Category Archives: PC

Time Clickers [PC/Android] – Review

Time Clickers

Time Clickers is an incremental game, a newish term for a genre that’s perhaps better known to host idle and clicker games, that is, games like Cookie Clicker, Progress Quest, and Candy Box. These games generally have no end objective and offer the player little avenue for input, but are wildly addictive. I’d like to think these games are best experienced passively with a routine check-in, but that hasn’t stopped me from spending elongated sessions with them or alt-tabbing to one of them every 30 seconds. The endless grind for improved effectiveness results in short-term satisfaction and long-term emptiness that usually sees me dropping off.

Time Clickers - Action
The viewpoint is stationary although the cubes are visually interesting and the particle effects are immense.

The basic, never-ending objective of Time Clickers is to destroy waves of assembled cubes. Doing so generates cubes to spend towards weapons, abilities, and upgrades. It starts off innocuously enough with a measly handgun but after a minute, the player has accumulated enough cubes to hire some additional weapons. Altogether, the player can eventually hire five other weapons that dropped out of Unreal Tournament, not to mention the ability to unlock idle mode for the handgun so they don’t have to actively destroy cubes themselves; a slew of abilities are also available for purchase. At this point, progress is based around increasing the DPS, thereby increasing the revenue intake. Each of the weapons can be endlessly upgraded and for the first run or two, that was my singular motivation.

The time aspect of the game comes into play in the form of Time Warps (as well as spending time “playing” the game, I suppose). After wave 100, a new type of cube begins appearing, one which can be spent on a variety of upgrades in the game’s skill trees. To spend these however, one needs to Time Warp back to wave 1. With each successive Time Warp, waves go by quicker, upgrades come faster, and Time Cubes, this new form of currency, are accumulated well, more rapidly. The “wall” one hits where enemies are too tough keeps extending into ever higher waves and progression somewhat resembles a roguelike in this way. This currency and these skill trees are now motivating me although I can still look forward to Weapon Cubes which begin appearing after wave 1,000. I haven’t gotten that far but the related unlockables don’t seem as clutch as the ones I’m dealing with now.

Time Clickers - Skill Trees
Speaking of immense, the skill trees shown here will take a long time to complete, if they get completed at all.

At this point, after about two weeks with the game, I don’t see a window for when I’ll be satisfied or done with it. I’d like to treat this game more as a timewaster, but I routinely find myself glued to it when there’s no time to waste. It’s a very addictive game and indicative of what so many of its contemporaries do so well: take a barebones approach to progression and ratchet up the feedback and reward loop. Time Clickers in particular is a prime example of this and with mobile and Steam versions that support a unified cloud-save system plus leaderboards it’s an easy sell for a free game. Shoot, the mobile version incentivized watching ads well enough that I did nearly every opportunity they came along! It’s inevitable that my focus will eventually turn away from Time Clickers, but for the time being I’ll keep alt-tabbing and wasting my lunch hour away with it.

Advertisements

Portal [PC] – Review

Portal

I’m a little late to the party on this one but I finally beat Portal. It’s an ingenious puzzle game that doesn’t overstay its welcome. In fact, I was befuddled that it was over as quickly as it was. Since I’d heard so much revelry and acclaim for it and witnessed the cultural impact it’d had in the gaming space I just figured there’d be more of it. What was there engrossed me though. The increasingly complex puzzles were mentally stimulating and the enigmatic GlaDOS’ darkly humorous speech had me chuckling well into the few hour experience.

Portal was a puzzle game with an ingenious mechanic.
Portal was a puzzle game with an ingenious mechanic.

The game is built around the portal gun which allows users to shoot portals on flat surfaces. The portals are connected and can be easily referenced as an entry and exit. At its most basic use, I could place a portal on ground level, shoot the other portal on a wall above a higher level and use the portal to reach higher ground without using a ladder. Through the game’s nineteen test chambers, the quandaries were rarely this simplistic. The way I had to manipulate the portals was fascinating and thought-provoking. Dropping into one and utilizing the momentum to fling myself across the room was always amazing.

