Digitally Downloaded, April Issue
A games magazine focusing on all things digitally downloadable. In this month: Matrix Games, Final Fantasy and the Nintendo 3DS.
Tecmo Koeiâ€™s Warriors: Misunderstood? Also in this issue: Nintendo 3DS: unboxed and reviewed! Gametech Sydney preview Awesome things you can do with RPG Maker at home Digitally Downloaded is looking for passionate gamers to write about the games they play. If youâ€™d like to be part of a growing brand, drop us an email at email@example.com Your ad goes here You have developed a game. Itâ€™s great, but getting exposure in such a saturated industry can be a challenge. We have a range of online and print solutions to suit any budget. send any enquiries to: firstname.lastname@example.org Welcome to Digitally Downloaded! Welcome to the first ‘official’ issue of the Digitally Downloaded magazine. It’s still a work in progress, and you will see many changes in the coming months, but what you have here in your hands (or on the computer screen) is the start of something we hope will enjoy for a long time to come. It’s been a fairly slow month of digital platform releases, perhaps in part because there have been so many A-grade retail releases recently. But whether you’re an iPhone, iPad, PC or console owner, you should be able to find something of interest to you. Digitally Downloaded team Editor-in-chief Matt Saindbury (email@example.com) Contributing writers: Christopher Ingram pixelman Ryan Sinclair Thomas Garcia Please direct all correspondence and advertising queries to: firstname.lastname@example.org Perhaps even in places you wouldn’t expect. This month in the magazine we take a look at a RPG Maker VX project. These projects on the surface are simple and derivitave, more fan work than professional development, but give them a chance and you’ll often find some very entertaining homages to the Super Nintendo golden era of Japanese RPGs. We also take a look at Tecmo Koei’s Warriors games. Deeply misunderstood in the west, these games regularly attract intense criticism from the press, but for all the wrong reasons. Finally, we have a full, in-depth look at the new Nintendo 3DS - is it worth buying? What are the console’s strengths and weaknesses, and how will it shape up when the 3DSWare store is set live? Read on to find out! Happy Gaming! Matt Sainsbury Editor-in-chief Digitally Downloaded is © MndM Media. Content may not be republished without written permission. Do you like to write about games? Digitally Downloaded is looking for passionate gamers to write about the games they play. If youâ€™d like to be part of a growing brand, drop us an email at: email@example.com Gametech Australia Preview Event In June, Sydney will play host to a major games industry convention Gametech. It will be a very different convention to something like E3 or Tokyo Game Show - this is a business conference, focusing on the money side of the industry. It will have an Australian focus, but many of the insights that will be presented and discussed will be universal to our industry. So what can we expect to be discussed this year around? Minister Brendan O'Connor will kick the two days off with a keynote focusing on the ongoing issue around the R18+ age rating (or more precisely, lack thereof), and censorship that the Australian games industry has to deal with. This is an issue that is having a serious negative impact on the maturing of the games industry here, and, as evidenced by the recent banning of Mortal Kombat, a negative impact on the distributors looking to bring games into the country. From there, the conference will move to a series of presentations by the likes of Microsoft, Sony, Namco Bandai, Ubisoft and others. EA senior vice-president and global COO, Bryan Neider, will be a highlight and will look to the future of the games industry, identifying what the future gamer will look like, predictions for the next mega-change in interactive entertainment and reviewing the success of 3D content and downloadable games. Smaller developers would do well to head over to Microsoft regional director of retail sales and marketing, David McLean, and his presentation. Microsoft is famously a company that values partnerships, and McLean will be discussing content partnerships and how to get on board the XBLA train. A roundtable will analyse the state and health of the games industry, and where the Australian industry stands in comparison to the rest of the world. Later, industry director, mobile Internet and technology, Andrew Braun, will present on how the profile of gamers has changed over time, and managing director of GAME Australia, Paul Yardley, will take a look at the industry from a retailer's perspective. For those looking at investing in the games industry, managing partner of Battle Ventures, Jeffrey Paine, will look at why investment in social networking and digital goods companies is strong, and identify game revenue models of the future. There will be a roundtable focusing on smartphone games and the changing face of games distribution, and then the conference will round out with a number of breakout sessions on finding new monetisation and advertising opportunities, and how to evolve traditional businesses into the gaming world. Coming along to this conference is not a cheap endeavor - tickets will set you back as much as $Au4,000 to attend everything, but it's worth remembering that this is not E3, and not for the general public. This is for the businessmen keeping games companies running, and in many ways, it will provide a vision of the industry that we just don't get to see in those other conferences. The conference runs on June 21 and 22 at Luna Park, Sydney. If you're interested in attending, the Website can be found here: http://www. game-tech.com.au/ News News Bites Are you a fan of military boardgames? Do you own an iPad? You might be having a good year. GMT Games, the publisher behind some of the greatest military boardgames, is keen on the iPad. It’s still looking for developers, claiming it doesnt want its games to be a low priority on a big developer’s roadmap, so if you are an indie developer, here’s an opportunity for you. The War of the Buring Sky will be familiar to pen-and-paper RPG buffs - it’s the creation of a certain EN World Publishing - a true heavyweight. The videogame version is especially exciting because it is being released in conjunction with EN World Publishing. The game is a free to play MMO, which is all the rage now. A double whammy of cool. Sega of America held an auction to raise funds to help disasterstricken Japan. There was 20 pieces up for grab - some of them quite rare. 100 per cent of money raised went to the American Red Cross to support the Japanese aid efforts. Goods up for grab included: * Yakuza track jacket * Signed original copy of Valkyria Chronicles for PS3 * Sonic The Hedgehog 15th Anniversary Statue * SEGA Dreamcast Hoodie * Yakuza 4 Model Car Kit * Sonic Colors Kiosk Station Art * Outrun Art signed by SEGA legend Yu Suzuki One of the better multiplayer games that is on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 is Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers. Now in 2012 we can expect a sequel. The unimaginatively-titled Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 promises new game modes, opponents to take on in the single player game and new puzzle challenges. There is a new multiplayer mode too, where two or three people can team up to take on one AI opponent. We imagine those will be tough and require some clever strategies to overcome. GMT Games wants to bring hardcore military sims to the iPad In some genuinely awesome news for PS3 owners, it looks like Wizardry is finally making its way out of its modern homeland of Japan, with XSEED to publish Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls for the PS3 in the US. We’re not sure whether it will be available in both retail and through digital distribution for the western release, but it’s definately available for download in Japan. In a cool bit of retail news, Yoshifumi Hashimoto of Marvelous Entertainment has revealed that it is working on creating a game with 2D artwork that ‘takes full advantage’ of the unique 3D capabilities of the Nintendo 3DS. Last year Marvelous Entertainment’s group manger, Tomio Kanazawa, revealed that the company is also considering releasing a 3D version of Muramasa: The Demon Blade for the Nintendo 3DS. Theory Is Homefront a socially Irresponsible game? Does anyone remember the “Domino Effect” theory? It was a popular theory in the US in the 50s that predicted the spread of communism throughout Asia, and from there, the world. China would be the first domino to “fall,” from the Soviet Union’s influence (and in all fairness, it was) and from there it would spread like a disease to Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and India (this is where the theory fell down). And then Australia, apparently. Historians will know where this theory led – directly to a very couple of very stupid wars that unnecessarily cost a lot of lives on both sides (yes, Vietnam and Korea). And its effects are still evident in today’s society – if you polled a number a group of people about what “communism” is, in many cases you’ll find it’s still con- sidered something of a boogyman. How does this all fit in with Homefront? Well, Homefront plays on those same fears, both in terms of marketing and the story’s driving force. The unified new Korea that has invaded America is communist, and has come to town with the philosophical attitudes of Socialist North Korea (or at least, how they’re portrayed in the mass media); South Korea, as part of the reunified invading force, is just along for the ride. And it’s a Socialist Korea that is as evil as the worst fantasy literature would have you believe. It’s spread across the world like a disease. It’s become a world super power on the back of the same kind of cold cruelty that made Soviet Russia so feared (and birthed the Domino Effect The- ory in itself). These Korean soldiers are shown to have no qualms about shooting parents in front of children, building open air mass graves and turning America into a ruined shell – all this imagery of Soviet savagery is present and accounted for, and all crucial