Hello, hello, hello and welcome along to Parcival Plays. This site is a place for a Scottish guy in his 30's to share some of the games he is playing. This will be a variety of older games and more recent titles with most of these being by smaller or indie teams. Please feel free to comment on posts or follow me on Twitter and to drop me an email using the buttons on the right. For details of when new content drops please check my Posting Schedule. For more please check my About page.


Parcival

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

Snowtopia - First Look!


Snowtopia is a game that seemed to come out of nowhere in the past few weeks.  I hadn't seen or heard anything about it and suddenly videos for the game appeared on YouTube.  The game is very early in it's development, having been developed from an initial prototype in March 2018.  It is being developed by French team Tea for Two.

The game sees you take control of a ski resort, starting with only a small village at the bottom of a mountain.  Currently the game is in what they are calling 'open alpha' so is feature limited.  With the knowledge that this will have a Kickstarter campaign early in 2019, it is probably more accurate to say that the game is more a proof of concept at this stage.  Saying that, I've been having a lot of fun with it over the past week.

The open alpha/demo was released via the itch.io page in early December and is currently available for Windows, Linux and MacOS systems, with a release date TBA (expect more details during/post Kickstarter).  As I noted above, the game is currently feature light and only has about 20 minutes of content before you complete the goals, although you can continue to play the game as long as you wish.

The landscape available for your resort   

Currently you have access to two lift types (chair lift and gondolas) and two ski run types (medium and large).  From the UI it appears that there are some form of facilities/buildings planned, an additional lift type (a surface lift which I suspect may be similar to a button tow) and scenery items.  

The goal in this demo is to welcome 150 skiers to your resort.  Developing your resort is quick and intuitive.  First you'll want to place a lift and then a couple of runs back down to the base of the mountain and into your resort village.  As soon as you have done this, the skiers will start to arrive.

Our first chairlift with a basic and slalom type run

Your resort will need to be appealing to 4 different types of skiers - Beginners, Slalomers, Daredevils and Experts - and you will need a variety of slopes to cater to these types and their enjoyment of your resort.  Thankfully the slope placement tool is both very flexible and informative.  It uses a colour coding system, green-blue-red-black, to show you the difficulty of the segment of track you are building.  It then calculates an overall difficulty for that run.

Building a slope showing some simple and intermediate areas

They have also included a useful visualisation layer.  This allows you to show the difficulties of all of your runs together, rather than just the currently selected run.  This is useful for planning where your next run is going to be placed, and what kind of run it should be to ensure a balanced resort.  The menu also has an additional checkbox with not functionality which suggests there will be further visualisations available later in development.

The resort with the slope difficulties layer off (L) and on (R)

You can really go to town with your resort layout too.  The AI is clever enough to know that they may need to take multiple lifts which are chained, to reach the slope they wish to use.  You can also branch additional routes off of an existing run, and even have a slope end at a chairlift below the village and use that to return to the hub of your resort.

A view up the mountain showing chairlifts partway up the mountainside

Whilst definitely very much a demo and early alpha, the game feels like it will be worth keeping an eye on.  The performance is generally good and the actual gameplay is enjoyable.  As to be expected there are some issues such as animations which still need to be added and the occasional bug like skiers getting confused and stuck on the mountain if you delete the run they were heading to.  

If you want to give it a go you can download the open alpha via the Itch.io page for free and sign up to their newsletter from the same page to keep up to date with the development.

Thursday, 20 December 2018

The Colonists - The Settlers, but with robots!!


The Colonists is the first game developed by the one man team at Code By Fire and was published by Mode 7 (Frozen Synapse, Tokyo 42).  The game was released on Steam on October 24th 2018.

The game sees you take control of a team of autonomous robots.  They were originally developed by humans, but have now decided they want to BE the humans and have settled on a distant planet.  The game features a number of scenarios covering bot military and economic goals.  There is also an endless sandbox mode which was added post-release due to player feedback.

When you first start a scenario you have only the ship you arrived in and an associated 3D printer.  This printer will generate new robots for the various tasks of your colony as it expands.  Your ship also produces a small amount of wood and simple batteries to power your first buildings.  This also makes it impossible to completely brick your colony, at least in the early stages, as you always have the supply of those items.