As I mentioned the game has nineteen test chambers that lock progression behind increasingly difficult puzzles. There are no other lifeforms present although observation windows and empty chairs indicate there were at some point. Guiding the player through these chambers is GlaDOS, a disembodied mechanical female voice. Her statements are delivered with a sense of dry, deadpan seriousness that are made clear when her motivations are discovered. Things are not what they seem and while there is no narrative, there’s an abundance of environmental storytelling that allows the player to fill in the gaps themselves. It all culminates in an appropriate ending sequence that was riddled with GlaDOS’ hilarious interruptions.

Infinite portal loops were easy to do and fun to witness.
Infinite portal loops were easy to do and fun to witness.

For most I’ve probably revealed nothing new about this game. Portal sent shockwaves through the gaming culture when it arrived in 2007 as a part of The Orange Box and is still highly regarded and oft-discussed. I’m glad to have finally experienced it and would recommend it to those who have yet to do so. The game was brief but left me both fulfilled and wanting, in a good way. I can only imagine the impact the modding community had on this title and I’m excited to see the crazy stuff they came up with.

Her Story [PC] – Review

Her Story

It’s no surprise that my playthrough of Her Story was unique. After all, it’s the type of game that walks the tightrope between video games and more generally, an interactive experience. In my case, it was a cooperative playthrough with a friend. We had returned from a local independent theatre after watching Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, a riotous Japanese language film. (Wowzidukes! This article is going to earn me so much hipster cred!) I rarely play PC games so this was somewhat unusual but I’d heard much of it through social media word of mouth and gaming sites last week, plus it was only five bucks. It was a good plunge to take too, as the game provided a fun cooperative experience.

The presentation of the game was top-notch. Notice the light glare on the CRT monitor!
The presentation of the game was top-notch. Notice the light glare on the CRT monitor!

Her Story revolves around a series of interviews that the police conducted with a British woman whose husband was found dead in 1994. These were filmed at the time but for whatever reason, are no longer able to view in their entirety. Instead the player can interact with a police computer and search a database that retrieves clips based on search terms or phrases. The corresponding video clips seemed to average about thirty seconds in length. It’s unclear what ever became of the woman and the police’s investigation, but it’s implied that’s what the player’s character is after and serves as motivation for the player.

The way the game is presented is nostalgic. The police computer that the player interacts with appears to be running a dated version of Windows on an equally ancient CRT monitor. When a search is conducted, it takes a second for the computer to produce the results and the work it performs is audible. The player isn’t locked to a single program however as there are a few .txt documents and a “rubbish bin” with a minigame on the desktop. Crucially, all of the video footage is rendered as full-motion video. FMV tends to be a divisive issue in terms of video games, but the execution of it here is perhaps the best example I’ve seen, even beating out the Mad Dog McCree trilogy!

The police computer in question, with the woman in question.
The police computer in question, with the woman in question.

I’ll save any sort of plot spoilers or ruminations for another article. The way everything played out led to a lot of discussion between my friend and I. After our initial playthrough, there were two obvious ways everything could’ve happened, but I think we’re still undecided on the truth. I’m looking forward to replaying it with him so we can take detailed notes and reach a verdict. That in itself is hardy praise for Her Story. I feel confident enough with my theory on what happened that I’d be satisfied enough to move on, but I want to fire it up again, and definitely will this weekend. It’s well worth a look.

Random Game #9 – Surgeon Simulator 2013 [PC]

Surgeon Simulator 2013 AlternateWhen you have a video game collection like mine, it can be hard to play all of the games. This is especially true when additions are made on an almost weekly basis. Still, I appreciate nearly every game I’ve accumulated for this reason or that. In the hopes of improving my writing through continuous effort and promoting ongoing learning of these games, I’m going to compose brief, descriptive articles.

This is an article about Surgeon Simulator 2013. Here’s the deal though, I haven’t actually played it… yet. I’ll get around to it someday – trust me. I, no doubt, acquired it as a part of some Humble Bundle, and honestly didn’t think too much of it until now. I hadn’t heard of it prior to my acquisition and summarily forgot about it afterwards. Having just watched a few videos of the game on Steam though, I’m surprised! It’s not a serious take on surgery, but instead, a “darkly humorous” take on the practice. It appears to have a control scheme similar to Octodad, the goals of Trauma Center, and the parameters of Operation. It looks comical and it’s on my radar now.

