Friday, April 27, 2012

Learning Radiant

On the advice of a recruiter, I'm going to be spending next month learning the level tool GtkRadiant, to expand my horizons with such tools.  Most job postings I see want experience in either UDK, Unity, or Radiant, and I already know the first two.

So I'll be spending the month learning the tool, copying tutorials, and hopefully making an area (I hesitate to call it a 'level') that will incorporate some advanced concepts.

However, unlike the last Monthathon, I won't be using every post to discuss my progress, because it may not be quite as interesting.  So instead I'll post each Tuesday about Radiant, and reserve Friday posts for other stuff, like more reviews and whatnot.

At the end of the month, I'll see how far along I've come with the tool, and I may decide to make a real level with it after that.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Review: Settlers of Catan

Settlers of Catan is one of those neo-classic board games that are a requirement for niche board game aficionados to own to maintain their tabletop cred.  It has won six awards and is a staple of hobby shops.

And it is most certainly worthy of such popularity.

In Settlers of Catan (or just "Settlers", or just "Catan") players compete to build on an island, constructing roads, settlements, cities, armies, and more in an effort to wrest control of the island and its precious resources.

To win, a player must have ten victory points, and gains victory points for building settlements and cities, having the longest road or largest army, or developing special buildings like a Palace or a Library.

The board is set up with randomly placed hex tiles, forming a honeycomb island.  Each hex can generate one of five resources (cards designated as sheep, logs, wheat, bricks, or rocks), except the desert hex, which produces nothing.

There are harbors that allow players to trade resources with the bank at 3:1, or sometimes 2:1 for specific resources; and if a player does not have a harbor in their grasp, they can still trade with the bank at 4:1.

However, trading with the bank should only be a last resort, and trading with other players is the bigger key to success.  Often, a player will have a monopoly on a resource, or a resource will be particularly rare, so trading is a necessity to get what you need.  This is the main mechanic of the game, which has players trading to help each other out even as they compete for dominance.

"Let us work together so I can win."
Once a player has the proper resources, they can trade them in to the bank to build roads, settlements, cities, or purchase Development Cards.

Development Cards can reveal knights to build up an army, special buildings worth one victory point, or give a special ability, such as the Monopoly card which allows a player to declare a resource type and force all other players to give all of that resource they have to the player.

On its surface, Settlers looks a tad complex and intimidating, but it is much simpler than it first appears.  There are few specific rules that are not immediately apparent, such as settlements (which can only be built on corners) must be built at least two corners away from all other settlements.

However, these rules are just getting into the nitty-gritty, and having a veteran Settlers player is all that is necessary to remind others of such rules.

The instruction manual is composed of 3/4 glossary for easy access to specific rules, so even with all first-time players, it's not particularly difficult to learn.  A summary of how to play is only a single page (with a sample picture).

Each game is unique, because the harbors, resources, and odds of resource production change every game with a random setup.  Each player can have a different strategy or make mid-course corrections.

For instance, I just played a game where rocks were extremely rare, meaning that cities and Development Cards would be difficult to get, so I and another player set about vying for making the Longest Road.  I eventually found that it was impossible for me to maintain the Longest Road, so I abandoned ship and switched to a settlement-building approach.

There is a fairly good split between luck and skill, for resource production is dictated by dice, but most other actions are skill and strategy.

There is also a giant version.  For the near-sighted, I imagine.
The final bit of business of Catan is the Robber, which is helpful and terrible at the same time.  Rolling a seven or playing a Knight Card triggers the Robber, allowing a player to move the Robber token to any resource hex, blocking production.  All players with eight or more Resource Cards must lose half of them, and then the player who triggered the Robber can steal a Resource Card from a player who has a settlement or city next to the now-blocked resource hex.

The Robber adds a dastardly element to the game, where players have to be paranoid about having too many cards, and will often spend resources to do something they don't really want, such as building a road when they're trying to save up for a settlement. 

Triggering the Robber by a Knight Card is at least intentional, but rolling a seven is the luck of the dice.  Sometimes, a player with eight or more cards will roll a seven himself, and be forced to lose half of his own cards.

