November 2010

Arcania: Gothic 4

November 23, 2010

Ten years after the last entry in the series, Arcania: Gothic 4 focuses on the Island of Feshyr in the Southern Seas where a war has be broiling for some time. The self-proclaimed king slaughtered your town and fiancée while you were away, and now you seek revenge. To go up against the might of the King and his army, you must first travel the island looking for lost relics. 

The story is as bland as they come for a standard RPG adventure, and is definitely not one of the high points of the game. You can expect the normal twists and turns from the story as you delve deeper, but it does a passable job moving you from one area to the next. The voice acting, on the other hand, is all over the map. It’s as if the developer could not decide whether to make a serious game or a game with tongue-in-cheek references to genre stereotypes. The main character is voiced extremely well, but tends to be overly serious, which wouldn’t be an issue if every other character you run in to didn’t sound like a cartoon version of a witch or the village idiot.

Where the game does excel is in stripping down the action RPG genre to its bare bones. The genre has become obsessed with morality systems and limited inventory space, and I was shocked I didn’t need to concern myself with either while playing Arcania. You are encouraged to grab everything that isn’t nailed down, no matter if it’s in a friendly person’s house or on the corpse of an orc. Within the first hour of playing, my bag was already brimming with loot and crafting supplies. 

The controls seemed intuitive on the 360 controller, and although it would have been nice to be able to map a little more to the controller for item usage, it still provides almost everything you need to slash, shoot arrows and fireballs at your enemy. Enemies are easy to dodge, and it is only when they gang up on you that you might find yourself in trouble. 

Similar to World of Warcraft, quests and quest-givers are seen on the mini-map, letting you know where people who need help are or where you need to get items. You can even complete a quest even before talking to that person. As was my habit, I would clear out an area before I ever went into town. What? You need a peg leg from that goblin cave? Like this one I got before I came to town? Quest complete! 

Arcania is a broad, traditional action RPG that doesn’t show you anything you haven’t seen before. Still, though, it’s an awesome time-sink if you like looting, crafting, leveling and combat.

Pros: Excellent combat system and controls, back-to-basics WRPG

Cons: Bland story and graphics, too easy

Today Atlus announced the localization of their newest DS game, Radiant Historia. In addition, the wait will be less than we’ve become accustomed to from Atlus, as it is scheduled to be released here for the DS in February 2011. Radiant Historia has a time traveling motif and aims to transport gamers back into the 16-bit golden age of RPGs. READ MORE


November 21, 2010

With so many third-person cover-based shooters out there, you wouldn’t think that a Japanese developer would be the one to truly make something that feels both familiar and incredibly new. Platinum Games, the crazy team behind MadWorld and Bayonetta, returns with Vanquish, one of the most over-the-top shooters I have ever played. That said, it’s also one of the most stylistic and intense shooters around. 

The game plays rather majestically, which is a word I never thought I’d use to describe a shooter. It feels pretty basic at first, but your main character, Sam Gideon, has the ARS or Augmented Reality Suit. It allows him to do some pretty ridiculous things, such as power sliding and slowing down time (which also happens automatically when he is badly damaged). The drawback of the suit is when he does any of these things, he loses power, meaning he needs to wait a few seconds to recharge before he can do it again. 

All of this comes into play during Vanquish’s many fast and frenetic encounters with the enemy forces, a large variety of robots that are hellbent on making sure you don’t survive. The game, at its core, is your typical third-person shooter. But when you power slide into an enemy, kick him into a wall, and then proceed to jump and slow down time to shoot out another three robots nearby, you have something completely different and ultimately amazing.

The controls are precise and, with time, you will be able to pull of ridiculous things that allow you to take down multiple enemies at once. You can only carry three weapons at a time, but the game allows you multiple opportunities to switch between different weapons as you progress. And the more you pick up specific weapons, the more powerful they get. There are also upgrades scattered around that you can pick up that help with this as well. 

