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Golden Krone Hotel (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £3.99
Where To Get It: Steam
Version: 0.10

With Golden Krone Hotel, we’re looking, once more, at a turn based hack with transformation as a core gimmick. Earlier this week, we took a look at Midboss, a game with similar themes, but the difference between these two games couldn’t be more stark than night and day. Which is fitting, considering the transformations in Golden Krone Hotel.

Hahaha, stupid humans can’t see in the dark (The game has, as of 0.10, a tutorial. It plays once, and gives you the absolute essentials quickly and efficiently)

The general idea is that you are a General, who is also an assassin, and you are infilitrating the Golden Krone Hotel, owned by a Vampire called Fane. Vampires and Humans uneasily co-exist here, and as such, you’re going to get into a fight whether you’re a vampire, a human, or, worst case scenario, a Werewolf, who nobody likes when they’re obviously being a Werewolf. So form, in this game, truly matters, and it matters in a number of ways. Vampires, for example, don’t read (No, don’t ask why, although I’ll be coming back to this), get damaged by sunlight and fire, but can see in the dark. Humans, on the other hand, can improve themselves, read, but can’t see in the dark and have to eat to survive. Werewolves are basically humans, but become murderbeasts in the full moon. And, depending on whether you’re a vampire or a human, vampires or humans will talk to you, telling you things.

In a way this, along with the narrative framing, are the weakest portions of the game. There’s not a lot folks have to say, except to remind you that General Arobase has a serious grudge against Fane, and couldn’t possibly be here (They’re a master of disguise, we couldn’t possibly be General Arobase!), and the roles of various human or vampire enemies. So if you’re playing for rich lore, or a deep story, look elsewhere, this isn’t exactly Bard material, and bits of it fall apart under scrutiny (Vampires not being able to read is purely a mechanical conceit, and not supported, as far as I can tell, anywhere narratively.)

“I hear this General Assassin who’s good at disguise is here, but you couldn’t *possibly* be them!”
Ha. Ha ha ha ha. Haaaaa.

But mechanically, the game is both strong and simple. Movement is in four directions, everything moves when you do, and you know exactly what to expect. Playing as a vampire, you can heal by licking up blood, and as a human, you can eat, heal if you have the skill, cast spells, and fire a revolver (With limited ammo.) What makes the game interesting, however, is that just because you start as a human or a vampire or a werewolf, doesn’t mean you have to stay that way, because some potions… Change you. And others will affect you differently depending on what form you’re in.

Demon’s blood, for example, will turn you into a vampire temporarily, but will also buff you if you are a vampire, while Luna potions will turn you into a werewolf, again, temporarily. And enemies will change their reactions accordingly. So, playing as a vampire, if you want access to spells, you drink a specific kind of potion, and bam, all those books you picked up are suddenly read, you have skills, you have extra stats (Which last beyond that human transformation), and you can read what lore there is, without having to worry about spellcasting humans. There’s also a fair amount of “neutral” enemies, who’ll try to kill you no matter what, from the get go. So there’s difference, and there’s interest, and everything is accessible and clear. Even the usual equipment problem is abstracted: Better equipment is kept, adding its bonus to your defense, melee, or revolver attack, and worse equipment is added to your score, measured in gold.

Just like Midboss, reviewed earlier this month, you attack enemies by walking into them or casting spells, and numbers happen. The spells, however, are more dynamic, and there’s more to do with the environment.

As such, if you’re looking for an entry level game to let you know what the fuss is with all these roguelikes, roguelites, roguelikelikelikesortas, and whosamaroguesits, Golden Krone Hotel is definitely not a bad start. It’s pretty colourblind friendly, clear in its concepts from the get go, and, being turn based, it doesn’t require manual dexterity or good reflexes to play. Its not the prettiest game out there, the music and sounds are okay at best, “meh” at worst, and you’re probably not playing it for the rich lore, but I would recommend this to both roguelike fans and people looking to understand what the fuss is about.