Humble beginnings - our colony ship printing a new carry-bot

As with most of these games, your first job is to establish a supply of that most basic resource, wood.  The first stage in that process is to build a lumberjack who will chop down available trees to make logs.  To do this you will need a supply of logs and energy (from the replicators in your ship) and some roads to allow the bots to get to the construction site.  Similarly to in The Settlers, when you place a road a carrier will be created and deployed to shuttle resources between these posts.  Once complete, your lumberjack will automatically chop down trees as long as they have the available energy.

This is only the first step in this supply chain however.  You will also need a forester, to replant trees and ensure a ready supply, and a sawmill, to refine the logs into planks, to enable you to build some of the later buildings.

Slowly building up - our lumberjack is now gathering wood to grow our colony

Like with the logs, the rate at which your ship produces energy will not sustain your colony for very long.  You will need to build residences and provide these with food (robots eating sheep and bread..?) for the bots to produce energy for use by the production bots.  As with the supply chain for planks, you need to complete the steps for creating energy.  To do this you need to supply the houses with food and drink, either fish or sheep and water to begin with.

Sometimes you will want to gather resources which are not within your territory.  This means that, similar to The Settlers, you need to expand your territory by building a watchtower.  In the economic scenarios this is their main role, however they are also vital for offence and defence in the military scenarios.

As you progress through the game you will need to work your way through a tech tree by carrying out research at a workshop.  Once constructed you can select which item to research next.  To conduct research, you will need to ensure your workshop has a plentiful supply of energy.  Each branch of the tree opens up new buildings or benefits, such as mine shafts or faster construction.  After a while you will need to upgrade these to provided the more efficient Level 2 (and later level 3) Energy.

Examples of the tech tree showing available advancements for transportation and Construction

When you have buildings which require higher level energy it is very tempting to just upgrade all of your residences, however, this will result in not producing level 1 energy, or having level 2 residences which cannot work due to a lack of resources (water won't cut it for these residences).  As mentioned earlier, due to your colony ship producing logs and level 1 energy this doesn't mean game over, but it does make things a bit more tricky due to the rate of production.

Once you have established your higher level houses and their relevant supply chain you will now, hopefully, be generating both level 1 and level 2 energy which will help to sustain, and grow, your colony.  The level 2 energy will also be required by some of the advanced resource buildings.  These include level 2 surface mines which allow you to mine coal, iron and clay surface deposits in addition to stone and shaft mines allowing you to mine underground deposits.

An advanced area of colony with level 2 housing, orchard, cider press and supply chain for Iron production

As your colony expands you might find yourself in a situation where your carrier bots will be unable to transport your resources.  This may be due to the distance between buildings making it inefficient, or due to expanding across multiple islands.  Luckily the developer has been mindful of this and given players a few options.

For transferring goods across land, the first of these options is simply to build a road layer.  This bot will then use stone mined from your quarries to upgrade your roads into cobbled roads. This allows your bots to move slightly faster.  The more advanced, and efficient method, for transport across land sees your colony reach the industrial revolution with steam trains.
Left - Our colony has sent out an expedition and expanded onto a new island.  Right - a train delivers coal and iron ore from the mines to the blacksmith

For transporting goods across water, you can utilise cargo ships by building harbours.  These also have 3D printers, preventing having to move your bots across water too.  You can also set routes to limit which harbours each ship will visit.  These ships also allow you to colonise and settle on the new islands by sending out an expedition.

Upon launch there were 10 scenarios in the game.  This led to some negative feedback on Steam due to the perceived absence of a sandbox mode.  The developer clarified that whilst there were 10 missions, these were open ended and you could play for as long as you wished, to develop your colony, after completing the objectives.  He did, however, also respond by very quickly starting work on a sandbox mode.  This went through testing via users of the Discord server and was implemented for all players earlier this month.  This also brought an additional WIP map available only through the sandbox mode suggesting that more scenarios and content are planned.

Sandbox mode customisation options

After initially having a bit of a knee jerk reaction to the (seemingly) low number of scenarios and lack of sandbox, I am glad that I managed to speak with the developer briefly on the Discord server.  This helped put my concerns to rest and I'm glad I took the time to give the game a shot.  The game is not simple by any means and has deep systems to allow you to optimise your colony and supply routes, such as preventing them to go along specific roads.  There is easily 25+ hours of play available in the game without carrying on beyond the end of your scenario objectives.  There have also been a number of regular updates fixing bugs and paving the way for future additional content.

