Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Octopus 8's thoughts on funding

So we're out there: Octopus 8 Studios has been launched in the press and we got quite a lot of publicity in the gaming press, for example on Games here.  We were extremely pleased with that and excited at the coverage.  I am working with Justin Parsler and Rich Barham.  We're funding everything out of our own pockets for now and Rich writes about that decision on our website here.  For those of you who aren't into trawling to somewhere else then  you can read it below where I've re-posted the text!


It’s interesting. Most entrepreneurs will do whatever is necessary, fighting tooth and nail to get funding in order to help their business get going. I respect that, particularly given how challenging it can be.

Let’s face it, wouldn’t it be good for Octopus 8 Studios to have some money behind us to pay salaries, both our own and to colleagues, and so we can open an office and get marketing spend amongst many other things?

Sure, that would be absolutely delightful, but, after a lot of discussion we elected not to try for funding. Here’s why.

Octopus 8 Studios is built on a few key foundations; they were thrashed out as the product of forming a company where we would like to work and one we would work with. They were formulated out of the observations of where we had experienced some of the less pleasant side of business, and where we felt we could draw the line between being awesome to one another, to partners and colleagues without being naïve.

I’d like to share some of them with you. I’m going to assume you haven’t seen them on our website, (yes, that’s a reasonably shameless plug) and there’s a few more added so here goes:

“An Octopus has three hearts. We would like to reflect that in the way we do business. Integrity, care and respect of those with whom we work are of prime importance to us…:”

“We have many strings to our bow or arms to our…well, you know.”

“Octopus 8 Studios is based on the premise that creativity should be nurtured, shaped and supported, and by that process mutual gain enjoyed. Exploitation of young talent is our antithesis.”

“Nice doesn’t mean naïve, we’re a business and we aim to succeed. Success and the good treatment of others isn’t an either/or situation and that’s something we will always be careful to prevent going astray.”

“Gamers are still gamers regardless of color, sex, nationality, age or creed. So are game developers. We want to make sure we’re championing that in everything we do. We want to make the best games, with the best people anywhere. That’s regardless of whether they’re from next door or the other side of the world.”

Now, I’m not going to tell you that any of these are completely new but I am going to insist that I have seen many of them fall by the wayside in Games Studios from time to time. Ask yourself:

How big do you get before you stop answering applicant emails?

How long before the CEO blocks their external facing inbox?

What do you do about it when you make these changes?

These are all real problems, but you know what? There’s a lack of transparency about why these things are done as well as the fact that they are done which hurts people.

Talking to your applicants or fans (most often they are the same people), or writing an open letter to post on your job boards about why you do things that appear to value process over people, even why you simply had to hide your email because yesterday you got xxx mails asking for ???.

All this helps people understand your constraints, and gives people the communication they need to get a fair chance. Social media now makes things easier, but it’s important to remember that you need to be multi faceted in your approach to communicating with talent, or you are letting people slip through your fingers.

Our beloved Games Industry.

It’s pretty awesome, right? Great place to be – you wear weird clothes (maybe) your work environment is pretty relaxed and if you’re doing things right, its kinda fun. No, not you…put down the nerf gun please.

Don’t we have a responsibility to help people who want to have the opportunity to share in that? It doesn’t matter if no one gave it to us. This isn’t about us (and frankly that’s part of the problem). Consider: when was the last time you wrote back giving actual viable advice to someone who wasn’t successful in joining your organization?

If the industry is to be healthy, we need to take a step back and look at what we have become.

Right now, there are some huge leviathans that are great at looking after people but sometimes that becomes inconvenient (there are exceptions) and many mid sized studios who are falling down one after another because they’re trying and failing to be the next leviathan.

Lots of people are self-publishing, it’s easy to get content out there, but no one is working with those people to give them the support and guidance that a studio traditionally would have, nor are they getting a structure to make a career move into a leviathan in many cases. Great talent in so many cases is giving up on a 40% formed idea because they can’t get the help on the other 60%, or the support to get them all the way through process to the finish line. Where is some of that great talent now? Which amazing potential games are going to fall through the gaps?

It would be easy to take this talent and squeeze it until it was dry then cast it away, or to exploit it for everything possible till the next potential great came along. We were determined that we would nurture and grow people, and not just once but over and over again. We are in a great position to partner with people to help them learn, grow and evolve while making amazing games. Making sure that we are treating all of those people; whether we work with them or not is a baseline expectation.

So, with that little speech out of the way – it may start to become clear as to why we did not seek to obtain external funding before making a start. Most of those with capital that we have personally experienced are looking at the bottom line and for them – quite rightly so, they want to make money out of their investment. More power to them right?

Yes and no. That’s not really what we’re about. We believe that the right approach will make money, can make a whole lot of it – but it’s going to happen gradually over a longer period and it will have ups and downs. We didn’t want to compromise on our belief to grow and nurture in order to force things into the milestones of investor profit expectations. Will we succeed because of this? Does it make us bad businessmen or ‘blue sky’ idealists? Perhaps.

Octopus 8 Studios to me, represents an evolution of how the games industry can work and as a studio I believe represents the opportunity for a new style of mid sized studio, hell maybe even a leviathan with three hearts (get it?). We would certainly like to be in a static location where we can also provide people and standard way of living with salaries and benefits that everyone deserves, but with more on top besides. Perhaps we will find the investors who share and understand our goals, if not – we will continue as we are, with very long boots and a whole lot of straps.

