The Strategy Issue Heaps of Strategy Game Reviews, including: Advanced Tactics: Gold Strategic Command Darkest Hour
Exclusive interviews with Aussie Developers, Nnooo; Publisher, Paradox Interactive; and the developers of the awesome Sengoku
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Welcome to Digitally Downloaded!
Digitally Downloaded team
The big news for this month was, of course, that the PlayStation Network went down following a hacker’s attack. And user data was compromised.
Editor-in-chief Matt Sainsbury (firstname.lastname@example.org)
From the numerous websites, blog posts and social networks, it’s evident that many of the Sony faithful are irritated. Not so much with the fact the network is down - it’s amazing the level of support Sony has had from its fan base once they understood what was going on. The anger has been more targeted at Sony’s lines of communication to its customers.
Contributing writers: Owen Sainsbury Domagoj Saric Ryan Sinclair Aidan Broadbent Clark Anderson
To be frank - Sony did a poor job with updates and being open and honest throughout this process. The vendor provided no ETAs on when the service will go up, and it’s been reluctant to let us know what the problem was. It took a full day for Sony to admit the network was down because of an external intrusion.
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It’s a typical response from a Japanese vendor - to lock things down in emergency and demand a very clear line of communication from the higher ups, filtered through a reviews process. The official line and messaging has worked in the past, but in the age of the Internet, it’s too easy for the virtual grapevine to spring into action if the corporates are too slow with forthcoming information. The brand is then damaged when the rumours blow problems out of proportion, and build unnecessary fear amongst customers. In the future it will be important that Sony understands that people are more receptive to open communications, accountability, and indeed, staying available for comment does the brand less harm than being secretive. Sony has make some significant gestures as a goodwill apology to attempt to start rebuilding its online brand, but more importantly, if (or when) something of this scale happens again, I hope the Sony staff will have greater leeway to be open, honest, and immediate when questions are directed to them.
Matt Sainsbury Editor-in-chief
Digitally Downloaded is © M,MndM Media. Content may not be republished without written permission.
News, News, News It was a bad month for Sony. As anyone who read this knows, its PlayStation Network was hacked into, and all kinds of consumer data was compromised. But on the plus side, the vendor also showed off two new tablet devices. The Sony Tablet S1 is a direct competitor to Apple’s iPad (Left device in the image, below). The Sony Tablet S2 is the really exciting one - it’s a dual screen tablet. Both devices will run Android 3.0, and will come with some form of PlayStation integration for gaming on the go.
Ubisoft’s crazy bunnies, the Rabbids, have turned five years old. Originally a spin-off character from Rayman, the ugly-but-adorable fellows have had a life of their own – they’ve sold five million collectible figurines, nine million copies of their various games, and have been viewed by 50 million people on YouTube. Though the quality of the games have been patchy, the characters themselves are endearing, and we’d be surprised if Ubisoft calls it quits on these little guys anytime soon.
Xbox 360 RPG classic, Fable 3, is coming to Steam. Those that purchase on Steam also get the Rebel’s Weapon and Tattoo pack for extra customisation options for the hero.
FortressCraft has become the fastest selling XBLA Indie title of all time. 16,000 copies sold on the launch day, and over the first five days of sale, it generated more revenue than the current king of Indie Games, “I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MBIES 1N IT!!!1” in its first 12 months. The game rose as high as third as the best selling game overall on the Xbox Marketplace in the US. This is especially impressive considering the relative premium price the game commands amongst its Indie game peers - it’ll set you back 240 Microsoft points.
We already knew that Nintendo’s newest gadget, the 3DS, sold through the roof in Japan, the US and in Europe, and Australia didn’t ruin the party. The first four days of sales saw 31,000 units ship, which sounds relatively low, but considering Australia’s population, that’s actually a record here. By comparison, the Nintendo DS sold 32,000 units in the first week, so the 3DS more or less hit that number in half the time. It sold so well that there are shortages now, and retailers are suggesting consumers put down orders for the next shipment.
31,000 units certainly explains why Digitally Downloaded actually had some StreetPass hits, that’s for sure.
2010 was a big year for the growing Chinese games industry, reaching a total value of $5 billion. The data comes from research firm, Pearl Research, which forecasts the games industry in China to exceed $8 billion in value by 2014. Game operators in China experienced strong revenue growth in 2010. Top game operators, in descending order, are Tencent with $1.4 billion in revenue in 2010, Netease (NASDAQ: NTES) with $749 million in revenue, Shanda Games (NASDAQ:GAME) with $680 million, Perfect World (NASDAQ: PWRD) with $374 million and Changyou (NASDAQ: CYOU) with $327 million in revenues. In 2010, MMORPG game operator Shenzhen ZQ Game completed an initial public offering (IPO) on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange, becoming the first China-based online game company listed domestically in China. The company was established in 2003 and has 700 employees. This is all positive signs for a country whose games industry has laboured for years with challenges from piracy and limited internal resources. It may well be that China becomes a dominant market in the years to come.
EA acquisitions show the money really is in casual gaming Is EA’s recent string of high-profile casual, social and mobile games developers and publishers highlighting that the real money in the games industry is moving away from large-budget games development? In recent times, EA has acquired Zynga competitor, Playfish, as well as iOS specialist publisher, Chillingo. It now also owns possibly the largest developer in Australia, Firemint – a 60-strong team that was made famous from a little $1 game called Flight Control.
over four million sales, Firemint has proven it knows how to offer up a successful game. So at the moment, the social/ casual flag is flying ever higher – I doubt even Nintendo predicted this (and certainly, at recent press conferences, Nintendo has made it clear it does not like the direction this part of the industry is heading, and the rumoured successor to the Wii sounds like it could turn its back on this
Chillingo carved out a substantial niche for itself prior to its acquisition and, at
market). And the other developers and publishers are following suit. Square Enix has made substantial investments in bringing games to the iPad, iPhone and Facebook. Sony is launching a boatload of different products – from phones through to tablets, to appeal to the way these ‘new gamers’ like to play.
Really, just to make a difference to the world, with the right group of people. Tired with the injustice of the financial world, where we used to work, we felt the time was right to take the leap of faith and attempt something new and innovative. Needless to say, we haven’t looked back once... 2) What’s next for the company? Now that we’ve successfully released both Squidge Rush (iPhone) and Maxi-
So I believe that EA knows where the market it heading – and like it or not it’s not investing in blockbuster developers. It still has those, sure – any major publisher needs the Visceral Games or massive FIFA investment to stay big, but the “R & D” and acquisition investment seems firmly focused on this newer form of gaming – those are the growth opportunities.
The question is though, is it sustainable?
Three Quick Questions With... RX Games
1) Why did you set up RX Games?
After all, we’re already seeing that it might well be difficult to make real money on the App store. The inundation of casual, low priced games that make their way onto it each day is making it ever harder to stand out… and to make a profit from a $0.99 game, you need to stand out. That EA has invested in developers and publishers that aim for quality, rather than raw price in the iOS space suggests that it knows the $0.99 model is not sustainable. That EA made these acquisitions after already investing in developing and publishing its own games on the platform suggests that it knows there is money to be made there, though.
It's also worth noting that EA also recently acquired Mobile Post Production. These 'behind the scenes guys' focus entirely on delivering high quality cross-platform development solutions and porting of games to smartphones. A substantial asset to have for any publisher with big goals for the smartphone market. For a major publisher like EA to make three acquisitions in these related fields of gaming suggests that, indeed, the opportunity here is significant. Playfish is competing against Zynga and yes, it’s not doing as well, but that’s only because Zynga’s value is possibly more than EA itself – it’s worth potentially as much as $10 billion.
EA has remarkable faith that it is. The acquisitions would not have happened if EA thought the market would bottom out in the next three to five years. But you still have to wonder.
mus Discus (Android), we’ll be moving right onto our next major project - a new type of multiplayer game for iOS and Android devices. Our next offering should be out by the end of 2011 and with a target audience that has not been tapped as yet, has the potential to cause a big cultural revolution... so watch this space! 3) If we could make a dream game.... To be honest, we’re probably making it now! But, I guess we do also harbour
secret ambitions of making a super slick RPG one day. Intricate story with twists and turns, inspired music and breathtaking graphics.. Definitely a developer’s dream!
