Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Rust: The phenomenally popular survival experience

Unless you have been living in a hole for the last month or two, you have probably heard of the explosive success of the Early Access first-person multiplayer survival game, Rust. Rust pits you against zombies, rabid wolves and hordes of hostile players, with only a rock to defend yourself. You start off in the world literally naked, with a practically empty inventory. Your goal for the following several minutes is to hit your rock against trees and other rocks until you have enough raw materials to make a pathetic ramshackle house and stone hatchet. Over the next few in-game days, you will craft a bow, go hunting for deer and perhaps find a few blueprints to craft items like wood storage boxes, flashlights and even some armor. Once you have some basic tools and armor, you can start building a better house. This can take days, even weeks in game. You need to farm inventory-loads of wood and metal, and then smelt the metal down into scraps and craft the wood into planks. As soon as you have built a stable, secure house you can start fighting other players for item drops in one of the several radiation-filled towns across the map. From there, you will hopefully find some guns, craft some ammo and start owning your enemies.

Seems simple, right? False. Almost anywhere you go in Rust, you are guaranteed to die. A lot. And this isn't some horrible unbalanced problem with the game, it's just how it is played. You slowly, carefully inch towards the seemingly impossible goal of getting guns and armor, so that you can finally become one of the people that you would have been killed by 10 hours ago. Thankfully, you have the option to respawn at one of your sleeping bags after you get killed, but you lose everything in your inventory except for the blueprints you have learned. This allows slow but steady progress, because while you might be killed one day, the next day you could be able to craft a shotgun, go kill your assailant and reclaim your items.

So, for such a competitive and difficult game to play, not to mention one with so far to go before it is out of alpha, why is it one of the most played games on Steam, often rivaling the player numbers of Skyrim and Counter-Strike?

We all know competition brings out the best in some and the worst in others. Right now, there are two new multiplayer survival games on Early Access that are demanding attention. Rust is the first and most popular, and the other is a standalone port of the popular Arma 2 zombie survival mod DayZ. Now don't get me wrong, although DayZ has fewer players than Rust, it is not an awful game. It's just rougher around the edges than Rust is. Rust exhibits a good crafting system, an enormous map, plenty of options for player contact and a vastly greater server capacity than DayZ. While Rust can sometimes sport 100 people on a server, DayZ servers are locked at a puny 40 players. Take into account the fact that DayZ is quite a bit more expensive than Rust, and you can see why Rust is winning the race overall.

The creators of Rust, Facepunch Studios, are headed by the well-known game developer Garry Newman, creator of the widely famous Garry's Mod. Logic makes one assume that many fans of Gmod are fans of Garry himself. Therefore, when Garry decided to make a new game, his loyal fans were chomping at the bit to play as soon as it came out. Once Rust finally entered the market, it sold about 4 times the amount of copies in the first two weeks than Garry's Mod did. Armed with 150,000 new players, Rust charged forward with frequent updates, enjoying plenty of graphics changes, player balancing, new animals and enemies, and (the internet conversation topic of the week) removal of zombies. Garry posted on Rust's website that zombies were "just plugging a gap". Since then he has set up a survey on the Facepunch forums so that the players can decide the next enemy type, be it dinosaurs, robots, aliens or irradiated military. Garry's tactful openness to player input is undoubtedly a good reason why Rust has been so successful. The players are the ones in control, and as the game gets older and more players join, it will hopefully continue to be molded by players' suggestions.

For an Alpha, it is highly unusual for Rust to be doing so well. However, the skilled developers combined with the large fanbase will hopefully bring Rust to its final stage sometime in the next year. For now, there are weekly content updates and a very active forum to keep us interested. I'm sure I speak for many of us when I say that I'm excited to see what the game has to offer in months to come.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Gamers' Wisdom

Ever wondered about those people with hundreds and hundreds of games on Steam? Chances are, those games are just sitting there, not getting the love and attention they deserve. In my experiences, I have found that with games, especially indie games, quantity does NOT equal quality. Therefore I decided to come up with this little guide for all you impulse buyers out there. I call it:

How Not To Be Tricked into Buying Games On Steam Just Because They Cost 99 Cents, But Rather How To Buy Games You'll Actually Play.

