Being a pretty big fan of Mojang's Minecraft, I was very excited to hear that Minecraft – Pocket Edition (PE) was receiving a large update. The previous version, Minecraft PE 8.0, had seemed a bit claustrophobic to me. The edges of the world were clearly visible and one only had a space about the size of an island on which to play. I found that the lack of trees, paired with the flatness of the space made the oncoming night less scary. Creepers and spiders were visible from far enough off that I could keep a good distance and there were few enough of them that I could fight them without being overwhelmed. The size issue also made finding materials to work with frustrating. I was frequently crippled by a lack of coal. Lightless, bereft of any cooked meat, and unable to cobble together even a pair of leather shoes, I wandered my small island with nothing to do except contemplate its emptiness.
Like a light in the darkness, a town appears.
The Minecraft PE 9.0 Update is a significant upgrade. It is much more in-line with the PC version of Minecraft, with its infinite maps and more densely populated environments. The first time night fell, I was terrifyingly aware of the fact that I was standing in a forest and I could not see further than a few feet; the sound of hissing growing closer and closer. The landscape is certainly more robust. Where I spent an hour looking for coal in the previous release, in 9.0 I had no problem finding a bevy of ores, including newly-added blocks such as: Diorite, Granite, and Andesite. The variety of biomes that are now included also add to the feeling of wondrous exploration that the PC version captures so well, but which the 8.0 PE edition was lacking. I climbed a high hill one morning to find a small village just a short distance from where I was beginning to build a fort for myself. I ran towards the village and was delighted to find villagers. That moment of discovery was exciting, and speaks to the heart of the Minecraft experience.
It is amazing how much the presence of NPCs changes the feel of the game; no longer am I a stranger carving out a life in solitude. Unfortunately you cannot interact with them yet in any meaningful way except to attack; trading with villagers has yet to be implemented. However, to further banish loneliness, wolves can now be tamed; loyally following you through thick and thin.
A side by side comparison of 8.0 & 9.0
I am really happy that Mojang is continuing to make the app more robust. Minecraft – Pocket Edition 9.0 has come a long way from its alpha release back in 2011, and with all the new content that has been added, Minecraft PE is finally living up to its namesake.
iOS is yet to have its cornerstone first-person shooter franchise. While it has a couple of really good ones from Gameloft and a few good ports from older games, we have yet to see a truly deep and original mobile-first FPS franchise. Especially one that takes advantage of the touch screen and doesn't just try to adapt button controls to a screen. In short, iOS needs it's Halo. Industrial Toys might be the people to do it.
Let me clear this up. There is no shortage of first-person shooters on iOS. Gameloft has released some really good ones like NOVA 3 and Modern Combat. We've even seen classics like Doom and Call of Duty ported. But the fault these all have is they were conceived on or derived from controller-based shooters. This invariably leads to problems when playing, no matter how good the controls. Thumbs will always cover important parts of the screen, they will slip from the correct virtual control. And for FPS vets, the most important factor: touch controls are slower as it takes time to look at the virtual buttons.
Ben Cousin's Scattered Entertainment released The Drowning last year, which hoped to be exactly this. Tremendous amounts of thought went into the game and it's original control scheme, yes, and it was developed exclusively for touch screens. But it just didn't take. It was not well received by the press or users. There is still some hope for The Drowning as a franchise, but it seems unlikely at this point.
I'm also not saying that I want Halo on iOS. What I want is an original franchise, conceived for and developed for touch screens and connected devices. One with a deep original storyline, endless multiplayer capabilities, perfect controls for a touch device, and a future. No matter how how close others have come, we just don't have that. Yet.
This is where the team from Industrial Toys comes in. This LA-based company certainly has the chops to make a killer FPS franchise for iOS. The company was founded by Bungie co-founder/co-creator of Halo Alex Seropian and Tim Harris (Denuo, Alley Cat Comics). Their team for this project includes superstars of music, art, and story; including comic artist Mike Choi (Marvel/DC) and author John Scalzi (Old Man’s War, Redshirts). Seems like they have the talent they need and our first look at their upcoming Midnight Star game shows great promise.