We have a dream that the industry way of doing business will evolve to where mutual benefit trumps the power of the few. Is this evolution or revolution? I think that much is still a little unsure, perhaps it’s both,

We shall see.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Keeping Busy

You might think that my lack of posting recently has been because things are slow or that I don't have anything to post about; happily you couldn't be more wrong!

It has been a manic few months, and hopefully I will now be blogging a little bit more (the eternal cry of the errant blogger - I know!)  So, where to begin?

Well, the work at Lady Shotgun continues apace, it's been a great experience and I have worked with some wonderful people.  I can't say too much about what I'm working on as it's all covered by Non-Disclosure agreements, however I've worked on a number of projects that have gone pretty well and which are hopefully due for release (as well as some that might not be!)  As a work for hire company it means we sometimes do stuff that doesn't see the light of day but its a great experience

I've also moved 'day job' to working at Brunel University where I am not teaching on the games design course there.  Mostly I'm lecturing the BAs there and it's a wonderful experience.  I am learning loads and getting to work on and talk about games all the time, it's incredibly enriching and the students there are both dedicated and hard working.  On top of that it defiantly expands your thinking about games and is enhancing my reading into the subject.  I may go on and do a PhD at some point in the near future (which would of course take quite a few years but is an exciting prospect).  One of the side effects of this is that it is giving me a bit more time to play board games and try out new games that students recommend, all of which is excellent.

Finally (but this is also incredibly exciting for me) I have been involved with a new startup company called Octopus 8 Studios.  We're aiming to work in a fair and open way with new talent and produce games that they want to produce, giving advice and direction to them.  I know from my own experience that without a guiding hand it's incredibly hard to get your work actually complete and that is part of our mission, to help people get on with it and give them the best chance to do well.  One never knows in the games space if what you're working on is going to fly or falter, but I think we're working on some great products and that they have real future prospects.

So it's been a busy time, and I am trying to fit in some social life as well as some gaming of my own, so it's a good time for me, and I very grateful for it.

Hope things are just as great for you!

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Progress Update

Gosh it's very hot isn't it!! <melt>

So I thought I would write a quick update on my progress as things are going, it's been a while since I've written one!

Finding a job is proving to be very difficult!  I knew that was going to be the case and I am luck enough to have a job which pays my bills and things and are understanding enough to indulge me nipping off to interviews... Not that I've had loads!  The ones I have had have been informative and interesting though and I have learnt more by doing them.

However all is not doom and gloom by any means.  I have been lucky enough to work with the brilliant Anna Marsh on a number of projects for her company Lady Shotgun, it has provided some hugely valuable experience and I have made it onto their website!  This really is a very exciting moment of 'recognition' for me and I am thrilled about it.  Here's a screenshot:

and here's a link to the page.

Hooray. The additional news is that, not only have I done a bit of design work for them but I am now about to start work on a game for them too, due out <gulp> some time around Christmas, and it's a game I helped write the initial design document for, so that's very exciting!

So, all go!  Apologies for a lack of updates for the last couple of months, service to be resumed.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Ever-Never-Winter Nights...

It's been a long road from Ultima Online (and it's dial up connection) to Neverwinter and many MMOs have fallen along the way; but here I am playing the new 'Free to Play' MMO from Perfect World.

It's technically not been released yet, and whilst to many that might sound like I was onto something special, that I was one of the Glitterati of the gaming world... in fact I am a punter like everyone else because the game's open beta is available to anyone who wants it.  So that's a Soft Launch then, right?  NO - what the hell is a SOFT launch?  It's a launch, that's what it is, a launch with an apology so we shouldn't be annoyed if it doesn't work!    Never apologise before you begin, it's a fundamental rule of presenting...

Anyway that rant over and aside I am, as  you may have gathered, playing Neverwinter from Perfect World. It's an MMO based (loosely) on the Neverwinter Nights / Baldurs Gate games and uses (also loosely) the D&D 4E rules.  Not that you need to know any of that to play the game, but if you do there are some nice nods to those titles.

I've been playing for about a week now and it's a nice, engaging game, it's an action MMORPG, so imagine Diablo as an MMO and you're on the right lines.  The game makes some very interesting choices in this regard, firstly you have to target things, not by pressing '1' or a hot-keyed 'target-of-target' button but by holding your reticule over what you want to hit / smash / burn / make have a bad day.  That changes your game play quite a lot; and if you don't believe me think about it from a healer's point of view - I can't target the tank by pressing F1 and then my healing button, instead, in amongst the fray I have to hover over him and heal him, hoping that he doesn't move!  All that being said it works remarkably well - it's challenging and that's not a bad thing!

Mobs ambush you, some of them are hidden behind columns and they don't always fall for old tricks like Line of Sight pulling...  It's all rather refreshing!  The Holy Trinity of Tank / DPS / Heal is still there but (at low-ish levels) it feels a bit muted - there's often a lot of mobs to deal with and the AI will teleport mobs out of AoEs / attack people standing at the back and things, so this is an action MMO with an emphasis on the action, I've found myself to need to be mobile and alert while playing.

You get a trail of lights that lead you to objectives and lots of people have commented that it's 'dumbing down' MMOs (sigh - I bet they have installed Quest Trackers in WoW or looked up guides in TSW!) - it's true that it stops you faffing around if you don't want to, but deviate from the glowing trail and you'll often find extra rewards, hidden chests or sometimes a mimic waiting to ambush you (My first mimic and gelatinous cube were happy moments!)  It's easy to miss stuff if you don't explore, and there's a lot of loot waiting to be had off the beaten path.