But all in all, Settlers is an extremely well balanced game, offering multiple routes to victory for most players.  On occasion, players have been screwed from the start or have little opportunity, but there is a balanced setup in the instructions for first time players so this does not occur on a first game.

There are also a few expansions to Settlers, allowing for up to six players and adding new mechanics, as well as various standalone spin-offs.  However, since I haven't played them, I will have to review those at another time.

Although this version seems intriguing.
The base game of Settlers is 2-4 players and takes about an hour to play on average.  I have had games that are as short as 20 minutes or as long as 2 1/2 hours, but the long game was my first and no one knew how to play yet.  Expect the game to go faster as you learn the rules better (much like many board games).

It is unfortunate that board games, apart from the Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers classics, have become a niche market.  If it only came out in an earlier era, it could have become as popular as Risk or Monopoly.

If you enjoy good, easy-to-learn board games, but are tired of Clue and Sorry!, find a hobby shop and pick up Settlers of Catan.  If you're a board game hobbyist, pick it up, too; it provides enough complexity and strategy to fit in with the rest of the games on your shelf.

You can also buy it from the Settlers of Catan website.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Review: Kinect Adventures

Kinect Adventures is one of the pack-in titles that comes with the Xbox Kinect, and it does a great job showing off the capabilities of the Kinect as a tech demo, while still being fun to play.

Kinect Adventures is essentially a workout routine in the guise of a party game, but it's one that feels far more rewarding and enjoyable than a day at the gym.

There are five basic activities you can play, each of which have you moving in different ways, and require different amounts of exercise.  Each activity is unique and most have engaging visuals.  It's great to see that it takes advantage of the fact that it's a videogame by creating activities that couldn't really exist (or would be really expensive, in any case), instead of just recreating a bunch of sports.

For each level, you can get a bronze, silver, gold, or platinum medal depending on your performance, which gives the added bonus of making you want to exercise.

20,000 Leaks has you in a submergible glass case, where sharks, puffer fish, and crabs poke holes in the glass. Your task is to use your hands, feet, head, or waist to plug the holes.  Sometimes multiple holes connect with a crack, so you must plug them at the same time.  It's a simple game where the majority of movement comes in the form of stretching your legs or occasionally standing on one foot.  This is also a bit of back-and-forth movement.

Rally Ball is kind of like a POV Breakout, where you throw and bounce balls against a wall to break wooden boards and hit targets.  Hitting the targets send multiple balls at you.  You can hit balls harder to make them go faster.  This mostly involves side movement and stretching your arms out.  But unlike 20,000 leaks, this requires faster reflexes to make your mark.

I know it's an exercise game, but does this one have to take place in a high school gym?
Space Pop has you in a light gravity field, collecting bubbles that come out of the ceiling, floor, and walls.  You flap your arms gently for lift, then move side to side or forward and backward to collect the bubbles.

River Rush has you balancing on a raft as it makes its way down a river.  You must steer your raft to collect tokens, hit speed gates, and jump over obstacles.  This activity has you mostly stepping side to side and jumping.  This is where the real physical activity begins; the others are warmups.

Finally, Reflex Ridge puts your body to the test, with jumping, ducking, sliding side to side, stretching, and even rowing.  You are on a wooden cart on a track, and you must collect tokens, just like in River Rush.  However, foam obstacles come at you and you must avoid them, like one of those obstacle course game shows.  You can jump for extra speed, or, when levers pop up, you can grab them and pull yourself forward.  This activity requires the most physical skill.

Each of the activities contain 6 to 9 levels of increasing difficulty.  You can choose to try them all individually at your leisure, pick one activity and play all the levels, or participate in various Adventures, where you get a variety of predetermined levels and activities.

In Adventure mode, you can collect trophies and prizes to customize your on-screen character.

Speaking of which, Kinect Adventures uses the customizable Xbox character you create from the console menu, so you can have your customized character as soon as you sign in.

Kinect Adventures also supports two players, so you can compete with a friend.

