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Ravenhoe Blog

XComing - My hopes and dreams about future Alien invasions

The year 2012 will quite appropriately (at least when asking your fellow Mayan) be all about the end of the world. One fashionable and rather exciting way to go would be an alien invasion. Ever since the alien scares of the 1950s, humanity has been obsessed with little grey men with large eyes and problems to find hats in the right size, pushing over cows, having anal sex with people and causing all sorts of other general mayhem (as well as showing an interest in backwater towns in America).

The XCOM games are probably still the best way to play out the alien invasion scenario on a home computer to this day.

The first game, XCOM - Enemy unknown, enjoys a devoted cult following due to its slick game design, interesting story and creepy atmosphere. Unfortunately, the follow-up games in the series never quite reached the same level of quality, despite an unusual and brave decision to set the sequel in the underwater realm. The second game (Terror from the Deep) is widely considered the ugly step-brother of the first game or something that you keep in the bottom drawer of your room (now who can guess what I have in my bedroom drawer, eh ?).

Steam recently put the whole XCOM-series on sale (including the spin-off games) and I highly recommend picking it up to gear up for the year of XCOM revivals.

As it is the way in the world of business, the very successful XCOM game(s) spawned many imitators, all of which more or less stuck to the formula and there are even some similar games in development scheduled for a 2012 release. Some of these titles include UFO:Aftermath, UFO:Extraterrestrials or Xenonauts (a promising game still in development). There have also been attempts to recreate the isometric squad-based formula in other settings in order to be sufficiently original and different from the UFO games.

Let's take Abomination for example, quite the abomination of a game indeed about a bunch of heroic mutants trying to save a city from a crazy cult. While not the worst game in the history of gaming, it is certainly no joyride and the controls make it quite hard to endure. However, it does have some interesting ideas, such as special powers for the individual characters and a non-linear storyline with random missions thrown in for good measure.

Or how about the virtually unknown little gem of a game called Shadow Watch ? A game that is actually based in the Tom Clancy universe (oddly enough, this circumstance has not been used in its marketing), comes along with gorgeous (!) visuals and solid gameplay, yet went more or less unnoticed and is pretty hard and nigh impossible to track down unless you pirate it from one of the usual suspect sites.

To cut a short story even shorter, I think we can all agree that there are many games that have been inspired by the XCOM series and that no game has managed to live up to the expectations or even surpass the quality of the first game. That being said, let's not be too unrealistic and delusional about the fact that XCOM itself did not invent the concept of squad-based / turn-based strategy in the first place, but it certainly mixed things up by adding a layer of macromanagement and base building to the genre as well as coating the whole shebang with an interesting and engaging theme.

Last year, 2K announced that they would release a new game in the XCOM franchise or a 'reboot' (to use one of the prevalent terms in pop culture). One of the first things to come to mind had been the unusual frequency with which terms like re-imagination and modernisation popped up all over the articles concerned with the new game in the alien-hunting franchise. Nostalgians all over the Internet shook their virtual fists in outrage over the fact that XCOM would be a FPS-game, even though it would still retain some of the original ideas (being squad-based, featuring a base etc.). Furthermore, the game is set in the 1950s and chronicles the origin of the XCOM organisation. This would not remain the only beloved squad-based franchise to be announced as a FPS remake, some time later, a new Syndicate-game was announced . . . also and FPS-remake.

Now hold your horses everyone, we cannot expect the industry and fancy developers like 2K not to go along with the dominant industry paradigm and it should not be a surprise to many (maybe older) gamers that it is common for the paradigm to shift from one generation to the other. Remember the transition from text-adventure to parser adventures (text-based commands) to the icon-based controls and ultimately the transition to 3D with Grim Fandango or even earlier with games such as Alone in the Dark or Ecstatica ?

The same goes for RPG games, I have fond memories of the well-sorted RPG-game screen with the first-person dungeon view taking over the most part of the screen, the convenienct and quite evocative party manager located in the bottom,top or right-hand side of the screen and all sorts of buttons and scrolls and bells and whistles spread across the rest of the screen. Then we had the console-dominated top-down view, followed by the good ole' isometric perspective used in many Hack & Slash games and immortalised by the Diablo series and now its mostly 3rd person or mixture of first and 3rd person (The Witcher, Skyrim, Mass Effect, WOW etc.) In fact, you can trace this whole development when looking at one of the most legendary and best RPG series ever, the Ultima series. The first few games were rogue-like adventure games, followed by games in top-down perspective and better graphics, isometric perspectives in Ultima VII and Ultima Online (RIP Lord British) and the newer games following the more modern formulas of visual depiction.