That's my working title. You can just call it Gamers' Wisdom for short.

Gamers' libraries have been known to fill up quickly with massive amounts of games, due to the quadrennial multi-week-long sales that Steam is famous for. And don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining; Steam sales are the best thing that has happened to PC gamers since Half-Life 2. All I'm saying is, its easy to get swept away in the ever-growing rapids of little green "90% off" buttons. If you have a limited budget, there are more efficient ways of buying games. Let's start with the basics:

1. Buying Wisely on Steam.

Always take advantage of the sales when they come around. You can buy all kinds of games for a massively discounted price, which is why these sales are such a great time to buy. The games on clearance usually change every day, so you get a nice variety.

Even if it's not during a sale, the most important thing to do is to buy enjoyable games with plenty of playtime in them, for as low as you can. This means you want to definitely pick up games on this list:

Terraria: Often sells for less than 3 dollars, retail price $10. It has 50-100 hours of playtime in it.
FTL: Great space strategy game, will keep you hooked for a long time. Often sells for 5 dollars or less, with a retail price of $10. It boasts 100+ hours of playtime.
Rust: Once the full game comes out, chances are it will go on sale seasonally like the rest. Currently it's in alpha, but nevertheless it's a fantastic game with hundreds and hundreds of hours in it. For now, we can look past the $20 price tag.
Rogue Legacy: Often sells for 5 dollars or less, and it's procedurally generated so every time you play it, it's different. It uses a unique tech and leveling system that will keep you hooked for 50-100 hours.
The Binding of Isaac: One of my all-time favorite games, Isaac is another procedurally generated game with a rather dark setting. It sells for $4.99 retail, and will provide 100+ hours of play.

These are all games that offer a hearty amount of game time, for a comparatively low price. They all have great replay value; in fact, Rogue Legacy and Isaac are practically built off of replaying. Keep your eyes open for these games when they are on sale.

2. Humble Bundle <>

This is a donation-driven website that will often sell bundles of 5 to 6 full-sized games for less than 5 dollars. That's $1 a game, for games like Batman: Arkham Asylum and Scribblenauts Unlimited. I'm sure you think it seems too good to be true, so let me explain it in a little more detail. Basically, large game development companies like THQ and Warner Bros. lend out the rights to their games for a week or two, in order for Humble Bundle to sell them at a ridiculously low price and then donate a good portion of the proceeds to charity. It's always good to keep your eye on Humble Bundle, because they too often have weekly deals going on, even if they aren't in the midst of a big sale.

3. Free games

When indie game developers just start out, they tend to release a free game or two, so that they can get a feel for their own skill from others' critical, and unfiltered, viewpoints. Take Edmund McMillen, for example. McMillen is one of the most renowned indie developers out there, and his biggest hit, Super Meat Boy, was prototyped as a free flash game.

This being said, free game websites are some of the best places to find creative and unique games. The infamous Slender games started out as free, and Octodad has undoubtedly gotten plenty of publicity after Pewdiepie played it. Obviously, I'm going to have to mention the site that so many kids grew up on, However, years later, I have a more (ahem) mature perspective. Although I realize that Addicting Games has stood the test of time, the games usually lack longevity and substance, favoring instant gratification over any form of story. Nevertheless, it's a good place to find a hundred or so free games with a few hours of gameplay.

As a side note, keep one eye on alternative popular gaming clients. Remember to check Desura, Uplay and Origin regularly for low-priced games. Sometimes, as is the case for Mass Effect 3 and Battlefield 4, games are Origin-exclusive, so obviously that's where you're going to find the sales.

