Dedicated PTers will recall that I was rather delighted with the preview build of First Strike, a nuclear war RTS from Swiss devs Feinheit/Blindflug. The game is now available worldwide for iPad and it gets a firm handshake and pat on the back from me. Remember, I’m aged and slow and usually hand RTS games off to younger hands like Clancy — but First Strike was the perfect pace for me.
Not only is this one of the nicest-looking games of the year so far, it’s also a clever and replayable single-player strategy game that I kept coming back to long after I had enough material for my review. Which should go up tomorrow, by the way.
But I don’t mind spoiling that review by saying that First Strike is very good indeed. Skip the grande latte at Starbucks tomorrow and spend four bucks on this instead. You’ll thank me. And then probably watch WarGames on Hulu after work.
Got so high off volcanoes, now the flow is so lava
I Dig It: Journey to the Core is the next release from Enigmo: Explore makers Team Chaos, which puts you in the cab of a Dig-Dug/Motherlode-style mining game with a unique twist: fluid dynamics. When you come across pockets of uncrossable lava in the procedurally-generated 2D world, you can drain it out of your path, or divert water into it to cool the lava into rock. Very clever.
Note to Team Chaos though: you missed a big opportunity to make this a movie tie-in game for The Core. How much could that license possibly be going for?
After Enigmo, this will be the second game in a row where Team Chaos have found a fallow older puzzle franchise to reinvent on iOS. The two I Dig It games (I Dig It and I Dig It Expeditions) were App Store hits years ago but haven’t been updated since 2011.
Team Chaos tell me that Journey to the Core is about a month away and it’s coming to iOS.
After three years of visibly arduous development, tabletop publisher GMT have finally put Twilight Struggle for PC out of its misery. Developers RiverMyst hadn’t updated their blog since early 2013, and what screenshots they’d felt confident enough to show off over the past years wouldn’t have compared well to your kids’ Crayola self-portraits on the fridge.
In an email newsletter sent around last night, GMT impresario Gene Billingsley made it clear that the PC game wasn’t ready for prime time and likely wouldn’t ever be. Ananda Gupta and Jason Matthews’ Cold War strategy face-off is my favorite board game and I’m not alone — the game is number one on Board Game Geek’s all-time totem pole. So clearly the pressure was on GMT to ensure that their product lived up to those lofty expectations.
But there’s a fine silver lining to this: in the same email, Billingsley says that there’s “an agreement on the horizon” to develop an iPad edition of Twilight Struggle that could possibly be cross-platform — presumably he means PC but he might mean Android.
This is an unqualified good thing, and not a reason to be disappointed. Really. RiverMyst’s Twilight Struggle was obviously in development hell and I’m skeptical that we would ever have received a decent product out of that process. GMT has alluded to RiverMyst’s lack of experience in game development on more than one occasion.
But aside from those particulars, tablets are a better home for Twilight Struggle. This is a game that takes hours to play through — hours I’d rather be spending on the couch than in my office chair. And with asynchronous games, turns will get passed back and forth faster when you do them on a handheld device you’re more liable to have nearby all day.
If I had to name the single most influential mobile game developer of the iPhone era, my pick would be Adam Saltsman. Many developers can boast of having shipped a hit game or two, but how many can lay claim to inventing an entire genre? Saltsman can. The creator of both the genre-defining game Canabalt and the widely-used game development framework Flixel, Saltsman’s fingerprints are evident everywhere in mobile gaming.
Together with his wife Rebekah, Saltsman launched a new publishing label called Finji last week, an imprint whose stated mission is “collaborate with who we want, when we want, on the games we love.” The games in development under Finji’s tent are kaleidoscopically varied and intriguing: from grim turn-based survival game Overland to the lavishly-illustrated cartoon adventure Night in the Woods.
Over the past few days I’ve been talking to Saltsman about what Canabalt looks like to him five years later, and what he wants to achieve as a publisher.
Space Noir? But space is already noir. Maybe “space” is being used as an adjective here. Like the way car companies name colours. Champagne gold. Caribou beige. Get your 2015 Citroën DS in Space noir.
