Sunday, September 29, 2013

Powergrids and iOS 7

I've had a chance to look into the issue(s) causing Powergrids 1.2 to crash at startup on iPads running iOS 7.

Unfortunately, it appears that Apple has made significant changes between iOS 6.1 and iOS 7 that make it impractical for me to produce an update to the game to resolve this issue without a considerable investment of time and effort.

As such, I have opted to reduce the price of the app in the iOS App Store to "FREE" (though it may take a day or so for that change to be reflected in all the App Stores worldwide) and will no longer be supporting it.

While I sympathize with those of you who purchased the game and can no longer play it as a result of updating your device to iOS 7, please keep in mind that Apple's decision to alter and/or remove aspects of their operating system is something that I have no control over whatsoever.

You might ask why I don't just remove the app from the store entirely? There are two reasons:

  1. To the best of my knowledge, "Powergrids" still functions properly on iPhones and iPod Touches running iOS 7 and I see no reason to deny people the opportunity to download and play it on those devices.
  2. It's entirely possible that a future iOS update could fix the issue that is currently causing the game to crash on iPads running iOS 7.0-7.0.2– in which case things would simply return to normal.
As much as I would love to see "Powergrids" remain a viable app on all relevant iOS devices and versions, I simply do not have the resources to address this issue and don't see that changing any time soon.

As many of you know, I am no longer actively working as an independent game developer and am only providing this information as a courtesy to those of you who purchased "Powergrids" and to address the issue publicly.

Again, I am very sorry that the game is no longer functioning for some of you. If anything about this changes in the future, I will certainly let everyone know but for now things are in Apple's hands. Their changes caused the issue. They could certainly resolve it but there's no guarantee either way.

If anyone has any additional questions, I will do my best to address them but keep in mind that my time is extremely limited so I may not be able to respond right away.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

New Horizons

Hey everybody,

So, as you've no-doubt noticed, there haven't been any updates here for the past few weeks. There are several reasons for this– not the least of which being that I recently returned from a long-overdue, week-long vacation.

Beyond that, I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that I will be starting a new job on Monday. The bad news is that said job is shaping up to be rather intense and will most-likely not allow me the free time to create new content here for the foreseeable future.

I'm hoping to find the time to continue my "XCOM Classic Ironman" video series and post the occasional YouTube video but blogging is something I tend to take very seriously and put a lot of effort into doing well. Ergo, I don't see myself being able to do that any time soon. Regular readers will note that the depth and frequency of posts here has already become erratic since I started my job search in earnest last month.

It probably goes without saying that I will also be suspending development of my next game for the duration of my employment to avoid any potential conflict of interest or straight-up exhaustion issues. As I've said before, independent game development is an extremely liberating and invigorating experience but it rarely pays the bills and certainly didn't in my case, so it's a simple matter of priorities– making that paper being high on that list. :)

Having said that, I will be back at some point. I actually started this blog while working a full-time job, so it's entirely possible that I could find myself in a similar situation in the future but my sense is that things won't settle down at this new place for a while, if ever.

As always, Twitter is the best way to stay in touch with me. Love it or hate it, it's the easiest way for me to get the word out about new content I've created or anything else I have to announce.

Thanks to everyone who's made a habit out of coming here and reading my mad ramblings and a special thanks to those of you who bought and played "Powergrids." The past two years have been a lot of fun and I wouldn't trade them for anything.

Until next time, have a good one folks! :)

Friday, June 28, 2013

My XCOM Classic Ironman Video Series

Just a quick note to let everyone know that I am attempting an "Ironman" playthrough of "XCOM: Enemy Unknown's" Classic mode as part of an effort to revitalize my YouTube channel.

I've embedded the first episode below but please consider taking a moment to head over to YouTube and subscribe, comment, like and/or share the video. The future of the series will likely be shaped and depend on the response to this first episode.

Thanks and enjoy! :)

XCOM: Enemy Unknown (Steam - iOS App Store)

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Defining the Sandbox Survival Genre

It's official. "Sandbox Survival" games are a thing. Of course, this has been in the process of happening for a few years now but we've reached the point where there are enough of them in development or in some publicly-playable form that they're no longer flukes or anomalies, but the roots of a new genre of gaming.

Some might argue that these are simply modernized Rogue-likes, but I contend that their emphasis on scavenging, crafting and in many cases multiplayer sufficiently differentiates them into a new category.

So, what are the characteristics of a "Sandbox Survival" game?
  1. Perma-death - If your character dies, you start over with nothing or very basic supplies.
  2. The primary goal of the game is survival (food, shelter, security, etc.)
  3. Sandbox Gameplay - The game world and its systems provide a framework wherein players create their own fun. There is no pre-defined story or goal beyond survival and anything short of hacking/cheating is permitted and encouraged.
  4. There are usually one or more generic and plentiful enemy types (zombies are the most common) that serve as a nuisance or genuine threat to the player's survival. In the multiplayer context, these are ideally overcome via player co-operation and factor into player confrontations.
  5. Crafting and/or building systems allow players to impact a persistent game world that is inevitably shaped by such actions.

The Forerunners

Some of the games that led to this point:

Resident Evil - Popularized the concept of gameplay and tension based on the scarcity of items like ammunition and health. Also firmly established the zombie/infected as a go-to antagonist.

Left 4 Dead - A touchstone and point of inspiration for a number of gameplay elements and esthetics: scavenging/looting, co-operative and competitive multiplayer, survival mode, dynamic enemy behaviors and level layouts.

Dead Island - Crafting, refined melee combat, non-linear environments and vehicles were all key concepts proven in this game.

Minecraft - I think it's pretty safe to say that "Minecraft" was the first "Survival Sandbox" game. If not, it's certainly the one that popularized the concept. 

