Once upon a time, Brian Reynolds was the dauphin prince of strategy game designers. An early protege of Uncle Sid himself, Reynolds was the driving force behind the narrative 4X masterpiece Alpha Centauri, the hugely under-rated Rise of Nations, and the game that some Civ heads would argue is the apex of that singular series: Civilization II.
Like many prodigies, Reynolds started acting out in ways that defied our expectations for him. Instead of growing into the next Sid Meier, Reynolds (wearing a leather jacket and proclaiming that we aren’t even his real dads) eloped with free-to-play trailblazers Zynga, which in the first decade of this century was a roach motel for promising game developers who checked in and were promptly never heard from again.
While at Zynga, Reynolds created a bunch of the social game horsecrap that the company was known for at the time, most notably Frontierville, a game that transported the mechanics of Zynga’s fading jewel Farmville into the Old West for no apparent reason at all. In 2013, it was announced that Reynolds was leaving Zynga, and everybody who liked actual games breathed collective a sigh of relief. Now Brian could get back to making the proper strategy games that he excelled at.
Except nope that’s apparently not what’s happening at all sorry. Brian Reynolds’ new game is here, and now that he’s free to make any kind of game he wants — he’s made another clone of another godawful F2P game. Reynolds new game is a Clash of Clans imitator called DomiNations, which I fully admit has got a clever title. But dash any hopes you may have had that Brian Reynolds was done with his rebellious phase and was coming home to make real games. Good luck turning a profit with your extremely late arrival in the most crowded and least differentiated corner of the video games market, Brian. I really do mean that. Please make a few million bucks and then make a proper game for the Civ OGs that were with you back in the day.
Watch the trailer for DomiNations after the jump. I’ll meet you there with a handkerchief.
The surest tell that you’re playing a good turn-based game is how readily it induces Inter-Turn Apnea. You know what I’m talking about.
You spend your turn carefully laying down foundations for the table-flipping coup-de-main that you’ll spring the next time you get the dice. So with all in readiness, you pass the dice on to the next player and wait for them to come back around to you. You x-ray everyone else’s moves while trying to maintain a Moai-like poker face. You unspool contingency plans in your head. And when the dice get to the player who might unmake everything you’ve worked so hard to set up, you involuntarily hold your breath. Inter-Turn Apnea.
The press preview of Sid Meier’s Starships that I’ve been playing is so good at generating ITA that it’s almost turned me purple.
Here’s an update about Tim Conkling’s Antihero which you may recall we first discovered last autumn. The former Three Rings dev has been working steadily but game release dates are slippery buggers and he’s now talking about a mid-2015 launch for the game on mobile and desktops, a slightly more distant window than the previous prediction of “early 2015″. Antihero’s unique premise was the thing that really cut my purse last year: this is a 4X game where you’re the boss of a gang of Dickensian street urchins, battling for control of the grimy streets of Victorian London.
If that conceit doesn’t grab you somehow, you should still watch this new trailer that Conkling sent over yesterday evening. It’s soundtracked by the best gothic honky-tonk murder ballad you’ve ever heard. Admittedly, you haven’t heard too many of those (right?) but you really, really should hear this one.
When I catch wind of a new Sid Meier game coming, a sort of primal fight-or-flight response takes over. I have to find out everything I can about that new game, and anything else takes a back seat until I do. Turns out, more or less the same thing happens within Firaxis, Sid’s own studio.
“We have a studio shared drive that everybody can upload to.” I’m talking to Firaxis producers Pete Murray and Stuart Zissu — this is Murray. “Most people just use the shared drive to upload funny gifs and cat pictures — but Sid uploads prototype games. When there’s a new Sid prototype up, I know that I’m not going to get anything else done that day.”
Sid Meier’s name appears on every single edition of Civilization released since the original in 1991, but the legendary designer leaves that cash cow franchise in the hands of his proteges these days. “Sid’s a designer who can also code,” Zissu tells me, “so that gives him a lot of flexibility. Some people will come up with a game idea and try to explain it to you. Sid comes up with a game idea and builds a prototype to show you.”
Every once in a while, one of those prototypes really catches on at Firaxis and moves from Sid’s desk into full production. Sid Meier’s Starships, coming this spring to iOS and PC was one of those.
After allowing us to subsist on the merest scraps of information about the recently revealed iPad-bound Sid Meier’s Starships, devs Firaxis are letting it all hang out at PAX South. At a panel there, Uncle Sid himself played through Starships live, showing off a big chunk of gameplay.
When we scrutinized the few available screenshots a couple of weeks back, some PT readers saw the influence of Ace Patrol, Sid Meier’s Pirates, and Civilization. Clearly, Starships is borrowing ideas from those games, but after watching the video, it’s not easily pigeon-holed as a spiritual successor to any of those. Starships is most definitely its own freaky space animal.
What really grabbed my attention in this video is the “Shore Leave” mechanic (jump to around the 45-minute mark to see that specifically) — it’s a totally fresh approach to the way turn-based games play. Your crew’s stamina is a push-your-luck system: you can take on almost as many missions as you like, but the further you push your crew, the worse they perform in combat. When you grant your crew shore leave, the other empires in the game play their turns. That’s a very cool idea.
The whole video is after the jump. I’ve been in touch with 2K about release dates and the possibility of an Android port — I’ll hear back about that soon, hopefully.
So: a new Sid Meier game was announced earlier today. When I’m dictator, days like this will be international holidays but in the dark interval until then we’ll just have to make do.
Gather your family around the iPad, friends, because I’ve been on an expedition to find every single morsel of information about Sid Meier’s Starships that’s available for public consumption. Nothing has escaped my Sauron-like gaze, and I’ve got it all waiting for you after the jump.
The plan was to stay on vacation straight through until the 5th, but all of these brilliant news bundles (and a couple of orphans) kept turning up on the doorstep at PT HQ high atop Mount Hexmap. I couldn’t very well just leave them out there in the cold, could I? So let’s post a little news. And don’t worry about those orphans — they’re now indentured copy-editors. I’m a job creator.
So here’s something for starters: a first peek at Starbase Orion 2.
Ah, yes: the Marble Age. The swords were terrible, let me tell you.
Owen here, temporarily taking back the Out Tonight reins from Neumann. Oh man. I’d forgotten what it was like here in the Pocket Tactics New Release Observatory high atop Mount Hexmap. Cold and airy. A light breeze smelling faintly of freshly rezzed cyberspace. The whole infinite sweep of the App Store stretching out before you for miles and miles. It’s bracing. Stimulating! I notice that the web browsing history has a strangely significant number of searches for sexy pin-up pictures of Vlaada Chvatil. I should probably talk to Neumann about that.
Anyway, let’s have a look at the new releases tonight, shall we? This is the penultimate batch of new games we’ll see in 2014, as the App Store’s game-extruding orifices will all shut next week for Christmas. We’ll have a slew of games coming in at the very last minute on Friday, but let’s look at the ones landing tonight for right now.