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Biker Mice from Mars photo
Biker Mice from Mars

Biker Mice from Mars game out now


Only '90s kids something something
Dec 15
// Darren Nakamura
Ah, the '90s. We were much younger back then. Some readers today might not have even been alive or sapient. Let me tell you something about the '90s. There were lots of cartoons. Some of them were good. Only '90s kids could p...
Sword Coast Legends photo
Sword Coast Legends

You can try Sword Coast Legends for free this weekend


If you have that there Steam downloaded
Dec 14
// Zack Furniss
Sword Coast Legends didn't quite make it to the stars it was reaching for, but I'm still confident it'll get there eventually. Now that there's been a couple of content packs, adding in "playable drow elves, new skill tr...
GITS:SAC-FAO photo
GITS:SAC-FAO

Play class-based Ghost in the Shell shooter now on early access


GITS:SAC-FAO on Steam
Dec 14
// Steven Hansen
That Ghost in the Shell shooter I keep talking about, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex - First Assault Online (GITS:SAC-FAO for short), is finally playable in its Early Access period on Steam or through Nexon's launch...

Very Quick Tips: MechWarrior Online

Dec 14 // Nic Rowen
Movement: Mechs are large, clumsy machines that move at a deliberate pace. There is no strafing side-to-side for these beasts and accelerating or coming to a stop takes a moment, so you really need to think about where you are going before you commit yourself to a course. If you’re piloting anything heavier than a light mech, always plan your actions out instead of moving willy nilly, or you might get caught in a crossfire with no way to retreat. Remember that you will always move in the direction your legs are pointed, not necessarily where you are looking. A mech's torso can swivel like a turret while its legs take it in a different direction. It may be helpful (and hilarious) to picture them as tanks on stilts. The C and F buttons will center your aim in the forward direction of your mech, or bring your legs to the same bearing as where you are aiming. Being able to center your view or movement after a disorienting fight can be a lifesaver. Try the tutorial and some of the newbie UI options if you have trouble getting the hang of it. Aiming and locking:  One of the odd things about MWO is that there are two different aiming reticles on the HUD representing weapons mounted on the arms and legs. The arm-lock feature will be enabled by default on new accounts, which means the arm and torso weapons will move and aim in sync. Turn that crap off right away. Learning to aim independently with the arms and torso is a crucial skill that you should start developing sooner rather than later. The torso crosshairs' range of motion is limited by a mech's ability to bend and pivot. Considering we're talking about robots the size of small apartment buildings, they're typically not very agile. Being able to independently aim with the arms allows you to strike at more angles. But it also means you need to be careful when firing weapons from both groups as once -- it can be easy to take your arms way off target while trying to make a slight adjustment with your torso. Coordinate your firing groups accordingly. Pressing R will lock on to the nearest enemy mech you can see, or indirectly if a teammate has a lock on someone. They cover this in the tutorial, but I want to stress it: PRESS R. The number one thing you can do to improve your play as a new player is to be constantly acquire locks. Locking onto a mech not only shows you where they are and the range they are from you (important since every weapon has a maximum range) but their status information and armor condition, absolutely essential for knowing what you are up against and where you should aim. Pressing R is love. Pressing R is life. People who don't press R are bad people. They don’t have souls. Don’t be one of those people. Heat:  Mechs build up heat as they fire weapons and shut down if you push it too far. If you're desperate to get off one more shot while riding the line, you can override the automatic shutdown by pressing the O key by default. This is some risky business though as every moment you spend past the heat threshold will cook the internals of your mech. Make sure that shot is worth gambling against an embarrassing suicide. When building a mech, you need to find a balance between firepower and the cooling required to use it. Having a huge arsenal of weapons won't do much good if you can only fire them every 30 seconds or so. At the same time, being able to repeatedly fire a single laser till the end of time is just going to tickle the enemy. Generally, it’s better to run a little hotter and practice good fire discipline than to run super cool, but keep it sane. There are some byzantine rules about linking too many of the same weapons together commonly referred to as “ghost heat.” In an effort to combat front-loaded boat builds that pack all their offensive punch into a single mech annihilating strike, a balance change was made a long time ago that punishes mechs with exponential amounts of heat for firing several of the same weapon in one salvo. For example, firing three PPCs at once builds a toasty four PPC blasts worth of heat while firing four at once is all but guaranteed to crash a mech into an insta-shutdown. You can get around this by staggering your fire, but it's still something to watch out for (the mechlab will warn you when building a mech that runs this risk). Combat:  Mechs are designed to take a beating, especially if you know how to roll with the punches. Instead of having a pool of HP that is depleted until death, damage in MWO is handled on a component-by-component basis. Mechs are made up of several parts with a layer of armor on each and an internal health value underneath. Knowing where to shoot (and where to take shots) is essential. You can shamble around like some horrible 90-foot-tall Frankenstein's monster after losing your arms, side-torsos, and even a leg. But if the internals of your center core are destroyed, the cockpit in the head gets melted, or both legs are disabled, you're done. Knowing how to tank damage by intentionally exposing expendable parts of your mech to cover vulnerable ones is probably the single biggest dividing line between ace pilots and average players. Twisting your torso to spread damage evenly between components when under fire will sustain you where others fall. It's better to lose half your armor over all your arms and torso pieces than to have an exposed chunk where your internals are vulnerable and full armor everywhere else. Don't get tunnel vision while fighting. Mechs are slow and move in predictable directions. You can afford to take your eyes off an enemy for a second to twist and take a shot in the shoulder instead of the chest. The dark side to this knowledge is that it can also be exploited. Weapons that do all of their damage in one front-loaded burst (PPCs, IS auto-cannons, etc.) can do full damage on a single component and there is little an opponent can do about it. Some mechs are intentionally built with an asymmetric design that puts most of the firepower on one side of the mech. This is a blessing and a curse. When riding these, you can use the entire other side to soak up damage, making your mech's arm a ghetto shield and that entire side torso a wall of meat for enemies to chew through. When a side torso is destroyed, damage done to it will bleed over into the center core, but only at a 50% rate, so