elements of the game’s marketing. That the game’s script was written by John Milius surprises me. This is the same man that penned Apocalypse Now – considered a broad criticism of the Vietnam War. For him to be glorifying the fight against “un-American” values is somewhat against type (at least, the type I had him pinned for). Here, he’s written a plot that aims solely at machismo, gun-toting ultraviolent freedom fighters. In Homefront, the story isn’t about a real war, nor is it a story that focuses on the humanity and horror of war, and nor does it focus on a completely improbable science fiction scenario. In that regard, it effectively separates itself from the likes of Call of Duty, Medal of Honor and Killzone. With Homefront, it’s a very real (but in perception only) threat to the American Way of Life that is the focal point to the story. But I’m not sure that was a responsible direction to take the game by THQ. Consider this – Japan just went through its worst disaster and crisis since World War 2. Where the vast majority of the world cried out in support of Japan, a small – but very vocal – minority of America spoke out. “Karma for Pearl Harbour” was a trending topic on Twitter. I’m sure we’ve all seen the screen grab of the Facebook updates. It’s a very small group of people making trouble, but most of us would agree that it’s a group that we shouldn’t be encouraging. Games like Homefront just reinforce that kind of “fear of Asian invasion” (whether cultural or physical) that is so prevalent in the American underbelly. It turns the negative connotations of “Freedom Fighting” into a glorious pursuit – not just condoning it, but putting it on a pedestal. Am I saying Homefront shouldn’t exist? No. This is a free market, and if THQ wishes to release distasteful material to pander to people’s unjustified fears, then that’s its prerogative. However, throughout the entire development and hype cycle of Homefront, something about the game made me feel a level of discomfort that Call of Duty or Killzone never managed – despite the level of The propaganda comes thick and fast. violence being roughly equivalent. Then I saw the cut scene with the child’s parents being shot by “evil” Koreans and realised what it was. Moreso than Activision or EA who produce games about wars, THQ has published a game that encourages a misogynistic fear about something that people don’t need to be worried about, stroking unnecessary flames to make an extra few sales. Digitally Downloaded is looking for passionate gamers to write about the games they play. If youâ€™d like to be part of a growing brand, drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org Your ad goes here You have developed a game. Itâ€™s great, but getting exposure in such a saturated industry can be a challenge. We have a range of online and print solutions to suit any budget. send any enquiries to: email@example.com Company Profile Matrix Games Strategy Specialists They might not be as well known as Activision or Nintendo, but Matrix Games is a publisher with a dedicated and growing niche. Marketing and Press Relations Manager, Sean Drummy, sat down with Digitally Downloaded to discuss all things wargaming. Advanced Tactics: Gold Could you please give us a background to the company? Why was Matrix formed, how has it evolved to where it is today? Matrix formed out of a desire to provide gamers with quality war and strategy games. We started off a small outfit with just a handful of niche developers but since have grown into the world’s largest wargame publisher together with our partners Slitherine. Between the two of us we have dozens of developers and well over 100 titles in our product catalog. Initially our main obstacle was just getting the word out to board gamers and wargamers in general that we were out there and making games that they love. As our standing in the wargaming community has grown so has our company. Matrix has a very clear focus on strategy simulations - is there a particular strategy behind this? How popular has this kind of serious strategy gaming proven to be over the years? It’s true that the wargame and strategy genre is smaller than other segments of the video game market but like most healthy communities, it’s steadily growing and our customerbase expands by the day. Matrix Games/ Slitherine remains very much focused on serving the strategy and Panzer Command: Karkov wargame niche because that’s the background all our staff comes from. We’re not video game fans that happen to publish strategy games, we all love and play strategy games all the time and many of us come from board game backgrounds which lends itself perfectly to our line of work. A lot of your games bear a very close resemblance to military wargame board games - is this a coincidence, or has that always been a goal of yourselves and your developer partners? It is most certainly not a coincidence and in fact many of our customers request counter-style unit pieces as opposed to 3D models precisely because it makes the game in question look more like a board game. While we have plenty of titles with fantastic 3D graphics and beautiful graphics, our core audience still likes the board game look and feel of many of our games because, like us, they grew up playing board games and in some sense you could even argue that the PC is just another platform on which to enjoy board game-style wargames. What kind of audience is there for these kinds of games? Is it the same people that play the likes of Starcraft or the Total War games? It’s hard to blanket our audience as “just wargamers” or “just strategy gamers” because we have found that people play a wide variety of games in addition to wargames. I’m sure there are plenty of hardcore wargamers that some times just want to sit down and play a Total War game or Starcraft (myself definitely included). So to answer your question, yes, I think that we do attract the more “mainstream” strategy crowd depending on the game you’re talking about. But we also have a large customer base of people who will say “If I have 40 minutes to game tonight, I’m going to play a wargame.” And we’re more than happy to help them spend that 40 minutes on a good, intense strategy game. Tin Soldiers: Alexander The Great (2004) How has digital distribution and increasingly-connected gaming audiences changed strategy gaming? Are you looking at PlayStation Network, XBLA, WiiWare etc as opportunities? We are looking at other platforms and in fact have already expanded into several other platforms like Android, Xbox 360, PS3, iPhone, and others. As you said, people are becoming more connected every day, and our customers are no exception. Many people who love board games and strategy games in general still use iPhones or switch on a console and sit in front of the TV to relax and we’d like to bring strategy gaming to that market as well. It would be wonderful if you could always be gaming when on the go or sitting on the couch and in many cases, the hex-based wargames that are so successful port very well to these new platforms. This is somewhat new territory for us but we believe it is very fertile. We have some exciting things planned for the future with these new Smugglers IV: Doomsday (2009) platforms. Stay tuned. The iPad and other tablet devices are perfect for strategy gaming, but so far there is a lack of ‘hardcore’ strategy games available for purchase on the app stores. Is there a reason for this, or is this something that will start to change soon? Well we are certainly working to change that. You’re right that strategy gaming, hardcore wargaming especially, is not represented adequately on tablets or mobile applications. Given our dominant position in the wargame market, we are perfectly positioned to take advantage of this gap and, believe me, we’re working to do so. In fact, we are in the process of launching a very high profile game called HISTORY™ Great Battles Medieval which was recently showcased by nVidia as a premiere example of a mobile game that utilizes the full potential of their mobile graphics technology. Here we have tapped into two markets very ef- Democracy (2008) fectively: we give gamers the chance to satisfy their strategy gaming itch while also delivering fantastic graphics for a mobile device. We’re quite proud of this and we’re looking to continue this trend. We noticed in games like Advanced Tactics there’s a heavy push for user generated content. Do you have an active online community? Why do you think that is? Indeed, Advanced Tactics: Gold is unique in that the editor that comes with the game is very powerful and versatile. Some games still thrive without a mod making community but Advanced Tactics: Gold is just too versatile not to entice scenario and mod makers in. Our online community is extremely active and many of our games have dedicated fans that continue to support their favorite games and generate content for them. Storm over the Pacific We’re extremely pleased and grateful for that because it’s these fans that really make up the lifeblood of the wargame genre. How healthy is the games industry from your perspective? What are some of the dominant trends? The games industry is facing a huge moment of transition, new platforms, new approach to gaming, pricing and completely revolutionized structure off the distribution process are shaking the market from the ground up. As a company acting in a very niche and vertical segment, we always tried to engage directly with our customers, hence us being innovators in digital distribution a long time ago and hence us being at the forefront of innovation in having a constant direct dialogue with the community. Being market leaders means we need to proactive and it’s our responsibil- ity to set the trends in this niche. Of course we also need to look at other markets and models to pick the right trends and follow them when we have successful case histories to look at. The transition to new platforms and the continuous efforts to evolve and grow our user base is a commitment we want to stick in the long term. Napoleon at War (2008) John Tillerâ€™s Napoleonic Wars (2007) What is Matrix’ goals for the year? What kind of game pipeline are you looking at? If you look at the timeline of releases we have, virtually every year is busier and busier, but that’s just a consequence of success. We continue to expand our reach into other platforms, we work hard to sign fledgling strategy and wargame publishers under our wing and help them grow their products, we also occasionally branch into the main stream market as well. This all means that there will be more and more games in the pipeline and it’s been a rewarding challenge to try to navigate a packed release schedule. So far I think we’ve done a pretty good job, especially given that we launch so many titles over the course of a year. The upcoming months are no exception which reminds me that I have a ton of things to do today… Forge of Freedom: The American Civil War (2006) History: Great Battles Medieval Is an Amazon Affiliate. By buying Amazon products from our insite shop front, you are supporting us, and in turn we are able to continue giving you the best possible coverage of all things digitally downloaded. Has Nintendo done it again? The 3D Frontier Let’s get this out of the way from the outset: the Nintendo 3DS is indeed a magical console. It will bring people back into gaming, and introduce others to the medium for the first time. It will be a casual gamer’s paradise, with sleek design, social-friendly gimmicks and an easy-to-use interface. But it also has real potential for the ‘core’ gamers. Underneath the hood is a reasonably powerful chip. There’s an attempt to boost the online credentials of the console. 