Friday, October 17, 2014

Metrico: not an infographic

Metrico is a puzzle platform game.  Your actions - jumping, throwing, falling - make different parts of the world move, such as bars and lines that sort of resemble graphs.  This bars and lines often have percentages or fractions attached to them.  The trick for each puzzle is working out how to manipulate the moving parts in just the right way to let you get to the other side of the world - for example, you may need to land on a certain pad to make a bar move out of the way, but the action of jumping causes another bar to fall across the exit.

It's a very stylised game, and many compare to to an infographic.  This is reinforced by the official Twitter account publishing various statistics and links to interesting information.  The thing is, it's not.

Each of the six worlds I've uncovered so far has a new gameplay mechanic.  At first, you could only move left and right and jump.  After that came the ability to throw (using the triggers or front touch screen), then the ability to aim using the back touch pad.  The worlds are visually quite striking, and many move away from the flat-colour approach making this even less like an infograph.

Some of the puzzles have caused me to pause for a while, but none have been impossible.  There are a couple I've encountered so far where even after working out the methodology, it's been difficult to implement, which has annoyed me a bit.

But that hasn't annoyed me as the shoehorning of the Vita's motion controls and camera.  Hooray, another potable game I can't play on the train.  Throughout World 4 you have to rotate the Vita in different directions to move the bars, and it's taken me a week to get around to doing these levels because it's not practical to do them during my commute - you know, the time I actually play portable games.

And then you get to World 6, which I've worked out needs you to hold the Vita camera up to a specific colour and hold the button down.  Strangely I don't carry red, green and blue bulbs with me on the train.

It's a shame, since it's a clever game and has made me think a few times about how to progress.  Maybe I'll get around to completing it one evening.

Populous: the Beginning: unexplored territory

I have now progressed further than ever before.  Bloodlust has been conquered.

Back in 2005, I wrote of my troubles.  I started optimistic, settled for a war of attrition, then got a bit gung-ho and lost it all.  I tried many times to complete that level, and never managed it.  I did this time, though - on the fourth attempt.  This was a hard level.

I think my focus was initially misplaced. Just over the ridge from my starting position was a stone head, which the red tribe began worshipping at pretty soon after the start of each game.  I was dashing over there as soon as possible, to stop them gaining a spell that I thought would be catastrophic for me.  In fact, by leaving them to it (and blocking off access to the reds from my village) they used the bloodlust spell they gained on the yellow tribe part way through the game, causing chaos in my enemy's village.

So, rather than attacking the reds, I concentrated on killing off the greens as quickly as possible.  I built up a small army of preachers and warriors, and opened a pathway as quickly as I could down to their village.  I sent my followers down for a scrap, and quickly demolished the village.  One enemy down.

This then gave me a lot more space to expand my village, but I was suffering from attacks from the reds and yellows in the older side of my settlement.  I built a huge wall across the level, separating us off - though I left a small gap through which the red team was constantly funnelled, including the shaman.  I put down about 20 swamp spells there, meaning that I kept on gaining a nice manna boost.

As I said, the reds and yellows were fighting among themselves as well.  This meant that the yellow settlement shifted over time, and the yellows moved closer to the newer side of my settlement.  I was suffering a constant influx of armies, so I eroded the land around the edge of my settlement to create a water channel.  I still had to contend with balloon invasions, but that was soon sorted.

My settlement was thriving, now that I was concentrating on defence (you can see the cliff wall on the west of the map in the screenshot above, and the balloons around the edge of the village), but there were a few issues.  Firstly, the other settlements were also growing quickly, and secondly I was running out of building materials.  I needed to be able to build more balloons for defence, but had nothing to make them out of.  I just had to wait for trees to grow, to build up my army, all the time repelling the yellow army's attacks.

Note in the screenshot above the odd spit of land coming from the south of my settlement.  I had noticed another stone head in the middle of the sea, and rather than using precious balloons to ferry people over there, I just raised land all the way across.

Eventually, I decided to make my move.  I closed off the narrow cliff to make sure that the reds couldn't get through to my village just by sacrificing large numbers to overcome the swamps, and I raised a land bridge towards the yellows.  I sent a huge army of preachers, warriors and some balloon-based firewarriors across, led by my shaman in a balloon who killed off the opposing firewarriors before they could attack.  I killed the shaman, I destroyed the balloon factory and firewarrior training hut with tornadoes, I killed the shaman, I positioned a number of warriors and firewarriors around the resurrection site to kill the shaman every time she resurrected.  It was a rout.

Until I noticed that the reds were on their way down the coast to attack my village.  I quickly positioned all the remaining firewarrior balloons along the coast, and sent the shaman back to cast swamps to make sure.  It took ages for my army to finish off the yellow village, because the iditos kept rebuilding it ...

