Thursday, February 24, 2005

I Wish I Was A Darwinian...

I decided I couldn't wait any longer for the Linux version of the Darwinia demo to come out so, a few days ago, I downloaded the Windows version and took it for a test drive.

First things first, this game is oozing with style. The still screenshots hint nicely at the look of the game, but to get the full effect you need to see the game in motion. Sound, although not as impressive as the visuals, is very well done - from the little confirmation bleeps and bloops to the sound of dying virii. Yes, virii. See, the world of Darwinia - if memory serves me correctly - is(or was, we'll get to that later) a theme park of the virtual variety. Then all hell broke loose, and there are evil virii trying to take it over.

Darwinia, for the most part, is an RTS in the classic sense; but there are quite a few nifty features that set it apart from the rest. The first is the "task manager". Much like the little sidebar you have in, say, Starcraft - the task manager is responsible for unit creation among other things. What makes it unique is the "gesture system", much like the one in Black & White, where you draw certain symbols with the mouse to get the desired effect. Once you're used to what the gesture for a certain action is, this is a much easier system than the old-fashioned sidebar approach.

Another not-so-common feature of Darwinia is the squad. I know that doesn't sound as special as it's supposed to, probably because it's a word that's used in most games nowadays. Darwinia's squad however, is a group of four soldiers which are under your direct command. Sure, left click on the map and they'll go there, but right clicking will cause them to fire at wherever the mouse pointer is, giving the game a bit of a Diablo-esque point and click hack and slash feel. One more interesting feature is the way you move Darwinians around. They can't be directly controlled, so only by promoting a Darwinian to an Officer, which can order other Darwinians around. As you might have guessed, there seem to be a lot of opportunities for some very deep gameplay here.

I, for one, am thoroughly impressed by the one level packaged with the demo, although it's lack of a mid-demo save feature is responsible for my not finishing it yet. The Linux version of the demo is supposed to be out by the end of February, and with the release date of the game(March 4th) quickly coming up it should be Linux-demo-fied soon. If you have Windows and can't wait, don't. The file is only 10.8 MB to download so, even with a modem, it's worth downloading twice. The fact that it's so freaking cool is just one thing, the fact that it comes from an indie developer(Introversion Software, who also did Uplink a while back) pushes it into obvious territory. I will buy this game, no doubt about that.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Next Week: GL-Pong

Well, in keeping with the old-school tastes I've had as of late, I've downloaded and tried out not one but two Quake clients - FuhQuake and Tenebrae.

Tenebrae is, at least in most ways, the better looking of the two clients. Two features - stencil shadows and per-pixel lighting - are Tenebrae's claim to fame and, for the most part, it looks pretty good. There is only so much you can do using comparatively primitive art and a modern engine, but textures have the same "sheen", for lack of a better term, that Doom 3 constantly overuses. The intro map as well as the first mission of episode 1 have had slight upgrades to the lighting and even some slight additions that really show off what the engine can do, but after that is where things start to get a little dicey. Every other level has not had it's lighting redone, and Tenebrae's new lighting technique serves to darken every level apart from the aforementioned two. That is... not so cool.

FuhQuake(I'm still waiting on Fuh Q2... heh) is much more simple in terms of scope - it's basically GLQuake with support for colored lighting and snazzier particle effects. It's also the one I prefer to play. Tenebrae is all well and good, but until every level is re-lit I'm going to stick with something I can actually see. Take a look at the screenshots for each one and see for yourself. One word of caution though - FuhQuake actually has Linux binaries available but if you want to play Tenebrae on Linux, you're going to have to get it though CVS and compile it yourself.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Steam, By Definition, Is Constantly Evaporating.

So, honestly, the few times I've played anything this week, it's been Counter Strike or Starcraft. I've said various things to this effect before, but I'll say it again: If you're not familiar with those two games, you have absolutely no business reading obscure gaming weblogs. If you have to ask, you'll never know. That being said, the remainder of this post does have to do with CS.

So this week, it's all about Steam. As you may have noticed from a certain previous post, I'm certainly no fan of Valve Software. When it comes to Counter Strike, more specifically the Condition Zero version, I'll make an exception. So, for that one game, I'm forced to use a "service" that I'm very much against. Why, you ask? Read on, I say, read on.

Sure, I play CS online using Steam. After all, it's the only way you can play online. What I can't comprehend is how anyone with the mental capacity to understand how a computer works could purchase a product they intend on keeping via Steam. In that respect, Valve could not have picked a better name for the system. Within the recent connection problems lies a vision of the future. Buy a game through Steam and you're at their mercy. What has to be kept in mind here is that the game industry is quite volatile. I'm sure certain employees might want to think otherwise, but the fact of the matter is that Valve Software is not going to be around forever. No Valve, no Steam. No Steam, you're out 50(or 90, depending on the package deal) bucks.

If you have a box with a CD, you can be fairly certain that said CD will not self-destruct at the same time as the company. The exact opposite can be said about Steam. Not that I'd ever consider this(for reasons stated in the aforementioned previous post), but the only way to actually get a CD(or DVD, I'm not sure) and a box for Half Life 2 through Steam is to pay ninety dollars for the super duper "platinum package".

Everyone knows that with any online game supported by a central master server(which is pretty much all of them), it's all over the minute the developer decides to pull the plug. We accept that. What needs to be asked is: Can you really accept the same for an offline game?

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Linux Free Strategy Game Roundup Part 4

This week's entry into the venerable Linux Free Strategy Game Roundup is netPanzer - a game that unlike, let's say netHack, is actually playable over the internet.

The last sentence was a bit of an understatement on the scale of "air is breathable by lungs". You see, netPanzer's main focus is hectic online play. Any player can jump right in to the middle of any game, at any time, no matter what. This small, seemingly inconsequential detail provides netPanzer with the bulk of it's staying power. When a player joins a heated battle, any multitude of things can happen. An area that had previously been thought safe can suddenly become a new source for a volley of shells, making an already heated battle even more chaotic - or the same battle can be swung in the favor of a struggling army if the newcomer decides to become allies. The ally aspect, by the way, is built right into the game, something I can't remember seeing in any of the other games in this roundup so far.

netPanzer's graphics, while not stunningly beautiful in screenshots, are a step up from, or at least on par with any of it's peers. Clouds of smoke billow up from still flaming ex-tanks, explosions are well animated, and the battlefields have a nice pseudo-3d look. One note against the graphics is that, while running 1024x768 resolution, the framerate is only around 48 fps. I'm not sure if they just have it capped but, at the same resolution, Cube gets 100+ fps. Only after pushing the resolution to 1600x1200, with 3x full scene anti-aliasing, does the resolution start to fall that low. Sound, while not the best I've ever heard, does a good job at capturing the intensity of a given situation with explosions-a-plenty.

Now, as I stated before, netPanzer's focus is online play but it is possible to get a game going with bots - it just takes a little more work than you may be used to. I'm not going to give step by step instructions here, as they're included in the README that comes with the game. For most GNU/Linux distributions, the game is either included on the installation CDs or available from a package management system like apt-get, so it's easy for most users to get their hands on. As with most any game now, Windows binaries are also available for download. Sorry OSX users, nothing for you yet. If you can, get your hands on this one, it's quite possibly my favorite out of all the games mentioned so far.