Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Feb 2012 News #2

04/19 [3DS] [JP] [P] [1] [2] Fire Emblem: Kakusei / Fire Emblem: Awakening
TBA 2012 [3DS] [EU] [P] [1] Fire Emblem: Awakening

New official Fire Emblem: Awakening JP website.

Fire Emblem: Awakening announced for Europe in 2012. Rev up your rage engines, Fire Emblem is coming to Europe, while nothing has been announced for NA. Look forward to some very unhappy NA gamers in the near future.

The first set of Fire Emblem: Awakening DLC will be free. DLC will take the form of new maps, episodes, and Rainbow Potions.

New trailer:

Other Feb 2012 News:

MechWarrior Tactics announced. It's a microtransaction based tactics game with a focus on competitive PvP and leaderboards. No platform announced, but PC or browser based is a pretty sure bet.

Want Disgaea 4 DLC release information? Check this chart.

Imageepoch, developer of Luminous Arc, recently registered a Japanese trademark for "Romance of the Three Kingdoms Tactics".

SD Gundam G Generation Mobile Next Universe for Android announced. This might be a port of the iPhone G Gen game.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Exclusive interview with Skulls of the Shogun lead developer Jake Kazdal

Skulls of the Shogun, the turn based tactics game with a focus on fast paced, arcade style competitive play, is due for release on Xbox Live Arcade sometime in 2012. Haunted Temple Studios lead developer Jake Kazdal was nice enough to answer a few in-depth questions about Skulls of the Shogun for the tactics game fanatics here at Tactical Insights.

TI: What tactics games inspired you while creating Skulls of the Shogun?

Jake: Advance Wars is one of my favorite franchises ever, so that's an easy one. I also love the first two Shining Force games, and parts of Fire Emblem as well. But there were a lot of influences out side of tactics games as well, I wanted the combat to flow faster and smoother, actually played a lot of attention to football and even some of the tactics I would have employed if it had been a real time strategy. The game has been called a turn-based version of a real-time strategy game, which is a funny concept but it holds pretty true!

TI: Did you run into any issues while designing the relatively unique, menu-less user interface?

Jake: Only basically everyday, throughout the entire life of the project. :) Yes it was a Pandora's Box, a very exciting but dangerous place that was I think one of our hugest challenges, but also one of the greatest things about the game. Very glad we were determined to make something fresh, it was a highly rewarding experience, a very addictive, all-consuming type of game development!

TI: What steps have you taken to ensure that Skulls of the Shogun is a balanced and fast paced game?

Jake: For the pace, we're really trying to see just how much 90's era fighting game inspiration we can possibly pack into a turn-based strategy game. Its a nutty combination for sure, but its really been our focus for the entire project. Quick, brutal strikes, with a fast back and forth, as each team can only use 5 units per turn. For balancing, we have a QA specialist in-house, Isaac Dudley, that is a Tournament Smash Brothers player, his feedback has been invaluable.

TI: What features will Skulls of the Shogun have to appeal to a long term competitive online community?

Jake: Like I said, Isaac is very involved in the competitive gaming community, and he brings a lot of balancing and tuning to the title. I think each map is so dynamic and can go so many ways, the replayability is very extensive. Each fight is a new battle, even MP testing in-house we never have any two battles that are too much like another.

TI: How does Skulls of the Shogun's relatively low amount of classes and abilities affect the overall style of gameplay?

Jake: There are up to 7 classes in any given fight, I feel they are very balanced and differentiated, I can't think how the core of the game would be made any stronger or better with more unit types. Each unit has a certain strength and weakness, and the strategy comes in using them together effectively. I think that by focusing on fewer units, players can become better players sooner, and really appreciate the fine balancing between unit types much faster than if we had 50 unit types. This is meant to be an arcade like experience, like a fighting game, as much as possible.

TI: What made you want to create Skulls of the Shogun as a tactics game with no growth system in between missions, instead of a more RPG-like experience?

Jake: Well a large part of that is simply for the bulk of development we were a 3 man operation.  We were moving missions around, constantly tuning and balancing, and feel the ramp up is overall balanced and engaging now for the player. To have to test and tune every possible outcome by different paths of leveling up was quite simply not a realistic goal for us, and would have required quite a bit more effort and time. If we were a traditional team size we could probably afford to have a few people working on something like that, but our whole team was that size! And we are very happy with the final outcome, and think players will be too.

Thanks to Jake for your time!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

X-Com Dev Interview Rant

In developer interviews, the X-Com developers reference Dark Souls and Dwarf Fortress as examples of difficult games and as a comparison to X-Com's difficulty.

Dark Souls is a trial and error action game where mistakes are punished with grinding to make up lost souls or backtracking. It's in no way difficult in that it significantly tests typical action game skills as found in series such as DMC, NG, or Bayonetta, or even God of War and Vindictus, most of which have extremely fast enemies that require millisecond timing, coordination, reflexes, and more complex strategy. There's also far less potential for grinding out of a difficult situation. Yes, I can hear the goalposts being hurriedly moved at this moment, claiming "Dark Souls is an RPG, you can't compare it to action games!" Most action games have RPG elements these days, including all of the ones I just listed, and the comparison is valid.

