Endless Space is another space 4x game. It seems like there’s a bunch of space 4x games that have come out in the past few years. I wouldn’t really rate any of them as great, though. Overall, I feel that Endless Space does a decent job. So let’s jump into it:
The User Interface is done well, at least in terms of looking pretty, and having good zoom-in/zoom-out functionality. Here’s a few screenshots to illustrate what I mean:
The star map (click to enlarge):
The star system view, where you set your build orders (click to enlarge):
I’m posting this because I just think the idea behind this game is hilarious. It’s a side-scrolling shooter like Metal Slug or Contra, except you’re playing as an famous hypermasculine action hero (Rambo, Mr.T, etc). I also think it’s a good lesson in how a good game concept can be viral.
It also reminded me of this video, which is also pretty cool. (It gets progressively more surreal.)
Recently, I stumbled on a number of stories about “Flappy Bird”, a little smartphone game. The graphics and sound are copied from Super Mario Bros. There’s only one level. There’s no complicated gameplay.
It’s a huge hit.
It was actually released back in the middle of 2013, but it suddenly became popular in the past few weeks.
I’ll admit that it’s a little disappointing to find out what’s popular, especially when a lot of game companies are running on shoe-string budgets or bankrupt. The developer of Flappy Bird is reportedly bringing in $50,000 a day in ad revenue. It makes me think, “Gee, I wish I had written Flappy Bird. Not because I think it’s a great game, but because I could form a pretty awesome game company and make great stuff with that money.” Of course, I’d probably just take that money and then make some complicated game with awesome graphics and AI (which doesn’t seem to be what the audience wants).
As a game developer, I’d like to think that games that require some thought and strategy would be more popular – if for no other reason than they are more challenging. I admit that I’ve spent plenty of time playing mindless first-person shooter games, but when it comes to building games, I’d like to think that I’m creating something more than making mindless entertainment (though, there’s something to be said for entertaining people). Sometimes I wonder if I’m like one of those early French filmmakers who had visions of what could be done with the medium (we’ll bring enlightenment and culture and knowledge to the masses!), but then they discovered that they go bankrupt with those kinds of ideas. Rather, the slapstick humor or Micheal-Bays-style fight-scenes and explosions are what brings the audiences and profitability.
I will say this for Flappy Bird: it’s simple to learn, it’s simple to play, like Angry Birds there’s a mixture of luck and skill involved, and it’s setup really well for competing with your friends and siblings (“I got a score of 30, what’s your best score? Ah, crap, I have to beat you now.”).
I also can’t help but think the money he’s making from Flappy Bird makes a joke of the whole idea of people getting justly rewarded for their work. There are people are working their entire lives as teachers, educating kids. Meanwhile, here’s this guy who put together a simple smartphone game, and making more money from it than they’ll earn in their entire lives.
One other thing I’ve noticed is that virtually no popular games require any Artificial Intelligence. I think there’s something interesting about the idea of playing against intelligent enemies. Instead, games either have no intelligent enemies (either no enemies, or they follow simple and predictable routines – like Space Invaders or Mario Bros.), or they have you play against other players, which saves them the work of creating AI.
I think the polygon article is spot on when it says that nobody really knows what’s going to be popular. Even Notch (of Minecraft fame) had no idea that Minecraft was going to be a success. This makes the game industry feel more like a crapshoot. (As one developer put it: “games are a hit-driven business”, which is essentially saying, “Most games are money-losers, but if you get a hit, you hit the jackpot. It’s like playing a slot machine.”) As a developer or a gamer, you’d like to think you’ve got some ideas that help you predict what’s going to be popular and what won’t be popular, and games like Flappy Bird make you throw up your hands and go, “I don’t know”. It also makes me wonder if a lot of game developers will be unable to repeat their past success. Admittedly, once they have achieved fame through games like Minecraft, they have a popularity that biases them in favor of success again (in other words they’ve got a large audience watching their subsequent games). I can think of quite a few game companies who had big success with one game, but then fell on hard times in subsequent years.
Who knows if it’ll be up again in the future. I predict that there will be lots of people writing clones of the game. That’s not a bad idea. Though, if I wanted to do that, I bet that I’m a little bit behind the curve already.
Update: The Bottom Feeder (Jeff Vogel of Spiderweb Software) had some interesting thoughts on Flappy Bird and Indie Developers: “Why Indie Developers Go Insane”
To be fair to Facebook games, one of the reasons I never got into MMOs is because they seemed like complex versions of this same story: “What does a higher level get me? Better weapons and tougher baddies.”
At E3, Ubisoft showed off a new game they’re working on: Watch Dogs. It’s always impressive to see advances towards photorealism in games. I have to imagine that there’s a lot of scripting going on, because I doubt that they’ve developed AI that can make characters act as realistically as they do in the video. There’s also a ton of pre-recorded audio in the video, which would have to be scripted.