The First Generation

In the wake of "Minecraft's" success and influence, more refined and elaborate versions of the concept were inevitable. The following have established themselves over the past year:

DayZ - People love arguing until they're blue in the face about which one of these games "came first" but there's no denying that "DayZ" was the one that struck a chord with gaming enthusiasts around the world. In a lot of ways, it's become the standard bearer for the genre and the game that folks interested in such things are most excited about playing. It's also taken much longer than many might have hoped for it to make the transition from a fledgling "ARMA II" mod into a standalone game, which has opened the door for competing projects to potentially steal its thunder. Still, hearing Dean "Rocket" Hall talk about the plans for the game and seeing the progress being made on it, it's hard to not get excited.

DayZ (the mod - the game)

Project Zomboid - While its isometric, point-and-click presentation and gameplay aren't my cup of tea, "Project Zomboid" does clearly fit into the "Sandbox Survival" genre– even in its incomplete, alpha state.

Project Zomboid (via Steam Greenlight)

State of Decay - It's tempting to exclude this XBOX 360 game due to its questionable performance and lack of a proper sandbox mode but it may have a bright future if the PC port turns out well and the hinted-at sandbox and multiplayer modes become a reality.

Future Contenders

Several additional games of this type are also in development:

The Dead Linger - As I stated recently, I think this game has a great chance of giving "DayZ" a run for its money if its developer can get the various technical issues and challenges surrounding it handled.

The Dead Linger (via Steam Greenlight)

7 Days to Die - Not much to say about this one except that it looks good on paper. Definitely keeping an eye on it.

Dying Light - The next game from the team behind the original "Dead Island" won't be out until 2014 and it remains to be seen whether or not it will provide a true "Sandbox Survival" experience but it does look very promising based on what I've seen of it so far.

Rust - From the makers of "Garry's Mod," this game's public alpha recently closed and generated a lot of buzz and interest. It appears to combine elements of "Minecraft," "DayZ" and "S.T.A.L.K.E.R." (radiation) in some potentially-interesting ways but access to the new beta is limited as of this writing.


As you can see, there are quite a few games in the process of emerging into this new genre– not to mention loosely-related titles like "I Am Alive" or failed/unscrupulous attempts by other developers, which I won't name here. It's a safe bet that I've likely overlooked or forgotten about at least one game or project that's relevant to all of this and that's perhaps the best evidence that the "Sandbox Survival" genre is here to stay.

Friday, June 14, 2013

More from E3 2013

A few more points of interest from E3 2013:

Breach & Clear

This squad-level, turn-based tactical game for iOS is just around the corner according to its developer and is looking pretty sharp. Originally conceived as a free-to-play title, it appears it will now ship using more traditional pay and play pricing. As with all games of this type, support for co-op play and additional platforms would be welcome but I liked what I saw of it and the developer seems open to adding features based on feedback from players.

The Evil Within

Bethesda's upcoming survival/horror game looks an awful lot like a spiritual successor to "Resident Evil–" and not the sub-par "Resident Evil's" of recent years but the ones that people actually liked. :) It remains to be seen if this game has anything substantive to offer beyond a modernization of the better aspects of those older titles but it looked interesting enough from what I saw to warrant a mention here.


In the interest of keeping it real, I have to say that I wasn't particularly impressed with what I saw of "DayZ" Standalone at E3. I honestly think the project would have been better served by its developers continuing to work on it and focusing on getting the alpha to a state where it can be released to the public for testing and feedback. E3 is about generating hype for upcoming games and "DayZ" is the last game in the world that needs hyped. Everyone already knows about it. Everyone already wants to play it. There's no need to show it again until the alpha's available on Steam.

It may be that the game's development team benefits from attending such conferences and if that's the case, they certainly should but I question the value of showing the game as part of that– especially when they weren't able to show it using the new client/server architecture, which is the main thing that's been worked on in recent weeks, due to a lack of internet connectivity.

Having said all that, I'm still very excited for "DayZ" Standalone and cautiously optimistic that those of us interested in participating in the alpha will have a chance to do that fairly soon.

The following Gamespot video was the best bit of coverage I saw– mostly due to the fact that Rocket was the one showing the game, talking about it and answering questions.

That pretty much does it for E3 this year. I have to say that this was one of the best showings I've seen in years in terms of new games and new IPs. Certainly, the looming new console generation can be credited for a lot of that, which goes to show how much the lingering current consoles have been holding back the evolution of gaming. Better late than never I guess and I'm certainly happy to see the vast majority of the newly-announced games coming to PC where they can really shine.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Obligatory E3 2013 Post

At this point, there's not a lot for me to add to the deluge of coverage of E3 2013 but as usual, I can still give my take on the things I found interesting enough to write about so far:

The PS4

I'm not in the market for a new video game console but if I were, my money would be on the PS4 at this point. The $399 price, the technical advantages of the hardware over the XBOX ONE and Sony's overall strategy just speak to me more as a gaming enthusiast. It feels like Microsoft is trying to sell me an overpriced television accessory that happens to play games while every move that Sony's made since February screams "We're in this to make great gaming experiences and everything else be damned!" I respect that.

Tom Clancy's The Division

Man, Ubisoft really knows how to roll out new IP. After practically stealing the show last year with "Watch Dogs," I probably shouldn't have been surprised when they dropped this new online, RPG title out of nowhere but I totally was. Now if they'd just announce it for PC. :)

The Crew

I can't be the only one who thinks this could end up being a better "Fast & Furious" game than any of the actual F&F games, right? Really loving the open world, jump-in/jump-out co-op, combat driving and intricate customization aspects being pitched in this game, and thought it demoed very well considering that it's not shipping until early 2014. Definitely excited.