But perhaps not. Space Noir is a sci-fi dogfighter from N-Fusion, the New Jersey-based studio that collaborated with Eidos Montreal on Deus Ex: The Fall and brought us Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded. The game appears to be re-routing a lot of power to narrative the way Freespace and Wing Commander did, casting you as space mercenary Hal Markham, who’s on a mission of space vengeance against the evil-doers who ruined his career, killed his family, and married his girlfriend. That’s totally in the marketing materials, I’m not making it up.
Action is tough to do well on touchscreens but Deus Ex: The Fall was pretty solid. Space Noir is due out this summer for “tablet” — presumably iOS & Android.
Sometimes I work really hard to contextualise a game, or write something funny about a release. But every once in a while something just shows up in my inbox fully formed.
Halfbrick’s next title is Bears vs. Art, a game where a bear is disturbed by the installation of a fine art gallery in his turf and proceeds to destroy the works of art contained therein. This appears to be set up without even a thimble of irony.
At the risk of putting too fine a point on it, this is a free-to-play game about destroying art. The medium is the message, etc. For the record, I love Halfbrick. Jetpack Joyride is a gem. But wow, man.
One of the things Ford Prefect had always found hardest to understand about humans was their habit of continually stating and repeating the very very obvious.
The Beeb has done us all a great service today. On the BBC Radio 4 website you’ll find a lovingly re-created 30th Anniversary Edition of the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy text adventure. And yes, I’ve already tried it and it works perfectly well on your iPad (and presumably so on whatever mobile device you’ve got). You might have to reload the page once or twice and exhort Hephaestus to get the HTML 5 fully cooperative.
In case you didn’t know this existed: this game was a 1984 collaboration between Zork makers Infocom and the singularly brilliant Douglas Adams, based loosely on the deathless comic novel of the same name. Which you’ve read, right? If you haven’t read the Hitchhiker’s Guide, then I banish you from Pocket Tactics until you have, you poor, unfortunate thing. Off you pop. You’ll come back a better man, woman, or small furry creature from Alpha Centauri.
My semi-regular board game group includes many of my oldest friends, and board game night is as important for catching up and commiserating as it is for gaming. One six-way game of Catan can take up the whole night because we’re talking about work and kids and TV as much as much as we’re trading wool and building roads.
I had bought the renowned two-player game Twilight Struggle last year and quickly found that there was a hidden cost to it. Not only did you have to learn the Cold War strategy game yourself, but you had to find one (and only one) friend willing to learn it, too.
So when I suggested to my friend Will a couple of months ago that we quietly calve off from the larger board game group to form a Twilight Struggle sub-group, it immediately felt furtive. Our secret head-to-head TS games were of an entirely different character than board game night. There was no chit-chat about annoying co-workers or funny incidents at daycare pickup: there was only Middle Eastern shuttle diplomacy and lamentations over missed opportunities to coup Italy.
Several weekly games went by before word got out: there was a second board game night happening off the reservation. The larger group was appalled. Come play Twilight Struggle with us, they said — we’ll just drink wine and watch.
With some trepidation we agreed. The experiment started in good faith, with lots of questions from from the observers and eager explanations from Will and I peppering the usual board game night chat. But Twilight Struggle is an all-consuming monster of a game. You can’t genuinely engage about dumb bosses and the last episode of Girls while you’re plotting next turn’s political realignment in Venezuela. After about an hour, questions about the game stopped coming in, and the long dining room table had developed a tacitly agreed-upon DMZ between the TS game and everyone else. I actually had a lot to say about Girls, but how can you worry about Brooklyn when all of Europe is being consumed by imperialism?
We shelved Twilight Struggle to everyone’s visible relief and broke out the crowd-pleasing Munchkin. I leaned over to Will and told him I’d taken a picture of the board state with my phone before I’d put it away. “I know,” he said, “and I bagged our hands separately. We’ll finish this on Sunday.”
Things have returned to the status quo ante. Friday nights are for the group and for conviviality. But Sundays are for war.