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Civilization Revolution 2: Coming to Consoles?

Civilization Revolution 2 was just announced for iOS and Android, but no mention was made about coming to consoles. The graphics have improved drastically from 2008's mobile game. My first observation is that the game still uses a grid system as opposed to Civilization V's hex format. That most likely means the game is still running on Civilization IV's ruleset, which allows for unit stacking.

Mobile games tend to be streamlined for quick play and accessibility, so a grid based system is not surprising, as it is easier to manage. If they decided to port it to consoles though it's possible, after the success of XCOM, that they would opt for a more complex game. They could adapt Civilization V's ruleset to consoles, with streamlined play. It would be odd for them to go back to a grid after such success using hexagons. Only time will tell though, in the meantime we'll enjoy an updated version on mobile.

Changing Genres

My go to games were always shooters and real-time strategy classics. I grew up on Red Alert and Halo. I never touched a puzzle game until this past year when I bought Limbo in a Humble Bundle. I try to spend as little as I can on games, and purchasing games through Humble Bundle is a great way to donate money while still getting great games.

I had never played anything beyond Bejeweled, and Limbo was my first eye opener into not only puzzle genre, but the indie games scene. I enjoyed the black and white art style, but I eventually got stuck in the game. The puzzle was too hard for me, or maybe I was doing the right thing but my reflexes weren't good enough. I never watched a walkthrough to figure out why the nameless protagonist kept dying. I haven't touched Limbo in months.

I moved on to Thomas Was Alone, which had minimalistic puzzle elements. It was not as hard as it was tedious. That's not to say I disliked the game though. Quite the contrary. It is probably my favorite indie game I have played yet. It's social commentary is lovely, I only wish more games were as deep.

Recently, I started playing Trine 2. The puzzles seem to be the perfect difficulty, and there are hints in case I get stuck. While the hints don't always help ("use the lever" doesn't help when I don't know what button interacts with the environment), I can usually figure it out eventually. There's something gratifying about solving a puzzle that is different from just completing a level in a shooter.

It's not just that my reflexes are good enough to beat a game, it's that I'm able to use logic, beyond my virtual brawn. I've broadened my horizons beyond blockbuster titles and I've been pleasantly surprised.

I've also branched out to more artsy games like Proteus. While it's not a game that I would play for hours on end, it is certainly worthwhile to see the interaction between the player and the environment and the beautiful music scores that follow. It's a sort of art genre in and of itself. There's no sense of accomplishment from it, but there is a level of exploration and wonder.

While I always enjoy playing a good shooter or strategy game, these other genres have a lot to explore. Puzzle doesn't mean frustratingly difficult games, (although I did rage-quit in Zork), and there is a whole genre of games that are more or less artsy and less game-y. They typically tend to explore themes that aren't found in a typical FPS or RTS game, and they can be just as fun.

Civilization Revolution: 7 Years On

At first glance Civilization Revolution looks like a dumbed-down version of Civilization IV. Those were my first impressions as I played through my first game, with cartoony advisors and all. Over the course of the game though, I came to realize it is not a dumbed-down version, but a streamlined version.

Beyond the almost childish advisors, which give off a terrible first impression, Revolution has a surprising level of depth. All of the regular Civilization victory conditions are present, although streamlined for a shorter console game. Instead of building the UN and voting on a victor, Revolution just requires you to build the UN after having 20 great people.

Gameplay is streamlined for the console. There are no tile improvements, and workers are nonexistent. Roads only connect cities, allowing units to travel make the trip in one turn. Everything is streamlined for a console. Controls generally work well, although its hard to switch between units. Its the best Civilization IV port they could possibly create.

The problem is that in the years since Revolution released, Civilization V came out. Civilization V made drastic changes to the formula, most notably the hex based tile system. Revolution feels slightly antiquated in that respect. I still move units diagonally to get the added bonuses and city states are an anachronism that I long for.

