Showing posts with label article. Show all posts
Showing posts with label article. Show all posts

Friday, August 16, 2013

Space Hulk Impressions

Space Hulk was released today on Steam for $30. I know little to nothing about the Warhammer universe. I've never played the board game or collected the overpriced figurines. So I would hope Space Hulk stands up on its own merits as a video game.

In the options, you can thankfully turn off the action cam/shakycam. There's an "input options" section but none of the keys can be remapped. Would be nice to be able to check the manual mid-mission.

There are both autosaves and manual saves, but sometimes the manual save option is locked. The manual doesn't mention limits on saves at all. I'm not knocking limited saves to up the difficulty, but it would be nice to know when you can and can't save.

Hard difficulty is described as normal with 4 max CP and a realtime time limit on player phase. I remember rolling 5-6 CP on hard, though, so maybe it's not working as intended. I don't mind realtime time limits in tactics games for the most part, as long as I'm not being slowed down too much by the combat speed and UI. There's an undo button that lets you spam the RNG if you get a bad roll, although it's not quite as effective on hard mode.

I cleared the 3 prologue missions and 5 main story missions on hard without fail up until mission 6, which seems bugged. The victory conditions state to wake 3 and escape with 2 + librarian, which I did and then some. I woke all terminators, escaped with 6 (1 dead), with the librarian last, and still failed. If I'm wrong feel free to correct me, but that's what the mission conditions say.

Combat speed is about as slow as you'd expect. Your marines move and turn with all the agility of a dump truck, with no way to speed things up. It gets tiring very quickly watching them shuffle around at a snails pace. And yes, the realtime timer on hard mode keeps ticking even as the marines take their sweet time shuffling into position.

Frankly, I don't accept "it's a board game" or "they're meant to be slow" as an excuse. You should be able to fast forward or skip movement/combat animations if desired. The UI is acceptable and responsive, although some of the keyboard shortcuts are on the right hand side of the keyboard, and I had to wrestle with the camera at times to move multiple units at once. It's just the combat animations that are a drag.

Not surprisingly, combat has a very "board game" feel. Combat consists of moving slowly through corridors while saving enough AP/CP to overwatch or guard against incoming hordes of grunts. Every map I played was a series of one square wide corridors with a few 3x3 rooms. There are only two enemy types in the game, a melee grunt and a larger boss sized melee grunt.

There are a few mission objectives to add some variety to the corridor shooting, but it's very repetitive overall. Most of the variety comes in the different weapons you can play with to mow down endless waves of grunts. You get 15 missions total - not a whole lot to chew on unless you plan on replaying for achievements.

Most of the enjoyment of the game will probably come during enemy phase as you watch your well placed marines mow or beat down an endless stream of hapless grunts. If you're a serious Warhammer fan and loved the board game, you'll probably get a kick out of it.

There's a multiplayer mode but it doesn't seem like it translates very well from the board game, which is a local multiplayer match involving dice, board pieces, pizza, and probably beer. You just can't translate some of the board game experience into an online video game, same with online D&D.

They really should add an option to speed up or skip animations and patch the bugs asap, though.

Update: A 1.01 patch was released that fixes the mission 6 bug and speeds up the marines a little bit.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Quick Super Robot Wars OE impressions

It's decent, promising, but needs a lot of work. Missions are mostly filler with few interesting scripted events. It's passable, but I'm sure they can do better, and I'd rather have quality not quantity. I hope the missions going forward are better than Ch 1.

Map size and unit counts are too small imo. I suspect the unit count and map size is hindered by the PSP's hardware. It's easy to get slowdown even with a few units on screen. I would really love to see this on Vita instead of PSP with larger maps, more units, less slowdown, etc.

The UI is missing features found in 2nd OG and Z2-2, which slows down combat speed. Menus have transition effects and load times that further slow things down. Some of this can be disabled in the options screen, but it doesn't help much. This is  disappointing after the better UI/combat speed of 2nd OG and Z2-2.

The microtransactions and repetable missions do encourage grinding, but the game still keeps track of your turn counts. It also keeps track of both your # of unique missions cleared and your total # cleared, allowing you to tell if the player has repeated a mission. With those three stats you can tell how many missions were repeated and the average turncount, which is a bit better than no stat tracking at all.

