Sunday, 24 July 2011

Project Zomboid

Zombie shooters, survival horror, it's all been seen before. Games like Left 4 Dead create a frantic and incredibly bloody zombie shooting experience. Mixed in with a few survival elements such as being conservative over the use of medical kits and painkillers. Resident Evil, another popular video game series, also does a similar job, with more focus on survival. Ammunition is scarce and careful use of it is key to survival. These concepts, however fun they may be, are still very basic. They don't focus on the human needs of survival horror. There is no realistic injury, the characters never eat or drink, never get ill or need to sleep. I suppose a game that does include such things can almost be considered a zombie survival sim. The Indie title Project Zomboid wants to fill this void in the survival horror market. Project Zomboid has been in development for some time now by a small team of developers. It's a 2D isometric survival game that can be played in either your browser or a client on PC, Mac or Linux. Currently, only a tech demo is available, but a lifetime license can also be purchased. The team intend to release the game in a similar fashion to that of cultural phenomenon Minecraft, by allowing consumers to purchase the license in order to fund the game, and then releasing updates that are free for them to access.

The fire brigade were incredibly slow that day.

Project Zomboid aims to be a sandbox game, there is no specific storyline, the idea of the game is to simply survive a zombie apocalypse in an urban environment. The player can make safehouses by boarding up houses, and the aim of the game is to survive as long as possible. The game features no save system - so death is permanent. This feature has been received in a number of different ways by the game's audience. The bottom line is, it gives the game a different set of objectives. If the player could save, they would be much less caring over the character they play. Death being permanent helps to add a sense of desperation to the gameplay - a sense of immersion. The developers have explained the game on their site as 'the story of your death' and that is essentially what the game is. There is no way to survive forever, it simply isn't possible. The fun is in surviving as long as you can.

This next qoute is what I personally find the most interesting - it's taken directly from the game's website (a link can be found at the end of this post): "Starvation, illness, loneliness, depression, alcoholism, drug addiction, suicide, sanity, trust issues. There's more to zombie survival than shooting zombie heads off." This game aims to be deeply strategic, and incredibly realistic. I've played through the tech demo myself and seen example of some of these features. The character is designed to be as realistic as possible. For example, he has levels of awareness which dictate his field of vision and how quickly it moves into a new room when opening a door. If he is tired, hungry or injured his awareness is reduced along with his accuracy and attack speed. If a zombie is spotted suddenly that is very close to him, he will experience shock. This shock will further reduce his speed and accuracy, putting him in increased danger. The character can get ill, and only time and rest can cure the illness. If you are in pain, pain killers need to be applied, if you can't sleep due to pain you'll need sleeping pills. There is just so much to talk about in this game, the scope and ambition is enormous. The character also becomes injured - there is no health bar in this game. You have a status panel that displays the condition of each part of the character's body. If he becomes scratched he will need bandages to stop the bleeding, and pain killers to stop the pain.

A very indepth item crafting system is also planned for the game. At the moment there are only some basic recipes, such as ripping up sheets to make bandages or hammering nails into a baseball bat for that classic zombie killing weapon. The player can use cans of soup and can openers to cook actual meals - the ovens even work. Leave an oven on too long however, and you'll have a fire on your hands. This is just another example of the layer of depth the development team are going for in this title.

There are a lot more planned features on the site that remain to be seen. For example, RPG character progression. It is difficult at the moment to see where this will fit in and how the developers manage to pull it off. A basic concept of experience and levels would work, with the player maybe choosing between different perks with each level. But the creativity and vision of the development team makes me think they'll have something much more original in mind for this system. NPC survivors are also planned, they may be friendly or offer missions, or be hostile and attempt to take your resources. Co-op multiplayer is also planned, a very promising concept. The number of players that will be able to join a single game is not yet announced. The last and most interesting of these features will be game-changing events the longer you manage to survive. An example given on the website is power plants failing, plunging you into darkness. This means flashlights are the order of the day - making batteries all the more valuable.

I have only touched the surface of the potential this game has, and the only downside is that due to this it's going to be a long time before we see a full release. The developers are obviously interested in adding as much depth as possible. However, this does beg the question, how much is too much. They could easily add features that conflict with others, or that make the game far too complex to play. It almost faces the same situation that Notch faced with Minecraft a while ago - when is the game 'complete'? Any game can have any number of features, but it is essential for a developer to strike a point where the game is exactly as envisioned and not overly complex. I'll be following this title closely myself, and you can too by following the link below. I highly recommend checking out the tech demo, why not purchase a license to support this amazing title!

