Archive for February, 2012

Indie Royale: Alpha Collection Review

February 23, 2012

So it may not be the fairest thing in the world to review a game in alpha. The most relied-upon comparison is judging the value of a painting when it’s only half-finished.

But video games are entering a strange territory. It started with Minecraft, a game that made millions of dollars while still in beta (and even alpha). The basic framework of the game was so compelling that people paid $25 for the privilege of pushing it across the finish line.

A privilege I don’t think they’ve yet enjoyed. While Minecraft ostensibly jumped the barrier from beta to 1.0 at Minecon last year November 18th, the game is still undergoing frequent add-ons and expansions.

On one hand, this is huge value for your dollar. New content is worked into development “snapshots” practically every week, so the industrious downloader will always have something new to try.

On the other, this is pretty much happening because the game isn’t finished. The parts that people love have been implemented since ages ago, and the modding community gives more updates than the boys at Mojang could ever hope to match. Still, Minecraft is a rare case in that the core – building and exploration – is worth the price of admission.

Enter Indie Royale, mixing the precedents set by Minecraft and the Humble Indie Bundle (which, it should be noted, uses full games AND donates a ton of money to charities) to jump start their games. It’s fair, really, since Kickstarter gives you even less promise for your buck, and being a start-up developer myself, I understand the appeal of crowd-sourcing your financial woes to rabid fans.

I have no doubt they’ll use the money to improve and finish their games. I also have no doubt that they’ll then sell their games for a good bit more than I paid ($15 for the whole bundle). How confident am I that my investment will pay off? Let’s find out!

Towns

The first game I tried out was Towns, a game that claimed its roots in Dungeon Keepers and Dwarf Fortress. While I haven’t played either (I’m going to play the latter for a segment!), both concepts appeal to me, and I’m glad to say this game has potential. The gist is that you have a few villagers whom you can task with various chores to construct, maintain, and defend a town. You harvest resources from your surroundings to make buildings and items that in turn enable you to construct other buildings and items. The interface is simple, if a bit clumsy, and it didn’t take long to slip through the mostly necessary tutorial.

This is a great example of a decent alpha: interesting idea, decent execution, ultimately no point/end game. You can see the outline of what they plan to do, but without it implemented, I can’t see myself booting up this game again until it gets a substantial update. Just like Minecraft, though, the framework is strong and smart. Let’s hope my little donation helped them on their way!

3079

3079 is… well, it’s a helluva lot more confusing. A big part of that, I’m guessing, is I impatiently forsook the tutorial. You start flying around amid little planetoids constructed of Minecraft-inspired blocks. You have a gun, but it doesn’t seem to do anything to the blocks. No amount of clicking will let you hit blocks, either, or place them. I screwed around a bit before looking into my inventory, hovering over my possessions to try and divine some goal. When I moused over the jetpack, some crazy urge led me to click the mouse, thus unequipping it.

Like a Kid Icarus who flew too close to the trippy pink sun, I plummeted down through mists until I was calmly informed of my demise, would you like to reboot? I clicked yes assuming I would shoot back into space, a non. I was now bound by the cruel mistress of gravity, stripped of my illustrious wax jetpack to wander this hellish block-scape. There were buildings, and rivers, and terrain with a noticeably higher pixel-count than any of Notch’s creations. I wandered around for awhile before encountering (and getting killed by) the local fauna, and even finding a quest – get the Demon…smiter…sword.

I invested a good 30 minutes into trying to figure out what that was, why I needed it, where I could find it, etc, all the while navigating pointlessly huge buildings and getting killed by blocky quadrupedal aliens with guns. 3079 seems to have the exact opposite problem as Towns, infusing a game with a lot of purpose but no framework to effectively carry you to that goal. I’m less certain this game was worth it, but thankfully, they have a lot of time to figure things out.

I haven’t yet tried the last game… but I will in the next post! As well as a little summary of my thoughts re: Kickstarter.

Welcome!

February 22, 2012

Got a selection of good things on sale, stranger!

I suppose the best way of explaining what this blog is about is by explaining the title: Another Castle.

And another, and another, and another...

Super Mario Bros. is, at its core, a game about a guy who has no idea where he is going. To fight Bowser, sure, but where is Bowser? In a castle, right? So Mario moves from castle to castle, stomping the skulls of anybody brash or unlucky enough to get in his way. Each castle is a death trap full of more lava than Mount Doom, ending with a belligerent turtle-lizard-dragon that actually looks happy to see you. If you best this grinning beast, you hurry into the next room to rescue… a midget in a diaper and red vest, wearing a mushroom hat. Hooray!…?

It turns out that all this security is for this little guy, presumably some vital member of the Mushroom Kingdom’s Ishroominati. But he’s not even the one you came for. He’s appreciative for the rescue, but there’s little time for thanks – our princess is in another castle!

So you keep moving on, hoping that maybe, just maybe, what you’re looking for will be there, in another castle.

So… here we are! After scrambling around not even knowing what you’re looking for and rescuing hapless hat-wearing halfwits from the clutches of endless video game baddies, you’ve reached your destination – that elusive “another castle” that always appears on the horizon after reaching the last fortress.

The common theme with all this posts will be video games. Reviews, insights into the industry, and even into design (yes, I’m working on my own little castle for you to scramble to, as well!) will be the norm here. So power up, sit down, and grab your controller. Press Start at any time.

Note: if you somehow got here before I even started advertising this site to people, I’m going to be editing the hell out of this. Don’t be surprised if it gets changed around A LOT in the next few days.