3D presents oppotunities to improve the quality of 3D platformers and action games, making it easier to judge distances and developers can use it to help improve level design - using focus to draw player’s attentions in the right directions. But at the same time there are some concerns that have to be aired about the 3DS - especially when it comes to a digital distribution policy. With retail slowly, but surely on the way out, will Nintendo be able to compete in the new frontier, facing competition from the likes of Apple and Sony? The Big Three Reasons you’ll want a 3DS. 1) 3D Screen It goes without saying that the Nintendo 3DS’ big selling point is its 3D screen. Big and chunky in glorious wide screen, the 3D effect actually works. Nintendo’s slogan with the 3DS is “it has to be seen to be believed,” and indeed that is true. The clarity and potential depth of the 3D screen is amazing. It’s true that some people are unable to see 3D, or that in other people the effect causes headaches and tiredness. Thankfully, the depth of 3D can be adjusted via a slider on the side, which means that anyone can find a setting that’s comfortable for them. And, because games can potentially be played without 3D turned on, developers will need to take this into account when making games - no inferior gaming experiences for people who want to play old school! Backing the 3D screen is a strong processor that allows the image to be displayed with shaders and keep the frame rate high. Awesome stuff. 2) Those cameras (all three of them!) With two front-facing cameras, and one internal one, we can expect the 3DS will be able to provide some innovative new gameplay experiences. The DSi’s camera was underutilised because the other DS models didn’t have a camera, and no developer wanted to cut out that piece of the pie. With the 3DS, we’ve already seen great examples of what can be done - from augmented reality through to the Mii Maker application. There’s all kinds of potential in here imagine a Pokemon game where you can use the cameras to scan Pokemon cards into the game for extra treats. Or, imagine a treasure-hunt style game... where, through augmented reality, the treasure is actually hidden in the real world. With every 3DS owner having access to these cameras, developers no longer have an excuse not to make use of them. 3) Virtual Console... in handheld form! This is still a bit of an unknown quantity, as we really don’t have a great deal of understanding how the Virtual Console will work. Prices need to be kept down (especially for the Game Boy emulations, which are such primitive game experiences by modern standards). We still don’t really know how well the games will look on the 3DS’ screen. And at the moment the platform seems limited, with no Game Boy Advance support as yet. But the potential is still exciting. The Game Boy and Game Boy Color played host to some of the most entertaining experiences of yesteryear. From the original Super Mario Land to Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, there are games that we would just love to play again. And, if you haven’t played these games before, then you’re in for a big treat indeed. Just One Concern Look, it’s not all good with the 3DS. We have a number of concerns that might hurt the console’s long term competitiveness, especially against Sony and Apple. And unfortunately, they’re all related to Nintendo and its attitude towards online. Friends codes we can deal with especially when we were promised one code per console. “Hey, that just means instead of having a screen name, like on PlayStation Network, we have a little ID number,” we thought. Unfortunately, what you can do with those friend codes is so limited, it’s not worth sharing them. You can’t message friends, you cant invite them into games. The only way you can communicate is through short status messages and a little “favourite game” bubble. It’s disappointing to say the least that Nintendo would try to fix something, and then fail to bring themselves up to the standards of their competitors. You can be sure the Sony NGP will have far superior communications capabilities. Next comes the new download store that Nintendo didn’t feel was fit for launching with the 3DS. That alone suggests Nintendo doesn’t count the online shop as important as its retail business. Again to compare to Sony and Apple - neither would dream Shantae. Nintendo needs to do more to encorage creativity like this, and not shovelware of launching a console without an online shop front. When Sony is willing to experiment with the PSPGo, and have a product fail in the market so that it can learn more about what audiences want from their connected console, Nintendo’s lag with launching its own shop front seems like a lazy at best, stubbonly old fashioned at worst. gled to attract genuine developer talent to the fold. Then there’s the issue of pricing. Although we don’t know exactly how Nintendo will manage it, the suspicion around the industry is that fixed pricing will remain. Nintendo is doing away with “Nintendo Points,” instead opting to charge in real dollar values, but those dollar values look to be set in neat catogorical stone. In sort, it’ll need to lighten up. It’ll need to allow developers to have a say in pricing, it’ll need to allow sales to take place. It’ll need to recognise that independant developers can’t necessarily come up with the funds to set up an office and register a company, but that doesn’t mean they can’t program. So if we compare for the third time to the competitive platforms, which feature regular discounts and a close approximation of a real shopping experience, Nintendo’s approach remains (at least, at this stage) anticompetitive and restrictive. Nintendo will also need to understand that restrictive game file size limits are a bad idea. I can download 2GB games on my PSPGo right now, after all. This brings us neatly to the third and final real concern we have with Nintendo’s online policy - third party support. The Wii with WiiWare, and especially DSi with DSiWare strugPlease, Nintendo. Do not charge more for this than a reasonably-priced iOS App From its stubborn refusal to welcome indie developers to the fold, right through to the delays it takes in getting developer kits into the hands of the smaller teams it does accept, Nintendo has a reputation for being a harsh mistress. There’s still the chance that Nintendo can get it right. And fingers crossed they will. But digital distribution is the way of the future for the games industry, and Nintendo, for all its hardware genius, has dropped the ball twice already with the Wii and DSi. 3DS better not stand for “3rd Strike.” StreetPass will be the real reason for Nintendo 3DS success Forget 3D screens and augmented reality, the Nintendo 3DS’ greatest feature is, in fact, StreetPass. While the other features are good as initial selling points, and getting consoles into people’s hands, it is StreetPass that shows Nintendo’s genius at building communities around products, and is a genuine case of marketing outside of the box. See, StreetPass is incentive to take the 3DS with you when you go out and about. The rewards it generates is varied, and potentially huge - the minigames built into the console are fun (especially the mini-RPG, StreetPass Quest), and 3rd party developers have access to it... already we’ve seen Capcom and Tecmo Koei make great use of it in Street Fighter and Samurai Warriors Chronicles, respectively. When people take the console with them, they’re encouraged to play with it. It’s a simple marketing trick the more you see a product in public, the more inclined you are to try it out for yourself. It’s a philosophy that accounted for much of the iPod’s initial popularity. It’s also an encouragement to pick up the console and use it - however briefly - each and every day. The little green light that pops up when you’ve been StreetPassed is impossible to ignore... the potential rewards and chance to meet new Miis irresistible. Combined with the pedometer and real in-game rewards that come from just walking around using that feature, Nintendo has cleverly turned the 3DS into a lifestyle product... and with minimal effort. After all, the 3DS doesn’t make phone calls, doesn’t have a 3G connection, and yet people are still going to have this thing in their bags. with online gaming. The lack of an ability to message friends, and the return of friend codes are both quite forgivable as the Mii Plaza starts to fill up - the console is still social, albeit in a way we haven’t seen before. And you’re more likely to buy games for a console that you carry with you daily. Nintendo has, in essence, come up with an ingenious way of improving the ‘stickiness’ of their new console, and will make third party developer and publishers happy in turn when their games start