it's better to take shots to a damaged side than straight on. The downside is that it puts all your eggs in one basket. Lose the side of your mech with all the guns and you might as well call it “GG.” Along with the different limbs and sections of a mech, individual pieces of equipment like weapons can also be destroyed once a mech loses its armor. Occasionally, it can be a good idea to try and disarm an opponent before going for the kill (the Hunchback with its huge shoulder cannon is the classic example). Gauss rifles explode when destroyed and often rip an entire side of a mech apart when they go, so pay attention to what your enemy is packing and where. Contrary to what some people may tell you, there is no way to specifically target a weapon (shooting the barrel of a gun is no better than shooting the area right beside it, and no, heating up the area with lasers before shooting it with ballistics does nothing. I can't believe some of these rumors are still around). The game rolls an RNG when an exposed area is hit to see what, if any, piece of equipment in a component is damaged. Machine guns and the shotgun like LBX cannons have an increased chance to damage equipment and Clan targeting computers can improve those odds as well. When building a mech, it's a good idea to pad a sensitive piece of equipment if possible by stacking expendable things like heat sinks and electronics to better your odds. Oh yeah, there is a chance that ammo can explode if hit by enemy fire, so keep that extra ammo in the knees where it will do the least harm. Building your mech:  Despite several redesigns over the years, customizing a mech in the mechlab is still a Kafka-esque nightmare of menus, drop-down lists, and microscopic fine print. I guess building robots is going to be complicated no matter how you try and slice it. Being effective in the mechlab is just as important as being effective in the battlefield though, so you're going to have to learn its quirks sooner or later. I recommend tinkering around with your builds in a third-party mech builder like Smurfy when trying to plan out your changes. It's a cleaner interface that's easier to use and you won't be risking thousands of your space-dollars on an accidental mis-click. Always invest in the double-heatsink upgrade if a mech doesn't come with it. Despite more than a few attempts at balancing it out, double-heatsinks are ALWAYS worth taking, and mechs that don't run them are obsolete out of the garage. Endo-steel always saves more weight than the ferro-fibrous upgrade and takes up the same number of critical slots, so always go for that one first between the two. Your first robots (hopefully on the cheap):  Building a garage of personalized killer robots is one of the best parts of MechWarrior. However, mechs are expensive, C-bills don’t grow on trees, and garage space is at a premium, so you want to make the best purchasing decisions you can. Accounts start with four mech bays (essentially character slots) for you to fill in with your own mechs by default. Seems like plenty, but they fill up fast. Progression in the mech skill trees depends on owning three chassis of the same kind of mech, so four bays will limit you to one particular brand of ride, or require some extremely tedious re-selling and re-buying. Mech bays can only be purchased with real money unfortunately, but diligent spendthrifts can earn free ones by participating in fairly regular weekend events and dipping their toes into the various faction play options (you unlock a free mechbay fairly early in the progression for each house or clan and are free to bounce between them after fleecing them for the reward). When buying a mech, you have to consider the cost of equipping it as well as the flat cost of the mech. Upgrades like endo-steel frames and double heat sinks are essential and bloat the sticker price of a mech. XL engines are used in several popular Inner Sphere mechs and cost millions of C-Bills on their own. Again, pre-planning your builds in a third-party builder is a smart move. You can move engines around between mechs, so try and purchase ones that you can reuse in several mechs (my single XL 255 engine is swapped between basically half of my medium and light mechs). The XL 300 is also used in many popular builds and might be a wise investment. You’ll notice when buying mechs that there is a divide between Inner Sphere tech and Clan tech. For folks unfamiliar with BattleTech lore, these basically represent two different sides of a galactic conflict. Clan mechs cost more than their IS equivalents, but you get what you pay for -- and here is the part of the guide where I make a lot of enemies -- because Clan stuff is generally better. Outside of any lore affiliations, in-game, the choice between Clan and IS represents a difference in power and playstyle. Clan mechs come equipped with XL engines (that don’t explode when you lose a side compared to the fragile IS equivalent), double heat sinks are standard, and many come with upgrades like endo-steel pre-installed. So while the sticker price is higher, it’s also a little closer to what you actually pay in the long run. By and large, Clan tech is lighter, hits harder, and has greater range than IS tech. On the downside, Clan weapons tend to fire in volleys or bursts and their lasers take longer to do full damage (all the more reason to twist and spread the damage). The potential to do A LOT more damage than IS mechs exists, but you need a steady hand to really take advantage of it. Clan weapons also generate more heat on average. In default game modes, you aren't locked into either side and are free to fill your garage with whatever mechs you want. If you plan on getting deep into the Community Warfare aspect of the game though, you will naturally want to focus on one team eventually. On the bright side for the IS, several mechs have positive “quirks” that let them leverage unique attributes with certain weapons, or give them a little more durability than their armor rating may imply. If you pay attention and build towards them, some IS mechs can be just as powerful (or more) than Clan mechs and cheaper if you can swap around parts. On the IS side, the Blackjack line of mechs are relatively cheap, has great high-mounted weapon hardpoints (they can peek over a ridge and fire without exposing too much of themselves) and thanks to a few quirks, can do surprising damage (the 1X with six medium lasers in the arms is a beast). You can also look into the heavier Thunderbolts with laser quirks if you want to make an impression, or the nimble Firestarter if the idea of backstabbing larger mechs appeals to you. For the Clans, the medium weight Stormcrow packs all the firepower of a heavy (and maybe some assaults) while staying incredibly mobile. Lovely hardpoint placements high on the torso and nose of the mech make it easy to use. The Timberwolf heavy is also a great (if expensive) choice with a ton of build flexibility -- it’s the poster child of the franchise for a reason. Good luck! For a “very quick tips” post this guide went on, didn’t it? There are a lot of moving parts to keep track of in MWO and it can seem bewildering when starting out, but with a little practice and some patience, you’ll be reducing giant robots to scrap heaps in no time.
MWO tips photo
All systems nominal
With MechWarrior Online hitting Steam, there are bound to be a lot of new pilots climbing into the cockpit for the very first time. But getting started might not be the easiest thing in the world. MechWarrior is a little more...

