More iPhone Gaming

Axe in Face – Cute music and funny setup, but the gameplay didn’t catch me.  I like the use of iPhone/drawing controls.

The Blocks Cometh – A platform set in a world like Tetris, blocks constantly fall from the top of the screen.  Enjoying it but death seems to come out of nowhere.

Chaos Rings – Grabbed it on sale and glad I didn’t pay full for it.  A decent iPhone adaptation of Final Fantasy-style games, but the combat isn’t exceptional and it has less story and character than most RPGs.

Cut the Rope – Fun puzzles!  Definitely recommended.

Disc Drivin’ – Funny multiplayer game… it’s a turn based driving game!  Shuffleboard around a racetrack.  Fun was had by all.  Great design for both local and online multiplayer.

Dungeon Raid – Really addictive puzzle game with RPG trappings.  Games can sometimes go “infinite” and never end, which gets really dull.

Gravity Guy – There seems to be a sub-genre of “auto-run to the right and tap to jump” games, and this has the same problem as the others: it has a ton of cheap deaths.  They have a clever menu option that allows for high-res graphics to be downloaded on the fly, which seems smart to keep the download size small.

Kami Retro – Like Lemmings as a platformer, with swipe controls.  One weird part is that you must complete each level four times to proceed.  Didn’t hold my interest.

Meow Meow Happy Fight – “Twin Stick”-style deathmatch game with a cute art style.  Doesn’t seem very skillful so far.

Tiny Wings – Love it!  A perfectly implemented and simple gameplay mechanic with all the great graphics/sound/music you’d want.  Big recommendations!

6th Planet – Advertises that it has a comic book story along with the game.  The comic is awful and the game is just Lunar Lander.  Lots of hype, little game.

Shadow Era – Freemium clone of the World of Warcraft card game.  A cool way to play some cards for free, but I can’t imagine actually buying packs for this game.

Infinity Blade – Great touch controls, great visuals, interesting equipment, but repetitive.  It feels like all iPhone games are doomed to be arcade style games with little narrative, exploration, or adventure.

Gaming on iPhone so far

Battleheart – Biggest game for me so far.  Lead a party of adventurers in a series of battles. No story or exploration, just combat, but it’s fast and the controls are great.  Typical addictive RPG elements seals the deal.

Super Mega Worm – Eat people as a giant worm.  Controls are solid but the game doesn’t feel challenging.  For a buck, it’s fun and silly.

Death Knight – Uhhh played about 2 minutes and deleted.  Creaky controls that got in my way and didn’t like the art style.

Rage HD – Good ideas with the controls, but tilt control still feels unnatural for me, especially in a first person shooter.

Astronut – Cute, easy to play, solid controls.  Fun with gravity.

League of Evil – Adorable graphics and Super Meat Boy/N+/Splosion Man gameplay.  Great so far.

Helsing’s Fire – Promising puzzle game with awesome art and an interesting gameplay style involving shining light.

Street Fighter 4 – About as good a port as one could hope.  A novelty buy/play for me.

Space Miner – Hoping to get into this game but the graphics are a weird combo of anime guys, hillbillies, and 90s-looking 3d.  Controls have only been so-so.

Angry Birds – Yeah.

Puzzle Agent – Fun puzzles and hilarious characters and story.  Release more of these, please!

Anyone have a favorite?

Civ 5 gets modern game balance

I was heartened to read there is another large Civ 5 patch on the way.

From February Patch Notes:

We wanted to improve the effectiveness of buildings. We also wanted to improve how cities interact with the map. Adjustments to terrain have increased production, while buildings that modify production have been adjusted in tune with these changes.

The perennial balance problem in the Civilization series has the tension between “Tall” nations, which have a few big cities, and “Wide” nations, which have as many cities as they can fit.  The problem with enabling Wide nations comes when Wide goes to “Extra Wide”.  A 10 city civ doesn’t have many advantages over a 20 city civ.  Enabling Wide while discouraging Extra Wide is a problem that all previous version of Civ have punted on.  This massive patch directly addresses the lucrative incremental bonuses that city sprawl generates.

What’s clear now, beyond the specifics of ICS balance, is that this team gets modern game balance.  With rabid and intelligent fan discussion on the internet, balance problems are quickly identified and exploited.  Internal testing, before a game launches, lacks the scale, diversity, and especially the critical nature of the gaming community.  Patching has become commonplace in modern gaming, but fan communication is still an emerging art.