Now all I am trying to say is that the old games were great for what they were but we have to try and accept the new games for what they are trying to do as well and it is a commercial venture after all. And not all is bad for the new XCOM franchise, the visuals look stunning and like an interesting stylized version of Norman Rockwell paintings and old American interior catalogues, a blend of TF2 quirkiness and LA Noire's love for vintage detail. I think alien invasion themes work best in the 1950s, infused with the general scare of the nuclear threat and the explosion of popular sci-fiction.

The game will also take a non-linear and non-railgun approach to the game, missions will pop up on the map or in the HQ and you will send squads into the field to gather data and defeat the aliens. The designers made a bold decision to make away with the stereotypes and create an unique visual approach to the 'alien' race by making them some sort of gooey black soup flying around in cubicles. While that might disappoint some genre-enthusiasts, it is a good decision in terms of IP-value, making the game more unique and stand out from the common alien fare. I think one thing the new game will borrow from the old XCOM games is the pacing and the structure in which the story will unfold, beginning with reconnaissance missions, the game will become more and more about stealing alien technologies and ultimately defeating the slimy bastards with their own set of cutlery. Take that, bowl of black ink ! The squad-based concept also promises interesting multilayer skirmishes and I wonder whether the developers have the foresight to make the whole campaign playable as a team (Imagine playing through a whole strategic/FPS campaign with your friends!), to me, that sounds like Left 4 Dead meets XCOM ! Make it happen. In fact, I wonder why not more L4D-clones are coming out ? What gives gaming industry ? Aliens: Colonial Marines seems to be the most promising heir to the throne. The studio behind the new XCOM game is 2K Marlin, the muscle behind the first two BioShock games and I think they will get the job done, they already showed their knack for creating haunting atmospheres by evoking a fearsome blend of vintage-Americana mixed with dystopia fantasies (now that is a mouthful right there).

But that is not all news coming from the earth-defending camp that is 2K. It has just been announced that there is another XCOM game in development, by none other than Firaxis, Sid Meier's new stomping grounds (although he seems to take a back seat as far as the actual game design is concerned).

Better known for recycling Sid Meier's old games, Pirates, Colonisation and Civilisation with varying results, XCOM is an unusual detour from their formula and I wonder whether the decision derived from being bored with making the same game over and over again or the publisher's pressure to find a studio to take on the squad-based legacy of the franchise. Be that as it may, it remains to be seen what Firaxis will be able to do with the franchise. While their games are usually polished and fun, I have to say that they are far from being visionaries and the unusual and out-of-the-blue announcement of a new XCOM-Squad game sounds like bringing the red-haired stepchild to the birthday party, a necessity rather than a convenience.

It is quite an unusual decision for a publisher to release two games in the same franchise in the same year (Firaxis' XCOM is scheduled to be released in Fall, while XCOM has no release date, although many strores list it as early 2012, which is probably outdated information).

Some other game companies did similar things in order to promote their games, such happened with Bioware and the Dragon Age franchise, for which a Facebook game has been released (DA: Legends). Yet, all the efforts to cross-market the Dragon Age franchise through games on other platforms, tabletob games or involving the enchanting Felicia Day cannot shake off the whiff of viral marketing, rather than being full-fledged games in their own right. Yet, 2K seems serious about releasing two games that, apart from the legacy, don't go hand-in-hand at all. I wonder whether this decision was made in the very beginning or only after the outrage by the fans about how the new XCOM game would be a FPS games. Maybe 2K wanted to kill two birds with one stone, both reinvent the franchise but also 'cash-in' on the nostalgia surrounding the first title. The fact that the development time for the Firaxis XCOM game seems so short suggests that it will not be a triple AAA production at all, but rather a polished update but ultimately conservative game, paying its respects to the old XCOM game(s).

The question is, how hard can it be to make a new game based on a fantastic and working design in the first place - should not be too hard eh ? No one is asking you to re-invent the wheel, yet the fact that no other game ever managed to capture the spirit of the original game speaks volumes. Hold on to the squad-based formula, research, technologies, geoscape and base-building and you will have yourself a winner. Whatever you do Firaxis (and I am looking sharply at all the visuals from your other games), don't make the art ****slightly cartoonish and family friendly. The original XCOM game(s) scared the living daylight out of me as a young lad and I look forward to being scared again, be it by liquid liquorice or isometric little **** I cannot wait for the two games to come out, whosawitme !?

Flash Forward !

My fellow gamers, like many of you, I have been captivated by the recent surge of amazing Indie and Flash games and whenever come across a particulary interesting Flash game I make a note for future reference. Here are some old and newish flash games I enjoyed and I would like to share with my gaming community, let me know whether you have played them and/or what you think of them ? If you an think of similar games, let me know as well, it is hard to seperate the good from the bad with so many games out there in the wild . . .