MechWarrior Online is aiming for the stars on Steam

Dec 14 // Nic Rowen
The biggest news for MWO, and the focus point for the event is that the game is now available on Steam. After three years of existing as an independent product, MWO is now on the monolithic game service. While this is obviously big news for the game, and PGI no doubt hopes to capture a wider audience on the more visible platform, my question was “why?” MWO has existed as a stand alone product since launch and has cultivated a loyal, if not massive, core audience. The mech combat genre is nowhere near as hot as it was a decade and a half ago, and with plenty of other free-to-play games already available and established on Steam, why make the move so late in the game? Russ says it wasn't a decision the team took lightly. “It was always in the conversation... We became certain that we definitely wanted to go to Steam about 12 months ago, and we spent that much extra time making sure that we were ready as we could for that new influx of players.” “Part of that conversation, though, was just the features you need for that audience” added Bryan. “We felt that if we were going to go for Steam, we needed to present a product that was accessible for that [broader] audience.” Recently added features such as a guided tutorial and fresh UI options designed to ease new players into the complicated mechanics of the game certainly seemed to be aimed at that. MWO has long been a “learn by dying” experience that tossed new players into the deep end, an experience I remember only too vividly (cue awkward break-up #1). Giving new players a rundown on the basics of movement and what all the gauges on the HUD mean before having them wander into a combat will be a more welcoming introduction to the game than expecting them to refer to the manual while under fire. [embed]326481:61510:0[/embed] As for keeping that new audience, PGI has a few plans. Russ confirmed that they have at least one more “big update” planned for Faction Warfare, the persistent territorial control game mode that pits the Great Houses of the Inner Sphere and the warring Clans of BattleTech lore against each other. The galactic conquest is supposed to give players a reason to invest in the world and care about the game on a deeper level than a series of robotic death-matches by giving them something to fight over. Future plans center around making the acquisition and holding of planets more valuable by providing resources to successful groups (a nuclear like artillery strike was teased) and unclogging stalemates by introducing attacker or defender based advantages in contested battlegrounds. There are also plans for single-player content in the works. “That's one of the great aspects of MechWarrior that has been unexplored for the past 15 years, so that's definitely going to be part of our future.” This is something that a lot of fans of the original campaign driven MechWarrior games have been hungry for, so it's great to hear PGI is actively working towards that goal. But don't expect to hear anything about it soon, Russ was quick to position it as a future project.  What PGI seems to be hanging its hat on in the meantime is a greater emphasis on community participation and eSports. Later that evening during a stage presentation, PGI unveiled their plans for a worldwide MWO tournament slated to begin in the new year. Complete with regional qualifiers, play-off elimination series, and with PGI already committing to a $100k seeded prize pool, the announcement broke to the absolutely thunderous approval of the gathered fans. If PGI was searching for the thing that would appeal to their core fanbase the most, they certainly found it – as the ringing in my ears could have testified. I'm not so sure that's what the game needs though, especially when trying to capture a broader Steam audience. We've seen many games try to come out as “the next big eSport” in the past few years and almost all of them have failed to take off (looking at you Evolve). While everyone in the room that night can't wait to watch (and probably participate in) a huge worldwide bracketed tournament, I have no idea who else is going to be interested. Even with improvements to the game's spectator options and a focus on tighter, fast paced four vs four mixed-tech teams, the game is still working in the confines of the fairly niche mech combat genre. When I tried to envision who would actually watch a such a spectacle, all I could picture was other tournament players watching while waiting for their turn to play. What I personally found more exciting were the two separate VR demos on display. While the virtual mechbay tour on the ghetto-holodeck HTC Vive seemed like an impressive but COMPLETELY unnecessary exercise in BattleTech nerd wish-fulfillment, the smaller Oculus Rift demo caught my attention. While it was obviously in the very early stages of development -- little more than a stationary mech that could swivel its torso around and test fire a few weapons into a nearby mountain range -- it was captivating. Just being able to look around the cockpit and survey the area with a quick side-to-side glance was unbelievably thrilling. Honestly, it felt like the way stompy robot games were always secretly meant to be played. I squatted the unit for a good ten minutes trying to make myself sick by rotating the cockpit in a clockwise direction while trying to rotate my head in the opposite (easier said than done) and dreamed of the future in a dizzy haze. I've been as excited as anyone for the dawning VR age, but I've always been skeptical that a lot of "real" games would translate well to the experience. I don't want to see a future where the potential of VR is squandered on quaint virtual tours and on-rails shooters. But, a mech simulator that naturally sits you down in a cockpit while you manipulate a suite of controls makes sense with what the technology  is currently capable of and has that one-to-one coordination between what you are doing and what you are seeing that really makes VR pop. Nobody asked me, but this seems like THE thing to focus on instead of trying to carve out a slice of the already picked apart and wholly devoured eSports pie. A bunch of smaller features were also announced. Improvements planned for the Faction Warfare mode with expanded career options, ranking progressions, and leaderboards seemed like a big hit with the fans. As was the newly demonstrated decal system that will let MechWarriors plaster the ancestral battle machine of their noble family with gaudy stickers and logos like a warmongering Dale Earnhardt. I joke, but it is my secret shame that I would love nothing more than a big giant decal of a wrench to slap on my favorite mech. As a longtime player who has seen the game go through several ups and downs, I had to take the chance to ask about some of the more controversial decisions and notable difficulties the game has encountered. Things like the total about face on third person view, a feature PGI promised would never be added to the game during the beta, but was nevertheless eventually introduced to the collective disdain of the community. The sluggish pace of development that delayed key features for months if not years past announced launch dates. The introduction of consumable items purchasable for real money and a myriad of other insular grievances that sound completely crazy to people outside of the MWO bubble, but created serious rifts and a huge amount of distrust and negativity within the community. Russ acknowledged that the issues that set the fanbase off haven't always been predictable and they've been caught off guard once or twice. “It can be frustrating, but there comes a point where you don't have to understand why they're upset, you just have to know they're upset, and face it head on.” He says that after the departure from former publisher IGP last year, the team doubled down on communication with the fans and focused on providing concrete proof that they were addressing their concerns. “We weathered it, I think mostly due to 'put up or shut up' type things. We said we would pick the pace up and we did it.” When asked about the working relationship PGI had with IGP before separating ways, Russ and Bryan were quick to point out that there were some great people who worked there, but admitted there were difficulties. “In the end, it [working with IGP] really impacted our speed at which we could do work, implement features, and interact with out community. It was too policy driven.” says Russ “Our community suffered for it.” In comparison, he went on to describe how much faster the work flow is now. When the team wants to make a change, they can do so without having to hold several meetings about every decision. He pointed to the more frequent community facing Town Hall meetings and Q&A sessions with fans as proof of PGI's dedication to their audience. I don't know if I'm personally ready to lay every past snafu at the feet of IGP. At this point, MWO has broken my heart so many times that I'm not sure that I'll ever completely trust it again. But on the other hand, it has seemed to enjoy a new lease on life in the past few months. Big balance changes, new features, fresh players, MWO has really cleaned up its act. Maybe this time it really has changed. Maybe this time we can make it work. Oh what the hell, I'm gonna reinstall. Nothing serious, just going to test the waters. Relationship status: It's complicated.
MWO steam event photo
But is it too late for stompy robots?
Longtime readers of the site, especially folks that read my c-blogs and recap articles before I became a staff writer, know that I have a weird, on-again, off-again relationship with MechWarrior Online. It's a game I want to ...