We’ll see how many companies can successfully adopt the ongoing development style made famous by Blizzard.  With Starcraft 2 and World of Warcraft, even small updates receive careful attention and long stints on “Public Test” servers.  They have also exemplified the benefit of ongoing development: sustained interest in the company and their products.  In the age of DLC, it is possible to monetize fan bases.  Civ 5 has released a few DLC packs that add new leaders and scenarios, and more.

360 Retail Good and Bad Bits

Haven’t been posting a lot, so here’s a few retail games I’ve played in the last few months and a few good and bad parts of each of them.

Final Fantasy 13

Good Bits: Once it gets going, gameplay is unique and exciting; captures the feel of raiding (a la WoW) in a single player experience; surprisingly sympathetic characters; many challenging late-game side quests

Bad Bits: Takes a long, long time to get going; uninteresting antagonists; linear areas with little exploration until near the end of the game; character customization often doesn’t feel very customized; item purchasing and crafting systems are way more work than they are worth until the very end of the game

Bayonetta

Good Bits: Awesomely over-the-top main character that even my girlfriend can love; dodge button also gives a sweet slow-mo effect, which is the foundation of better-than-Devil May Cry gameplay; perfect difficulty curve that invites multiple replays; easy to replay stages and try for higher scores

Bad Bits: Hardest difficulty strips out all the fun game mechanics; occasionally frustrating enemies, though maybe that’s the idea; token obnoxious young guy character

Assassin’s Creed 2

Good Bits: Hilariously adorable Italian accents; much less repetitive than AC1; beautiful setting and wonderful environments; cool and often wild combination of sci-fi, historical setting, and conspiracy theories; combat has a lot of options and variety, especially for a stealth-based game

Bad Bits: Modern day segments are lame and poorly acted; some weapons, like the smoke bomb, make combat too easy; money and villa development are cool at first but run out of tricks halfway in; still has inane collectibles that are impossible to find without a guide

Red Faction: Guerilla

Good Bits: Destructible buildings really bring out the “Tim the Tool Man” grunts; one of those games you play on Easy mode and never look back; laying into a dude or a pillar or a wall or a vehicle with the super sledgehammer; weapons provide radically different ways of approaching most missions

Bad Bits: Combat isn’t actually any fun on higher difficulty levels; pretty repetitive; failing missions is often a huge time drain; really corny plot, voice acting, cliche characters, wasted subplots (though these are missed opportunities rather than knocks on the enjoyment of the game); vehicles often feel way too vulnerable and dangerous

Borderlands

Good Bits: Full blown RPG-style features in a shooter; fun and funky take on a mad max world; guns have much more variety than usual games; DLC adds whole areas and new features; occasionally genuinely hilarious and quotable

Bad Bits: Weak story and poor characterization of main characters; quests after quests can feel like the worst parts of World of Warcraft; keeping track of quests in multiplayer is difficult; hard to find people at a similar quest level online; although weapons are interesting, grenades and shields seem like wasted opportunities

Wolfenstein

Good Bits: Solid shooter gameplay with a variety of guns and special powers; easy to replay missions to look for new secrets; fun upgrade system for weapons; well paced level design with a good tension between all-out action and sneaky segments

Bad Bits: Laggy, buggy multiplayer that has a ton of missed opportunity; non-story, blank main character (actually reminiscent of GTA3’s protagonist), etc; the basic machine guns are strong enough to make the other, scarce weapons feel marginal; it would be nice to get some help finding the obscure secrets after finishing a level; cliche super-fast mutant enemies are obnoxious to fight; boss fights devolve into “shoot the glowing spot”

Halo ODST

Good Bits: Cool weapons and fun weapon achievements; the low key story is a good contrast to the “save the world” of normal Halo

Bad Bits: Celebrity voice acting is absolutely wasted on awful dialog and one-dimensional characters; having “stamina” and “health” instead of “shields” and “health” is confusing and leads to way too much red screen and panting hurt dude sounds; weapons only have a few clips and enemies take entire clips to kill, which leads to constant weapon scavenging; still has those occasionally cheap-feeling sections where tanks one-shot vehicles or several brutes pile on and once, causing instant death

Tennis for One

Tennis game’s single player modes, such as in Rockstar’s Table Tennis and Sega Superstar Tennis, have been letting me down lately.  Matches become tedious and occasionally super hard.  To me, shot assistance is the central issue.

Shot assistance comes means automatic position and timing “lock-on” when pressing the shot button as the ball inbounds.  So long as you’re reasonably close to the trajectory, the character gets in position and hits at the appropriate time.  I liked this at first, as it makes huge rallies happen right away, but it undermines the skill involved in this basic action.