selling well. (and we’re still amazed that in Sydney, of all places - hardly a gaming capital in the world - we managed to get StreetPassed twice in just the first day after the 3DS went on sale. Truly impressive uptake of the new console, and Nintendo’s vision in Australia). Encouraging other people to buy a 3DS, and encouraging 3DS owners to buy more 3DS games, StreetPass is a marketing trick, make no bones about it. But it’s a genuine and subtle approach to marketing that users will participate in very willingly (and very unknowingly). It is StreetPass that will be a big part of Nintendo’s long term 3DS success. But more importantly, it helps position the 3DS as a social console, without Nintendo needing to renege on its online, family-friendly policy Such a simple concept, but one that is going to do wonders for Nintendo 3DS Reviews Digitally Downloaded doesn’t usually review retail games, but considering there is no download shop on the 3DS as yet... well, you have to play something, right? Here’s a couple of 3DS launch title reviews. Samurai Warriors Chronicles If fighting games aren’t really your thing, and Street Fighter is not interesting to you, than the 3DS launch game that should be your first priority is Samurai Warrior Chronicles. It’s a lengthy game which makes great use of all of the 3DS’ features. The game takes a different direction from previous Samurai Warriors games. Rather than present 40 or so short stories of 4 or 5 levels (one story per historical character represented in the game), Chronicles instead presents just the one story you create a fictional character, who wanders the world joining each of the major conflicts through the Japanese Sengoku period. Though the concept itself is a little forced, this narrative frame provides a cohesive and quite comprehensive vision of the oftenconfusing period, a first for the series and a move that might help series newcomers and historical newbies relate better to the characters and their dramas. The screenshots do not do this game justice - the 3D effect is genuinely amazing. The depth the dynamic camera handles is a technical marvel, and the developers have emplyed clever visual trickery to create an illusion of characters and objects moving towards the player - a 3D the 3DS struggles with. It’s not just a pretty effect, either (though the cut scenes are the most impactful the Warriors series has ever seen). The 3D helps greatly in judging distances to enemies and objectives. It means no more accidently missing an enemy when swinging your weapon. As a point of reference we went back and played Samurai Warriors 3 on the Wii, and found melee relatively difficult. The game features a couple of quirks to attract Warriors veterans, too. You’ll be controlling four heroes at once, which helps lend battlefields an epic scope. There’s also great StreetPass features built in. You can set up a “dream team” of four heroes, as well as combat formations. When you pass someone else with the game, your dream team will square off against your opponents. You’ll also be able to send your best bit of equipment to your new virutal friend. You’ll also be able to trade in those 3DS coins you earn for walking around for in-game currency which you can use to upgrade equipment and buy horses to ride into battle. You’ll looking at many, many hours of gameplay in Samurai Warrios Chronicles, and as we wait for a larger library to build up, this is exactly the kind of game we need sitting in the 3DS’ cartridge slot. - Matt Sainsbury 4.5/5 Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars The 3DS already has a cult classic. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars is a game that flew in with an incredibly low profile, and will probably remain that way. Which is a pity, because it’s an especially good game. It’s a relatively straightforward tactics game. You’ll contrain a small squad of soldiers. Each of those soldiers have their own special abilities that conform to typical tactics archetypes. There’s the heavy gunner, the sniper, the medic. Each map has a variety of objectives that need to be tackled. The maps are of a uniform high standard - offering just enough freedom to allow for a few different strategies, without getting too complex for its own good. The plot is silly, and involves some nasty Russian political plot that a group of American soldiers somehow found themselves needing to prevent. It’s very cold war, but suits Tom Clancy’s unique approach to military heroism. The 3D impact is minimal, and has no real bearing on the gameplay, but then this game - like other tactics games - is not about visual impact. It’s about light strategy and interesting level design. Ghost Recon has both in spades. - Matt Sainsbury 4/5 Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell 3D Unlike the other Tom Clancy 3DS launch game, Splinter Cell fails. It’s ironic, because there’s a lot more potential here for a stealth game to use 3D in exciting ways (and remember, Metal Gear Solid is on the way). The problems are not overt. Splinter Cell makes good use of the 3DS buttons to map all the many controls you’ll need to use to sneak around. And the original Splinter Cell is considered a good game for a good reason - it’s remains a compelling stealth action formula. But in the rush to get this ready for the new 3D console, publisher, Ubisoft, has cut a lot of corners. The 3D effect looks flat like a 2D game with layers - or like a pop-up book. This makes the videos and cut scenes dull to watch, componded by extreme levels of grain and artefacting. It’s like Ubisoft grabbed the footage straight from YouTube. When you’re getting a game on launch day, you want something to show off the console’s capabilities. A straight port of old gameplay with really poor 3D won’t exactly encourage new 3DS owners that their investment was a good one. - Matt Sainsbury 2/5 Home Project Making games with RPG Maker:Legionwood: Tale of Two Swords RPG Maker VX is being used in some very creative ways. The software itself, at a basic level, allows people to make their own, simple RPGs in the vein of early-era Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest. It’s easy to learn, but for people that get really into it, allows for some advanced scripting to create some innovative and compelling experiences. Legionwood: Tale of Two Swords is a one man project by Australian, Dayle Robert Grixti. It’s not innovative, but it’s a solid 15+ hour RPG, with a strong combat system, charming presentation and pleasant music. 2) How have you found the experience of making your own games? What have been the challenges? To be honest, making games is a harsh mistress. If you’ve ever tried writing a novel or have had to push yourself to do a huge assignment for school, you’d have some idea how it is. I thought at first it was just writing a story and designing areas - in fact, there’s so much more to do like calibrating scripts, implementing 4) Will you be making more games? Any hints for what you might have in mind? Grixti sat down with Digitally Downloaded to chat about his game and using RPG Maker: 1) What attracted you to using RPG Maker in the first place? I discovered RPG Maker 2000 as a twelve year old kid. I could finally make the blatant Final Fantasy knock offs I had always dreamed of making. At long last, I would bring Cloud and Squall together in one game! In all seriousness though, it was probably the use of RPG Maker as an outlet for creativity that I was attracted to. I’d always been interested in writing stories and putting them in game form was a perfect way to get feedback on my writing skills. One Night and more recently Legionwood provided lots of criticism about how to construct meaningful characters and plotlines, and since I first started Legionwood four years ago, my writing skills have massively improved! Cultural Anthropology and trying to become an established writer. RPG Maker is nothing like “real” game development - it gives hobbyists a basic engine which they can tweak and add to, but the framework already exists, as opposed to honest to goodness game development where you have to program everything from the start, even the most simple things such as displaying the characters on the screen. If anything, I’m using my experience to further my skills as an author, though I may keep on making games as a hobby. systems and making sure they work and balancing the difficulty before you even get to the mapping. Staying motivated was hard, but I can’t stand to leave a project unfinished, so I pushed myself to make just a slight bit of progress each day. When the game is finally finished and released to the community, the sense of accomplishment is truly something great. Having fans who regularly email about my games is mindblowing! 