Monday, May 23, 2011

Indie Games: Cheap Ways to Devour Your Leisure Time

My relationship with PC gaming has always been pretty tenuous. Up until a year or so ago, I always maintained a desktop computer, and while I never invested in the latest and greatest video cards, I typically had one that was only a little behind the times. There is certainly a core group of PC gamers out there that constantly upgrade to maintain game devouring rigs that can play any game with maxed out settings, but that's never been me. Once the Xbox 360 came out, game makers had finally figured out how to make shooter controls work right on a console controller, and the graphical difference was never that much of a factor for me. So most of the time I would play a game on a console, rather than on the PC, it was just more comfortable, especially after my leg injury in 2009, sitting at a desk just wasn't much of an option, for a very long time.

So, after awhile, I got rid of my desktop computer, or at least the desk (I now have three computer towers just sitting under a table) and just went to strictly using a laptop. There are a couple of games that I still play on PC, but not many, usually they're things that just aren't available on consoles, or wouldn't work on a console.

Over the past week or so, though, I've really fallen in love with a few independently made games. Which made me realize something about the videogame scene on the PC. No matter how niche your game is, there's a good chance that if you enjoy playing it, 50,000 other people will as well, and with little to no distribution costs, with a lot of devotion, you can make something that people are going to think is awesome.

So, let's finish this up with a few reviews, unfortunately, I'm not able to put links or images in right now, because it's all blocked by a filter here at work.

The Wager - This is a remarkably addictive little game. You play as a ship captain that's made a wager with another captain to see who can make the most money in a year. The game plays out with you piloting your ship around into the great unknown, when you discover an island, you make a map of it, which can be sold. Also, when you discover an island, you have the option of exploring it, which can identify features which will make the map of the island more valuable, you can also find items, or replenish some of your supplies. There's a danger though, that you might run into trouble, and lose more time, or even have some of your crew die.

Exploration is handled very simply, where you click on a spot, and your ship moves, but it's passive, meaning time only moves when you do. All of you other interactions, such as exploring islands, or dealing with any hazards, all happen through a text interface, there's no stellar graphics here, the whole thing has a kind of 8-Bit old nintendo feel to it. When you return to the beginning port, you can sell all number of things that you've picked up, replenish your supplies, replace missing crewmen, and choose to spend money upgrading your ship. Once you've sold the map to a discovered island, it has a colony on it, which you can visit to cure any crewmembers that have come down with imaginary illnesses, such as strickets, and you can choose to replenish your supplies, so that you can venture out further. Of course, spending money, means that you hurt your chances of beating your rival, but if you don't upgrade your ship, it's harding to venture out.

I spent a stupid amount of time playing this game, the entry cost is as low as you can get, it's free. Good luck finding it though, I heard about it on the Gamers With Jobs podcasts, and tried to find it with a google search, but had to eventually go to their website and find the link in the show notes. (I've since updated with a link to their website)

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Terraria - How to describe this game? The most direct way is to call it a side scrolling Metroid-vania with Minecraft building elements. but that's really only helpful if you know what any of those terms mean. You start off by creating your character, which is a really basic 8-bit style figure, you esentially just control his colors, then you create a world, which means that you select small, medium or large. Then you get dropped into the world, with nothing more than a copper pickaxe and a copper hatchet to fend for yourself.

As you hold still, you're accosted by slimes that randomly spawn. You can swing your hatchet or pickaxe at them. So, first order of business, you need shelter, you take your hatchet, and fell a tree, which gives you a ton of wood to build your house out of, find a level spot, and use the wooden blocks to outline a basic box, then you open up a crafting table, and make a work bench. Place the work bench, and now you can make more stuff, like a door, or you can turn one wood "block" into a wood wall, which is what you need to make the background wall, or else it's not a completely enclosed space. Get yourself situated with a basic cabin, and you can use some of the gel you get from killing slimes together with wood to make some torches, place them in the corners of your cabin, so that you can actually see when the door's closed. Oh, it's night time, better stay indoors, because zombies come out at night, as well as Demon Eyes, which are flying eyeballs that are a pain to shoot.