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Publisher Q & A Paradox Interactive is a rising star amongst digital publishers. It’s download portal, Gamers Gate, is exploding in popularity, and it’s product lineup is impressive indeed. Digitally Downloaded sat down with its CEO, Fredrik Wester, to chat about the publisher’s history, the opportunities it sees in the market, and its games.
Could you please give me a background on Paradox Interactive? Why was the company started, and how has it come to be what it is now? Paradox was started in 1999 and the first game under the Paradox name (Europa Universalis) was published in 2000. In 2004, the games part of Paradox was separated from its former mother company, and has since then been privately held. During 2004-2005 we started our own publishing business, and in 2006, download portal GamersGate spawned from Paradox Interactive. Today the companies are separate entities. Between 2003 and 2011, we will have increased gross revenue by around 2000% per cent and it has, of course, changed our business dramatically.
Paradox Interactive focuses on strategy and RPG games - why those two genres? Primarily, we make the games we would want to play ourselves, and this is how it has turned out. We come from the strategy games niche and it is natural for us to get more strategy games in our portfolio. However, we are open to all kinds of games, as long as somebody within Paradox feels strongly about the game’s quality. Most of the games you have published have been exclusive to PC. Is this a deliberate strategy, or are you looking at other platforms as well? We have done one game for PSN (Lead & Gold) together with Fatshark Studios, but PC has been the platform that is easiest to work with, and also which allows more direct control over your own fate. It is also the biggest install base of any of the gaming platforms. We look to publish games on all platforms where it makes sense and we’ll be publishing on multiple platforms this year. How do you go about attracting talented developers into the fold? What are some of the challenges they face in the current environment?
King Arthur: The Roleplaying Wargaming
I think working with us is a lot easier than working with many other publishers; we are mostly a bunch of gamers ourselves who are interested in making great products. Developers always face numerous challenges, the most obvious of which is, of course, getting games funded. Another challenge is marketing, to reach an audience with your game. The Internet has given new dimensions to these two problems, but the channels are still quite clogged. How does a smaller publisher, such as yourselves, compete against the likes of Activision, EA or Square Enix, and the kind of resources those publisher have? Is there still room for more boutique publishers? We do not compete directly, of course; we could never win that race. Instead, we are providing the market with games that either appeal to a different crowd than the mass-market or niches that are hard to serve, such as the Grand Strategy genre. With digital distribution, there is a great market for niche publishers and developers, where our gamers can now find the game no matter where they are. Previously, our problem was getting
Lead and Gold: Gangs of the Wild West
The Kingâ€™s Crusade
listed in stores, now we work with all major download portals and we have great cooperation with them.
Mount & Blade Warband
How is the games market holding up right now? What are some of Paradox Interactive’s plans for the next 12 months? We are growing around 70 per cent this year on gross revenue and our plans are to focus heavily on product quality over the next two years. We have had some releases in the past that have been bumpy, to say the least, and we are looking to address this in the near future. Do you consider the future of the games industry to be digital downloads? What role, if any, will retail play in the future and, how do you think digitially downloadable games will evolve - are we headed to an era of individual “chapters” and DLC, or some other model? We are looking at digital download and streaming for the coming years; our revenue is over 85 per cent from digital distribution this year. In the years after that, I guess we are looking at mostly Webbased games that are played through a browser or equivalent. I think brick and
mortar retailers just recently woke up and realized digital distribution is a major force in gaming. The coming year will show whether they got started in time or not, but no matter what, the traditional retailers need to have a more friendly attitude towards content creators. The major digital retailers at the moment have already figured that out.
What role will a publisher have in the future, when a developer could potentially simply upload its games to a download platform without a publisher’s help? As I mentioned earlier, funding, marketing and sales are still important for the developer. Some people believe a good game will sell by itself, but this is not true in 99 per cent of the cases. If developers can fund and market their game properly, they have all the options in the world to go at it alone, of course, but I know all developers do not have that as part of their plan. Some people just want to make games, and the publisher and developer need to find a deal that matches the goals of both companies.
Celebrating all things Magicka
Was DSiWare really that bad? Casual games
DSiWare is virtually dead. Though we still see a trickle of new releases (and indeed, the entire catalogue will be available through the 3DS eShop when it launches, so people will still be able to buy the games), for all intents and purposes, we’ve moved on from the DSi’s little download portal. DSiWare also didn’t exactly have a great reputation. It was effectively competing against the PlayStation Network Minis portal and the Apple App Store, and most would believe it failed to beat either, both in terms of quality and quantity of releases, and for capturing a section of the market - the number of developers that could rely on DSiWare to be profitable was minuscule. But was it that bad? Well yes and no. Of all the download services, DSiWare was by far the worst - it was slow and unintuitive, is poor at showing off the developer’s games, which quickly get lost amongst the shovelware. But of the games themselves? Well, there were some genuine gems in there, and DSiWare did especially well with certain genres. For that reason those that never owned a DSi might want to check the old shop out when it goes live on 3DS.
Puzzlers aside, DSiWare was actually pretty reliable for casual gamers. There were decent hidden object games (Jack the Ripper), a bevvy of farming and gardening games (Hello Flowers, My Exotic Farm), some social party games (Mixed Messages), Pinball (Pinball Pulse), and some surprisingly good board and parlor games (Picturebook Games: The Royal Bluff, Sudoku, Solitaire, Sujin Taisen, Where’s Wally). The Puzzle Factor The single greatest genre represented on DSiWare is the puzzle genre, and some of the games you can get on this genre are amongst the best you’ll find anywhere. The Art Style games here (special call out to Kubos) are better, as a whole, than their WiiWare counterparts. Then there’s a wide an entertaining variety elsewhere, such as Spin Six, Bookworm, Tetris, Glow Artisan, Mighty Flip Champs, Reflect Missile, Save the Turtles, Wakugumi and Go Go Island Rescue (and that’s not even all of them). This all makes sense, of course - puzzle games are relatively easy and inexpensive to make, so they’re perfect for the DSiWare platform, but if you are a fan of puzzle games, then there were a lot available here.
There was also a handful of really good tower defence games (Viking Invasion, SteamWorld Tower Defence, Starship Patrol, Fieldrunners) that were easy to get into and that often contained plenty of gameplay within them. So all up, there were a bunch of good casual games on DSiWare that will remain very playable on the 3DS.
Ok, so for more intense experiences, DSiWare struggled mightily (and this is probably where it got its poor reputation from). For platformers, you’re looking really at Shantae, and daylight afterwards. For shooters and action games, there were a couple (Dark Void Zero, 3D Space Tank), but nothing that was going to pull you away from bigger and better experiences on the competition handheld devices. An RPG worth playing only came along late in the DSiWare’s life with Zenonia.
The DSi was never going to be able to compete with the iPhone here, but nonetheless there were a few non-gaming applications that, surprisingly enough, were worth investing in.
The one bright spot for “gamers” was the support of Gameloft. If you could stomach the largely soulless and greatly watered down copies of popular franchises, you could play copies of Castlevania (Soul of Darkness), FIFA Soccer (Real Soccer), Nintendogs (Me and My Dogs), The Sims (Pop Superstar), Guitar Hero (Guitar Rock Hero) and God of War (Hero of Sparta). Part of the reason was, no doubt, Nintendo’s insanely-low download restrictions, and the simple fact that it was easier and more commercially-assured fact that retail outsold digital downloads with the DSi. So there was little point to bring ‘core’ games out via the download platform. We hope the story is different on the 3DS.
3DS) be that little bit more useful, and they’re fun to mess around with regardless.
The obvious first up here is Flipnote Studio, which in addition to being free, is still well-supported and fun to use even now - the ability to upload your flipnotes for a few seconds of fame should not be underestimated. Beyond that though, there’s Sleep Clock - which helps keep track of how much you sleep from night to night. As the data piles up over the weeks and months you’ll be able to gauge what is your optimal sleep patterns - and so it is surprisingly effective as a health application. If you find yourself in Europe, the City Maps are surprisingly useful when using the train systems of some of the major cities around the continent. It’s no guidebook, but it’s handy to have to hand. The Art Academy software, by being able to save your drawings to SD card, are actually better downloaded than the retail package. And then there’s Nnooo’s suite of software - MyNotebook, MyPostcards and MyDiary might be simple applications, but they do help the DSi (and later, the
So, as you can see, DSiWare was rarely filled with must-have applications and games, and unfortunately, the good ones were often buried under shovelware and chopped up bits of retail games. Do enough digging, though, and there are some games worth checking out the shop when the 3DS eShop goes live.