Friday, 22 July 2011

MateriaDevs: C# Blackjack

As you may or may not know, as well as being passionate about the games industry, I also wish to work within it in future. I have a particular interest in the Indie Development scene, and ideally would like to become involved in it myself at some point. This means I have spent a lot of time over the past few years learning programming languages and such. With the MateriaDevs feature, I would like to show off a few of my own creations, old and new. A lot of these features will include a little bit of technical information about the program, and so if you have no interest in programming or the development process of video games - these sections may not be for you. This first entry is for a very old project of mine, in fact it was my first with the C# programming language.

The game in question, as the title suggests, is Blackjack. This was before I learnt XNA, the game development API I use today. So of course, it was a Windows Console project. For those of you unfamilliar with the card game Blackjack (also known as Pontoon), the aim of the game is for your hand to have a value of 21 or below. The game begins and all players receive two cards. On each of their turns, they can either Twist or Hold, draw a new card or stay with their hand. Once all players have taken their turns, they reveal their hands and the player with a value closest to 21, but not over it, wins the round.

A win for yours truly!

This project was originally intended to give me some practice using 'Classes'. A Class in programming can also be called a 'Type'. It is a type of variable that can be created. For example, my Blackjack program contains a class called Player, in which all of the Player's information is stored to be accessed by other parts of the program. The program was never really made full-proof, input validation was not put in place (try entering a letter into the options instead of a number, for example). Anyway, I thought I'd upload this little project for anyone to see along with some source code should anyone be interested. In future I'll show some of the more advanced things I've been working on more recently.

You can download the game here:

And the source code here:

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Android App of the Week: Pumpkins Vs. Monsters


Puzzle Games. I begin with this simple statement because this genre is in fact my most hated. Admittedly, puzzle games work well as games for smartphones or iDevices, but they're just not for me. However, I am going to make an exception with this week's app of the week. Pumpkins Vs. Monsters is a Puzzle/Action game in which the player has their very own pumpkin garden, protected by what appear to be tree stumps. Pumpkins of various different colours grow in random spots in the garden, and the player has to gather them into sets of three or more. Once a set of three or more has been made, it can be fired at an oncoming horde of Monsters.

The art style is perfect for what the game tries to achieve.

The game has a very basic concept that, in my mind, creates almost a Puzzle and Strategy hybrid. As you progress through the many levels in storymode, the way in which you use the pumpkins you are given becomes ever more crucial. You have to be almost conservative over what you use, and not waste pumpkins that could be used to prevent the odd monster breaking through. A strategic player will make the best use of every single pumpkin they are given. This is a very simple concept that can be taken to extremes in terms of strategy if they player desires. Personally, I would like to see this concept expanded on as it has a lot more potential. The pumpkins are of course not the only weapon at the player's disposal, there is an ingame shop accessible between each level. The shop sells dynamite which can be used to throw at the oncoming horde, shields that can be used to repair the tree trunks protecting your garden should the monsters damage it, and pumpkin mines that can be used, as, well, mines. The player can also upgrade the pumpkins he has to improve their damage and effects. Different coloured pumpkins have different effects on the enemy when they hit. This shop adds yet another layer of strategy to the gameplay, as the player needs to be conservative with his/her money in order to succeed.

The game is completely free and comes with both a storymode and an arcade style endless mode, and the art style is humorous and light hearted. It runs perfectly smoothly on my HTC Wildfire, and I highly recommend it as a time killer. Rather a short review - but then the game is intended to be a time killer and I feel this is fitting for what it stands for. However, I did mention that it could be taken in a much more in-depth way than it is presented.

