Posts by: Sean Clancy

Beowulf in first round, to Vikings: Epic Manager launches Kickstarter drive

We live in a cynical world. And we work in a business of tough, often magical, competitors.

We live in a cynical world. And we work in a business of tough, often magical, competitors.

So, here’s the thing: nobody actually likes heroes. I don’t mean the real sort who extinguish fires and provide stable infrastructure for a community–I’m talking about sword-slinging, spell-blasting a-holes that occupy much of fantasy gaming. “Hey, dude, thanks and all for killing that ghoul in the crypt, but… did you really need to crack open each and every coffin to check for spare change? And, like, you’re just sort of going around asking every person you meet if they have a quest. Is this a moral obligation thing for you or- oh he’s left for the next dungeon.”

Epic Manager, from developers ManaVoid Entertainment, looks to be the next in an increasingly long line of management sims which take a wider look at the high-fantasy adventuring lifestyle. Unlike obvious contemporary Adventurer Manager, Epic Manager casts you as more of a sports agent looking for prime talent, rather than a bureaucrat contracting out to some heroes in order to focus on balancing your hamlet’s budget. Scouts find warriors, thieves, and mages you can bring onto your team, and who can then in turn raid dungeons and add to the agency’s coffers. The developers promise a fairly dynamic world, and combat affected by the composition and temperament of your line-up (though if the battles end up not quite as engaging as your managerial tasks, well, that’s the point).

The Epic Manager Kickstarter goes live on October 27th. Take heed, this one is still early on, and iOS and Android versions are stretch goals, which means they may as well be written in invisible ink on a ghost’s skin.

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Of beanstalks, frost, and lanterns: Junk Jack X goes full Halloween

Well, at least this neighborhood is well lit.

Well, at least this neighborhood is well lit.

The Terraria-inspired mine-a-lot Junk Jack X was one of our runners-up for Action Game of the Year 2013 (losing out to Tilt to Live 2), and it looks like the game’s still going relatively strong with the recent version 2.2.3 update. It’s all Halloween-y, naturally.

Though they’ve clearly a missed opportunity in not calling this the “Jack-O’-Lantern X” update (or at least the “Junk-O-Ween” update), developer Pixbits have put together all the requisite spooky bits of digital bric-a-brac which are basically expected from games of Junk Jack’s stripe this time of year (and some bug fixes, too). Sure, witches and zombies are overused fantasy tropes, but now Junk Jack X has “Witch Zombies,” which one assumes are less Sabrina, more Henrietta. Acid pits are in too, so you can get your House on Haunted Hill… on. And–direct pull from the announcement–a “new rare placeable hanging skull,” which for some reason is a felony when I advertise on Craigslist but a plus here, so go figure.

Even having not played the game, holiday theming like this makes me grin. It’s extra work for, what, about a week or so of relevance? That’s some festive dedication right there. At the same time, I can’t imagine many jumping into the game for the first time on the strength of a holiday update alone–rather, this sort of decoration seems primarily a bonus for the faithful.

Junk Jack X is $4.99 on the App Store. Wholly unseasonal video after the jump.

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So runs Bartertown: This Is Not a Test patching iPad play, going freemium

Wow, an analog watch? This must be the end of the world.

Wow, an analog watch? This must be the end of the world.

Owen first mentioned doomsday gamebook This Is Not a Test just over a year ago, making special note of its zombie-free end of the world, Sorcery!-like blend of RPG elements with branching story paths, and its trailer’s, hmmm, questionable music. The thing looks–and plays, possibly–like it was pulled straight out of an old EC Comics horror title, enough that I’m close to breaking a self-imposed ban on Crypt Keeper puns.

Now, in the harsh light of the new world’s brutal economy of blood–wait, sorry, it’s just the App Store–developer Robot Monster Productions are changing This Is Not a Test’s pricing from upfront payments to free, with an in-app purchase to unlock the “premium” upgrade.

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1.13, the number of the beasts: Major patch for monster-bumping Auro

Story of my life, kid.

Story of my life, kid.

You’d think with all the digital ink we spilled over action-puzzle darling Hoplite, we’d have weighed in more definitively on Auro, Keith Burgun’s latest. Like Hoplite, Auro looks to be similarly focused on movement as the primary means of engaging enemies, with an aesthetic that’s equal parts weird fantasy and board game. Again, though, without an official spin through the Pocket Tactics Review and Candyfloss Centrifuge we’re not necessarily the ones to say.

You can lay part of the blame for that missing verdict on the fact that Auro still isn’t available on iOS, and part on the fact that, perhaps, a definitive version of the game hasn’t existed until recently. The version 1.13 patch is one of those great, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink patches which hazards to completely tear down a game in attempt to better highlight some core experience. Replacement of main abilities, matchmaking tweaks, all the way down to modification of AI movement code to remove randomness.

Regardless of whether or not you’re already playing Auro, or plan on it, you should check out Burgun’s detailed explanation for these recent changes on the Dinofarm Games blog. His breakdown is equal parts patch notes and design philosophy, and in describing not just what changes were made, but how those changes serve to make Auro more coherent, Burgun does an excellent job of communicating just what the game’s, like, about, man.