The Walking Dead photo
The Walking Dead

Telltale's Walking Dead characters are here for a limited time in Road to Survival


Through January 31
Dec 10
// Darren Nakamura
I tried out The Walking Dead: Road to Survival briefly. For me, the strategy combat was too shallow and the settlement aspect was too much like Farmville with zombies to hold my interest. Maybe you're different, though! Maybe...

Review: Pokemon Picross

Dec 03 // Darren Nakamura
Pokémon Picross (3DS)Developer: Jupiter CorporationPublisher: NintendoReleased: December 3, 2015MSRP: "Free to start" (but actually $30) "Picross" is the term Nintendo uses for the logic puzzles more commonly called "nonograms." The puzzles have an elegance to them; they are built upon just a few simple rules, but those rules result in a network of tips and tricks for finding the solutions. The solutions themselves are typically more interesting than a sudoku, kakuro, or ken ken. Rather than ending up with a grid filled with numbers, a well-built picross puzzle creates an image, adding an extra reward at the end. Not only is there the intrinsic satisfaction of having found the solution, there's the bonus of having created a monochromatic, pixelated piece of art. Pokémon Picross capitalizes on that reward at the end even further. Not only does it offer the usual puzzle goodness, but completing a puzzle also nets the player a Pokémon. It doesn't matter how many times and in how many forms I've caught 'em all, the drive to catch 'em all here is just as strong. [embed]323769:61340:0[/embed] The Pokémon confer special abilities to use in puzzles. Some automatically reveal a section of the puzzle. Some provide real-time hints or fix mistakes. Some manipulate the timer, slowing it through a run or stopping it entirely for a short period of time. For the picross purist, it feels strange using these abilities at first. Indeed, it's entirely possible to go into a puzzle without setting any Pokémon in the team. For a while I did just that, playing classic picross; it was just my wits versus the puzzle challenge. However, another addition threw that off for me soon enough. Most levels include bonus missions past completing the picture. Some of the missions are simple: use a certain type of Pokémon or activate a certain ability. Those vary from puzzle to puzzle, but every level has a timed challenge. While many are easy enough to surmount unassisted, some would be downright impossible without abilities. One time, I went up against a 15x15 grid asking me to finish it in less than a minute. I set up my team carefully, bombed a huge chunk out immediately, activated a time freeze, and highlighted important clues. I finished with the timer reading only four seconds, and it felt awesome. A potential downside to the mission structure is that it requires backtracking in order to fully complete everything. Some missions will pop up that ask for a certain Pokémon that hasn't been encountered yet. On the one hand, it adds replay value for completionists, but on the other, solving the same puzzle multiple times isn't as fun as taking on new puzzles. One of the reasons to go back and complete missions is another cool addition to Pokémon Picross. Some challenges will award a mural piece. These are small 10x10 puzzle grids, but they come together in an 8x8 mural, creating a much higher resolution image over a much longer period. I haven't finished a mural yet, but I'm looking forward to seeing it come together. The last big tweak is the inclusion of mega rows and columns. These only appear in a separate path, which mirrors the main path exactly. These add a new mechanic to the nonograms, with numbers that span two rows or columns describing an amorphous chunk of pixels rather than a neat line. For picross enthusiasts, this is a huge change. After doing hundreds (thousands?) of these puzzles, the process can become rote. Even with ever-changing target images, certain number patterns can emerge and a general algorithm can be followed. The mega rows throw a wrench into that, forcing the player to actively reason through it and use more advanced logic than usual. I welcome the new mechanic, but I can imagine purists shunning it. By far, the biggest psychological hurdle players will have to surmount with Pokémon Picross is its pricing presentation. It is advertised as "free to start," which some might interpret as free-to-play. Indeed, there is an energy mechanic and a separate currency (Picrites) that can be purchased with real money. It looks and acts like a free-to-play game at first glance. It is (probably) technically possible to play it in its entirety without spending a dime. Picrites are required to unlock new sets of stages, and after exhausting the available missions, Picrites can be earned indefinitely through the daily challenges. However, Picrite income is dwarfed by spending. Early on, a single daily challenge awards about five Picrites and level sets can easily cost in the hundreds. One single Mega Pokémon level costs 500 Picrites, which would take ages to grind out. Thankfully, Pokémon Picross does what I wish most free-to-play games did. After spending enough money -- about $30 -- on Picrites, the currency supply becomes infinite. With those infinite Picrites, players can make the energy bar infinite as well. Essentially, putting enough money in turns it from a free-to-play into a standard-style retail game. There's no more waiting for a timer or being gouged by microtransactions, just playing. To look at the pricing scheme another way, you can download the Pokémon Picross demo for free, but the full game costs $30. With that in mind, I have no qualms about recommending Pokémon Picross for those willing to pay full price. I got a code to download it a few days early, dipped my toes into the microtransactions, then soon decided it was worth purchasing the infinite Picrites with my own money. The only difference between this and Picross DS is the $30 I paid for this came after I already knew I liked it instead of before. Picross with Pokémon. That's all this needed to be, and that's what this appears to be at a glance, but further inspection reveals much more. The murals provide long-term motivation. The missions provide short-term reward. The mega rows encourage nonstandard nonogram logic over rote processes. Aside from the strangely disguised pricing scheme, the new additions to Pokémon Picross exceed expectations. [This review is based on a retail build of the game essentially purchased by the reviewer.]
Pokemon Picross review photo
Gotta swatch 'em all!
I thought I knew exactly what to expect with Pokémon Picross. Picross, but with pictures of Pokémon. Sold. That's all I need. Give it to me now. I even joked with our reviews director Chris that I could probably...

