PC Gaming, Technology, Planets, and Whatever We Feel Like

Search This Blog

Friday, November 12, 2010

Retro Games We Love: Buzz Aldrin's Race Into Space Edition

Spring, 1957: How will you venture into the cosmos?
I recently discovered this website, where you can find a fantastic port of the classic strategy game Buzz Aldrin's Race Into Space for modern Windows systems!  Awesome.  Kudos to the developers: Unlike playing BARIS in DosBOX, the sound and video for this version of the game are fully functional, which really improves the gameplay experience.  If you have never played one of the most innovative and fresh strategy games ever created, now is a great time to give it a try!

Don't forget to read our previous post about BARIS!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Initial Thoughts on Civ V

Civ V weekend has finally come (...and gone!)

Here are my initial thoughts on the game:

1) It took some time to adjust to the new interface, but overall the game-play is more straightforward and most of the annoying things, like Spies and Religions, are gone. The new "Policies" format was fun, it was more like a mini tech tree, or like RPG-style "leveling up" for your civ.

2) Many user-configurable features have been removed: such as the option to have single-character units, how to handle multiplayer dropouts, in-game clock in multiplayer, and other small tweaks that I enjoyed.

3) I like the new ability to see a small Wonder "info-graphic" upon completion of wonders in the mulitplayer game.

4) I also enjoyed the new City States, which provide your civ many benefits like culture or free units.

5) In mulitplayer, the animations of your units are disabled so they just jump from tile to tile. This was kind of disappointing; I hope they bring the animations back in a future patch.

6) There were some bugs. For example, the City State stautus is buggy and sometimes it will say they are angry even though you just friend-ed them.

7) Some "features" of the interface were frustrating: for example, the active unit will change after doing an action, but focus remains on the old one. I kept accidentally moving units that were offscreen to the wrong places and couldn't easily find them.

8) Another frustrating feature of multiplayer is that the game doesn't let you do things between multiplayer turns. It seems like it may only queue one action between turns, and I found myself repeatedly commanding units or cities to do something, only to find nothing was happening. In a mulitplayer game, it's nice to queue things between turns while waiting for others to finish.

I have yet to finish a game, but Civ V looks promising. In the meantime, I'm hoping for a patch to tweak the small game-play deficiencies.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

A Timely Review of Sins of a Solar Empire: Trinity

Or: Forget Everything You Thought You Knew About Strategy Gaming And Learn to Define Victory For Yourself

A Joint Review by Blood N' Glory Possum and Jraptor

Since Galactic Civilizations II doesn’t have a proper multiplayer module, we’ve been hunting for a good 4X sci-fi-themed space empire game. We bought the original Sins of a Solar Empire a while ago when it got phenomenal reviews, hoping that it would fill the multiplayer 4X void. At the time, we thought that the original Sins had lots of potential, but found the whole pirate aspect tedious (unlike, for example, the Antarans in Master of Orion II). We recently gave Sins of a Solar Empire: Trinity an extensive “test drive” because it offers some gameplay improvements over the original game (like fortifications), as well as the ability to disable the pirates. Our comments here cover the Entrenchment game and not the Diplomacy add-on because we were never able to get that to load in multiplayer mode.

During install and multiplayer set up we encountered a surprising number of bugs, considering the maturity of this product (it has, after all, been on the market for some time). During install, three links are created for each of the three different versions of the game; however, only one of them actually worked. If you do manage to directly load each version of the game, you will have to reset the video and sound settings on the first load of each version. Fortunately, you can switch between versions of the game from the in-game menu; it basically closes and reloads the game into the selected mode. But at least this way, your video and sound settings are preserved.

When we tried to enter the multiplayer waiting room, we encountered errors about our game versions not matching even though we both had the latest updates. Checking the file system, one of us had an additional file in one directory. The only thing we can think of to explain this is one of us had installed the original Sins and then the Trinity add-on while the other only installed a virgin copy of the Trinity pack. It seems odd to us, however, that this should cause such an extreme error that could have been quietly resolved if the game merely synced our files. We were, ultimately, able to resolve the problem for the Entrenchment game by uninstalling the version that had the original Sins upgraded to Trinity and replacing it with a fresh install of just the Trinity pack. However, the Diplomacy game still gave us a “files don’t match” error and declined to let us play.