Why Japan’s games industry is not struggling It wasn’t the kick-off point, but when ex-Capcom legend, Keiji Inafune, quit his post, after repeating on multiple occasions that the Japanese games industry is ‘in trouble;’ it was the feather that broke the camel’s back. Now, it’s almost canon in the press that Japan’s games industry is floundering. Western writers constantly note how few Japanese games appear in the charts. They point to any poor financial results as a portent of doom. But it’s not really the case. The Japanese games industry has its fair share of challenges - but then so does the Western games industry (or did Activision not just shed a lot of staff and IPs?). It’s evolving and changing, but overall it’s actually quite well placed. So, in the interest of playing Devil’s Advocate, here’s a very different reading of what’s currently going on in the Japanese games industry.
The Japanese industry is maturing. This is not the end of the world Any industry goes through a period of growth, and then maturing. It’s a natural part of the business cycle, and while it does mean that some companies disappear, it’s not a portent of doom by any
means. The Japanese market is, right now, going through that maturing period. The days where tiny startups can hit it big on a regular basis are over - though it still happens (usually when an especially talented and experienced veteran starts up his own company), for the most part the really talented startup developers are quickly acquired by the deep pockets of a major company. It leads to a small number of very big
It doesn’t really matter how well Dynasty Warriors 7 sells in the West. It sold in bucketloads in Japan
Little King’s Story was not a success. It also isn’t going to sink Marvellous
companies, but the overall value of the industry is not diminished.
Poor financial results are not a sign of woe Over the past few years, just about every Japanese publisher and developer has posted some less-than-positive results. From Nintendo and Capcom, right through to the more niche players such as Marvellous, each has announced disappointing raw figures. Again, this is a natural part of the business cycle - especially when going through a period of recession in the broader economic environment, which is precisely what Japan has been dealing with. The smart companies plan for this, with risk management contingencies and cost-cutting scenarios. Yes, it meant some companies had to pull back some operations - like Marvellous needed to do to focus on the more profitable Harvest Moon franchise than the risky releases like Little King’s Story, but the company itself has ridden the storm.
Japanese games don’t “sell as well” as the likes of Call of Duty in America. It’s an amazingly self-centered view of the industry, and fails to take into account that Japan is a pretty big market in its own right, and the games were designed for that audience. After all, how many Western markets still have a weekly games magazine that is over 100 pages in size? Almost none. And yet, in Japan, there’s Famitsu. Look at Tecmo Koei. Do the Warriors games sell well in America? No, not as a rule of thumb. Do they sell well in Japan? Heck yes. More than enough for the series to remain a reliable source of revenue for the publisher, in fact. When these companies genuinely fail is when they attempt to pander to Western tastes. Mindjack by Square Enix and Quantum Theory by Tecmo Koei are posterchild examples of why the Japanese should stick to Japanese experiences.
Japanese games are made for the - shock! - Japanese
And to flip this silly argument around the Xbox 360 sells horribly in Japan. Is this a sign that Microsoft is struggling? Of course not. Or is it a sign that Western gaming is failing that Western RPGs like Dragon Age underperform on the Japanese charts? No.
This one really bugs me. Every time I see the Western press criticise the Japanese games industry, it’s on the basis that
Of course, this is only a baseline view of the Japanese market - going in depth into the nature of the businesses over there
is almost a topic for an entire business course, but I hope this view can get people looking closer at the Japanese market as a market in its own right, with plenty of money internally, and not a entire nation struggling to appease the Americans. So, while the criticisms that the Japanese market struggles with fostering creativity (a complaint that can be equally levelled at the Western market, mind you, and has been levelled at the Hollywood for years now) are reasonably justified, it’s ridiculous to claim the industry itself is going anywhere. With Nintendo dominating the hardware sales, and the likes of Capcom and Square Enix and Namco Bandai making wise investments in social and casual gaming, the businesses themselves are placed just fine.
Combat Mission Battle for Normandy
PT Boats South Gambit
Strategic Command World War I Combat Mission Afghanistan More New Releases...
A chat with Nnooo Sitting out on a renovated old wharf on Sydney’s gorgeous harbour is plucky independent developer, Nnooo. As the company gears up for its fifth year, it is looking to bigger and better things, with two of its most ambitious titles well into development, and a big new opportunity landing in its lap with the Nintendo 3DS launch. It’s a good environment to work. Nnooo’s office is like many other small development companies’ – a comfortable lounge up front for playing games, a few desks behind to do the work. A meeting room at the far back has a lovely view of the water. With some luck, that office is set to become far busier shortly. As a developer primarily focused on the Nintendo handheld consoles, Nnooo has not reached the audience it probably deserves. The downloadable service on the Nintendo DSi, DSiWare, never managed to really get going. But this could all well change soon. The 3DS promises to offer a far more robust online shopping experience, and Nintendo seems to be keen on getting it out there. And while Nnooo is not working on any 3DS games at this stage, it almost certainly will do, and can additionally expect a boost in DSiWare sales, as Nintendo’s next gen handheld will also feature DSiWare as part of its overall shopping offering. “We still haven’t got development kits for it yet,” Nnooo creative director, Nic
Nnooo creative director, Nic Watt
Watt, said. “I think it’s a really exciting console to develop for, though. I think what’s been most interesting has been the online and social connectivity side of it. It looks like by implementing one friends code per device (rather than per game, as was required with the Nintendo DSi), Nintendo has learned an awful lot from the previous consoles, and taken a good look at the Xbox 360 and the way it works.” And Nnooo’s upcoming games will work well with Nintendo’s social connectivity focus. Spirit Hunters, much like Pokemon, is going to be a game that asks players to meet up with other game owners to get the maximum experience. With the Street Pass feature of the 3DS, this will be more than possible. And as I played through an
early build of escapeVektor: Chapter 1, I was struck by how the simple-but-effective visuals would look even better with a 3D coating. So Why Just Nintendo? Nnooo experimented with the iPhone App store, releasing various versions of its first game, Pop, on the format. It would seem that the price competitiveness of that format did not impress Watt, so there are no immediate plans to release any further content on the device in the near future. “One of the things I think is really bad on the iPhone is the fact people can change the price for an application on a whimsical basis,” Watt said. “It means there’s no consideration to what the value of your software is when you put it out and because you know you can change it, you don’t have to sit and deliberate and make a hard and fast decision. “What that does is creates a model where people at one stage put content out for sensible prices, and then someone else put a good quality app out for $0.99 and that’s just pushed the market down.”
The thinking wall
But that’s not to say the developer isn’t looking at other platforms. Nnooo has had conversations with Microsoft, who Watt claimed was impressed by escapeVektor and felt it would be a good fit for Xbox Indie marketplace. Sony, too, has its Minis platform set up entirely to benefit developers such as Nnooo, but because he’s working with a small team, Watt said he felt it was better to focus on a single platform at this stage.
and system that we can make games really easily. Then we can start looking at ‘maybe we do a 3DS and NGP version of the next Spirit Hunters and once we’ve got that working then we can start looking at doing other games on other consoles.’”
“Unfortunately, we don’t have 100 people like some studios,” he said. “I’m really interested in all platforms and I’d like to be working on all of them. But the idea is we want to make sure we internally have the skills to do justice to the platforms we’re working on just now so we have a good engine
This is where it all happens
Nnooo through the years Pop - Released 2008 Nnooo’s first game was this simple bubble-popping arcade style shooting gallery. On the Wii, it had a four-player mode and online leaderboards. Indeed, as one of the first WiiWare titles, Pop saw a wave of interest when it was first released.
myNotebook: Blue, Red and Green - Released 2009 These three small digital notebooks for the DSiWare were the first non-game applications developed by Nnooo. For a cheap price, these did exactly what the label suggests - they’re notebooks.
MyDiary - Released 2010 The final myLifeCollected release was the best of the lot. It allowed you to make notes, turning it into a daily diary of sorts. It would be good to see Nnooo come up with new ideas for the 3DS to further build out the myLifeCollected range.
The DSi wasn’t exactly inundated with great quality applications, but these notebooks were some of the better ones.