The first experience most will have with the game will be through the interactive comic, Midnight Rises. This comic ties in with two-way communication to Midnight Star. The story, set 120 years from now, starts when first contact is made from outer space. The interactive comic will lead the reader through the build up to the launch of the USSM Joplin, the craft fitted to communicate and intercept the source of the signal. Along the way the story will introduce the characters in the game and provide backstory.
The comic app will also provide potential players the ability to pick up items that can be used in the game. And this is just the tip of what make this dual app approach so interesting. The choices made in the story app influence the characters in the game. And progress in the game unlocks new parts of the story in the comic app. It will be interesting to see how such an integrated dual app approach works out.
Midnight Star starts off after something has gone wrong and the crew of the Joplin is fighting an alien force, as the story of what happened unfolds. The game features a new take on touch controls for a first-person shooter that looks quite good, even in the pre-release build I saw. It also features nearly endless multiplayer capabilities both in the form of friend challenges and leaderboard type challenges.
In one of the most original forms of asynchronous multiplayer, a player can create a challenge for other players - either friends or open to all. That challenge can be a speed run, high score, accuracy, or other challenge on a particular level in the game that lasts for a set amount of time. Each player that accepts the challenge enters an amount of in-game currency set by the originator into the pot with the top players in the challenge splitting the winnings.
Melee type combat has been a sticking point for touch games. How to accurately and quickly they make the player react has generally been less than perfect. With Midnight Star, melee will take for form of quick reactionary tapping of on screen symbols. Each symbol will need to be touched a designated number of times in a certain amount of time to ward off the attack.
Progressing will provide new weapons and parts to upgrade current weapons. The game is clearly set up to be a free to play game, but at least in my limited experience with it this doesn't seem to get in the way of the gameplay.
Looking at the screenshots included with this post doesn't really do it justice. Industrial Toys are not ready to release in-game video just yet, but this Unreal built game looks amazing with very smooth gameplay. Here's the previously released teaser trailer.
Is Midnight Star the Halo-like franchise I think iOS so desperately needs? It would be presumptuous to say yes at this point, but I have hope. It will certainly be a huge step in the right direction. The guys at Industrial Toys are very experienced in the area and committed to the idea of bringing a Halo-like experience to touch screens.
Look for Midnight Rises (the interactive story) in the spring, and the game Midnight Star soon after. We'll have more news on Midnight Star as it develops.
Yesterday, Disney announced the official support for mobile platforms for their ambitious open world / sandbox game Infinity. And that includes the iPhone and iPad. Two apps were announced, one a creative video app, the other the mobile version of the sandbox mode from the larger Infinity product.
Disney Infinity: Toy Box App
The Toy Box app is a full blown, console-like experience for the toy box feature of Disney Infinity. In the Toy Box app players can create, download, and play various games within the Infinity world. Think of it as a super Minecraft for the Disney universe. The game is tied to the player's Disney ID to share both owned characters and created worlds with all connected platforms like XBox, PS/3, and Wii U -- and now the iPad.
The Toy Box app will allow players to create virtual worlds, from cities to play fields, even race tracks all with a Disney flair. Players can then take to the Toy Box and play in the virtual worlds with the included characters.
No release date is yet known for the Toy Box app, just that it's coming soon. It will be available free and use any characters or toys purchased or earned in the Infinity universe for consoles. This is one to watch for.
Disney Infinity: Action! App
The second app announced is one that allows the user to film themselves with overlays of Infinity characters Sully, Mr. Incredible, and Jack Sparrow. It's a fun little app that lets players interact with the characters and film them in various short movies. Those movies can then be shared to Facebook, YouTube, or saved to the camera roll. Take a look at the video below for an idea of what can be achieved with the Action app.
While Disney Infinity: Action isn't really tied into the Infinity world, it uses characters from the Infinity world, and it's a fun little free app. The Action app will be available this Thursday on the App Store.
What is it with the water in Finland? Do they pipe in creativity-enhancing drugs along with the fluoride? From the same country that brought us Angry Birds and Clash of Clans comes Supernauts.
Supernauts is an interesting mashup of games, a cross between a building game like Minecraft and an simulation game like Clash of Clans. Supernauts will try to be the next big worldwide obsession when it's released later this year.
