Endless Space 2 (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £26.24 standard, £33.73 Digital Deluxe
Where To Get It: Steam

Since the inception of Amplitude in 2011 (An event I remember with some small fondness), the studio have experimented with 4X genre constraints with their Endless series of games (With a little side trip into the roguelike/tower defense genre with Dungeons of the Endless.) They’re an interesting studio, with an interesting model, and, as a result, their games are often interesting. Not always standing the test of time, but often putting new ideas into the game development community.

Political Parties, new to Endless Space 2!

Endless Space 2, so far, is shaping up to be no different in that respect. As such, it’s already a somewhat different beast to the original Endless Space, taking what they’ve learned from Endless Legend to fiddle with the space 4X formula. And the five factions currently available, a mix of the rejiggered old, and completely new, demonstrates this quite aptly.

It also demonstrates that sometimes I don’t get on with aspects of the experimentation, as the first new faction, the Vodyani, demonstrates.

In the Endless Universe (Now rebooted, in a sense, for Endless Space 2), the Vodyani are one half of the uplift philosophies of the two “Endless” precursor alien groups that have left their mark on the universe, the Virtual. Virtual beings seemingly made of flame, the Vodyani are slow burners on the game front, due to their core mechanic: Both population growth and colonisation are tied to Essence, which can either be extracted from Dust (Tying up your production queue) or from other life forms (Tying up your military and souring diplomacy pretty much everywhere they go.) They can move from system to system with their Arks (Heavily armed and armoured space Titans), and it’s only when they attach themselves to a world that they colonise it. Or, you can go with their slow as molasses population growth

Dun Dundrrrun dun du-du-du-dun DAA DAA DAA DA DA-DAAAA DA DA-DAAAA!

But when they do, unlike other races, each counter of population applies to each planet they can colonise. They’re this strange mix of strong and fragile, as I discovered when I found the Ark… Couldn’t defend against a ground invasion. Cue one lost game. One of many.

I’ve had a much better time, by contrast, with the slightly more conventional factions: The United Empire, The Sophons, and the Lumeris (I’ve never been good at playing Cravers, but they seem largely unchanged from ES1, in the sense that being penned in is the worst thing that can happen to them, and conquest is the major victory type.) Each one has a different focus (Industry with the UE, Science with the Sophons, and Dust with the Lumeris), and each faction in general has something to bring to the table. For example, the Lumeris buy their colonies, and can trade them if they so desire, while the Sophons research faster if nobody else has the tech yet, allowing their research to… Far, far outpace their industry, if you’re not careful. The main problems right now (I’m almost certain this is subject to change) is that the AI is a little timid once you’ve built up enough force, and doesn’t seem to play the Rock-Paper-Scissors game with beam, energy, and missile weapons so well… Although they’ll still kick your ass on a ground assault without the numbers on your side.

The United Empire: Now much more clearly Not Good People.

It’s entertaining, there’s no doubt about that, as the questline feature from Endless Legend is applied adroitly to each faction (For example, the UE is about the paranoid emperor trying to find and quash dissent), and the new political system, if your economy goes well, can allow for some drastic shifts in focus, although I often find, due to my playstyle and the fact that war empowers them, that the Militarist party is most often in power regardless of faction, although minor races having their own political affiliation helps. The UI is simple and clean, the battle mode has some clarifications and upgrades (Although not full ship control, which I know turns some folks off) …

… But right now, even though I’m finding it fun a fair amount of the time, it’s also oddly frustrating in portions. When a game goes badly, it goes horrifically, depressingly wrong, but when it goes well? I find myself running out of things to do, to build, and so, by about turn 100 on a good game, I’m finding myself hitting the End Turn button twice, once to try, and once to confirm that yes, I’m not building anything in those five or so core systems because my industry has outpaced my research, or there’s nothing that I particularly need at this point. Your mileage, obviously, may vary there. Something that may get fixed before release is that the battles seem to calculate slower as the game goes on, and this can become a bit annoying, and, as the final screenshot shows, some of the faction colours may be a problem for colourblind folks to read.

Still, the writing of the game so far is pleasant, if somewhat stereotypical in places (Space Shark Mafia are quite literally a Mafia, Crime Families and all, for example), the art and ship designs are gorgeous, the music is calming for the most part, and the rebooted universe of the Endless still, somehow, feels fresh.