Dragomon Hunter: Anime MMO fan service by way of Germany and Taiwan

Dec 01 // Steven Hansen
It doesn't clear anything up, but Aeria Games actually started in Santa Clara, California almost a decade ago. It expanded globally, including into Berlin, as a a publisher and online portal (maybe you noticed the logo playing Tribes: Ascend) before being purchased by multi-billion-dollar German media conglomerate ProSiebenSat.1 Media in 2014. But even before getting Katamari'd up, Aeria boasted over "40 million players" and turned enough of them into paying players to finance continued publishing. "They basically leave us alone," Vice President, Global PC Games Business Tom Nichols said of his parent company. Of course, the advertising deals that affords alone are helpful. "The German market is much easier for us especially in regards to competition, it's easier for us to be visible," Bousquet said. "It doesn't always means that its necessarily a success. There's still a high dependence on the games and their mechanics and if they appeal to this audience. For instance, anime games, they work okay, but the two big markets are really the English and French markets. Germany's not really into anime stuff." The extra advertising oomph, helpful in Germany when Aeria is peddling more regionally popular medieval fantasy is somewhat emblematic of Aeria's strength, which is packaging something up for consumption by a new audience. As Nichols explained, "What Aeria does is take games that have been successful in Asia and brings them to the west." [embed]307904:60138:0[/embed] So the aforementioned "most changes [to appeal to the western audience]" for Dragomon Hunters are not for a general western audience, but knowingly for, "a much smaller audience...much more niche within anime MMOs," and that is the ultra chibi style. It is for western anime fans. The Japanese Dragomon Hunter publisher -- no, it's not a Japanese game -- brought on well-known anime voice actors (from the likes of Bleach and Naruto) and the western landing page has a link to a video excitedly pointing to, "the original Japanese voices" in this French and American localization by a German company of a game originally developed by Taiwanese developer X-Legend. I chuckled about anime-game fans who threaten boycotts over digital-only releases or the lack of dual language audio. "It's a very special audience," Bousquet said. The original title is Dragon Slayer. Bland, but much less of an obvious, broken-neck nod to Monster Hunter (the game is slightly more action oriented than many MMOs) and Pokemon (collecting). "We thought it didn't fit the genre or didn't communicate what the game was about," Bousquet said. "Dragon Slayer sounds like a game title you've heard a hundred times. You have a basic idea of the setting, but you have no idea what the game is. We wanted a title that caught attention just from hearing it." That's one way to do it. "I know some people, the first time they see it, they kind of interpret it as, 'oh, this is a ripoff,' but we feel it's much more of a tribute and a nod [to Monster Hunter] than a ripoff. If you look at the game closer, there are some similarities and .... the idea of collecting materials from slain enemies and using them for crafting is not a new idea, but this is an MMORPG at its core. It's not an action, skilled game. It takes cues from this existing game style, but takes very few elements from that." Playing up the [anime life]style isn't restricted to the title. The translated script is reference filled for game and anime fans (the story is sparse, so it doesn't necessarily come in at odds with a greater tone). "[Dragomon Hunter has been localized by anime and game fans for anime and game fans. We're not shying away from being referential and doing a few nods here and there." But the biggest changes in Aeria's fourth collaboration with developer X-Legend (you can still play the first, Grand Fantasia) have been on the gameplay side. "Most of the Asian RPGs are very grindy, like super hardcore grindy, which is something we try to get away from a little bit and be more action-player friendly." There are "better drop rates" and everything can be bought with in-game currency (versus spending real money). The tendency for Asian players in these types of games is to try out different classes and explore all the game's options, whereas western audiences seek out of whatever's figured to be the strongest class and work towards maxing levels and the like most efficiently. The archive system for the over 100 in-game mounts (all of the enemies have a chance at dropping an egg upon death, at which point you can use the monster as a means of transportation) doesn't exist in the original, but was added because, "Americans and Europeans like to collect things." Historically true! Dragomon Hunter also features controller support, something developer X-Legend neglected to mention because of how much of a non-feature it was in Asia, but that's a bigger deal in the US. And while Dragomon Hunter doesn't lean as far towards pure fighting game as something like Blade & Soul, movement is ostensibly important. I didn't find it too necessary in the early goings, the few hours I played from level one, but watching some high-level co-op plays against much more imposing baddies and opting to steer clear of a big, incoming attack is a smart move. Otherwise there are classes to choose from, monsters to catch (or buy), and Hoppalongs, your companion rabbits you design at the onset after making your player avatar. They're super cute and can be classes to balance and pair well with your character. And of course there's the need to preempt "pay-to-win" complaints that inevitably crop up around free-to-play properties in the west."What most companies like ours were doing was looking at game monetizing and saying you know what, we have those whales -- those few people who are spending crazy amounts of money and that's enough, so let's just focus on those people," Bousquet explained. "But that means it's extremely difficult to get people into the game because you're bringing in new people who are not going to have fun. They're going to go in there and the paying players are going to have fun slaying them, and those [new] people are not going to stay. What we're trying to do now is only focus demonetization on convenience and vanity...in those anime games it is very important and does resonate with an audience. If people want to buy their mounts, that's up to them. If they want to hunt them down and get them as drops from the monsters that they slay, anyone can do that." The aim is to reward "people coming in and logging into the game often enough and staying in the game," versus just reward those who are "paying money up front." For a fun counterpoint to Dragomon Hunter, there's the trading card game Immortalis Aeria published on mobile. It took a card game that was successful in Japan and replaced the art assets wholesale while keeping the original gameplay mechanics. The more western fantasy art style worked and the release has a big success for Aeria. The company has gotten good in predicting what will sell and how. This year's fantasy MMO Echo of Soul was the biggest launch yet. "There's nothing about the game that makes it really stand out in terms of, 'oh, this has an innovative feature,'" Nichols said. "The MMORPG genre is really crowded so it's hard to come up with a new feature that nobody has done before, but EoS is just really polished and has all of the features an MMO gamer would want." Aeria seems to know what MMO gamers want; it's a fair, mid-Mel-Gibson-era claim when you're still running your first-published anime MMO six years later and simultaneously launching your fourth from the same developer. And Aeria is diverse, blending anime and fantasy MMOs with shooters and mobile development all while reaching interntional audiences. "The Turkish market loves shooters. They don't spend a lot of money, but there's a lot of players," Nichols said. You can still play WolfTeam, a shooter that lets you transform into a powerful wolf (that aspect is most popular in Germany). [embed]323419:61324:0[/embed] As for the future beyond Dragomon Hunter? Nichols sees, "fewer PC MMOs and shooters coming out of Asia" because of the mad dash towards mobile, "as a result, our PC business is kind of stable. We're launching one or two games a year at this pace, whereas two years ago we were launching four games a year. The growth strategy for our business is coming from mobile. We have four games all set to launch early next year. Each one of those games was very successful in its native market in Asia. We're optimistic that a game that can be successful in Asia will be successful in the West as long as we make the art and style of the game appropriate for the Western market." But mobile is getting full up, too. "We're seeing some signs that some of the developers are shifting back to PC because the mobile market is so competitive," Nichols said. "I thought, Capcom and Konami, they're late, because they've been so focused on consoles." "Even huge companies like Supercell are doing TV advertising in Korea -- that never happened before in Korea." You might remember Supercell's $9 million Clash of Clans commercial that aired during this year's Super Bowl in the states, unless you mute commercials and use the time to thumb through your phone or grab a drink. "And all the Korean developers are like 'what the hell is this,' because they can't spend that much money." 
Dragomon Hunters preview photo
And it all makes some kind of sense
"Dragomon Hunter is one of the games where we've made the most changes [to appeal to the western audience]," Aeria Games' Product Marketing Manager Alexandre Bousquet tells me. That doesn't mean shaving the points off of spik...