Supernauts has three main activities in the game: build resources (blocks to build with), custom build the home space (anything can be made out of blocks), and solve puzzles.
Building resources involves using machines of various kinds to create blocks and refine those blocks into other blocks. Think taking logs and making wood, or roofing blocks. Each block has a relative value in the game and can be sold in a market, or used to custom build within the players space.
Each time a block is placed, status points are awarded that unlock other items in the game and allow more complex things to be built. They also expand the playing field to multiple locations.
The casual goal of Supernauts is to save the world by going on missions to rescue people trapped on Earth when it was flooded. This is done through a series of 50 missions that each require using the core building techniques in the game to harvest blocks, build structures, and get citizens to an escape boat.
There's something about the very casual level of the block building that has me coming back over and over again to build, tear down, re-build, all just have fun. Supernauts has the no-stress gameplay that has made so many free to play games popular, but it also has the fun--something that is missing is so many games these days. So many free to play games I just feel obligated to come back and harvest, plant, rebuild my walls, etc.
Supernauts also has a few social features planned, features I was not able to test, like chatting with other players, sharing resources, and more.
Take a look around Supernauts in the video below. I show off the world I created along with some of the other features of the game.
Supernauts is not without its problems in the current beta version. I saw occasional lock ups and some long stretches where there was nothing to do but create blocks and wait. A few bug fixes and some level adjustment, though, and it should be good. That's what beta testing is for, after all.
In my 30+ hours playing this devilishly addictive game, I'm very impressed. The block building feature adds a new level on top of a tired game mechanic, freshening everything up. I think it might just be the next big thing. It's creative, compelling, and social.
In Canada, the average diet consists only of poutine, the national dish, ham, which they call bacon, and rendered whale blubber. Not only that, but the great white north also seems to get a bunch of iOS games early. Since it’s a smaller country at about 10% of the population of the US, it really does make a good test market. That’s why we like to pop in to the Canadian App Store every once in a while to see what’s new.
Earlier this week I got a chance to talk to Frederic Descamps and Jordan Maynard who came to Zynga through an acquisition of A Bit Lucky. They are showing off their new massively online battle arena (MOBA) game for mobile, Solstice Arena. It's more than the average MOBA game; it's essentially "Speed MOBA."
In a traditional MOBA there is usually some form of farming or grinding such as killing creeps. In this MOBA, the focus is on the fighting and only the fighting. Players earn gold for participating in the matches, capturing chests of gold (checkpoints), and randomly scattered gold on the play field. This gold is then used in an extensive upgrade tree. A mobile-focused feature is the auto-buy feature. If turned on, the best purchases will automatically be made with gained available gold.
The player hero selection works similar to League of Legends where there will always be free heroes to be used. Or, if purchased, the hero can be played at anytime. Leveling up a character stays with that character no matter if purchased or not. Once the hero is purchased or becomes free again, the upgrades will be there.
Take a look at this 9-ish minute match I played where I actually won. It's a good thing it was set on easy.
The main change in Solstice Arena has to do with making it a bit more friendly to mobile platforms. This entails the games being shrunk into what Frederic Descamps describes as speed MOBA: 5-10 minute games that can be played just about anytime there is a free moment. This is accomplished mainly by having fewer goals in a single match, and making the map size considerably smaller. And in the dozen or so rounds I've played, I think it works.
Solstice Arena is available in a few test countries right now, like Canada and should be launching in the US very soon. If you are a fan of League of Legends, or just a strategy game fan, it's one to watch for.
In the conversations I've had with Jason Citron over the past five years, one thing has always been very clear, Jason Citron is a very talented young man. But lately it's like he is a whole new man. Excited, proud, and full of ideas. Could partially be because his newly renamed games company, Hammer & Chisel is showing off an early version of their first game, Fates Forever, a massively online battle arena game (MOBA) for tablets only.
Fates Forever is a MOBA game and yeah, we've heard a lotabout MOBA on iOS in the past few months. For those not familiar with MOBA, see Wikipedia an MOBA. But Fates Forever shows some real promise in ways others we've seen have yet to.
The fact that we are seeing more MOBA on iOS seems logical as for many months it was a genre that was conspicuously missing on iOS. League of Legends has been very popular on the desktop; why can't we have a mobile MOBA?