MateriaVerdict:
Gameplay: Easy to pick up and play - difficult to master - 8/10
Music: Light hearted and at times fairly eerie, fits well with the game - 7/10
Graphics: Great aesthetics, smooth and cartoon-like - 7/10
Overall: 22/30

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Torchlight

I've played a lot of Diablo clones in my time as a gamer, although I have admittedly never played the game itself. Torchlight could easily fall under that banner of Diablo clone, due to it's top-down action RPG gameplay. However, I feel this game has a very different charm to it. The graphical style is very different, the game is in fact almost Warcraft-esque in it's aesthetics. The game was released back in October 2009, and the art style it uses means it does not age at all. I discovered this game through the Steam Summer sale, one of many purchases I was enticed into. It is developed and published in-house by Runic Games, whom to my knowledge have not produced any other title. It also comes as no surprise that the team is comprised of designers and leads from the Diablo, Diablo II, Mythos and Fate teams.

The game's gorgeous particle effects add to it's overall aesthetics.

As you would expect from an RPG such as this, you are given a choice of class at the begining of the game. There are three gender-locked classes: The Alchemist, The Vanquisher and The Destroyer. Each class then has three seperate skill trees. These classes do have a lot of customization. The Vanquisher is a more exciting name for the classic Hunter or Rogue class, specialising mainly in ranged weapons, but may also use more exotic weapons or even dual wield. The Alchemist is the mage of the trio, and the Destroyer is the classic Warrior or Tank class.

The game is set in the village of Torchlight. It is essentially a dungeon crawler, with the player going deeper and deeper into the mines beneath the village. You soon discover that and power of Ember is present in the mountain - a mineral that appears to taint anyone who comes into contact with it. The storyline sees you hunting down the game's arch villains, Alric and Ordrak whilst being pointed in the right direction by your companion Syl. There isn't much to say really - as you go deeper and deeper into the mines, you come across different types of area and stronger enemies.

A familiar statistic and inventory scene. A friendly sight for the common RPG player.

The game's equipment system is very interesting and involves an element of luck. Weapons, armour and trinkets that you find can be taken to an Enchanter in Torchlight, who for a price will add a random enchantment to your equipment. However, the more enchantments you add the higher the chance that all enchantments will be removed. This can lead to some devastating moments when that Epic Rapier of Epicness you spent days upgrading becomes useless. However, it does add a sense of dynamics to the game's equipment system. In a lot of RPGs you often find yourself finding one weapon which seems to be more powerful than anything else in the game, and so you stick with the same weapon forever. But, what if you could make it even better? Then if it loses it's enchantments, its going to be time to hunt down a new weapon. Other interesting features include the Ember that you can find in the mines. These can be put into slots on weapons and armour to add extra effects. There is a transmuter in the village that can fuse items together - such as multiple potions to make stronger ones. He can also fuse together Ember that is of the same type, to amplify it's effect.

As with all RPGs of this nature, it becomes very compelling to continue playing once you start gathering better equipment and reaching higher levels. So far I've put in around 17 hours of playtime with a Vanquisher character, and I have no intent of stopping anytime soon. This is something else I want to address about this game, and in fact about this genre. When playing an Action RPG it is easy to become so compelled to get better equipment and level up - you often ignore the overall experience the game is offering. Torchlight's gameplay is actually very fun, the combat has a certain 'feel' to it that makes you want to play it more. Think of an FPS for example, the gameplay experience relies heavily on the 'feel' of the weapons you are firing, do they feel powerful? Does it feel like you're having an impact? This is what Torchlight appears to do extremely well, the weapons seem powerful and the combat seems slick and fluid. This helps to prevent the player from simply playing to get better loot - it helps to enjoy the experience. As an avid player of MMORPGs in my time, I know that a lot of RPG developers forget about the game experience and focus far too much on the metagame of levels and equipment.

Overall, I would highly recommend this title. Even if you've never played an action RPG before, this game is very easy to just pick up and play. The mechanics are simply and very compelling, and there's none of this 'grind' that RPGs seem to impose on players. My only criticism of the game - and something I hope is included in Torchlight II which is currently being developed - is that there is no multiplayer. I can see that this would not fit the gameplay mechanics being used, but a modern game like this would benefit HUGELY from a multiplayer scene. Games like Dungeon Siege III have attempted to do so, although admittedly the multiplayer was not as good as it could have been. Perhaps this is just the MMO addict in me showing through, but then this is the only criticism I can find for this title.

MateriaVerdict:
Gameplay: Slick, fluid and compelling - 10/10
Music: The OST is rather limited, but it sets the scene well - 6/10
Graphics: An age-less aesthetic that fits the general feel of the game perfectly - 9/10
Total: 25/30