Anchors in the Drift photo
Anchors in the Drift

Second Fig crowdfunding campaign Anchors in the Drift failed to meet its goal


Only made about 21 percent
Nov 20
// Darren Nakamura
I was ready to eat crow at the very beginning of the Anchors in the Drift crowdfunding campaign. After wondering aloud if the general public would get behind paying sizable chunks of money for a free-to-play game, it opened s...
Imperial SaGa photo
Imperial SaGa

Sad new PC SaGa videos let you relive the old art


Imperial SaGa nods to series' past
Nov 19
// Steven Hansen
For the 25th anniversary of SaGa, Square announced a new entry for Vita, SaGa 2015. With it, there's Imperial SaGa, a free-to-play PC RPG executive produced by SaGa creator Akitoshi Kawazu and featuring a few other key SaGa ...
MWO moving to Steam photo
MWO moving to Steam

MechWarrior Online is coming to Steam in December


Stomping on up
Nov 13
// Nic Rowen
After what seems like years of rumors and speculation, the free-to-play shooter MechWarrior Online is finally making the move to Steam. According to a news post on the MWO website, the Steam launch will happen on December 10,...
Nintendo Badge Arcade photo
Nintendo Badge Arcade

Nintendo Badge Arcade is a brilliant concept


It's also fair
Nov 12
// Chris Carter
One of my favorite things about the 3DS is its innate ability to get me to turn it on even if there isn't a hit game out for it. Whether I'm tending to my plants in the Miiverse, trying to finish a puzzle, or sending pictures...
Customize home screen photo
Customize home screen

Nintendo Badge Arcade for 3DS is leaving Japan


Confirmed for UK and the US
Nov 10
// Jed Whitaker
[Update: Nintendo of America just announced that Nintendo Badge Arcade is now available in the US from the 3DS eShop!] Nintendo Badge Arcade for 3DS is a popular application in Japan that allows users to collect ba...
Borderlands Online photo
Borderlands Online

Borderlands Online cancelled as 2K shutters studio in China


About 150 people laid off
Nov 06
// Brett Makedonski
Upcoming free-to-play shoot-and-looter Borderlands Online is no more and and neither is the studio that was working on it. 2K cancelled the game and shut down 2K China. Borderlands Online was originally scheduled to...
BeatNiks photo
BeatNiks

Harmonix just released a music-powered virtual pet called BeatNiks


Beans, beans, the musical fruit
Nov 05
// Darren Nakamura
Harmonix sure has diversified in the past five years. Sure, the studio just released Rock Band 4 and it focuses on interacting with music in all of its games, but with stuff like Chroma and A City Sleeps, it has gone further ...
Neko Atsume photo
Neko Atsume

Super cute Japanese cat-collecting game now in English


Neko Atsume!
Nov 02
// Jordan Devore
Step 1: Place playthings and snacks in your yard. Step 2: Wait for cats to visit! That's advice for Neko Atsume: Kitty Collector (iOS, Android) and life in general. As of a recent update, the Japanese app is now also in Engli...
Free PC games photo
Free PC games