It's the only Civilization game on consoles though, and it does a good job. I'm excited for the different scenarios included in it. While they're not preset maps, (like Civ IV had), they are different rulesets. One is an Alpha Centauri like scenario in which players start with all technologies and the space race victory is out of the question. I'm eager to see if they create a new Civilization Revolution based off of Civ V in the coming years.

Best Game of E3

There are tons of incredible games at E3, but my personal favorite? Halo: The Master Chief Collection. It is my favorite not because it is a novel concept, re-releases always occur, but never with multi multiplayer game engines. Halo: The Master Chief Collection aims to recapture Halos 1-4 in their original glory, with their original multiplayers.

The most important factor in Halo's success was its multiplayer. Even after the Xbox 360 launched, Halo 2 was still the most popular title for a long time after. My childhood was built around playing Halo with friends. On sundays we'd all get together and play Slayer matches in-between games of basketball and ping pong. Of course, I was never good at either of those, so Halo was my time to shine.

I'd buy an Xbox One just to play those maps again. While 343 assures us multiplayer won't be the way we remember it, it will still be amazing with lag. I never owned Halo 1 or 2, so it has been 10 years since I last played it with friends. I've never been more excited for a game release.

Fable 3: A living, breathing, Monty Python skit

Fable 3 strikes the perfect chords in combat and humor, but is plagued with minor annoyances throughout. Combat in Fable 3 flows seamlessly between ranged attacks, melee, and magic. Never before has switching been so instantaneous in which I can knock back a foe with a slash, wound him with pistol shot, and finish him off with a fireball. The combo possibilities are endless, and it makes for an unpredictable experience...

...when it's not hampered by the camera. Controlling the camera in a third person action game is never easy in tight corridors. This camera issue is made worse by the cinematic deaths in which the camera focuses on your attack instead of on you. Don't get me wrong, the deaths look beautiful focusing on the swing of your sword or your bullet knocking down an enemy, but combat still occurs during the cinematic. An enemy can still strike you while you watch your bullet soar, creating a few tense seconds of blind firing to keep yourself safe.

The quests are varied, and certainly more fun than the basic, go here and kill this person. One quest had me acting out a play, while another had me dressing in a chicken costume to catch some hens. The basic fetch this item quests are made tolerable by the sheer hilarity of your objectives. After donning my chicken costume, I listened to a husband and wife debate the chickens' civil rights. The attention to detail makes Albion feel like a living, breathing, Monty Python skit. Even though the quests can seem dull at points, I have a drive to see what insanity the next quest will bring.

The Return of Splitscreen Coop

It's been a while since I've thoroughly enjoyed splitscreen coop. Sure the last few Call of Duty games had Spec Ops and zombies, but none of them ever felt that polished. The coop missions had no story, and they didn't feel that polished. The Spec Ops missions were taken directly from the campaign. Now I haven't finished playing through the campaign of Blacklist, but I can say that each coop mission feels unique. Not only are there cutscenes and story elements, but they are missions that feel like they are meant for two players. Each coop mission feels unique and lengthy. They can easily take 30 minutes to complete, as opposed to the Spec Ops missions that take only 5 minutes. And, no matter what anyone says, there is something special about playing with a friend beside you, than over Live.

To make things even better, the upgrades system keeps you begging for more missions. There's a drive to unlock every gadget and weapon because each gadget fundamentally alters gameplay. Using a drone to stun enemies plays differently than using a frag grenades. Splinter Cell is stealth based, but not every single mission requires it, leading to varying tactics and replayability. Theres nothing like failing with one strategy, only to change it on the fly. The maps feature multiple paths to each objective to fit any play style. Of course, performing timed takedowns with a partner is more fun than running and gunning, but the option is always available after you get detected. Well, usually available. There are some missions in which detection means failure, but that makes cooperative play all the more important and raises the tension to new levels.