Without shot timing, smaller things such as movement and shot selection become all-important.  This is OK in multiplayer, but the AI can do these things trivially:  if the AI can get to the ball, it will.  Only pulling the AI out of the position will consistently work.  The other way to win, unfortunately, is to continue a rally until the AI completely gaffes and lets by a free point.  These points feel really frustrating, like I’m just grinding away at each match.

The structure of the single player modes in these games contributes to the tedium.  Much of the content takes the form of arbitrary “tournaments” where win streaks are all that matter.  Especially in Rockstar’s Table Tennis, a tournament can take over an hour and losing a match makes all that time feel wasted.  I did enjoy some of the minigames and bonus content outside the tournaments, but it doesn’t replace a good single player progression.

These games, like other casual sports games I’ve played, seem to exist in a deadzone between good party games and good single player games.  They are neither as ubiquitous as Wii Tennis nor as skill-intensive as Virtual Tennis.  Ultimately, my dissatisfaction with the single player modes made the games feel incomplete.  I picked them both up used, and I can recommend them for that price.

Introducing Invade the Ruins, my Warcraft 3 project

Hey everyone, this is a post to explain what I’ve been doing with my days for the last few weeks and on and off for many years now.  I work on an add-on adventure for the Warcraft 3 game called Invade the Ruins.  Normally Warcraft 3 is a strategy game, but my project is a cooperative action game.  It’s meant to be played online with 3 other people through Battle.net, which is built-in to WC3.

I’m working on an update to Invade the Ruins, and I want to make the best version of my map I’ve ever released.  To do that I need feedback from you about your experiences with it.  The focus of “Update 1” is on the Hero characters and their abilities.  Are they fun? Interesting? Useful?

Download and try out the new beta release, read about the hero changes, and leave me some feedback on the forums!

Hey, Some Forums

Invade the Ruins now has Forums!

Stay on Target

The Dune Strider revamp completes the hero overhaul for Update 1 of Invade the Ruins.  She’s an archer meant to pump out damage but also heal allies occasionally.  Her low health means she must use her healing, invulnerability, and teleportation spells to evade danger.  Her design has always been one of the weaker ones, which is a shame given how popular archer characters are.  Here are her spells:

  • Sand Slash: Hits two nearby enemies for good damage.  Maybe the best way to turn excess mana into killing.  Great for emergencies.
  • Glass Barrier: Invulnerability bubble.  Extra ranks decrease the cooldown.  Sorta lame.
  • Sand Surgeon: Summons a spirit that pulses heals to nearby allies.  Can dismiss the spirit early to reclaim some mana.  For a variety of reasons, she’s the worst group healer.
  • Tearing Winds: Teleport to an allied unit, including special “Shop Wisps”.  Unique and well-loved by players.  A perfect 2-rank spell.
  • Searing Sun: Adds big fire damage to each arrow attack.  Not an impressive ultimate, though it has fun synergy with her mid-dungeon bouncing shots upgrade.

General spell tuneup: Faster heals from Sand Surgeon, no more “Dismiss” option, lower base mana cost.  Sand Slash grants a temporary attack speed buff, providing Searing Sun synergy.  Glass Barrier moved from 6-rank to the “boss reward” slot, replacing her old lame ability there.

Searing Sun is too boring to be an ultimate OR a 6-rank spell, but fire shots fits her too well to trash it.  I’m unable to do a pure “exploding shot” for technical reasons, though my compromise might be just as good.  When enemies are killed by Searing Sun, they create a spirit which explodes and hurts other nearby enemies.

These explosive “Sunsparks” proved fun in early playtests, so I added a chain explosion effect.  Anything killed by a Sunspark also forms a Sunspark.  Her Sand Surgeon will also turn into a Sunspark when it’s done, giving her more ways to set up a big combination explosion.  Her Ultimate will take the concept even further, giving her an on-demand way to deal area damage.

Bathe in Heat, her new Ultimate, creates a spread of Sunsparks which explode in succession.  When cast on a pack of enemies, it generally kills a few enemies outright, who form Sunsparks, which explode for more damage.  It can be really satisfying when it chains out several times.

This represents a huge improvement to her options and interactivity, so I also want to improve her spell names.  Sand Slash becomes Sandstorm.  Sand Surgeon becomes Desert Oasis.  Glass Barrier becomes Mirage.  It’s a little thing, but making the names more distinct should help players learn the different spells more easily.

Thanks for reading!  The next article up will cover some general game changes.  After that, a post about the Beta release of the map!  Stay tuned.

An even better match of Magic: Duels of the Planeswalkers

A few months ago I talked about Duel Decks.  They’re a cheap way to play good Magic.  The next step up came out: Duels of the Planeswalkers, out on Xbox 360.  You get eight theme decks for the price of one, for $10, and it’s packed with features and modes.