PROS:

  • Excellent graphics and animations
  • Familiar, yet innovative gameplay
  • Challenging yet fun

CONS:

  • Currently only has 10 scenarios in campaign play
  • Cannot play military campaign maps on sandbox without enemies
  • Limited number of buildings - so resources are not used within game but can only be traded through a space port


The Colonists is available now as a full release for £19.49 on Steam.

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Chef: A Restaurant Tycoon Game - Now in Early Access


Thanks for stopping by again.  Starting this week, I will be adding a rating system onto reviews where the game can be purchased, these won't be applied to First Look articles which are mostly pre-alpha press details.  The ratings will be Buy It Now! (Download it now for free games), Wait For A Sale (Wait for updates for Early Access games) and Give It A Miss. - Parcival

Chef is a tycoon game by Italian developers Inner Void and published by Digital Tribe.  I discovered this game a few weeks ago in the Steam upcoming items and the developers have kindly provided me with a copy of the game to have a look at now that it has entered Early Access.

The game lets you take the reigns of planning and running a restaurant empire and managing every aspect.  This ranges from ensuring you have the basic equipment required, to hiring and firing of staff, to a list of policies which are available.  These policies include things such as cleaning and advertising contracts.

When you first start a game you have a few choices to make.  Firstly you need to create your avatar using the standard options of head, hair colour, clothing colour etc.  Secondly you must decide which restaurant to rent from a randomised list.  There are a number of restaurants to choose from when you first start out.  These have a variety of things to consider when selecting your location.

Customising our avatar

They have a mix of small, medium and large kitchens and dining halls, locations, perks and mixture of clientelle.  For example, a countryside location may not attract blue collar workers, but will have a higher rent as it may be on a nature reserve, where a restaurant in an industrial district won't attract families but will also have a generally lower number of diners.  As you progress and begin to make money you are able to move to a new restaurant.

Left: Showing a potential site showing the Landmark perk.  Right: A potential site with the Isolated penalty

Whilst it is tempting just to jump at the largest potential site for maximum space, or the smallest for maximum cash it is worthwhile thinking it through a bit.  In one game I decided not to take the cheapest site as it was in an isolated mountain region, but wen't for a middle-priced site which, despite being near a dock which can reduce diners, had a world famous landmark nearby which would attract tourists.

When you load in there is a tutorial which will guide you through the finer points of being a restarateur, but you can skip this if you wish.  I would recommend playing through it on your first time as some of the gameplay points were not very intuitive to me even with the tutorial assistance (NOTE: This has started to be addressed in post release patches).

Our first diners in our modest dining room

Your first order is to kit out your restaurant for it's first diners.  You will need to make sure that you have some equipment for prepping and cooking meals and some tables for your diners.  There are also some (very) limited options for customising your restaurant in the form of a handful of table varieties and decorations.

You can also decide which items are added to your menu.  Which items you can add to your menu is dependant on what coking equipment you have in your kitchen - you can't grill steak without a grill or roast potatoes without an oven.  At the start you have a limited number of options available, but as you progress your chef gets skill points which allow you to upgrade your skills and learn new recipes or you can create your own in the Recipe Editor.  You will also be able to unlock new, and higher quality, ingredients in the Ingredients Panel.

Selecting the dishes for our menu by dragging from right to left

You will also need some staff to help run your restaurant.  You can hire waiters and additional chefs in the staff panel.  These candidates all have their own unique set of skills which will affect (positively or negatively) how well they will work and any effects they will have on your guests.

Top Left: The chef skill screen with no points. Top Right: Another page of the skill screen with points spent, after spending 5 points the next tier of that page is unlocked. Bottom: The ingredients panel where you can unlock new ingredients

Once you have opened your restaurant there isn't very much input you have for the day-to-day running of the restaurant.  Setting up your restaurant and the customising of your menu is interesting and can be fun experimenting with different combinations, particularly whilst making new dishes, however once the restaurant opens it feels very passive and there isn't much you feel that you have to react to or any sense of urgency. 

A larger dining room with a number of clients perusing the menu

My overall verdict for the game?  I'd probably say you are best to wait for a few updates (although they are pushing them out fairly quickly).  There are a number of issues for me with the game.  I played for a while and saved, then when I went back to the game later I couldn't continue, as I hadn't completed the tutorial despite playing for about 40 minutes, with many options being locked out and the English language localisation is a bit off in places.  The tutorial also has issues with some instructions which are unclear, but improving with patches, and parts of the game which are not overly intuitive.  That said, there is definitely some potential there, the game is Early Access and had 2 patches pushed within the first couple of days of launch.