The Mad Welshman, alas, is not a master of disguise. Although he does enjoy throwing his disguise aside and cackling wildly. Perhaps that’s part of why…

Dead Cells (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £13.99
Where To Get It: Steam, Humble Store, Itch.IO

For a bundle of ooze, condemned to murder and drain the genetic information of magical weapons and experiments just like itself, the titular Dead Cells are quite an expressive character. They sort of have to be, as they can’t say anything, and that’s easily explained by the fact that they’re an oozing thing with one burning eye and no mouth. But hey, they understand folks fine, what’s the problem?

Ahhh… Soon, I will have *aaaall* the goopy vials… And maybe then, I can rest.

Anyways, Dead Cells is a game about dodging blows from various enemies, leaping about frantically, slashing and murdering frantically, and occasionally dying frantically, before your little pile of ooze is piped into another headless corpse to begin the whole palaver again for the nefarious purposes of a Necro-Alchemist. It’s a simple game, and pseudo-random level generation means that while I know roughly what to expect from a level, I don’t know the full ins and outs.

Design wise, it’s pretty tight so far. It’s one of the first games where I haven’t found a subweapon I haven’t found a use for, the weapons, similarly, are solid. Enemies telegraph things well enough that I’ve quickly worked out how to dodge, say, the venom of the scorpions in the old sewer. You start with only one path, but unlock more by getting far enough (You take the high road, and I’ll take the low road… And I will be murdered by scorpions!) , you have a fair few weapons already (From main weapons like the electric whip and the BLOOD SWORD, to subweapons like the Meat Grinder, or my personal favourite, Ice Grenades), and, obviously, a bevy of monsters.

What’s that coming out of the ground, is it a Scorpion, it is a scorpion!

It must be said that, if you can’t play twitchy games, Dead Cells is sadly not for you, because it’s twitchy as hell. In fact, one of my current criticisms of the game is that Elite enemies following you gives you absolutely no chance to heal (Which takes time), and sometimes, the fight goes so quickly that you’re not sure what actually killed you (Each individual fight tends to take between 1 and 3 seconds, and, at the end of that time, either they’re dead, or you are. Unless they’re Elites, in which case the fight lasts either too long, or a painfully short time.)

But the sound design is good (The slish and squish of your ooey-gooey body shlorping into your next headless host is… A thing to behold), the visuals are good (Pixellated gore, goo, and viscera is the order of the day… The game revels in its griminess, but everything except the pipe ladders in the sewer levels are clearly differentiated), and even getting past the first level means you improve, albeit slower than if you get further each run, so the difficulty evens out over time. Overall, Dead Cells is already looking promising, and, along with Drifting Lands, is currently my go to for a quick, fun game. The tunes are good, and my only grump right now is that Elite enemies are, if anything, too elite.

Are you… Are you *Bratting* on me, Cursed Chest? Goodness me, I’d almost be tempted if I didn’t already *know* you’d bite me and inflict a death curse!

The Mad Welshman grimaced, if a pile of sentient goop could be said to grimace… This zombie looked… Different somehow. “Is it your hai-URK.”

Welp. Time to start over.

TMWTalk – Video Reviews, or The Lack Thereof

A question, and a statement, that keeps coming up, if only now and again is: “Why don’t you do video reviews? I’d see you more if you did video reviews!” And, honestly, while I can sort of see the point folks are making (Accessibility, “Seeing the game in action”), I’d like to point some things out.

This Ain’t Exactly Sustainable As Is

Right now, at the time of writing, I get approximately $80-87 USD a month for this. While the writing of each review takes anything up to two hours, the actual reviewing process is a bit longer, and varies wildly by game. I’ve written about this fairly extensively in the On Games Journalism series, but one thing I haven’t covered is video reviews. Below are two images, now somewhat out of date, but still illuminating. Less than a hundredth of the folks who, potentially, look at my work pay for it. On a bad week these days, less than a hundredth of the people who visit the site each week pay for the content produced.

While out of date, this is a nominally “Eh” week, in terms of visitors.

 

Although messy, it gets across the point that… *sings* One of these things… Is not like the others!

Let’s talk about videos a little bit now. Video reviews require recorded footage. They are, in my personal opinion, best done as post-commentary, which means I’m guiding my words. Similarly, it’s often best if they’re at least edited to show what the hell I’m talking about. As such, recording can take a while, anything up to four or five hours. Editing is going to mean recording commentary, slicing and splicing to fit, and extra stuff that, thankfully, only takes a few minutes more to add, less once it’s nailed down. But even that’s an extra hour or three (The latter in the case of particularly difficult to present stuff.)