Here’s hoping Auro will make the jump to iOS soon. In the meantime: video after the jump.

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Clay anniversary: Golem Arcana hits one year since Kickstarter funding, grows

Prague has never had it so good.

Prague has never had it so good.

It was just over one year ago that Harebrained Schemes successfully reached and surpassed a $500,000 funding target for their ambitious, app-driven miniatures game Golem Arcana. While normally this wouldn’t be cause for any special alarm, Arcana stands out because A) it’s actually playable, now, with a box and everything, unlike far too many other ostensible KS successes, and B) the game is set for further scenario expansions which promise to deliver on the much-touted notion of a “living” Golem Arcana world.

Owen gave us a breakdown of how Arcana’s meant to work back when the Kickstarter went live. To recap: it’s an army-building game about big ol’ magic war machines (real figurines on a physical battle map) piloted by mages with special buffs (that exist only on the companion app), which aims to cut down on laborious in-game math-crunching and rules checks while still preserving what makes tabletop gaming special–pained expressions and an eventual attempt to flip the gaming table, basically.

In a recent blog post the team discuss rolling out new scenarios based on the outcomes of games played at GenCon. The goal, it seems, is to offer players choices during battles which can affect Arcana lore, not just the results of any one battle–though you’re right to be skeptical if hand-crafted scenarios based on a few specific matches isn’t quite as dynamic as the “Living World” pitch suggests. (Harebrained admits these scenarios are an “Alpha” for what one hopes is a greatly expanded system.) Still, even thinking about this sort of player-generated expansion–for a tabletop game–is tenable only because of the heavy-lifting that app is doing. For more on mixed-media board games, check out Neumann’s thoughts on the upcoming XCOM and Alchemists.

The Golem Arcana app is free on iOS and Android, naturally, with the base game running for $80 via the Harebrained Schemes store. Video after the break about 60/40 on “complicated story setup” vs. “how the game actually looks and plays”.

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AR you ready: Kickstarted interactive novel Ice-Bound closing on meatspace

I have no mouth, and I must- no wait there it is. Definitely a mouth. Good.

I have no mouth, and I must- no wait there it is. Definitely a mouth. Good.

For all the cultural currency stories about self-determined AIs carry–Neuromancer comes to mind, and on the complete opposite end of the spectrum Cortana for some reason–it still seems a tricky thing for such speculative tales to really get live, human fleshbags to identify with digital characters. However Ice-Bound, an interactive novel planned for iPad and camera-equipped (this is key) PCs, aims to engender just such a connection by casting the player as assistant to a digital clone of a long-dead author.

Working with KRIS, the AI, you’re meant to explore the stories surrounding polar outpost Carina Station, the setting of Kristopher Holmquist’s popular but unfinished novel. The game of the thing revolves around rearranging story sections in a manner that fits with the big-quote-real-big-unquote Holmquist. Trick is, this realness is imparted to KRIS by examining The Ice-Bound Compendium, an 80-page companion book filled with unfinished drafts, clippings, and other assorted mystery scrap-booking. In order to progress you quite literally need to see the world through the eyes (eye?) of an artificial intelligence.

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Turn the tables: Interactive music video Wreck Fader dropping on mobile

Many hospitals recommend a disinfection regimen combining antibacterial sprays with phat, phat beats.

Many hospitals recommend a disinfection regimen combining antibacterial sprays with phat, phat beats.

Without pretending that I wholly remember the golden days of music television and its quaint stringing together of two-and-a-half to three-minute vignettes about… flannel, or whatever else people cared about in ’93 (OK Soda?), it’s still nice to see something like Wreck Fader come along. It’s a promotional game for an album of the same name by Dutch DJ Kypski, wherein you play a needle on a record which is presumably part of a live performance of “Wreck Fader,” possibly in turn happening inside a prison which is actually a toy donation box which is on the wing of a plane in the Twilight Zone (but the jury’s out on that bit). Also, for real: dust microbes trying to kill your music.

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Review: BattleRiders

"Yeah, I'll show 'em who's buying a 'midlife crisis car.' I'll show 'em all!"

“Yeah, I’ll show ‘em who’s buying a ‘midlife crisis car.’ I’ll show ‘em all!”

I first queued up BattleRiders at the start of what proved to be a tortuously long Labor Day weekend bus ride from my hometown in New Hampshire back to Boston. This setting–overcrowded bus, overly sanitized air, a saccharine safety video and a highway choked with fender benders and multi-car pile-ups–proved to be the perfect contrast to BattleRiders arcade-y blast em’ up racing.

If the point of a good, pure racing game is to marvel at the speed and grace of the automotive age, then the point of games like BattleRiders is to remind us that the vehicles which we rely on for commerce and entertainment can just as easily serve as either tanks or missiles. Of course, the missiles here aren’t “improvised” so much as “explicitly deadly and heat-seaking,” but the point stands.

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