Pop Plus: Solo - Released 2009
myPostcards - Released 2010
myNotebook: Carbon, Tan and Pearl - Released 2010
Pop Plus: Solo was the DSiWare version of the original game. Touch screen made the game far more comfortable to play that holding the Wiimote up for hours at a time.
The second in the myLifeCollected series of DSiWare applications, myPostcards was even more simple than the Notebooks. Take a photo, turn it into a postcard, and upload it online to share with families and friends.
These ‘premium’ notebooks allowed people to use more pages, and save the pages to SD card, and from there your computer or Facebook. The higher price point hurt the software though - it’s a touch limited for 500 points.
What’s Next... Nnooo has two games on the way: Spirit Hunters and escapeVektor: Chapter 1. Spirit Hunters is an action RPG of sorts, taking strong influence from Pokemon. escapeVektor on the other hand, is a weird mashup of Qix and Pacman. See the full preview over the page.
Nnooo has on its hands one of the most interesting WiiWare releases in ages on its hands with escapeVektor. We've got a while to wait before we'll get to play it, but it's looking really well refined already. It's something of a cross between retro classics Qix and Pacman across a whole bunch of levels you'll be tasked with "colouring" a series of wires that your avatar is attached to by moving over them. Colour in the entire field and you'll be able to exit the level and move on. Naturally there's a number of curve balls thrown to make the task more difficult. There are three enemies to deal with, of varying difficulties and unique personalities. You'll also need to navigate through, or around, gates that can have a variety of nasty effects. The game makes use of an overworld map, not unlike the recent New Super Mario Brothers games. Some levels offer a number of different possible exits, and open up alternative routes through
the levels. There's a number of different power ups to unlock as well - such as the ability to boost speed, as well as a "bomb" effect that will clear the level of enemies temporarily. It controls like a dream, as well. There's no gimmicky motion control; holding the Wiimote on its side gives you all the buttons you'll need. Movement is smooth and responsive, and the game's pacing is just right - action enough to require quick reflexes, but not so fast as to take away from the level of precision you'll want to navigate through the levels. The game starts easily enough, but some of the later levels are genuinely challenging. All up you're looking at around four hours of gameplay - a decent length for a game Nnooo is angling to cost 500 points. Really, the only disappointment we have at this stage is a lack of online functions, or even leaderboards (especially appro-
priate for arcade style games like this). Nnooo's creative director, Nic Watt, told us that online integration with Wiiware was more difficult than it's worth, but it worked so nicely with studio's previous Wii download release, Pop, we will miss it here. Should escapeVektor be successful, Nnooo has plans for additional 'chapters' to be released. We hope it is, because even now, months before release this is a highly refined, appealing little game. Nnooo hasn't released a game since Pop, choosing instead to focus on the highly successful MyLife Collected series of DSiWare applications, so it will be good to sink the teeth into something a little more gamey from this talented studio.
One to watch
Runespell: Overture RPG hybrids are all the rage right now just look at the success of Puzzle Quest, and the number of games that has led to. The newest developer to try and take advantage of that is Mystic Box with its upcoming Runespell: Overture. Due for release on Steam before Summer the game promises to meld Poker or Yahtzee mechanics with collectible card game addictiveness. Players will be able to unlock power ups and special attacks available as collectible cards, defeat over 30 monster types (each with its own deck of cards), and turn defeated enemies into pets. There's also in game achievements and leaderboards integrated with Steamworks to keep you playing longer. Following the Steam release the game will also be made available on Impulse, Macstore and Direct 2 Drive. "Other platforms are being considered," the developer also claims.
Developer Q & A Sengoku is the second strategy game to be set during the medieval Japanese (Sengoku) era in the past 12 months. Following on from Shogun 2: Total War, it’s a tough act to follow, but as Digitally Downloaded found when it sat down with Sengoku associate producer, Thomas Johansson, not only is this a very different strategy game to The Creative Assembly’s vision, but it’s going to be successful in its own right. Could you give us some background for the game - what was the idea behind it, and what are you looking to achieve with it? When the design for Crusader Kings II started to take shape we realised that the step to making a game about feudal Japan, a period that a lot of us in the office finds very exciting, wouldn’t be that large and after that the ball just started rolling for Sengoku. How strategic is it going to be? Are you aiming for accessibility, or a complex strategic experience? Well, we don’t really think there should be an automatic conflict between strategy and accessibility. That said, we realise that some people find it difficult to get into some of our games and this is something we are constantly working to improve. We actually believe that we have come quite far since the old days and we hope that this game will be a little more accessible while still retaining the strategic depth that is the Paradox Interactive´s hallmark. What have been some of the development highs and lows for this project? So far the high has been seeing our new great looking map, but I’m expecting that to be trumped when I play my first full game. The low? Well, as with any project you start out with lots of lofty ideas and its never fun when you realise that some of them wont really work in practice, but that’s life I suppose.
How do you plan on presenting the background of the era in a manner that’s accessible for players? Most western gamers would only have a limited understanding of Japanese history? We are trying to create a set-up that is both balanced and fun no matter which character you choose to play which should make the game fun even you aren’t familiar with the period. We have some ideas about how to guide the player into interesting starting situations that will also give some insights in the historical situation but its a bit early to lay out the details on that one. Do you consider it unfortunate timing that the game is coming so close to Shogun 2? How will the two games be different, so that yours isn’t compared to Creative Assembly’s release? I think both Shogun 2 and Sengoku will increase interest for games a about the period and for strategy games in general. I don’t think this genre has nearly the amount of fans it could have and each new game will create some new potential customers, that way its more of a symbiosis than competition. As for the differences though, the flagship of Total War games has always been its tactical battles while the Paradox games have focused more on the strategic situation, building your armies, developing your nation and outmanoeuvring your opponent through wits and superior planning. Creative Assembly makes “Total War-games”, we make “Paradox-games” and Sengoku is definitely a Paradox game. What kind of DLC can we expect (if any) after the game has been released? We are currently putting all our effort into making Senguko the best game we can. So once that is done, we will think about what we else we could do with the game. So be patient ;)
Is the App Store actually profitable? The App Store has been seen as one of vast opportunities for indie developers, giving the likes of Halfbrick, Firemint and Rovio a platform to release games on they might not have had by sticking to “conventional” consoles. But is it really a happy marketplace? If we have a look on Game Center, it would seem that all but the very highest profile games do, in fact, struggle to make any real money. Consider a couple of games that Digitally Downloaded has reviewed recently (see www.digitallydownloaded.net). Grove Keeper HD, just released, has just 351 people listed on its leaderboard. Boom Boom Gems, 67. Reiner Knizia’s ClusterMaster, 5,532, but that’s for the free game. For the game modes you unlock by paying for the game, 131 names is the most populated leaderboard. Even the higher profile Bird Zapper! seems to have struggled to gain traction. Despite being really good fun and having the marketing might of Namco Bandai behind it, has only managed 55,647 lead-
erboard names. Galaxy on Fire 2 – one of the highest rated RPGs on the App Store, 52,865.
tain a professional corporation long. Poor young Grove Keeper, despite a price of $2.99, has brought in just $1045.50.
Now consider that most of the games listed above are very cheap. At $0.99, Bird Zapper has made $50,090 according to Game Center. ClusterMaster, potentially as little as $129.69.
Now, Game Center is not definitive – according to it, for instance, there are 1,364,759 people who have downloaded Flight Control. The actual sales figures are around 4,000,000. But even assuming that 1/3rd of people who download these games play them on Game Center, Bird Zapper still comes in at less than $200,000 by assuming a triple sale/
Galaxy on Fire is a little more expensive, at $6.99, but still only made the company around $369,526 – hardly enough to sus-
Bird Zapper: Awesome game, but is it a best seller?
Grove Keeper needs more love
Game Center user ratio. It’s also worth noting that developers are now wisely adding in additional revenue streams for these games. Bird Zapper and ClusterMaster both feature in-game bonuses that can be paid for with a little extra money. But it’s not going to boost these games anywhere near the million mark. And indeed it's possible to port these games to additional platforms - such as the Android market, for additional sales and revenues. I am not for an instant claiming that these rough and raw calculations are an indication of how much revenue these games bring in in reality. But look at even Flight Control. It’s been around for a few years now, and assuming $4 million roughly translates into $5, $6 or even $7 million in revenue (given the higher prices for iPad, DSiWare or PSN versions of the game)… Firemint is a company with around 100 people now. Given the average wage in Australia is $64,641/ year, that’s $6.5 million per year to pay everyone, and that’s before tax, the cost of the office and other business expenses. This is all quite vague (for instance, it’s unlikely that the average wage at Firemint is equal to the average Australian wage), but it highlights a point – even the most popular games on the Apple App store are quite possibly only just scraping through as profitable. Spare a thought for the poor indie developer or start up company that lacks the
marketing budget, then, or the capacity to release a steady stream of new games. It’s unfortunate, because it means so many good ideas are potentially unrewarded.