You only get one save between intermission and mission quicksave, so if you save yourself into a corner during a mission, there's no way to back out and restart a mission while keeping your previous turn count. I thought that was pretty interesting and forces you to pay a bit more attention.

+interesting NEO mechanics
+better stats tracking
+best animations of any 3D SRW
+lots of series represented

-far too many easy/boring filler missions
-slow combat speed, too many menu transition effects and load times
-missing UI features that were in 2nd OG and Z2-2
-small levels and unit counts, low difficulty, combat can feel repetitive
-microtransactions and grinding encouraged

Finished all 35 missions of Chapter 1 (including 3 skirmishes).

Conditions: No upgrades/parts equipped, low turn counts, no allies defeated
Results: 114 turns/35 out of 35 missions

Thursday, July 11, 2013

10 Things MS can improve on with Windows 8.1

Adding "boot to desktop" and "no edge shortcuts" options in Windows 8.1 was a first step, but they need to do more for desktop users. Here are 10 things MS should change or add to make it more functionally equivalent to previous versions of Windows:

1. Ability to resize the start screen so it only takes up a fraction of its current space and doesn't obscure the desktop. We should be able to make it more like a sidebar.

2. All Apps sorting is still a mess. Folders and shortcuts are stacked on top of eachother in uneven columns instead of nested, making a giant mess of shortcuts. This is far worse than the start menu for quickly eyeing and spotting a needed folder/shortcut that you don't remember the name to.

3. True context menu functionality. If I right click a shortcut I want the real deal, renaming, deleting, copying, command line properties, etc. from inside the start screen itself, not having to open a separate window in explorer.

4. Nested folders, including the nested control panel, network, favorites, recent documents/programs, etc.

5. If Metro apps are to be of any use to multitasking desktop users, they have to be able to be run in a desktop window. Aka ModernMix from Stardock. Docking is not a windows replacement and is antithetical to the idea of windows.

6. The start screen search function is still inferior to desktop/explorer windows search, yet there's no way to use explorer search by default from the start screen.

7. The new explorer ribbon and networks sidebar have functionality issues, along with other newly metro-ized dialogue boxes.

8. Bringing back Aero and other desktop/UI customization functionality that was removed would be nice. Yes Aero is superficial but I liked it.

9. Let us make the start screen background transparent, not just show a mockup of the desktop wallpaper. Give us more options for adjusting the color scheme of start screen shortcuts. Not all of us like the ugly neon red/green/purple/orange palette.

10. Let us access Metro settings from the desktop. Do I really need to dig through a fullscreen purple colored Settings app to find an option that MS failed to add a desktop/control panel equivalent to?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Determining skill in single player games

When determining skill in a single player turn based tactics game, the problem and playthrough conditions/goal(s), amount of time, and number of people working on the solution should be equal or roughly equal to get an accurate result. It's no different than a standardized test or math competition.

The playing field is also imbalanced when one person has access to another person's strategies - the equivalent of peeking at someones notes or answers during a test. You can't accurately determine skill at solving a problem based on uneven playthroughs with varying goals, times, and number of people involved.

Yes you can take your general knowledge of how to solve problems into a test. But you won't know the questions or solutions beforehand - you have to figure those out in a specific amount of time, with a certain number of people, etc. In a tactics game most of the skill involved is figuring out the solution to a problem. Once you know the optimal solution to an Advance Wars mission, there isn't much left to do but move on to another. The question is how long it took you to figure it out

There is no inherent assumption that all players are given infinite time or infinite knowledge. In any competitive activity there are players who have invested a huge amount of time and have learned much of their knowledge from other people. But if someone can get similar results in that activity while investing relatively less time and with relatively less outside knowledge, you'd be able to make a tentative argument that they're more skilled. This is more in the realm of multiplayer games where more time is invested and more strategies are shared between players.

Those are some of the biggest problems with trying to determine skill with any highly imbalanced, ambigious RPG. It's easy to trivialize the difficulty of such games by using highly imbalanced features, so some players take it on themselves to do restricted runs as a band-aid balance fix or to make the playthrough more difficult. This unevens the playing field and makes it harder for players to compare because everyone is doing a different sort of run.

This leads to elitism where someone does a restricted run (no this, no that, no leveling, no upgrades, final destination, etc.), then claims it's proof they're better than other people who haven't bothered attempting such a run. A balanced game with a useful scoring system that accurately measures skill is preferable.

