It's amazing how much humor and personality can be put into fetch quests, trading, and super simple combat.


Most of the games I played came from three publishers. Playrix has high production values and some good games, but they're pricy. Sandlot publishes some good games and some not so good ones and is a lot cheaper. And finding a game I liked published by Alawar meant sifting a lot of garbage.

19 May, 2011

Keepalive: Backlog Variety Pack

written by Blain Newport on Thursday, 19 May, 2011

I'm going through some transitions, so the blog is lower priority right now.


Brink is not a great game. It's mostly Enemy Territory: Wolfenstein since without the vehicles or artillery, it's got less variety than ET: Quake. The parkour and objective systems are functional, but don't really add much. The perk system rewards prolonged play and specialization in a class, while the game itself requires flexibility. The difficulty of taking objectives seems to vary a lot, meaning some missions are pushovers and some are brick walls, depending on which team you're on.

Games with more than four player co-op aren't easy to find, so there may be some appeal there. But outside of that, I don't see much reason for Brink to exist. And that's not a big market.

Killing Floor

Oh look. A six player co-op game. :) Killing Floor has been my go to lately. That's partly because the Penny Arcade forum folks have backed off of Bad Company 2 to deconstruct Brink. They'll spend weeks testing every map, gun, and perk to find optimal combinations.

But it's also because Killing Floor is simple co-op fun. If I'm on a good team, we hold down a defensible location, a bulwark against the monsters. If I'm on a bad team, sometimes it's even better as I get to step up and be a big fat hero. Some teams are too terrible to save, or just jerks, which will make even a good team no fun. But it's way better than Bad Company 2 for finding fun games, if only because it's cooperative and the voice chat actually works.

The Witcher 2

I'm torn with The Witcher 2. The combat has serious problems including a steep learning curve and controls that simply refuse to work at times. I have been in fights where I didn't care about winning. I just wanted the block button to work. Even at low settings, the game is fairly choppy on my old system, so I suspect the input system is simply getting ignored when there's too much other stuff going on.

I may turn the combat down to easy to see if I can't salvage something from it. But at the moment, I'm thinking I'd rather just sit back and wait for a major overhaul like the first game got.


For me personally, Raven Software makes good games standing in the shadows of great ones. Heretic and Hexen were fantasy versions of Doom. They did Quake 4 and the latest Wolfenstein remake. Those games are good, but never great. Singularity mostly fits that bill. The tape recorders you listen to, frequent use of water effects, and upgrade system feel like a lightweight BioShock. The time device you carry feel like a souped up gravity gun from Half-Life 2.

But while many aspects are derivative, it still worked. The the Soviet trappings, time travel elements, and additional powers of the time device were enough that it didn't feel like a retread.

It's worth mentioning that the game is totally streamlined. You always know where the path is, and if you're deviating it's always a quick diversion to figure out how to get some extra loot. I liked it. It was on rails, but the ride was fun.