Jason and his team at Hammer & Chisel are taking a bit of a different angle that what we've seen so far on MOBA for iOS. They are building out a lushly detailed, large scale MOBA game that closely resembles the depth and length of gameplay of League of Legends, but updated for tablet. In my short time with the game I found it, incomplete, yes and that's to be expected, but also amazingly easy to get into and really hard to put down. The unique characters, their voice overs, their special moves, gameplay aspects--all combine for an interesting and promising game.
Some of the interesting changes to the MOBA formula seen in Fates Forever, and remember it's still early, are that minions constantly regenerate when killed, they won't keep running back to the base to heal. The only power ups are to the three special powers each player has, and those reset between matches. Everyone starts out even, every match.
Hammer & Chisel have a lot of work ahead of them to finalize Fates Forever, but the progress so far is amazing. It is certainly one of my most anticipated games. We'll keep you up to date on the progress as it moves toward launch.
In Canada, poutine is the national dish, ham is called bacon, and hockey is the game of gods, eh. Not only that, but the great white north also seems to get a bunch of iOS games early. Since it's a smaller country at about 10% of the population of the US, it really does make a good test market. That's why we like to pop in to the Canadian App Store every once in a while to see what's new.
In this episode of It Came from Canada we take a look at Ultima Forever: Quest for the Avatar. Ultima is the classic name in RPG and dungeon crawlers. While it's still early, will this installment make fans of the series happy without getting all that yucky EA freemium monetization goo all over it?
Ultima Forever looks much as it did when we took a look at it at GDC earlier this year. The one thing we get to see that we did not see then was how EA plans to monetize this freemium game. Unfortunately EA has taken the route of what amounts to play to win, but just one step removed. In the current version of Ultima Forever you can purchase keys. The type of key you have determines the quality of loot you get when you open up the chests you find in the game. If you use gold keys you get way better look than if you use bronze keys. You can purchase gold keys, yet rarely find them in the game. You will generally find bronze keys which yield low level loot.
That said, the game will likely still be fun, if you choose to play it properly. Take a look at our first quest in the game below.
We'll be sure to have more news on Ultima Forever, when it will launch globally, and a review when that happens.
Ah, Canada. The land where poutine is the national dish, ham is called bacon, and they worship hockey players as gods. They also seem to get many iOS games early. Since it's a smaller country at about 10% of the population of the US, it makes a good test market. Every once in a while we like to pop in to the Canadian App Store and see what's new. This time we take a look at the upcoming movie tie-in game from Kabam, Fast & Furious 6: The Game.
Fast & Furious 6: The Game seems to loosely follow the movie. If familiar with CSR Racing, this game will seem familiar. It's a reaction time game in which players hit buttons to shift the car, hit a button to drift, and hit nitro at just the right time for maximum speed.
FF6 adds a bunch of other race types as well, where CSR racing only has the single drag race type. There's also the usual upgrade system that can be used to increase the performance of a car or change the look. All of that, of course, requires earning in-app currency or purchases.
FF6 also relies on the weak crutch of lazy game design, an energy system. Sounds harsh, but it's a concept that has become an indication of a game more focused on pushing players to pay than it is on pushing entertainment. A player can only race so much without putting the game down and waiting for the energy system to recharge. Of course, a player can also spend money to recharge quickly, so there's that.
It should be noted that this game and all of the games that we feature in this series should be considered pre-release. They are not final, and are in Canada for a reason: to test and balance the gameplay. We will never review an app based on a testing launch such as this.
Hipstamatic has been a bit of an odd duck on the App Store. While it was one of the first photo apps to gain a strong following, it has already been used to take over two billion photos. But, it has been somewhat forgotten now that social sharing has taken center stage. Don't get me wrong, it still has a large and very vocal following, and also a very creatively talented following, but it doesn't have the mindshare of an app like Instagram. Somewhat forgotten even though it's still going strong with over four million monthly users. The reason for it losing mindshare could be that Hipstamatic lacks an integrated social stream like Instagram and others. Well, that is until oggl is released later this week.
