This Site Has Moved!

No longer a free WordPress weblog, i’ve moved the site onto leisuremanifesto.com. It’s exactly the same, just with a new (shorter) address. It also opens up new possibilities for how I could manage the site. This blog will no longer be updated, but the site will. So check it out! If something’s broken, please let me know!

Water physics are more fun than an actual game. Fact.

From Dust is a puzzle/physics simulator made by Ubisoft Montpellier, the same studio responsible for the Rayman series and Beyond Good & Evil. From Dust, however, is a very different game from either of these or indeed pretty much any game to come out in recent years.

You might be fooled into thinking it’s just some indie game, but rest assured there is some quality production value behind it even with it’s modest $15 price tag and download-only sales model. If you own an Xbox, you may have already played it when it was released as part of the Summer of Arcade promotion earlier this year. I played the PC version, naturally, and these thoughts are all based on that.

The game is set on a series of islands (think Polynesia) in a tropical climate. You play as the “breath”, a god-like creature created at the beginning of the game by the natives you now protect and help to achieve their goals. The breath has the power to move soil, water, and lava to form or remove landforms.

Totems are spread across the levels (of which there are 13) upon which the natives can found villages. Once they found villages at all of the totems on the map, they can go to a magical door located somewhere on the map and move on to the next level. Each village gives the breath a new power, varying from increasing the amount of matter the breath can move for a limited time to “jellifying” water, which (for a limited time) turns all the water into a jelly-like substance, stopping its movement and allowing it to be displaced more easily.

I had the more fun with the physics than with the real gameplay. Water and lava behave much in the way that they would in real life, and much of the game revolves around the breath diverting rivers of water or lava away from a village or totem, draining lakes, stopping the spread of fires, and withstanding natural disasters, like volcano eruptions or floods.

It’s a simple concept, but I haven’t seen a game simulate water physics more accurately than From Dust, and in a way that’s entertaining to boot.

Granted, the game lacks much of a story, and while new concepts are pretty much introduced at every level, they could get tiresome for someone who doesn’t get as much enjoyment as I do just from watching a river flow down a mountain.

Also, From Dust feels very much like an Xbox port, which we all know that it is. The controls are clearly optimized for a controller, which is a shame as a mouse would be much better suited for this game. It works, but it doesn’t feel as natural or fluid as I hoped that it would. You probably shouldn’t let that detail stop you from picking up the game if the rest sounds enticing, however, and I still found the mouse preferable to the controller after trying them both.

If you’re an achievement fiend, some of the achievements can be a pain to get. One requires you to complete the entire game without losing a village, which is difficult to do. That’s why they call them achievements, I suppose.
Then there’s the issue with the DRM. For now, there’s the bogus “always-online” DRM that requires the player to have a constant internet connection to play the game. I play almost all my games on a desktop with a constant connection, so while this wasn’t a problem for me I could see how others may take issue with it. There are reports that they will revert the “always-online” DRM to something more standard, but I don’t believe it has happened yet. Some people were very angry over this, and Steam was even offering refunds.

All in all, for $15 From Dust is an experience worth having if you can enjoy playing with some well-modeled physics. That’s not all the game offers, of course, as there is a straight-up game under those systems if you’re so inclined.

Is Age of Empires Online really free-to-play? Who cares, it’s fun.

The latest Age of Empires game, released recently, isn’t on the same track as the classic iterations before it. Instead of being a normal PC game that comes in a box (oh yes, a box), Gas Powered Games instead opted to modernize the franchise with a free-to-play model that would be, hypothetically, driven by microtransactions much like other free-to-play MMOs like Allods Online, Lord of the Rings Online, and Runes of Magic, just to name a few.

Instead, AOE Online made itself into a strange mixture of standard pricing models and microtransaction nonsense, but the end result is pretty good.

I’ll elaborate. The game shipped with two factions that feature different units and tech trees, the Egyptians and the Greeks. You can choose either, or both, and play at no charge as much as you want. However, quite a bit of useful stuff is locked down as “premium content”. When I first saw that, I figured it was a ploy to nickel-and-dime me out of $0.99 each for items or units or what have you. Not so.

To completely unlock everything for one of the factions is $20. That is, you can essentially have a full RTS experience (and a decent one at that) for a bargain price in the days of $60 AAA titles, even on PC. Advanced players will likely opt to play both factions, but even then it’s only $40. Where AOE Online plans to make the big bucks is in further content. There’s already at least one more faction in development and almost certainly more to come.

In addition to more factions, mission packs are offered at modest prices as well, though these are not as critical to the game as the faction unlocks.

Yesterday, I sat down for a few hours to determine how the game would play out as a free game. The answer is that you can only play for a short time without coming up against some sort of pay-wall, be it quest rewards you can’t use or buildings or technologies inaccessible. Thus, trying to play the game for free isn’t viable. Of course, that’s pretty much a given, as the whole point of changing from a standard payment model to a microtransaction one is to ultimately charge the player more money than a one-time purchase, and to attract larger audiences. It works, too.

