Author Archives: Hentzau

Violet Club

violet_club_trident

If you follow UK news at all you’ll know that recently there was a bit of a brouhaha over the Royal Navy’s failed Trident II missile test just off the coast of Florida. Some of the more hysterical accounts of the incident have the missile veering towards the US mainland before self-destructing; these sound a little dubious, but there’s at least a sense of irony to the idea as Trident is a US-developed weapons system. The UK abandoned its own nuclear weapons development program back in 1958 in favour of simply buying the technology from the Americans, and there are some very good reasons why this is so. One of them is Violet Club.

Continue reading

Tagged , , ,

Thoughts: Shenzhen I/O

shenzhen_extrude

Well, it finally happened. After carving out a niche in the market by making puzzle games that were secretly about programming, it was inevitable that Zachtronics would eventually cross a line and make a puzzle game that was actually about programming.

Continue reading

Tagged , ,

Thoughts: Shadow Tactics – Blades Of The Shogun

st_sniper

Back in 1998 a small Spanish developer called Pyro Studios released the first Commandos game. Commandos was a strategy game with a difference: instead of jumping on the Command & Conquer RTS bandwagon that was trundling along at full speed at around about this time, Commandos was instead a World War 2-set Mission Impossible-style series of infiltration missions where you took command of a small squad of 4-6 Allied operatives as they blew up various bits of critical German infrastructure and assassinated key personnel. It was a game notable for the massive strength asymmetry between your squad and the opposing forces — each level was infested with dozens and dozens of guards and your commandos were unfortunately rather realistically squishy, quickly succumbing to just a couple of rifle bullets — which in turn engendered an extreme focus on stealth and on using the unique toolkits available to each individual commando to unpick the enemy patrol paths so that you could reach your objective.

Commandos was successful enough that it spawned its own real-time tactics sub-genre. As well as two sequels (Commandos 2 arguably perfected the formula, while Commandos 3 was a bit of a cash-in from a studio that was running out of ideas and talent), it inspired two Desperados games, Robin Hood: Legend of Sherwood and even Star Trek: Away Team. But then a funny thing happened: after the initial rush of imitators, this particular strain of stealthy strategy game died an abrupt and premature death. Save for Desperados 2 in 2006, nobody has made a Commandos-style game in almost fifteen years.

That is, until Shadow Tactics was released last month. And oh my goodness, it is Commandos to the core.

Continue reading

Tagged , , ,

Some Reflection

calvin_new_year

I have been doing this blog for some time now. I started it back in 2012 — today sort of kind of marks its 5th birthday, in fact. At the time I was unemployed, had a lot on my mind and needed a constructive outlet for it, which is why if you check the Archive you’ll see 2012 had a fair variety of posts ranging from explanations of black hole physics (as much for my own personal reference as anything else) to lengthy peans to the old manuals that used to come with Microprose games. There were also a lot more of them, since I had far more time to write.

That all changed in 2013 when I finally found myself my first post-PhD job, which is also currently still my only post-PhD job as I’m somehow still there. The unfortunate burden of actually having to do annoying life-essential things for the first time meant that non-review posts were almost immediately jettisoned; doing the research required for a science post took 6+ hours of my time, while it takes me two or three to bang out a review. It’s the difference between spending a Sunday evening writing, and spending an entire Sunday writing, so it made sense at the time to focus on chunks of writing that were actually going to be manageable given my drastically reduced free time.

I will admit, though, that as we enter the Glorious Space Year 2017 the idea of writing another 40 reviews is starting to pall slightly; I’ve done 201 of them so far and it’s beginning to get a little repetitive. I’ve never written them for any other reason than that I enjoy doing so (although I am immensely gratified that other people enjoy reading them and value my opinion, and I very much appreciate everyone who has stuck with me this far), so the looming prospect of the act of writing becoming a chore is a rather alarming one that I would like to avoid if I can.