I just wish I really understood how the Vodyani played, even if I love Sciencing the crap out of people as the Sophons.

The Sophons know, like all good space-dorks, that Science Is A Verb. 8D

The Mad Welshman fully understands the Sophons’ joy. I mean, there’s nothing quite like writing your name on the moon with a giant death laser, is there?

Deios II/Deidia (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £6.99
Where To Get It: Steam, Itch.IO

Deidia is a clever game. Deidia is an artistic game. Deidia is punk as fuck. And, like many of these interesting altgames, it’s probably not going to do amazingly. That’s a real god-damn shame, and let me tell you why.

It begins with a reference to the demoscene. That’s right, the demoscene, you younguns may not remember that, where folks wanted to make their 3.5” floppy collections (or, to go back further, cassette tapes. Yes, in Ye Olde Days Of Gaming Lore, games came on tapes) of demos and programs as flashy and memorable as possible, so they did all sorts of fun things with text effects, colour cycling, and chiptunes. The intro even has a scrolling pixel vista to introduce the game like an old Amiga or Commodore 64 game.

Scrolling Amiga/Atari style text? Why, I haven’t seen that in donkeys!

And then you get in, and… At first, it’s jarring. It’s lo-fi, highly pixellated rocks, obviously layered over each other. The hero has a triangular cape that wouldn’t look out of place on a shitty N64 game. There’s even 5’25” floppies as platforms for the intro. And yet, there’s a weird sort of beauty to it, so… You go deeper. You hit an obstacle… Oh, shit, it’s got clicker/wait elements. So you buy Deitycoin clickers with your Deitycoins, get a little deeper, and…

…Invisible walls. And floors. And sometimes, the floors aren’t there when they should be. It’s at this point that so many people would quit. But… There’s always this text, at the top of the screen, telling you to hit G to corrupt the world. So you try it.

The world opens up. You start experimenting more. The visceral disgust as you hit 6 (Player Distort) and AAAAAAwhyarethey ohwait. Because you distorted the player sprite. There a reset here? Oh, yeah, for the world to- Oh sod, you’re back at the beginning of the level. You can’t fall very far without resetting the level. You-

There are many different areas, each with their own challenge, and requiring different hackery to get anywhere.

Will, in many cases, for many of the “You” that are reading this, ask for a refund. What garbage. What trash. But those of you who don’t realise… You don’t have to take that first door. Or you don’t have to play the way its intended. You set the world drifting, and somehow, manage to reach that first door, or another one somewhere else, or… Your options start opening up, and the world… Plays with you.

Right now, I’ve hit the first hub (or is it?) I’ve got more questions than answers. There’s lots of places I can go, and maybe one of them leads to this Deidia that I must apparently find… But meanwhile, my Deitycoin interface is… Slowly filling up with something. I’ve discovered (in the course of attempting to screenshot the game for review) another layer of ways I can, in a way, be the glitchy deity of this strange world, screwing with its rules. I’m noticing counters, and while even I’m not sure I want to continue, I find myself appreciating how a seemingly simple game can have… So many possible layers.

If you don’t mind spending £7 on something that isn’t the friendliest (and deliberately so) , but experiments boldly, and has a unique aesthetic, then go for it. I genuinely can’t tell you if you’ll be disappointed or not, because I’m not entirely sure how I feel myself.

There are invisible things here. Time to… SHAKE THE WORLD!

But I don’t feel I’ve wasted my time or money examining this one, whether I go back to it or not.

The Mad Welshman lost his console command list a while back. If anyone remembers how to change that one variable that makes everything seem terrible back, could you kindly let me know?

On Game Design – Cacklingly Evil Corporations! (CONTENT WARNINGS)

CONTENT WARNING: Cacklingly Evil Corporations do things that would be considered triggering, such as forced impregnation, human experimentation and trafficking, wilful use of deathtraps, and other creepy shit that would horrify normal people and cause them to get locked up.

Playing Stasis (a “dystopian sci-fi horror” adventure game that got no small amount of critical acclaim at the time it came out, and is apparently getting a sequel) has reminded me how much CacklinglyEvilCorps piss me off. Not because they’re so obviously evil. But because they’re stupid, badly written evil. Oh, and let’s not forget, often edgy evil too. Because, y’know, nothing says evil like [insert horrific thing because reasons here]!

