Posts by: Owen Faraday

Make it terrain: Rubicon tells us of Ultimate War Game’s map editor

Make your own Mount Hexmap.

Make your own Mount Hexmap.

Paul Johnson revealed Ultimate War Game to us about a month ago, the final installment in Rubicon’s long-running series of lighter turn-based tactical titles. What he had to show back in July was mostly just the scale of the game, which will be the biggest of any of Rubicon’s offerings to date.

He got in touch last week to reveal a little more about what’s coming — namely random map generation. The previous Great Little War Games were all played out on pre-built terrain, but Ultimate War Game will offer infinitely varied maps and the ability to do the Amerigo Vespucci thing and craft your own.

“When we ship the game we’ll probably give access to the map editor which allows you to tailor a landscape in fine detail,” Johnson tells me. “We’ll be using the very same tool to make the mission maps when we start on the campaign stuff, so everything needed will be there.

“We’ll also add something that uses a phrase you can type in as a seed to make a totally random map, like they do it in Worms and other games. That way players can share good ones amongst themselves and not have to spend all day dragging sliders about just for a quick ruck.”

After the jump, a (very) short video showing off UWG’s base-building, another new feature that’s in the works. Ultimate War Game will be out for iOS & Android later this year.

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Ten towns to go: Icewind Dale Enhanced Edition announced

The Icewind Dale Business Improvement Board really prefers you use the name "Refreshing Breeze Dale".

The Icewind Dale Business Improvement Board really prefers you use the name “Refreshing Breeze Dale”.

Here’s the first big announcement to be trumpeted at PAX: Icewind Dale is getting the same makeover and tablet port that fellow D&D RPG Baldur’s Gate got back in 2012.

Besides running on modern PCs and mobile devices, Canadian devs Beamdog say that the isometric RPG includes both expansions to the original and will have new content including new character classes and loot, plus cross-platform co-op multiplayer. Another first is that, unlike the two previous Baldur’s Gate remasters, Icewind Dale is coming to phones as well as tablets.

The original PC game from 2000 is the favourite RPG of many D&D heads that I know, and the remake of Baldur’s Gate got top marks from our man Phil, with Clancy being similarly enthusiastic about BG II. I wonder how well this is going to work on phones, given that the UI was a bit of an owlbear to wrangle on a larger device, but hey — more D&D on your mobile.

There’s video after the jump, y’all, and there’s more details at IcewindDale.com.

Hat-tip to PT‘s Master of Whispers Pitta.

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The ninetieth degree: New StarCrawlers gameplay trailer

The Aristocrats.

The Aristocrats.

Lovers of right-angle-only turn-based dungeon crawlers are holding their collective breath for the eventual release of Legend of Grimrock on iPad. But if you prefer your RPGs with nuclear missiles and not magic ones, StarCrawlers (which we talked about here and on RDBK earlier this year) is getting closer to release on PC, after which there’s hopefully a tablet version in the works.

San Diego-based devs Juggernaut Games are going into PC early access in November, and back in February they told me that the game had been built on iPad originally, and they hoped to return it to the platform whence it came after the desktop version is done.

Besides the sci-fi theme, a major point of difference for this dungeon crawler is its reliance on procedural generation: the dungeons are different every time you play, and a “Narrative AI” creates missions for your party based on previous decisions you’ve made and which factions you’re in good with aboard the derelict colony ship Stella Marin. My favourite thing about a sci-fi dungeon crawler? No spiders. The spiders in Grimrock freak me out, man.

A gameplay video is below (dig that Mass Effect-flavoured soundtrack), and you can track Juggernaut on Twitter.

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Weekend Price Drops: I’ll Buy That For A Dollar Edition

Faster, Pussycat.

Faster, Pussycat.

What is a mobile video game worth? Quite a lot, say Square Enix, who are stubbornly sticking to their gunblades on mobile game pricing strategy. Their iOS port of PS2 JRPG Dragon Quest VIII launched back in May at the price of $20 — it’s on sale this weekend for the very first time at $15, still a vertigo-inducing price tag by App Store standards. It’s tempting to look at Squeenix and see a doddery old man complaining that kids these days listen to their music too loud and expect their games to cost a dollar.

Cas Prince of PC game developers Puppygames recently wrote that game prices are dropping so precipitously that the rich and diverse ecosystem of game creators we’ve come to enjoy is in danger. That long post includes apparently self-immolating statements like “[customers] are worthless to us[.]” But hear him out.

“Once upon a time, back in the early 2000s or so, games would sell for about $20 or so. Some developers did really well at that price point -– I mean really well. Most of us didn’t do that well, and made beer money, but we carried on making games anyway because that’s what we liked to do, even if nobody wanted them. When we got a customer we were able to treat them like royalty.”

“Then came the Humble Bundle and all its little imitators. It was another cataclysmically disruptive event… You’ve sold 40,000 games! But you’ve only made enough money to survive full-time for two weeks because you’re selling them for 10 cents each.”

Obviously, Prince is talking about one- and two-man indie studios here, not publishing behemoths like Squeenix. And casting Squeenix as the defender of the “premium”-priced game is problematic when the other fork of their mobile games strategy is pushing free-to-play bilge. But at least Square Enix have resisted the temptation to rip out Dragon Quest’s spine and turn it into a freemium cyborg like Namco did with Tales of Phantasia.

