“If you’re the owner of a grey Kubelwagen parked in Lot B — you left your lights on.”
From the distant vista of the casual fan, WWII wargames might all look more or less the same: you push around some tanks, you compel some infantrymen to butt helmeted heads; somebody wins and writes the history books, someone loses and then reloads a save.
And to be sure, there’s some truth to that. Much like basketball and baseball might look fundamentally similar to uncontacted Amazonian tribesmen made to watch SportsCenter, a lot of the differences between super high-level operational wargames like Drive on Moscow and intimate tactical affairs like Battle Academy can be cosmetic and presentational. But as Michael Jordan reminded us in 1994, you can be pretty damn good at one kind of ballgame and rubbish at another. Those little differences might be important.
The only thing harder than making a hit video game is making a hit video game twice.
Sweden’s Mojang has ridden the truly phenomenal success of Minecraft — their first and only commercial game release, originally the project of solo coder Markus “Notch” Persson — all the way to a $2.5 billion acquisition by Microsoft last month. Following up on a hit is tough (Rovio and OMGPOP and Vanilla Ice all nod somewhere), but following up on what might be the biggest hit in history… how do you do that?
Last week, I spoke with three of the folks at Mojang who are charged with that very task. Owen Hill, Måns Olson, and Henrik Pettersson who are working on Scrolls, Mojang’s sophomore effort — a fantasy card game that they plan to release on PC, Android tablets, and iPad simultaneously next month.
Card Dungeon is a charming drunk of a game, staggering towards brilliance one minute and then turning around and lurching at ineptitude the next. It’s carrying around a bucketload of great ideas, but it’s also occasionally being sick into that bucket.
We’ve been observing Zach Barth’s Ironclad Tactics through our field glasses for a very long time. Back in September of 2012, Zach himself told us back then that the card-driven tactics game could very well make its way to mobile the way his previous hit SpaceChem did.
Events last week proved the prophecy correct, for certain definitions of “correct”: Ironclad Tactics is now out for Android but not iOS, giving The World’s Leading Smartphone Operating System™ a rare exclusive. The game takes place in an alternate and (I’m sure we can all agree) entirely superior American Civil War where the fighting was conducted mostly by steam-driven mechanical men. The game has been on PC since last year where it’s received fairly (though not entirely) positive reviews.
I talked to Zach about an iOS version and he seemed unenthusiastic. “[No plans for iOS] yet, as there are actually a ton of technical hurdles in the way that makes an iOS port much more difficult than Android,” quoth Barth. “If things go well with the Android version, though, it might be worth the effort.”
Zach Barth’s place in gaming history is already assured as the Nicola Tesla to Markus Persson’s Thomas Edison. Zach created the procedurally-generated cube-whacking sim Infiniminer years ago, single-handedly launching the voxel world craze and directly inspiring the creation of Minecraft.
What an unexpected blast of releases last week, huh? We’ve got a ton of reviews in the hopper right now: Jacob’s turned in Anomaly Defenders, Alex is working on Banner Saga, Kelsey is on Stalag 17 (remember that one? their website is working now too, by the by), Clancy is doing terrifying experiments on something or other, and I’ve got Card Dungeon and Strategy & Tactics reviews ready to go, with Russian Front not too far behind. Plus — we’ve got a interview with some giants of the gaming industry going up on Tuesday about their next game, which is coming to tablets much, much sooner than some of you might be expecting. Whew. That’s a lotta stuff.
This is probably the last Sunday Almanac for a little while, my friends, so milk all of the lovely linky goodness you can out of this one — print it out and put it up in the dashboard of your Spitfire. I’m getting married in a couple of weeks and will be around sporadically until December, but when I return all tanned and jet-lagged I’ll have a crate or two worth of hyperlinks for you to peruse. Dave and Clancy will be running the show in my absence and I’ve been programming them for months. Don’t say “Cochise” around them — that’s the attack word.
[Update: Stalag 17's escape tunnel appears to have led right back into the prison. It doesn't work on iOS 8 -- so don't hold your breath for that review.]
The slowdown in gaming Kickstarters that we could all sense in the air has been empiricized by some data collected by games industry consultants ICO Partners. The big crowdfunding gold rush of 2012/13 that spawned Banner Saga and El Alamein is no more: the overall take for video game campaigns this year is on track to be a little less than half of what it was the year before.
We’re still seeing successes of course, but it’s niche stuff like Yardmaster rather than big commercial projects, but I’m cool with that. If you’re reading this, you’re one of the 0.001% of video game consumers that spends time reading about games — I think that makes us niche. But clearly, Kickstarter projects for games will look different next year: less frequent, smaller dollar amounts.
After the jump, we catch up with the Trese Brothers’ Star Traders 2 campaign and look in on some new ones.
Ever notice that the Air Elemental looks like Mr Glitch from Math Man?
Veteran readers will recall this site’s torrid affair with Dream Quest, a goofily psychedelic and artistically unambitious iOS morsel that just happens to offer some of freshest and most interesting gameplay in memory. I don’t mean to suggest that this affair is over. Oh no.
Months after release Dream Quest still occupies an exalted place on my devices (protected from The Great iOS 8 Update Memory Clear-out of ’14) and is regularly fired up for another couple of runs. The unique combination of deck-building and roguelike is exquisite, and there’s so many cards, enemies, and character classes to learn. It’s a game you could spend months… years mastering.
We’re not the only ones enraptured by Peter Whalen’s gem: Dream Quest’s fans include Richard Garfield, the creator of Magic: The Gathering, Android Netrunner and a giant catalog of other great games.
“He actually sent me a very nice e-mail,” Whalen told me this morning. “Apparently he’s been really enjoying the game and even mentions it on his Facebook page. We’ve talked a bit and he had a lot of valuable feedback. Getting a chance to meet him and talk about design has definitely been one of the high points of my (fledgling) career in games.”
So what’s in this update, and what did one of the most legendary living game designers contribute to it?
What an odd release week. Instead of our usual concentrated shot of new stuff on Wednesday night, it was Jackson Pollock drip of games coming from unexpected places; Galaxy Trucker here, Banner Saga there. And now here’s another one: Russian Front, Hunted Cow’s biggest-ever wargame.
Originally due out January, then August, the WWII Eastern Front operational-level wargame has had quite a gestation period, but what does that mean? This game is so different — so much bigger in scope, so much more concerned with historical authenticity — than any of Hunted Cow’s previous titles that it’s hard to know quite what to expect from it.
The Scottish studio tell us that Russian Front features fog of war, a supply system, variable weather, and multiple scenarios. On paper, this is a big meaty wargame of a similar complexity as my beloved Panzer Corps, — an App Store genre with fewer members than the vampire beach volleyball club. We’ll jam Russian Front into our increasingly beleaguered review queue and bring you a verdict ASAP.
Russian Front is iPad-only and will be out at midnight wherever you are tonight for $9.99. It’s been on Android for about a week now.