The game plays well enough, if you like the AOE style RTS. It’s a solid formula. Be aware, though, that AOE Online doesn’t try to be Starcraft. APM isn’t monitored (as far as I know) and you will certainly never become a paid athlete competing at this game online. That’s not the end goal for most of us, though, and if you want to play a fun RTS for a good price, AOE Online delivers.

The “Online” in the name adds some to the game, but a large chunk of the early parts is based in single-player or co-op. In fact, you don’t even get the ability to play in ranked PVP until level 25, which takes a considerable amount of playing to reach.

Gaining experience, gold, and material for building up your “capital city” are all achieved through playing the single-player missions, which so far have been entertaining enough, if not as well thought-out as the Starcraft II single-player by any means. It’s a bit of a grind in AOE online, but as MMO players the world over will tell you, that’s part of the fun.

Another way AOE Online positions itself closer to the traditional MMO is through loot. Let me tell you, I love a good loot system, and AOE Online has a fairly deep and useful system in place for finding and buying loot, which allows you to enhance your units in meaningful ways.

That’s not the only progressive system in place, however, because in addition to the obvious leveling and tech tree system you have a capital city to manage, in which you place buildings tha produce money and resources over real-time that allow you to purchase loot and upgrade your city further. It’s very meta, having essentially an AOE game going on top of your smaller AOE games, and I like it a lot.

The only place where AOE Online fails to delight is in sometimes clunky unit management and combat, but all in all it works pretty well. Honestly, if you’re looking for a $20 RTS that has a very decent value proposition to it, I would recommend at least giving the free parts a try.

Guess who spent even more time in space?

If you noticed nothing was posted in the last week, it’s not because I forgot about the blog. Oh no, it’s because I spent way too much time playing EVE online.

Back in the Leisure Manifesto manifesto, I mentioned that I probably wouldn’t be playing MMOs. So far, that could not have been more wrong, as i’ve played 2 thus far and I don’t plan on stopping on EVE any time soon.

Last post I talked about playing Sins of a Solar Empire, which despite being a great game on it’s own, motivated me to play more space games. And what space game is larger, more complex, and more awesome than EVE online?

First off, EVE is so, so dense. The learning curve is so much harder than in a normal MMO, or a normal game, or even a normal anything. Furthermore, everything in EVE is made by the players (every ship, every missile, et cetera). Also, don’t even think about getting into PVP until you have millions upon millions of ISK.

Right now i’m a miner. I joined a mining corp and it’s a great bunch of dudes who organize mining “ops” (operations) daily. You can make a lot more ISK in a mining op as a new player than by yourself, as you don’t have to haul all the ore back to the station load by load.

I like mining because it’s simple, and it gives you a little free time to read or watch Star Trek or do whatever you like to do while you mine. Also, there’s little risk involved (at least in high security space) and not a lot of luck: you put in time, you get ISK. Simple as that.

I have been playing a little other than EVE, though. TF2 had an update last week with some crazy laser weapons that are a little overpowered. People are angry about that, but even more so that it was the soldier of all people who got the update (soldiers have more weapons than any other class), and that the new rocket launcher can be used to disable turrets. This makes the people who primarily play engineer very sad, as they haven’t gotten an update in what seems like forever, and in addition are now weaker than ever. That is a bit of a bummer as the engineer is one of the coolest and most inventive classes in the first-person-shooter genre today (in my opinion, of course), and now he’s underpowered. But I digress.

If you follow my Twitter account (and I know you don’t, seeing my abysmal amount of followers) you may have noticed that I have been watching some Top Gear. That show is cool, and it made me want to play a racing game. I tried a little Dirt 2, but I was more in the mood for Test Drive Unlimited 2, so I reinstalled that. It’s perhaps worse than I remember.

I hit a lull in my Fallout: New Vegas game last week and haven’t played since. I watched some stuff on the new DLC pack and I may just pick the game back up anyhow. I’m considering using some console hacks to make my inventory infinite, or optionally i’m sure a mod would do that just fine. I hate the inventory management in that game, I just want to pick up everything.

Oh, and I tried to play Dwarf Fortress. I got a few minutes into a 2 ½ hour tutorial video and decided to go in cold. Poor choice. I think there’s a lot of neat stuff going on in that game, but the interface and control scheme make it really hard to play for the average gamer who doesn’t spend an absurd amount of time watching tutorials. That game could eventually be really cool though.

I was going to pick up From Dust yesterday, but the PC version was delayed until August at the last minute. Bah.

I reinstalled and played Crysis again, too, motivated by a thread on a gaming forum. Crysis is more fun that I originally gave it credit for, though now some of the gorgeous views are starting to look a tiny bit dated. Maybe that’s just my opinion, and for the most part it still looks fantastic. a

Look guys, space.

