The Steam Grand Prix

It’s that time of year again! Wallets shall weep and Gabe Newell shall rejoice at their weeping! Or some such thing. Whatever the case, the Steam Summer Sale kicked off this past week, and with it a new theme/game. This time around the theme is “Grand Prix” and instead of playing an actual game, you’ll instead play regular games to complete quests in order to affect your team’s positioning in the race. Each day a winner is crowned, and by the end we’re supposed to have a chance to earn games off of our wish lists. How likely that actually happens is yet to be determined, but out of the four days that passed, my team (Team Corgi) came in first place three times. We’re currently in first place again today, so if this keeps up I imagine I’d have a better chance to win something, but I’m still not holding my breath. Overall I don’t usually care too much about the events going on in the client, it’s all about the deals. This year my wish list is a little thin, and while much of it was on sale, I really scrutinized those items on my list again and ended up removing some of them altogether. When all was said and done though, I can’t resist a good deal, so I took the opportunity to grab a couple of games on the cheap. I had the opportunity to play both games for a while over my days off and have some thoughts to share about them. First up, Void Bastards:

I discovered this title via the Steam discovery queue and the first thing that caught my attention was its art direction. It borrows heavily from science fiction comic books, and looks great in its hand-drawn style. The main menu actually shows off the above art complete with a hallmark comic book cover, and much of the game’s style derives from this. Sound effects will also come with floating word bubbles, the cut scenes between missions play out in animated frames for you to follow along with. The aesthetics are amazing and that’s just the beginning!

The story goes that you are a prisoner on a space barge that has been floating along in space for some time. The prisoners on board are your fodder — you can die as many times as you like because the lives ready to be defrosted and then controlled by you are limitless. The corporation that owns the prison ship (and by extension, you) literally defrosts you, attached a little sentient robot to your body, and sends you on your way to do things. As far as the gameplay goes, this is a rogue-lite so you can expect a degree of procedural generation and to die a lot before getting anywhere. There is a global progression though, so as you gain key items and store them on the S.T.E.V., or unlock/build new gear the next inmate to be revived will have access to them. I can name quite a few games that have had similar concepts and where each little detail was borrowed from, to the point that this feels like the ultimate version of the rogue-lite game.

The gameplay loop contains elements from games like Rogue Legacy, FTL: Faster than Light, Sword of the Stars: The Pit, and probably others. From the star map, you’ll jump from location to location with an ultimate goal usually being a key item needed to progress the storyline. This feels much like FTL in that you need to always be on the look out for fuel and food in order to survive. When you arrive at a new location (typically a derelict ship, but other nodes exist) you can choose to jump to the next location immediately or to dock. Each ship will have some sort of item you’ll want to look for on it outside of wanting to grab up all of the fuel, food and ammo possible. These key items can usually be combined via the workbench into gear, but sometimes are quest related. While on the ship, you’ll switch into FPS mode and run around shooting goons and looting stuff. The set pieces aren’t all that random (I swear I’ve seen a few of the same layouts already) but when it comes down to it, this is just a vehicle for progression and nothing more. If you die, you’ll be greeted with a death comic strip, and then a new prisoner is defrosted and provided with a care package of goods to get started again. Currently I’m still trying to get some of the story items needed, but I have already unlocked several weapons and upgrades. Despite being the same sort of thing you would expect from this genre, it’s really well done and I am happy with the purchase.

The other game I picked up is also an FPS title, but not a rogue-like this time around. Amid Evil has been on my radar for quite some time. Apparently it was in early access for a while, and only saw its 1.0 released just this month so it was a good time to buy it especially with the discount. When I first heard about the game my immediate comparison was to old school shooters like Heretic and Hexen, and for good reason. This game uses a weird combination of old 3D graphics with some newer lighting effects to where it looks retro but still looks modern in some ways. It’s hard to describe, so here are some pictures to make my point:

So it looks kind of like that new ray tracing mod for Quake that came out recently, where it’s an old game engine that was spruced up with some graphic effects. I like the old school feel and there really hasn’t been a modernized version of this style of game, where it’s an FPS but you are using melee and magic rather than guns. For the Hexen fans out there, you’ll truly enjoy this. It’s fast, you can get swarmed, there are puzzles — it’s a blast from the past.