... but eventually, with a bit of help from earthquakes and tornadoes, it fell.

Two down.

The reds were still a force to be reckoned with, however.  They had a huge village and a huge army.  My excursions to the yellows hadn't hurt my fortunes too much, luckily, and my villages were replacing the dead pretty quickly.  I just needed to train more warriors and preachers - and particularly firewarriors.

But I had a trick up my sleeve.  I'd found another stone head, which had given me four spells of bloodlust ... but the one in the middle of the sea had given me angel of death.  Coupled with the fact that the reds hadn't built up a balloon army, this made things pretty easy.  I took over my balloon army, destroying the firewarriors as we went, and then I unleashed the angel of death.

Once the enemy was reduced to a manageable amount, I ordered the rest of my followers to come up and destroy the village.  They didn't even get there before the reds fell.

Nine years after I first started, I've completed Bloodlust.

I didn't stop there.  The next level was good fun, with an armageddon spell available in the middle of the map.  I think that the level is meant to see you stopping the others from getting that spell and then casting it for a massive brawl, but instead I wiped out two of the villages before casting the spell of a much reduced yellow army.  Still fun though.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Extreme Bike Trip: my favourite waste of time

If you asked me which game I have played most this year, I'd probably say Populous: the Beginning, with its 4-hour sessions, or Mario Kart 8 with its endless online.  Professor Layton's Azran Stuff has taken many hours as well, with daily puzzles adding to that.  One of those then.

But I'm kidding myself.  I have no doubt sunk the most hours into Extreme Bike Trip, a simple iPhone game where you control a bike hurtling through a hilly landscape.  It automatically accelerates (all the time it has petrol, at least), and your controls are a left and right rotate trigger.  The priority is to land on your wheels after every jump; but if you do only this then you'll quickly run out of fuel.  Instead, you must do tricks - flipping the bike over, landing into a wheelie, or slamming the bike downwards - which then give you a boost and allow you to collect more fuel cans.  Do enough tricks in one combination, and you get an overdrive which sends you rocketing.

It sounds simplistic, and it is.  There are a few things that set it out from similar games - many by the same developer.  Firstly, when you crash, your game's not quite over.  You control your hapless rider, hurtling along the ground, and you can try to make him reach that extra star by forward rolling.  The ragdoll physics are at times hilarious, as you land from a 30m drop straight onto your bum.

Secondly, there are the missions.  Each bike - and there are lots of bikes, each controlling differently - has a set of missions which you can work through.  It's a similar mission structure to many games, with you being given three missions at a time and only those that are current can be completed.  Early missions - jump over 25m, collect 100 stars - are all ticked off in their first game, but they get quite tricky towards the end.  On some of the bikes I have only one mission to complete, which tends to be something like travelling 200m upside down on a jump, or jumping over 300m.

And lots of these missions do really rely on luck - hitting a mine at the top of a long hill just after you've activated overdrive, for example.  Maybe that's why I'm finding it so compelling - I'm good at the game, but at times I can be great, and it's just making sure that I'm great at a time when a certain mission can be ticked off.

There's a load of other stuff in the game too.  You can buy new bikes using ether stars or bucks, which theoretically you can pay real money for but I haven't as yet (since I feel they're a bit too expensive for the amount you get).  Each day you get a 'frenzy run', where you get given a jet pack and have to collect as many stars and bucks as you can while keeping refuelled.

There's a multiplayer mode, where you can win trophies (which can be used to purchase some other bikes).  There are leaderboards for the fastest to 1km, 2km, 5km, longest distance, longest distance after crashing, and so on.  I dread to think how much time I've spent playing this, but I've completed the missions for only 15 bikes out of a total of about 40.

I'm not going to stop any time soon.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Borderlands: back to the start

I never did complete Borderlands with the UGVM crew.  We were doing quite well, having travelled through the Arid Badlands and the Dahl Headlands.  But then Nicholas arrived and I couldn't commit to a regular time to play, and it all fell apart.  We kept a spreadsheet to keep note of who had passed which mission, and this informed us who should host each time - since the host defines the story progression.

I've started again with John and Kieron.  It's not the ideal game to play with our group.  The potential for Kieron to wander off and get lost is huge, and there are often times when a specific action is needed which doesn't get done because nobody is actually paying any attention.  After six hours play, Kieron still hasn't bothered to understand how you pick up and turn in missions, and John doesn't know what his special skill does.