The first run at the campaign doesn’t impress: the starting deck is a green stompy deck without much in the way of instants or strategy.  If you draw Blanchwood Armor, you’ll probably win.

Once decks start getting unlocked, though, the real fun starts.  Like Street-Fighter-Every-Matchup-Is-Different-Fun.  As the wins roll in and cards start unlocking, each deck morphs into something new.  The white deck starts as a weenie deck and adds huge air threats.  The black deck starts as a discard and bleed, then adds strong control.  The Jund (Black Red Green) deck starts as an almost tournament-style removal deck and adds huge burning dragons.  Matchups change as new cards are unlocked and each deck is analyzed in detail.

Unlocked cards can be added but the base cards can’t be removed, meaning new power cards also the deck fatter.  Each card asks the question “Is it better to draw this than another card in the deck?”  Deckbuilding isn’t a process of picking the best 10-12 cards in a set, adding 3-4x of each of them, and ignoring the rest.

Online and Cooperative modes work great, which, given the rarity of good online and coop, must be harder to pull off than I’d think.  The AI is also better than expected and can make optimal attacking, blocking, and removal decisions, though it can’t bluff and it blows counterspells early.  Anything involving the current turn is accurately judged, but the AI will never go into desperation mode and line itself up for a game-winning topdeck.

Now the developers need to milk the hell out of the game.  I’m dying to give them more of my money.  If I could pick the way to have my money leeched from me, here is what it would be:

  • $2 decks (standard 60 card decks with 15 unlocks)
  • Each deck adds one new unlock to each of the other decks
  • Seamless integration with campaign
  • No “Gain 1 life each time a black spell is cast” cards

Wishlist aside, Duels of the Planeswalkers is a perfect bite-size game to play once or twice a day.  Now my Gamefly subscription, on the other hand… that’s just addiction.

Knight Writer

The Dusk Knight is the second-to-last hero in Update 1 of my Invade the Ruins map project.  She’s a tough tank character who deals damage through counterattacks but is a little dull to play.   I’m looking to give her a few more attacks to choose from.  Here are her current skills:

  • Stinging Blades: Hits enemies surrounding her and taunts them to hit her.  Her rank 6 attack spell synergizes with her other abilities, which benefit from her taking damage.
  • Astral Jaunt: Blinks a short distance and heals her in the process.  Allows for strategic maneuvering but I need more incentive for players to rank it up.
  • Razormail: Increases her passive armor and reflects a portion of damage dealt to her back at the attacker.  An appealing 6 rank ability but one that isn’t interactive!
  • Raven Reversal: Damages enemy units, heals her, and provides allies with an armor boost.  All effects become stronger when her health is lower.  A good 2 rank ability that could be more.
  • Paralytic Poison: Deals big damage to nearby enemies and slows their attack and movement speed to a crawl.  A good ultimate that is a little simple but also fun and useful.

First, Razormail gets the Words of Reassurance treatment.   I’m moving it to the item ability slot, replacing her Shadowmeld ability, and removing the armor bonus.  I’m also pruning the temporary armor boost from Raven Reversal.  Her base armor goes up by 4 and she gets more agility per level, leaving her in mostly the same place her armor was before.

This makes room for a new attack ability.  I want to stay true to the Warden revenge theme and her cold-hearted fighting style.  Her other niches are close-range area-effect damage and regaining life.  I’m OK with a little redundancy, especially if each ability has different synergies with every other ability.  This new ability is going to deal close range area damage as well as two additional effects.  I’ve wanted to give her a little crowd control to let her help allies, which a warstomp-style stun will accomplish.  I also want to give her more control over her mana, so we’ll return mana when it’s used.  It’ll be on a moderate cooldown so I’m not worried about either of these effects getting out of control.

Even though I have a design I like, there’s a lot of work to fit it in her repertoire.  I don’t think stuns make for good 6 rank abilities, so I’ll need to rework Raven Reversal to be 6 rank.  The essence of Reversal is to deal lots of damage at low health and heal a portion of her missing health.  I’ve simplified the damage scaling and the tooltip is clearer.  Now, it “deals up to triple damage when close to death”, which is a lot clearer than the old “deals 100-600 damage”.

With Raven Reversal converted to 6 rank, I can lock down the mechanics of the new spell:

  • Quelling Rift: Turns her skin into an Astral rift, unleashing a blast of maelstrom and mana.  Stuns nearby enemies for 3 seconds.  Also, channels up to 20% of her health into damage and restores up to 100 mana.