It is true that you can theoretically run past every enemy in the game without dying, smack the final boss around a bit, then win the game. I don't think this is how Dark Souls is typically played, since it bypasses a huge amount of content. It's generally assumed that the player will want to explore the world and fight most or all of the bosses to experience the content.

Dark Souls has almost nothing to do with the strategic depth and difficulty found in a turn based tactics game. Instead it piles tedium on the player for making mistakes or getting caught by trial and error nonsense, although there is less trial and error than in Demon's Souls. Remove the punishment and grinding/leveling from Dark Souls and you're left with a sluggish action combat game with bosses that don't take any particularly complex strategy to defeat, certainly not approaching the level of complexity that can be encountered in tactics games. Not to mention Dark Soul's lack of a scoring system and pecking order style PvP.

Of course, that's one of the reasons why Dark Souls is so popular. Almost anybody, even poorly skilled gamers that are bad at other action games, can eventually complete it with enough patience, tedium, and simple trial and error, then go around proclaiming that they "beat such a difficult game". If such gamers think they really do love difficult games, they should give this list a try and let me know how many buckets of tears they fill.

It's the same with Dwarf Fortress, which is a heavily random and punishing sandbox game. Dwarf Fortress is designed for the player to randomly and uncontrollably fail, and the randomized sandbox style method of failure is supposed to be part of the game's amusement, much in the way that random disasters in SimCity are supposed to be fun. You also need to familiarize yourself with dozens of obscure rules and systems in order to progress past the first few bits of game play. What does this sandbox play have to do with turn based tactics game strategic difficulty or depth? Pretty much nothing, which is why it makes little to no sense to be comparing X-Com's difficulty to Dwarf Fortress, either.

Feb 2012 News #1

What's going on this month (and a bit of last month) in the world of turn based tactics games and MJ commentary? Even if the world ends (man-made or otherwise), we'll still have some great tactics games to play in the meantime! And I'm as opinionated as ever.

04/05 [PSP] [JP] [P] [1] 2nd Super Robot Wars Z Saisei-hen

New 2nd Super Robot Wars Z Saisei-hen Screenshots.

First 2nd Super Robot Wars Z Saisei-hen Trailer: Saisei-hen will almost certainly take the crown of best 2D graphics on the PSP.

Clear Bonuses Revealed: You'll get clear bonuses for completing 2nd SRW Z Hakai-hen up to 10 times, and another bonus for completing every Hakai-hen scenario. Hakai-hen was already pretty easy, so Saisei-hen with clear bonuses might be one of the easiest SRWs since MX. It's sad to see the series move so far in the direction of fanservice and flashy graphics, though. Even most SRW fans, most of whom play SRW for its fanservice value, though MX was too easy.

Fall [PC] [NA] [1] X-COM: Enemy Unknown

Gameplay Preview at Gameinformer: Looks like they'll be paring down the unnecessary cruft (Line of sight checks, awful default accuracy, etc.) and making a more streamlined tactics game that is more X-Com in spirit than in mechanics. That's fine with me, as I don't have some sort of ignorant, irrational adherence to the original game and all its design, balance, bug, and UI issues. Now if only people who are obsessed with a singular tactics game or series (FFT, TO, X-Com, Fire Emblem, etc.) would broaden their horizons a bit.

X-Com: Enemy Unknown Gameplay Preview #2.

Interview with Julian Gollop over X-Com. He's apparently not involved in the project, not even as a play tester or to offer feedback. I have a feeling they'll invite him to play the game and give feedback, at least.

04/19 [3DS] [JP] [P] [1] Fire Emblem: Kakusei / Fire Emblem: Awakening

New gameplay details. My Unit, Casual Mode, and multiple difficulties are making a return to Fire Emblem. Most of these features were introduced in Fire Emblem: Heroes of Light and Shadow, which was sadly not localized for NA. Lunatic difficulty mode is back, but no mention of Lunatic Reverse. Since FE: Awakening is a more open ended, RPG-like game with free battles, it will need an accurate scoring system to avoid trivializing its strategic difficulty. FE: Heroes of Shadow and Light had a decent scoring system, but I was disappointed that it only stopped at "A" rank, which was rather easy to achieve. Also, the downloadable Rainbow Potion significantly reduced its difficulty and I have a feeling they'll be adding more such items to FE: Awakening, not less, given how they're going to use it as a DLC guinea pig.

I'm fairly confident that FE: Awakening will be localized. It plays closer to Fire Emblem: Sacred Stones, which was chosen as one of the 3DS Ambassador games. The overworld map, class branching, customizable skills, and other RPG-like features such as free battles and grinding seems to be more popular with NA gamers, and I think Nintendo is giving the series one last try in NA. On the other hand, thanks to the 3DS region locks and lack of a 3DS emulator, this will likely be the least played Fire Emblem import in a long time. I'm still considering importing a Japanese 3DS, but it's expensive. If you want more Fire Emblem: Awakening details, check this Serenesforest link.