Quests remain simple, there are times when I need to go to the field of blah and kill a dozen wargh, only to then have to go back to the field of blah and kill 6 targh, but I am happy to trade that for there being more things to do and an all round prettier game.   There are escort quests, carry quests and find the whatever too.  The questing, I would say, isn't anything shiny and new, instead it is like a comfy jumper of quest hubby goodness, I feel 'safe' in my journeying around the world.  The quests have some nice text associated with them, and some cool storyline moments (there's a very good one early on with unexpected endings) and that's nice fluff ~ some thought has gone into creating atmosphere in amongst the questing.  The zones have (so far) had individual feels to them, it has felt like I am going to different places.  The instances have echoed that.  All in all the graphics are a little lower than you might expect but that probably helps it run more smoothly.  They do look very D&D though, which again helps invoke the right 'feel' to the game.  There are some really impressive graphical features too, with some very nicely drawn elements.

Abilities have a nice range of options once you get to the point where you get to choose (which isn't for the first dew levels), there are limited options at the moment but that's going to get broader with the introduction of more paragon paths according to their site.

The game ramps up in difficulty, although the first 25 or so levels are fairly easy going.  We managed dungeon instances with 4 people without too much trouble.  The third instance final boss then kicked us round the block and trampled on our corpses!  Which is a good thing!

The Free-To-Play element of Neverwinter is very interesting.  I'll write separately about it because there's a lot to think about but it's well designed from ground up and doesn't thrust a need to spend in your face, rather it encourages you to spend to enhance the experience.

The Foundry deserves a separate write up too.  The Foundry is Neverwinter's user generated content feature.  Players can, using a sophisticated tool set, create adventures for players to engage with.  I've had a look and it's pretty impressive, it also means that the keen dungeon masters out there can create a wealth of content which might help the 'lack of end-game content' phenomenon at least for a while.  More on The Foundry when I've explored more.

I think Neverwinter needs some more classes; there's 5 at game launch and it could use one or two more (but there's lots to draw on from D&D and hopefully they're releasing Ranger / Monk / Druid soon.  Races look a little generic to me, and again I'd like more choice, but perhaps there's enough for now.  I also hate the naming policy which seems to be 'anything you like' - I've wandered past the entire Game of Thrones cast, Chuck Norris and Princess Leia.  I hate peoples names!

Is Neverwinter a keeper?  Very hard to know.  MAYBE - it's certainly fun for now.  It will need to keep it's content coming fast and furious, and will need to battle that 'end-game' phase with gusto.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Piracy Hitting the Pirates

Walk the plank?  Ahaaa

No, not that sort of pirates... Today I read an article written by Patrick of Greenheart Games where he talks about what he did on releasing his new game Game Dev Tycoon to investigate / combat / make a statement about piracy.  It's got some really interesting stats and makes a great point, so have a read.  As for the game I haven't played it yet, and there's a lot on, but I wil and I'm looking forward to it.  

In the meantime all power to them, and I hope their hard work pays off...

The article is here
What happens when pirates play a game development simulator and then go bankrupt because of piracy?

Monday, 29 April 2013

Marvel Heroes: Beta Review

At the weekend just gone I played the Open Beta for Marvel Heroes from Gazillion.  I only came onto it late as I was tied up for the rest of the weekend, so it was a slightly rushed experience, but I can say, hand on heart, that I thoroughly enjoyed it and wish I had had more time there.

Marvel Heroes Review Beta

The game is, for all intents and purposes Diablo I or II but with Marvel...  Now firstly that isn't a derogatory comparison, like a lot of people I pumped many hours into both of those games ("Stay a while and listen...") and loved them.  For me Diablo III didn't hit the mark, but this is much more reminiscent of the earlier games.  Another reason it's specifically relevant is that Marvel is designed by the same man who designed DI and DII, so the similarities are understandable!

For me the game felt a lot like the PS3 Marvel Alliance release, or perhaps the later Civil War game, grab your superhero and dive into a world with some quest objectives and some powers... beat up the baddies... Rinse Tights, Repeat.

Where the game worked for me is:

  • There is a large opening rosta of heroes* from which you can choose and if you're a marvel fan you'll almost certainly find one you like, and I understand there are plans to bring many more in
  • The heroes have a good range of powers which let you play in slightly different ways, and a selection of gear and drops that further customise your stuff
  • It's easy to switch between heroes so you can chop and change a bit**
  • There's a nice seeming crafting system
  •  there is a LOT of terrain you can throw / break / smash, that leaves persistent graphics on the dumping ground
  • And there are town portals.  (They're not called that but...)
  • The Free To Play mechanics are 'ground-up' designed***

Marvel Heroes Beta Review

* Things might change before the game opens properly but on startup I had a choice of (6?) characters from which I could choose one.  They were quite a few popular characters, although not the 'heavy hitters' of the Marvel universe (no wolverine / spidey / iron man in there!).  HOWEVER the open beta (very cleverly) gave me 2000 credits to spend.  With those credits I could buy myself a range of about 18 more characters.  They cost between 600 (for the ones I could have started as) - 2000 credits (Iron man!)  That meant I could experience the game from two or three characters perspectives.  More on that below.  Apparently heroes are also 'dropped' as Loot from some quests.

