Thoughts: Sid Meier’s Starships

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Sid Meier’s Starships . It’s not a name that sounds particularly promising, is it? Sid’s a fan of pithy one- or two- word titles, and he’s used them to great effect in the past. What else would you call a game about the progress of human society through the ages except Civilization? They are usually appropriately descriptive; in Railroad Tycoon you play the part of an 1830-era railroad tycoon. Even the simplest ones were jazzed up by the addition of an exclamation mark: Pirates! is a little muddy as a descriptor, but you can at least tell Sid is very excited about it and thinks you’re going to have a lot of fun playing it. ( And he was right. ) Even the worst of his games, Railroads! , was saved by the exclamation mark and by the fact it did somewhat signal the transition from meaty business sim to playing with a virtual toy railway set.

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Thoughts: Homeworld Remastered

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The Homeworld Remastered Collection is a packaged rerelease of space strategy classics Homeworld and Homeworld 2. I didn’t like Homeworld 2 the first time around, and so this is largely going to be a review of the remastered version of the first Homeworld.

Gearbox strikes again.

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Thoughts: Hand of Fate

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With the recent surge in popularity for both the virtual card game and roguelike genres, the only really surprising thing about Hand of Fate is that it’s taken this long for somebody to come up with the idea of fusing the two together.

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Interstellar: A Rant

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While I was on holiday I decided to watch Interstellar. This was a terrible, terrible mistake, but at least you’re getting what is hopefully a reasonably entertaining blog post out of it. Needless to say, though, this post is going to spoil the hell out of the film, so don’t read if you haven’t seen it yet.

Interstellar is the worst science fiction film I’ve seen since Prometheus .

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Bullfrog Time Machine: Syndicate

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On holiday this week, so here’s the second of my recent excursions into Bullfrog’s glory days.

My love for Syndicate is something that I find difficult to express in words. It’s a game expressly calculated to appeal to both the 10 year-old version of me and the current gnarled oak of a man I have become. It’s all about trenchcoat-clad cyborgs fighting gang wars with weaponry ranging from Uzis to rocket launchers, all in the middle of a living city where innocent bystanders are routinely incinerated in the crossfire from your obscenely powerful guns — and if that idea doesn’t at least catch a glimmer of your interest then I don’t know what to tell you. Probably you’re not going to be very interested in Syndicate. Probably you’ve also had the joy surgically removed from every other aspect of your life, but I try not to judge.

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Thoughts: Sunless Sea

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It’s important to properly set your expectations before entering Sunless Sea . What it looks like, at first glance, is a game in the vein of Pirates! or Elite — a freeform game set in an open world where you can explore, trade and fight according entirely according to your own whims, clawing your way up from having nothing to owning everything. Sunless Sea has one or two elements in common with this sort of game — especially Pirates! — but it is most definitely not them.

Then there’s the roguelikes, specifically FTL , where you have a concrete goal and meander down an unforgiving, randomly-generated path towards it; where the game is geared towards variety and replayability and the player is intended to experience several dozen unsuccessful attempts before they finally accrue enough experience to crack it open and win. Here the resemblance is stronger, but a direct comparison would still be misleading. Sunless Sea isn’t all that much like FTL either.

In fact if you asked me to find the closest touchstone for the sort of game Sunless Sea is , then I would have to dig very deep into my trove of gaming knowledge as it’s been quite a long time since I played anything like it.  Once I came back up, though, I would be holding just one solitary game in my hands, with the following words stencilled across its metaphorical cover:

King of Dragon Pass.”

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Bullfrog Time Machine: Populous

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One of my New Year’s resolutions was to make at least one post on the blog every week. I knew that there’d be weeks like this week when work hit me like a truck, which is why I spent a large part of the Christmas break writing some shorter pieces chronicling my experiences with Bullfrog’s games so that I’d have something to fill the gap. Some of them I’d never played, and most of the rest I’d not played in fifteen years, and since I was stuck with a low-tech laptop for a week I just bought the lot off GoG and played through as many of them as I could, in chronological order. First up is Populous.

I think it would be fair to say that Populous is not a game that has aged terribly well. It had its 25th birthday last year; as Bullfrog’s first release all the way back in 1989 it would be pretty surprising if Populous wasn’t showing those years somehow. Even so, as somebody very used to archaic control systems (I once spent a summer playing through the pre-Civilization Microprose titles) I was a little taken aback at how basic Populous seems given the benefit of modern hindsight, and how painful it is to try and play now. Running at a whopping resolution of 320×200 didn’t give it too many pixels to play with, but even so Populous is downright wasteful in the way it uses its screen real estate, with two-thirds of it taken up by the UI buttons and the minimap. All the action takes place in a small box crammed into the centre of the screen which is commensurately awkward to deal with, and I use the word “action” with a certain degree of irony here because there isn’t much you can actually do in Populous.

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