3) Are you planning on using this experience to springboard into professional games development? Not at all. I’m currently studying People keep asking for One Night 4 and Legionwood 2. These won’t be happening anytime soon, but I have a project on haitus right now which I intend to finish and release at some point called Undying Eternal. It’s a dark, gothic horror/ Lovecraftian RPG where you play a legendary demon hunter investigating paranormal events in an isolated village. The main thing that I’m trying to implement is actual role playing, similar to computer RPGs such as Dragon Age. In Undying Eternal, your actions and how you respond during dialogue changes how the NPCs react to you and slightly changes the flow of the story as well. It’s less customisable than Legionwood - you have set stat growth and your party members have their own specialisations, but it’s also more free-form, less linear and much more strategic. In Review The plot is standard SNES-era fantasy fare. The lead character wakes up in a bed at the start of the game (thankfully, this hero is not suffering a bout of amnesia, for a slight change for the norm). He, and his little sister, go to participate in a royal birth celebration, but they come across a plot to kill the king and start a war between two nations. Of course, they fail to stop this plot, and the story begins in earnest. It’s not a particularly well-written plot. Grixti struggles with creating believable, consistent characters, and other times the dialogue is a little too overblown for its own good. But on the plus side for RPG Maker projects, it’s at least grammatically solid. While it’s games like these that remind us of the value of hiring a dedicated story writer for an RPG, in fairness to Legionwood, the plot manages to remain charming and retro while driving players to the next dungeon. The gameplay itself is genuinely compelling. Legionwood features an Ability Point system - level up, and you’re given a few AP points to spend to customise your characters. There’s a good range of categories to assign points to, so within this context you’re able to slowly build a range of very different heroes. This is nothing new to RPGs, of course everything from Star Ocean through to Oblivion and Dragon Age has this system in some form, but it builds a great sense of care in your characters as a result. Throw in a robust inventory system and you’ll be tweaking your characters more than you could ever expect a one-man project to ask you to. The combat itself leans on the difficult side, with some nasty difficulty spikes at points. This is offset by a relatively gentle encounter rate and dungeon design that tends to be a little more creative than the “get from point A to point B;” Final Fantasy style. We’re not talking of puzzles to the standards of a Golden Sun or Zelda game, but there is a definite variety in these dungeons to keep you interested. The game’s presentation is very much at the mercy of the RPG Maker toolset, but that’s still an attractive look, with charming sprites and bright colours. The enemy sprites in combat are a little small and lack any kind of intimidation factor (especially disappointing when boss battle fights start). The music is generally fitting, with some nice touches and well-used sound effects here and there. Legionwood is a game we would be glad to see on one of the “lesser” download services - such as PlayStation Network Minis, XBLA Indie, DSiWare or the iPhone. It’s a solid quest that’s not over too soon, and might even be worth playing through twice. Big props to Dayle Robert Grixti for making something great within the limitations of RPG Maker VX. - Matt Sainsbury 3.5/5 Opinion Is Tecmo Koei’s Warriors franchise misunderstood? I’m sure everyone is familiar with Tecmo Koei’s Warriors series of games. Whether they’ve played the games or not, everyone has seen the reviews, which inevitably slam each new release, dismissing them as mere “button mashers.” from the near incessant fighting finished, the warlord who effectively took control of Japan, Ieyasu Tokugawa, closed Japan’s boarders, effectively creating the isolationist culture that still exists to an extent today. As such, the names, personalities and stories of the Sengoku period are well known to the Japanese – and in many cases those stories are epics of emotion and drama to rival Shakespeare or Academy Award winning feature films. Consider the story of Oichi, who was caught in a deadly war between her husband and brother. Or the rise of Hideyoshi Toyotomi, from peasant boy to the most powerful man in Japan. After years of these reviews, it seems obvious to me that there is a serious misunderstanding between these games and western sensibilities. After much thought I’ve narrowed it down to three distinct discrepencies between these games, and what’s generally seen in the press. Through this piece I’ll be referencing Samurai Warriors games, but the same can be equally applied to the other Warriors settings – I’m just more familiar with Japanese history and the setting of those games. With a knowledge of those backgrounds, taking control of those characters and having the opportunity to reshape history is massively appealing. We’ve seen it in some Western games – Napoleon remains a popular story for strategy games, for instance. But most Westerners don’t know who Nobunaga Oda and Hanzo Hattori were, let alone the ‘smaller’ characters in that era, such as Motonari Mori or Masamune Date. That in itself is not surprising – a trip to a typical bookstore will not find you anything on these people. 1) The Warriors games are not just about what happens on the battlefield. This is probably this biggest reason there is a discrepancy between western, and eastern opinions on Warriors games. The historical context is important. The Sengoku (warring states) period of Japanese history was responsible for a great deal of development of the national identity and future directions of Japan. At the end of the era, when the dust This lovely lady’s tragic story rivals that of Romeo & Juliet And in years past, Omega Force and the other folks who develop these games have done a poor job of properly introducing these characters to a Western audience. Perhaps because the games are developed with the Japanese in mind, where a level of back story would be unnecessary, but earlier Warriors games have been inaccessible as a result. More recent games – especially Samurai Warriors 3 on the Nintendo Wii – have done a much better job, however unappreciated it was. tioned in the reviews to mean something very negative indeed. Yes, you can button mash through the easier difficulty levels, and while you In most Warriors games, there’s also a degree of tactical strategy involved. The form this takes changes from game to game, but for instance, in 2) The Warriors games are not button mashers. Anyone who has tried to play a Warriors game on a higher difficulty setting would know this, but it’s a consistent mistake that the Western press make to claim button mashing will get you through these games. It’s unfortunate, because I’m convinced this reputation bits into the market viability of the games - given ‘button mashing’ is usually posi- will still be hitting a lot of buttons very quickly, on the higher difficulty levels you’ll also need to understand how the various combos work, how to make most effective use of them, and you will need to be able to block, dodge and have a counterattack strategy. Warriors: Legends of Tro. The most revent Warriors games to get a media slaughtering Samurai Warriors 3 you’re standing on a large battlefield, and need to manage your time so you can complete objectives while protecting key people. Meanwhile Samurai Warriors: State of War (downloadable for PSP on PlayStation Network) presents you with a strategic grid to move armies around before engaging enemies. Again, on the harder difficulties, these strategic elements will keep you thinking, which brings me to my next point… 3) Warriors games do change. It amazes me that the Warriors games have a reputation for being unchanging. The series is constantly evolving – Samurai Warriors: State of War is very different to Dynasty Warriors: Strikeforce for instance, which is in turn different to Warriors: Legends of Troy. The differences are not just cosmetic. As mentioned already, the basic strategies are different from game to game. The level design and battle maps are entirely different each time. Online and co-op has been introduced at points in the series. The ability to create your own character is a big deal for the first time in the 3DS launch title Samurai Warriors Chroni- cles. And speaking of 3D, Omega Force has managed to make 3D have a material (and for the better) impact on the Warriors gameplay. By comparison, the original few Dynasty Warriors games back on the PS2 are limited experiences, short on features, and unrefined. None of this is to say the Warriors games are perfect, that there isn’t room to improve, or even that they will find more than a niche audience outside of their homeland in Japan. But these games are given scores that are usually reserved for games that are downright broken. Those same reviews are filled with factual inaccuracies, making the Warriors series one of the most unfortunately misunderstood series’ out there. Do you like to write about games? Digitally Downloaded is looking for passionate gamers to write about the games they play. If youâ€™d like to be part of a growing brand, drop us an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org Previewed Advanced Tactics: Gold Matrix Games knows its niche. Its games range from intelligent strategy games to the truly hardcore. Look at naval military simulator, Harpoon. Its brand of strategy is so strong that the military make use of it. Matrix Games also has a unique approach to its properties. As evidenced by Harpoon (first released some 20 years ago), Matrix and the developers it publishes are fans of incremental improvements, and continued support over a long period of time. Perhaps recognising that the niche appeal these games have suit Wargame hobbyists rather than traditional gamers, refining existing, familiar systems seems to be a better way of keeping the fans on side than a Call of Duty-stle release cycle. As it is with Advanced Tactics: Gold, an upcoming ‘new’ Wargame from Matrix and developer, VR Designs. Now, Advanced Tactics already exists, but Advanced Tactics: Gold adds some new features that will give fans something extra to sink their teeth into, while also becoming somewhat more approachable for newcomers. Not that this kind of game is ever instantly accessible, but longer term it’s an addictive and rewarding style of game. See, while a strategy game like Advance Wars allows you to build units and manage resources, and some even more advanced games take flanking into account, Wargames go a step above, forcing you to consider chains of command, supply lines, morale, political conditions and perhaps even weather. Inferior strategy will then lead to a quick loss. At the same time superior strategy will pull you right out of the game and have you thinking like a real general. It’s a compelling experience. Advanced Tactics: Gold features a visual upgrade over its predecessor. Serious Wargames are never going to be the most beautiful works of art out there, but functional visuals can still be pretty and modern, and from the screenshots, this game does a good job of evoking its board game heritage. The game looks like a carbon copy of similar-themed board games (little coloured squares to represent armies and hex grids and everything), which again will be instantly attractive to anyone who’s played one before. There’s an expanded Wiki and improved rulebook to help people make sense