** I only played two but I could switch between them when I wanted to, errantly I didn't note how 'being damaged' translated when I switched, but it seemed to work fine, it also means you can drop heroes in and out in different circumstances if you want to.  Where you're up to in the game is set by the player not the character so you can use anyone (you own) anywhere, although as levels get harder that will be less of an option. You can go back and redo bits of the game with the same / different characters if you want to (via the in game justification of turning back time I think, which was a nice touch)

*** A lot of people are still getting used to FTP games.  I still hear / read a lot of reviews saying "The game was free but they asked me to pay for X, it's so unfair" which amuses (and terrifies me), until the rise of the free society where we all do what we want and the world works itself I want my mortgage to be paid by making games, so FTP is fine.  Some games have introduced it into a 'previously paid for game' and it feels like a bad fitting jumper, just wrong.  Guild Wars 2 did it will, and the balance here felt right too.  If it stays the same I'm sure many people will buy at least one more hero to play (with such a lovely candy-shop of choice it's hard not to!)  

Costumes too are available for purchase, you don't need to buy one but if you want to wear the costume of your choice then you will pay those few hundred credits... And the range of choice is good - if you want Hulk's hulk world costume then it's available, Thor from the movies?  Sure...  and so on.  Iron Man Mark 42 is even available but only if you fork out the $199 for the super-startup pack.  I'm sure people will moan, but y'know, it's a free game, can you really moan about something that's free!?

The other thing about the costumes is that they distinguish you from the people around you; your Thing will stand out from the others, and that's useful aesthetically as well as mechanically.

I'm sure you can buy XP boosts and that sort of thing, which I'm not into but if you want it, it's there 

I started with Thing and bought Jean Grey (She's also Phoenix) and that meant that I could try a bit of ranged and fisticuffs.  Both of these were fun and felt different in flavour and play style, and nicely seemed different from the way other characters were playing also, meaning that if I played more I wouldn't feel like it was just doing the same thing in different colours.

Marvel heroesThere's an intro mission which teaches you how to play with some nice events in it, a brief bit of looking round Stark Towers (with a few nice cameos such as a box with Loki's helmet in it!) and then an open map. The open co-op worked surprisingly well; it was large enough to accommodate and random events (a mugging, a police baracade being stormed and the like) worked extremely well.  I got beaten up and ressed. Everyone bundled into Electro and he was a little easy given the numbers but that sort of balancing is easily addressed.  Then it was off into an instanced area that played very well.  It was challenging but not overwhelming, and the fun of throwing cars at people shouldn't be undervalued!

The graphics are simple and cartoony, not massively detailed, but it works well for the setting and keeps the game flowing smoothly.  Cut scenes are in a comic style and are delightful.  The story is written by the man who wrote House of M, so hopefully a winner.  Apparently the main baddie is Dr Doom, who isn't a favourite of mine, but is quite a standard villain for this sort of piece.  Amusingly it seems to be about the Cosmic Cube (which is what they based the Tesseracht on in the recent Avengers film.)  I hope he's a smoke screen for a bigger plot and their site claims to have a lot of story so here's hoping.  Voice acting is from people who have voiced the characters elsewhere, but not from the movies)

Marvel Heroes Artwork

Controls are pretty simple, left click to move somewhere, (and attack if there's a baddie there), right click to use a power, as you get more powers you can assign them to keys (mapped to asdfg initially).  Using a superpower costs 'spirit', but you have some freebies also (punch / kinetic bolt in Thing / Jean Grey's case).  Baddies often drop experience / health / spirit orbs which you can collect to top up those bars.  New levels mean new powers or improvements to existing ones.  Kit brings advances to power / stats.

Marvel Super heroes is out on June 4th.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Single Player Games: I long to be alone!

Computer use is an inherently solo activity.  There's a keyboard and a monitor, when you get into a flow then you focus on it to the exclusion of all around you and you can while away hours looking at the screen without realising where the time has gone.  Increasingly a lot of people use headphones to get the best sound quality and this shuts out the outside world even more.  That's pretty solitary.

Computer games and computers in general are however bringing us together...  The increase in services like Skype (which I think is one of the most remarkable free services around) for chatting to your friends or the rise of the social network has been a huge feature of the last few years.  The various networks are doing everything they can to get us to be connected to them in every possible way too.  I have a Kindle Fire, an  iPad, 2 PCs (one at work) and an iPhone - all of them have access to (at the least) these two and more 'services' - I am pretty sure that my xBox can connect to it and I'd be surprised if my TV couldn't as well if I were so inclined!

The rise of the MMO has also been a feature of the recent years.  I began with Everquest and have ventured through a whole stream of them (WoW, SWTOR, TSW, GW2 SWG to name but a few acronyms!)  As games in and of themselves they were varied experiences but the thing that has kept me in any of them has not been the gameplay, it has been the community of people I've played with.  The friends, real life and otherwise have been the life-blood of the game and I've enjoyed playing with them as much (more in some cases) than I've enjoyed the game.  

There are elements of this outside the MMO community - Call of Duty and its ilk all rely on the multiplayer game and my best experiences of the game (which I am pretty bad at) have been when playing with friends in a team.

Social Games Notification'Social Games' has come to mean games played on Facebook or increasingly on mobile phones and are the height of an antisocial experience in many ways.  In my years of gaming I can count the number of 'non-academic' conversations (i.e. conversations not held in regard to research or learning or work) I've had about social games that have not been derogatory.  I should stress here I'm not against social games, but that's something I might write about at a later date.  I have received literal hate e-mail about facebook posting up a Farmville 2 announcement / invitation and have caught myself being embarrassed about playing them in the past.  Almost invariably they are single player games where your only real interaction is in one for of 'gifting' or another, they are almost all a-synchronous and have very little to do with any actual contact with people.