The Gunpowder Infused Action Role-Playing Game
Charge Into Battle Ride Into Legend
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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 also 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 firstname.lastname@example.org Matt Sainsbury Editor-in-chief
Portal 2 Available on: PC download Publisher: Valve Portal 2 is proof of how important story and character can be to a game. Without the brilliant scripting and cinematic approach to plot, it would actually be quite a forgettable experience. See, the gameplay of Portal 2 is in itself quite bland. Anyone who has played the original Portal will know what to expect – this is a puzzle based first person adventure game. By creating portals to “jump” through the levels, you’ll be solving a range of puzzles by strategically placing those portals to reach previously inaccessible areas, beaming lasers at switches and dropping blocks on pressure plates. It’s challenging in places to be sure, and supremely balanced. Each new puzzle room presents an incrementally-greater challenge, engaging the brain without frustrating the player. Each puzzle is a self-contained little world - making it through one takes you on to a lift to the next room. There’s no purpose to backtracking, there’s no hidden extras to unlock as you move through the game. Portal 2 is a refreshingly straightforward approach to game design that, while limited compared to other games, is also far more refined, focused and confident in the direction that it has taken.
while there is not a hint of a flaw in level design, it’s not the levels that you’ll be recalling a year from now.
Thanks to this design direction, there’s no need to be cohesive in terms of level design, and Valve takes full advantage of this: rooms constantly introduce new tricks and wildly different environments, and eventually you’ll get stumped and need to apply different thought processes to get through to the next level. It’s challenging without being torturous, mentally simulating and relaxing rather than stressful and tiring. The gameplay of Portal 2 itself is quite throwaway, and levels fly by in the blink of an eye and
Even now, so soon after taking a break from the game to put virtual ink to virtual paper, I struggle to remember a single puzzle in the game. I remember the experience, the story, and the supreme production values, but I believe in the hands of a lesser developer, this exact game structure would make for a very poor game indeed. The appeal of this game, then, is in its humour, its psychopathic robots, and the same lonely ambiance that makes a film like 2001: A Space Odyssey such a classic. GLaDOS has returned and is as nasty as ever, sniping cynical, rude comments at you even as she tries to kill you. She’s not alone, as a masculine robot chimes in with some very Monty Python-like wordplay. Like 2001 is memorable for
HAL, this game is memorable for the performances of the robots, and the clinical approach to displaying just how wrong they can go. The game is also amazingly self-referential, and makes as strong of a case for “games can be art” as I’ve ever seen. Indeed, the opening tutorial, which asks you to look up, then down, then claims that “completes” your aerobic exercise for the day, is a wonderful introduction to the self-referential style of Portal 2; It constantly pokes fun at itself, the first person genre, and the games industry as a whole. With Valve’s expert direction, not a moment of that feels
forced, overbearing, or anything less than entertaining. And for that, Portal 2 is a compelling, artistic game. It’s amazing that such a game could be so high profile, because not a moment of it goes with the current grain for the industry – it’s low on action, relatively short in length and lacks a real multiplayer mode (one feels the co-op was put in there as much as a joke at the game’s industry’s expense than a real attempt to bring multiplayer to the franchise). With the original held up to be the greatest game of all time by many, it was always going to be a difficult task for Valve to recapture the magic, or even improve on it further. Portal 2 isn’t Portal’s better, but more of the same genius is indeed still genius. - Matt Sainsbury
Advanced Tactics: Gold Available on: PC download Publisher: Matrix Games Consider this: Advanced Tactics: Gold is the work of a handful of people. In that context, and for all its unwieldiness, it’s a brilliant, complex, nuanced game that grognards (wargamers) can easily lap up. It’s going to be impossible to explain how Advanced Tactics: Gold plays. It’s a game that comes with a 130-page .pdf rules manual in the download! But, in an attempt to draw comparisons; imagine if the basic idea of Civilization was turned into a board game, and you’ll be more-or-less there. The goal to the game is to occupy cities, which provide both supplies and victory points, and capture enough of those victory points and you’ll win the game. Unlike Civilisation, you’re not going to building up those cities, but you will need to dedicate the resources each city generates between military, supplies, transport and political resources. The first three are important for building a strong military force and having it kept fed and mobile, while political resources can be used to commission new military units (represented as square ‘tiles’ on the map) and research better technologies which allow you to build better weapons in the endlessly scalable nature of war. There’s a lot to digest in there, with a lot of military units each with their pros and cons, and more technologies to research than you can possibly cover in a single game. On the map itself, the game plays much like any other wargame. Units move around a hexagonal environment, and each unit features a huge number of statistics to track – represented as an approximate total value on the unit tile face. You’ll need to make sure the construction of a unit is well balanced to handle multiple different threats, because it’s entirely possible to lose to a better balanced unit with a smaller total value on its card. You’ll need to make sure supply lines stay open, to save your units from the demoralising effect of lacking necessities, and position your units to take advantage of terrain. Roads and rail has a pronounced effect on the game too, so
it might get difficult for the units if they venture too far away from those. There’s also special units to take into account, such as engineers to build and destroy bridges and paratroopers to do drops behind enemy lines. So yes, this is a complex wargame, and will take practice to get the hang of if you’re new to this kind of strategy game. Unfortunately it’s not a game that is friendly to newcomers. The tutorial is archaic (even going as far as to ask you to print out, from a Webpage, instructions on how to get through the tutorial), and there is no ‘beginner’ level AI. Unless you are a wargame veteran, prepare to be routinely slaughtered as you learn the ropes. But on the other side of the coin, the AI proves inadequate for experienced wargamers. It’s incapable of more complex strategies, so ends up acting like a brute, even on the highest difficulty setting. For this reason the developers recommend the game is played in multiplayer – where there’s hotseat and play by e-mail options. Play by e-mail is entirely appropriate for this kind of game, because the bigger battles can take days to complete, even against the AI, but the same caution applies to newcomers – it’s not going to be easy going if you run up against and experienced opponent, even moreso than other strategy games. (A
good place to start looking for a game is Matrix Games’ forums: http://www. matrixgames.com/forums/) Of the gameplay modes, there are a small handful of pre-made scenarios, and a random map. The former is padded out by the ability to create your own scenarios and share them online. It’s a fiddly system that people who have played other user-generated content games such as Little Big Planet will find difficult to stomach in practice, which is unfortunate, because there’s scope there to create and share literally any kind of wargame you’d like – from fantasy right through to sci-fi. Meanwhile, the scale of the random map options is staggering – it’s possible to fight for world domination over a mammoth map with 13 other opponents, though to do that against the AI will be a painful experience each time you need to wait for your turn to roll around again. I found playing on a ‘large’ map with three other opponents a comfortable balance between having room to manoeuvre and facing off against enough opponents to keep things interesting. Visually, Advanced Tactics: Gold surprised me. It looks simple in the screenshots, and it is, but it’s also clean and attractive. Hex environments are sharply drawn and colourful (especially when zoomed to the closest setting), and the unit tiles are big, stand out well, and the
accompanying military artwork is nicely detailed. Comparing to some of Matrix Games’ other grognard games, such as Combat Command, this is a much more visually pleasing experience, without sacrificing the board game heritage. It’s always hard to review and then rate these games. They are as hardcore as strategy games come, and as such, they will only appeal to a niche audience – more casual gamers will look once before going back to something like Civilization or Total War. It’s unfortunate, because as a strategy game, Advanced Tactics: Gold is more fulfilling than the Civilization series could ever hope to be – it requires genuine thought and the application of military strategy. All I can recommend is that, if you are a fan of strategy games, prepare to have a bit of patience, and take a weekend to read the rules, work through the tutorials, and lose a few initial battles. Once you get the hang of this game, you’ll be hooked. And for existing wargamers, I highly recommend this game. It’s had me as hooked as any other wargame I’ve played to date. - Matt Sainsbury
Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes Available on: PlayStation Network Publisher: Ubisoft Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes is the best game on the PlayStation Network. It’s a big game with an entertaining story, some killer puzzle/ RPG combat, awesome multiplayer content, and gorgeous high definition visuals. It’s not pretentious, but it’s the kind of addictive experience that you’ll be coming back to long after you’ve forgotten more throwaway fare. It’s a game that started life as a humble Nintendo DS release and was largely ignored, despite wowing everyone that gave it a shot. On the PlayStation Network, it is a more natural fit. It’s cheaper
and more instantly accessible - unlike a limited release title, you’re not going to have to hunt through multiple game shops to track down a copy. On the surface it’s a classical RPG, with a nice anime art style and a traditional, but entertaining plot. If you’ve ever played a Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy game you’ll be quite comfortable with what you’re given here. It’s not a game that’s open for exploration though, the characters move around a game world comprised of spaces - kind of like a great big board game. Occasionally they’ll encounter a random battle, but for the
most part it’s possible to pick and chose your way through battles at your leisure. There’s some side quests to complete if you really get into the game, but as enjoyable as it is, all of this is just there to funnel you into the puzzle-based combat. The easiest way to think of that part of the game is as a match three puzzler on steroids. For each “battle” the game throws at you, you’ll face off against a grid of enemy units. The goal is to break through the defencive line and damage the enemy hero calling the shots. You do this by lining up three units of the same kind in a vertical row. Lining them up
horizontally turns them into a wall that can help deflect enemy attacks. There’s a variety of units that are available to take into battle, and can be broken into traditional archetypes - there’s the speedy-but-weaks, the burly-and-strongs, the magic users and the special utilities. You’ll be limited to three basic unit types per battle, and with each victory, the units you use gain experience and levels - strengthening them up substantially. It’s a system that caters for any number of different strategies, and one of the great joys of the game is tweaking the team to find an ideal balance. Throw in special units that pack extra punch, but are expensive to replace and difficult to execute in-battle, and the combat
gets an extra layer of depth. Throw in battles with special conditions (such as having to avoid damaging a special unit, or target one specific square to damage the enemy her), and the system shows just how genuinely deep it is.