That’s all I ended up getting in the sale and I don’t see myself buying anything else. Other games I want to play are on the horizon but probably won’t see many discounts until the holiday season. What did you grab in the sale?

Hellbound: Survival Mode

I ran across Hellbound: Survival Mode in my Steam Discovery Queue. It came out of left field, but its tagline “A 90’s FPS — 20 Years Later” caught my attention. Growing up in the 90’s, this immediately tries to tug at my heart strings so I dug a little bit deeper. The FPS genre is having something of a revolution as we speak, where familiar titles are being remade for a new generation (think DOOM or Wolfenstein) while other indie companies are trying to relive the glory days of the genre by creating new IPs that clearly pay homage to their roots. This game is still in development, but instead of the early access scheme that we’re all familiar with, the developers are allowing anyone to head to their website and sign up for this beta. I’m assuming that a full on campaign mode and possibly some multiplayer component will be added to the finished product, but for now you can check out this survival mode. It’s a nice change of pace as other developers have chosen to monetize things this early on. Other titles that are on the horizon that remind me of the “good ol’ days” are those like Amid Evil, though that one is charging for early access. Here’s the official trailer so you can have a look:

I did actually attempt to record myself playing a few rounds but for whatever reason I didn’t have OBS set up properly and I just haven’t gotten back around to trying it. Still, the trailer gives you an idea of what to expect. You’ll fight against endless hordes of enemies, earning new weapons as the rounds go on. I think my personal best was somewhere around the 13th round or so, but I’m sure as the game develops there will be more layers added and perhaps new modes. The gameplay is tight and responsive and that’s important in any FPS. The graphics are pretty and smooth, and the design of the weapons and enemies are par for the course. Hellbound clearly draws its inspiration from DOOM, and the design choices make that clear but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The tried and true is a good thing in this regard. I look forward to seeing how this game develops and will gladly throw some money at a fleshed out product. Just thought I’d throw this out there for those of you who might want to give it a whirl and maybe missed it among the thousands of titles that are available. As always, happy gaming!

Thoughts on the SNES Classic

We’ve known about the SNES Classic since it was announced last year, and like the NES Classic before it, I knew I had to have one. When the NES Classic released the year prior, I had a tough time finding one like most people. It turned out that Nintendo didn’t really expect (or purposely decided to under-produce) the demand so these beauties immediately sold out and people started selling them 3rd party and really gouging on the price. Despite retailing for $60 I ended up getting mine for double the price. I was still happy with the product, and wrote about it here.

The SNES Classic was priced a little bit higher with an MSRP of $80. This is probably due to the fact that this time around they included the second controller, whereas with the NES I had to purchase a secondary controller separately. Nintendo must have heard the message loud and clear this time around, as they seem to have produced more of these consoles. My girlfriend picked me up this one on Amazon for $106, which is still over the MSRP, but not marked up nearly as much as the original.

The two consoles are essentially the same size, both fitting in your hand and both are set up pretty similarly. They both output to HDMI and use a micro USB power adapter. They are interchangeable so in my case I used the existing power supply and HDMI to swap between the two as I see fit. The other cords I’ll likely use for when I lug them around. Packed in are 21 games, and there are some great titles here:

Contra III: The Alien Wars
Donkey Kong Country
Final Fantasy III (VI)
Kirby Super Star
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Mega Man X
Secret of Mana
Star Fox
Star Fox 2
Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts
Super Mario Kart
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
Super Mario World
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
Super Metroid
Kirby’s Dream Course
Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting
Super Castlevania IV
Super Punch-Out!!

The interface is identical to the NES Classic as well, so users will find it easy to navigate right off the bat. You still have save game states which is great for those challenging games that used to induce rage due to the lack of saving. There are a number of titles here that I’ve never played or completed due to never owning an SNES (I was a Sega kid) so I’m looking forward to checking them out. Over the weekend the fam and I played some Super Mario World, Super Mario Kart, and I checked out a couple other games. I’m not a huge fan of Kirby, Donkey Kong or Star Fox, but I’d love to play through Zelda 3 and FF6 as I’ve never played them all the way through. I’ll report back when I’ve played through a title or two, but if nothing else I’m glad to have another console in the collection!

