Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Duel - Test Drive II: falling off cliffs

There are some genres of game that have progressed beyond all recognition.  With driving games, very early examples retain some of their charm, particularly those that use the template of a relatively static road and moving car such as Chase HQ or Outrun - have you noticed how when you steer in Outrun, you are steering to avoid your car drifting to the side of the screen?

When developers tried to progress beyond this, the games have aged less well.  Test Drive II is technically quite impressive for the Mega Drive, with a seemingly polygonal road winding around in front of your car.  This is made all the more impressive when you get to sections with one side of the road bordered by a cliff, which moves and rotates correctly.

But it is horrible to play today.  The framerate is low enough to cause headaches and the controls are floaty and imprecise, making it very difficult to avoid traffic or falling off a cliff.  The other cars approach in discrete steps, making it difficult to judge when to pull out and when to brake.

Despite this, I completed the first section of the game, before running out of petrol just past the end point (since I didn't realise you had to stop).

That represented only two penalties - one cliff dive and one headlong crash into a stupid van that appeared from nowhere.  I was feeling quite pleased with myself.  That didn't last long.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Metrico: completed!

I did indeed decide to finish this off one evening, only to find that the coloured light sections lasted for about five minutes.  Once I realised that the rest of the game was commute-compatible, I left it until I was next on a train.

The final levels were tricky, but not impossible.  The most difficult one was right near the end, where you had to jump over a platform rather than landing on it in order to ensure victory - and then shoot towards a wall then jump onto a platform that would rise once your shots reached the creature you generated by landing.

And then the ending, where you are again presented with two doors, and I just couldn't work out what to do to get either to open.  The pie chart didn't help, either.

I spent ages on the train trying to get the doors to settle down - but everything I did seemed to reset the world to the initial state.  I tried standing still, and the world got more fuzzy, but every now and again it reset.  I jumped, I shot, I tilted the console, I tried to reset the level, and nothing worked.

Of course, nothing was going to work.  I imagine you've seen where I'm going with this.  In order for the yellow door to appear, you are meant to not do anything for a couple of minutes.  Sitting on a train which was moving meant that I couldn't get that to happen.

So, once again, played at home and completed.  I am getting a bit annoyed at Vita games being unplayable on a commute.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Ico: give your trust to me

More than once every two months?  Oops.

So, a recap.  I have managed to lead Yorda to the main gate, from where we should be able to escape.  However, her mother - or at least someone pretending to be - has appeared, and closed the gate in front of us.  I have battled many shadow beasts, and worked out that the most effective way of doing this is to go and stand by the portal they drag Yorda off to whenever they capture her.  In fact, the combat, which previously annoyed me and I felt wasn't needed in the game, isn't much of an issue any more, although its presence still worried me and stops me spending too long when exploring.  If you leave Yorda for too long, the shadows come back, and then it's a race back to save her.

After the gate shut, I traversed through a number of stunning locations - including one with a huge windmill which I had to climb - until I was able to run along the castle walls to the East Tower.  In this tower were a number of large circular windows, and I quickly worked out that the aim was to open each of these by lighting torches underneath them.  Working out what I had to do was the easy part; working out how to do it took a lot longer.  I had to pull Yorda through the doorways and around the walkways, finally finding myself out the back of the tower with some stunning views across the chasm to freedom.  I managed to finally open all the windows, sending a beam of light across to the main gate, causing half of it to light up.  A pretty big indication that I need to do the same on the other side.

Getting to the other side was pretty difficult though.  Much of the effort was spent around a huge waterfall area, where I had to jump on and off a turning waterwheel in order to close the sluice gate.  Yorda was no use at all during this part, with her slow running and refusal to jump up to ledges even with me extending my hand down to her - the game couldn't position her correctly.

I managed to get through this section, playing basketball on the way, and am now at 'the watertower', which appears to be named after a very small ornamental part of the level.  I think once I'm cleared of this, I'll be able to go to the West Tower and make the main gate open up again ... but that may take a while.

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.