A good personal example of this is my Fire Emblem 10 guide. I played the import Japanese version for a couple weeks, completely blind without any data, charts, or advice from others, then finished up my guide and moved on. Little did I know that years later there were Fire Emblem players calling me bad, terrible, etc. because my strategies were somewhat outdated by that point.

So you've got one person who did a blind run over 2-3 weeks, and an entire fanbase of people who collaborated over the game over several years with the knowledge of every last byte on the game disc. Does that sound like a good way to determine who was more skilled? Of course not. The same situation has happened in other fanbases as well. No amount of name calling and pointing to incomplete metrics will change these facts.

Unfortunately my game guides, which I write to help other people, make me a big target for gamers who think my runs were played under conditions they disliked, or the conditions weren't difficult enough, or that I'm terrible at video games, etc. No good deed goes unpunished, especially when video game forumgoers are involved.

In other news, I've been playing through Battle Academy lately. It's a pretty good WW2 tactics game, although a few of the secondary objectives (called achievements) are somewhat RNG-ish. I don't often play tactics games that feature realistic military tactics like suppressive fire, soldier morale, height based line of sight, and air support. It doesn't have supply lines and fuel/ammo, so it's a bit less hardcore than a game like Panzer Corps or Unity of Command, but it's a good introduction to the sub-genre of WW2 tactics games. Take a look at a semi-playthrough log and screenshots.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Is it time to give up on JP tactics games?

I was disappointed with the recent Fire Emblem: Awakening. Terribly balanced, bland map design, grinding encouraged, and absurd amounts of fanservice. That got me thinking about what formerly good tactics series have either died, gone MIA, or fallen by the wayside. I won't bother discussing tactics series that have always been that way (FFT, TO, Disgaea, other NIS or Idea Factory games, etc.)

Front Mission: DEAD

Front Mission was a good turn based cover shooter series that succumbed to poor sales and Square's financial troubles. Read this article on the definitive demise of the series, namely that "with pretty much the whole Front Mission team gone from Square Enix, this will also likely be the end of Front Mission, for good".

Military Madness: DEAD

Hudsonsoft went out of business in 2012. Their Military Madness (or Nectaris) releases on consoles and iOS a few years ago got almost no attention. Konami now owns the rights to the series and it will likely stay buried for good.

Shining Force and Valkyria Chronicles: MIA

We haven't seen a new Shining Force tactics game in over a decade. Shining Force III was the series' last big hurrah and given Sega's recent financial issues, it's not likely they're going to take a big risk on a tactics game revival. In fact, Sega seems determined to wipe Shining Force from the public consciousness because they don't want people to confuse it with the newer non-tactics games in the Shining series. Talk about burning your bridges.

Valkyria Chronicles is another Sega franchise with slim chances of reappearing. Recall the 2012 Sega reshuffle when they shut down several offices and made a press release stating their new focus on "strong and balanced IP such as Sonic, Total War, Football Manager and the Aliens franchise" as a result of "extraordinary losses". Also note that Sega refused to fund Bayonetta 2's development or publishing costs.

Even if we happen to see VC4 announced for Vita, what are the chances it will be localized? Not likely given how badly Vita is doing outside Japan.

Advance Wars: MIA

The original Advance Wars had a great start and inspired many western tactics developers and gamers, but later series entries stumbled in sales, especially in Japan. Days of Ruin was a last ditch attempt to appeal to the western market and it didn't do as well as Nintendo wanted, apparently. I say apparently because the Japanese localization (subtitle The Lost Light) was cancelled despite being fully translated in Japanese at the time of NA release.

Nintendo is struggling financially with the Wii U bleeding money and 3DS barely hanging on against smartphones and tablets. I'd love to see a new Advance Wars (assuming it's not turned into a mess like Awakening), but it's looking increasingly unlikely.

Fire Emblem: Forsaken?

Fire Emblem: Awakening feels more like an Idea Factory game such as the deplorably bad Record of Agarest War series than a traditional Fire Emblem. It has abandoned efforts towards balanced and well designed tactical combat with varied and interesting level design. Forget about depth utilization or scoring systems, it's apparently just another fanservice laden, broken sandbox grind SRPG series now.

