In the digital age, it can be a hassle, and inconvenient to pull out the ol' SNES, dust off a couple games, and gamble on if they well work or not, let alone still have the battery left to keep your save file from 10 years ago. The solution to this first world problem usually is emulation, but even; who wants to use a keyboard sitting at your computer, and cheat with save states. That ruins that pure experience you got from the original system.
So enter the raspberry pi. A little credit card sized, 35 dollar linux computer that with a bit of tweaking, we can get exactly what we need. For those of us who don't know, the raspberry pi is an educational devices intended to help students learn the basics of programming at a dirt cheap price. The community surrounding the device however has exploded with content and enthusiasm, as a result we have awesome library of things we can install on the computer. One of those things is an SNES emulator.
So what we want here is for the pi to boot into a list of roms that when we select one, will boot the emulator up. We don't want to use a keyboard so we need it to accept Snes controllers. There needs to be a way to get back to the rom list with the controller after launching a game, and finally we want to run all of it off hdmi, which the pi just does, so let's just scratch that off the list now.
Through the use of a tutorial we can get half way there pretty easily. After installing whats called 'retroarch' on the pi, we get it to boot into a list of roms, get the emulator to boot on selecting a rom, and we have a reset function too.
To get futher along, we need it to use snes controllers. Now for the purist, there is ways to get regular ol' snes controllers to connect to the device via soldering and complex driver set up. For those less worried about it, there are snes usb controllers available on amazon, ebay, ect. And through a little bit more coding and set up of configuration files, we can get the controllers to play just like snes controllers, and flash back to the rom screen after launching a game with the press of start and select at the same time.
The controller (retrolink snes controller) is alright. It's kinda 'blocky' and feels a little bit less solid then a snes controller. I could confidently chuck a snes controller across a room in a fit of rage, but this one....ehn I dunno. I wouldn't do it without fear of breaking it. The shoulder buttons are particularly squared off and feel the most different from the original. The dpad is also rather 'shallow' and doesn't feel like you are pressing it enough.
The emulation itself is pretty good. There's unfortunately some slow down in a few more graphics heavy games. Super Mario world 2, star fox, run really slow to the point of being unplayable. Some stuff is middle of the road. Super Castlevania 4 runs great, but slows down when there's a lot of water on screen. Super Mario kart is a tad slow, but it's almost unnoticeable. But the vast majority of games run fine. The only other problem is the pi's power. It takes a low amount, and some t.v's pull more power then it can handle, and the device well lose sound, or freeze, or completely crash.
But yeah, this was a cool hobby project I decided to do. I got genesis games going too with a separate setup for those controllers. And it's still a computer after all, so connect a keyboard, press f4, and boot up a linux desktop complete with all the things you'd expect on a linux machine.
Going through my backlog at the start of the year before some of the Major releases come out has been quite the exciting expedition in entertainment. A true trudge through past pieces of particular software has led me to one title that piqued my interest intensively enough to stand out among most of the monotonous mediocre mishaps that I call stupid mistakes. Or what the average adult calls them, 'Games'. While the mundane menace of yet another moba, or the fast furious in-your-face action of an fps might satisfy some... the sultry, seductive simple solution to my satisfaction was supplied by software known as Mirror's Edge.
Mirror's Edge; made by Dice, better known to beguile boys with the business of the BattleField games, have creatively crafted a convincingly unique and utterly astounding usage of the medium, by throwing the pleasure of parkour platforming, into first person. Intertwined with the stylish visuals vivaciously popping with basic bold colors, the player is placed in a gorgeous metropolis. Simply put; The graphics of the game garner great expectations as you gallop gaily in the first few moments of the game.
Awesome application of alliteration aside, Mirrors Edge shines in the simplicity of it's gameplay, and how it rewards and punishes the player through it's own mechanics. Preforming a long chain of successful parkour moves keeps the player moving quickly through the level. It feels great, you move fast, and it gives the player a really fantastic sense of skill. Ultimately you are rewarded in the end with a short time through the level, which is the crux of the game, getting from point A to point B really fast.
And the perfect dichotomy to this is that the game punishes you with gameplay mechanics if you fail at the parkour. Say you are trying to jump over a fence and on top of a roof, you jump short and and at the base of the fence. The flow of your platforming is immediately thrown off. You have to reset your self, regain all your speed, and try again. It sucks, but it's awesome. It makes you feel slow and the overall time for the level increases, but it's awesome because it's directly because of the gameplay that you are punished, and you are punished in a contextual sense with gameplay. In this way it's brilliant. I love it.
The story isn't the strongest point of the game. It starts interesting with some hard look at privacy and the transfer of information, but it deviates from that pretty quick, and never really elevates beyond a passing interest. The gunplay in the game is there, it works, it feels a little out of place but you're never really forced to pick up a gun until one point in the game. Other then that, the music is fantastic, the character design is great, the voice acting is well done too.
Like I mentioned, i've been going through a lot of games in my backlog, and so far, out of everything, Mirror's Edge has really stood out as one of the best. Or if not the best, at least the most unique and interesting.