Damage dealt is based on the level of the spell, converting 25% of health lost at rank 1 and 50% of health lost at rank 2.  At 1000 max health, typical starting health, this will deal 50 damage at rank 1 and 100 damage at rank 2.  At 4000 health, typical late-game health, damage increases to 200 and 400.  I think these numbers are reasonable along with stunning and restoring mana.

Behind the scenes, the life drain effect scales down when the player would kill herself or come too close to killing herself.  When she’s below 20% health, it only stuns nearby enemies.  If she’s between 20% and 40%, it will drain her down to 20%.  Over 40 will drain the full 20%.  The mana she gets back is based on whether or not she unleashed a full blast.

I like what emerges with each combination of skills.  Stinging Blades and Quelling Rift combine to form a potent tanking lockdown.  Rift and Astral Jaunt allow her to zip around and save allies.  Rift and Reversal deal a lot of damage and keep health high.  If she invests in both healing spells, she can go all-out absorbing damage and keeping herself up.  Her abilities are interesting and unique among all of the characters.  Stay tuned for the last hero post and for the release of the Update 1 beta!

To the Ends of the Earth

Today I’m talking about the Earthtalker, the third-to-last hero to be renovated in my Invade the Ruins update.  He’s generally underpicked as a hero but a favorite of those who do play him.  I’m hoping to add a little synergy as well as giving him something to help his party.  Here’s his current skill lineup:

  • Flarefist’s Inscription: Plants a magical tag on the ground which sizzles for 6 seconds, then explodes, dealing damage to enemies nearby.  One of his bread-and-butter 6 rank spells.
  • Soulhoof Stomp: Deals damage to nearby enemies which is multiplied based on how many enemies he hits.  Dares him to wade into melee, which is unusual for a caster.  His other 6 rank attack spell.
  • Scarfur’s Aegis: Reduces the damage taken by melee attacks by a large amount.  His final 6 rank ability which has great synergy with Soulhoof.
  • Ghosteye’s Salvo: Causes his ranged attack to occasionally deal massive bonus damage to buildings.  His 2 rank utility spell.
  • Deadhorn’s Firebrand: Surrounds him with a burning aura that does massive damage to enemies near him but also drains a lot of mana until cancelled.  His ultimate power and a fun one to use, especially in a combo with his other abilities.

His item ability is Boulderback’s Rage, which is a frenzy ability, increasing his attack speed temporarily.  I added Boulderback in the last update and it’s a lot of fun, but it also overlaps and stacks too well with Ghosteye’s Salvo.   Salvo is the type of passive ability I’m cutting in the new version, and removing it will make room for a new party-friendly power.

Every player wants more mana.  Mana-granting abilities unfortunately tend to be simultaneously balance-breaking yet dull to use.  Alternatively, attaching a mana bonus to an existing ability can be a great way to add a little mana here and there and encourage the use of those abilities.  I’ve wanted to add some sort of catch-up ability that helps players stay together.  Often one player will run back to a store or to the garden and players get bored during the return trip.  Here’s my idea:

  • Ghosteye’s Huntstone: Summons a stone which draws in all distant allies to it and then restores mana to all nearby allies.  180 second cooldown.

It costs no mana to activate.  Restores 50 mana at rank 1 and 100 mana at rank 2,  just enough to cast one more spell and get through one more battle.  It should also allow the Earthtalker player to smooth out his own mana usage.

The other ability I’ve wanted to improve upon is Deadhorn’s Firebrand.  Spells which give the player a chance to spend a lot of mana often means overdosing and causing frustration from no mana.  The mana-cost-over-time portion of Firebrand just doesn’t mesh well with the mana-hungry design of the map.

One of my “pivot points” for this ability is the startup cost versus the over-time cost.  Currently it costs 15 to start up and 15 per second after that.  A high startup price discourages  smart on-and-off control.  Pricing the over-time cost any lower feels like a lame, slow leech.  Unless I really change it up, budging on price is tough.  What if the over-time price could be zero and there was some way to keep the Earthtalker from using it forever?

Here’s my idea: big upfront cost, zero over-time cost, and the spell lasts until he casts another spell.  Doesn’t include items or Boulderback Rage.  The synergies and choices change depending on the spells the player invested in.  Throw down a flame tag and wade into melee for a while, perhaps risking some damage.  Stomping and burn aura can alternate, but not too many times, with the mana cost being clearer than the 15-mana-per-second drain “Where did my mana go?” problem.  Carry the aura into the next fight or drop the huntstone and get a chunk of mana back?  I hope these changes and more will make Update 1 the best version of the map yet!  See you soon with more articles.