There is never a dull moment in the missions, whether its zip-lining to an objective, avoiding snipers in a mine field, or sneaking around a military compound. Missions are filled with constant tension that always have you wondering where the enemy will appear. And while enemies generally stick to the same pattern, they sometimes change their routes keeping you on your toes.

Simply put, Blacklist is the coop game of the year. I have never played another game that has better coop.

Why MOBA?

Trends come and go, and copying is abundant in the games industry. As soon as somone makes a hit game, everyone follows suit and steals the game's mechanics. Look no further than Halo 4. It took plenty of mechanics from Call of Duty because Call of Duty is a more popular game. I am not debating whether this made Halo 4 better or worse, but it is an undeniable fact. 

The current trend, however, is creating MOBA games. I've never played them, heck, I don't even know what it stands for. As far as I can tell, people control a hero with special abilities and work as a team to destroy the other team's base. They do all of this while killing countless minions, earning gold, experience, and destorying towers.

There are two MOBA games that really stand out though, Leage of Legends and DOTA 2. I'm not sure how they are different, or why they are so good (I've heard DOTA 2 is punishingly difficult), but I'm curious why those two are so popular. Do people play DOTA and LoL above all other MOBA games because there simply aren't that many high quality MOBA games? Is it because not enough game companies have caught on to the trend and created MOBAs, or is there something unique about these two games? 

I'm waiting for Activision to create a MOBA that draws millions of players away from DOTA 2 and LoL. What makes these two games specifically, better than the other MOBAs? I'm confused about this. Furthermore, why is the turnover rate so slow for MOBAs? How are people still content with LoL after all these years? It's been almost four years, and people are still playing it religiously. Are MOBAs more similar to MMOs than shooters? Why can't we keep the same Call of Duty for four years? 

Perhaps it's a matter of economics? People buy champions and skins, so one could argue they would be reluctant to give them up, and would want to spend more time in an old game. This point, however, is not entirely correct. People buy skins in Call of Duty, yet they still buy the new version every year. So what is it about MOBAs that have people playing the same one years after release?

I can't pinpoint it, especially having never played one before. It seems that they are more like MMOs however, where the players expect the game to be there for years to come. Perhaps it is really just the players' mindsets; they know a new shooter is coming out the following year and they are trained to purchase it. If players don't purchase the new shooter, the community dies. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with playing an old game online; I would love to still play Halo 3, but the community is gone. If the community knows no one is leaving, then there is no need for players to jump ship. I only leave an online community (Halo 3, MW2) when it's dead. I hold on as long as I can until then to save money. If everyone has that mindset though, you don't have to migrate.

Hardcore MOBA fans likely got started with the original DOTA, which has been around for years. They were trained not to jump ship every year to a new game, so they carry along that tradition now, but who knows. What's your opinion?

Time to Think of Games as Art

I attended Games for Change Festival 2013 earlier in the summer and the number of educational games entering the market astounded me. Some games are trying to interest kids in books, while others are helping kids learn math and science. While I have no problems with the latter, the former seems incredibly offensive to any gamer.

Notice, I did not say a game that is teaching players to read, that is an educational game, I'm talking about games that help kids enjoy reading books. On the outset it's not a bad thing, books are great, although this sort of game says something about games themselves. A game that tries to get players to love books is saying that books are a higher form of "art", "culture", or "leisure". Why can't games be "art"?

I'm not claiming that books are not a form or "art" or "culture" or anything of the sort, although I am claiming that they deserve to be equal with games. If you are going to say that we need games to get players interested in books because many young gamers might not want to read, it is important to understand the reasoning behind this. Are we trying to educate kids in the "arts" and "culture"? If that is the case then we should also have books that teach help kids enjoy games because they are just as much an art form as books. 

Unless we have books that help readers enjoy games, we are stating that books are a higher form of "art" or "culture" than games. Where does this superiority come from? Why do we need books to teach kids narrative and not games or movies? It seems these two art forms (but games to a greater extent) have been deemed a lesser art form than literature, music, or visual art. 