ported, and this is the kind of skill based game that will have armchair strategist face off against friends for weeks to come.
The AI puts up a reasonable challenge given the number of computations it needs to make, and thinks pretty quickly to boot - there’s the rare moment when things grind to a temporary halt as the AI considers a difficult situation, but they’re few and far between.
With bright, charming visuals, classy soundtrack, and a huge number of units and armies to master, Might and Magic is the true successor for Puzzle Quest to be kind of this fascinating hybrid genre, and an absolutely essential PlayStation Network game. We really can’t recommend it enough. - Matt Sainsbury
Even better than computer AI, though, is human intelligence, and for the first time, Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes features online multiplayer and leaderboards. 1v1 and 2v2 battles are sup-
Darkest Hour: a Hearts of Iron Game Available on: PC download Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Darkest Hour: a Hearts of Iron Game is, without doubt, the most complicated strategy game that this writer has played. Set during the great wars (World War I and II), it has a truly global feel as you take command over your choice of country as it attempts to stamp its influence during these turbulent times. It is extensive and you can take your choice in patriotism from the major players – Germany, Japan, Soviets, UK, through to the most minor such as Australia and Albania. The game has a large scale approach, and is very intricate as each country is broken down into a great number of provinces – akin to a game of Risk on steroids. However, the game should be scolded for its lack of research at times. Melbourne for instance, is NOT, nor ever been, the Capital of Australia. One of the great strengths of this game is its complexity – one feels as though they genuinely are juggling the affairs of their country. This comes to the fore
as the player has the ability to influence things as varied as economic policy, domestic industrial policy, scientific (on an Government, corporate and individual scientist level) as well as political policy (the constituents of your eight man government cabinet, each one with a number of roles and having a influence, interchangeable with many other options). This influences the availability of troops, the ability to create reinforcements and the level of technological advancement – basically your ability to perform as a strategist. The battle modes are interesting. They feature a large number of units and choices in three basic categories: infantry, naval and air. Each country features its own flavour reflecting its national strengths – for example England has naval superiority. Your troop availability is markedly dependent on all the complicated segments and features written about above.
The game offers some great tutorials that provide an excellent summary of what to expect. Through six steps, of enjoyable length, you are taught in a very clear and concise manner the various segments that are required to influence the game, even including, as a final step, teaching some of the more complicated actions that can be taken. However, these tutorials do not teach everything and the true intricacies are hard learned through trial and error, patience, as well as that great humbler and teacher, mistakes. Essentially, all these aspects lead to the idea that this game is for the modern history fan – the many quotes that fill loading spaces appeal greatly as well as the dedicated strategist or those who like complicated, all encompassing games. If you want to feel like a dictator, here’s your game and ideally, this should not be your first game in the genre. With that said, a number of problems come to mind. The speed settings for the
game are, sadly, woefully inadequate. Time progresses at a set progression, one hour at a time, which is useful admittedly during war time but painfully tedious in between. One feels that the slow periods are too slow and during the heavily intensive periods you just don’t have enough time to react (which is remarkable considering it has a complete pause function, yet it’s a problem nonetheless). Additionally, as with every game this intricate, finding the right fit for the artificial intelligence is extremely difficult. Sadly this game truly does suffer from this, where the inexperienced player is prone to being destroyed and overrun quickly, and the experienced players can exploit the mechanics to make mince meat of even the most fortified foe. Winning a World War because of Argentina’s involvement sounds odd, but it is a possibility for a pro. The music for the game is, like most games in the genre, of instrumental modality but largely unremarkable and easily forgotten. The graphics are decent – prioritising function over form, and feel a throwback to an earlier time. The game does run smoothly. Overall, it is an interesting attempt at an intricate, all-encompassing game set around World War II with campaign settings for other arenas like World War I. However, the design of designing a games of this scope is extremely challenging and one feels the developers may have bitten off a little more they could chew. With a little work, this game could be truly remarkable. - Owen Sainsbury
Clash of Thrones Available on: iPad Publisher: Mythikal
Clash of Thrones has an impressive name, and promises a new board game with depth to enjoy. Unfortunately it’s neither new, nor especially deep. It’s a Risk clone with a couple of optional rule variants, none of which make the game any more strategic, or intelligent. Risk is a classic board game for a reason - it’s easy to learn and play, and perfect for parties. Chances are you’re not going to pull out an iPad at a party, though. And it’s here that Clash of Thrones’ problems start - it’s just a little too simple to be much fun by yourself, even in multiplayer, it‘s not the same party atmosphere to be passing around an iPad (or playing online) as pouring over a board in a living room. For the benefit of those that haven’t played Risk before (the whole two of you); it’s a game of world domination. Each turn you’ll receive a set number of military units, based on the number of territories you control. You’ll then attack your neighbouring territories with those units to capture the territory. Combat is a simple matter of rolling dice (up to three for attackers, and two for defenders), and the person with the higher dice roll wins the melee. It’s a purely luck-based game, and the small element of strategy involved in this game is for nothing if someone else gets on a roll. Because more territories = more reinforcements, it’s very difficult to orchestrate a comefrom-behind win. The dominant player quickly steamrolls the opponents. As for the Clash of Thrones game itself, there’s nothing in here that separates it from Risk. There are six factions to choose between, but there’s no difference in abilities between each of those factions. At this stage there’s only the one map to play on (though it appears more will be added in via DLC). That map is not balanced very well (something the original Risk did so, so well), making it impossible to build up choke points and defensible areas. In a bid to spice up the game, there’s a couple of the Risk alternative rules
(mind you, these rules are available in various board games as well; such as the excellent Lord of the Rings Risk) that have been built in - such as castles to improve one territory’s defence rating, and generals to boost the armies they lead. Although it does add a small tactical element to the game, it’s still too heavily reliant on luck. On the plus side, the game does look quite nice. There’s little to no animation, but the map and units are colourful and clear. So, the problem for Clash of Thrones is simply that it’s copying a formula that’s long outdated. Popular board games now are skill based (though still accessible and easy to learn), and almost entirely do away with dice. Those games, such as Settlers of Catan, A Small World, Reiner Kinzia’s Samurai and Through the Desert are all already available on the iPad, and are better purchases than Clash of Thrones. If you are desperate for some iPad Risk, there is EA’s perfectly workable version already available. Risk is a classic, but it is quickly losing relevance to modern gamers. New visions of Risk strike me as the very definition of redundant. - Matt Sainsbury
Strategic Command - World War 1 the Great War Available on: PC download Publisher: Battlefront.com This turn-based strategy game provides a platform from which you can replay some great encounters from the first world war. You have the option to play as either the German led “Central Powers” or the allied forces “Entente”, led by the United Kingdom, France and Russia. These battles include the ANZAC’s famous assault on Gallipoli, as well as Lawrence of Arabia and his battle for Palestine, and provides a realistic view of both the odds facing both sides and the terrain through which they had to battle. The scale of battle ranges from two or three countries to all of Europe which will provide even the most strategical enthusiast with a logistical challenge. There are also decisions which can make or break your campaign, which the game will prompt at the end of rounds of some campaigns. For example, “Do you send General von Bohm-Ermolli to support your invasion of Serbia or do you send him to reinforce your troops against the Russians?” This game appears to be targeted primarily at people who have enjoyed previous Strategic Command titles and are familiar with unit capabilities and general game-play since it lacks a tutorial. The user manual however is extensive and quite useful. I found that as a first timer it was best to play with fog of war disabled so that you can get a feel for the game by how the computer acts and also by trial and error. A great feature is the fact that you can play a good variety of different campaigns without having to unlock them first. It plays a lot like a chess game with its grid set up rather than the hexagonal set