Under the Sea

Today I’ll be talking about the Trident Beast, the next hero to be reworked in my Invade the Ruins update.  The naga tends to be a fan favorite and has a variety of fun abilities.  I’ve had a couple small tweaks in mind for him as well as one big change.  Here are his current abilities:

  • Cleanse Our Wounds: Bouncing chain heal.  Works well with his minions.  Cheaper than the other heals but also markedly weaker.  Definitely a useful 6-point ability but you’d need another source of healing in the group.
  • Watery Minions: A pair of murlocs who attack fast and learn a couple spells.  These little guys are fun but the spells could be a more straightforward.
  • Clobber: His melee hits also hits nearby enemies for a percentage of that damage.  Such a fun ability for melee.  I’ve been trying to add extra punch to passive abilities like these and I have an idea for this one.
  • Scent of Blood: Greatly increases his and his minions’ attack speed at the cost of health over time.  Extremely powerful and great synergy with all of his other spells.  The health cost isn’t nothing (about 500) but it’s small compared to his health.
  • Gift of the Tides: Self-resurrection on a long timer.  I like that he bends one of the biggest rules of the map: that battle is dangerous and death is permanent.  Sort of a bummer to have two passive spells, though.

Also worth noting is his Ensnaring Nets item power, which lets him immobilize enemies.  Item powers are abilities that occupy the sixth spell slot but are grey and inactive until the character finds a particular item. Immobilize isn’t actually very good and nobody uses it, so I want to replace it.  Shifting one of his current abilities into the item ability slot might be a step in the right direction.  The three candidates are Clobber, Scent of Blood, and Gift of the Tides.

Clobber would fit well as an item power (he’d get a new trident or something).  It also matches my goal of reducing the number of passive abilities in the game.  The other route to go with Clobber would be to improve its synergy with Cleanse Our Wounds and Watery Allies in some way.  Possibly, he could have some sort of mana bonus like with the Feral Diabolist’s Rippling Sinew.

Scent of Blood, a percentage-based ability, would reduce easily from two ranks to one.   I have a few reservations, though.  I don’t like charging mana for item abilities and I don’t think SoB makes for a good use-it-on-cooldown type spell.  It would also be really abstract as an item ability.  Lastly, SoB is just a fun and satisfying spell to pick, cast, and upgrade.  Great skills are hard to design and I want players to savor this one.

Gift of the Sea also makes for an abstract item ability, but at least its name could directly reference a gift of the sea.  Making it an item ability would also solve the problem of what to upgrade in a self-rez ability (I can only adjust the cooldown of the spell).  I haven’t shifted a spell from ultimate to free before, but that won’t stop me!

With that resolved, I had to come up with a new ultimate.  Which is hard… so I stalled by fixing all of his other abilities to make more sense.  Here’s the breakdown:

  • Cleanse Our Wounds’ heals more on the main target and scales better with rank to keep up with his huge health pool.
  • Watery Minions only learn Abolish Magic, but at rank 1, and deal more damage at high ranks.  Their other spells were more distraction than benefit and now these pets are clearly counter-debuff.
  • Clobber now integrates his Carnivorousness hidden ability and improves it.  The Trident Beast has a hidden power where he gains a small tick of health and mana so long as he’s landing killing blows.  Clobber is now the face of this ability as well as a way to upgrade it higher.  This gives the naga a synergy that combines Sarcomany and Rippling Sinew’s ideas.
  • Scent of Blood burns more health to offset the buffs to Cleanse and Clobber/Carnivorousness and to encourage judicious use.

With all of his other abilities shaped up, I spent almost an entire afternoon trying to come up with a good new ultimate.  I stepped through every ability in WC3 and even looked up what all World of Warcraft naga abilities were.  My favorite take-away was using totems for something.  Special totem abilities are tough to script but it would be worth it if I had a great idea.  WC3 totems heal, trap enemies, and scout, so nothing there fit, especially as a war-loving naga’s ultimate.  Most WoW totems are passive buffs, though there are some emergency elemental-summoning totems.  I don’t like the idea of adding another creature, but I do like the emergency idea.  Then I remembered one WC3 hero spell I hadn’t used: Big Bad Voodoo.  Say it with me now: invulnerability totem.  His is called “Tidal Post”.  You can cast in when the beta version of Invade the Ruins is released!  Join me soon for more articles.