PROS:

  • Detailed skill/progression system
  • Varied restaurant perks
  • Interesting recipe creation system
  • Regularly being updated

CONS:

  • Tutorial needs more work
  • Language localisation clumsy
  • Character models and animations often misaligned with world objects
  • Gameplay outwith initial set-up feels passive


Chef is available to purchase now from Steam priced at £15.49/$19.99





Friday, 7 December 2018

Evil Genius - Bond Villain 101 #FlashbackFriday


Flashback Friday is a new feature where we will take a trip down memory lane and enjoy a game from years gone by.  This will be a monthly feature on the first Friday of each month.  Criteria for being featured as a Flashback Friday game are that the game must have been initially published in 2010 or earlier (at times I may look at a more recent HD remake or repackage) and the game must still be obtainable from a legitimate source.

Evil Genius is a base-builder/minion management game developed by Elixir Studios and published by Vivendi Universal Games.  It was released on 24th September, 2004 before various purchases and organisational changes saw the rights transferred to Rebellion Developments.  Vivendi was eventually merged into Activision in 2008.

It's clear to see where the team drew a lot of their inspirations for the game, with many Villain clich├ęs from the James Bond series being present, and gamely very reminiscent of the 1997 game Dungeon Keeper.

A basic lair starting to take shape with barracks, armoury, control room, freezer room and power generator.

You have a choice of three geniuses to choose from: Maximilian, a wealthy industrialist who want to obtain advanced research and technological supremacy; Alex is, an elegant multi-millionaire heiress commanding loyalty and respect; and Shen Yu, a super-criminal, turned special agent, turned evil genius with a network of conspirators around the globe.  I can't see any noticeable difference to gameplay other than a different henchman. 

Taking a plot directly out of a bad spy movie, you arrive on a small island in the middle of the ocean which has a large mountain.  You will develop your underground lair within this mountain.

Top Left: Pesky investigators being eliminated whilst snooping.  Top Right: Body bags stored in a freezer.  Bottom: Interrogating a captured maid to unlock the Valet advanced minion.

To start with, your base only has a capacity for a few minions, so you will want to start out with a barracks which will allow you to sustain more minions.  You also start with the ability to build a strongroom, to store your spoils, and a control room, which will allow you to send your minions out into the world and build your notoriety (more about that later).

Once you have decided where you want to build a room, you will lay down a blueprint for it, similar to building the basic room shape in Two Point Hospital.  You can then also add various items to the room, some of which are specific for that room such as beds in barracks or holding cells in armouries.  Unlike TPH, however, the rooms are not built instantly.  You will need to wait for your minions to obtain TNT to blast the rock and then they will need to buy the items from the depot.  This is where you need to do a bit of a balancing act.  You want to have placed your strongroom deep enough in your base that any passing agents won't stumble into it easily, but also close enough to your base entrance that you minions don't have too far to walk with your piles of cash.

Planning a barracks in blueprint mode with lockers and beds, allowing the base to support more minions.

Over time you will unlock more facilities which will help you carry out your evil deeds, such as a hotel which can be used as a cover for the activity on the island, and also a source of victims.  From time to time you may also find that there are investigators or other civilians on the island.  If the investigators leave the island with any evidence you wi gain heat.  You can tag these to be killed by your minions or henchman.  Once killed, the body will generate a body bag which decays over time.  This will, however, lower the loyalty of your minions when they see them.  You can negate this area effect by building a freezer room where your minions will store the body bags, but it will take longer for them to decay.  Alternatively you can capture them and place them into a holding cell before interrogation, which may also unlocked advanced minion types. 

If you're anything like me, you will soon find that you are running short on cash.  Once your control room is up and running you gain access to the world domination screen.  This is a world map where you can see the areas covered by the 5 security forces.  To deploy your minions, you simply select the region your wish to send them to and choose how many to send.  Once they have arrived, you can select one of three jobs: plotting; stealing; and hiding.  

The World Domination screen showing minions being deployed by helicopter.  White dots signify Acts of Infamy.

Plotting allows your minions to gradually uncover new Acts of Infamy which will give a boost to your notoriety, stealing will earn you cash over time depending on how many minions are deployed, with some regions giving higher return, and hiding will cause your minions to lay low to reduce heat in the region.  You need to keep an eye on you deployed forces though, as sometimes they may be discovered and killed by security forces. 

