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. :)