I've never been a big "Halo" guy. The reasons for that are kinda personal and not particularly important in this context but it suffices to say that I haven't bought a Bungie game since "Myth III." Consequently, I'm kinda excited for the PC version of "Destiny." There may not be anything particularly innovative or mind-blowing about what I've seen of it so far but it also looks really well made and seems like it could be a lot of fun to play with friends.

Mirror's Edge (Prequel)

Okay. It's no secret that EA is on my naughty list and has been ever since the catastrophe that was "Need for Speed Most Wanted" (2012) but I do love me some "Mirror's Edge" and am definitely interested to see more of this game. Is it enough to make me suffer Origin? Probably not but maybe they'll come to their senses and put this out on Steam. It could happen, right? Right?!?!? Yeah, probably not.

Battlefield 4

I'm not gonna lie. When that tank fell through the floor after the support pillar got blown to hell and when that skyscraper toppled to dust after everybody parachuted out of it during the E3 multiplayer demo for "Battlefield 4," I had a small nerdgasm. Still, the fact remains that I HATE Origin and I HATE Battlelog. I'm not going to sit here and pretend that what I saw of "Battlefield 4" multiplayer at E3 wasn't compelling but I don't know if even that is enough to overcome the seething nerd rage EA consistently manages to inspire in me these days. :)

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag

I still love Assassin's Creed. I know it's become fashionable to hate on it in recent years but I always find the AC games to be fun and engaging experiences. Part of that may be because I tend to play them a while after they're released (patched) and at a much slower pace than anyone playing for review would. I, for example am only a few hours into AC3 as I write this. Maybe the idea of a swashbuckling game with an AC-scale budget is just inherently compelling? Whatever the reason, I'm looking forward to this one.

Those are the things that have jumped out at me so far. I'll probably do another one of these posts later in the week to highlight some more obscure stuff. Obviously, I'm looking forward to seeing any "DayZ" Standalone coverage that comes out of E3 but I'm also hoping to be playing that soon for myself– fingers crossed. :)

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Random Thoughts

Sometimes, there are things I'd like to write about that don't warrant a full blog post of their own. This is one of those times:

Initial Impressions: Grid 2

I love a good racing game and from what I've played of it so far, that's what "Grid 2" is. It's not amazing or mind blowing. It's not the "Forza" or "Gran Turismo" killer I'd have liked but it's certainly not bad.

The obvious positives would be its presentation, which is superb, and the feel of driving the cars, which is slightly improved over the original "Grid."

On the down side, the driving physics are still very arcadey and floaty. I was really hoping for a more Forza-like handling model given the increased emphasis on accurately modeling tires and their interactions with the surfaces being traversed but that effort seems to have gone into a more sophisticated drifting mechanic as opposed to wholesale improvements to the driving experience.

It's as if the new handling characteristics only kick in during a drift, which feels very artificial and gamey. Similarly, every car I've driven in the game so far feels like it's been set up specifically for drifting in terms of chassis, suspension and the like, which tends to diminish the unique handling characteristics of each car and make everything feel pretty similar.

I'm only a few hours into the game, so it's possible that the feel of the driving will improve and become more diverse and interesting as I progress but I can't help feeling like "Grid 2" has already made a major mis-step by not providing a compelling or sufficiently-innovative driving experience right out of the gate. There may be a great racing game here beyond the initial experience but I've yet to find it. So far, it's simply good.

Grid 2 (via Steam)

Alpha Strike: The Dead Linger

Playing games in alpha has become all the rage of late. With the release of the "ARMA III" alpha and a slew of "Early Access" titles now available on Steam, those intrigued and passionate enough about certain games have more opportunities than ever to get their hands on early, still-in-development versions that they can play and critique. While the degree to which such critiques are addressed varies from developer to developer, it's clear that "Early Access" is something a lot of people are willing to pay to have for a variety of games.

"The Dead Linger" is a game aspiring to join the ranks of other post-apocalyptic, zombie survival games like "DayZ" and "Project Zomboid–" the later of which having already made its way through Steam's "Greenlight" process.

It's fair to say that I have a soft spot for these sorts of games so I'll freely admit to happily looking beyond many of "The Dead Linger's" obvious shortcomings in its current state as I see a lot of potential in it. In fact, of all the would-be challengers to "DayZ" that have cropped up over the past year, this is the first one that I think has a legitimate chance of giving it a run for its money and pushing the DayZ Dev Team to make their own game better.

As such, I'd like to see "The Dead Linger" succeed in its attempt to get onto Steam and would encourage you all to check out the game's "Greenlight" page and show it some love if you're so inclined.

The Dead Linger (via Steam Greenlight)

Development Update

Been a while since I've done one of these. Sorry this is a bit long but I want to get a few things off my chest and I suspect that if you care enough to start reading this, you won't mind reading the whole thing.

As many of you know, I've been working for a little over a year now on my next game. What very few people know is that I've actually worked on a couple different game prototypes during that time. The first was a turn-based strategy game for iOS that I mentioned here on the blog at one point. The second was a top-down action game built in Unity. I've even gone through the process of documenting a few other game concepts to the point where it would be pretty easy to kick off development of them if I had the resources to do so.

Despite all that progress, I've faced a myriad of challenges with regard to game development. Of course, money is always the elephant in the room but I've also found myself struggling to come up with a concept worthy of carrying through to completion. The things I've worked on over the past year, while very useful from the standpoint of learning more about advanced aspects of iOS and Unity, haven't produced what I'd consider unique or compelling games, and certainly not games that I'd feel comfortable or confident trying to sell to anyone.

It's only been in the past several weeks that I've finally hit upon an idea that I feel I can fully get behind– that "A-ha! There's nothing out there quite like this and there damn well should be!" moment that turns development from a technical exercise into a sort of fevered quest for awesomeness.