The Arrow Of Time

An interesting defense-shooter with a lovely illustration art **** taking place in various eras of human invention. The player is shooting arrows, which in turn can be upgraded to have fire damage, lightning damage, ice damage etc. Some special powers are particularly odd, like timewarp etc. The enemies range from quick and and weak to slow and powerful. The game is challenging but can be completed within an hour or so. It is great fun and you should try it !

Effing Hail

This is a funny game with interesting controls and neat graphics. It might get repititive quickly but it is fun as long as it lasts and the basic idea is just too good to pass on it. The player control the winds and needs to create big rocks of hail and hurl them against buildings, satellites and airplanes. The crux lies in the controls, it is not always easy to create those big rocks, let alone hurling them at the targets and mastering this is both challenging and fun and will appeal to all those who always liked to send arrays of catastrophes towards their cities in Sim City or kill their Sims, HA HA ! Good stuff.

Elona Shooter

Just in case you missed it, Elona is one of the best freeware RPGs out there, but this is a defense-shooter based on the same franchise. The player has to hold out and defend the tower against an onslaught of monsters and beasties firing weapons. The great thing is all the RPG elements, there are so many weapons to be found, upgraded and used, henchman to be hired and buildings to be upgraded, it is a great game and offers a rewarding progression pace. The controls are great for a flash game and very satisfying and the artwork is lovely too, with the stage in between the action phases showing a lovely little village and graphics, giving the player lots of stuff to do in between the attacks. I know there are other games like this out there (with Zombies) but this puts it up a notch.

The list goes on, but that will do for now, have a go at the games and let me know what you think !

Henrik

Upcoming MMOs on my Radar

I played my fair share of World of Warcraft in the past (as well as Ultima Online, Star Wars Galaxies, Everquest 2, Dark Age of Camelot, Age of Conan and Warhammer: AOR). Since I received my new system I was eager to play another MMO again, just for the sake of looting, questing and monster-bashing but I am reluctatn to dwelve back into an 'old' MMO such as WOW and would rather be patient and wait for some of the new ones to come out (let alone the fact that recent ones such as Rift do not interest me at all)

Without further ado, here is a list of upcoming MMO(RPGs) I am looking forward to (to varying degrees).


1. GUILD WARS 2

Because I do like my (generic) fantasy MMOs and am not a big fan of Sci-Fi or else. The game looks gorgeous. The character selection screen is so beautful already, cannot wait to see the game on maxed out details. I am also intrigued because the game is free to play and instead of sucking money out of our wallets for nothing or some updates here and there, they will provide us with more expansions and probably some DLC ? The quest system looks nice, I do like the group quest just popping up as you hit them, something they too from Warhammer AOR (public quest). I am not interested in PVP so don't know much about that. This is definitely on my Nr. 1 spot for upcoming MMOs.


2. WildStar

As a seasoned gamer, I don't buy easily buy into hype and MMOs that have 'great plans' to change the genre but this looks promising indeed, it's a shame that they too opted for cartoonish/goofy graphics, why can nobody come out with an MMO that is gritty and not fluffy ? I do like my cute little bunnies, but not all the time and in every single game. The premise of having character ****s that actuall DO play different from one another sounds very interesting and I wonder if NCSoft can deliver, they do have some MMO experience although they are known for the quantity rather than quality. I did love the trailer for the game and cannot wait for more info about the game to come out.


3. Star Wars: The Old Republic

This might shock some of my fellow geeks but I am not that excited about this game as most of you. I love the Star Wars films and characters etc. but have never been interested in other time periods in the Star Wars Universe and as such, I don't really care much for the extended setting ogf this game (apart from the core Star Wars license). To me, Jedi's had always been outcasts and only a few survive, this I why I loved the old Jedi Knight games. But an MMO with millions of Jedis running around, all wielding their lightsabres, that does not excite me. I also don't like the art **** the animations look really clunky, when compared to other upcoming MMOs such as Guild Wars 2 and I wonder why that is ? Still, I will wait for reviews and opinions to flood the net and than make up my mind but considering that they will have a limited release at launch anyway, I will definitely miss the (first) boat on that one.


4. Salem

Ooooh, a crafting MMO, I like crafting as long as it does not translate to endless grinding and tedious repetition of pressing buttons all the time. What intrigues me about the game is what it is known for (so far) and that is the permanent death feature, I do like some sort of closure in my games and the idea of having a character go through the stages and life with death being the final one sounds like great fun. I am not sure whether you will be able to procreate or have an heir and continue your line or dynasty or if you have to start from scratch. Anyhow, this looks good and I hope they take more than one page out of the books of Minecraft and Terraria when it comes to creating an interesting crafting/building game.