Xbox-themed wallpaper for your house not included.
While Kinect Adventures is an extremely fun game and quite a workout in some stages (replace those jeans with sweatpants), there are a few flaws which can make the game frustrating.

The worst of the problems is that jumping tends to be delayed or doesn't work at all at times.  I've tried jumping many ways: high and low, feet tucked behind me or feet staying beneath, and I find that either the jump doesn't register or it delays just long enough that I miss my mark or hit an obstacle.  This is actually a bigger problem for me than most, because I play in a room with a low ceiling, which means if I'm not careful I hit my head on a fan.  This makes River Rush and Reflex Ridge particularly frustrating, which is a disappointment because they are the most fun to play.

Another problem comes in with the activities that require back-and-forth motion.  The Kinect registers a certain range and requires the player to be between 6 and 10 feet away.  Playing 20,000 Leaks and Space Pop can sometimes result in the Kinect losing you.

An almost identical problem occurs with side-to-side movement.  Though it happens less often, in 20,000 Leaks I sometimes slide too far to the left or right of the Kinect's range, even though I use the widest allowed calibration.

Speaking of calibration, make sure you calibrate and fine tune your Kinect often.  While the jumping is still a problem, it becomes less so every time I recalibrate the Kinect, which fine tunes its recognition of my body.  It might get annoying to calibrate every time you play, but it's well worth it to maintain the best experience.

One final problem is more a design flaw than a bug:  in Space Pop, sticking your arms out and throwing them down fast makes you shoot into the air, while slowly lowering them to your side makes you fall.  Getting the timing of this is difficult, and I often find myself flying when I mean to fall.

Even with those problems, Kinect Adventures does a great job introducing the Kinect to a new player.  The movements you must make are identical to what the character on screen needs.  You don't have to run in place to make the character run forward, for instance; forward movement is taken care of for you by a river or a track.

On top of that, it's incredibly fun and gives a much needed workout, from light to intense.  If you need to work on your calisthenics, you don't need a gym membership.  Kinect Adventures rewards you for your workout and lets you play at your own pace.

Oh, and one last funny bit of business:  it takes pictures of you as you play, so you can see just how ridiculous you look when you do the hokey-pokey.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Flash Game Mini-Review: Dwarf Complete

Dwarf Complete is an adorable puzzle adventure by Eyezmaze, creator behind all of those cute little Grow games.  Dwarf Complete, however, is an entirely different concept than the usual Eyezmaze fare.

In Dwarf Complete, you play a pink-haired armor-clad girl running around a cave, looking for various objects.  Some of the objects are necessary to solve puzzles, and others simply open doors as you collect them.

The main goal is in escaping the cave.  To do so you must solve a bunch of puzzles to collect the objects you need.  Some are Rube Goldberg-style puzzles, others require a little bit of logical thinking, pattern recognition, careful visual scrutiny, careful timing, and quick footwork.

A lot of the puzzles are very inventive, and wouldn't be out of place in a Zelda game.

Although the whole game takes places in one cave, each area feels unique because of the layout and isolated items found throughout.  There are cannons, portals, pedestals, torches, treasure chests, holes, and plenty of other obstacles to provide variety.

While you cannot die, there are two puzzles that require timing, and if you fail, the room is reset and you move back to the beginning to try again.  This may be frustrating to gamers who aren't so quick, and want to spend time figuring things out.  For those players, my advice is to figure out what you need to do before giving it a try.

All in all, Dwarf Complete is both a great throwback to old puzzle-adventures, while coming up with plenty of new puzzles to challenge your brain.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Flash Game Mini-Review: Monsters' Den: Book of Dread

It's funny how I can always find a great game in any genre, even if I don't normally like the genre.  That was the case with Cursed Treasure, and that's the case here, too.

Monsters' Den: Book of Dread is a turn-based, randomized dungeon crawler with some fairly standard missions, classes, weapons, armor, enemies, and the like.  Yet there is some quality to this one that separates it from the rest.

I think, for one, it's not a typical D&D clone which encourages you to keep your characters as long as possible.  After completing one of the three quests, if you want to move on to a new quest, you must make new characters from scratch.