It's too bad Fire Emblem's combat and level design went from great (FE12) to mediocre at best (FE13) in the span of a single game. To say nothing of the Idea Factory level fanservice permeating the whole experience. Unfortunately its sales success means we're likely to see more of the same in the future. If we see another Fire Emblem with combat as good as Blazing Sword or Heroes of Light and Shadow, I'd be surprised.

Daisenryaku: Forsaken?

Daisenryaku is a long running realistic military tactics series for consoles, typically Japanese only. Unfortunately we've been seeing a lot less Daisenryaku and a lot more of their "Moe Moe" series, which simplifies the game mechanics and challenge while being about as perverse as a console game can get. There is a new Daisenryaku Perfect for 360 and PS3 scheduled for release, but it has faced multiple delays even while Moe Moes continue to be cranked out for every console imaginable. It would not be a surprise if Daisenryaku Perfect was the last we ever see of the series, assuming they release it at all.

So what tactics games are left from Japanese developers that still has some semblance of strategy to it? It's not all doom and gloom if you're willing to import and learn Japanese. Regardless, I see myself increasingly playing western developed tactics games from now on, such as the great games published by Slitherine.

Namco-Bandai: Still going

Namco-Bandai is one of the few Japanese developers with good long running tactics series. Their two main series are Super Robot Wars and SD Gundam G Generation. Both of these series ride on the strength of their IPs. Although they both have some fanservice during the battle animation cut-ins, it's nowhere near Idea Factory or FE: Awakening's perversity. They still tend to be on the easier or casual side of tactics games outside of challenge runs.

Sting: Still going

Sting has carved out a niche for themselves as developers of tactics games with unique and somewhat complex combat mechanics. This includes the Union series, Knights in the Nightmare, and Gungnir. While quite a lot of their recent games have not been localized, they still seem to be active for now, although they have partnered with Idea Factory - who knows where that will lead. But who knows, they might disappear at any moment, much like the developer Success (Operation Darkness, Rondo of Swords, Drone Tactics, etc.)

Devil Survivor: Still going

Devil Survivor is a relatively new tactics game series, but it's a welcome one as it's both a pretty good tactics game and commercially successful with surprisingly little fanservice.

So what do you think? Did I miss any good Japanese series or tactics game developers dead or alive?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Windows 8 impressions. The start menu is still better.

Windows 8 has launched, and I've been meaning to reply to the many claims around the net that the start menu is outdated and inferior and the start screen is a better replacement, and that anyone who doesn't agree is an idiot or a Luddite. I'm sorry, but that's BS. The start screen should be okay for your average Windows user, but the start menu is still more efficient and contains more features for accessing, organizing, and managing shortcuts. The start screen leaves Windows power users out in the cold.

On accessibility and organizing. There are no sub folders on the start screen or ways to tag or label programs. You can throw them into groups and give the group a name, but groups are highly limited in customization. There is no way to rearrange groups alphabetically or any way to resize the grid dimensions of a group. It's easier to launch programs by keyboard on the start menu. The start screen covers the entire screen, while the start menu is obviously much less obtrusive.

You have to dig through a dual desktop/metro program's settings to make sure it launches in desktop mode from the start screen, otherwise it will launch as a metro app. And if the program doesn't have a setting, like the current version of Chrome? You're screwed - it will always launch as a metro app from the start screen.

I know which one I'd rather use.
 Things get really hairy when it comes to managing shortcuts. There is no context menu access from the start screen or apps list. Right clicking a shortcut gets you an extremely limited number of options. You have to go to the ironically named "C:\Users\x\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu" folder to do any management or creation of shortcuts that the apps list uses. Almost any shortcut management you can think of can be done directly inside the start menu itself, while managing start screen shortcuts is cumbersome and complex. This is a serious issue for power users that need context menu access to manage and organize their shortcuts.

They couldn't be bothered to rename the folder from Start Menu to Start Screen, I suppose.
The "apps list" will end up being even more of a mess than the start menu as it's more difficult to find an unpinned shortcut in a flat apps list than it is in an alphabetized list of folders in the start menu. Since you can't directly organize the apps list, it will eventually become a huge mess just like an unmanaged start menu. Two layers of shortcuts (the apps list and the start screen) is a bandaid on the problem of shortcuts accumulating as you install new programs. Hiding the mess and not letting the user manage it only makes things worse. I want to be able to manage the apps list such as renaming, creating, and deleting shortcuts just like I can on the start menu.