Considering that, at national minimum wage, that should be earning my ass approximately £60 GBP a video? You can perhaps see why I’m leery of this. You can also, perhaps see, when I point out that just two of those videos a week would ensure I have no safety net, as 16 hours is the point at which state benefits (AKA – The Safety Net) is pulled out from under my ass, which also takes the rent with it.

Two, probably less than 30 minute videos, more often ten minutes for the brevity many folks demand in their reviews would, no joke, have the real potential to make my ass homeless. Hilarious, isn’t it? Let’s use an example from my earliest days, when I was young, and foolish, and got exactly nothing for this task. This review, by the way, led to my editor of the time asking for a re-review, something most games journalist will flat out turn down, let alone their editors.

This one was relatively short to edit, at an hour and a half for recording (Three or four races), half an hour for commentary (I knew exactly what I was going to say), and three hours for editing, encoding, and uploading (I had a bad computer then, but I also wanted to splice footage in a sensible manner.) It’s perhaps unsurprising, considering racing games are among the easier ones to splice footage for. Which leads us nicely to the second subject.

Your Mileage May Vary

Video reviews vary in usefulness by a number of factors. With something like Blur, I can get across the gameplay quickly and consistently. But what about something like Offworld Trading Company, or Crusader Kings 2, or Endless Space 2? There’s a lot more going on in many of those, and it’s not exactly obvious a lot of the time. There is also, sadly, another minefield waiting here: OMG SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS. I’ve already talked about spoilers in reviews elsewhere, and navigating this particular minefield (In which, as ATLUS recently demonstrated, can come from the developers and publishers as well as the audience) is an added risk.

With a written review, I can still be clear, show off some things, talk about things, and, funnily enough, it’s easier to navigate the Spoilerfield, because there’s more than enough going on to focus on. It helps that I don’t like repeating myself. Of course, with videos, it doesn’t help that I don’t like repeating myself. If Gamerfill still existed, you would have seen me make many of the same points in the review that I make in the video (And, indeed, the re-review, which is one of the rare times that happened at all.)

…Did I mention that I really dislike repeating myself?

Anyways, this has been a brief summation dealing with the question of video content for TMW. Want more? Support the writer. Then the writer can pay his bills. He has more time. He spends less time worrying about said bills, and can, potentially, pay other writers, who also have more time and spend less time worrying about bills. If you really, really want video content, then you’re gonna have to be able to reassure me I’m not going to lose out by doing so.

Thank you for your time.

On Games Journalism – Valve’s Future

It’s interesting to note the changes to Steam being talked about by fellow game journalists (Relevant video links w/their names) Jim “Fucking” Sterling “, Son” , John “Total Biscuit” Bain, and, of course, many others, because, for all that TMW is a relatively small critical outpost, yes, these proposed changes, if they go through, if they work, may well be positive changes. So, let’s talk about a few of them, and how they could, potentially, make life a little bit easier for us games writers.

Cleanlight, and Steam Explorers

Greenlight, and the Discovery Queue in general, have not, sadly, been tools this writer has been using a heck of a lot, at least partly because… They’re not exactly terribly helpful to me. As noted in the previous On Games Journalism, my modus operandi, fortnight to fortnight, is to go through the “New Releases” tab (Easy as it is to fi- Ahahaha no, it only just passes my “3 interactions at max” UI test for games, and is not the most visible “feature”), and the Discovery Queue… Mostly tries to get me to try AAA games (Which I can ill afford), or things that, at best, would be good for a Going Back. At worst, I can go an entire Queue without seeing anything that even vaguely interests.

Nier: Automata. Critically acclamed, but sadly, too much for my wallet, and let’s face it, if you’re reading the site, odds are high you already like it. Also, I’d be a *tadge* late on that review, don’t you think?

More transparency in how it arrives at these conclusions would be highly useful. As to Greenlight, sadly, most of the time, I get my word about good things to greenlight via word of mouth, and it has been demonstrably proven that yes, there is an asset-flip problem. The news that Steam is tending toward lower figures on Steam Direct, and the frankly unsurprising revelation that bigger companies appear to have been tending against the lower figures, are respectively okay news, and unsurprising news.