Now that you've got some wood to work with, and your craft table, you can also craft a wooden sword, it does a bit more damage than you crafting tools, you can also make a hammer, which is necessary if you ever want to move things like the table that you placed, or the background walls. Use your pickaxe to start digging down and get yourself some stone, and then you can make a furnace, you can also combine stone and wood to make arrows, along with a wooden bow, and some torches, next thing you know, you're firing off flaming arrows, which can be reused, and slaughtering zombies and eyes like they're nothing. Time for some more digging, oh, you found some copper ore, you can take that back to you furnace and melt it down into bars, get enough iron bars, and you can create an anvil that'll let you hammer your metal bars into various pieces of equipment, like armor chest plates, helmets, greaves, swords, and tools can all be made better by forging them out of progressively better materials. Gold's the best of the common ores, which is a standard RPG trope, regardless of the fact that a golden pickaxe would be pretty useless.

The game keeps going and going, at first you probably don't want to do too much tunneling, it makes more sense to walk along the surface and mine any ores easily within reach, and exploring the occasionaly cavern system, which can spread out pretty far underground, and are filled with pots and treasure chests full of all kinds of useful stuff.

After you've had some fun spelunking, you should go back up to your cabin, and flesh it out a bit, most importantly, you want to build a bunch of rooms for various shop keepers, in order to attract one of these NPCs you need to have an enclosed, safe, room, with a door, a chair, a table, and a light source. After you've made a few of them, NPCs will start showing up as you fulfill their entrance criteria, for instance, the merchant shows up when the combined money count of everyone in a world reaches 50 silver, and there's a demolitionist that shows up when you find you first bomb.

You can dig your way all the way down to hell, there are floating islands high in the sky, on one side of the world is a dungeon full of nasty stuff, there's also a corruption that spreads from meteorite impact sites, which causes all sorts of interesting stuff to happen. Basically, there's a ton of stuff to do in this game, and it's still more or less in beta at this point, although you can get it off Steam for $10. The major gripe I have is that it's really meant to be played with a wiki, for instance, apparently if you create a table, and then place a jar on it, you have an alchemy crafting station to go along with your work bench, furnace, and anvil, but there was no hint that this was possible. If any of this sounded interesting to, I wholeheartedly endorse it.



Last game that I've spent entirely too much time playing is S.P.A.Z. which stands for Space Pirates And Zombies. You play as the pirates, and the game controls at the most basic level, like Asteroids. You control a ship, and you fly around a 2-d universe blasting crap. SPAZ is just full of all kinds of concepts that I simply love. You have a mothership that you don't directly control, which is sort of a universal fabrication plant. It has ship hangars within it that you use to create the ships that you do actually pilot. Each hangar can support ships of a specific size or smaller, and you can only have one ship per hangar, but once that ship is destroyed, the hangar will automatically create an identical replacement, provided you have the resources for it. You can get the basic resource, called Rez (easy enough) by destroying other ships or rocks, or by performing missions for other people. You also get data for destroying enemy ships, which is basically experience, as you level up, your mothership's capabilities get upgraded, as well as have a technology tree that you can spend points on to upgrade various aspects of your ships.

As you journey throughout the galaxy you collect various new weapons, as well as the blueprints for new ships. Ships have a fixed number of mounting points on them, with specific uses, like small weapons mounts, launcher mounts, or utility mounts (tractor beams or scanners). There's a lot of customization for your ships, and you can control one, while the others can be issued specific tactical orders, you can switch which ships your controlling with a simple key press. The overall objective is that you're trying to work your way to the galactic core with the hope of obtaining some legendary Rez deposit in order to live like a fat cat for the rest of your days.

Also along the way, most of the missions that you partake of usually help one faction in a given system and hurt another, so you're constantly tipping back and forth between being allied with the UTA, a sort of police force, and the Civilians. Each system is isolated from the others, so you can be in with the UTA in one system, and be a hero to the civilians in the next system over.

SPAZ is also currently in Beta, but can be had for a reasonable price of $15, which is 25% of the retail price they plan to charge once it's out of Beta. Again, a great deal considering I've already sunk 20 hours into it.

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