I play a lot of games and often one of the criteria I look for is 'can it be played multiplayer', is it co-operative multiplayer?  is it 'tacked on multiplayer'? I spend many hours playing all sorts of games (see perhaps some of my Games I'm Playing posts) with my friends.  I really enjoy that time and it brings me closer to friends who I can't see as often in the real world as I might want to.

But there is something I miss and it's taken me a long time to get there in this little write up.  The really good single player game.  I remember the days I used to rush home from school or college in anticipation of finding out the next plot twist in Final Fantasy or Baldurs Gate II.  They were brilliant, or perhaps I just remember them fondly.  I've found it hard to recapture this recently, Tomb Raider is almost there, but it's still been overtaken by other things.  Bioshock stands out as being good, I liked the first Dragon Age and Mass Effect II was very good, but of late my desire to 'play a bit longer' has been limited to my multiplayer experiences...

Maybe I'm alone, maybe creating single player experiences is just too expensive.  I can see that argument being a good one - the single player games I've played have been quite short, they need a skill that perhaps isn't needed from multiplayer where emergent game play and fun can come from what your friends do.  Bioshock Infinite is said to be a good example of it, and no doubt I'll pick that up soon, but I do wonder and find myself thinking more and more about the demise of the single player game...

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Board Games: Zombicide (Season 1)

I do not have a brilliantly tactical mind.  You wouldn't employ me to be the person who decides when to press the big red button, and chess (never mind that 3d space chess) is beyond me.  It's not what I look for when I play games, I want an experience and some character.  I want soul.  I also want a really solid game that doesn't just come down to luck and I want something that's going to give me a different experience each time I play it.  I'm also a sucker for really nice components...

I have mixed feelings about Kickstarter (you can read about them here if you're so inclined) but I read an article about a really board good game that had been Kickstarter-ed called Zombicide.  Knowing that a friend of mine liked co-op games I picked up a copy of it for him... This was Zombicide.

Zombicide is a co-op zombie movie survival game.  You play a character (or two) and there are some objectives in the (very nicely produced) manual.  The game comes with a number of tiles which you arrange as pictured in the manual and with various tokens you can add which change the setup / layout like doors and objective markers and Pimp mobiles.  There is a nice tongue in cheek motif to the game.  The characters are archetypes (with clear references to various pop-culture icons (for example Doug is very clearly Michael Douglas from Falling Down)) and you can gain objects like Molotovs and chainsaws to defeat your enemy foes.
Zombicide Character
 None the less the game has a real survivalist feel to it.  Enemies spawn constantly and then shamble towards you at an ominous pace.  The 'theme' of the game is very very strong, it manages to capture that 'Walking Dead' feel (I mean the early films but that's not to denigrate the recent (excellent) tv series.) It is a game where you hold your breath when drawing a spawn card and as the numbers of zombies build up there is a visual sense of dread that accompanies the game!  It encourages some amusingly heroic actions (characters throwing their lives away in a sacrifice to the greater good or passing over weapons to save other people) and in my gaming group at least amusing anecdotal stories build up (like the one pictured below when Phil bit the bullet after his bromance with Doug!)

Zombicide Death

The game has quite simple rules.  You get a number of actions per round and if you end up in a square with a zombie on the zombies go it hurts you.  No ifs or buts, it just does!  There are four different types of zombie - walkers (they move one space toward you each turn), Runners (they move two spaces toward you each turn) and Fatties (who move one space, are accompanied by walkers and are harder to hurt) and abominations which are really hard to hurt but also only move one space).  As the game progresses you get new skills the more you kill, but as people 'level up' you get more zombies spawning each turn as well... sometimes leveling up is particularly bad!  Characters have different abilities and some choices to make as to  which skills they want which leads to some nice variation.  

The components are nicely produced - the card products are good quality, colourful and well illustrated. and the miniatures are lovely.  The game is produced by Guillotine Games  in conjunction with Cool Mini Or Not (I admit I'm not sure of the link but I think they're maybe run by the same people or something!) and so I suppose great figures should be expected, but that doesn't detract from the fact that they really are cool minis with lots of nice detailing!  I read that lots of people like painting them.  As ever I wish that there was some sort of better storage offered for the game.  It all just has to be thrust back into the box when you're done, but besides that I think that the box and all its contents are excellent.

Of particular note I like the idea of the noise mechanic (shooting guns makes a noise and if zombies can't see you they move toward the noise, whenever you make a noise you put a noise token down.)  There's a 'make noise' action choice to distract the zombies.  It's not brilliantly practical in general but it is a lovely idea.

The game is pretty tough.  It took us quite a few goes to beat the first proper mission, but I like that challenge and it was a buzz when we managed it!  


My only other criticism is a kickstarter related one... There are 6 characters that come with Zombicide and they're cool, but the original Kickstarter offered lots more as stretch goals and add-ons.  They can be found on the website... but I will never have them.  They were Kickstarter exclusives and (apparently) they can sell on ebay for huge quantities of gold coins!  I didn't care / wasn't worried about that for quite a while - but now I feel slightly like I miss out - it's always the same characters that I play with because we don't have the extras to choose from.  I know there needed to be incentives to get the game funded, and I'm glad that it was... and yet I still feel like I'm missing out.  [It's worth noting that I think I could download the stats and there are card generators for them too, but still...] 