Surgeon Simulator 2013 is actually the follow-up to a prototype of sorts that was developed in 48 hours, presumably during a game jam. This title was developed with a little more time – 48 days. The individuals responsible were Tom Jackson, Jack Good, Luke Williams, and James Broadley; otherwise known as Bossa Studios. This game was originally released for PC and Mac on April 19, 2013, and has since seen releases on PlayStation 4, iOS, and Android.

The Box Art of Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars

I learn something new everyday. Sometimes the information is useful, other times its video game trivia like the fact that Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars was originally released as Circle of Blood in America.

Thanks to MobyGames for having the only moderate box art for the original American release. Too bad it has their watermark on it.
Thanks to MobyGames for having the only moderate box art for the original American release. Too bad it has their watermark on it.

The first time the game was released at all, it was released as Circle of Blood in America. I don’t care much for the stained glass box art. It doesn’t hint at the mystery as well as the European box art does. One could ascertain the game takes place in Europe thanks to the stained glass visage and the gargoyle, but it just doesn’t do it for me. Although, I would like to win a trip to Paris…

The most commonly used box art for the game.
The most commonly used box art for the game.

This box art was used for the European releases of the original PC version and the PlayStation and Game Boy Advance ports. As I mentioned earlier, I feel the collage used and the menacing man on the cover hint at the mystery of the narrative quite well.

The first good American box art for the game.
The first good American box art for the game.

For the American release of the PlayStation port, THQ (R.I.P.) chose to utilize a crucial in-game item. The Templar manuscript that George and Nicole locate fuels their journeys for the latter half of the game and uncovering what each section symbolizes was a major narrative driver.

Undoubtedly similar to the European box art.
Undoubtedly similar to the European box art.

When BAM! (R.I.P.) published the GBA version in America, they opted for a cover that had more in common with the European cover. And yes, I’m only saying that because of the leering eyes. Although, this is the only box art that features a broken sword. Not that it’s important or anything; it didn’t really factor into the narrative until very late in the game, and even then, in a minor way.

Umbrella Corporation?
Umbrella Corporation?

The first director’s cut of the game appeared on the Nintendo Wii and DS. The American releases of the games shared the same box art and featured an ancient looking symbol of the Knights Templar. I’ve always had a soft spot for this box art; perhaps because it was a notable “exclusive” for the Wii back in the day.

The more modern European box art.
The more modern European box art.

Finally, the European release of the director’s cut for the Wii and DS ventured away from the traditional European box art. Like it’s American counterpart, it uses color tones that hint at age, but in general it hints at the mystery of the game as it’s European predecessor had.

And of course, the game has since been released on countless digital since the director’s cut was debuted on the Wii and DS. There’s not really a suitable image to show for these as they lack proper box art. The icons they use generally seem to include a head shot of Nicole since she is featured more prominently in the director’s cut release. I like all of the covers well enough with the exception of Circle of Blood. The original European cover is my favorite at this point.

Phantasy Star Online 2 – Open Beta Impressions

Hopefully it’ll get translated.

Watching Phantasy Star Online Episode I & II’s attract mode and listening to its main theme is haunting as it reminds me just how much of an impact the game has had on me. When I began playing the GameCube rerelease of the classic Dreamcast game, I was just developing a burgeoning appreciation for video games. It was a form of escapism – it transported me into a spectacular science-fiction setting where I’d spend hours searching for better gear, rare loot, and just taking in the sights. Its action-based combat and role-playing foundations were not only appealing to me, but what I still consider to be one of the pinnacle’s of video game design. I’ll routinely return to it and I can easily get sucked back in for hours. PSO’s story was light, but I felt as though I truly was a pioneer uncovering the mysteries of a brave new world.

Sega has made plenty of sequels to PSO since its original Japanese release of late 2000, but none of them properly advanced, or even recaptured what made PSO so great. The most notable among them, 2006’s Phantasy Star Universe introduced an honest-to-goodness attempt at a narrative which, in my eyes, fell flat thanks to my low tolerance for the adolescent anime that inspired it. Yet the most incriminating blow against PSU was its decreased emphasis on dungeon-crawling and looting. However, it seems Sega’s losing streak is about to end with the release of Phantasy Star Online 2.