So, as presented by Mr. Sterling, Steam Explorers is for exploring things with low sales that may (or may not) deserve such low sales. It’s not an initiative I personally expect to actually happen (Being, as has been noted in the past, a cynical auld so-and-so), but if it does, it definitely has potential. I’m somewhat more wary of incentivising the system, as that’s a sub-feature that definitely needs a delicate touch (Nothing so simple as “You get store credit for every X thumbs up”, because, let’s face it, that’s going to go tits up rather quickly. Extended refund time, however, would somewhat help.)

More Transparency!

As noted, it has also been proposed that more detailed game data would be publically available. How many buy the game? How many finish the game they buy? And so on would be very useful. I’m all for transparency, because, honestly, I can see quite a few benefits, and the countering of quite a few negatives. It’s useful from an academic standpoint, extra tools in a game historian’s toolbox. It’s useful from a reviewer’s standpoint, perhaps, if you look at the data, giving you fair warning that something does not, in fact, Get Better Later, and…

A prime bit of “Sizzle” from Nintendo’s BotW Review Roundup. GAME IS AWESOME (No Information Why.) Sadly, BotW is not on PC, and I don’t give Pretty Numbers, otherwise it would have gotten a 7/10 (Quite good, but not the Second Coming)

…It helps cut down on some of the shady bullshit that, sadly, happens. SURVEY YOUR COMPETITORS! By, instead of faking surveys to each other (No names named, but you know who you are), actually looking at the data. SOLD UMPTY MILLION COPIES… But returns are also noted, and right where everybody can see them. Along with the “Played for ten minutes, because the game was released in an unplayable state.” I don’t need to name names there, because said names have been shrieked to the rooftops from day one to week twelve, on average. Sizzle, that practice of content free fluff cherry picking the Good Reviews, could potentially be cut down.

All of this, sadly, is potential. We won’t know, until it actually hits, what form this could take. But you can guarantee I’m keeping at least one sleepy eye on that.

Curation Improvements?

I put a question mark here because Curation is one of those features that… Never really took off. I use it myself, but, right now, it’s another social media tool in my toolbox that doesn’t perform nearly as well as other social media tools in my toolbox. But, if what I’m hearing is correct, then it could well prove more useful. While also giving me more work. I’m looking at my current docket when I say that, and sort of sighing. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

But in any case, things currently on the table include better organisation and customisation of a Curator page, so, if you’re sad that you want to find a genre of game on TMW, but can’t (I’m still working on a good solution there, not helped by the fact that genre’s a little tough to pin down with a lot of the things I review), then the Curation changes might well help with that. I’m less enthused about “Top Tens” and other such things, due to my noted antipathy toward Pretty Numbers That Don’t Really Mean Anything Two Weeks Later, but hey, I’m sure that’ll prove useful to other writers who do like Pretty Numbers. Go them.

Part of last month’s curation. I mean, they’re good games, Danforth, but wouldn’t it be nice if you could look back and see what *else* I liked in that genre? Yeaaaah…

Also of interest is the idea of review copies directly being sent through Steam via the Curation page. With the possibility of refusal. This is a feature I’m fond of, not because it cuts down on the amount of work I do hunting said folks down and informally, but politely asking for review copies, but because it would potentially cut down at least some of the waiting and ambiguity that comes with said requests (Which is highly stressful.) As an aside, I love all of the folks who’ve replied positively, and especially the ones brave enough to reach out with something they think I’d like, but weren’t sure. Props to all of you.

So, it should be noted this is pretty brief. I’ve linked Mr. Sterling and Mr. Bain’s videos (and again!), which themselves provide their own personal opinions (And ones much closer to the ground floor, since they were invited to talks on these subjects), but… If these things happen, they definitely have potential, and I’m certainly willing to give all this a chance.

Just like Mr. Sterling, I’m not exactly hot on companies providing compensation for review as a feature, as I’d rather keep that to my already stated maximums, with a minimum of, of course, nothing. I’d much rather ensure that readers who like my work and my approach do that. Speaking of, there are ways to support TMW, and if you liked this article, maybe you should check some of them out?