Zombicide Season 2 + Expansion were recently on Kickstarter and I backed it quite heavily, I'll be getting lots of extra characters and even some add on characters... BUT even sponsoring it there were lots of characters that I am not getting (solely because each new one was an extra '$10' or similar) so I guess I'll still be missing out.  But at least I'll be able to look down at those people who haven't got them... Oh gosh I've joined the ranks of the Kickstarter Zombie Elite!!!  



Monday, 15 April 2013

Kickstarter: A Love Hate Relationship

Oh Kickstarter, how I love / loathe thee...

I have extremely mixed feelings about Kickstarter, I have a Kickstarter profile and have backed a number of projects.  I really like the idea of a way that people who couldn't get a project off the ground have a way of accessing money if enough people like the idea.

I love that it is is getting board games a bigger name and that there are components being made for games that otherwise wouldn't.  I like that there is support of 'Indie' markets where there might not be otherwise.

I love browsing it looking for projects and I like the communities that develop on there on a popular project. It's great that some developers are responding to the comments sections.

I love getting free stuff and exclusive offers / options, and being able to buy add-ons and seeing how much / little some projects achieve. I like checking what stretch goals we might have achieved today.

All of these things are great, funky, cool, boo-yah.  (Or something)

But all is not right in the state of Kickstarter...

I hate that there are things I feel like I'm missing out on when I don't get all the add-ons I might want and know I can't get them later.  I hate having to look at so many things with SUCH HIGH postage because I  live in the UK, not the USA

I don't like some of the communities that look down on people that haven't been involved in a kickstarter before or who whinge about a manufacturers decisions (especially in regard to free stuff).  I loathe the elitism of people who think they're better because they've sponsored more / higher / better kickstarter projects.

But here's what I hate the most.  I really really don't think that Kickstarter should be used by big companies who are just using it as advertising.  Those companies that cold have got the funding anyway (or in some cases had the funding necessary to fund the project but chose to use it as a booster.  I'm sure (almost sure) that it's not against the rules but it feels against the spirit of the rules.  People WILL buy your games anyway, where as 'Johnny who lives up the road' doesn't have a chance without it.

What I hate most most of all (even more than the most of all above) is that I am a hypocrite.  There have been a couple of notable examples recently that I have backed, after all I'm going to buy them anyway, and if I do it here I get it cheaper.  I might even get some extra stuff... But I could just have pre-ordered.  And  I would have if that had been an option.

I also worry that at some point it's going to all backfire.  People seem to think they have some ownership when they back a kickstarter project, that their opinion matters, and at some point I can see them getting grumpy when their thoughts are ignored.

All in all Kickstarter makes me a little uncomfortable whilst liking it at the same time.  I am officially 'discombobulated'

Friday, 12 April 2013

Board Games: X-Wing Miniatures

Anyone who knows me or reads my waffle will know I'm a Star Wars baby, I was born in '77 and grew up with the films, toys, breakfast cereal and all manner of paraphernalia, but when I wanted to 'play star wars' I had to make my own games.  I flew my x-wing toys around the front room (making appropriate vrooom and lazor noises) and shot at tie fighters destroying them as I saw fit.  Needless to say my shots almost always hit and they almost always missed...

Then I graduated to X-wing on the pc (ibm?) and then the much missed Tie Fighter.  How I miss those days of blowing x-wings out of the sky and escorting the emperor...

And, just for the record, anyone who looks at that picture and thinks 'that looks a bit naff' - well, you don't know man... you weren't there!  Phenomenal.

I am not a big nostalgia fan, but I still have very fond memories of this game, the star wars roleplaying game I played (West End Games v1) and then there was Star Wars Galaxies, Star Wars Battlefront, the amazing Timothy Zahn trilogy and some of the follow on books.  And of course Tales of the Old Republic...  Yes, I'm a fan.

When X-wing Miniatures from Fantasy Flight was announced I was in two minds, I'm not a big 'wargamer' but as it got closer to the launch I thought I would give it a try and I picked up a copy when they were still in stock in the UK.  I have to say it's a great game.  It manages to flow extremely well and the balancing of the stats - points - abilities - dice is extremely well thought out.  I am a big fantasy flight fan, and often their games are quite complex with quite a lot of rules.  Not so here.  Colour coded dice, templates, all the oddities on the cards - it's very very elegant.

Players decide what they're going to do at the same time, pop down a dial and then move according to pilot skill (least skillful first) and then shoot in descending order (most skillful first).  Pilots skill levels are on the cards and weaker pilots cost less points (meaning more ships potentially).  Each ship will have a couple of abilities which they choose and you get tokens to represent what you're doing (all beautifully made by Fantasy Flight).  The game flow is fast and the rules become second nature very quickly.  It makes for a wonderful play experience.

The box set (shown above) comes with 2 tie fighters and 1 x wing which is enough to play with, but you can buy more ships to enhance your choices - tie advanced and y wings were out at launch and they've since added the falcon, slave I, a wing and interceptor.  All of these can be combined for some pretty large scale battles, come with enough tokens for easy use and there are objectives and missions that you can undertake too.

The models are fantastically made - they look great, are beautifully painted and work really well in the game (robust enough to move, detailed enough to still be 'pretty') and are apparently 'to scale' (of imaginary ships!!).  Size difference can make a big difference in the game though, the falcon model is huge and this impacts on it's flying into asteroids (Han Solo must have had some good dice rolls in that scene in Empire!)