After entering open beta on June 21, 2012, I jumped at the chance to check out PSO2 for myself. Unfortunately for me, the beta is hard to understand because it’s completely in Japanese. Luckily, there are plenty of English-speakers who are rallying together to translate the beta and enjoy it. I have to give massive thanks to bumped.org for assembling many great guides ranging from how to download the beta to complex menu navigation.

A party taking on a big baddie.

Although my time with PSO2 has been brief and I’m usually in a state of confusion, I’ve been able to gleam many things about it thanks to my experience with PSO. Firstly, the game looks amazing. Character designs retain the non-flamboyant sci-fi anime style from PSO while, unfortunately, still housing some over-the-top designs in the vein of those from PSU. The first playable stage, the forest environment (the only I’ve played in) harkens back to PSO’s first stages while marking massive technologic advances since 2000. PSO2 looks phenomenal and it seems like it scales well, accommodating laptops up to high-end gaming PCs.

Combat is still based around rhythmically forming combos. Attacks are sequenced together by timing button presses, generally up to three times. Previously, animation preferences made combat less than fluid, although now it seems sets of three-hit combos can be started much quicker after one ends giving combat a better flow. Enemies can be locked onto ensuring accuracy with specific weapons like guns, but a new camera angle presents the game more like a third-person shooter which may be more appealing to some folks. Also brand new is a jump button which can be used to navigate environments better and reach weak spots on enemies. Loot is indeed present but I can’t provide any detail thanks to the language barrier.

The third-person shooter mode actually makes sense in this series.

Players still pick from one of three classes; a decision revolving mostly around swords, guns, or magic. However, characters are no longer locked to a class, they can be changed whenever but the character has three levels – one for each class. Character customization is accounted for and it’s as deep as it has ever been.

Spaceships representing servers are the characters’ residences and here humankind thrives. Other players wander about as though they were in a virtual mall, which they are – shops are abound. Of course communication is a major aspect and plenty of players have mastered the art of picture chat. Alone or with a posse, missions can be tackled that, with an understanding of the language, would unravel the mysteries of the game, but as is just provide another obstacle to enjoying the game.

Phantasy Star Online 2 seems very promising to me. As someone who loved PSO, but not much else past that game, I appreciate that the developer’s have that game in their mind. I hope PSO2 is as eminently replayable as PSO was – complete with multiple difficulties, loads of loot, weapon grinding, and character progression. As of now, I can’t fully experience the open beta and understand all of the changes, but the fact that they aren’t straying too far from the original formula is satisfying enough to me. After all, I spent three hundred plus hours with PSO without ever going online.

A Recommendation: Pixel Licker Games

The PSP/XBLA game Half-Minute Hero seems like a spot-on comparison.

While perusing the internet, I stumbled upon the website of Pixel Licker Games. Under this name, Thomas Screiber releases the games he makes in his spare time. He is an artist who started off in the industry working for Capcom in 2000. Since then, he’s worked for various companies and on a half-dozen video games including the Maximo series and My Sims, among others. He has a fondness for pixel art and this fondness is readily apparent in the three games he has made available on the website.

The only one I’ve played thus far is Slayin’. It’s a simple 2D game that tasks players with walking their knight, mage, or knave to the left or right, running into enemies to kill them. Characters can level up, spend their found money, and build a combo to get a high score. It isn’t complicated, but it does require skill, luckily it controls fantastically and is fun to play. The most awe-inspiring aspect of Slayin’ is its art though. Screiber’s talent is on display in this game that looks like it came out the 16-bit era. Scratch that, it looks better than most games of that era! You’d think that pixel art is a limiting medium, yet he’s fit a ton of personality into this, and from the looks of it, his other games. Of course, it’s with this and other types of restraints that were present in earlier video game development that forced developers to craft songs that were instantly catchy or design characters that were definitive, despite being made of pixels.

Hopefully more people will discover Thomas Screiber’s works, because he has a ton of talent.

Pixel Licker Games