Instagram was a great idea, and a very wonderful creative stream of photos, for a short while anyway. But now it's filled with duck faces, selflies, and bad pictures of food. While oggl is open to anyone, it is expected that it will maintain a much higher quality clientele than what is currently seen in Instagram. While Instagram is mean to share, oggl is mean to inspire. Some of the artists on there already are truly astonishing.
Expected to be on the App Store on Thursday, oggl takes the high quality filter system that Hipstamatic pioneered and adds a sharing community on top of it. They do this for free, ad-free, and the artists retain full rights to their photos. How can they do this? Add-ons of course. The Hipstamatic community is pretty crazy for new lenses and films, the add-ons that add new effects to photos in Hipstamatic. So you can buy them in Hipstamatic and access them in oggl, or you can subscribe to oggl for $0.99/month or $9.99/year and get access to all of the lenses and films ever made.
Now the bad news, oggl will be granting access slowly, over time to those that request it at http://oggl.com/. The slowed down access is to ensure that the service quality isn't degraded as it ramps up. So, head over there now and request access.
This is an interesting move, if not completely unexpected one for Hipstamatic. It should be a great community for photographers and creative types. That is if they can keep the duck faces to a minimum.
Solitaire Blitz was a pretty big hit on Facebook when it debuted there last year. That game is now coming to iOS and is currently live in the Canadian App Store.
Here's an video of the game being played on the iPad. We play through a couple hands and it is enjoyable though not as good as the similarly-playing Fairway Solitaire from Big Fish Games in the current version.
Solitaire Blitz seems to be set up to be as a free to play game and it'll be interesting to see how aggressive the monitization of Solitaire Blitz will be. As of now, you can play 5 times for free with one more free game coming every ten minutes.
It should be launched globally soon. We'll let you know as soon as it's live.
We showed you a little bit about Magicka for the iPad earlier this year. We just got the word that it will be hitting the App Store this week.
This casual and very funny multiplayer RPG will certainly entertain with both the single player campaign and the amazing multiplayer party mode. Here's a quick look at the beginning of the single player campaign mode.
I freaking love mech games. It’s just a shame that this is a largely ignored genre on the App Store. Or at least it was, until Small Impact Games took it upon themselves to show it some love.
M3CH looks to be the answer to iOS mech combat fans’ prayers. Of course showing a little love yourself on the developer’s Kickstarter page might speed things up a bit. It evokes a similar feeling to other gritty/semi-realistic mech piloting titles and sports some pretty impressive production values. I had to pry myself away to ask M3CH’s animator, James Rowbotham, about Small Impact Games’ baby.
Were there any particularly major influences in the design of M3CH's world? I know it's not exactly the same but I'm getting a pretty strong Steel Battalion vibe from it.
At the time 3D iOS games exploded, we were playing a very mixed bag of games but fortunately they were all with the same genre, Mechs! We just loved the direction the iOS store was heading, it was screaming for a game with user-friendly touch-screen controls but with the in depth details you get in our favourite mech games.
Surprisingly however, Killzone 2 was a big inspiration in terms of AI and cover based action. What some mech games lack is the use of buildings as cover and enemy’s that work together to out flank you, something we saw that had been untapped in the genre (a lot of open spaces/terrain), so we looked at the great AI in Killzone and their behaviour and found a way to work it into our game.
You folks have done a bang-up job with the control scheme. Was it the product of rigorous testing and polishing or did you know right from the start how you wanted to handle it?
The aim with M3CH since the beginning has been to try and create an iOS game that doesn't feel like it’s an iOS game, and more like a console experience. Touchscreen controls are notorious for being hard to use and something that we really wanted to nail. We went through a lot of different iterations to get to where we are now; having both shoot buttons on one side, holding down shoot instead of the auto toggle system, putting the shoot buttons on the thumbsticks and a lot more. We are keeping open minded about it and although we are getting later into development if we have an idea for an even better control set then we will be sure to test it out!
Were there any mech designs you wanted to include that ended up being scrapped?
There are quite a few that didn't make it into the game (we already have 40 different mechs in the game). At the moment we have a mix of legs styles such as reversed legs in the game but [an] animalistic style is something we are keen on in terms of animation and how the mechs behave.
What exactly are your plans for the multiplayer?
