February 2011

MLB 2K11 Developer Call

February 25, 2011

This week I had the opportunity to participate in a developer call with some folks from 2K Sports on the upcoming MLB 2K11. The following people were on the call and covered the new features we can expect from this year’s release.

  • Mike Rhinehart, Senior Brand Manager, 2K Sports
  • Jon Rivera, Gameplay Designer, 2K Sports
  • Mark Little, Senior Producer. MLB 2K11

MLB 2K11 is slated for release on March 8, 2011. Hit the jump to listen to the call.


SCEA VP of Product Marketing Scott Steinberg announced today on the official Playstation blog that the PSP-3000 will be dropping in price from $169.99 to $129.99 as of February 27th. The PSP Entertainment Pack will also be dropped in price from $199.99 to $159.99.

This moves comes along with the addition of several top selling games to the PSP’s Greatest Hits and Favorites catalogs. A full list of these games is after the break. READ MORE

Dutch designer Corné van Moorsel brings Factory Fun to the US courtesy of Z-Man Games. A deceptively complex game, Factory Fun will tax your brain as you struggle to arrange machines in your factory in order to maximize your profit. This is not an easy task; by the end of the game your factory will most likely be a chaotic snarl of pipes unless you plan carefully — and are a little lucky. 

Each player (from two to five) is issued a factory board (each slightly different), three white output reservoir tiles, one of each of the four colored supply containers, and a stack of ten face-down machine tiles. Available to all players are an essentially unlimited supply of connecting pipe tiles, thirteen black end product reservoir tiles, and two spare supply tiles of each color. All players start on the 2 position of the money/score track, and the object is to have the most cash after ten rounds.

Each round begins with all players taking one of their face-down machine tiles and simultaneously revealing them in a central area. Players then get to take one of the available machines to install in their factory, but it’s not quite as simple as that. Any player can take any machine; whoever touches a given machine tile first is the one who is stuck with it, for better or worse, so you have to quickly evaluate the feasibility of actually using each machine before a rival swoops in and takes it from you. If you take a machine and do not place it you are penalized five dollars/points, unless you are the last player to select one in a given round.

Each machine has one or more colored inputs with values ranging from 1 to 3 and one output that is either a similarly-valued color or a black end product. All of these connections must be satisfied in order to install the machine. Inputs must be connected to either a supply container or an output of the same color and equal or greater value; outputs must be contained by a white reservoir, other machine’s input or equal or lower value, or a black end product reservoir. You will often need to use various pipes to meet these requirements, and a given pipe can only contain one color of product, so plan accordingly. Placing any non-machine tile costs you one dollar, calculated after you are finished with the installation; each machine is worth its printed value, with more cash being awarded for more complicated and/or demanding devices. You can also move or rotate tiles relatively freely (a move costs one dollar; you are effectively picking it up for zero and replacing it for one), although you are limited to being able to move only two preexisting machines (at a cost of two each) each time you install a new one.

Careful management of your outputs is critical. The limitation of only getting three of the white catch-all reservoirs is one major reason, as is the fact that it will be all but impossible to have all of your inputs satisfied by your supply containers, but connection bonuses are the most important factor. Whenever you connect an output of one machine with an input of another (bearing in mind that you have to meet the input’s requirements), you earn an end of game bonus of five times the value of the connected input (5 for a 1 value, 10 for a 2, and 15 for a 3). With skilled pipe work you can even combine or split outputs in order to make the numbers work: a 3 output can be split to feed a 2 and a 1 input, or three 1 outputs could merge to satisfy a hungry 3 input. Bonus points are often the difference between winning and losing.

Being aware of what outputs you have available to you is key when determining what machine to take each round, but there are a couple of other factors to keep in mind. Certain tiles award you a bonus supply container of one color (one even lets you choose which color), which can be a life-saver in tight situations. Machines that produce the black end product are often worth a lot of cash, but the trade-off there is the fact that the black reservoirs are dead ends and can’t be combined. Perhaps the most important skill to develop is knowing when to forfeit constructing a machine; it can be worth taking a loss if you’re generating bonus payoffs, but sometimes the cost will simply be too much given your current layout.