With that in mind, I am going to make some or all of the following changes to my output this year:

  • I am going to try and write 4-6 science posts this year. Doesn’t sound like much, but it’s the largest amount I think I can reasonably commit to.
  • I am also going to do more In Praise Of-style retrospectives of old games and mechanics.  Possibly a lot more, depending on how many ideas I can come up with.
  • Consequently, the rate of full on review posts on here is probably going to become less regular – I may experiment with doing shorter-form reviews as I think condensing a cogent opinion into 1,000 words or so could be a challenging but useful exercise, but it’s more likely I’ll only crank out 25-30 reviews this year compared to the usual 40.
  • Most importantly I’m only going to sit down and write a review of a game if I’ve actually got interesting things to say about it that I want to commit to text. There have been a few occasions this year when I’ve had to mentally force myself to write about whatever I’ve been playing recently when I didn’t really want to. It doesn’t happen that often as I usually have a lot of Opinions About Games, so I don’t expect this to affect my output all that much, but having that filter in place should stave off some of that looming ennui.
  • Finally, and I know I’ve said this before, I will do my best to respond to most comments that merit one within a day, rather than the current turnaround time of a week. You guys are taking the time to write them, so I should prioritise taking time to respond to them.

Have a happy New Year, and one where you hopefully read more varied content on this blog.

Tagged ,

End Of Year Retrospective 2016

calvin_sharks

Congratulations! If you are reading this, then you have (just about) survived 2016, which was a monumentally shitty year in almost every respect except for videogames. I remarked at the end of last year that I thought 2015 contained some games of exceptional quality, and yet 2016 makes it look like it wasn’t even trying; I’ve played so many good games this year that it’s actually difficult to think of any actual bad ones, and while that’s partially a result of the industry saturating the market with new titles (to the point where I suspect we may be headed for a mini-crash sometime in the near future as there’s only so much money to go around and the sheer volume of commercial failures could become unsustainable) it’s also a pleasing indicator that many previously-moribund development houses have rediscovered the internal spark that made their games fun in the first place. And there’s no better way to examine this phenomenon than through the usual medium of the Scientific Gamer Completely Made-Up Awards Ceremony 2016!

Continue reading

Tagged , ,

Thoughts: House Of The Dying Sun

 house_destroy

I’ve been following the development of House Of The Dying Sun for a couple of years. Even back then, when it was still called Enemy Starfighter, it had already been in development for quite some time, and the reason for this is that it’s mostly the work of a single ex-Bungie developer. Up until, oh, just over a year ago, House Of The Dying Sun was a pseudo-roguelike arcade space fighter sim where you’d fly around a procedurally generated solar system with your AI-controlled fleet smashing things up and then warping out before powerful reinforcements arrived to smash you up; you’d farm renown through the things-smashing and use this to buy bigger and better ships, and then when you were ready you’d storm the enemy homeworld. However, this iteration of House Of The Dying Sun is a very different game to the House Of The Dying Sun that’s actually been released, which is a very short collection of bitesize scripted missions where you and your space fighter swoop into star systems to assassinate various targets of interest.

Continue reading

Tagged , ,

Thoughts: Tyranny

tyranny_combat

I feel like Tyranny suffers from a slight marketing problem. Let’s take a quick look at the blurb on the Steam store:

In Tyranny, the grand war between good and evil is over – and the forces of evil, led by Kyros the Overlord, have won. The Overlord’s merciless armies dominate the face of the world, and its denizens must find their new roles within the war-torn realm… even as discord begins to rumble among the ranks of Kyros’ most powerful Archons.

Sounds interesting, right? Tyranny is actively sold as an RPG where you are — or at least, are working for — the bad guy. Having played all the way through Tyranny now, though, I’d say that maybe one third of that summary is accurate; discord is indeed rumbling among the ranks of Kyros’ Archons, to the point where the first act feels more like you’re wrangling a bunch of preschoolers squabbling over who gets to play with the pony next than it does dealing with the immensely powerful leaders of Kyros’ armies. As far as the rest of it goes I have some bad news for Kyros, as the dictionary definition of “dominate” is “to have a commanding position over”, and since Kyros’ forces are afraid to venture outside of their camps in nearly all of the territories that you visit during the course of the game I would say that he’s1 dominating the world in the same way that the USA dominated Vietnam back in the ‘70s. It’s that first sentence I really take issue with, though. There is plenty of scope for an RPG in which you’re on the side of evil for once — genuine evil, not the mwa-ha-ha-ing stereotypes found in Bioware titles. Psychopath playthrough of Alpha Protocol aside, I’ve not seen the genre come up with anything significantly new here since I told Zaalbar to kill Mission back in Knights Of The Old Republic and I was looking forward to an exploration of what being evil would mean and how it would change things both for your character and for the wider game world.

Unfortunately, Tyranny is not that game.

Continue reading

  1. Or she; one of the nice things about Tyranny is that very little is actually known about Kyros and nobody knows what gender they are, or even if they’re a single person or a group of people.
Tagged , ,