Tribes Ascend dev releases past Tribes for free


Free games
Nov 02
// Steven Hansen
Lot of out of the blue Tribes news this year. Developer Hi-Rez released its appropriately named "Out of the Blue" update to Tribes Ascend after two years of nada back in September. Now, each entry in the series joins Ascend i...
Quake Live photo
Quake Live

Quake Live drops free-to-play model, and players aren't happy


Now costs $10 and all your stats
Oct 28
// Joe Parlock
Quake Arena, the once free-to-play game based on the massively popular Quake 3 Arena, has had one of its biggest updates since launch. As of the newest update, the game is now a one-time purchase of $10, and all in-game stats...
Anchors in the Drift photo
Anchors in the Drift

Scribblenauts developer hopes for $500,000 on Fig for its next game


Anchors in the Drift
Oct 21
// Darren Nakamura
When I hear "5th Cell," my mind goes to the good times I spent with 2008's action-tower defense Lock's Quest or 2009's creative puzzle platformer Scribblenauts. Those were cute, inventive 2D games. I definitely don't think of...
Gardevoir in Shuffle photo
Gardevoir in Shuffle

This is not a Beedrill: Gardevoir now in Pokemon Shuffle


On 3DS
Oct 20
// Darren Nakamura
In yesterday's update to Pokémon Shuffle on the 3DS, new main stages were added, finishing out the Albens Town area with Mega Medicham as its boss. You don't care about Mega Medicham though (especially since we already...
Rift photo
Rift

Rift's latest update is the biggest one since launch


That launch that happened four years ago
Oct 09
// Joe Parlock
Remember Trion’s Rift? I really liked it; it had a lot of excitement behind it before release, and then when it came out people seemed to forget all about it. The jump to free-to-play seemed to help a bit with getting ...
Battlecry photo
Battlecry

Bethesda: 'We have concerns about the Battlecry game'


The publisher is still 'evaluating'
Oct 08
// Vikki Blake
Bethesda has "concerns" about upcoming free-to-play game Battlecry. The good news? Developer BattleCry Studios is busy with "multiple projects." The bad news? Bethesda isn't convinced it hits its quality threshold... yet...
TERA photo
TERA

TERA now has weaponised undies to kill with your crotch


Super-duper underwear is now a thing
Oct 03
// Joe Parlock
I don’t know what the developer of TERA is doing… but I like its style. Here’s a trailer featuring hot men (and a raccoon thing) in tiny Speedos dancing to kill enemies. Watch as their bulges ripple and wa...
WildStar photo
WildStar

WildStar's officially gone free-to-play


Born free, as free as the wind blows...
Sep 29
// Joe Parlock
WildStar has now finally ditched the subscription and gone free-to-play. The trailer is absolutely amazing. It’s got the vibe of a Borderlands trailer, and the animation style of a League of Legends one. Seriously, as ...
Fable 4 photo
Fable 4

Lionhead talks about Fable 4


...and it ain't happening. Yet
Sep 24
// Vikki Blake
Lionhead Studios has no plans to start work on Fable 4. Replying to a commenter on Twitter, the developer confirmed that it was not yet developing a fourth instalment of the franchise, but was instead concentrating effor...
Paladins photo
Paladins

Paladins behind-the-scenes video goes into the deck-building aspect


'We love making free-to-play games'
Sep 23
// Darren Nakamura
Originally announced as just "Paladins," Hi-Rez's free-to-play team-based shooter Paladins: Champions of the Realm is set to have card collection and a sort of deck-building aspect. Details were scant during the announcement,...