A lot has changed since I first released "Powergrids" for iOS back near the end of 2011. In some ways, things were in the process of changing even as I shipped that game. Free-to-Play, In-App Purchase-driven games were really coming into their own on the App Store and I remember thinking to myself that I should probably jump on that train. To be honest, I really should have but "Powergrids" was a very indulgent project for me. It was me making the kind of game I wanted to make and play with no compromises beyond budgetary constraints. You see, I'm the sort of person who looks at a game and decides based on its description, feature-list, screen shots or perhaps a video, whether or not it's a game I want to play and if I do, I tend to want to simply pay for it and be done.

I'm not a fan of micro-transactions, DLC or the season passes that have become so pervasive in gaming in recent years. From a business perspective, I completely understand why they exist and clearly, there are plenty of folks out there who love them because they sell like hotcakes– but I was very resistant to the idea of building "Powergrids" around such concepts because I was making the game with my heart and not my fiscal head.

But at a certain point, reality sets in and you realize that it's a fool's errand to try to buck the system too hard or too frequently. For every cinderella story of a developer charting their own course and being showered with praise and piles of money, there are hundreds of people filing for bankruptcy and that's a conservative estimate.

Fortunately, I've not only managed to find a game concept that I'm giddy to be working on, but that also fits nicely into the established norms of what the video game industry has become.

With any luck, you folks will all be playing the first public version of the game later this year. For now, I'm going to shut up and get back to work. :)

Until next time, have a good one folks!

Friday, May 24, 2013

The DayZ Update - 05/23/2013

With Rocket's ascent of Mt. Everest complete and him back on his way to Prague to resume work on DayZ Standalone, the timing feels right for another DayZ Update.

Survivor GameZ III

This Saturday (May 25th) at 1PM PST marks the return of the Survivor GameZ– the DayZ e-sports event that was started last year and has pulled in some impressive numbers of viewers during its past two incarnations.

I had the chance to interview Soma (Jordan Tayer) who is part of the group coordinating the event and he was able to share some great information about the upcoming competition and its history:

VTX1: Is it true that Matt Lightfoot is going to be a contestant? Also, are any other members of the DayZ Dev Team scheduled to participate as contestants or commentators?

Soma: Yes, it is true that Matt Lightfoot and Ivan Buchta of the DayZ development team will be competitors in this event. Matt and the dev team have always supported the Survivor GameZ and I personally have been lucky enough to have Matt along for some SGz server testing in the last week. So yes, Matt and Ivan will be competing in the main event this Saturday.

VTX1: Who will be commentating the main live stream on

Soma: The commentators for the event will include Bikeman and myself. The two of us will be commentating on all up-coming semi and quarter finals events, and the main events, so I hope we don't suck too terribly. We both live-stream on twitch so we aren't exactly shy about talking to our PC's for hours at a time but commentating an e-sport is definitely a new experience for both of us. It's definitely exciting and I believe we are improving our skills with each event that we host.

VTX1: Will there be an official multi-stream and what will be the URL?

Soma: There is not an official multi-stream for the event but if you watch the event from this site, you will have access to two viewing screens that will include the main feed and the SGz Map stream, which will be a map of the play area with player markers enabled.

VTX1: The previous Survivor GameZ events were organized by QuickNap Gaming. I get the impression that Survivor GameZ is trying to establish itself as its own entity and that folks like Hicks, Bikeman and you, who were part of Qn are still the driving force behind it. Is the Survivor GameZ its own entity now and who manages/controls it?

Soma: The Survivor GameZ has always been its own entity. QuickNap Gaming was the original host of the first event, the Hunger GameZ, and was very helpful in spreading the word about the event and embracing the DayZ community in its early stages. As the event moved on from the first event and became the Survivor GameZ, the SGz team continued on its way with event development and planning and Qn Gaming went its own way with members live-streaming games on Hicks, Bikeman, Lou and myself are no longer apart of Qn but do in fact work on the Survivor GameZ as a team along with other team members scattered across the globe, such as Andy Bryer, Jake and Tommy.

VTX1: Is there anything you'd like to say to fans of DayZ and the previous Survivor GameZ events?

Soma: To any current, new, or future fans of DayZ and the Survivor GameZ, I just wanna say thanks for keeping DayZ alive and a generally great community to be apart of. The mod has been out for about a year now and it still remains a fantastic game to immerse ourselves in. Patiently waiting for the standalone to be released isn't easy but I have faith in the dev team and sincerely believe that the final product they release to the public will be a superb and evolved level of DayZ gameplay that I can't wait to experience. The Survivor GameZ will continue to evolve along with the game and we can't wait to see what's in store for the Survivor GameZ's future. Thanks a lot for supporting DayZ and the Survivor GameZ; I'll see you guys on Saturday!

Survivor GameZ - Official Site

The Man Behind the Map

In case any of you missed it, there was an interesting interview posted to the DayZ Development Team blog a few weeks ago with Ivan Buchta, the designer of the "ARMA II" map "Chernarus," which is used to such great effect in the DayZ mod. Ivan is also heavily involved in the design of the "Chernarus+" map for DayZ Standalone and was recently freed from wrongful imprisonment after an ill-fated trip to Greece last year, which he touches on briefly in the interview. Definitely worth a watch.

Shout Out: Soma

With the Survivor GameZ this weekend, it only makes sense to feature Soma. I've been watching his stream off and on since he started it last year and it's been one of the most consistently-entertaining I've seen. This guy should have way more viewers than he does. Hopefully, his expanded role in Survivor GameZ will help make that happen. Of course, stream highlights like the following don't hurt either.