Space, right? Pretty cool. I think i’ll just hammer out a few words between Sins of a Solar Empire sessions, if that’s okay.

That game is really fun. It combines economic development, base building, diplomacy, and good ‘ol space combat into one attractive package. In a lot of ways it’s very similar to AI War: Fleet Command but oh so much better.

I have the Trinity pack, which is the main game plus the two expansions, Entrenched and Diplomacy. So far I haven’t touched Entrenched, and the diplomatic add-ons seem much better suited for multiplayer against real people than against the AI.

Sins is really deep. There are multiple tech trees, planets to explore and capture, resource management, fleet building, combat, and so forth. I’ve sunk about six hours into it so far, and I feel like i’m just getting started.

Not to mention that all of the spaceships and whatnot are rendered in 3d, making the battles actually awesome to watch (unlike in AI War). There are many types of ships and three factions to choose from. 4v4 battles or 8 player FFA battles can get pretty intense.

Well, that’s enough of that, I need to play some more of that game. In other news, I finished Puzzle Agent 2. Turns out it’s about equal in length to the first. That game is as crazy as the first is with it’s ending, but a lot more conclusive. The ending is pretty fun. Go play it. The puzzles aren’t even very difficult, especially with hints, which are super easy to find.

Puzzle Agent 2, Mystery, Intrigue, and Managed Expectations in Scoggins

I picked up Puzzle Agent 2 today and gave it a few hours of my precious, precious time. First off, let’s just remember this game is  $10, and i’ll preface this by saying that for ten bones, this game is amazing and awesome and everyone who likes fun should play it. However, price really isn’t everything, so let me go over what this game is.

Puzzle Agent 2 is Puzzle Agent 1, but more so. I honestly can’t think of anything they changed. I mean, there’s a new (sort of) storyline and new (mostly) puzzles, but the game mechanics work exactly the same as the first game. Hell, they even recycled quite a few of the assets from the first game, sparse as they were.

In addition, Puzzle Agent 2 can run on an iPad, and it shows. By this I mean that all the 2d art, while gorgeous, is horribly low resolution, to the point of very noticeable blurriness and distortion. I understand that this was all drawn by one guy (assuming it’s like the first game in that regard), but for some reason it’s all made for 1024 x 768 or whatever iPad resolution is.

Let’s focus on the good points. The story and characters are still amazing. The wit and humor is still there in all it’s greatness. The pacing of the game and cutscenes is still brilliant in it’s slow, plodding manner that very much reflects the character of Nelson Tethers.

The story mainly is a direct continuation of the story of Puzzle Agent 1. Some people might be disappointed with this choice, seeing as the ending to the original Puzzle Agent is considered to be top-notch (if you haven’t played it, I won’t spoil it for you here, but it’s so good). The fact that Puzzle Agent 2 doesn’t branch out or take any risks at all with it’s story or gameplay is a bit of a let-down, but it doesn’t stop the game from being a joy to play and worth every penny.

As for the length, i’ve only played a few hours thus far, so I can’t say for certain. I do remember that I beat the original Puzzle Agent in one afternoon though, so anything longer than that will be fine with me.

He got that 4X craving

Sometimes it feels like i’m pregnant, the way I get these random cravings for games for no good reason. Right now, i’m feeling a bit peckish for a space sim. Maybe because i’ve been watching a lot of Star Trek on Netflix instant, or maybe not. Either way, i’m eyeing Sins of a Solar Empire even though I know good and well i’m not short on games in the slightest.

And about games. After playing like 8 hours of Just Cause 2 the first day I bought it, i’ve cut back a bit though i’m still playing and enjoying it. I installed a couple mods and i’ve yet to see how those work (the one i’m most excited about is the one that makes the view stop auto-centering. When flying a plane that is super annoying).

Fallout: New Vegas is hopping right along too. After playing a bunch of it, I realized that game looks terrible graphically. I’ve checked my menu and config options no less than thrice just to make sure I wasn’t accidentally on a low setting. It’s maxed out, but hot damn. Those textures are pretty low-res. Some modding would probably help that, but it’s not fair to expect your audience to mod your game just to make it look up to modern standards.

I was almost tempted to buy the new Harry Potter game. I know! I know! I’m not going to. Stop giving me that look.

TF2 is still going strong. I have a vintage axtinguisher for my Pyro now, but I rarely get a chance to use it as pyro is one of my most played classes and also generally one of the most played in the game. I’m working on demoman now, and I set a new personal kill record for him yesterday (10 in one life).

I’ve also been considering buying SCII. I know i’m a year late, but the competitive awesomeness of that game is enticing me. It probably has something to do with the fact that no games are coming out this summer, really.

Oh, except From Dust. That one is coming out the 27th, and it looks pretty fun. I’ll probably pick that up.

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