Society views games and movies as a waste of time, instead of as an art form. Where are the classes in elementary school that teach kids about classic games or movies? Why do kids have to learn the literary, musical, and painting classics and not classic games or movies? 

"Culture" and "art" are evolving and we are not evolving with the times. We are stuck in a society where we think only literature, music and visual art have cultural value, while games and movies should be left to rot, or lightly touched upon when in conjunction with a book. I watched more than a few Romeo and Juliet movies, but what about playing Dantes Inferno to contrast with the book? Where are the games? 

There is also a distinction between playing games, learning about games, and making games. Perhaps kids should learn to create games alongside art, or learn the history of videogames alongside art history. Anything that people study with literature can be studied with games. If someone is studying how culture reflects history, we can study how games are influenced by events around them. For example, in post 9/11 war frenzy, EA vilified the GLA in Command and Conquer Generals to mock Middle Eastern terrorists. It was overly stereotypical of the Middle East, and while Im not passing judgment on it, I am only arguing that it was a product of a certain era, the same way paintings are influenced by world events.

We don't need games to help players fall in love with books; we need games that help players understand that games are an art form. It's time to start viewing games as a form of art on the same level as literature. They are equals in the realm of culture and it is time we embrace that.

 

I Stink at Strategy

While I have always been a fan of strategy games, from Red Alert to Civilization, I have become aware that I suck at them. Yes, I can beat the game on easy and enjoy them, although I am never good at them. When I play shooters I can master a game and learn how to control a map, although I can never do that with strategy games. All too often I try to steamroll rather than actually use strategy to beat my opponents, and I'm finally learning this flaw in XCOM.

I cannot flank and it's killing my soldiers. It's not that I don't know how to, it's that I can't position properly. I don't know when to risk going into the unknown to flank and when to charge head on (with cover of course). I try to flank, but it never seems to work. I'm also playing on easy. I can't tell whether XCOM itself is supposed to be this hard, or I just suck. It's unlike any strategy game I've ever played so I'm sailing in new waters. 

It's making me feel crappy though. I've got to pull it together and kill those enemies. I haven't lost a soldier yet, but ever mission I come closer and closer. I had been getting straight A's in my council reports and for the last month I dropped to a C. How'd I get so bad? Am I mismanaging my money? Research? Something? Or is it just hard in general?

One of the biggest problems with XCOM is that it hides all the resource and management elements of the game and lacks a place to view everything. It seems like XCOM was built primarily for consoles and ported to the PC. And why can't I view the equipment of each of my men? It drives me insane. If I want to optimize my squad I have to click on each one individually. It's a pain that should have been avoided. It makes me want to just go with the preselected squad that try to figure out who has what equipment.

XCOM Enemy Unknown on Summer Steam Sale!!!

I picked up XCOM for $9.99 on the Summer Steam sale, so understandably it's taken me a while to post about it. It's one of the most engrossing games I've played since Civilization. XCOM is just another example of why Sid Meier is the king of game design. Everything he touches is pure gold. 

After coming from Rollercoaster Tycoon and expecting a resource management heavy game like Civilization, I was pleasantly surprised with the combat taking a front role in gameplay. Resource management is pushed to the side, perhaps a little too much for my liking, in favor of turn based combat. The combat itself is good, and there's nothing like watching an alien explode to bits, although the camera sometimes misses the action opting instead to highlight gorgeous walls.

The resource management is kept to a minimum and feels like XCOM could missed so much potential. That's not to say that the game is bad. I love it. I cannot stop playing it. There is always more room for depth though. There could have been two bases instead of one (or maybe there are and I just haven't reached that point yet), or there could be more resoureces, or more upgrades in the baracks beyond the measily 7 or so I see now. It's just I thought there was more to the game, and it's a little bit of a let down. I don't regret my purchase, just I'm worried there won't be as much replay value as say, Civilization V that was on sale for the same $8. Only time will tell though. And it's not like I have that much time to play games anyway. I should be working.