Vanquish is all about keeping up a good rhythm, and not in the music game sense. While you may find it comforting to take cover and pick off enemies from afar, which can be helpful in certain situations, doing your best to keep moving is the best way to keep Vanquish from getting stale rather quickly. It is often key to be moving around as much as possible and as quickly as possible, especially in the later areas where you are literally swarmed with enemies. The bosses you face lend well to these strategies you will develop over time. 

The thing that ties Vanquish together is the gorgeous look of the game. Everything looks so clean and the countless things going on during gameplay is impressive. While the voice acting is nothing special, and the story is rather forgettable, they never bog down the experience at all. Vanquish is a game that never relies heavily on story or cutscenes, and it benefits greatly from it. 

Vanquish is truly an accomplishment. It manages to make itself stand out among a crowded genre of Gears of War-clones thanks to the incredibly talented team over at Platinum. They know just how to make sure that their games, while resembling other titles, feel truly different and original. The one drawback is the short campaign length, but this is a game you will feel the need to replay countless times as you try to perfect your techniques. To call this a brilliant game would be an understatement. 

Pros: Tight (and precise) controls; stunning visuals; combat and shooting that sets itself apart from most shooters

Cons: The short game length might be a downside for some


Editor’s note: Brad Talton is an independent game designer and developer. What kind of games? Video games? Board games? Card games? Well, yes. His company, Level 99 Games, creates all kinds of geekiness. In a series of columns here at SBG, Brad shares insights into the game creation process. In this installment, he talks about lingering issues and what’s next. 

I’m currently in the very last stages of putting together Chibi Fighters, with only a few graphics and a little polish left to do. Since I’m still producing and polishing, I suppose it’s not too late to write a little bit about what kinds of polish are needed at the very last steps of the game design. 

At the moment, the only large thing that remains unfinished is the story mode. I need just a few more pieces of background artwork to put in, and am currently working on doing all the animation for the story segments. The way that the characters move on and off of the screen, as well as what music plays, what animations appear, and what sound effects are used are all stored in large configuration files. The process of tweaking these files, running through the story, then retweaking the files again and again to match the final effect I want can be a tedious process. However, the end result is that story mode comes out looking clean and playing fluidly.

A large part of developing a game is not in creating the content for the game, but in making the interpreters for these configuration files. Almost everything in Chibi Fighters, from the text used in Training Mode to the high score Jonathan needs in Target Attack, is contained by configuration files. With these files, there is no need to rebuild and reprogram the application every time a variable needs to be tuned or a misspelling needs to be fixed. Currently, just about everything that is being polished for Chibi Fighters is being done in these kinds of files. In a sense, the game is complete—it’s just the content that is being tuned and refined.

At around this stage of a project, the question comes to mind: what’s next? The more successful products that Level 99 Games has released have been things that let users create for themselves—DM Toolkit and RPG Cartographer—for planning RPGs and making game maps respectively. We want to continue to give people the opportunity to make their visions a reality and enable users to use our products to make the games that they want to make.

Our current toss around idea is an ‘RPG Maker’-style of application, that will let you design a JRPG style game and play it with friends. Another option would be a tactical game maker (that lets you create a Final Fantasy Tactics or Disgaea-style game). And there’s always the option of another video game, as well. I am always open to suggestions, so if you have a preference in this, please come and let me know!

Also, for those in the board game scene, I managed to get down to BGGCon this weekend, and hang out with some of the up and coming developers. We talked about the possibility of iPad versions for a few games—so look out for those soon on the Level 99 Games home page. I’m also working with Kevin Brusky of APE Games on a big licensed game—but no public information on that right now either, sorry!

Hope everyone has a happy Thanksgiving!

Next time, Brad will celebrate the release of his game. Hopefully. Fingers crossed.

Character art by Victoria Parker for Level 99 Games.

Disney Epic Mickey is one of the most anticipated titles of the year and we recently had a chance to join a conference call with the driving force behind this upcoming title, Warren Spector. Hit the jump to listen to an awesome Q&A that has me as excited as ever. READ MORE