But it's great fun.  There are frequent breaks in action while the two newbies faff around in the shop trying to work out how to buy new weapons, but once we're on the road it's very amusing watching Kieron pummel enemies into the ground as a berserker.  At the end of our first play session we had levelled up to 8, and had been repeatedly killed by Bone Head who seemed to be able to one-hit kill us.  Our constant individual running into the same arena didn't help.  In our second session, we completed a couple more side-missions, levelled up a bit more, then actually hatched a plan before taking him on.  I threw a turret and shield down and helped to regenerate health; John had a weapon which set Bone Head on fire; we set up at opposite ends of the arena so he couldn't shoot us all at the same time.  Despite this, it was still a bit tense, and it was almost a disaster as after he died a couple of his henchmen were still running around to kill us.

But now we have vehicles.  The first vehicle mission was to jump the creek and open the gate so that we could access the rest of the Arid Badlands.  Somehow Kieron and I glitched through the gate, meaning that the game told us we'd passed the mission when we hadn't.  John didn't actually open the gate, and we were left in limbo for a while until we did it all properly.

We've got a fair few missions on the go at the moment, but we finished with the Circle of Death arena round 2 - a hard fight, but made easier with incendiary weapons.  We may need to level up a bit before going further though ...

Friday, September 05, 2014

Populous: the Beginning: a love affair with balloons

Level 13, Aerial Bombardment, saw the introduction of balloons.  There were two enemies - the greens, who were building up on the other end of my island, and the yellows, who were on a separate island which was much smaller.  The yellows knew of building balloons; the greens knew earthquake.

It wasn't long before the yellows started to attack one end of my island, coming over a large cliff with their balloons filled with fire warriors and spies.  My village was severely damaged, and I had to quickly rebuild my firewarrior and priest training huts.

The greens were leaving me alone, which I ensured by raising a tall cliff across the island.  No boats meant no access.  After a few more raids by the yellows, I was able to train us a decent number of firewarriors, and I placed then across the cliffs which the yellows were travelling over.  This was a remarkably successful tactic, and it meant that I was able to collect a fair few of the enemy balloons myself after dispatching the occupants.  This meant that my defences became ever more strong, as firewarriors' reach increased.

It also meant I could take my shaman, along with a lone firewarrior, in a balloon to start to terrorise the greens.  I first concentrated on killing all the firewarriors and destroying their training hut, which meant that nothing could touch me as I hovered above the sea - other than the shaman, of course, who kept coming over and getting hit by lightning for her trouble.  Much use of tornadoes, lightning, erode and hypnotise later, and the greens fell.

I prayed at the nearby vault, and gained the earthquake spell.  Back to the cliff, and I find that several yellow balloon parties have been foiled, meaning that I can grab loads of balloons and fill them with firewarriors for a bodyguard party.

I pray at the second vault, learn how to make balloons, then build a land bridge across to the yellow's island so I can get a huge army of warriors and priests over, to join my firewarriors.  The limited size of the yellow island had ensured that their army wasn't too large - even though they were mostly firewarriors - and the level was completed.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Mario Kart 8: edging to the end

I've written very little of late, but that's mostly because I've been on holiday and haven't played a lot.  In fact, my only gaming has been to continue working through the daily puzzles on Layton's Azran Babe, and the odd grand prix on Mario kart 8.  We did have a tournament on MK8 while away, which I won.  Of course.

I am slowly three-starring the 150cc grands prix, which are really tricky.  I've tried the mirror-mode levels, which seem to have easier opponents but are tricky if only due to the fact I now know the courses off by heart.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Gaming Moments: J

Jaguar XJ220 (Mega CD)

It wasn't as good as Lotus Turbo Challenge on the Mega Drive.  Sure, it looked better, but I still remember the first time I tried to control it.  I couldn't.

Jet Set Radio (Dreamcast)
Jet Set Radio HD (Xbox 360)

I spent hours just trying to get off the tutorial, doing an endless grind around the central bus station.  Made all the worse since I did it twice, once on each console - but there was an achievement for the 360 version so I felt I had to do it again.

Journey (PS3)

A game filled with moments, but I think my pick comes early in the game, at the bridge.  The structures tower above you, and it took me (and my companion) a while to work out that our path wasn't just across the base but we had to somehow get up there.  Learning the floating mechanic in that way together was amazing.

Then there's the snow, but I can't put the words together to describe that.

Jungle Strike (Mega Drive)

Mainly played via the PSP, to be honest, since that added save states.  The last level is set at the White House.  Just as you think you've completed the game, tanks roll in and you have to protect the president's helicopter as he escapes.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Gaming moments: I

Ico (PS2, PS3)

I even remember writing about this on my blog.  I'll paste some text from the previous post:

Ico starts off slowly, with a long cutscene. You get thrown into a murky world and have to work out the controls. The world's not actually murky, but playing it on my HD TV certainly made it look so. I worked my way through the castle, until I found the girl in white. I knocked the cage down the tower, and rescued her from the shadow monsters. I then couldn't find a way out of the room. Huh.