EVERSPACE (Early Access Review)

Source: Birthday Prezzie
Price: £22.99
Where To Get It: Steam, Official Page
Version Reviewed: 0.3 (March 7th, 2017)

Good spaceflight games are, even in these days where they’re coming back, few and far between. But Everspace, god help me, has definitely grabbed my attention in a big way, because even though it’s only at 0.3 (0.4 coming soon), it’s already quite polished, and had me whooping like a schoolchild at how enjoyable it was to die, again and again and again.

The game has missions, every now and again. I can tell the mission giver is not a hoopy frood, because he doesn’t know where his towel is.

Yes, you heard me right. It was, and is enjoyable, even in losing. But let’s get into it. Everspace is the 3D equivalent of something like FTL, a procedurally generated universe made of sectors, themselves made of small, junk filled arenas where a series of pilots (played by you), attempt to get to their destination while being chased by the Okkar empire, a reptilian people, being hounded by outlaws, trying to find the resources (Especially fuel, which is needed for Jumps between subsectors) you need to survive, while also being nagged by perhaps the most British AI I have yet to encounter.

Interestingly, all of these pilots are named differently, but sound the same… And I honestly don’t mind. It… Works, somehow. I wish I could tell you how. In any case, the game is very polished for a 0.3 release, with some great soundwork, music that gets the blood pumping, a solid UI, and some nice, chunky ship designs, from the tri-foil Outlaw fighters, to the Okkar Corvette that I encountered in Sector 3 (So far, the furthest I’ve gotten in something like 30 runs.) Every time you die, the money earned goes towards levelling up abilities, chance of good drops, better equipment, and… Different ships.

It’s somewhat difficult, for obvious reasons, to grab footage of a fight as it’s happening. Thankfully, the game’s Action Pause Camera allows me to wow you anyway.

I’m not going to say better ships, because I’ve been learning that lesson the hard way with the Gunship. Oh, it’s meaty, alright. The Medium Explorer has a shield, a pulse laser, and a gatling gun (With the option to increase damage for a period of time), but, while the Gunship has armour (Reducing damage taken overall), a Gatling Turret, Combat Drones out of the box, and the highly satisfying Flak Cannon (Mangle an Okkar Fighter in just a couple of shots once its shields are down! Mine an asteroid or crystal node with one shot!), it also has… No shields, and its shield damaging weapon is the highly erratic and energy intensive Fusion Cannon (Which I try to replace with my dependable buddy the Pulse Laser as soon as humanly possible.) It’s also slower, and harder to turn. So, while, with the Explorer, it’s entirely possible to get through an encounter undamaged, the Gunship is very much in the “Damage race” end of things, especially as most of its weaponry is close range (Sub 1Km)

Considering I have to get 10 thousand credits in a single run to buy the Scout, I can’t really tell you what the Light option is like right now (Although I most definitely will before release), but I can tell you that each ship has its own upgrade tree, with a player tree for things like better maps (GOOD), Better retrieval of the wreck of your last run (Providing, of course, you can find it), extra equipment choices, and, of course, more cash, better repairs, more fuel… And while yes, there’s a limited amount of things you can encounter, the later sectors have bigger and badder things (Such as the Link Drone Ship, invincible until you destroy the swarming little beggars it produces… Periodically.) and, of course, the game isn’t finished, so more things are being promised.

Even as is, though, the game is high octane in its combat, darkly relaxing in between, with a lot of its potential already shining through.

Pictured: The first time I took the Gunship out for a spin. I underestimated my opponents, and I paid the price for not understanding how my ship worked. LET’S DO IT AGAIN!

Oh, and it has an action-pause cam from the menu, allowing you to hit escape at the right moment, go to the cam, and capture your ship either wrecking… Or getting wrecked. I’d like to be able to take pics from more than just the players’ perspective (I mean, if it’s my Gunship getting owned, maybe I’d like to take it from the perspective of my killer, or some random drone that still has a good angle?), but right now? That’s my only niggle with this game. It’s built around multiple runs, and so far, it’s doing a very good job of sucking me into one more run.

The Mad Welshman grinned as he heard the DING of target lock. What was causing all these ships of the same model to come by? Oh, no matter, they always had good loot!