5. Path of Exile

Diablo is one of my favourite game franchises and this looks like an honest, yet interesting clone of the game. A Hack 7 Slash game featuring the core gameplay that makes every ARPG good, killing hordes of monsters, randomly generated levels and loot, addiction guaranteed. It is online and free to play and as far as I know the microtransactions won't buy you power so I am okay with that (I usually avoid all games involving Microtransactions). The graphics look a bit rough around the edges but if the gameplay is good and the game is free after all, I will definitely give it a go.


6. Warhammer 40K: Dark Millenium

I have to say, I am intrigued by the Warhammer (and 40K) world but don't know a lot about it but all the games set in the Universe are dark and visceral and I like that a lot. This looks like another promising, fourth generation MMO to come out in 2013, so that is a long way to go and probably not worth checking out early infos already (and considering that Warhammer AOR bombed like a dead duck, a Warhammer license is not necessarily a good thing). The success (or not) of W40K Space Marine might greatly boost the hype for this one.


7. World of Darkness


I do like the oWOD a lot, but I have been disspointed by how the Secret World turned out which had initially been advertised as a Cthulhu-esque MMO but is nothing but a terrible mixture of all sorts of random monsters and beings against humankind without any thematic coherence whatsoever and the gameplay also looks like another grindfest (that is why it is not on this list). However, the world of Vampires / Werwolves / Hunters has lots of potential and I am a big fan of Vampire Bloodlines. I just hope they keep the dark tone and dystopian flavour of the source material and don't turn this into a Matrix meets Twilight shamble.


That's it from me, what are you most anticipated MMOs ? Let me know !

H.


I am back with a new system (finally)

Ages ago, it seems like a lifetime (it was actually a few months ago), my PC broke down and I was forced to use my girlfriend's crappy laptop. Now, after ages of working like a dog and saving money, I bought a new PC and am back in the gaming world, hurray, I am excited and my first blog post (after the hiatus) will be just that, the expression my excitment and sharing the stats of my new PC with you.

Now, before I do that, I want to know, what are the top 5 PC games you are looking forward to at the moment and if possible, tell me about some games I probably do not know about ?

Here are mine:

1. Diablo 3
2. Guild Wars 2
3. Skyrim
4. LA Noire
5. Wildstar

And here is my new system, I named it: Nr. 1

CPU: Intel Core i7 2600K

CPU Cooler: NEW! Corsair H80 Water Cooler

Operating System: Microsoft® Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit

Motherboard: Gigabyte Z68X-UD5

Memory: NEW! 16.0GB Corsair DDR3 1600mhz Vengeance (4x 4GB)

Hard Drives: NEW! 500GB S-ATAIII 6.0Gb/s

Second hard drive: NEW! 1TB S-ATAIII 6.0Gb/s

Optical Drive: 22x DVD±RW DL S-ATA Lightscribe

Second optical drive: 4x Blu-Ray ROM S-ATA

Graphics card: NEW! 2 x NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580 1,536MB

Monitors: 24" Widescreen LCD Case: Antec Twelve Hundred PSU: 1000W Corsair HX Ultra Quiet

It's good to be back, now let's do some gaming !

Hidden Games of the Gaming World #6 - Starfleet Academy

I am sure that most hardcore trekkies are aware of this game but with so many hit and miss Star Trek games that were released over the years (the last dud being the MMO), I can see how some people dismiss any game based in this utterly underappreciated license altogether. Yet, some games gave us hope, that there might still be good game designers out there, such as the adventure games by Interplay.

But this one is one of the best and yet most obscure games based on the license. Back in the Day when video games (as in put videos in your games) were in full flow and overhyped, many games desperately tried to incorporate the technology into their concept and most failed. Some legendary good games still retain their reputation to this day (Under the Killing Moon, 7th Guest or Phantasmagoria).

Starfleet not only features the original music, set designs, costumes etc. from the film but also several actors from the original series, Shatner, Koenig and Takei. The game itself is thrilling and rewarding, putting you in the captain seats in all sorts of missions, both combat missions and other bizarre things that feel familiar to those who are aware of the fact that many Star Trek episodes out there are borderning on the insane.

If you ever manage to track this down somehow, make sure to hold on to it and cherish it, it is a great game indeed.


