Skip to main content

How About a Crusader Kings II Contest?

Why yes, that sounds lovely.

Crusader Kings II is a wonderful game. I played the hell out of it when it was released — a month of non stop Crusader Kinging. With the release of the 2nd expansion, Legacy of Rome, I need to get back in the swing as I love that period of history. This isn’t Glory Days Rome but rather the Eastern Empire — Leo, Justinian and the boys.

In celebration of said expansion we are giving away five (5) Steam codes for Crusader Kings II. This is just the base game and not the add on. So if you skipped it last time around, now’s your chance to score a freebie.

To enter the contest reply to this post and tell us why you should win a free copy. Seriously. Why should I give YOU a free CK2 code? It’s that simple.

Winners will be chosen at random. Or maybe not.

Good luck!

Getting Steamy – Part 1

Steam Games library for PC

So I’ve now entered the hot and moist world of Steam and caught a lucky break: just before I upgraded my hardware (with the help of NHS user Hobbes), the Steam sale was on and I got to grab myself some bargains. I then went on holiday and had to wait another week to play them. Now I’ve managed some screen time with some of my new purchases, so here’s the lowdown on what I’ve played so far.

First is Binding of Isaac with all DLC. This is a fun action game in the proud tradition of Rogue-like games featuring permadeath, and a randomly generated series of dungeon levels to explore. Unlike most games in the genre, Binding isn’t a turn based tactical affair but a frantic shooter. It’s fun, addictive and has a quirky sense of humour, as you might expect given its premise of being the adventures of a small boy locked in the basement while on the run from his fundamentalist mother who wants to sacrifice him to God. On the flip side without a save function I think it’s a little long for single play throughs – I’m guessing it takes 60-90 minutes to finish a game although I’ve not managed that yet. It also – and I never thought I’d say this of a rouge-like – seems to have too many items. Discovering what they do is half the fun of course, but given the relatively simple game mechanics, the vast array of stuff on offer seems a bit repetitive in terms of effects. Overall, a thumbs up though.

Next is Mount & Blade: Warband. I’ve wanted to play this game ever since I first heard it mentioned here. As an open-world game of medieval fighting and feudalism with acclaimed melee combat, it sounded like a dream come true for me. Unfortunately the first thing I discovered when I tried to play it is that you can’t play it with a laptop trackpad. Since I plan you be going most of my Steam gaming with the PC on my knees, I needed an alternative. So I borrowed a trackball from work, which is serviceable but not great. A gyroscopic mouse that you can wave in the air would probably be ideal but they’re pretty expensive. If anyone has a cheap solution for mouse-alternatives when gaming on a laptop, I’d be glad to hear it. A lesser but more surprising issue is that the game is damn ugly. I know it isn’t recent but, unless my memory is failing me, I’m sure there were games on the original Xbox that looked better than Mount & Blade which is pretty poor showing from a 2010 game. Also, I seem to be a real klutz on a horse, getting my camera in the wrong place all the time and, for some reason, trying to hit the wrong keys when I want to turn. I’m not sure why this is. Perhaps it’s the trackball. Yes, definitely the trackball.

Mount & Blade: Warband - so ugly that I dare not show you a character's face

I always swore I’d never play Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion because of it’s stupid, stupid monster scaling system where creatures get tougher as your character advances. So eventually you end up being ambushed by groups of bandits with Daedric Armour and magical swords. It seems near-universally unpopular on game forums, so whoever at Bethesda thought that was a good idea was, I hope, not let anywhere near Skyrim. Anyway, the continuing adventures of Olaf that I mentioned in my last piece, had left me with a hankering for some Elder Scrolls style gaming and when I saw Oblivion with all DLC in the sale for £5 it struck me there might be a mod that removes the scaling. Turns out there are several, the best of which have been combined and balanced in the FCOM Mod. so I bought it. Unfortunately for me I didn’t stop to consider how difficult it might be to install: as a software guy I thought I’d find it a piece of cake. But I’d reckoned without broken download links, diverse and contradictory guides and sources of documentation and frequently unstable user-built mod platforms like Wrye Bash. So I’m stuck just on FCOM without any of the graphics updates or combat mods that also interested me. And there’s no way I’m playing it without FCOM at the very least. Ultimately I’ll probably have to scale back my ambition and go with a single anti-scaling mod like Oscuro’s Oblivion Overhaul and perhaps a texture pack. So it’s likely to be a while before I actually play, if ever.

Finally we come to Legend of Grimrock. I knew this was an old school dungeon crawler but I was expecting it to be based on a generic flavour of 90’s dungeon exploration games as, indeed, it advertises itself as being. I wasn’t expecting a straight rip-off of the classic Dungeon Master, right down to little alcoves to keep items in, walking mushrooms and a rune-combo based spell system. I am, however, very glad they did draw from it so directly because it’s the best of the genre in that era and has been crying out for a modernised update for years. And boy, does Grimrock deliver! Atmospheric, exciting and full of tough combat, nerve-wracking exploration and brain-bending puzzles from the off. It’s been the most played of the games I’ve tried so far, and has wormed its way into my brain to the point where I find that my meals taste of snail slices, my tea feels like healing potions and my dreams are haunted by communications from a mysterious mechanical entity. I’m staying up late to play, ending up tired at work the next day and drifting off into reveries about frantically searching dungeon walls for concealed buttons. One critique is that although the combat is pleasingly tough, even early on (I’m still trying to live down the embarrassment of having my party massacred by a giant snail), it seems over-reliant on backing off or circling to get out of the way of critters while your weapons recover. It gets a bit repetitive after a while, but it’s a minor issue. The skills system also forces you to make early specialisations in weapons and types of magic that you may conceivably live to regret later in the game when you find super-powerful toys you can’t use. But that’s probably my anal-retentiveness kicking in: so far it’s been an absolute blast. I do wonder why the pregenerated party is a bit sub-par though. They always seem to be in games like this. But I’ve started with them, and I’m not going back and doing the first few levels all again, so there. Definitely not if it means facing down more of those spiders than is strictly necessary.