Until next time, have a good one folks! - DayZ - the mod - the game

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Powergrids 1.2

A quick note to let everyone know that Powergrids 1.2 is available. This minor update fixes an issue where the main menu would display in the wrong position if the game were launched on an iPad running iOS 6.1 or higher in a landscape orientation.

I also cleaned up the in-game instructions a bit by adding a Version History, and removed references to older iOS versions and devices that aren't supported in the new versions of the game.

This new version should be right on target. I crack myself up! :)

All things considered, I think last week's update to version 1.1 went pretty well. A lot of people upgraded and nobody seemed too bothered by the little iPad bug.

This 1.2 version should be stable and compatible with current and upcoming iOS versions and devices for the foreseeable future.

As always, feel free to send any feedback on it to and please consider rating and reviewing the new version on the App Store. It really helps a lot!


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

My Thoughts on Defiance

It's been almost two months since "Defiance" (the game) launched. In that time, I've spent a few dozen hours with it and I've also had the chance to see the first six episodes of the corresponding TV series.

While I maintain that many of the positive aspects I experienced during my time with the beta are still valid, I find myself significantly less enthusiastic about the game two months into it than I'd hoped.

Some might say that any game that can be played and enjoyed for two months is an inherently-good product and I agree with that in general. The issue I take with "Defiance" is that it presents itself as a Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) game, which sets certain expectations that it simply does not meet.

The moment-to-moment action of 'Defiance' is still one of its best attributes.

In my time with the game, I've had a lot of fun. I've also been frustrated on occasion by technical and design issues that have hampered that fun often enough to be noteworthy. Some of those issues were created and fixed within that span of time, but others persist.

I recently summed this up in the form of three suggestions to the game's developer, which I think bear repeating here with a bit of editing:

#1 - Get rid of mandatory solo missions. - By far, these are the worst thing in the game right now. It's tremendously unsatisfying to be running around with friends, progressing and having a good time, only to encounter one of the solo instances and be forced to break up the group while everyone slogs their way through at their own pace. There is absolutely no valid reason why groups should not be allowed to complete that content together. To be clear, I have no problem with the content being solo-able but the idea that the people I'm grouped with can't follow me through the occasional door for some arbitrary reason is vexing to say the least.

#2 - Add some mechanical variety. - Running around and shooting stuff is fun and it's pretty well done in "Defiance" but it's a real shame that every single mission in the game boils down to some combination of A) shooting stuff, B) picking stuff up, or C) interacting with something by holding "e" for a few seconds. If this game has any shot at longevity, main and side mission designs and the gameplay mechanics present during them need to be greatly expanded versus what's currently available. And don't just throw a bunch of stuff at the wall to see what sticks. If you're going to add some new mechanics, make damn sure that they're compelling.

#3 - Streamline and Polish everything. - In general, the whole user interface could use some refinement and automation. For example, If I'm following a group member and they go into a phased area, I should not have to stop and plow through a series of clunky menus to join their phase. It should just happen or I should be prompted to join them with a single key/button. If I pick up new items or receive new in-game rewards, or if anything of importance happens, it shouldn't just be a pop-up that disappears in a couple seconds. There should be an event log (either tucked into a corner of the screen or a key/button away) that lets me see that information in a nicely-formatted, chronological summary of my current play session.

Playing 'Defiance' with friends is a blast until those periodic missions
where the game forces you to split up for no good reason.

I want to make it clear that I am not implying that "Defiance" is a bad game or that the issues I have with it prevent it from being enjoyed to a reasonable extent. The problem with "Defiance" is that it could be so much better than it is with an amount of effort that's insignificant compared to what's already been put into it.

It's that shortfall, that perception that it doesn't quite live up to its potential that really stings. While it's impossible for me to know for sure, it would seem that the strict deadline imposed by launching it to coincide with the premiere of the TV show is at the root of the game's shortcomings.

Ironically, it may well be the show that ends up keeping the game relevant long term. While not a masterpiece, I've found "Defiance" (the show) to be quite entertaining and engaging thus far. It's been a bit of a slow burn but the past few episodes in particular have really started to go in some interesting directions and pay off many of the setups established in their predecessors.

It would seem that I'm not alone in my affection for the show as it has been getting solid ratings and was recently picked up for a second season.

In a lot of ways, my growing interest in the show and its characters has compelled me to return to the game in a way that almost certainly would not have happened without the tie-in. The recent Rynn-focused story arc that was added to the game to follow up on the events from episode 5 of the show in particular did a lot to build on the crossover potential– despite it only taking about 30 minutes to complete and culminating in one of those damn single-player instances.

Irisa and Nolan are great characters that are set up well in the game
but really come into their own and shine as the show unfolds.

All things considered, I like "Defiance." At the moment, I like the show a bit more than the game but I'm also not sorry that I bought and played it. I'm especially looking forward to the five DLC packs that are scheduled to include new free and premium content for the game between now and February.

Hopefully, between this post and my previous beta impressions, you have a good idea if "Defiance" is something you'd be interested in checking out but if you're still unsure, there's going to be a season one catch-up marathon of the show on SyFy Channel this Saturday. I'd recommend starting with that or being all 21st century and heading over to the Defiance web site to watch the first six episodes right now. :)

Defiance (via Steam)

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Powergrids 1.1

Update: I've become aware of an issue where the main menu is out of position when Powergrids 1.1 is launched on iPads running iOS 6.1 in a landscape orientation. Should have a fix out for this next week. The good news is that orientation changes work fine once the app is running and gameplay is not affected– so this is a very minor bug. Still annoyed at myself for not catching it during testing. Sorry folks. I will fix it as soon as possible.

Despite that...