Never mind, I thought, I'll come back to that later. I'd been playing for 40 minutes or so. I turned the console off, and then thought ... hmm, I wonder if the game does save at checkpoints?

Evidently not.

Ikaruga (GameCube)
I have only ever played this for five minutes, and it made my head hurt. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Populous: the Beginning: juggling armies

Level 10 was another timed one, with an established village being sunk at the start by the enemy.  I was able to get two boats built quickly, and ferried nine followers and my shaman over to a stone head, which raised a partially-built village from the depths.  Converting all the wild men on that island to my cause, I rebuilt the houses and trained up some firewarriors, then took my meagre army over to the other island to quickly worship at the stone head there before the timer ran out.  I only succeeded because I made the worshipping party invisible, and they were therefore able to pray while my other warriors and preachers acted as bait for the attacking hoard.

The next level was more time consuming than difficult; there were two enemies, and the game hinted that the yellows were the weaker of the two.  I spent a while building my village and placing towers with firewarriors around the edge closest to the green base, while amassing an army of preachers, warriors and firewarriors around a campfire on a causeway I had built towards a stone head.  I was attacked several times by both greens and yellows, but managed to fend these off with relatively little loss - although once the green shaman did manage to place a swamp right in the middle of my settlement, leading to a few dead followers.

Once my army was a hundred-strong, I went off to the yellows, hoping the greens would not attack my relatively undefended village.  As it turns out, they were in the middle of attacking the yellows as well.  I was able to kill both enemy shamans, giving myself a load of mana for more destruction, and unlock the swamp spell before destroying the yellow village.  My army had been halved in size, but so had my enemy.

I went back to the village and started expanding.  The greens came by a few times on boats, but I was able to hit them with lightning quickly each time.  I rebuilt my army, this time to 120, and then went walking along the side of the land which the greens hadn't touched.  Halfway to the green settlement I was alerted that there was an invasion of my village - looking back I could see some invisible warriors had been infiltrating buildings, but they were, along with a couple of preachers, being killed by firewarrior towers.

Standing across from the greens, separated by a channel, I could see a vault of knowledge, containing hypnotise.  This was going to be key.  I raised a bridge and quickly crossed, then crowded my army around the vault while I worshipped it.  The enemy shaman came near and I killed her with lightning, then I gained the power meaning that I could just get the greens to fight themselves.  It didn't last long after that.

I'm getting closer to Bloodlust.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Gaming moments: H

Half-Life (PC)

The very first time I played this, I remember sitting watching the opening sequence and being amazed by the detail in the surroundings.  I accidentally nudged my desk and the view changed - and suddenly I realised that I could control my character already.

Headhunter (Dreamcast)

Travelling by motorbike, I somehow managed to get myself lodged in some scenery, and span on the spot.  Funny until I realised that I'd lose progress since the last save. The accelerator controls on the game were really sensitive, and it was tricky to steer.

Hexic HD (Xbox 360)

I shouted with joy when I finally got a black pearl. It's so tense working up to it, as one mistaken move can lead to everything collapsing. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Going Around: completed!

An amusing little game in which you have to get Ann Scantlebury out of the house in the morning, having found her Oyster card, keys and mobile, and with news for the One Life Left radio show all typed and ready to go.  You need to do this within an hour (which is probably about 6 minutes of real time).

The only issue was drying out the mobile, which didn't seem to respond properly when I clicked on the correct item.  I spent ages wondering around the rest of the house before it actually let me use the item properly.


Ico: sit on top of the world

I had left the game at the start of a trolley system, which I negotiated first thing to leave me high up on a ledge with Yorda - sofas are left in the oddest places.  I used a crane to move us both down to the top of another tower, then explored a room with a few high walkways and handy window ledges which I was able to use to clamber up and knock down the chandelier ... after half an hour of trying to work out what to do, that is.  A handy cutscene showed me the remaining support for the bridge, and when I rand down to it I happened to pass by some bombs.

It takes me a long time to progress in this game, not just because there are extended periods between play sessions but also because there is very little signposted.  The combination of the two means that I forget that I can call Yorda to jump over large gaps, for example, and then spend ages trying to work out how to move the crate over to the start of the ledge.  I spent ages fighting the shadows on the ramp before accidentally getting Yorda to the bottom and her killing them all using the shining door.  The same thing happened outside - I'm sure that previously I've had to kill all the shadows before progressing.

Anyway, I made my way to the main gate, only to see it shutting in front of me and Yorda's mum telling me to leave her daughter alone.  She seemed a bit evil.

I'm going to try to play thing more often than once every two months.  It's a fantastic game and I really want to complete it ...