Remember, if you buy entertaining games for a low price, you always benefit in the end. You have more money to work with, and maybe you'll even to be able to pay rent when the spring sale rolls around. Either way, I hope this guide has been helpful. Stay posted for the usual indie game reviews!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Incredipede Review

Incredipede is a game devoted to showing players just how much you can do with a couple limbs and muscles. You take on the role of an insect determined to find others of his kind. Throughout the game, you travel through level after level gathering fruit, feathered headdresses and assorted other items. You control the various limbs of the insectoid protagonist by moving his joints. Most of his limbs are connected to a muscle or two, therefore making a sort of a focal point around which you can move an arm. These arms are connected to the body of the Incredipede, which you must move to the yellow finish line at the end of each level. Although the controls are relatively hard to get the hang of, once you understand them it is really fun. As you progress through the game, you see many different shapes and sizes of the Incredipede, with connected limbs or makeshift wings. However, if you delve into Hard mode, you can cobble together your own Incredipede to overcome each level. Without a good understanding of the physics of the game, Hard mode can be pretty... hard.

Gameplay aside, Incredipede boasts an attractive tribal-sounding soundtrack. The graphics are beautiful and breathtaking, reminding me of Ivy the Kiwi or Braid. The difficult controls can be mastered if you sit down and tinker in Sandbox mode. In this mode you can create whatever kind of Incredipede you want to. You can make a one-legged inchworm, a spider, or even one of these (I haven't given it a name yet).

All told, Incredipede is a really great game. It had been sitting in my wishlist for a while, so you can imagine my surprise when I finally downloaded it and discovered just how much beautiful content it had. 


Home Review

Home caught my eye when it was on sale on Steam in the Horror/Indie games list about a year ago, so I did what any sensible person would do; I bought it, played it for half an hour and then left it to be uninstalled and then eventually rediscovered. Now that I've played it some more, I have come to the decision that Home would work better as a book than a video game. The gameplay is bland and nothing really ever happens. That being said, the story (you wake up in a strange house, and have to find your way back home) was thought-provoking and enjoyable. As you scroll through screens of text at certain points throughout the game, you discover clues as to where you have been taken and why. I wouldn't necessarily dub Home a "horror" game, but its ambiance has its own sort of creepy vibe to it. It's 8-bit style would normally make me think of it as another bandwagon "retro-esque" game, but the combination of its blocky graphics and its Slender-like music was surprisingly appealing. Its choose-your-own-adventure gameplay style makes for moderate replay value, but you will exhaust its content within about 2 hours. Nevertheless, Home entertained me while it lasted.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Primal Carnage Review

Okay, be honest. Who doesn't want to go around shooting dinosaurs? Better yet, who doesn't want to go around AS a dinosaur, biting the heads off the humans? Primal Carnage lets us do just that. It appeals to the child in all of us, the one that was rooting for the dinos when we watched Jurassic Park for the first time.

Primal Carnage takes further the concept pioneered by Left 4 Dead 2 - human vs monster. Although the game has a very unique take on the shooter genre, it's a novelty that doesn't wear off. The switch between playing as first-person humans and third-person dinos helps keep the game exciting. I shall never tire of swooping down as a Pteranodon and using my claws to drag people away into the sky.

Lukewarm Media could have gone so ridiculously wrong with the game, but they managed to pull off a very respectable indie shooter. The developers balanced the play very well, considering the teams are so diverse. From the Pyro to the Raptor to the T-Rex and the Commando, Primal Carnage gives us plenty of choices when it comes to playable classes. My only complaint is that the game will often have very unbalanced numbers of people per team. Sometimes, you may be playing in an 11 vs 15 match. This can give one team an advantage, which makes it very unfair and frustrating for the other team.

Naturally, everyone wants to start out playing as the dinos, but when they decide to try playing a human, they will find them to be just as fun. The classes are very balanced on both teams. The number of T-Rexes is limited, and the developers try to nudge new players towards playing as a Raptor. The Raptors are easy and fun to play, which means that you will usually have 8 or 9 Raptors on a given team.The accessibility of the class develops a sort of a pack mentality.