So that’s my first bunch of Steaming. For part 2 of this article I’ve still got Witcher 1 Enhanced Edition, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Dear Esther, Rome: Total War and Crusader Kings II to even try. I’m regretting the last one a little as it wasn’t all that cheap in the sale (even if massively discounted) and I can’t imagine I’ll ever have the time to devote to it properly. In total, I suspect that’s more than enough material to keep me going until next years’ Steam Sale. But I’m using my shiny new laptop to write this document on, and to be honest, I’m starting to wonder why I’m not playing Grimrock instead. Be seeing you after I’ve sent a few more skeletons back to their graves.

Pick Up Bonsai Defense for Free

Who says that tower defense games have to be about fending off zombies or protecting military installations? Okay, no one likely ever said that, but the genre is saturated with clones of games obviously inspired by Plants vs. Zombies and Defense Grid: The Awakening. While Mate Cziner’s game still upholds the basic concepts of building and protecting, I believe we can assume that the setting of a bonsai tree is wholly original.

A thesis project at Moholy Nagy University of Art and Design (aka MOME), Bonsai Defense charges you with shaping the growth of your tree, and encouraging the growth of fruits to battle and inhibit infectious pests. In a welcome twist, the goal is not to survive, nor to destroy the pests. Rather, you need to accumulate nectar, which both dissolves over time and attracts even more pests.

You can see more screenshots below, or download Bonsai Defense and start playing.

Diaries of The Secret World #1

I rarely play more than a single MMO at a time, and, if the past week of playing The Secret World is any indication, Guild Wars 2 is going to have some ferocious competition when it arrives. I’ve been aching for a good MMO set in a modern world. The Secret World still has swords and sorcery, but the combination of Lovecraftian horror, secret societies, and grand storytelling has firmly planted its teeth.

I had some initial doubts. The sight of everyday citizens dual-wielding pistols and performing backflips stands in stark contrast to the gloom and grime of the atmosphere. And, unless your goal is to create a Gordan Freeman doppelganger, a blue-haired clubber, or a half-naked hottie, character creation is bland. This is especially surprising given the variety of NPCs. The voice-acting is heavy on poetic exposition, but NPCs are distinctively memorable and they effectively instill The Secret World with a livelihood that boxes of text can’t match.

The introductory segment falls short in both excitement and explanation, leaving you to navigate a miserably planned Help section. Here’s a tip for future UI designers: if your document contains numerous sub-menus, a ‘Back’ button is mandatory. It’s not as if the menu system is all that helpful anyway; nearly skipping the process of Assembly (crafting), breezing through the ability system, and neglecting other key details. For any questions, the in-game web browser is greatly appreciated, and makes a person wonder how such a feature is not yet a staple of the genre.

The seaside town of Kingsmouth is the most engaging starting zone I have encountered in an MMO. I have yet to feel the jaded cynicism that early missions tend to inspire. The usual tropes, such as ‘defend this’ or ‘kill that’ or ‘go there,’ are brilliantly masked. You don’t ‘just’ kill zombies. You dump napalm in the sewers and bludgeon the burning remnants. Instead of escorting a courier, you watch him get mangled and then follow the blood trail to retrieve the package. Even the simplest of side-quests, of which there are plenty hidden throughout the town, have a wonderful tendency to expand upon the overarching storyline.

Investigative missions are particularly worth mentioning. These are missions that require players to utilize the in-game web browser to find clues beyond the confines of the game. Clues might be hidden in dummy websites created specifically for The Secret World, or they may be based in real-world trivia. The nature of search engines makes me question the longevity of this system though; the more people search for clues, the higher particular topics are ranked, such as guides for The Secret World.

When the missions in The Secret World fail, they fail hard. There are a few notoriously buggy quests, which are to be expected. My main concern is with quests that both require and assume, without any indication, that you are simultaneously performing other specific quests, or that you are looking in a specific direction to notice a vital clue. Fail to follow the developers’ invisibly assumed path and enjoyment quickly transforms into frustration. I can only hope that such instances are the exception and not the norm.

What surprises me most is not only how long I have been in Kingsmouth, but that I have yet to grow tired of the town. I already know the streets and much of the terrain by heart, and yet, I still look forward to the few missions that I have yet to complete. Whereas my focus in other MMOs has been on progression, on completing the next quest and moving to the next section, The Secret World has managed to make me care about the well-being and stories of its inhabitants.

Steam Greenlight

Valve is taking community to a whole new level with this Greenlight business. Developers will post gameplay info (trailers, screens, descriptions) and the people will decide to, well, basically Project Greenlight it. Or not.

To quality for submission a developer must provide:

  • A square branding image (similar to a box cover) to represent the game in lists and search
  • At least one video showing off the game or presenting the concept
  • At least four screenshots or images
  • A written description of the game along with tentative system requirements

This isn’t based on a point system so it’s not like you need a certain percentage or target Kickstarter-like number to “make it” but rather this data will allow Valve to determine what is hot and what is being ignored/rejected by the community.

Valve’s comment to developers:

“We ask that you only define your game as ‘playable game’ if you have a playable build that demonstrates the gameplay mechanics and at least one level of your game. Otherwise, please classify your submission as ‘concept’ until its far enough along that the community can reasonably evaluate the mechanics, scope, and style of your game. Either way, you will probably get great feedback and a good start in building a community of fans around your game.”

For more info check out the Greenlight website.