of what’s going on, but perhaps what’s most interesting about this game is it supports community-made scenarios. The benefit to a game with this kind of niche appeal is the communitymade scenarios should be, on a whole, well-considered and interesting. Matrix promises the engine can handle everything from naval battles to science fiction and fantasy wars, so there should be something for almost everyone there. The other improvements to this release have been made as a result of community feedback, Matrix claims. While we don’t have a firm release date yet, Wargamers should keep an eye on this one - it’s going to keep you very, very busy. The month’s reviews IN REVIEW Welcome to the digitallydownloaded.net reviews section! Each month we’ll present some of the most exciting, newest, and classic games available on various download services. We’ll aslo score them out of five. By nature, games scores are highly subjective but as a rule of thumb, 1 star is unplayable, 2-3 stars is very niche, poor value or highly flawed in some way, 4 stars is a game anyone should enjoy, and 5 stars is a must have. We’ll be building out our reviews section in the coming months, so if you have any ideas how we could improve it further, please do email us at email@example.com Matt Sainsbury Editor-in-chief Dissidia 012[duodecim] Final Fantasy Available on: PlayStation Network (PSP) Publisher: Square Enix Dissidia 012[duodecim] Final Fantasy is simultaneously the greatest and worst game I’ve ever played. Somewhere under the whirlwind mash-up of fighting game and hardcore JRPG is an addictive and nearly endless experience, but getting there is like trying to dig through solid granite with a plastic spoon. Part of the problem is a woefully inadequate tutorial system, which tries to introduce you to one element of the gameplay at a time, but in effect streams “advice” at you for the first couple of hours of gameplay. Every menu, every fighting strategy, every little side feature requires explanation to figure out where it fits into the grand scheme of things, but even with those explanations, you’ll be struggling. I still hadn’t figured out how the Chocobo graphic in the menus worked with the main game until much later after it was introduced. The game features multiple currency systems, multiple ways to unlock items, a hugely complex skills menu (which is different for each and every character), and an equipment system that is uneven in execution (some forms of armour will actually drop your defence rating, although boost hit points, for instance). Once you break through that surface and understand what you’re doing, it’s a system that provides unprecedented customisation; if you like statistics and maximising your characters, then you’ll lose yourself completely in this game. There’s a great sense of progression, too. Levelling up happens quite quickly, and each battle victory brings a stream of goodies. Of course, unlocking everything is going to take hour upon hour of gaming (this is Square Enix, after all), which balances out the sense of reward somewhat. It also means you’ll spend half your life wading through menus (thank god digital downloads minimise loading times). You’ll be tweaking your special attacks, your assist characters, your equipment and buying and selling stuff from the shop all too often – as nice as the customisation is, when the combat in a fighting game starts to feel like an afterthought, there’s a problem. And compounding that, the frequent story expositions draw even more of your time away from the actual fight- ing. They’re long winded in the extreme, and proof that the folks to write the Final Fantasy stories have become afflicted with a Shakespearean Complex. Although the overarching plot is straight forward (two rival Gods summon heroes from across the universe to duke it out), the dialogue is so leaden with false weight and gravitas that it is hard to sympathise with the characters (a big problem for a game that is essentially fan service). Worse, the dialogue and character motivations don’t even gel with the games these characters are pulled from. Kefka was a genocidal maniac in Final Fantasy VI. In Dissidia, he’s little more than a clown. Lighting from Final Fantasy XIII has gone from conflicted to just plain cranky. Character motivations are all over the place, which does reduce the game’s value as fan service. Also – and this is just a pet gripe – the actual range of characters is limited, and while this is the kind of game that would do well to have DLC character downloads, there’s no sign of that on the horizon. One or two characters from each Final Fantasy game is disappointing, especially when some series favourites are ignored. There’s no Black Mage, no named character from Final Fantasy III (Rufia?), no Edward, no Rikku or Princess Ashe from the later games. No novelty characters such as Chocobo, Moogle or folks from the Crystal Chronicles spinoff games. While it is of course unreasonable to expect everyone’s favourite character to be represented, the lack of an announcement around additional DLC characters is a missed opportunity for Square Enix, and (for the third time in this review) dampens its appeal as fan service. And yet... it still rocks After reading all of that, and seeing the score at the end of the review, you’ll probably wonder what the heck’s going on, but the truth is, despite the many flaws in the game, and despite being so bloated, Dissidia is a fighting game with few equals when it comes to depth. two main forms of attack – one that won’t do damage, but will boost your Bravery Points (BP), and one that will do damage depending on how many BP points you have. So there is an immediate degree of strategy involved in timing, and balancing the non-damaging and damaging attacks, while at the same time dodging your opponent’s. Once you do get into a fight, there are Each of the playable characters are nicely different to one another, too, and while their personalities might have been altered when they were pulled into the world of Dissidia, their combat styles have largely been unchanged. Lighting, for instance, is able to switch between various “paradigms,” just like she was in Final Fantasy XIII. Kain from Final Fantasy IV, in true dragoon style, is good in the air. Cecil from the same game is able to switch back and forth from Dark Knight to Paladin classes – each with unique abilities. Fighter, from Final Fantasy I, is a relatively straightforward combatant with some deadly melee strikes. haven’t got the time to develop their characters to maximum level and obtain the rarest of the rare equipment, Square Enix has even been thoughtful enough to offer a “stock character” option where the combatants will be evenly weighted. The same is true for the evil side – Ultimecia from Final Fantasy VIII is a demon with magic attacks, and Garland, from Final Fantasy I hits slow… and hard. In terms of presentation, Dissidia is every bit the Square Enix production. Character models are as food as anything you’ll see on the PSP, and the arenas you fight on are large, detailed, and strongly reminiscent of some of the more memorable locations through Final Fantasy history. And it’s just as well there are enough gameplay modes to take advantage of this, too. The main story itself is expansive, but acts like a glorified tutorial. Beyond that there’s arcade modes of various difficulties, and online battles where you’ll really get to test your skills out. For people who And there’s even more – Dissidia dips its toe into player created content. It’s possible to create scenarios of your own, complete with plot, and share them with friends. Whilst it’s not the most in-depth character generation available, it does add further depth to an already impressive package. Special props to the music, too. Easily the best part about the whole series, Dissidia’s track list is a “best of” compilation, and with earphones, is of superb quality. Ample DLC Opportunity There’s all kinds of fan-favourite characters that this game is missing out on. With any luck, Square Enix recognises the opportunity here, and supports this brilliant little game with extra DLC character downloads. May we suggest first up is Rikku? Dissidia 012[duodecim] Final Fantasy suffers from bloat. While the ideas are all sound in isolation, putting them together has built a hugely unwieldy game that will put many people off before they can properly understand how the systems work together. Once you get there, though, it’s also, by far, the most rewarding fighting game out there. The detail and passion for the project are abundantly obvious, and as the systems start to fall into place, it’s hard not to get pulled in completely and find yourself playing the PSP’s battery to death. The next step would be for a PS3 version with DLC characters, and perhaps a rethink on the bloat – there were definitely some systems in this Dissidia we didn’t need. - Matt Sainsbury 4/5 Be part of the community Did you know? Digitally Downloadedâ€™s website (http://www.digitallydownloaded.net) has a forum. For both gamers and developers, the forum is there to talk about games, making games, selling games, and being a part of the wonderful industry that we all love so. Signing up takes just a second, so come join in the conversation! Larry Bond’s Harpoon Available on: PC download (Matrix Website) Publisher: Matrix Games When someone says ‘real time strategy,’ people will first think of any number of games. What they’re probably not thinking of is Larry Bond’s Harpoon, and yet for sheer strategic depth, none of them are even in the same league as Harpoon. See, this game has been around relatively unchanged since 1989. It’s so deep that an enhanced version of it holds real military value. So what is Harpoon? At its core, it’s a serious naval military simulation, where the default time unit the game progresses in is measured by seconds, so battles can last literally days of real play time. You can speed the game up, but when you’re controlling a vast fleet, that’s a recipie for tactical disaster. For obvious reasons, then, this is not a game of fast gratification. It can take hours to even make any meaningful contact with the enemy, but watching the battle unfold little bit by little bit is immensely rewarding. Though the