We are hitting some technical limitations which means it most likely be 1-on-1 to start with. We would love to get a larger number of players battling at the same time (8v8 is the dream!), especially where the winning players get new weapons unlocked and credits to spend. At the moment its deathmatch style gameplay but we have plans set for objective based multiplayer.
Are you allowed to talk pricing? It’s still early days but we are hoping for around the £1.99 [$2.99] price range. One thing we are certain of however is that we don't want pushy monetization and in-app purchasing interrupting your gameplay experience, all mechs and weapons are attainable without too much grinding and we reward dedicated hard working players with big payouts.
How about a release date? As for a released date, a lot of that depends on the kickstarter campaign, if we are successful then we are aiming for an April release this year.
Here's a quick rundown on how earning in-game money in Real Racing 3 relates to real dollars and time and what it would take to finish the game. What we found is rather shocking, doubly so if compared to current day console racing games.
Before we get to the details, we should note that these numbers are current at the time of writing. But like most free to play games the in-app purchase prices, timers, and values can change at any time the developer wishes. In the two weeks I've been playing, changes have already happened twice. So, the numbers reported could be different than they are when this is read.
In Real Racing 3, to get to 100% a player needs to win every one of the 961 current events. As there are races restricted to each one of the 46 cars in the game, to enter those races the related car must be owned. So to get to 100% in Real Racing 3 players must buy every car and win every race. What will it take to do that?
Also take note that like many free to play games, Real Racing 3 is tuned to allow players to earn everything without paying. But a player really has to want to put the time in to earn it. The developer doesn't charge anything for the game with the hope that players will spend some money in the game to speed up their progress.
To earn enough money to buy every car in Real Racing 3, what would it take? Our numbers show that it would take over 472 hours to earn enough money to buy all of the cars in the game. Or to purchase all of the cars with real money via in-app purchase, it would cost $503.22 at the current best rate.
To earn all of the cars in the game rather that buy them with real money, a player would need to finish 6,801 races with an average (per our RR3 stats) of 4:10 per race earning R$3,700 per race. That would equal 472 hours to earn the R$25,163,573 it would cost in the in-game currency to buy all 46 cars. That does not include the cost for repairs, maintenance, or upgrades which can be rather expensive.
If a player wanted to take the shortcut and buy all of the cars in the game with real money, that would cost $503.22 in in-app purchases. That's assuming the current best rate of R$50,005 per US$1 when buying R$5,000,000 at a time.
Let's compare the cost for Real Racing 3 to modern day console games, what could be purchased for that $503.22. For one example, a player could get a 4GB XBox 360, Forza Horizon (one of the newest racing sims on the 360), all of it's DLC including over 127 cars, and a 22" Vizio flatscreen LED TV. And still have $17.22 left over.
I think I can safely say that the way that the cars and the in-app currency are currently structured in Real Racing 3 right now seems a bit out of whack. It seems extreme to think that players have the choice of playing for well over 400 hours or paying over $500 to unlock everything to complete the game. Or most likely, some combination of the two.
And these numbers are not counting any of the promised expansions that will deliver new events and new cars. Those will increase the time and money required to get to 100% complete.
Nor are these numbers including upgrades that could be required to win races. It is very unlikely that any player can win all races without upgrading at least one car in each series. And those upgrades can get pricey as fully upgrading a car can cost more than the base cost of a car. So while on paper it could take 472 hours to earn enough in game currency to buy all of the cars. In practice that number could be as much as doubled to pay for upgrades that would be required to win each race.
Free to play games are tuned to balance the fun a player has vs. the developers need to get earn money to pay for the game development via in-app purchases, that's just the way free to play works. I'm not going to say it's wrong, but it at times like this it just doesn't feel quite right.
For players that feel the need to get to 100% in games, take caution with Real Racing 3. It will take a lot of time, or money to make it to 100%.
I’ve only ever positively associated two franchises with the word “Avatar.” The first is the fantastic animated series on Nickelodean (watch it if you haven’t yet, seriously), and the second is Ultima. It was never quite as huge an RPG franchise as Final Fantasy, but it’s got more than enough die-hard fans to justify an iOS rekindling. Hence the upcoming Ultima Forever: Quest for the Avatar.