As far as the bigger dinos go, their immense strength is made up for in their limits. Generally, only 3 or 4 T-Rexes at a time will be allowed on any given team. Although their bite is normally an insta-kill, they are slow and hard to maneuver. This makes it so that, unless the T-Rex player has impeccable skill and accuracy, a small group of humans can easily take it down. As a side note, I found it entertaining that if you play as a human and a T-Rex comes close, the ground starts to rumble and you can hear the heavy thump of  footsteps. It reminded me of that one scene in Jurassic Park, with the car and the glass of water... You know what I'm talking about.

In all seriousness, I enjoyed Primal Carnage's unique playstyle. I had fun playing as both sides, and the game's balance was pleasantly surprising. I would say that this game was a success as both an indie game and a shooter.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Terraria Review

I was brought to Terraria because I had heard it was like Minecraft, and, being an avid Minecrafter I decided to give it a try.What I unearthed was a completely new, and in some aspects better experience. Sure, it gave a nod to Minecraft in the fact that you can place and destroy blocks. But, that is where their similarities end. This is a completely different indie game (hence the word "indie") and its diversity can make it appeal to many people, perhaps even people who aren't interested in Minecraft.

If I had to make a comparison here, I would say that Terraria is a cross between Castlevania and 16-bit Zelda, with, sure, a little bit of Minecraft action thrown in there. The game has no real storyline; you gather resources, make a house and go mining in the seemingly endless underground. There is a myriad of bosses out there, and plenty of remarkable biomes. An interesting aspect of this game that I have found is the help that it gives you at the start of the game; you spawn in your world right next to an NPC that gives you advice and can show you any crafting recipe. This makes basic crafting far less hard than it could have been, and once you gather different resources you will start to realize how sprawling the crafting system really is.

However, although the crafting system is fantastic, another even more interesting aspect of the game is its multiplayer. You can play your world in single player, but whenever you log onto a server, your gear stays with you. This is a great way for people to go pvp on the fly without having to build up all their resources on that server.

All told, I have spent around 15 hours on this game. I have gotten about halfway through (a third if you are a perfectionist) and Terraria keeps me coming back for more. It has a fantastic wiki, and plenty of stuff for the fans too. Add that to the extremely agreeable price of $10, and you have a very solid game.


Thursday, February 21, 2013


Despite its unorthodox name, I had been looking forward to playing VVVVVV for a long time before I actually found it on Steam. I had read of its indie-game style, its throwback graphics and its soul-crushingly difficult levels. But until I tried it just last week, I had no idea that this game would be a cult hit for the ages.

Those of you who are fans of the ever-growing indie game franchise may have seen this game mentioned on Twitter, or maybe you just saw it in Steam's budget list. Even though it's only $5, it packs quite a punch. And if you are a real penny-pincher and like to try before you buy, never fear. A free demo of the game is at your disposal on Steam.

VVVVVV has a very solid, sweet story.The premise is that you are a spaceship pilot trapped in an alternate dimension. You have to find your lost shipmates throughout the vast, Metroid-esque world. Along the way you find trinkets, which are normally hidden behind a wave of extremely difficult obstacles. Collect all 20, and you unlock a little surprise.

The difficulty of the levels is what makes it stand out among the other indie games. It does an amazing job of reproducing the classic NES difficulty level, what with its spikes, bouncing stop signs, flying words, and spikes. Did I mention the spikes?

The soundtrack is arguably the best part about the game, and quite possibly one of the best chiptune masterpieces of all time. Created by Swedish composer Magnus Palsson, (aka SoulEye), it is truly an 8-bit gem. The songs are so inspiring, it makes you want to play the game just to listen to the music. Which I do. It's just that good.

Although the main storyline is relatively short (about 3 hours), this game implements the beauty of user-designed levels. On the list you will find plenty of worlds created by people like us, including SoulEye and even Notch (the producer of Minecraft).

VVVVVV is fantastic all around. From its pixelated graphics to its reminiscient music, it will sate the hunger of any gamer, indie or not.