More Quick Tips: Pokemon Shuffle Mobile

Sep 17 // Darren Nakamura
First things first: the time-sensitive stuff If you read nothing else of this guide, this is what you should take away. Enter the code 65607110 under Settings > Code for Lucarionite. This code expires on September 30, 2015. Lucarionite will let you Mega evolve Lucario, which is a huge help throughout the game. I'll explain why in detail later. Your first long-term goal should be to capture Groudon. Groudon is currently part of a special event set to expire on September 25, 2015. Opportunities for both of these are likely to show up in the future, but obtaining them now will be a great help for getting through the early, mid, and late game. Matches The game explains the basics of making matches, but leaves a lot of nuance for the player to discover. Moving a Pokémon on the board almost always involves swapping two Pokémon. On a board with few disruptions, you can frequently make matches on both ends of the swap. Taking the above into account, double-ended matches do not occur simultaneously. The Pokémon being dragged into place matches first, while the one swapped back by default matches second. This can come into play if you want to control how surrounding tiles fall. In general, by swapping from the bottom up, you can increase your chance of getting lucky as the dust settles. When matching a single Pokémon both horizontally and vertically, precedence is given to the larger match (for example, a match of four will clear before a match of three). When the horizontal and vertical matches are equal in size, the horizontal match will take precedence. This can be very important when matching certain Mega evolutions. Abilities Short descriptions of abilities are given, but some could use more explicit explanation. With a few exceptions, abilities are usually activated for only the first Pokémon matched in a single combo. Exceptions include powering up a Mega evolution and activating a Mega ability. These will occur no matter how far down a combo the match occurs. Power of 4 (Bulbasaur, Charmander, Squirtle, Kangaskhan, and more) will activate every time a match of four is made for the first match of a combo with the corresponding Pokémon. Most other abilities activate some fraction of the time, with bigger matches (fours and fives) increasing the chance the ability will activate. Before playing a round, take the time to familiarize yourself with your Pokémon's abilities. When making a double-ended match, it's better to take a chance on a random ability like Opportunist than waste a first-match-in-the-combo on Block Smash when there are no blocks around. Types The Pokémon Shuffle type chart follows the X/Y type chart. Here are some important notes. Unlike classic Pokémon, Shuffle has players building teams of four specifically to fight a single type at any given time. Instead of taking a team that covers a wide set of types, you want a whole team of Super Effective (double damage) Pokémon for the task at hand. Fighting-type is the only type Super Effective versus Normal-type. This is partially why obtaining Lucarionite for Mega Lucario is so helpful. Thus far, Lucario is the only Fighting-type that can Mega evolve. Ground-type is the only type Super Effective versus Electric-type. This is partially why capturing Groudon early is so helpful. With Groudon, you can build an all-Ground team after Stage 101. Without Groudon, you can't have an all-Ground team until Stage 136. All other types have at least two types that are Super Effective against it, so it is much easier to build an appropriate team. Some levels feature weak Pokémon as a fixture and are easier to complete if those Pokémon are brought along as part of the team. Togekiss is easier to beat with Togetic along. Milotic is basically impossible without bringing Feebas to the party. Don't forget this is an option; several stages use the trick. Mega evolutions Mega evolutions are a big part of Pokémon Shuffle, but strategy is key. Several of the early Mega evolving Pokémon (Audino, Kangaskhan, Lopunny) are Normal-type. They are not Super Effective versus anything. Due to its higher base attack power, Mega Lucario is preferable to the Normal-type Megas unless fighting Poison-, Flying-, Psychic-, Bug-, or Fairy-types. If you hit the Optimize button repeatedly when building a team, it will cycle through different Mega evolving Pokémon. It is up to you to determine which one is actually most appropriate for a given level. In shorter stages (10 moves or less), it is often advantageous to leave out a Mega evolving Pokémon entirely. Since it takes time to Mega evolve, it is generally better to bring a Super Effective regular Pokémon as opposed to a normal damage Mega. Sometimes it can even be better to switch a Super Effective Mega out for a different Super Effective Pokémon with a greater attack power. Mega abilities are not created equal. Mega Gengar is great for stringing together big combos, but terrible for taking out unbreakable blocks. Mega Aerodactyl is great for taking out blocks, but useless in stages without those disruptions. Don't just take what Optimize gives you. Grinding In general, you won't want to grind, but here are some tips for when you should. Usually, the path to greater power is to capture stronger Pokémon. A single Pokémon's power can increase up to 20 points by leveling up to MAX, but base attack power can range from 30 to 90. Capture Pokémon with a base attack power of 60 or above instead of grinding your 40s and 50s. You can reasonably make it up to Mega Glalie (Stage 120) without grinding or using items. If you haven't already, this is a good time to switch to Expert stages to catch some of the upper tier Pokémon. Moltres, Blaziken, and Entei would specifically help against Mega Glalie. Getting S ranks on Main stages unlocks Expert stages. I can be worthwhile to go back to previously completed stages in order to bump the ranking. Experience is awarded in proportion to the number of moves a level contains. Buneary (Stage 21) is the best stage for grinding experience until Ampharos (Stage 130). Snorlax (Stage 183) technically awards the most experience of any main stage, but it is much more difficult to complete than Ampharos. An uncompleted stage still awards experience, but it's less than if the stage were completed. Meowth (Stage 37) can be played repeatedly to grind for coins. You only keep the coins if you beat him, so you have to be able to balance matching coins and attacking, but not attacking too quickly. Spending You can still play Pokémon Shuffle Mobile without spending a dime, but you'll have to be smart about it. Check in every day for 500 coins. Make sure to play the Special stages during the weekends for Meowth's Coin Mania. When making coin matches, a match of three is worth 100, a match of four is worth 300, and a match of five is worth 500. It is more profitable to get one match of four than two matches of three. Patience is the greatest asset in Pokémon Shuffle. You will be tempted to use a Great Ball often, but it is almost always better to save those coins. Even something as low as a 10% capture rate means (on average) ten tries to get it, or five hours of waiting. A single Great Ball on Mobile costs 3500 coins, or seven days of checking in. One thing I keep in mind when going for captures with low percentages is a comparison to a standard six-sided die. If you have a 17% catch power, that's like rolling a 6 on the die. It's not exactly likely, but if you roll the thing enough times you're bound to hit it eventually. The best time to use a Great Ball is when it triggers Super Catch Power on a particularly difficult battle. If you can't consistently beat a stage and you get Super Catch Power, it's probably worth it. Save your coins for the competitive events. These are often the only ways to get certain Mega Stones, and they are only awarded to a fraction of participants. Attack Power+ is an easy way to make sure you're in that group. When you do spend your coins, spend them wisely. Some stages are only difficult because of disruptions. Use a Disruption Delay on these. Some begin with a huge obstacle but get easy once that is cleared. Use a Mega Start (and an appropriate Mega Pokémon) on these. Determine the main problem of a level and use the tool best suited to tackle that problem. For the Main and Expert stages, you should not need items at all until you start going for S ranks. Be patient with your captures, be smart with your matches, and wait for that one really lucky run. So there you have it. Now that I have this all written out, it might not really be a set of "Quick Tips," but you should now be better prepared to take on the addiction that is Pokémon Shuffle. Good luck!
Pokemon Shuffle tips photo
Let's diglett deeper
Earlier this year, Pokémon Shuffle released on 3DS and Chris Carter handed out some tips for success in the free-to-play match-three puzzler, despite the fact that he didn't care much for it. He's so magnanimous. Pok&e...

Dead Island photo
Dead Island

F2P MOBA Dead Island: Epidemic is shutting down on October 15


Dawnstar, Infinite Crisis, Epidemic
Sep 17
// Joe Parlock
Anyone with a Steam account is probably aware of the MOBA Dead Island: Epidemic. A while ago, the game flooded inventories with multiple beta invitations. I’ve still got five of them, and now that the game’s in op...
World of Tanks photo
World of Tanks

World of Tanks is coming to PS4


What a tanker
Sep 16
// Vikki Blake
In its continuing quest for world dominance, Wargaming.net is bringing the free-to-play World of Tanks to the PS4, with a beta launching "in the coming months". "We’re all very excited to be bringing this massively mult...
XCOM photo
XCOM

XCOM: Enemy Unknown free to play this weekend on Steam


Buy the full game for 75 percent off
Sep 11
// Vikki Blake
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is free to play on Steam this weekend. The preview is available now and will end at 6pm (BST) on Sunday, September 13, 2015. If you enjoy your trial and fancy jumping into the game for reals...

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