If you install a new program that doesn't auto-pin itself to the start screen, you will need to go digging through the apps list to find it. Good luck if you forgot the name of a shortcut you wanted to pin. Power users that want to properly manage their shortcuts will have to perform double duty, both making sure that the "...Windows\Start Menu" folder isn't a mess and making sure their start screen is organized and pinned.

Good luck managing or even finding your shortcuts with the apps list.

As for the start screen showing you news, messages, e-mails, weather, and other live feeds or info? Windows already has that, they're called gadgets. Oh wait, MS gutted that feature as well. I'd also like to note that you can search from the start menu just like the start screen, it's not a new feature.

Now the start menu is obviously not perfect. One of its main issues is that you need to move the mouse to the corner/edge of the screen to reach your programs. A good solution would be to allow the start menu to activate from the position of the mouse cursor, much like a context menu. There is a launcher program called SyMenu that functions in this manner, appearing at the position of the mouse cursor, although it isn't very user friendly.

In my opinion MS gutted the start menu to force people to get familiar with its tablet interface, while coming up with a chorus of flimsy excuses that a lot of ignorant article writers on tech sites are parroting without question. I've seen many sanctimonious dismissals that don't address any of the points I've made, while offering up condescension and insults.

Finally, there are issues with Windows 8 itself. The charms bar is more or less useless to desktop users, same with the other mouse edge shortcuts - of course you can't turn any of it off. Advanced Appearance Settings and Aero transparency have both disappeared. The restart/shutdown commands and other commonly accessed start menu commands are ridiculous to access via the mouse. If you're running Win 8 and want the start menu back, I recommend Classic Shell. There are also programs out there that will let you boot directly to desktop and remove all of the edge shortcuts like the charms bar.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Are you sure you're really a fan of turn based tactics games? A rant approaches!

My Tactics Ogre review continues to generate attention, bringing out the usual ad hominems, logical fallacies, and lack of coherent arguments. All of that is old hat, of course. What really drew my interest were people claiming that that turn based tactics games are their favorite genre, yet they apparently dislike strategy. That's about as illogical as claiming that you love soccer, but hate kicking things. The ability to calculate and respond to a tactical situation, aka strategy, is the defining element of the turn based tactical level genre, as much as it is in video game as it is in Chess.

And from a GFaqs post: "There are valid points about the lack of strategy ... There are so many positives in the game though so I wouldn't let it put you off,this is for me the best srpg I have played." So wait, the best SRPG to this guy is the one lacking in strategy? How does that even make sense?

Here's an example in the Destructoid review of Devil Survivor 2. "Even with this being my favorite genre ... I quit out of rage so many times that I lost count. Much of this has to do with unforgiving victory conditions that that will have you turning your demon inventory inside out trying to find a solution, with some battles requiring a very precise combination of demons or abilities to complete, almost as if the battles themselves were to serve as cruel puzzles."

The puzzle-like strategy nature of turn based tactics games is the entire point of the genre! And really, Devil Survivor 2's strategies are hardly as difficult as the reviewer claims. Most missions and bosses can be brute forced by a magic main character spamming elemental dances or a physical main character spamming skills like berserk or multi-strike. Whatever he was doing, he clearly didn't get it, nor does he get the point of strategy games in the first place. On the upside, though, he does admit that there is no "need for grinding".

So how is it that these people are making such claims? I think they are simply misinformed. If they don't like strategy, they don't like turn based tactical level strategy games, and it most certainly isn't "their favorite genre". What they actually like are genres that are stripped of difficulty and turned into meaningless, easy, and time consuming sandboxes by which they can carry out power tripping fantasies with powers or units of their choosing.

I'm sure if Devil Survivor 2 had a super easy mode and he could steamroll Devil Survivor 2 with a team of busty succubus demons or whatever he liked, he'd be singing its praises. This can happen to just about any genre, but RPG-like games are particularly vulnerable because they are already one leg deep into the plot and experience of a game being of equal or more importance than its gameplay or skill measurement, making easy and grind heavy sandbox games like FFT and TO a short jump away.