Wanted to let everyone know that a new version of Powergrids (1.1) is now available via the iOS App Store. Current owners of the game who have it installed and are running at least iOS 4.3 should be getting an automatic update very soon if they haven't already.

The changes in the update are as follows:
  • ADDED - Tap & Confirm input mode to Pause menu
  • ADDED - "How to Play" video (YouTube)
  • ADDED - Improved 4" Retina display support
  • ADDED - Improved iPhone/iPod game backgrounds
  • FIXED - Resetting Local Scores resets Local "Way to Score!" Achievement progress
This update is primarily designed to address the two most common issues players have indicated regarding the game:

#1 - Tapping the wrong square when playing

#2 - A tutorial and/or alternative to reading the Instructions

The following "How to Play" video, which can now be accessed directly from within the game, covers this in much more detail.

As always, I would greatly appreciate it if you would all help spread the word about this new version of the game. I know it's been a long time since the initial release but as I said in my interview with Joystiq last year, this was always meant to be a game people could come back to over time.

Having said that, this will probably be the only update for a while unless something unexpected comes up and needs to be addressed. Still, if you have any comments or suggestions about the game, feel free to send them to

Finally, if you enjoy Powergrids and would like to help promote it, please consider rating it and writing a review on the App Store. Ratings and reviews are extremely important to the success of iOS games and (beyond buying the app) they are the best things you can do to help and encourage me.


Powergrids - Official Site - App Store Link

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Shout Out: Zeno Clash 2

Originality is a precious commodity in game design and development. For every truly original or unique game, there are literally thousands that simply imitate or elaborate on what's been established.

It's for this reason that I instantly fell in love with "Zeno Clash" when it debuted back in 2009. From its unique take on first-person melee combat, to its evocative and surreal landscapes, to its often strikingly-original character and enemy designs, "Zeno Clash" was a game that set the creative bar at a height that's a challenge to reach, much less exceed.

Sure, it was a little too weird for its own good at times and there was a bit of jank to its mechanics but that was all very easy to overlook because of the hugely-important things it did right.

Much like its predecessor, Zeno Clash 2 is about punching things in the face.
The variety of ways players can go about that is a big part of its appeal.

"Zeno Clash 2" (ZC2) as a result shouldn't be as important a game as it is. It should be the bigger, fuller-featured, more refined and totally-predictable sequel that one would expect but while it is many of those things, it's also something more.

ZC2 looks a bit better than the original. It plays a bit better than the original. You can even play through the campaign with a friend via drop-in/drop-out co-op. All these things are important but they're not the most important thing about it.

ZC2 is important because there's still nothing else quite like it. Even given the four years since the release of "Zeno Clash," there hasn't been a single game released that I'd consider a worthy successor to it until now.

The game's environments are often quite beautiful and unique.

Think about how crazy that is. A quality game comes out and basically defines, or at the very least re-defines a sub-genre of gaming and not one other game comes along in four years that's anything like it?

It's this utter absence of anything similar in the marketplace that makes ZC2 so special. You're not going to play this game and mistake it for generic first-person game x, y , or z. It's a truly unique experience that's going to stick with you because, unless you've played "Zeno Clash," you haven't played anything like it.

Of course, if you did play "Zeno Clash," you probably already have ZC2 on your radar and have a pretty good idea whether or not it's something you'd be interested in playing.

You'll fight a lot of unique enemy types that vary their attacks
and defenses both in terms of timing and technique.

Even though I love ZC2 as much as the original, I should point out that there are some minor AI, collision-detection, input-timing and networking (during co-op) issues that can very occasionally put a damper on the experience. It's also not a particularly long game, with a 6-8 hour campaign– depending on how quickly you power through it.

Finally, ZC2 can be somewhat obtuse in terms of conveying core game mechanics and moment-to-moment objectives to the player. It's nothing that a few runs through the fighting tutorial and a little careful thought and observation can't overcome but players who are used to games holding their hand throughout the experience might find it a bit daunting or frustrating at times.

Still, ZC2 is a noteworthy and compelling gaming experience in a world full of all-too-often derivative stock. That alone makes it worth a look and the $20 price makes it easy to recommend.

Zeno Clash 2 (via Steam)

Monday, April 29, 2013

My Thoughts on God Mode

Four-player, co-op shooters have become quite commonplace over the past few years– so much so that they generally come and go without much fanfare these days.

What's noteworthy about "God Mode" is that it adds a few interesting wrinkles to the formula and is priced right for what it is. What's a bit disappointing is that it doesn't go further with its unique design elements and is therefore of limited appeal beyond its initial novelty.

God Mode has some fairly impressive visuals for a budget title.

In "God Mode," one to four players traverse a series of five "mazes" that are set in Hades, or "Hell in a toga" as the game's love-it-or-hate-it announcer proclaims when the title screen loads.

The problem with the "mazes" is that they're more like linear paths through the levels with extremely subtle variation in the way players follow them in subsequent playthroughs. As a result, once you've seen a given "maze" a few times, you've pretty much seen all it has to offer. This wouldn't be so bad if they weren't called "mazes," which always made me pine for more variety and choice with regard to how they're navigated.

"God Mode's" other big shortcoming lies in its technical implementation. After a post-release patch, which took over a week to appear, it's now a pretty playable game but there are still technical issues such as events required to progress through levels occasionally not triggering, creatures rarely getting stuck in place and not disappearing after being killed, and players sometimes getting out of sync and unable to progress as a group.

These issues don't occur frequently but they happened to my group enough times in our 10+ hours with "God Mode" to be a noteworthy annoyance. The bottom line on the technical stuff is that the game is playable, but could use another patch.

There are a reasonable amount of character, weapon and ability
customization options that can be accessed between levels.