From the beginning, it was not obvious that the only way to win Sins: Trinity is through domination. No where in the game manual does it say how you actually “win” the game. We have divined from internet searches that the way to win is through total obliteration of all other factions. We also gather from internet searches that more win modes were added in for the “Diplomacy” expansion. However, since we were never able to win the game (or load the Diplomacy expansion), we still don’t really know. We suspect others have had the same problem since some websites suggested that “winning is how you define it for yourself.”

Overall, the gameplay was good. Managing the planets is simple when “auto-placement” is turned on. However, this will severely weaken your defenses because the algorithm that the game uses to place them is not at all good. It will lump them all together, or place them on the opposite side of the planet from where enemies would be expected to arrive. To the credit of the game creators, the manual doesn’t say that “auto-placement” will do desirable things.

We tried many strategies during gameplay that usually work in other strategy games. However, after 3 days and several restarts, we were, in the end, always completely overwhelmed by hundreds of enemy AI ships. The AI is aggressive and in our opinion unreasonably difficult even when on “Easy” mode. While we aren’t looking for a free lunch, we found this to seriously limit our enjoyment after 72 hours.

In particular, we found that the Vasari were vastly more powerful than either the TEC or the Advent. To test this theory, we played one game with only Vasari factions, figuring this would put us all on the same level playing field. We found that we did better this way, and our ships would occasionally survive a battle (as the TEC and Advent, our ships had an annoying tendency to explode after only a few seconds in combat). However, we were still completely unable to match the fleet production of the AI teams, and for hours we watched them produce 1 ship every 30 seconds, forming huge fleets of hundreds of ships. It’s possible that our game was so unbalanced because the Pirates were disabled; however, the game should be able to compensate for this.

As we lost planets, we also lost the ability to use the higher level technologies we had researched because we started loosing the labs needed to conduct and maintain high level research. So, as you get pushed back, you are put at an even further disadvantage, one that makes it impossible to recover -- your faction will effectively revert to a more primitive technological state in addition to the loss of economy as planets fall to the enemy. This severely limits the quality and quantity of ships you can produce and your ability to fend off attackers.

As soon as the AI smells weakness, it is relentless in your destruction. First, it will break all deals with you, then it will ignore your pleas for mercy, and finally it will taunt you as you’re crushed under the wheels of destruction. We tried the game on “Normal” mode first and then on “Easy”; in both cases we saw little difference in the game’s actual difficulty level. The AI in both modes still out-performed us economically and fleet-wise.

In general, we are big fans of Stardock; they treat their customers really well. The trend continues with Sins. We really appreciated how Stardock allows at 2 LAN players per copy of the game, which is great for multiplayer gaming on a home network. Sins also has truly reasonable system requirements - it can even run on a netbook! Unfortunately, this is not the game for you if you’re looking for a quick victory or any measurable victory at all; it lacks the perfect design balance of (for example) Rise of Nations. This game is designed to be difficult and is horribly unforgiving of even the tiniest mistake. The uncanny AI will know all your moves and move against you before you can recover. Think it won’t notice that you’ve moved your fleet to another planet for a few turns? Think again. Think those last 50 enemy ships you destroyed was the best they could do? Nope, wrong again. They’ll be sending a “little surprise for you” very soon, oh and they’ll taunt you about it, too.