We’ll come back to Cayne Corporation, and how thickly that got laid on, in a bit. But first, let’s talk about a pair of supposedly massively evil corps in movies: OCP and Weyland-Yutani. It may shock you to notice, but they’re not actually that evil. Doing bad things, yes. But in a way that makes sense. Let’s start with Weyland Yutani, as they appear in the first three Alien films.

At the beginning, they are just The Corporation. The Company Store. Sure, Ash goes murderous, and you have the directive “Crew Expendable” , but up to that point? We can tell they do mining or extraction of some kind, that they have contracts, and employees, and, at worst, they’re penny pinchers.

And then we come to the second film and… Nobody on the board knows, or claims to know, of any such thing happening. In fact, we get a little nuance, because Van Leeuwen, the CEO, mentions that Wey-Yu has quite a lucrative sideline in… Terraforming planets. Shake-And-Bake colonies. Their colonies are apparently safe enough for families to join up (With, of course, the exception of LV-426 and, y’know, all the other LV numbers that get mentioned in the media of the expanded universe), and, before Carter Burke and the assholes he works for stick their finger in? What we see is normal, everyday frontier town analogies. They do medicine. They technically own the Marine Corp… They have nuance, and are not just black and white.

Two different faces of the same corporation. Nuance!

While we’re on the subject of Carter Burke, his motivation? Profit. As it turns out, Xenomorphs have all sorts of applications, and not just in the CacklinglyEvilCorp section of Wey-Yu that is the Bioeweapons division. Wey-Yu, as a whole, isn’t really the villain, so much as an element of an otherwise normal, if penny pinching and exploitative corporation.

Alien 3, of course, throws large portions of that out the window. We never even see Wey-Yu as an organisation, except, of course, the CacklinglyEvilCorp portion toward the end. Even the folks who attract the Bioweapons crowd by alerting them to Ripley’s presence aren’t doing it because they’re cacklingly evil. They’re doing it because a) They consider Ripley a disruptive influence , and b) There’s a reward.

So… Wey-Yu: Not as cacklingly evil as you’d think. But what about OCP?

OCP are an interesting one, because they’re inept, and that’s where the dystopia comes from. They own the police, and their main reason for RoboCop programmes? Again, penny pinching. Their reason for putting all those dumb rules in RoboCop’s brain? Because what he was doing up to that point was considered Bad PR. Y’know, something an actual company would care about. But it’s not until the series hits its nadir that they relentlessly pursue and antagonise. RoboCops 1 and 2, they are, yes, an Evil Corporation. But they act in a very corporate fashion, which is why the parody works so well with them.

The head of OCP, wondering what the hell his HR department actually *does* all day.

But then we come back to Cayne Corporation. Cayne is one of many CacklinglyEvilCorps, from Armacham to Umbrella, and the main hallmark of the CacklinglyEvilCorp is that there is little, if any nuance. In the case of Cayne Corporation, let’s put together a rough timeline of the Groomlake, the setting of Stasis.

First up, way back when, the Eugenics Wars happened. This was apparently some attempt at creating Post-Humans that went horribly wrong.

Then we get the Groomlake. From the beginning, it’s involved in human trafficking and experimentation, and cloning. The head of the ship, Dr. Malan, seems to think he can do Post-Humans better than whatever idiots tried way back when, and hires as his top research staff some highly questionable folks, including a drug addicted serial killing doctor. Because, y’know, nobody bats an eyelid at such things.

The good doctor then encourages his other staff to do incredibly stupid things, including letting the serial killing doctor indulge his hobby, and mulch the experiments, which then turns into a semi-sentient fungus because reasons. This, in turn, affects the mass cloning (Which is at least partially using Dr. Malan’s hybrid babies, created by forced impregnation), and hydroponics, affecting some bees so one turns into a supermutant. Oh, and experimenting on employees, which often kills them.

He also cures and keeps hold of the protagonists’ daughter, for reasons.

Welp. I’m sure this will turn a profit for the Cayne Corporation, no two ways about it!