I'm also appaled at people who claim that combat speed or user interfaces don't matter. For example, "I can't say I agree with your cons either (lack of easy mode, poor UI and slow combat animation; I don't think these are legitimate complaints." as a response to my Devil Survivor 2 review. Combat speed is definitely an issue, both to highly skilled players who don't want to sit through boring animations, and to players turned off by the sluggish pace of turn based games in general. There should always be a speedup or skip option for people who don't want to sit through animations.

The user interface is the main way the player controls the game, and a poor UI can be as bad to a tactics game as a poor camera, poor aiming, and poor response time can be to an action game. SRPGs and tactics games get a bad rap for being slow, cumbersome, overly complex, and confusing, so combat speed and UI issues are among the most important areas to improve if the tactics genre wants to expand its audience.

But as a recent example of how ignorant gamers can be, look no further than the recent Mass Effect 3. No, I'm not referring to the large scale revolt over the Mass Effect 3 endings, but the relatively smaller issue of not being able to earn enough "Effective Military Strength", represented by military forces committed to fighting for you, to earn the best ending without either playing multiplayer matches or playing an iPhone app. According to datamined files, the max EMS score you can get without multiplayer or iPhone apps is very close to 3750, while the amount required is 4000 points.

This hasn't stopped legions of ignorant posters or trolls all over the internet claiming that it's possible, and that we're bad for not being able to figure it out. It doesn't help that there are pirated versions floating around with modified game files that alter the points awarded. This kind of bold and brazen ignorance and wrongness is common not just from rank and file gaming forum posters and detractors of my Tactics Ogre review, but by game reviewers who make false claims like "you need to grind in this game to progress" and should know better.

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!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Deconstructing the "localize it!" argument

In niche game communities you'll find gamers who are frustrated that the Japanese games that they want to play aren't being localized in a language they understand. Unfortunately, this frustration can lead to irrational arguments as to why the game they want should be localized or why it's not being localized. They start with the conclusion that game X must be localized and build their argument entirely around that premise, regardless of logic, reason, or evidence. Here are rebuttals to a number of their arguments which are frequently found on gaming forums and sometimes even popular gaming blogs or web sites.

1. Blame "lack of marketing" or "lack of effort". If only the world at large was made more aware of the game, it would fly off the shelves! "They didn't advertise or support it" is a popular scapegoat and whipping boy for poorly selling games. On the contrary, the game they want localized isn't unpopular because nobody's heard of it, it's unpopular because it's in a genre very few people care for, using art styles and plot/characters that don't appeal to the majority of the NA market, and possibly the game itself just isn't very good or appealing. Spending money on advertising is not going to expand a game beyond that core audience. Ironically this suggestion is self-destructive as marketing is very expensive and would likely push a proposed niche game further into the red while having little effect on sales. The related argument is that "game companies expect us to do the marketing work for them!" This is called word of mouth, and businesses of all kinds rely on it.

2. Grossly exaggerate the popularity of the genre, name recognition of the developer or series, or promote random obscure and mostly meaningless trivia. This argument is rarely used to promote a game, instead it's used when someone rational points out the reality of the situation and explains why a game would likely sell poorly, or why another game would likely sell better than the one they want. If the game you like is complex, difficult, a turn based tactics game, text/voice heavy, or licensing heavy you're looking at an uphill battle convince a company to localize it. In a recent example, I had Sting fans trying to tell me how popular and recognized the Sting brand name was, how "Dept Heaven" was a known series, or how GBA Sting games being ported to PSP meant that Sting games sell well, all as proof that Gungnir would sell well or sell better than another PSP RPG, Growlanser. Unfortunately, the almost complete lack of activity in Gungnir related threads across the net tell a different story.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Tactical Insights 2011 Awards

Welcome to the 2011 Tactical Insights awards. You'll notice there are import as well as localized games given awards. However, I'm not averse to rewarding the same game a second time in the future if it's localized for North America. Each system will have a winner and a runner up, with some other deserving nominations mentioned. Unfortunately, systems like the PS3, 360, and Wii frequently only have 1-2 games per year, so I've combined them. Some systems will also have a "Dunce Cap" award. The Dunce Cap award is not necessarily for awful games, as you can find those in abundance, but awful games that have been given undue prominence or praise.

Please note that the scope of these awards only covers turn based tactical level strategy games, generally keeping within the guidelines of the frequently updated tactics game list.