This is a great thing, because it encourages you to try mixing and matching the classes, trying out different combinations to see how well they work together.  Four rangers works surprisingly well!

Despite the visual simplicity (its odd graphics all part of the charm), Monsters' Den: Book of Dread offers more complexity than it suggests.  There are unique ultra-weapons, armor, and rings that you gain for beating each level's boss, and even more impressive items for beating side bosses (like the Hydra or Minotaur which aren't necessary to beat, but are well worth it to try).

Characters don't level up through some numbered amount of experience, but rather automatically attain a new level with each floor down the dungeon they go.  And with each level, the player can add stat points where they want, as well as give the characters new passive or active skills.

Once you get used to the types of monsters you'll face (orcs, undead, dwarves, cultists, etc.) you will read the text before each floor to notice what type you'll be facing, and you can pick your skills accordingly.  A couple of Cleric spells, for instance, deal double damage to undead, so if you read that you'll be facing undead, you'll be sure to add that skill next.

The original Monsters' Den only offered the first quest, and had fewer features, so Book of Dread is an expansion, but includes everything that was in the original.

Monsters' Den: Book of Dread can be found here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Development Log: The Vortex #9 - Major Simplification

I've changed the rules from six steps to three.  This has many advantages, including speeding up the gameplay considerably.

Now, instead of being able to Frenzy, Crusade, and Reinforce every round, in a particular order, you must pick one to do.

After making the rule change, I realized just how many Rogations and Locations have functions that require those six steps to exist, so I had to reword many of them to make more sense with the new rules.

And in some cases, I completely changed the text altogether.
Rogations can be performed at any time, between actions (meaning if a person is engaged in a Crusade and is busy figuring out who won, someone can't play a Rogation in the middle of that).

Some still carry the same gist.
Because the rules have such a major change to them, I thought it'd be important to post them again (also included are examples of the types of cards discussed):

A card game for 2-4 Players.

Decks:  24 Blue, Green, Red, and Yellow cards, 48 Locations, 48 Rogations, and 50 Frenzies.

Goal:  Convert more Devotees into True Converts and/or Fearful than your opponent(s).  You score one point for each Convert you have at the end of the game.  If you are the Red player, you also get an additional 1/2 point for every Devotee in the Vortex of another color.

Pile Layout:  Each Player has a face-down pile called the Draw Pile.  Each Player also has a face-up pile called the Discard Pile, which they shuffle and place face-down to create a new Draw Pile when their Draw Pile runs out.  Each Player also has a face-up pile called the Fearful Pile.

The Location cards also have piles of their own.  Unused Location cards are placed face-down in one pile, and as each is revealed it gets discarded in a separate face-up pile.

There is also a pile for killed Devotees/Zealots with attached Frenzies, and used Rogations.  This pile is called the Vortex.

Game Setup:  Shuffle the Location cards and place them facedown.  This is the Location Deck.  Each player is given all 24 cards of one Devotee color, then is randomly dealt 12 Frenzies and 12 Rogations.  Put the unused Color cards, Frenzies and Rogations away.  Each Player shuffles their deck, places it facedown, then draws seven cards from their deck.

SUGGESTION FOR BEGINNERS: Ignore the rules on Location Cards.
SUGGESTION FOR BEGINNERS: Do not use Rogation Cards.
SUGGESTION FOR BEGINNERS: If your game is 2 or 3 players, leave out Red.

Play begins.  Each round, there are 3 phases:

1.) Location phase.
2.) Action phase.
3.) Refill phase.


Flip over a new Location card. The Location card tells the players the turn order for the Action Phase, as well as supplies any additional rules that are in play during that round.

Location example.
If the last Location card is drawn, the game ends after this round is complete.