game hasn’t had much of a visual upgrade from 1989, that also works in its favour. Now, Harpoon actually looks like a military program. The units, coloured blue or red, look like counters on a grand map of the world’s oceans. There’s no music, and just the occasional sound effect. Really, if you’ve ever played a counter-based board game, like those produced by GMT Games, you’ll be right at home. It’ll take some adjusting and time for others to find the charm in the game, but within a few scenarios, you’ll know whether you belong to the small niche that will see the brilliance behind the facade. See, while Starcraft at time feels more like a competition to click the fastest, and while Total War games feel like an elegant modern day chess, Harpoon is the real strategic deal. Real military tactics are required for victory. Given even the basics strategy can take years to perfect (especially when you’re working with the unique quirks of nearly 3000 different types of units), and the fact there are no fewer than 269 senarios in the game, Harpoon is a massive package, and well worth the purchase price. It was a pleasant surprise to find that Harpoon was still around, and still being worked on. My first experience with the game was back in its early days, and I was hooked then. Now, it’s bigger and better, yet the requirements it has on the CPU are low enough that even netbooks can comfortably run it. Although it’s a very old game now, it’s not an antique, and strategy buffs will find near endless value in the game. The demo alone is massive giving you 22 scenarios to play with, so there’s plenty to test out to see if this is your kind of game before you make a purchase. - Matt Sainsbury 4/5 Tactical Soldier: Undead Rising Available on: iPhone Publisher: Team Tactical Soldier Zombies are pretty popular right now. I’m sure there’s some kind of reason on a deep psychological level that zombies hit a primal soft spot, that as a twisted reflection of ourselves there’s a more powerful horror than regular monsters could ever achieve. Or it could just be that zombie AI patterns are relatively easy to program and they’re good for no-frills kills. Which brings us to Tactical Soldier: Undead Rising - a fairly straightforward strategy RPG dealing with a zombie invasion in a way that only B-grade entertainment can deal with. It’s no Disgaea, it’s no Final Fantasy Tactics, but it’s a rollicking good time nonetheless. Befitting the B-grade theme, the story of Tactical Soldier: Undead Rising is told through comic book panels that like like something out of the 80s. It’s kitsch, but it also works in the case - although the story of militarytypes fighting for survival through a zombie invasion is nothing new, when there’s a self-referential sense of humour about it it’s still good fun. The gameplay itself plays as with most tactics RPGs, and anyone who has played the likes of Ogre Battle, Final Fantasy Tactics of Fire Emblem will be right at home. Each unit has a certain number of “action points” to use each turn - that can be for either movement, or firing weapons. Killing zombies earns experience points. Earn enough of them and you’ll go up a level, rewarding you with skill points to distribute across a number of statistics, including agility, accuracy and HP. It’s all balanced pretty well. Although you’ll feel a definite sense of progression, you’ll also never get to the point where you feel too overpowered - important given the horror trappings. Weapons, too, are doled out conservatively, but you’ll never quite run out of ammunition - this isn’t a Resident Evil game. What lets Undead Rising down somewhat is the glacial pace. It’s not that the game itself moves too slowly, but rather some iPhone quirks that makes the game occasionally difficult to kick back and relax with. The camera, though it offers the full range of zoom, pan, and tilt options that means you will be able to see everything at all times, is also a touch too sensitive, and in the early stages of play you’ll fight with the screen at times. It’s not the most welcoming experience. The second technical issue that slows things down is a subset of the camera - selecting specific “squares” on the play field can be difficult unless the screen is zoomed quite far in (which of course obscures your wider view). The game then becomes a dance of pinching, zooming, swiping and jabbing - compared to the single button press of a Tactics Ogre, this is the inferior way to play. That said you do get a decent amount of content when you buy into this game, and there will be additional content released via DLC in the future. Issues with the camera controls aside, this is good, straightforward fun. Between this and Battle for Wesnoth, tactics RPG buffs have their bases covered with the iPhone. - Matt Sainsbury 3.5/5 Final Fantasy III Available on: Wii Virtual Console Publisher: Square Enix The opening credits to Final Fantasy III (which is in fact VI, but the Virtual Console release sticks to the original name) are accompanied by a little tune, Terra’s Song. Despite being limited by the SNES’ hardware, the composition by Nobuo Uematsu continues to have a deep impact, resonating with an epic, sweeping majesty that sets the game up in a way no introductory story sequence could ever hope to. This is the game where the Final Fantasy franchise peaked, and while later games have remained at a very high standard since, III has a unique, magical quality that is a genuine X-factor - it’s intangible, but it catapults this game to the ranks of superstardom. Combat itself has aged too - characters lack customisation and enemies feature distinctly uninteresting weaknesses, attack patterns and personalities. The ATB combat system - an early attempt to find a balance between action and turn-based RPGs has wisely been done away with in favour of more dynamic experiences. The dungeon-boss-new town-new equipment-new dungeon-new boss formula is now a pastiche. Were the core gameplay of this game cut, and then pasted into a modern visual and aural masterpiece, the game would fail horribly. of Kefka, who remains one of the most compelling villains of all time. Also, unlike the woeful PlayStation port of this classic, and the limitedrelease GBA game that came too late in that console’s lifespan to attract the attention it deserves, this version is readily available, cheap, and suffers from no loading times. The Wii’s digitally downloadable software hasn’t been stellar at the best of times, and has really lacked of late, but this game is arguably the greatest RPG of all time. Buy it, download it, and fall in love with some truly great characters all over again. - Matt Sainsbury Final Fantasy III remains a characterdriven exercise, and like with Terra and the spectacular opening, it’s the unique musical theme that accompanies each character that is integral to the continued value of the game after all these years. From the mania of Kefka to the heart-wrenching story of Cyan, the wide range of characters and archetypes of this Final Fantasy remain amongst the most fully realised and involving the series has managed. Which is just as well, because after all these years, Final Fantasy III is starting to show its age. Random battles are no longer just an irritant; they’ve been obsoleted. Character portraits and tile graphics, while still charming, are charming in the same way a black and while photo from the 40’s is - as an antique, and a memory of good times long gone. It’s a testament to the relative unimportance of the combat then that the raw gravitas of the characters and story that Final Fantasy III remains a deeply compelling experience. Few will forget the opera scene, even after so many years since the last play through. Fewer will forget the antics 5/5 Boom Boom Gems Platform: iPhone; Publisher: EzMoBo Boom Boom Gems plays on our love of popping bubbles (they’re meant to be gems, but they look like bubbles). Brightly coloured floating bubbles. It’s not the first bubbly game on the iPhone, and stacked against competition such as Nnooo’s Pop, it’s not the best, but it is still good fun. Inside the game itself, you’ll be faced with a stream of bubbles floating in towards the centre of the playing surface. You can make them disappear by linking (via a quick tap) bubbles of the same colour. The more you link together, the greater the score. Once there’s the screen is filled with bubbles, it’s game over. So far so standard, but developers, EzMoBo, throws in a few curve balls to spice the action up. Every so often a bubble will appear with a number on it. You’ll need to link together the exact number of same-coloured bubbles that the number states, or the bubble with gain itself a rock coating, making it obnoxious to remove. There’s also a couple of ‘special event’ bubbles that will require you to remove using unique conditions, or suffer some nasty side effects (such as a huge surge of bubbles). But it’s not perfect. The game gets very difficult, very quickly – evident- Super Stack Attack Platform: iPhone; Publisher: Flaming Mitten Studios Super Stack Attack is one of ‘those’ games. It’s cheap, disposable, charming and simple. They’re a dime a dozen on the iPhone – look at the likes of Sneezies, Doodle Jump, Fruit Ninja, Flight Control and Angry Birds, so it’s up against some powerful competition. The goal of this game is simple – stack little blocks (called “Stackies,” and complete with cute little eyes) on top of one another. If you place the block in the wrong spot, the growing tower will collapse and it’s game over. You do this across two game modes – “Endless,” which is a reasonably addictive score attack mode, and “Challenges” where you’ve got 17 mini missions to complete, and completing one unlocks the next one. Credit to the developer, Flaming Mitten Studios, for trying to vary things up in the Challenges mode – each new level has slightly harder conditions to deal with, but honestly a game this simple isn’t going to give you a great deal of variety, and you’ll complete the whole 17 challenges pretty quickly. The real interest in the game is the Endless mode, where the “one-morego” pull is strong, and it’s the kind of game that you will pull out when bored on a short public transport trip or between meetings. - Matt Sainsbury 3.5/5 ly EzMoBo