Swashbuckling Derring-do

The Swashbuckler is the next hero overhaul in my Invade the Ruins update.  I have to admit, the Swashbuckler has always been a bit of a bastard child for me.  He’s very popular on the selection screen, but I had neither the will nor the ideas to make him a hero I truly enjoyed playing.  With some of the new ideas and methods I’ve learned, I’m determined to find a fun new playstyle for him.  Here are his current abilities:

  • Hidden Blade: Instant damage and additional big damage over time.  A lot of damage to a single foe, but occasionally feels like it isn’t worth the time it takes to target and cast.
  • Cunning Distraction: Puts all the enemies around him to sleep and gives him invisibility.  Big damage on the first attack from the shadows.  This 6 rank spell has always been somewhat unpopular and is a good example of the sort of spell that would be incredible in melee WC3 but just doesn’t feel as powerful as some damage abilities.
  • Soused Swagger: Increases attack and movement speed based on rank.  For when you just want to beat up a lot of guys and have a good time, here’s your 6 rank frenzy spell.  Numbers-wise this spell is amazing but it usually just gets the Swashbuckler killed when he runs ahead of the party, slashing like mad.
  • Daring Parry: Puts up a shield that absorbs damage at the cost of mana.  A cool spell that is really efficient but players often run out their whole mana pool using it.  A solid 2-rank spell, but one which is often misused.
  • Attack from All Sides: Creates several extra illusionary forms that deal damage but can be dispelled.  This Ultimate ability is a home-run and everyone’s favorite part about him.  It lets him focus damage on a particular target, occupy an entire enemy flank, or serve as a distraction as everyone retreats.  I want the rest of his abilities to be as cool as this.

Swashbuckler is the best example of a hero with really solid numbers but without some of the spice that would make him a fun brawler.  Players have a hard time using his abilities at the right time.  On the other hand, the flavor of his abilities is great and preserving his move-set makes sense.  His abilities just need to have clearer methods of usage.

I started by thinking about the combos I had begun to build into other heroes.  What is the Swashbuckler spin on this concept?  What sort of mechanics would tie into the ideas of fencing pirates and gleeful rum-guzzlers?  The key idea for me came as twist on the “stance switching” concept in other games.  By encouraging him to move between all of his states (invisible, parrying, drunk), I could encourage players to loop around his four abilities.  Here’s how I’m structuring that loop:

  • When drunk from Soused Swagger, he may “snap out of it” by activating Daring Parry, which heals 40% of his health.
  • When overwhelmed in Daring Parry, Cunning Distraction will get him out of there, and also restore a good chunk of mana.
  • If his sneak attack from Cunning Distraction is a Hidden Blade instead of a normal attack, the bonus damage is doubled.
  • After a successful use of Hidden Blade, the Swashbuckler may “share a round” with his party with Soused Swagger, getting everyone drunk instead of only him.

If a Swashbuckler player has invested in the full array of his powers, he always has a hint on what he can do next.  Did he charge recklessly into combat with Soused Swagger?  Activate Daring Parry and recover that health.  Is he tanking more than he should and needs to get back to an outside melee position?  He can use Cunning Distraction for the price of “cheaper than free”.  Does he see a juicy, full-health target that just entered the fight?  The bonus damage on a sneak attack Hidden Blade will kill all but the strongest enemies.  After that crucial kill, he can boost his allies and help finish the fight off.

The Swashbuckler’s “combo loop” plays off of how Swashbucklers naturally tend to play, and gives them more and more clever options as they work through the game.  I like how this new playstyle looks and I hope to you enjoyed reading about my process.  There will be four heroes more and there are lots more changes along the way!

Xbox Live Thumbs Up: Worth a Taste

One of the underrated parts about online-connected consoles with easy demo access are the 10-15 minute tastes of games that wouldn’t be otherwise worth the purchase.  Sure, it might miss out on a few of the weapons or last bosses, but most B-movie action games just don’t justify the $60 entry fee.  Here are a bunch of games with fun demos.

Outrun Online Arcade (Arcade)

Like putting a few quarters into an arcade cabinet, this demo has some fun racing and cool stuff to see.  Great frame rate, good controls, nice visuals.  If you get suckered in, you might find yourself dropping the $10 for the full game.  Definitely feels like a perfect arcade throwback with the music, menus, and sound effects.  I like the “girlfriend” character that rides along in the car, her dialog makes the game feel so retro.

Wheelman (Retail)

Vin Diesel stars in this great GTA-style mission demo.  I’m sure the rest of the game doesn’t have this much polish, but this tutorial-as-epic-getaway is packed with awesome action and corny lines.  Get VD on your Xbox!