During the Action Phase, Players perform actions according to the turn order indicated on the Location card.  During the Action phase, a Player may perform one of three actions:

a.) Reinforce
b.) Frenzy
c.) Crusade

Action a.) REINFORCE

The Player may place 1 or 2 Devotees face-up onto the Field of Play. Players have a maximum of 4 Devotees/Zealots in Play at one time, so if a Player is maxed out, they cannot Reinforce.  If they wish, the Player may take 1 or 2 Devotees/Zealots out of play, and put into their discard pile, with any attached Frenzies.  Players may ONLY take cards out of play if they are maxed out.

Devotee examples.
If there are no Devotees/Zealots in a Player's Field of Play during their Action Phase, the Player MUST Reinforce, and may not perform another action (this also means that at the beginning of the game, all players MUST Reinforce on their first turn, as they have no cards in play). If the Player is forced to Reinforce but does not have the cards in hand to do so, the player must discard their hand and draw seven new cards.  Repeat if necessary.  If the Player goes through their entire deck unable to Reinforce, the Player cannot play any other actions until they are able to Reinforce again. (The player may still play Rogations.)

Action b.) FRENZY

The Player may place 1 Frenzy card face-down near 1 of their Devotees in play, OR replace an unrevealed Frenzy, OR discard a revealed Frenzy.  A Frenzied Devotee is called a Zealot.

Frenzy examples.
Players can also bluff by placing Rogation cards or Devotee cards down instead.  Bluffs have no effect.  A Zealot may only have 1 Frenzy at a time unless otherwise specified.  However, once a Frenzy has been revealed, it may not be replaced unless it has been previously discarded.

A color card with a card face-down near it, even a bluff, is still considered a Zealot.  A Zealot with it's bluff revealed is also still considered a Zealot.

Action c.) CRUSADE

The Player may attempt to Convert or Kill an Opponent's Devotee/Zealot.

To Crusade, the Offensive Player uses 1 of their Devotees/Zealots in Play to encounter any Opponent's Devotee/Zealot.  The Offense declares which of their own Devotees/Zealots they will use, which Opponents' Devotee/Zealot they are encountering, and whether they will attempt to Convert by Reason or Fire, or attempt to Kill the Opponent's Devotee/Zealot.  After the declaration, any unrevealed Frenzy cards on all engaged cards are revealed and remain in Play.

If Converting by Reason, the Players compare their Reason attribute.  If one is higher than the other, but less than 3 more (5-3 works, 5-2 does not), the lower's Devotee/Zealot has been Converted, and the winner takes the card and puts in in their discard pile.  The winner's new card is a True Convert.  Otherwise, both cards remain in Play.

If Converting by Fire, the Offense compares its Fire with the Opponent's Water.  If the Fire is greater than the Water, but less than 3 more (5-3 works, 5-2 does not), the Offense wins.  The Offense claims the Convert, but the Convert does NOT go in the Offense's discard pile; instead, it goes into the player's Fearful Pile.  If the Fire is more than 3 higher than the Water, the Defensive card is killed, and is sent to the Vortex.  If the Defensive card's Water is equal to or greater than the Offense's Fire, then the Defender may either draw 2 additional cards during Refill, or immediately put a Reinforcement into play (they may not go beyond the maximum of 4 cards in Play).

If the Player chooses to Kill the Opponent's Devotee/Zealot, Swords are compared.  If equal, both Devotees/Zealots are Killed, and go to the Vortex.  Otherwise, the higher Sword wins, and loser goes to the Vortex.

Frenzy cards attached to Converted Zealots go back in the original Player's discard pile.  Frenzy cards attached to killed Zealots go into the Vortex with the dead Zealot.

Phase 3. REFILL

All Players draw cards from their deck until they have 7 cards in hand.  All Players Refill simultaneously.  If a Player already has 7 or more cards in hand, they may not refill.

If a Player wishes to discard cards, the Player may discard any number of cards in hand.  However, if they do so, the Player may NOT refill their hand this turn.


At any time between actions or phases, any Player may play 1 Rogation and follow the rules on the card.  Each Player may only play 1 Rogation per round.

Rogation examples.
Pay attention to each Rogation's effect! Some Rogations have an immediate effect, such as Rally (Draw 3 Cards), some Rogations are in play until particular conditions are met, such as Psalms (the player must defend in a Crusade), and some Rogations last until the end of the round, such as Burial Rites.  Be careful!  A new round doesn't start until a Location is revealed!