The big positive thing "God Mode" has going for it are the "Tests of Faith," which occur at fixed points throughout each level and infuse random elements into the gameplay. Enemies might for example become temporarily smaller and weaker, or larger and stronger. The level may become shrouded in mist or peppered with hazards like bombs. Alternatively, things might just get silly, with enemies wearing funny hats or sound effects playing faster or slower than normal.

The "Tests of Faith" are a great idea and some of the best ones are tied to the game's harder difficulty levels, which makes them worth experiencing just to see the new tests. They inject a much-needed dose of personality and variety into the game and their random nature helps each maze feel much fresher during multiple playthroughs than it otherwise would.

You'll fight a range of enemies in God Mode that feels
just about right given the overall scope of the game.

All things considered, "God Mode" is a good way to kill a few hours with friends. The $10 price point feels about right for the 10-15 hours of gameplay players are likely to get out of it before they've seen the bulk of what's there. If there were a bit more content or a bit more variety in the included content, "God Mode" would be worthy of a Shout Out; however, as it stands, with particular concern over its technical issues, I can only recommend it cautiously.

God Mode (via Steam)

Saturday, April 20, 2013

My Thoughts on Orion: Dino Horde

Let me start by making this perfectly clear. "Orion: Dino Horde" (O:DH) is not a new game. It is a new version of the "Orion: Dino Beatdown" game that was released in 2012. While there are several noteworthy additions and changes to the game in this new version, they don't in my view constitute a "new" game.

Of course, as a fan of the game, which took the #7 spot on my "Best Co-Op Games of 2012" list a few months back despite its technical problems, I'm happy to see a new version of it– regardless of what it's called.

For the sake of simplicity, I will only refer to the game by its new name moving forward.

The T-Rex will still wreck your face but the new Trike is no joke either.

So, what's new in O:DH? Quite a lot but not quite everything one might want.

In short, there are some new and tweaked weapons, an expanded "Augments" system that includes tiered, class-specific enhancements, a new vehicle, several new dinosaur types, some new and re-imagined levels, and a few new PvP game modes.

Personally, PvP isn't what I come to this game for but it's nice to have the option for it should I ever get the itch.

Sadly, the best co-operative mode from the original version(s) of the game (Conquest) is still absent as of this writing but the developer has assured me that it will be returning to the game via a free update in June. They've been a lot better about sticking to their release dates of late so I'm cautiously optimistic about Conquest mode's future.

An updated survival/objective mode does the heavy lifting where co-op gameplay is concerned in this new version and it's definitely good for a quick romp but I'm still looking forward to the return of Conquest.

Beyond the bullet points, O:DH is just a better version of the game. It runs better. It plays better. It looks and sounds better. It's simply better than it was (aside from the absence of Conquest mode of course). :)

For those of us who've been playing and enjoying the various versions of this game for the past year, O:DH is a welcome, free update. The game feels closer to living up to its potential than ever before and the developer has done a lot of good work on it. There's even been a post-name-change patch to iron out more bugs and add a few new features like force feedback support for controllers.

The new Penguin vehicle is great for getting two people around the map
quickly. It also runs smaller dinos over real good until heavily damaged.

For those of you considering picking up a copy, there are some things you should keep in mind:

It has taken a long time for its developer to get O:DH to its current state, which is still not what I would call "done." They have become a lot more receptive and responsive regarding feedback on the game in the past several months but their track record was pretty sub-par prior to that.

I also have to say that I think the $15 asking price is a bit high for what's currently in the game. It's not grossly out of line or anything and if they do manage to get Conquest mode and some additional free content into the game, I think it could be easily justified but it does feel a little overpriced as of right now.

Having said all that, I do still love this game. It's a scrappy little underdog with a great premise and some genuine charm in a world of cookie-cutter, big-budget shooters. As I said while playing with a friend, "It's the 'Smokey & the Bandit' of video games." You'll never mistake it for Shakespeare but it's a hell of a lot of fun.

Orion: Dino Horde (via Steam)

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Slowing My Roll

Wanted to let you all know that I've decided to cut back on the frequency of my posts here for the foreseeable future.

As usual, this is a time and money management issue. As much as I enjoy creating this content, there's no money in it and blogging takes considerable amounts of time and effort to do well.

I'm still planning some posts over the next few months for when the "Powergrids" update I'm developing, "Orion: Dino Horde" (which I'm currently beta testing), and "DayZ Standalone" hit– so keep an eye out for those.

Beyond that, I may find the time for the occasional post here and there but I won't be able to maintain the "post-a-week" pace I sustained over the past three months with all the other work I need to do to make a living.

If you're totally bummed out by this news, go play "Defiance." It's pretty great!

Defiance (via Steam)

Short on cash? Check out "Warframe." It's free-to-play and not a bad little co-op game– all things considered.

Warframe (via Steam)

Until next time, have a good one folks!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Initial Impressions: Defiance (Beta)

I'm going to come right out and say this. From what I've seen of it this past weekend, "Defiance" is a great game. Not only that, but this is one of those exceedingly-rare cases where I can say that with almost no qualification.

So often when presented with a new game, I find myself conflicted about it on some level. I may like 90% of what it does but then some nagging shortcoming or fatal flaw rears its head and forces me to temper my enthusiasm for it.

"Defiance" is the first game in a very long time where I struggle to find the flaws in it. Beyond that, it feels fresh and exciting and compelling in a way that no MMO has for me since "World of Warcraft" (WoW).

A lot of really epic stuff happens in "Defiance" and I suspect that
most people would enjoy experiencing it.

But that's not because "Defiance" is anything like WoW. It isn't. If anything, it's more like the MMO offspring of "Borderlands" and "Fallout 3," with a little something extra swirled in for good measure, and almost nothing bad or tedious allowed into the mix.