The amount of thinking and manipulation required to manage your ever-sprawling network of pipes and machines makes Factory Fun seem like less fun than advertised, but successfully surviving the entire ten rounds often changes the overall impression to that of a good mental workout. My only real complaint is the difficulty in keeping track of the cost of extensive remodels towards the later rounds, but that could jut be relative inexperience. The factory boards are double sided, with the reverse “expert” side containing more difficult layouts for advanced play. Factory Fun retails for around $50, which feels about right for the sheer amount of cardboard contained within. As mentioned, it’s a serious brain burner, but even with all of that work a game still plays out in the space of about forty-five minutes to an hour.

Bethesda Softworks has just released the first gameplay footage for their highly anticipated title, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Set to release on 11-11-2011, it follows in the story of Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, taking place roughly 200 years later.

Trailer is after the break. READ MORE

Lord of Arcana

February 24, 2011

The PSP is an RPG gamer’s dream. The genre is well-represented on the system, and the portability of the PSP has convinced most developers that shorter doesn’t mean worse. You can get you turn-based battles, healing potions, and giant dragon enemies in a reasonable-length game designed to be played in small spurts instead of for multiple hours at a time. Lord of Arcana embodies everything that is right about RPGs on the PSP, except it’s not any fun, so it doesn’t matter that I only have to play for 20 minutes at a time.

After a typical “all-powerful” tutorial you find yourself stripped of all useful armor, weapons, and abilities in a temple in the town of Porto Carilo. To prove that you’re worthy to be the next king you have to work your way up from zero to hero again (why the first time wasn’t enough is never explained), only this time it feels like knock-off Monster Hunter. To move the game forward you’ll speak with the woman at the Slayers Guild, pick a quest, and be magically transported to the quest’s starting point (this is actually fairly nice, and I wish more RPGs had a fast travel system). From here you’ll push through the clunky combat until you’ve killed six mandrakes or taken out a boss monster or gathered enough precious herbs. 

Combat with regular monsters is dull because they all act the same. Skeletons all block forcing you to move behind them and strike where they’re vulnerable. Goblins dance like idiots to telegraph their attack which makes timing your blocks and attacks simple. This would be forgivable if combat was quick, but you’ll watch the goblin dance, smack it with your sword, sidestep the attack, watch the goblin dance, smack it with your sword, and sidestep the attack more times than you’d care to count. You’ve got the pattern down, and it feels like the game is just trying to wear you down. You’ll cramp your hand as well. To stay locked on to an enemy you have to keep the left trigger held down. A toggle would make more sense here, and at the very minimum there should be an option. Boss monsters aren’t any better – they’re just bigger, which means more health, and their attacks are more annoying. You’ll run into foes that shrink you to miniscule proportions. That sounds neat. Maybe I have to attack some small soft part and being small in inconvenient but the only real way to claim victory. Nope. Being small just makes avoiding attacks harder since you move slower and increases the time of the fight because you’ll spend all of your small time looking for the artifact that makes you big again so that you can inflict some damage on the enemy. Both regular battles and boss battles culminate in a flashy move, but it’s not enough to save the combat system from boring you to tears.

There are an impressive number of weapons and armor available though. You’ll always have something new to pick up, equip to try out, and realize that you’ve broken the game because your firelance has a longer range than most enemies’ awareness ring meaning that you can safely stand back and chip away at their health in absolute safety. (How that made it past the testing phase is a mystery to me.)

Lord of Arcana supports 4-player local multiplayer which could be neat, but enemy patterns don’t change so you’re just sharing the tedium with friends. Combat and monster patterns need to be scaled for multiplayer a la Bionic Commando ReArmed’s co-op boss fights. Instead you’ve just got four swords plinking away at the same regular enemies instead of one. To make matters worse, only the host can save his progress. Everybody else is just along for the ride with nothing to show for it at the end of the session. The concept of Lord of Arcana is a good one, but the execution is off. You’ll be better served with a Monster Hunter game if deep, real-time RPG combat is what you’re after.

Pros: Tons of armor and weapons, fast travel to quest start locations

Cons: No reward for non-hosts in multiplayer, unalterable lock-on mechanic, dull combat