Hidden Gems of the Gaming World #5 - 5 Days a Stranger

5 Days a Stranger

Old School Adventure, developed by Ben 'Yahtzee' Crosshaw, 2003, PC Freeware

One good thing about being an avid retro-gamer is that over the last decade "indie-gaming" and
"casual gaming" has become a whole independent discipline in computer game design. From old school
adventure games created with one of the many software kits available or casual gams which are
simple to learn yet hard to master. it all reminds me of the pioneering days of gaming and I am able
to find clones and new takes on the legendary Point & Click adventure, asteroids game and puzzle games all over the internet. Of course, not all that shines is gold and as in the first wave of 'old school games' back in the 80/90ies, there is a lot of games which are not worth out time. But Crosshaw's cycle of adventure games is definitely worth your time. 5 Days a stranger is the first game in the Trilby Trilogy (althoug the game now consists of four games), in which a gentleman thief goes out and
about to break into a house only to be confronted with the house's haunting and horrific future. The
premise sounds simple enough but the game is so focussed and well written that it is a refreshingly
coherent experience and quiet the creepy thrillride. The fact that it is part of a trilogy makes the more
satisfying. The game is a mixture of Maniac Mansion and console chiller The Clock Tower and a milestone inf freeware adventure design and really put the AGS on the map for many.

DOWNLOAD THE GAME HERE

Hidden Gems of the Gaming World #4 - Mr. Jones Graveyard Shift

NR. JONES' GRAVEYARD SHIFT

Tycoon Game, Developed by Gogii Games, published by Silverback Productions
2008, PC & MAC

Although Tycoon games have been ever so popular as of recently, with all sorts of weird and partially boring topics being turned into a Tycoon game (think coffee tycoon), Mr. Jones Graveyard Shift is a welcome exception. Out of the myriads of unnecessary Tycoon games out there, Mr. Jones graveyard Shift is worth playing

A neatly designed, simple yet rewarding (both in gameplay as well as in thematic experience) game. Take care of your customers by developing your graveyard, use the right plants, headstones etc. to earn the most money. Avoid ghosts and zombies on your way. Not the reinvention of the wheel, but a great installment of the tycoon genre.



Hidden Gems of the Gaming World - #3 - Warzone

Comments are very much appreciated, have you played the game ? Did you like it ? Do you think a game like this would hold up to today's standards ? Could it be remade or ported to newer systems ? Let me know, Henrik.

Hidden Gem #3

WARZONE

Amiga, 1991 by Core Design

A slick vertical scroller and great cooperative game. The game pits two nameless but rather muscular soldiers against hordes and hordes of enemies in all sorts of landscapes which resemble all the foreign territories you can think of, deserts, jungles, ships, you name it. Naturally, our two lads go into the fight armed to their teeth and the game has highly polished controls and the cooperative mode made it extremely fun to play. The game did not break any boundaries but was as solidly an entertaining game as similar titles (Commando, Mercs etc.)

Hidden Gems of the Gaming World: #2 Arachnophobia

Comments are very much appreciated, have you played the game ? Did you like it ? Do you think a game like this would hold up to today's standards ? Could it be remade or ported to newer systems ? Let me know, Henrik.

Hidden Gem #2

ARACHNOPHOBIA

Amiga, 1991 by BlueSky, published by Titus Interactive

At its core the game is a rather slow paces sidescroller in which you explore houses, searching for the spider queen which is hiding and dwelling in one of them. The player drives around the city (portrayed in top-down perspective) until a "spider" alarm goes off, depicting where an infestation is in full process.The player has basically two means of killing the spiders, the spray can on his back and the his feet on the end of his legs. He can exterminate the critters by spraying on them or simply jumping on them, splatting them flat.

Hidden Gems of the Gaming World: #1 Locomotion

Hello everyone, I have been spending my time on Giantbomb lately so sorry for the lack of updates. I decided to start a new blog series dedicated to obscure, unknown or old games which some of you may or may not have played. Comments are very much appreciated, have you played the game ? Did you like it ? Do you think a game like this would hold up to today's standards ? Could it be remade or ported to newer systems ? Let me know, Henrik.

Hidden Gem #1

LOCOMOTION

Amiga, 1992 by Prestige, published by Kingsoft

By today's standards, Locomotion would be labelled a casual game, it is very easy to pick up but takes time to master and the increasing difficulty makes for a nice and balanced challenge/satisfaction curve. The basic principle of the game has you switching railway tracks, altering directions in order to send the trains to their respective destiantion and avoid crashes. As one might have expected, the frequency of trains being released as well as the overall scarcity of available routes makes this quite a challenge. The game offers many levels and is highly replayable due to the fact that where the trains pop up and where they're going is random each time you play. I played this game on the Amiga and it would make for a nice DS or IPad port in my opinion.

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