Okay. Okay. I'll be a good little blogger and point out the handful of warts I've seen– like how the enemy AI can be a bit thick at times, or how some of the vendors could use filtering or sorting options to streamline access to their extensive wares, or how steering vehicles with the keyboard can be a bit twitchy, or how the user interface is occasionally cryptic– but none of that really matters.

As I've often said, there's no such thing as a perfect game. What's amazing about "Defiance" is how good it is prior to its release.

Oh, there are technical issues to be sure. Players in the same group can get out of sync and lose track of each other if they get too far apart or there's a hiccup in the game server. A friend of mine had the "View" and "Delete" buttons on the inventory screen not appear for him when he pulled it up once and I had to log out and back in a couple times to interact with the occasional quest objective. But again, that's not the point.

Everything that's technically wrong with "Defiance" in its current beta state can and likely will be fixed, and is overwhelmingly outweighed by what's right about it.

The only real question is whether or not players will find the core gameplay appealing. "Defiance" is a game about shooting things in a somewhat tactical manner. Dodging, taking cover, switching weapons, flanking, retreating, focusing fire, hitting weak spots for critical damage– all these things and more are required at various times during the game. Brute force may get the job done but it's not usually the best option for success.

Additionally, this is a game built from the ground up for co-op. While it's certainly possible to solo most of the content I saw in beta, you're rarely going to feel overpowered as an individual. To me, this represents the best kind of co-op, where you drastically benefit from the help of your friends and are often rewarded both experientially and via better loot for playing as a team.

Simply cruising around the game's world with your friends
can be a fun and exhilarating experience.

The gunplay, the weapon variety and customization, the mixture of traditional and dynamic questing, the sense of scale and exploration in the game world, the social systems, everything that really matters and is fundamental to the game's nature is just plain sublime. It's that once in a blue moon game that manages to take things you've done a million times before as a gamer and make them feel new and exciting again.

If you like shooters and you don't have this game on your radar or if you were dismissive of it, thinking there was no way that a game built to tie into a "SyFy Channel" TV series was going to amount to anything, it's time to reconsider. There is something to this game– something special that doesn't come around very often and it would be a shame to let it pass without due consideration.

Having said all that, I'm acutely aware that I've only experienced part of the game as a beta tester and that it would be irresponsible to recommend that you folks purchase it based on that; however, I've also gotten more satisfaction and enjoyment out of that beta than I have out of most of the "finished" games I've played recently. It's simply that good and that's not something I say lightly.

Defiance (via Steam)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

My Thoughts on Impire

I'm a sucker for a good dungeon building and management game. Ever since the original "Dungeon Keeper" back in 1997, I've always found that sort of gameplay inherently compelling.

Unfortunately, there haven't been any games since "Dungeon Keeper 2" in 1999 that have been able to successfully scratch that itch for me.

2011's "Dungeons" was the closest anyone had come in a while but its spin on things, while unique, didn't quite resonate.

"Impire" is much closer to the spirit of "Dungeon Keeper" but it too takes some liberties with the formula that could well be a turn off to hardcore fans of the genre.

Having said that, it's still the best attempt I've seen and therefore worthy of note while we all wait to see how "War for the Overworld" fares.

At first glance, "Impire" seems quite a bit like "Dungeon Keeper," with players excavating underground hallways and rooms, summoning minions to fight creatures and heroes, expanding and protecting their dungeon, and the like.

The main campaign, which exposes most of the gameplay systems through a series of increasingly-complex missions, can be played co-operatively with up to three friends now that several post-release patches have smoothed out most of the rough spots in the multiplayer "beta–" though it seems a bit suspect to have a feature in beta in a shipping product if you ask me.

Impire's campaign is often cheesy and underwhelming in terms of presentation
but it gets the job done, and is pretty fun to play with friends.

It isn't until you spend some time with "Impire" that you start to see the weaker parts of it and how it doesn't quite measure up to the legacy of the games that clearly inspired it.

Your minions for example are pretty much dumb as rocks. They need to be constantly told what to do and micromanaged to achieve the various goals the game presents. If they're hungry, they don't eat unless you tell them to do so. If they're inexperienced, they don't train unless you order it. If a ladder allowing heroes direct access to sensitive areas of your dungeon appears, they won't do anything about it unless they happen to be set to patrol and happen to stroll past it.

Do any of these things make the game unplayable or awful? No, but they also make the act of playing it less fun than it would otherwise be, and reveal how there is often little to do beyond managing the minions. Objectives generally only feel difficult or challenging because it takes so much effort to get your minions and dungeon into a state where you can safely leave to perform the tasks required to complete them.

But it's not all bad news for "Impire." There are some genuinely cool features in the game– such as the ability to put minions in squads that allow creatures of various types to work together and compliment one another while fighting. Squads also allow minions to be instantly teleported to any part of the map that has been visited by any friendly player. Consequently, you can easily add your forces to those of a co-op partner who's gotten a bit ahead of you in the common areas of a given level, which reside outside your individual, isolated dungeons.

As a dungeon management game, Impire works and brings a few interesting
new mechanics to the table but it's no "Dungeon Keeper 3."

It should also be noted that "Impire" is a budget-priced title and for $20, it's one of the better looking and sounding (cheesy voice acting aside) games you're likely to find at that price point.

As I mentioned earlier, "Impire" shipped with more than a few serious bugs but most of them have been fixed via patches and the developers seem committed to continuing to improve it. Pun intended. :)

All things considered, I think "Impire" is a solid little game. It may not have the sophistication or staying power of the "Dungeon Keeper" series but it's not too shabby and kinda fun, especially in co-op, once you get a handle on the minion management and accept it for what it is rather than lamenting what it isn't.

Impire (via Steam)