up that many other strategy games use. As with previous titles the battles include ground, air and sea forces for a wide range of combat capabilities. The graphics are on par with Strategic Command 2 titles. Also included with the game is an editor so you can create your own fictional wars or re-create other battles from history. This is one feature that really surprised me, the attention to detail provided here was quite astonishing. The amount of different looking terrain tiles available to you is exceptional this truly allows you to recreate land masses with amazing accuracy. Even the buildings have different options available to you so that you don’t end up with a generic looking coastline covered in identical ports. Overall this is a great title for anyone in the market for a historically accurate turn based strategy with a particular interest in reliving the battles of WWI. I would definitely recommend you make use of the excellent editor for extra longevity. - Aidan Broadbent
Vampire Rush Available on: iPhone, iPad Publisher: Chillingo It’s good to see that, even after being acquired by EA, Chillingo has not dropped a beat. It continues to work hard at providing interesting and entertaining iPhone and iPad games, and supporting the ‘little guy’ developers. It doesn’t always work (we weren’t a big fan of Etolis Arena, though Chillingo did do the right thing and provide a massive update that vastly improved the experience), but it still has more hits than misses. The newest hit? Developer A-Steroid’s tower defence Gothic epic, Vampire Rush. Yes, it’s a tower defence game, so immediately you’re going to get an idea about how this game plays. Luckily, it conforms to virtually every good principle of the tower defence genre and really is worth a look into, even for casual fans of the tower defence genre. The experience is not as passive as many other examples of the genre. There’s a comic little hero, Captain Greg, who runs around the battlefield dropping towers. He’s directly controllable, and wields a sword – yep, in this game you get to personally slaughter beasties. There’s not a huge variety in towers to play with, but they are upgradeable, and Captain Greg himself has a few upgrades to learn that turn him into a biological
weapon of his own. The action can get pretty hectic – running back and forth laying down and upgrading towers, plugging defensive holes, and then tracking down treasure boxes, which are nearly always positioned in challenging locations. It’s as action packed as tower defence games get, without entirely ignoring strategy. Funds are quite limited, and juggling buying and upgrading towers, and keeping the hero in a condition to fight the more difficult enemies is a constant and addictive balancing act. The game is also easy on the eyes. Despite a lack of variety, Vampire Rush is a good looking, toon-styled world of horror. The map design is as good as we’ve ever seen in a tower defence game, with bright and chunky buildings, objects and characters that strike the perfect balance between artistic design and function. Zombies, vampires and other feral beasts of the night are colour coded to give you a clue to their strength, and though the camera is zoomed quite close in, it’s easy to see
and respond to threats thanks to a useful minimap before they become too much of a headache. As well as all this is designed, Vampire Rush is a little light on content. The lack of towers and enemy variety is easily forgivable due to the action-packed style of gameplay. What isn’t as forgivable is the tiny selection of levels to play on. You’ll be through with this game far more quickly than most tower defence games, and though there is some incentives to return thanks to some strict high score challenges and Game Center achievements, the game ends up being more disposable than it deserves to be. Hopefully some DLC will introduce more chapters to this tale, because Chillingo should not be done with Captain Greg yet. That said, given the choice between a really good game thin on content, and a really big game thin on quality, we know which we’d choose. - Matt Sainsbury
Squidge Rush Available on: iPhone Publisher: RX Games Squidge Rush, the new iPhone/ iPad game from RX Games, combines classic tower defence strategy with an addictive puzzle component that will keep both your mind and your fingers constantly active. Enter the Squidge World where you take control of an array of cute characters and lead them to victory over the forces of evil who are out to control the elements. Using Aquor and his friends, you must defend your base from a constant onslaught of evil Squidges who attack down the screen in five lanes. Repel them by placing your own Squidges in the appropriate lanes but be careful to put the right Squidge in the right lane. Basic Squidges will defeat other basic Squidges but a Knight Squidge will prove too much for a basic Squidge. Likewise, the King Squidge can take down both a basic Squidge and Knight Squidge before it dies. Any of your Squidges who survive will travel up the screen to be used in the final battle. But the challenge of this game isn’t in the speed with which you defend yourself; in fact, it pays to be a little more measured in your approach. The reason for this becomes apparent after you successfully manage to defend your base and send eight of your troops across the bridge to battle each level’s boss. You’ll have to line up five of your troops against five of his troops and the same rules apply in determining the victor as during your base defence. If all you’ve managed to send across are basic Squidges then you aren’t going to do any damage to the boss because his basic Squidges will cancel yours out. So
get progressively more difficult, becoming faster and making it harder to strike a balance between getting through the stage quickly (the boss may have potentially weaker troops) and sending your best Squidges into battle. You only have a maximum of eight Squidges to work with at any one time and you won’t get a fresh batch of troops until you’ve sent four out into battle, making choosing which Squidges you keep and which you deploy even more difficult. Boasting over 30 stages and nine characters, each unique in their abilities, Squidge Rush is an attractive looking, well packaged and addictive game that will challenge even hardened puzzlers and strategists while being accessible to someone who may never have experienced the genre before. - Domagoj Saric
a tactical approach to which Squidges you send into battle makes clearing the level much easier; attacking the final boss with stronger Squidges increases your chances of doing more damage and potentially killing the boss in one encounter. If not, you do as much damage as you can and then go through the process of defending your base and sending Squidges across the bridge once again. The game expands in a number of ways as the player progresses, with new characters being unlocked and new Squidges being created via “Fusion Spells”. You can replay any stage you’ve already completed using a new character you may have found and you can also challenge yourself by trying to kill off the bosses with less encounters. The stages
Avadon: The Black Fortress Available on: PC download Publisher: Spiderweb Software Holy crap Avadon: The Black Fortress took me back… I grew up on RPGs like this. It’s a game that’s retro flavoured to a fault, but for anyone looking for a lengthy dungeon hack, here’s a hell of a good time for you. The first thing that’s going to stand out is the visuals – we’re talking tiny spites with minimal frames of animation, minimally-decorated tile based backgrounds and a static isometric camera. In other words… it looks exactly like many of the old SSI Dungeons and Dragons game, or a more primitive version of Baldur’s Gate. As we’re all quite accustomed to detailed sprites and silky smooth animation in the modern era, the first few minutes of play as characters jerk across the screen can be quite off putting, but while that initial design decision hits hard, You’ll relax into the world easily enough. It’s the story telling style of Avadon that is really different. The game directly addresses you as the player in a storytelling manner like the Zork games of old. So, just like you’re playing a real game of Dungeons and Dragons at a real table top, you’ll get regular pauses in the action so the AI ‘Dungeon Master’ can break into simple, but clear descriptions that sound a little something like: “You enter a large natural cavern, clearly not part of the original dungeon. The ceiling arcs far over your head, and a natural river bubbles through the middle, the crystal clear water beckoning invitingly.” It’s nerdy, yes, but the game is so lovingly built, it’s difficult not to get drawn into
the world nevertheless. It never takes itself too seriously, though it’s also not an outright parody; so the fairest way to describe playing through this game is as a pleasant experience: it’ll be a stretch to remember specific moments at the end, but you’ll still enjoy yourself. The story itself doesn’t break from the tradition of RPGs in the 80’s and 90’s – it’s a mess of clichés, inappropriately dressed women, tyrants and obvious plot points, but once again this just furthers the charm. The plot runs very much in the background – text is over quickly and new monsters to slaughter pop up regularly. There are multiple endings and different characters to play through, to give a bit of incentive to come back for some more. For the most part, though, this is a game about exploring deep and dark dungeons and killing stuff. There’s a decent loot system, but in yet another throwback to the bygone eras of gaming, there’s encumbrance. Put on too much armour, and you’ll be an impenetrable tank, but you’ll also move nowhere. Assuming you are equipped lightly enough, eventually you’ll run into some battles, and it’s an addictive, if slightly simple experience. Avadon is turn based, and everyone moves about in a grid formation.