3DS/DS: The 3DS hasn't been out for long, but the tactics games are already coming in. Expect the 3DS to be a haven for tactics games in the coming years. The DS is on its last legs, but remains one of the best systems for tactics games.

2011 Best 3DS/DS Game: SD Gundam G Generation 3D (3DS), Trailer

SD Gundam G Generation 3D is one of the best yet in the G Generation series, the best tactics game on the 3DS as of yet, and a good SRPG in its own right. It plays a lot like a modern Super Robot Wars game with spirit commands (seishins) for pilots, a morale system, and generally similar stats and combat mechanics. You'll find plenty of content variety, depth, units, pilots, equipment, and overall mechanics. Several challenge conditions and end of mission rankings help encourage efficient play. Other features include unit capture, group assignments, MAP attacks, and building your own space colony/base. While there's no chance of this arriving in NA, it would be nice to see a port to a region free system such as Vita, PSP, or PS3.

2011 3DS/DS Game Runner Up: Devil Survivor 2 (DS), Trailer

This sequel to the original Devil Survivor on the DS is a bit formulaic and doesn't change the core game play much. What you do get is a new storyline, new characters, skills, demons, enemies, and everything else that comes with a numbered sequel. Devil Survivor 2 includes the improvements from Devil Survivor: Overclocked including an end of game ranking system, easy mode, and demon compendium. If you loved the original Devil Survivor, you'll find more to enjoy here. Devil Survivor 2 will be arriving in NA in 2012, which will almost certainly be the DS's last tactics game hurrah. More than likely you'll see Devil Survivor 2 awarded again next year when it's released in North America.

Other 3DS/DS nominations: Devil Survivor: Overclocked (3DS)

PSP: The aging PSP is still a tactics game powerhouse even in its twilight years. If you're a tactics game fan and you don't own a PSP, what's wrong with you? The PSP easily had the largest amount of quality tactics games in 2011. Unfortunately, almost all of the good PSP games are still unlocalized. Next year NA gamers can look forward to Sting developed Gungnir, which is a fairly good, if somewhat generic, SRPG. Let's just hope we don't see too many copies of Gungnir in the 2012 end of year bargain bins, as it seems like quite a gamble on Atlus' part and not consistent with their recent sales strategies.

2011 Best PSP Game: 2nd Super Robot Wars Z Hakai-hen (Trailer)

2nd Super Robot Wars Z is polished, accessible, and features some of the best tactics content on the PSP. The 2D battle animations are so good, I even found myself watching them occasionally, which is something I almost never do. It has great production values, a polished UI, a wide variety of units, pilots, skills, skill points, and mission content. Difficulty can vary depending on skill points much like Super Robot Wars Original Generation, so beginners can get through the game fairly easily. From what I've read, the plot is decent as well, if you're into giant robots and hot headed (blooded?) pilots.

2011 PSP Game Runner Up: Senjou no Valkyria 3, (Trailer)

Valkyria Chronicles has a tragic history here in NA, a history familiar to tactics game fans. A game in a moderately successful franchise is released that isn't quite as popular as previous games, sales plummet, and the publisher decides to stop localizing future games regardless of quality or demand. It's happened to Fire Emblem DS, Front Mission 4, and now Valkyria Chronicles 2. But on to the game itself - VC3 adjusts issues that fans had with VC2, including the class upgrade system, small map and deployment size, schoolyard drama plot, and repetitive mission content. It adds several interesting features like special abilities that allow you to run around with multiple units at once or use powerful attacks. Overall it's a better game than VC2, about on par with the original VC, and it's a shame it wasn't localized.

Other PSP nominations: Legends of War: Patton's Campaign, Gungnir, Gloria Union, SD Gundam G Generation World

2011 PSP Dunce Cap: Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together

Let's take a mediocre party building/sandbox RPG, slap it on a grid, give it an awful UI and slow combat pacing, and let all the RPG players who've never played anything other than Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre call it the best, most deep and highly tactical SRPG ever! Tactics Ogre also wins the award for the 'most overrated SRPG of 2011'. I could go into detail about how it's a poor quality game, but you should probably just read my review for that.

