Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Darkwind: War On Wheels

Remember Darkwind? I awarded it "Most Addictive Game" in the 2009 Bytten Ernie Awards. The multiplayer on-line turn based strategy war game now features Factions and Squad Combat Leagues which offer a completely new dimension to the game with an emphasis on consensual PvP play.

The game design team have created a system of inter-related Factions, including major factions such as the Merchants and the Anarchists, as well as minor ones such as the Mutants and the Evan Reds. Players' in-game actions now have consequences in terms of how members of these factions will treat them, as well as how the towns themselves will perceive their gang in terms of fame and reputation. In-game consequences will be far-reaching: will an arena gang adhere to your resignation or try to kill you? Will a town provide protection for you if you're fleeing from a pursuing enemy - or will they hate you to such a degree that they actually mobilise the local Militia to attack you as you arrive?

An entirely new style of league has been added to the game, with an emphasis on consensual PvP action. The Squad Combat Leagues are conducted between player-run teams, and are organised into 5 divisions. Each team competes in one combat per week. After each season, the top three teams in each division are promoted while the bottom three are relegated. Unique prizes are offered for these leagues, including camp production bonuses and top-tier character training.

"We are very pleased by the enthusiastic feedback the new features are receiving from players," game creator Sam Redfern commented. "Additionally it is a great achievement to receive positive reviews in the mainstream media as well as the indie media. The full-page review with a very positive 80% overall score in the UK edition of the world’s number one PC Gamer Magazine shows that main-stream reviewers are open-minded enough to recognise a top quality indie game when they see it."

Additional recent features to the game include mutant characters who tend to be stronger and faster than 'norms', yet they suffer from aging effects faster. The addition of mutants also ties in with the factions system, which provides a more subtle social model than a 'good versus bad' system.

Psionic powers have also been implemented, allowing the lucky few who possess these post-apocalyptic skills to perform a variety of mind-control and telekinetic effects.

The in-game tutorial has been totally overhauled, so any players who found Darkwind to be confusing the first time around should stop by and have a go at the new tutorial, which will get you driving and shooting in no time.

On-demand races, deathraces and arena combats can now be launched straight from the game lobby. These are 'proper' funded events, which will let your gang earn prize money and gain skills - so no more waiting around for the next event to spawn if you're a new player who hasn't yet ventured into the wilderness.

If you have not already signed up, go to www.dark-wind.com and find out what all the fuss is about!

Friday, April 02, 2010

Braaaaiiiiins!

Between the rest of my life and my work for Bytten, I rarely buy computer games. I receive review copies of games on average every fortnight and work on a computer all day at my office job, so understandably I don't really have much time for my own pursuits.

So it's a rare game that manages to slip into my life and extract cash from me at the same time. Even in this case, I took advantage of my Paypal account (useful tip, developers - many people have Paypal and any money in that account is often not considered "real" money, so offer Paypal as a payment method... it'll boost sales!).

This is "Plants vs Zombies", a tower defence style game available from Popcap. It was my partner that first located it, buying it for a new iPhone, and I was hooked. It's fun, it's easy to get into, the difficulty curve is pitched perfectly, it is FULL of little features, bonus games and so on, and it's utterly insane. So I bought it for the desktop machine.

The premise is simple enough. Zombies are attacking your house (no, we don't know why). The only thing between them and your delicious brains is your garden, in which you plant a variety of defensive flora to fend off the attack. These vary from the pea-shooter (a basic gun emplacement of sorts) and the cherry bomb (one-shot explosive, good for large numbers of zombies) to cabbage-pults, wall-nuts, mushrooms, potato mines, garlic... there are about fifty! Zombies too vary - from the garden-variety (ahem...) to tougher zombies in football gear, pole-vaulters, snorkel zombies in the swimming pool, dancing zombies, zombies with balloons, insane exploding zombies, zombies on bungee cords... and the terrifying Zomboss!

As you unlock more features in the main adventure mode, you'll gain access to puzzles - smashing vases which contain plants or zombies, or taking command of the zombies and getting past an army of plantlife - and a range of bizarre minigames, including a Bejeweled homage, a Zombiequarium and many more besides. You also have access to a Zen Garden, where you can grow your own plants from seedlings and gain coins for keeping them fed, watered and happy.

This is what I'd consider a good example of a gold star game. The attention to detail is astonishing, the range of features is incredible and even when you've completed the main game there is plenty more for you to do. Why stop at a simple match-three puzzler? You don't need ray-traced graphics and tons of content generation to produce a top game; all you need is plenty of imagination and a new take on an existing genre.