Your Gaming Personality: Retro


This post is going to be primarily about the above game, Super Mutant Alien Assault, but will also reflect on other retro titles with similar design choices. The spin on personality fits me, and might fit many of you too, but your mileage may vary. 

If school has taught me one thing, it’s how to pull together an idea and give it some merit rather quickly. In a recent class I gave a written and visual presentation as to why I think it would be beneficial for my “company” to give funding to develop a mobile app, citing the ridiculous profit margins the gaming and social network industries have obtained. This company is fictional, of course, but something an executive might have to propose one day.  I managed to pull the writing portion off last week at the drop of a hat, and got my visual presentation in earlier this evening. It’s interesting how I can look at an assignment, and besides instantly wanting to avoid putting in the effort to complete the task, I find that I will formulate an idea quickly and then the pieces just fall together. Granted, this doesn’t have to be super technical or specific, and that’s my field of expertise.

Similarly, I think that the reason gaming is so difficult for one to pin down reasons why they enjoy it, or more specifically what kinds of games they enjoy comes down to a gaming personality. Many members of the blogosphere have posted test results or formulated their own opinions on the subject, myself included. However, I think there is a more philosophical way of looking at it, which I shall propose now.

The reason why games with a retro feel to them are successful isn’t necessarily because of the lower cost of entry — though stylized or pixellated graphic engines tend to be less costly to implement. I believe it comes down to a mechanical feel, something that you can’t really describe on paper. When playing a game like Super Mutant Alien Assault, or SMAA for short, you’re brain is recalling muscle memories from the past. It’s not only that retro visual appeal that is teasing your nostalgia sensors, no, your muscles are recoiling in joy because they remember exactly what they need to do. Finding that special mechanical feel is something that not all games can accomplish, and isn’t necessarily limited to retro styled games — look no further than Diablo for your prime example of a fluidity that is captivating.

Games were special when you initially started playing them. Each new experience was delicious, and you couldn’t get enough. This is part of the problem with today’s society, in that we get that head rush from having the extra money to blow on some desired possession. We want that new game and our dopamine sensors will love us for it — and look it’s on sale! — so of course we give in for that rush. Shortly thereafter, the rush is gone and we want it again. The cycle is on-going.

What’s next? Well, this is leading into a separate point that I don’t really want to get into, but the paragraph above is why I think gamers don’t really know what they want. Clamoring for certain features or mechanics and then once they have them they complain that it’s too similar to something else or not exactly what they wanted. Then they move onto a new game or new mechanic, chasing that purchase high, but also yearning for that muscle memory of old.

I probably sound like I’m on drugs at this point, but if you’re still with me, let’s finish this thought out. 

I purchased the game, SMAA because it was described as being “The Citizen Kane of Super Crate Box Clones,” and that’s direct from their Steam page. If you don’t know what Super Crate Box is, it’s an arcade styled retro game that is reminiscent of the original Mario Bros (Not Super Mario Bros) and made by Vlambeer, who are currently developing Nuclear Throne. It’s free on Steam, so you can download it for yourself. I had that original Mario Bros on my NES, and man I spent hours trying to get further and further in that game. It had no save points, it was truly “get as far as you can with the lives you have and good luck.” Technology wasn’t there for randomization though, and that’s what you get when you jump to Super Crate Box.

SMAA takes things a step further, giving the retro graphics a slight tune up (probably 16-bit) and keeps the action fast paced. Weapons are randomized just like in SCB, however there are additional features such as explosives, sidearms, and power ups. Enemies are unlocked as you progress and added in randomly, along with the levels being random. Some levels also have secondary goals besides killing everything, like carrying fuel to a location and dropping it off. Nothing too crazy, but it makes for a completely different experience each time. Having unlockables adds to the fun. Honestly, it’s that Mario game on steroids, and that’s fantastic for my gaming psyche.

Here’s some gameplay. You’ll notice I seem confused at times because it was literally the second run I made, and I was fumbling with the controls. Still, it’s a fantastic game and great for rogue-like and arcade fans alike.

Did I mention I love the soundtrack?

As I mentioned previously, I am still doing my daily runs and uploading them to YouTube. You’ll only see them on posts when I manage to write one, so you’ll have to subscribe to my YouTube channel so you don’t miss anything!

Horrible start with Random Horror. Managed to keep it going but no health drops didn’t help anything. Got sniped.