The bottom line is that we’re still waiting for a great modern multiplayer sci-fi 4X game to build on what Galactic Civilizations II accomplished. Sins has a lot of good ideas, but it really doesn’t come together to make a compelling multiplayer experience.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Giving up on Colonization

As a big fan of the original 1994 MicroProse classic Sid Meier's Colonization, I had high hopes for the new Civilization IV: Colonization standalone expansion pack.  The Beyond the Sword expansion pack for Civilization IV added several nifty and much-desired new features, including random events, quests, some great scenarios (including the epic "Nextwar" mod, which comes vaguely-close-ish to being the "Longer Reach of History" Civ game I've yakked about in the past), and some new military units.  However: Beyond the Sword had a big huge problem; namely, the 3.19 patch (which added some of the most desirable things, like switching off the hated espionage component) rendered the LAN multiplayer mode unplayable with dreaded "Out-of-sync" errors that inevitably occur. Oh, you can try to minimize the OOS errors by switching off random events and clearing your cache, but eventually during a long LAN game you will have an OOS error, and it's really aggravating. It's not really characteristic of Firaxis to leave a big atomic monster bug like this unpatched, so that was one of my earliest indications that Civ V was in the works - I figured that they must have been busy with something!

So, I was hoping that Civ IV: Colonization would be a much-needed return to form for Firaxis.  Unfortunately, this plot below accurately sums up my experience playing the Colonization remake:

The game starts out promising enough. There is a small graphical upgrade from baseline Civ IV; the water looks especially good. The interface is close enough to Civ IV to be familiar, but still reminiscent of the original 1994 game. You settle in, open up your root beer, and dash across the Atlantic to the New World...

...and then the wheels fall off. This game has an insane amount of micromanagement. You have to manually adjust all of your colonists, and the population grows at a snail's pace. The economy of your settlements almost never gets going. Equipping and building military units is a tedious chore, and when the Revolution happens (if it happens at all, since Liberty Bells aren't that easy to make, either), the Royal Expeditionary Force is so large that it is impossible to beat - and this is on Chieftain mode!

Now, I'm usually the first person to stand up and say that complexity is not a bad thing. After all, Flight Simulator is one of my favorite games and in real life, colonizing the New World wasn't exactly a picnic. However, Civ IV: Colonization is just annoying and tedious. What a shame - the original game is a timeless classic, but new one just isn't as fun as the original. Unless I get really bored at some point in the future (which isn't likely, since I'm barely 1/8 of the way through Dragon Age: Origins and I have an unopened copy of Sins of a Solar Empire waiting in the wings) I probably won't ever try to play the Colonization remake again. I really hope that this isn't a preview to what Civ V is going to be like! I guess we will all find out on September 21st...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Spore Glory

More beautiful Spore in-game art to inspire our readers (and maybe ourselves, too) to play more Spore. One of my favorite parts of the "Space" phase of the game is playing with the Earth-like terraforming tools. At first I thought (perhaps like you) that it would be a waste of time, but it really is fun and addictive. Filling your spaceship hold with your favorite plants and animals collected over the galaxy and then populating empty planets may seem pointless, and perhaps it is, for what do you have to gain? Nothing much really, other than a completely satisfying (if unexplainable) sense of self-satisfaction. Kind of like a work of art.

It was not, however, the terraforming tools that first got me playing Spore. What initially drew me in was the single-celled organism part of the game. I had never seen anything like it, and I really, really, really liked it. The world is beautiful. Some players have complained that this phase of the game has overly simplistic gameplay, and that might even be true *if* (and I stress if) I could ignore all the other awesome things about it -- like how much you can interact with your environment, the diversity of creatures, employing strategy and cunning to defeat your larger foes, the intuitive feel of the game, as well as the overall beauty of the environment. Any way you look at it, playing as a single-celled organism that keeps getting bigger while the world keeps getting smaller is just so cool!

Monday, August 16, 2010

More Awesomeness from LROC

More awesomeness from the Moon! NASA's LROC (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera) recently released this mosaic of Orientale Basin, a huge impact basin on the Moon that is 930 km across! The central floor is flooded with basaltic lava flows and so are some of the rings.

Image Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Read Full Article here: http://lroc.sese.asu.edu/news/index.php?/archives/247-Orientale-Basin.html

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Volcano on the Moon

Shown here is part of a Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera image (NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University) of what are probably two small volcanoes on the Moon. The volcanoes are only ~1.5km in diameter each.

Read full article here: http://lroc.sese.asu.edu/news/index.php?/archives/262-Volcanoes-in-Lacus-Mortis.html#extended