PC: The PC continues to be one of the best systems to find tactics games available in English. There's also plenty of operational or strategic level games to b e found on the PC. Although I don't cover operational or strategic level games much at all, I'll give another mention to Unity of Command for being a quality operational level game that's known for having a crafty AI.

2011 Best PC Game: Panzer Corps, (Trailer)

The developer and publisher Slitherine Games has kept the torch burning for top quality turn based tactics PC games, rising above the piles of indie games and the like. Developed by The Lordz Games Studio, Panzer Corps is a particularly great game that has everything you'd want in a tactical military simulation. It's inspired by the classic SSI Panzer General and contains many similar concepts. It's a 2D game so almost any PC should be able to run it, even netbooks. It's already got 3 expansion packs, with a 4th one arriving in 2012.

2011 PC Game Runner Up: Frozen Synapse, (Trailer)

Frozen Synapse isn't technically a turn based tactics game of the type I normally cover. In Frozen Synapse both players move at the same time after issuing commands. Combat takes on a more predictive nature, assuming that your opponent is going to move or fire here, so you'll want to counteract them from there. While the concept of both players moving at the same time isn't new, Frozen Synapse does it with a refined style and efficient UI that makes it an excellent example of its style of play. It's also a bit more exciting as a competitive game than the usual player/enemy turn based style, since both players are allowed to issue commands on every turn.

Other PC nominations: Age of Fear, Field of Glory expansion packs. Unfortunately, due to the size of the PC market, I may have missed a good game or two. If you feel that's the case please let me know.

2011 PC Dunce Cap: Grotesque Tactics 2

Holy crap this game is awful. An entirely unnecessary sequel to the rather bad Grotesque Tactics, Grotesque Tactics 2 improves in neither game play quality nor managing to tell any better jokes. It's the equivalent of watching Scary Movie: The Tactics Game, a poor self-parody that only manages to fall flat on its face and cause awkward glances around the room in an attempt at an escape strategy. It's inexplicably on Steam for $19.99, despite belonging in the doldrums of obscure shovelware. The only steam rising from Grotesque Tactics 2 is not the kind you'd like to get a whiff of.

2011 PS3/360/Wii Game Runner Up: SD Gundam G Generation World (Wii), Trailer

I would have given SD Gundam G Generation World the award in this category, but I felt giving one G Generation game an award was enough. It's a great tactics game, of course, but G Generation games are not particularly import friendly, due to their more complex mechanics and management features. It's also available on PSP with identical content and gameplay.

Other nominations: None

2011 PS3/360/Wii Dunce Cap: Record of Agarest War Zero

Apparently the hideously bad Record of Agarest War sold well enough that Aksys decided to localize the next game in the series, Record of Agarest War Zero. It's the same awful Grindea Factory crap, of course. Playing like a shovelware PC hentai/porn game hastily ported to consoles and stripped of the reason anyone played it in the first place, Record of Agarest War Zero is as bland, boring, repetitive, grindy, and ronery as the original.

iPhone: There's a constant stream of English language tactics games for the iPhone. Unfortunately quite a few of them can veer into shovelware territory, but there are usually a few good ones. The iPhone tactics library might have slipped a bit in quality this year, but you can still find something worth playing for the price.

2011 Best iPhone Game: Squids, Trailer

Squids is an interesting cross up between turn based tactics games and pool. You send your seafood flying into enemies and other objectives to complete the map, making it as much about accuracy with a pool cue as it is choosing the right targets to aim at. The controls aren't perfect, but it throws in enough variety to be interesting, and also includes an end of mission ranking. It's a good example of the kind of innovation going on in the iPhone platform, and thankfully proves that western tactics game developers aren't quite dead yet.

2011 iPhone Game Runner Up: Tactical Soldier - Undead Rising, Trailer

Tactical Soldier - Undead Rising is a solid tactics game involving lots of guns, zombies, and guts. Maybe not the most original tactics game, but it has high production values and is a fairly entertaining game. Unfortunately combat pacing does tend to be on the slow side.

Other nominations: Metal Brigade Tactics, Great Little War Game, Hunters: Episode One, Ravenmark: Scourge of Estellion. Unfortunately, due to the size of the iPhone market, I may have missed a good game or two. If you feel that's the case please let me know.

And there you have it. All the best (and worst?) tactics games of 2011 squared away. Look forward to a preview of what's coming in 2012.

Thursday, April 29, 2010