In the previous 2 entries we looked at some pretty unique games. One was an indie effort called Kerbal Space Program. The other was a more well known indie effort called Don't Starve. Today we'll take a gander at a glorious gift of gaming.
Xcom: Enemy Unkown
This reboot to the classic Strategy game, comes from Developers Fraxis Is the greatest AAA game to come out this year without a doubt. There are no games more worthy of praise and spotlight then Xcom. No Skinner box fps (BorderLands 2), No poor conclusions to epic tales (Mass Effect 3), No pathetic attempts at a Bioshock (Dishonored). Honestly, the high budget games this year sucked. Xcom is the standout among them all.
First, let's talk about art. The art in Xcom is outstanding and directly impacts how the player is involved in determining strategy, and how menu systems are presented in the game. For example, let's say you have 2 soldiers with a new weapon, the plasma type weapons, and 2 without. You are in the middle of a game. How can you tell? A lesser game would force you to look at a menu, see the stats of your gun, and then continue playing. What Xcom does brilliantly is reflect your load out in the art. Your Weapon looks strikingly different from a regular one.
This is reflected in Enemy design, Cover, Your characters class, body Armour, extra weapons. Everything that is important to your game is easily readable from a quick glance on the game screen. It's done properly, and it's done really, really, really well.
Gushing aside, the game play of Xcom is streamlined and fast, fun, difficult, and rewarding. It feels streamlined compared to other Strategy rpg games, you'll move as expected on a grid, snap to cover when available, and fire. Skills are laid out in the bottom of the screen and when you attack an enemy, easy to read big percentages appear on how much damage you can do and the likely percentage you'll hit them at. Things like Cover, Flanking, Weapon type, Distance all play into these values. What might seem simple becomes increasingly involved and complex as the game throws more enemies at you, and higher difficulty ones as well.
Executing a successful raid on an wrecked alien ship is fun too. Sending out a platoon of 6 of your best soldiers, planning each move perfectly and making it out without a scratch is a blast. Dealing with an excruciatingly difficult scenario, where the enemies flank you on all sides and you can't make it out of the round with anything but one critically wounded soldier is a painful thing. But making it out is still a rewarding experience.
Compound everything about the battles in Xcom on top of the base management system, and you'll start to understand the breadth of experience at hand here. You'll build ships to take down ufos, train soldiers for battle, study alien tech and build facilities to house satellites. All while looking at a world map and defending aliens where ever they land. The base stuff, and the battles feel completely separate. But yet they intertwine with each other perfectly, and you have to quickly rely on what you do in battle, for what you do in your time back at base, and vice versa.
Honestly. I could go on, and on about Xcom. It's the best experience from a "AAA" game (god I hate that phrase) I've had all year. I've put a ton of time into it, and I've lost campaigns, and i've got continuing campaigns, and so on. Hopefully, this all sounds like I'm gushing about a game I really like, because that's my goal here. I love Xcom. And I would strongly suggest you do two things. 1) Play the games I've recommended over the past month, Kerbal space program, Don't starve, and this here Xcom. And 2)...
Last time, we talked about a great indie game still in Alpha called Kerbal Space Program. Progressing logically foward, we are going to talk about a Slightly less indie, slightly more developed game still in Beta.
Don't Starve is the sum of it's part. One part rouge like, One part Tim Burton, One part Mine craft, one part zombie survival. Don't starve takes the best elements from each of these things and blends them together to make something both interesting, and compelling. You are thrown into an programmatically generated map, in which you collect resources to build structures and survive the night. Chopping trees and using flint to build a fire. Using a science station to refine lumber into blocks to build a chest. All while feeding yourself. The game has three basic lose conditions. Losing your health, Starving, and being in complete darkness. So as you go about your daily activities, you have to keep track of your stomach and feed yourself. As you explore, you'll encounter danger that would attack you. And compounded on top of everything, is the day night cycle, where if you would be in complete darkness, you'll get killed by....something.
The thing that truly stands out is art style. The Art in the game is truly, truly unique. Your character bounces out against the drab depressing background. The animals and insects look gloomy, the sound design complements the art style perfectly. Really It's brilliant. There's a central theme and mood of the entire game and it's never overstated, but it's always prevalent. I could go on, but pictures are worth a thousand words, and the art cries out to be admired.
The theme extends to one central point that I want to put forth. There are only lose conditions. You cannot complete this game, there is no end. You just survive until you don't. Again it's complemented by the Art design as well as the music. As you trudge through the forests, chopping trees, cooking rabbit meat, mining rock and so on, there is the seed in the back of your mind where you know, that this'll end at some point. That you cannot survive forever and eventually, you do starve.
The game, as I mentioned is still in beta. Updates are constantly happening slowly, but the mechanics of the game feel really solid. The controls, the feel, it's all spot on, so fear not. For 12 dollars on Steam you can pick it up, my copy came with a free second version to give to a friend. I don't know if that is still a thing that happens, so it would be worth looking into. Right now there's no co-op, but who knows what the future hold.