Rogations usually require a minimum number of Devotees/Zealots to be in your Field of Play to use.  Sometimes there is a straightforward minimum number, other times you must simply have more or less than each of your opponents (individually).

If 2 or more Rogations are played that contradict each other, the first played takes precedence.  If 2 or more Rogations are played at the same moment, precedence is determined by turn order.

When Rogations contradict Location cards, Location cards take precendence.  However, a player may sacrifice 1 Devotee/Zealot in hand/play to the Vortex to override the Location's rule and allow the contradicting Rogation to take precendence.

After use or completion, Rogations are sent to the Vortex.  Rogations stay in play until their effect is complete.


If there are any questions about things that may not be explained properly in the rules, let me know in the comments so I can be sure to clarify in the next version.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Update - Back to Normal

Now that my DOOM level is complete, I'm going to spend the rest of the month with random posts like previously.  One day may be a review, the next an article, the next a dev log, etc.

I have no picture to go with this update, so here's a cat.
I do have a few particular plans, however.  I've been working on the Vortex, so expect a dev log about that next.  Also, I want to review a lot more games.  Since I split the deconstructions and the regular reviews into separate sections, you can see there are very few non-deconstruction reviews.  I have games in mind to review, so there will definitely be at least one this month.

I have other new projects in mind, as well, so I don't know what I will be able to get to this month and what will wait.  Also, it remains to be seen whether May will be another Monthathon or something else.  I'll see what needs to get accomplished and what I'm feeling when I get there.

In other news, a lot of my articles have been getting big on Gamasutra.  They are the same articles that you find here, but out of order; however, the ones on Gamasutra tend to get comments, so you can read those if you're interested.

I encourage you to write comments on Scattergamed, of course.

And speaking of that, if you have any specific requests about what types of posts you'd like to see more of ("Moar articles!", "Moar reviews!", "Nother Mothathon!" etc.), say so here.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Development Log: DOOM Monthathon #10 - Complete

So I've finished balancing for difficulty, fixed a couple last-minute texture issues (I think there's more, but things will always slip through), zipped up the level and uploaded it.

You can download the level HERE.  You need a .7z extractor, and a copy of DOOM to play it, of course.

For those who cannot play it, here is a video showing the easiest difficulty setting, just so you can get a gist of the level without needing to watch me struggle on it:

On harder difficulties, there are demons wandering through the acid, Barons of Hell at the end instead of imps, and a Cacodemon in the marble hallway and at the end just before you exit.  Beyond that, just more enemies and less pickups.


What Went Right: Size and Scope

I designed my level quickly and managed to make something that could be completed in the timeframe.  Usually, level ideas are vast in scope and need to be whittled down, but I'm learning to scale down when called for.

Going in, I thought that I would almost certainly design a level far too large, but as I worked I kept the scope down by simplifying and cutting out things that were becoming too big.  This had the added bonus of preventing monotony and repetitive gameplay.

What Went Wrong: Pace of Work

The design and experimentation phase went quickly so I could spend lots of time on building, and after building I had plenty of time for texturing.  However, texturing is always a slow process for me because I just find it to be one of the more boring tasks of building a level.  (In other editors, replacing brushes with models is the equivalent.)

Because of this, work slows down at this point.  What I need to do is work faster at that so I can move on to more fun parts that come later, like enemy and powerup placement, and difficulty testing.

Lesson Learned: Work Hard on Even the Smallest Projects

Usually, my game ideas are massive, and would require the resources of a big studio.  I scaled down my ambitions to make this one level, which essentially amounts to an exercise in level development for me and a way to keep my level muscles in shape.

However, though the project was small and scoped properly for just a month, that doesn't mean I can be leisurely about it.  Because I didn't budget my time appropriately, this project is one post longer than it should be.  Even though I lost a lot of progress when the editor crashed, that's no excuse, and I should have allowed time for such problems to occur, and worked harder before and after the crash.