I have to credit Penny-Arcade for pointing this out today. It’s some games made by GameLoft that are basically clones of Blizzard’s games, but they’re built for mobile devices. Of course, all of this is legal — they aren’t using any of Blizzard’s source code, artwork, or product names. (And people say copyright is too restrictive and is strangling creativity. Heh, heh.)
See how quickly you can figure out what Blizzard games they’re cloning. It shouldn’t take too long.
In line with “finally checking out some games I missed”, I downloaded the demo to Torchlight the other day. The demo gives you two hours of play time. It was pretty much what I expected: a dungeon crawler with lots of hack and slash. Not much in the way of story, not that I really care. One friend told me that he played lots and lots of hours of it.
I have to admit that these types of games don’t hold that much appeal for me anymore. I didn’t even play any of the Diablo games when they came out. Of course, there was a time when I spent tons of hours playing that type of game. I played the old Dungeons of Moria when I was a kid, and spent way too many hours on it. Here’s what it looked like:
Torchlight felt a little bit like the old Moria game with much better graphics, animation, a little more variety, a few side-quests, and not much story. The problem is that I’m kind of over those types of games. I used to feel a sense of accomplishment when I’d level up my character in role-playing games (a sense of accomplishment that would quickly fade as soon as I walked away from the computer). But, I don’t even feel that with the new Torchlight game. I remember one game developer calling certain types of games “immoral” because they played on our sense of accomplishment to get players spend hours doing tasks by rote. That description applies not only to RPG “grinding” but he was also attacking Facebook games.
I think if Torchlight was a little more challenging, I might’ve enjoyed it more. Admittedly, I started the demo on “easy” because I’m never quite sure what to expect in a new game and don’t want to get in over my head while I’m still figuring things out. I played the full two-hours of the demo, and my whole strategy was simply to walk into every group of enemies and start slashing. Heck, I didn’t even have to attack. I could just turn-on my shadow armor, and it would automatically attack enemies next to me until they were dead. I was basically Superman. It worked really well. I accumulated something like fifty heal potions, and only needed to use one of them in the whole two hours I played. The main challenge seemed to be sorting out my inventory – I could only carry so much stuff, so I needed to sell off my stuff every twenty to thirty minutes. The other “challenge” was that my mouse-button finger got really tired of all the mouse clicking I had to do. It was interesting to see some new enemies and dungeons as I progressed in the game, but none of them were challenging.
Getting back to Moria and the issue of strategy: it was really easy in Moria to get yourself killed. You had to be careful, and you had to run away. I remember when I first encountered dragons in the game. They were far more powerful than I was. I eventually figured out how to create a trap for them. In moria, you were able to cut through the rock and carve out your own tunnels. I eventually figured out a way that I could carve my own tunnels to trap them and then kill them with ranged weapons without taking too much damage. Of course, there’s no sense of strategy or creativity needed in Torchlight; you can just rush forward and start clicking to swing your sword around. Even if I had played on difficult, I think the strategy would merely consist of drawing one enemy away at a time, and using ranged weapons while staying outside the enemies’ attack range. All the enemies seemed to move slowly, so it’s pretty easy just to back up and take some more shots at them. You don’t even have to use ammo in Torchlight – you’ve got an infinite amount of it.
I’ve been spending some time checking out some of the games I missed out on the past few years. I missed out because I was always working on my own game, and my laptop didn’t have much graphics power. But, now I’ve got a little more free time and a good laptop.
One thing that astounded me was that Fallout 3 didn’t have a demo. I was talking to a friend of mine recently about having played the original Fallout 1 and 2, and was curious about the newer games and whether they did a good job with them. He said Fallout New Vegas was really good, but there were some problems with the game at release. Specifically, he mentioned this video, which is actually a pretty odd glitch in the game:
Anyway, Fallout New Vegas doesn’t have a demo, either. At this point, I won’t even bother buying a game without a demo. I want to see if the game is done well, whether I’m into it, whether there are a lot of bugs, whether it runs okay on my machine before I buy it. It’s shocking to me that they wouldn’t release a demo. Anyway, my friend said he’s loan me his copy of the game so I could check it out. I tried to install it tonight and got this error:
Duplicate Product Code
The product code you’ve entered has already been activated by an existing Steam account, and is therefore invalid. Your activation of Fallout New Vegas Retail has not been completed.
Joystiq just posted a 20-minute promotional video to help fund a documentary about Minecraft. I thought I’d be able to watch it, but I watched the first five minutes until they reached the point where they start talking about the runaway success of the game that nobody predicted. I had to shut it off.
It still bothers me that Notch earned more money on average from one to two days of work than I earned in six years and resulted in financial disaster. I think I’ll have to take a break from games for a long while before I can get my head straightened out, because I have a hard time reading anything written by any small, successful indie company. It’s a bad thing that I can’t manage to listen to successful people in the games industry — it means I can’t really learn from them.