Nobody bats an eyelid at Cayne Corporation. Except to send a spy who will hopefully steal Dr. Malan’s research, in the name of profit.

The clones and hybrids start wearing people’s skin and taking their Personal Data Tags (Which are grafted to their spines because reasons), so as to get around the ship to murder people. The fungus starts mind controlling everyone. A nurse realises they’re involved in human trafficking, tries to get a family off ship, and is shot.

Nobody bats an eyelid. Sometime during this, the protagonist’s wife has been put into Dr. Malan’s programme. You remember, the one about trying to breed post humans, forcibly. Because reasons.

John (J) Maracheck, living Aliens reference and punching bag of Stasis, is one of the few survivors, along with Dr. Malan, Te’Ah the corporate spy, and John’s small child, who is still being cared for by Dr. Malan because reasons. After witnessing the after-effects of Dr. Malan’s fuckery, having to do horrifying things, he confronts Dr. Malan. Who then kills the child he’d been taking care of and cured, right in front of her dad, because reasons. Then everyone dies.

How much of this, do you think, could the Cayne Corporation actually call a profit on, even assuming their sole motive is profit? At what point, do you think, did anyone on any corporate board ever think “Yes, this is a good investment, and will surely not be a sinkhole of money and death?”

No, it’s villainy for the sake of villainy, stupidity pretending to be smart, and at least two fridgings because let’s hurt this guy who, against a corporation, probably wouldn’t matter in the god-damn slightest.

Meanwhile, a second game featuring the Cayne Corporation is in the works. I don’t have terribly high hopes, especially after seeing this screenshot.

Ohhh boy. I can’t wait to see how what looks like a neural whip is explained… *sigh*

Yeaaaaaahhhh… Because that makes all the fucking sense. Periodic reminder: The setpieces are in the writing, not the writing being around the setpieces. Forget this, and you have setpieces that end up being “because reasons”, and large swathes of your plot being the same.

Good Fucking Job, Zenimax. Good. Fucking. Job.

So, less than a week after the endorsement by Id software and nomination of fan Total Conversion Brutal Doom 64, Zenimax media, owners of Bethesda, Id, and thus the Doom license, decided to capitalise on that goodwill, by…

…Oh, wait, did I say capitalise? I meant fritter away. Because they decided to send a takedown notice to Kornel Kielewicz, creator of a little game from 2002 called… Doom: The Roguelike.

Legally, fair. But that's about it.

Legally, fair. But that’s about it.

So, for context, Doom 3 was released in 2004. It was basically a sparkle in the Id team’s baby blues at that point. Doom 2 was released in 1994, and is what Brutal Doom 64 will eventually be using, to my knowledge. Doom 1, the game Doom: The Roguelike is based on, was released in 1993. And DOOM, the Bethesda/Id partnership, has been wowing a lot of folks this year by being a Good Game.

So, let’s start with the legal. Honestly, even if the game had previously been endorsed, or at least tacitly ignored by Id, Zenimax are within their rights to do this. I’m sure they believe they’re setting a precedent, protecting their IP…

…But PR wise? Lot of us game journos enjoyed Doom: RL. Lot of players enjoyed DoomRL. And taking down what’s rather blatantly free, and not a threat of any actual substance to Zenimax Media’s publishing giant. Let’s face it, if lots of people shitting on Skyrim: Remastered, the original Skyrim, or Oblivion hasn’t fucked their sales over, I highly doubt a small roguelike homage or pastiche of a game published twenty odd sodding years earlier is going to be much of a threat. It also, despite the differences in case, feels like a betrayal after their subsidiaries’ PR victory in endorsing the Game Award nomination where their bigger competitor, Nintendo, had decided to screw the pooch by doing the same thing to fangames.

Keepin’ this short and sweet, the DMCA will probably go through, even with me screamin’ and yelling (And, indeed, the RTs, and condolences, and shit-talking that is being sent to Bethesda, the most public face of Zenimax Media) , and the site will most likely go down.

The game, on the other hand, is already being downloaded by fans, and I have no doubt that Zenimax Media will have lots of fun trying to enforce the public erasure of a fangame that was never a threat to them, and had very little to do with something they’d actually made themselves (Id, you did make Doom. But you’re obviously not calling the shots here, are you?)