Space Invaders Extreme (Arcade)

Another one of those retro remakes biting off a piece of the Geometry Wars style.  Takes the (now somewhat dull) classic SI gameplay and makes you many times more powerful and encourages combos, while also keeping up the heat for dodging bullets and watching where you move.  Definitely worth playing a few times and possibly worth the cash.

Wolverine (Retail)

We had fun watching Wolverine get ripped up and then regenerate his flesh in combat.  He’s finally as deadly as he should be after so many games where his slashes were slaps.  The Lunge power is also fun to use.  Demo quits just before the magma boss or else this would be a perfect cheesy demo!

Afro Samurai (Retail)

Like Wolverine, but with Afro Samurai!

Crystal Defenders (Arcade)

Final Fantasy Tower Defense.  Anyone with a soft spot for Square characters should enjoy this cutesy demo.  It’s hard to believe that this game is worth the money, given the handheld-looking graphics and price point twice what it was for iPod, but the taste of gameplay here is nice!

Red Faction (Retail)

Some mediocre 3rd person shooting and then OMG I AM IN A MECH AND I AM THRASHING WHOLE BUILDINGS WITH MY ROBOT ARMS OF DESTRUCTION!  Then I’m shooting a gun from the back of a truck.  Well, for 30 seconds this is one of the most awesomely destructive game I’ve ever played.  I wish it wasn’t padded with 10 minutes of poo!

Xbox Live Thumbs Down: Out of Control

Any game released today has some redeeming value.  Even the worst franchise cash-in titles can pass the time, even though there might be twenty other games more fun than it.  What, then, makes a game a thumbs down?  Generally, the difference-maker is the controls.  If the controls don’t feel right, they distract from every other part of the game.

Halo Wars (Retail)

I’m a big fan of the recent attempts at bringing RTS games to consoles.  The gameplay isn’t quite there, but each release brings one or two innovations towards the goal.  Halo Wars’ trick is the Y button, which quickly uses that unit’s special abilities such as throwing grenades or using special weapons.  Quick and definitely console-like.  Not fully thought out, though, as the game gets very confused once you’ve selected a whole army.  The Y button ends up using everyone’s special at once!  This oversight makes it hard to break out of the “round up the army and throw them all at the enemy” mold of other mediocre RTS games.

Exit 2 (Arcade)

Classic games like Lemmings, Lost Vikings, old Prince of Persia, are generally too creaky and unplayable to be fun these days.  This is what xbox arcade is for: bringing back old, simple gameplay except revamped and modernized.  Punishing, time-limit-based gameplay can be thrilling and fun, but when it turns into frustration just in the span of a demo, something is wrong.  The wonderful art style and tricky levels of this puzzle game are, like the first Exit, once again completely wasted on terrible controls.  Simply jumping, moving up and down, ordering around the people you need to rescue are all sluggish and slow.  It doesn’t make me feel like the crafty, agile Mr. ESC.

Ninja Blade (Retail)

Ninjas are rabid creatures with incredible powers.  Make me feel like a powerful ninja!  The setup cutscene involves jumping out of a helicopter and you must quicktime hit buttons or repeat the scene!  After killing 6 enemies mid-fall with one slash in the cutscene, the demo begins with loads of grunt mutants that take 12 katana slashes to kill.  How does a katana travel through a body without maiming it?  The controls might not be so bad, but it feels so tedious to fight helpless enemies that never die.

Bionic Commando Multiplayer Demo (Retail)

Gone are the tough but simple controls that made the Bionic Commando Rearmed remake so fun.  Instead, aim your cursor all around the screen and hope there’s something to lock on to!  Without good controls, BC is useless.  A terrible misstep.

Skate 2 (Retail)

What do Skate players want in their open-world, free-flowing skate game?  Cutscenes with jackasses talking about your time in prison.  The demo for Skate 1 was perfect: pure gameplay, lots of time to try things out, easy but deep controls, and more.  Skate 2 adds really janky walking and pushing-stuff-around controls and the aforementioned cutscene.  Even a few playthroughs haven’t made the new gameplay familiar enough to be fun.

Virtual-On Oratoria Tangram (Arcade)

One of the games from old Sega assumed to be a classic, modern players probably won’t be able to enjoy this game at all.  Without the arcade sticks, this game is a terrible third person arena shooter.  Turning is so sluggish, and thus suicidal,  that it’s easier to try to move around and face the opponent without turning.

Star Trek DAC (Arcade)

Take or leave the Star Trek license on this game, my focus is the top-down deathmatch gameplay.  The camera is so tight that ships appear on-screen less than a second before it’s “ramming speed”, leading to terrible close range combat.  Hard to aim or do anything intentionally.  One of those games that fizzle out after about two minutes of demo play.