02/28 [DS] [NA] [P1] [P2] [1] [2] Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2

New Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 trailer.

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 screenshots.

04/17 [Vita] [NA] [P1] [P2] [1] Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention

New Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention Trailer: Do you like that prinny voice acting, dood? This trailer promises 10 million hours of "game time", but I'm pretty sure my graphing calculator has Disgaea beat. I guarantee you Disgaea 4 will make its way to Vita eventually.

Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention Screenshots.

iPhone News:

Long after Japanese developers have mostly abandoned tactics games in NA, indie iPhone developers are still producing decent or even great tactics games.

Toucharcade review of Time of Heroes, an iPhone tactics game.
Toucharcade review of 100 Trials, an iPhone tactics game.
Toucharcade review of Dungeon Crawlers, an iPhone tactics game.
Toucharcade review of Hero Academy, an iPhone tactics game.

Other News:

Civilization V Gods and Kings Expansion Pack Announced.

You'll be able to transfer most downloadable PSP tactics games from the PSN to your Vita.

Phantom Brave Goes Online With Browser Based Game. Trailer.

Pokemon + Nobunaga's Ambition Official Trailer

Pok√©mon + Nobunaga’s Ambition Extended With Free Downloadable Episodes

Similar to protein folding games, scientists have developed new games based on tracing the neural pathways of the brain.

Determining the mathematical type of complexity of a game or game system or set of game rules.

What else have I been doing aside from inadvertently making people angry on gaming forums? Mostly playing through Super Robot Wars 64. It's a big game with over 100 scenarios. It plays a lot like the older PS and SFC Winkysoft developed SRWs, and tends to be more difficult than your average modern SRW. You can check out my guide's progress here.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 (DS) Preview

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 is the sequel to SMT: Devil Survivor, coming to NA on Feb 28, 2012. It's likely to be the last turn based tactics game for the DS and will be a solid end to an excellent library of tactics games.

As I've mentioned before, Devil Survivor 2 plays very much like the original Devil Survivor. The game engine is the same, the menus are the same, and the time based plot progression with multiple endings is the same. It's still a SRPG where two units engaging in combat enter a sub-screen where a typical menu based 3v3 battle takes place to decide combat results. Recruiting and fusing demons to fight with is still central to customization and combat. Combat mechanics are almost identical with a few changes that only hardcore Devil Survivor fans will appreciate. Of course, there are new skills, over 200 recruitable demons, new allies, and new enemies to dig into.

So what's different this time around? There's the Enishi system, where your party members gain in friendship and trust as you make appropriate dialogue choices, granting you combat bonuses and access to more demon fusions. Your party members friendship rating determines whether you'll have access to their ending route(s). That's an improvement over Devil Survivor's ending routes, which required a dozen seemingly random and easy to miss dialogue choices.

The plot is similar to Devil Survivor, featuring the same 7 day time limit, demon summoning, and a device that predicts future calamities that your party must try to avert. It isn't a direct sequel to Devil Survivor, though. There are some oddly shaped beings and shady plot devices thrown into the mix, as well. As apocalyptic as the plot is, it feels lighter and more fanservice oriented this time around, with more jokes, more campy humor, and larger bust sizes.

On to the combat mechanic changes, which only the devoted Devil Survivor fans will appreciate. Skill cracks, the mechanic by which you target an enemy's skill and defeat them to learn that skill, is now easier because the main character and anyone with Enishi level 2 or higher can share their skill crack targets, instead of being limited to one party member per skill target. Instead of end of combat battle results and the magnetite skill swap system, you earn fusion pieces which can be used in demon fusion to add perks like new skills or bonus stats to your newly fused demon. Demon racial abilities can be leveled up to an improved version, giving a bit more incentive to stick with an aging demon or level it up. The 4 main stats have been altered slightly, with STR and MAG providing some physical and magical defense, respectively.

I can't say much about the campaign at this point as I haven't played much of it yet, but the party max is still 4, which I'm a bit disappointed with. There still doesn't seem to be much going on in the non-boss fights. I also think the addition of directional facing would have made the overhead grid portion of combat more interesting rather than a thin excuse to get you into the 3v3 fights. You can also expect the usual optional bosses that require lots of grinding and maybe even some strategy.

Other improvements over Devil Survivor include the addition of video clips, a demon compendium, and an end of game scoring system that's similar to the Tales of X franchise, allowing you to spend points on New Game+ carryovers. The latter two were added to Devil Survivor: Overclocked, so it's nice to see them included here. I'm not sure if there's an easy mode.  The music is still good, with a mix of rock and some jazzy pieces.

Overall if you liked the original Devil Survivor, you'll like Devil Survivor 2. It's competitively priced at $30 so it's worth the purchase for turn based tactics game fans. Honestly given its popularity they could probably get away with $35 or $40 but I suppose the DS is on its last legs.

Devil Survivor 2 preorder (affiliate link).
Devil Survivor 2 preorder (affiliate link).
Devil Survivor 2 Play-asia preorder (affiliate link).