The balancing on the game really is phenomenal, and the way the dice roll against each other, especially combined with the add-on abilities pilots can buy.  I have (because I am a cynic) two criticisms of the game, but they are pretty minor ones.  The game should come with more dice.  FFG sell more dice, but really to easily run a game you want a set of dice each.  It's easily solved and I suppose would have added to the cost of the product but even so, lack of dice frustrates me.  It's also really difficult to store.  With models this nice you want to store them carefully and that's pretty difficult.  Battlefoam offered an elegant solution which was foam that fitted in the original box and held your miniatures (still not really enough space for tokens) and have now released one to hold wave two.  It STILL doesn't hold all the tokens and is quite pricey.  I'm not sure what the good answer is here - lots of people online offer suggestions, but I do wish that FFG thought more about how to store their (beautifully made, extremely well crafted) models.

Game mats are something that the game would benefit from too.  I bought myself a 3' piece of felt from amazon which was cheap and does the job perfectly, but some people have bought / made very extravagent ones.  It adds something to the game feel that is better than a tabletop, but isn't necessary.  I also quite often play some Star Wars music in the background when we're playing.  It again just boosts the feel of the game.

It's hard to do this game enough justice, its very well thought out, extremely smooth and plays like a dream.  It has some of the best mechanics I've experienced in any such game.  

X-Wing Miniatures FFG

Punchboard Joy

I enjoy all sorts of video games but I am also a great lover of boardgames,  I grew up with such joys as 'Game of Life', Monopoly and Upwords.  Now as an ever-increasing adult my love of boardgames grows greater and greater and of late I've been playing quite a number of different games, so I thought I would write some bits and pieces about some of those games and my thoughts about them...

Boardgames are a fantastic way of learning about rules because nobody else interprets them for you; they have to be read and understood by the players, as opposed to the computer doing all the calculations for you and not letting you do the things you can't do.

There's a particularly good games shop in Reading that will sell you games you want called Eclectic and can also advise on other games and new things to try, or of course well known online retailers can help you out.  I have also used Spirit Games and Infinity Games online for good service on mail orders.

Fantasy Flight Punchboard Why is this called Punchboard Joy?  Well, anyone who plays any Fantasy Flight games (as well as a number of other brands) will know that they usually come with a piece of card which you push out tokens from.  These are called Punchboards.  I take a certain pleasure in pushing all the tokens out and then finding ways to store all the bits in a user friendly way.  I realise that this really is incredibly high up the OCD-sounding scale, but I like to tell myself that it's ok - I don't mind if they get a bit mixed up during play and mostly I only do it to make the actual gameplay easier.  I don't know if that's true but I like to think it is...

Rather than make this a horrifically long post as I waffle about each one this will be a sort of index, which also means I can update it later as I play more games.  So, here's the list, each one will link to a new page on my blog (linked to as they're completed):

X Wing Miniatures
Zombicide (Season 1)
Gears of War
Ghost Stories
Chaos in the Old World

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Playing / Played of late

I've been playing a LOT of games recently, possibly because I haven't found anything to truly hook me in, but more realistically because I've had a lot of time on my hands of late, which I've only partly been using productively!  I'll probably miss some things here but before I begin I will add that I've played even more Civ V and the news about there being a new update later this year excites me.  Civilization remains an excellent game.  I wish the multiplayer didn't always turn into a war (we played a game where we were at war from 1200 BC until 1963!) but even so it remains fantastic.

So some newer (at least to me) games:

Now I know that Magica is a few years old, so I admit that I am out of date here, but none the less it's a great deal of fun.  I am a huge fan of the way the magic interacts and the complexity of the button pushing involved to find what combinations you can.  I was very slightly dissapointed that the campaign seemed so very short.  I know that there's a LOT of DLC for it, but even so, none the less I intend to go back to it and play some more, it's a lot of fun with friends and certainly deserves a look in, it's also very cheap on steam quite often so worth picking up.

Tomb Raider (the new one)

I was looking for a game to buy and fancied a bit of a change and was debating over a few (TR, ACIII and Dishonoured) and after a review from a friend decided to pick up TR*.  I have to say I was extremely impressed.  I'm only part way through at time of writing, 38% if you believe their tracker [I'm not sure I do by the way - 100% might be if you've found all the things to find etc], and it's an extremely engaging game.  I had my worries after playing demos at Eurogamer (I wrote about them somewhere) that I didn't want to be responsible for the obvious pain I was putting Lara through, that I was worried about some of the gender implications and all sorts but I was out of place.

Visually it's stunning (even on my hamster driven PC), the exploring is intuitive) and the level design is excellent.  It makes me want to explore.  I'm not big on finding every bit of every hidden random object in obscure corners of the map but TR is encouraging me to do so.  The climbing is good, the story so far is intriguing (it's very Lost at the moment, which I also loved), the fighting is tough but not insane and the puzzles are well constructed.  The only thing I don't very much like is the Daley Thompson mechanic... for those of you who didn't experience Daley Thompson's Decathlon it involved you having to waggle your joystick (or mash you keys) left and right to simulate the effort of the sporting event you were taking part in... it was 'extreme' and I remember vividly the frustration of the experience.  It's echoed a little here with some timed buttons as well...  I am a little unconvinced of this BUT at the same time I'm not sure I can think of a better way.  How do you make the player experience some of the frantic nature of certain scenes, how can that be conveyed in what is basically a binary challenge.  Answers on an e-postcard.  I'm also still concerned that I seem to spend a lot of time looking down Lara's top or at her tight-trousered-posterior just through automatic camera work, but the game has a history of that I suppose so I should get over it.