In a puddle of tears and confusion, I've come to grasp with the fact that I can't recommend one single game above 2 others in my mind. After trying to stuff all 3 games in one blog, I've found instead of presenting a wall of text comparable to a masters thesis I'd break it up over the month of December. SO! In this short 3 part series, I'd like to go over those 3 games, each coming with a glowing recommendation from myself, and try and convince you that these games are worth your hard earned loonies.
But I digress, Here are my favorite games this year. (In no particular order)
Kerbal Space Program.
An effort in quick building, simple game play, easy controls, all on top of a robust and complex
physics simulator. In KSP(Kerbal Space Program) You are tasked with assembling a rocket, and blasting off to what ever destination you feel fit. Assembling a rocket is quick and rewarding. In a few short minutes you can have a multiple stage ship, blasting off into the orbit around Kerbin. (The games "earth"). W,A,S,D,Q,E control your ships direction, space changes ship's stages, ctrl and shift affect throttle. There a computers you can attach to your ship to help with this. It's all very simple, which
is half the strength of the game.
The other half, is the brilliantly complex and compelling physics system. It adds difficulty and challenge to the simple ship building. Sure it's easy to snap a solid rocket booster to a capsule and get a few hundred feet in the air, but the real-world esque physics demand more from your mind, and your rocket. Getting to orbit around the planet is a task and a half. Getting to mun (ksp's version of the moon) is one thing. Properly constructing a lander module to safely land and get back is another task all together. Since version 0.17 came out, they've added a substantial amount of planets and celestial bodies to explore. The recent release 0.18.1, has added ship docking (so you can build an international space station!) and the possibilities and challenges keep on growing.
Here is a quick little video I did when I first got the game. This is one of my first flights ever.
And after some progress, I finally managed to land on Mun. It was one of my most satisfying attachments in gaming. Because it's all on you. No hand holding, just your ingenuity, and skill. (also maybe a lot of luck.)You can check it here
Lastly here, I'd like to give a shout out to the sub reddit for the game. They have a great friendly community, with lots of information and can be found right here.
A simple ship building game, with impressive physics. Incredibly low barrier of entry, with a seemingly endless skill roof. KSP is a simply amazing game, made by dedicated developers, who are set on not releasing the full version until everything is ironed out. Get it while it's still cheap! The developers have indicated they are going to raise the price once more before retail release.
The sound design at the best of times barely breaks the barrier of bad. The Graphical assets in the game hardly inspire. The net code can get pretty bad, and the game has itís share of bugs. But none of that matters. Not a thing. The gameplay mechanics are so great, and are executed so well, that the game is still, after all that is said, still brilliant.
Honestly, itís the best example that I can think of to showcase how a bad game, can be made amazing by having a solid foundation of core game mechanics to base itself around. The level design is bland, but because what you are doing is so awesome, it makes a castle setting, or an arena setting really come to life. ĎA fight in an arenaí seems so clichť. Even typing it out was boring. But god dam the arena level in Chivalry is such a fuck tonne of fun.
The fighting in the game is played out in 3 basic parts, all of which are simple when separated out, but piled on top of eachother in the heat of battle, things get complex fast, and youíll have to think on your feet to stay alive.
Part 1. Positioning The first step of any battle in Chivalry is position. Position is key. Youíll have to pick where you fight your enemy in an area that isnít advantageous to your enemy, and gives you a clear stricking path. This means, looking at hills (there are a lot of mounds and raised platforms in the game), looking for obstructions so your swings arenít obstructed. Fighting in and around buildings. Picking where you fight is paramount to survival.
Part 2. Timing The fight mechanics in chivalry are built around timing your attacks and block. You have 3 types of attacks, overhead, stab, and slash. Each to my knowledge to the same amount of damage, but all have different timings. Much like in a street fighter game, where you have heavy, medium, and light attacks for different purposes, Stab, slash, and overhead are used for different things. Stab gives you a quick lunge with a long reach, slash sweeps wide hitting a large area in front of you, and overhead is a long slow hit. Each can be used to throw off the timing of your opponent. If the block in time and parry you, you stagger and are exposed to a direct attack. So timing of your attacks, mixing up the range between you and your enemy, and changing from stabs to slashes, to overheads is key.
Part 3. Mind games Mind games in Chivalry, just like any other fighting game you've played, play a paramount part when you partake in battle. Running forward to feint a charge, just to back up at the last second and let your opponent swing at the air, thus exposing himself for a quick lunge to the chest, is how you start to rack up a kill count. Wildly slashing at your opponent pushing him close to a ledge, to all of a sudden switch to a kick, propelling him to his doom? Changing strategies, doing different things, tricking your opponent with different thingsÖ.justÖ.ughÖ.fucking love this game.
Seriously Chivalry is awesome. Itís not a perfect game as I noted early in this blog thing, but the game mechanics are so solid you are going to have fun no matter what. Even if you play it for a few hours and put it down, youíll have a blast for those few hours.