There’s a handful of spells and special attacks to choose between, but otherwise combat flow is the “you hit, now I hit” variety. You can build a reasonably-sized team of miscreants and heroes, and each has a unique role to play in the game, but if you’ve ever played an RPG before, you’ll know you’ll need a healer, a fighter, a thief and a mage as a base ‘unit.’ The only really irritating part of the game comes from the exploration. Finding stuff on the floor requires you to pull up the inventory, and because the game doesn’t do a good job of explaining to you that “hey, this here bit of floor has some good stuff on it,” you’ll waste a good portion of your time running around tapping the ‘I’ key just to make sure you don’t miss anything. But the game is the sum of its parts, and the small irritations are completely forgivable. This is a big, chunky game that is retro RPG fans should absolutely adore. - Matt Sainsbury
Piclings Available on: iPhone Publisher: Pan Vision AB game. Unfortunately, in practice, the game has very little to offer in terms of challenges, gameplay, fun and replayability.
Conceptually, Piclings is both unique and clever, utilising innovative technology to create a game with literally endless potential. A platform game where the player can create every stage themselves, customise each of these and then share them all around the world sounds like a dream come true for anyone who has ever considered designing their own
The concept that makes Piclings sound interesting is the fact that each stage can be created and edited by the player via images saved on the iPhone/iPad device. Got a picture of your dog? Why not turn it into a stage for your Picling? It certainly is an exciting idea, being able to use any pictures you have on your device to make stages, not only for yourself but to be shared around the world via the in-built e-mail system. The only problem is, it doesn’t execute well at all. Each stage may look different but its still, in essence, exactly the same thing every single time. The player will have
experienced the gameplay in its entirety within about five minutes. Once you play through the tutorials and pre-made stages, that’s pretty much it. Sure, you can change the background look of a stage but the gameplay itself is unaffected by this and probably won’t hold the interest of the player for any longer than it takes to realise the limitations of the game. Furthermore, the technology which recognises the lines and contours of a picture doesn’t always get it right. This means that sometimes the player will expect a “platform” along a contour only to discover there is nothing there, or vice-versa, making for a frustrating and disappointing experience. - Domagoj Saric
Big Fishing Available on: iPhone Publisher: Thumbstar Games Fishing games are a deeply underrated experience. They’re hugely relaxing and a great way to wind down after a busy day’s work, and the console or PC is much easier to get to than a real lake or river. With that in mind, Big Fishing is not actually relaxing. It’s a far more arcade experience, and while it’s quite good at the core, a poor presentation makes it far less accessible than it should be. Catching a fish with this game is actually quite hard work, and while it’s an intuitive system, it’s difficult to explain. Essentially both your avatar, and the fish you’re trying to catch, have stamina bars. As you reel the little biter in, he’ll struggle. You’ll need to pay attention to your own stamina bar, as well as the tightness of the line, and the direction the fish is swimming in to slowly deplete its stamina. Get it low enough and you can pull it in finally.that doesn’t quite work at that price point. So there’s quite a bit to this game, and fisher fans on the go will find a great deal to like in the core
gameplay. What holds Big Fishing back is the aesthetics and presentation. The translation into English is absolutely terrible - to the point of being incomprehensible. Given that the start of the game involves an extensive tutorial, it’s a sour note to kick off with that really hurts the first impressions. There’s also the issue that the fish you’re catching have two or three frames of animation. The fish are meant to be the focal point of a fishing game, after all, but here I never felt the desire to head into the aquarium. I still enjoyed Big Fishing, once I struggled through the tutorial. It’s has reasonable length, and the arcade-style gameplay is addictive once you get a hang of the controls. If you are into fishing, then by all means give this a go. - Matt Sainsbury
Bubble Trolls Available on: iPhone Publisher: Broken Switch Studios Who'd have thought that pushing a bubble with a troll in it down a river with a tap of your finger could make for an interesting game? Certainly not me. As such, I was pleasantly surprised to find this perpetual-motion physics-based sidescroller both enjoyable in its simplicity while providing a challenge for experienced gamers. Grunget the Troll needs your help to safely navigate his Bubble Taxi down the river while avoiding obstacles and various animal baddies out to burst his bubble. Achieve this by tapping near him to create ripples in the water and push him along in the right direction; the nearer you tap to him, the further he’ll travel. Grunget is an irritable little beast though who doesn’t take kindly to your misplaced digital ministrations and he’ll let you know in no uncertain terms that he disapproves of your nautical naivety by gesticulating wildly and making his bubble flash red.
If your plan is to get the very most out of every stage then prepare to be discomfited and annoyed as your bubble bursts time and time again. Thankfully you can replay each stage as often as you like and the stages themselves can often be completed in only a minute or two (once you’ve mastered it, that is!) making Bubble Trolls the perfect game for a work commute or to while away the half hour wait for the doctor. With plans to make available more levels in the future Broken Switch Studios have packaged a cute, addictive, entertaining game which is both simple to play yet deceptively difficult to master with hours of replayability, suitable for all ages and more than complicated
enough for even die-hards. - Domagoj Saric
Touch Soccer 3D Available on: iPhone/ iPad Publisher: Sauce Digital I am a big fan of SD Games’ little racing title, Nano Rally. It is cheap and disposable, yes, but it’s also good fun, and the perfect remedy to some downtime. And that’s why I am so disappointed with Touch Soccer 3D. It’s a reasonable game, but it lacks the instant accessibility of Nano Rally. Touch Soccer 3D takes a crack at reducing 5-a-side indoor soccer into a dollar game. And in terms of gameplay modes, it has more depth than you’d expect. There are championship modes, leagues, challenges (where you need to achieve a certain condition within a certain time limit) and practice modes. The problem is that on the pitch, the game is too clunky to be much fun. The first mistake is the first person perspective. By default your player will automatically chase after the ball, but thanks to the first person viewpoint, it’s hard to tell when you have control of the ball.
Dribbling, defending, passing and shooting for goal are all also quite clunky in this first person perspective. It gets really painful when you’re chasing a ball that’s gone behind you. Turning around isn’t the most seamless experience here. In fact, it’s downright motion sickness-inducing. With practice, you’ll get into a swing of things, and once you understand how to work with the game’s quirks, it’s quite entertaining (if hardly
a complex experience - AI is not exactly intelligent here). It’s just that Touch Soccer 3D doesn’t kick off to a good first impression, which can be a killer for the instant accessibility required for $1 games. On the plus side, Touch Soccer 3D is a good looking game. The characters are bright and cheerful, with a weird, Russian Babushka doll, look that is quite charming. Unfortunately, in a bid to create a cheap and disposable title, SD Games has come across something that doesn’t quite work at that price point. - Matt Sainsbury
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Then and Now
The original Yars' Revenge is an Atari classic. A single screen shooter with a unique 'neutral' zone for dodging attacks, it's a game that has endured in popularity through the years - most old school gamers would have fond memories of it. And it bears virtually no resemblence to the new Yars' Revenge, now available on the Xbox, and (shortly, we hope), on the PSN and PC in the future.
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Published on May 7, 2011
This month, Digitally Downloaded Magazine takes a close look at strategy games. What are some of the hottest around right now, and what's co...