For those unfamiliar with the series it’s essentially a fantasy action RPG set in the same world (Britannia) but with ever changing threats. Each game also stars a legendary hero known as The Avatar. Hence the title. Ultima Foraver is set over twenty years after the events of Ultima IV with Lord British stepping down from the throne and his progeny, Lady British, taking over. The land is once again in peril and once again in need of The Avatar. A horrible disease referred to as “the Black Weep” is slowly consuming the land; turning people into monsters, ugly-ing up the countryside, and generally being a nuisance. Players must combat the Weep while also conditioning their character to become the next Avatar if Britannia is to have any hope of survival (Spoiler Alert: the series has currently already crossed into double-digits).
Ultima Forever is going to be an online RPG, but without all the rampant ganking found in Ultima Online (thank goodness). The focus this time is on co-op, with up to four players able to team up to take on an assortment of the game’s dungeons. Dungeons that scale in difficulty, depending on the number of participants of course. The number of players can also have an effect on what areas can be accessed as certain locks and other puzzles require a specific number of people present to interact with them. Combat itself is also a bit more involved with position playing a key role. Attacking from the sides and especially the back will typically do more damage, and many enemies incorporate attacks with specific hit zones that can be avoided with enough practice. And as one would expect there’s going to be loot aplenty. But this is looking to be more than a mere dungeon crawler, however.
As I’ve mentioned, there’s an emphasis on turning each player’s character into The Avatar, and to do that they need to master the Eight Virtues. Each Virtue has its own meter that fills up based on the dialog choices a player makes as well as some of the quests they complete. Once they’ve mastered all eight (no easy task as it requires building up a good reputation in all of Britannia’s many towns, among other things) they can throw their own little Avatar parade.
Ultima Forever: Quest for the Avatar is still a few months away with a predicted Spring release, but it’s already looking pretty sharp. And it’s going to be free-to-play, so I expect to see a lot of would-be Avatars running around Britannia when I load it up.
A number of players have been able to enjoy Command & Conquer: Tiberium Alliances in all its meticulously strategic glory for almost a full year now, but the experience has been tied specifically to web browsers. That’s a problem that will cease to exist in the near future.
Fans of the series should note that this isn’t a typical C&C. It’s not real-time strategy and its not divided into small half-hour long skirmishes. Each of the game’s 50,000 (that’s “fifty-thousand”) player servers houses a gigantic circular world map. Players begin on the outside and attempt to fight their way to the middle, which is far easier said than done. Simply reaching the center of the map can take months of planning and teamwork, and then there’s the matter of holding on to the bases that sit within those areas. Comparing this to the original series is sort of like comparing checkers to chess.
Tiberium Alliances is an incredibly player-driven experience. Hence the “Alliances.” NOD and GDI exist pretty much in name only here as player-formed groups can and will consist of both. Once these alliances have been established it’s up to the participants to figure everything out. Who wants to play the heavy hitter? Who wants to act as support? When will so-and-so be on so that you can coordinate an attack against a nearby enemy outpost in order to take it over and gain its bonuses for your alliance? There’s a ridiculous amount of strategy to be found if players are willing to travel deep enough into the rabbit hole.
Combat is also a rather involved affair with specific units gaining an automatic advantage over specific defenses and vice-versa. By the same token, different buildings within a base have different levels of importance in a fight. The Defense Facility, for example, will repair other buildings over time. Take it out and the base will take a while to get back to full strength. Or there’s always the Construction Yard. Kill that and the base is toast regardless. Of course not all bases can be overrun in a single attack, which is why it’s vital to communicate with other alliance members and really plan complex maneuvers ahead of time.
The overall experience is largely unchanged from the browser-based version, with the exception of a new touch-based interface. However, once the iOS version is released Tiberium Alliances will be totally cross-platform with players able to manage their bases and assemble armies on their computer, then immediately jump in where they left off on their mobile devices if need be. Which will be a boon for any serious players as the community is looking pretty intense and involved. In a good way.
Anyone interested in checking out Tiberium Alliances can do so right now through their web browser, of course. But in another month or so the entire life devouring, free-to-play strategy monster will go cross platform. And then there won’t be anywhere left to hide.