Sim City

The much maligned Sim City is really rather good.  It is a dreadful shame that the game was plagued with such a lot of problems, it almsot put me off but I was encouraged to buy it by someone brave enough to try and it's excellent and very elegant.  Buildings spring up in a very natural way, they evolve as your city does and the things you produce are shipped away on ever increasingly congested roads.  I can see why it's come in for criticism.  It's hard.  It's tricky to get the balance right.  It's difficult to arrange your roads so as not to end up with so much congestion that your city stops working, without doubt there are problems with traffic management and worker migration, but it's still... compelling.  quite work, at least not as expected, yet.  I had a town whose factories were closing and my partner in mayoral crime had a city with loads of unemployed clamouring for jobs.  Our cities were linked up and established yet still the problem didn't go away... who knows why.  However if you can get over the hiccups and the teething pains it's terrific.  It will probably draw me back again and again with a new attempt to build a megalopolis.  It's not the same game as it was in the past (albeit it's very similar), but I think that's a good thing.  I don't want to just pay for better graphics, I want better game play, more options and so on.  Sim City gives me that and that's just great.  I don't really get the problem with needing to be online to play, that doesn't bother me incidentally.

It's much better as a multiplayer game.  Those people who have been saying it's a social game (as in Facebook social) are wrong, but I see the comparison.  You can buy services from other people (although they'll eventually run low) and workers / shoppers will migrate between towns.  It doesn't seem to

Here's my reservation about it though.  It's very expensive.  I bought it on Origin and downloaded it at the hefty price of £44 (or similar).  That's quite a lot for a game with undeniably more than a few frustrating bugs.  The dulux edition is an extra £20 on top of that.  As far as I see (from reading reviews) for that I get the option to build a super-hero mansion / evil villain tower and British / French / German cities, each of which give you a one building upgrade.  That feels like an LOT of money for some fairly minor options and a few (only a few) cosmetic upgrades.  I still might do it, but I am not yet convinced.

Sim City is tricky and it's hard to know what I'd think if it hadn't been so surrounded by the hype it has been.  I don't think it's a game I will play for weeks.  I do think it's a game I will come back to again and again over years.  That probably makes it worth it by quite some margin.


I gave Wireframe a try (FTP on Steam) and I am afraid that I couldn't get to grips with it; it's tutorial was shockingly lacking and its controls unintuitive.  It's missions, which I think are on procedurally generated maps felt bland and the options you were tied into with the FTP were poor.  Not just that but it wasn't clear when / how I could pay and when I worked it out it felt like the pricing structure was wrong.  The game wsa dark, so much so that it was difficult to see the detail they'd put in and overall I was left not wanting more.  It was rapidly erased despite a valiant effort.

The Guild 2 Rennaisance 

This is another old offering (I think it was 2010) and is a 'standalone add on' to other games.  I'm not quite sure that's a real phrase!  It's terrifically complex and there's no tutorial.  The buttons are hidden and aren't the ones you expect them to be and quite often the person you are playing dies of plague.  I have however enjoyed it immensely.

The Guild and The Guild 2 were fan favourites and this was sort of the culmination of all the games.  You play a person in 1400 building up their life and reputation.  You can build a building and operate a shop, find a spouse and have children who grow up and you play them later as part of the dynasty and so on.  It's easy to get ill, get robbed, have your house burn down and so on, the game is quite unforgiving, made all the harder by not quite knowing which buttons to press!  However when you start to 'get it' it's brilliant.  Shops are moderated by supply and demand, burn down your competitors and the prices go up.  The law will try and arrest you though so make sure you have evidence to protect you.  I am playing (at the moment) a grave digger who has learnt to make demonic pacts, which sell very well!  The game has a lot of breadth and I am enjoying the options that open up as you get better at all sorts of skills / unlock new buildings and so on.  I'm told that once you 'master' it it becomes a bit formulaic, but I'm not at that stage yet so have lots of time left on the game.  I found watching the basic tutorial on You Tube very helpful, (perhaps essential).  It can be frustrating at times (I hit a point when none of my goods were worth very much, but it turned around) but so far it feels very rewarding when I manage to 'achieve' something.

I'm pretty sure I have forgotten something significant I've been playing, but for now I can't think what it is, I am however very much looking forward to NwN when that comes out... So many games, so little time.

*It came down a bit to cost: TR is a new game and so unlikely to reduce in price for ages, where as ACIII and Dishonoured are more likely to be on sale sooner.  Happily two days later ACIII was 66% off and I bought that too, it's in the 'still to play list' of games.  Also when I bought Sim City I got Mass Effect III for free, which sweetened the whole deal immensely.  I have games to play for ages now... Poor Bioshock (which I planned to pick up) will have to wait, still I suppose by then it too will be on sale!!

Monday, 7 January 2013

Plot Without Conflict

An interesting article on different plot types is featured here - it's on the differences between plot with and without conflict.  The adapted comic strip illustrates the point extremely well and I've copied one part of it below, to see the other part you should go to the page and have a look :)

I'm not sure who it's by unfortunately, but you can (I think) contact them via the page if you're so inclined.


Friday, 4 January 2013

The Daily Grind...

There's been a lot written about grinding in games and as someone looking for work in the industry that too can feel like a necesary grind through job sites, web pages and adverts, but I rather liked this article's take on the process of Grind in games, which was a little more thoughtful than some of the others I've read.

It's written Patricia Hernandez and was featured on Kotaku.

You can read it here