wanted to keep games to a few minutes at a time because the speed in which bubbles enter the play field escalates very quickly. Trying to stem the flow of bubbles then quickly becomes a stressful experience – a far cry for the more relaxed style of other bubble-popping games, such as Pop. - Matt Sainsbury 3.5/5 Painkiller: Purgatory HD Platform: iPad; Publisher: Chiillingo Now this is good fun. Chillingo, and developer MachineWorks’ iPad adaptation of the Painkiller formula sacrifices little in the transition from keyboard & mouse/ controller transition to virtual controls, and leaves us with a game that successfully channels Doom or Quake into an actionheavy gothic masterpiece. There’s nothing intelligent about Painkiller. It’s a by-the-numbers monster bash through confined corridors and claustrophobic rooms. As a result, there’s not a great deal of room for exploration, and while you’re going to be led through the nose in this game, literally being told which doors to walk though and where to go next, it’s not that you’ll mind. See, you’ll be too busy shooting Heck, this game has lives. When was the last time that happened in a FPS? - Matt Sainsbury things. While the game only displays a handful of enemies on screen at once (presumably to maintain a smooth frame rate), they’ll appear in waves, with a new wave spawning out of the ground after you finish slaughtering the previous one. It’s a clever way to keep the kill count high without sacrificing performance, even if there is the odd occasion where you’ll feel bogged down in a protracted melee. 4/5 MooJooce Platform: iPhone; Publisher: Noisy Badger Reviewing MooJooce is only going to take a paragraph or two. MooJooce is pretty good. There’s a conveyer belt, and milk caps travel down it. You need to line the right colour of milk bottle with the right colour of milk cap. The conveyer belt gets faster and faster, making reflexes more and more important. The game only starts to get challenging around level 10, and getting to that point is pretty dull. There are unlockable difficulty levels to deal with that, though. The visuals are cute, although there’s only really one picture, and two moving elements (the milk caps and the bottles). The sound effects get grating after a while. And I’m done. For a figurative penny, you get a game that’s going to last you a half hour, and you might come back to once a month or so. You can get this kind of stuff for free elsewhere, but this way you’re supporting a small developer. - Matt Sainsbury 2.5/5 Import Retro Review! King’s Field Available on: PlayStation Network (Japan only) Developed by: From Software One of the highest rated PlayStation 3 games is Demon's Souls, a game which successfully fuses stylish Gothic horror with rock-hard gameplay and brilliantly realised action. It was a sleeper hit and while it has sold nowhere near as many units as the likes of Final Fantasy XIII, it should end up in most people’s list of top 20 or 30 games on the console. It also was successful enough to see a spiritual sequel of its own, Dark Souls, which is now quite possibly the most anticipated game for PS3 RPG fans. What people might not realise is that both Dark Souls and Demon's Souls are spiritual sequels to one of the most underrated RPG series’ in console history. PlayStation One owners (especially those with Japanese PlayStations) have probably heard of 1994’s King’s Field. PlayStation 2 owners might have read a review or two of the ‘biggest’ release in the King’s Field series – IV – which was critically slaughtered. But many, many people who love Demon’s Souls probably haven’t actually played the genesis of that brilliance. If you have a PlayStation 3 or PSP with access to the Japanese PSN, you can download a handful of the Kings Field games. The series was consistent in quality, but the best one to start with is the original. And from the moment you install King’s Field, you’ll see where Demon's Souls came from – the game is dark, dripping with Gothic atmosphere, and brutal. Death comes easy, resources such as healing items are thin, and the enemies hit hard. Avoiding the attacks of the enemies is the name of the game here, which is a refreshing change from the damage-soaking instanthealing superheroes of most modern RPGs. Aside from the visuals, the main difference between King’s Field and Demon's Souls is that with the older game, you’ll be playing from a first person perspective. Admittedly, this tunnel vision effect does make it slightly more challenging to be fully aware of everything that’s going on around you on those rare moments where the dungeon areas really open up beyond tight corridors, but it’s still very playable, and you’ll rarely feel cheated. Like Demon's Souls, King’s Field is a slow-paced dungeon hack, heavy on the secrets and light on story. The enemies that you’ll be hacking are standard horror fare – undead, demon thingies, spiders and ugly monsters. Given they’re strung together by a handful of polygons, the game now lacks the smooth animations and interesting designs of Demon's Souls beasties. The setting, too, is incredibly bland. Wall and floor colours are muted, monotone, and ugly. Although Japanese RPGs and nonJapanese speaking people rarely mix with success when it comes to understanding the action, King’s Field is relatively palatable and easy to get on with. The plot is inconsequential, and with a bit of experimentation, you’ll work out what the various objects do. Despite this, King’s Field is brilliant at creating a horror ambiance. From Software has always been brilliant at creating a claustrophobic atmosphere, and this game achieves the same through its graphical limitations. There is no real sense of relief in the game – you’re isolated and alone within a dark, cold dungeon, and you know it. This is a game that was never officially released in English (though there is a fan translation out there). It’s unfortunate, because I suspect the success of Demon's Souls would have people rethink the initial critical panning the games were given. - Matt Sainsbury 4/5 Top 5... 5 Good books about games The games industry is a reasonably mature one now. People are thinking more about games, the debate “are games art?” rages on, and as a marketing tool, games are becoming a powerful force. knows, an engaged worker is a good worker. So how do you make optimal use of video games to engage your workers and improve their productivity? This book gives a very different vision of video games – looking at them as more than mere ‘entertainment,’ but also productivity tools that can help build a successful business. We’ve seen this happen with the likes of the iPhone and iPad, and how these fun ‘toys’ are increasingly relevant in the work force, and soon, perhaps, games will be the same. As a side effect of that, there is a growing amount of literature looking at games from design, art and even philosophical viewpoints. For those looking at getting a deeper understanding of games and what holds them together, here’s a few reasonably accessible books to look into: The Legend of Zelda and Philosophy Part of the “… and Philosophy” series of books, you’ll get much the same content in this one as any of the others – some very entry-level philosophy applied to some of themes found within various Zelda games. These books are written in a very accessible way, and for the most part, the essays within do a good job of disseminating the core philosophical theories discussed to be easy to read Final Fantasy and Philosophy and follow. The side effect is, of course, that the book is relatively shallow, and anyone doing philosophy will find little value here, but for most of us, and anyone curious to read a different perspective on the Zelda games, this is a good pick. Changing the Game: How Video Games are Transforming the Future of Business If you’ve ever wondered how video games might fit into the corporate world? Here is a good book to start with. By nature video games are directly engaging, and as business wisdom Part of the same series of books that brought us The Legend of Zelda and Philosophy, this book looks at the entire series of Final Fantasy games. Much of the content is focused on Final Fantasy VII; generally considered to be the thematically deepest of the series, but just about every other game is touched on. So once again we get the “lite” versions of the Machiavelli, Foucault and Marx vision and how it related to the Chocobos and Moogles. Once again you’ll get a slight understanding on how these games can be looked at underneath the surface, why we enjoy them as we do, and perhaps even why we should play the games through again. But mostly we’ll get a nice, easy read that allows us to engage with these games on a slightly different level. hits of today. Combined with high quality images, it’s a good, chunky coffee table book that will also be a good reference source into the future. Playing Video Games: Motives, Responses and Consequences 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die This book is controversial, but great to have around. While you almost certainly will not agree with the list, and while you might argue that there isn’t even 1001 “must-play” games that have been made in the relatively short history of the games industry, it’s still a reasonable list. See, the book’s value is in giving a snapshot of a history of games development – where it’s come from, where it’s moving too. Through this book we see concepts and ideas that were once popular, but have fallen to the wayside, and we see what has influenced the This is a more expensive book to buy, but it’s also a more scientific study – specifically this book looks at the psychology of games playing. It looks at how people react to games, and as such will be a good resource for games developers. It’s heavy on the research, but provides plenty of insights for designing games to be attractive to the gamer. It asks what attracts us to playing a game in the first place, why we play the games we do, and what makes them addictive. One for the more serious researchers into games development and behaviour. War of the Burning Sky (MMO) Lookin’ HoT Upcoming games we can’t wait to get our hands on Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls (PS3) Time of Fury (PC) See You Next Month!