I wonder sometimes about publishing this (mostly) weekly price drops post. Am I aiding the forces pushing game prices down? I love getting a game for a dollar as much as the next guy, but many of the games I love can’t be sold profitably at a price point that low. I don’t know. I’ll keep doing it out of inertia for now, but I’m open to the notion that there’s something better to be doing on Saturdays.

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Papers, spasiba: ALFA-ARKIV is a document thriller unlike any other

Death is not the end in Carcosa.

Death is not the end in Carcosa.

We didn’t talk about ALFA-ARKIV when it came out a couple of weeks ago because I had seen a few screenshots and, frankly, I couldn’t quite figure out what it was supposed to. Now I’ve played it, and I still don’t quite think I know. But I am deeply intrigued by it.

I’ve sunk about 45 minutes into this thing, and I don’t want to make any judgements about its quality yet. Hell, I don’t know if it’s a game. In ALFA-ARKIV you’re a hacker who’s stumbled across the document drop of a Chilean revolutionary who’s trying to unravel a mystery about the lone survivor (and purported accomplice in) an Islamic extremist suicide bombing in a Russian puppet state. Who is she, and why did she survive?

The gameplay, such as it is, consists of poring over the documents in the cache, looking for clues that you can relate the AI-controlled people you meet in the in-game chat. Sometimes you’re looking at official police incident reports, sometimes hand-scawled diary entires, and occasionally videos: surveillance of suspects and propaganda reels from ISIS-like mujahideen. The production is slick and ALFA is trying hard to cast a convincing spell. The app acts like a new OS for your device, trying (like Republique did) to present you with a plausible portal to this game’s universe from your couch.

This is not a game to be played on a coffee break or while waiting for an elevator. It’s as demanding of your attention as an interactive fiction game like 80 Days. I can’t say yet how interactive it is, though — maybe there’s some puzzles waiting beyond the point where I jacked out — but I do know that ALFA-ARKIV is a absolutely unique experience. It’s not remotely afraid to tangle with touchy contemporary issues like surveillance and Islamic extremism. How insightful it is on those matters I don’t know just yet. But it’s got moxie for even attempting.

ALFA-ARKIV is iPad-only and it’s free to try; there’s an IAP to unlock the whole game after an introductory segment. Watch the trailer below.

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Out Tonight: The Nightmare Cooperative, Appointment with F.E.A.R., Bioshock, Tiny Tower Vegas, and more

I knew I was over-dressed.

I knew I was over-dressed.

From the Pocket Tactics New Release Assessment Centre and Horse Racing Tip Emporium high atop Mount Hexmap, the report has just arrived via PT HQ’s elaborate pneumatic tube messaging system: it’s a pretty decent Wednesday night. Also I have some hot horses for tomorrow’s 4 o’clock at Saratoga. Email me about those.

There’s three ports you’re going to want to investigate: two from other gaming platforms, and one from the pulpy world of books. But there’s also more made-for-mobile games that may catch your fancy. A lot of lighter stuff this week, but interesting. Trailers and chat after the jump.

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Renewed offensive: Open Panzer update adds new scenarios and Android edition

Hiss tanks.

Hiss tanks.

You might think you love Panzer General, but I promise that you don’t love Panzer General as much as Nicu Pavel does, who has been working on his free open source remake of SSI’s PC strategy classic for over two years now. In some cultures, Pavel is now legally married to Panzer General.

Back in January, Pavel brought the web-based Open Panzer to iOS, but this week has arrived for Android devices. “It’s also available on Google Chrome and FireFox OS,” Pavel told me, “but I don’t think it matters for many.” Nope, I don’t think it does either. What about Chumby, though?

Given its HTML 5 roots, Open Panzer doesn’t feel quite like a native app, but Pavel has stuffed it with content like a Zimmerit-covered Thanksgiving turkey. There’s a ton of campaigns in this turn-based operational level wargame, including the just-added “Great Patriotic War 1942-1945″ (Soviet side, 20 scenarios) and “Das Reich (1939-1945)” (Germans, 32 scenarios). It’s not as nice to look at or touch as Slitherine’s Panzer Corps for iPad, but you can’t beat the price.

Pavel’s planning his next update already: Open Panzer 3.0 will be ticking with a new AI and a new weather modelling system.

Halting probability: This is what Out There Omega Edition will look like

Send additional poets.

Now even more full of stars.

Gallic indie gaming hero Michael Peiffert sends across the above screenshot of the forthcoming Omega Edition of his extraordinary space exploration adventure Out There, and gosh that is pretty. The Omega Edition was announced back in July and will deliver an entirely new engine and expanded content to the game sometime later this year.

That screenshot “shows perfectly the direction I’m taking for the graphics improvement,” Peiffert told me. “Light use of 3D and lighting effects with hand-painted and much more detailed textures.” This will surely be 2014′s most-guilded lily, as Out There was already one of the most visually impressive games in memory. No word if the new engine will enhance the game’s suffocating sense of loneliness or induce a deeper sense of wonder, but the French have that technology, you know.

Read my review of the game from February to learn more if Out There passed you by earlier this year. Still no hard-set release date for the update (which will be free to existing owners of the game on iOS and Android) but it smells close.

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