For a game which has recently celebrated its 14th birthday it still holds up well.  The management aspect, particularly balancing the number of deployed minions to ensure a steady flow of cash whilst having enough to staff and patrol your island, although dead minions will be automatically recruited into vacant roles.  There are even a few mods available for the game, for example to enable 1080 resolution, available on nexus mods.  If you don't own it yet its well worth a purchase, and at the time of writing is currently on sale at GOG.com for £1.99 (regular price £7.79) or available for £6.99 from Steam if preferred.  Rebellion are also developing a sequel and, although there has been no news for a while, I am assured this project is still active. 


Meeple Station - Now Available To Purchase


Big thank you to Vox Games who have given me a super early look at their new game which is the first game to be published by indie games news site IndieDB!

The game is a co-operative space station builder.  Initially this slightly put me off BUT unlike many multiplayer games of recent years, this includes a true single player experience, in fact there is currently only a single player mode implemented.

The game plays as a 'god game' where you do not directly control the occupants of your space station (the Meeple from the games title) but give general orders, such as what to build and where, which they will follow between taking care of their needs, eating and sleeping.


A station built over 3 levels.  Top left: The top level with living quarters, officers quarters and dining area; Top Right: Middle level with airlocks, storage and life support systems; Bottom: Start of science level with some crops for food

The version of the game I got to try only had the tutorial and single player 'Classic' game mode available with a campaign to be added at a later date.  When you launch this you first have to select a difficulty level.  This will determine the resources and cash available at the start of the game.

The first thing we have to do is build our basic station comprising of a hull, solar panels, power supply, life support system and a food source.  If you forget that, there is a reminder box telling you what you need for a functional station.  At this point you also hire your starting crew of Meeple from a list of jobs such as engineer, miner, janitor and refiner, however they are currently refining the Meeple with personalities and how they will be assigned jobs.

Now it is time to decide where your starting sector will be from the galaxy map.  You can click on the various identified sectors, or in fact any part of the map,and it will display information such as how resource rich the sector is, or how much threat that area is subject to.

Selecting our starting area on the galaxy map.  We can see this area has a plentiful supply of Brothium and Morilium and no dangers making this a good area to start developing our station

Now it is time to jump into the 'meat' of the game.  Once you have arrived in the sector your first job will be to establish your supply of resources which will allow you to develop your station.  To do this you will need to ensure that you have a miner, a refiner and a refinery with a power supply.  This will allow you to harness the potential of the ores in the surrounding asteroids.

Another source of resources is from the destroyed stations that you can find scattered throughout the galaxy.  By using the salvage/mine command you can send your engineers to dismantle them.  This can be useful if you need to get resources which you cannot refine from the available ores.

Asteroid in upper right allocated for mining whilst our engineer salvages a damaged station in the centre of the image

The final source of resources is through trade.  To be able to trade with passing ships you must have an airlock which is dedicated to trade.  To do this you simple mouse-over the airlock and hit 'T' and now passing ships will dock there.

You will receive a docking fee for each ship that stops and by clicking it whilst docked you can open the trade menu.  This will allow you to sell off surplus resources, to free up some of your limited storage space, buy resources which you cannot produce due to missing ores in your sector, and hire new Meeple.

Trade ships are also the way that officers get to your station when it has a high enough reputation.  You need to be careful though as some of these ships will be disguised pirates who will attack your station.  

Trading with a passing ship.  In the left panel you can see the available money and resources of both the trader and the player, while the right panel shows the Meeple on the ship looking for jobs

As I've mentioned above, as you develop your station it builds in reputation.  Once you reach >50 reputation an officer will arrive on a trade ship.  These officers are both useful and annoying.  They are useful as, providing you have an Officer Desk, they will allow you to conduct research which will give access to new items, such as shield generators and a quantum core engine, and Meeple types, such as scientists and guards. 

The annoying aspect is that they will also assign tasks to your Meeple.  This means that they may instruct engineers to start building items, such as bulkhead doors, exactly in the position you don't want them.  Thankfully there is a cancel function you can use to cancel the order, or, if you don't notice until it has been built, you can use the same salvage/mine command as mentioned before to regain the resources.

Two officers in their quarters working on researching new technologies

As you play the game you will meet a number of challenges.  If your people are neglected, for example having to eat standing up, sleep on the floor, or having a dirty environment, they will become unhappy or maybe even depressed.  When this happens they occaisionally decide to open an airlock without a space suit.  It is also possible that they will get lost when mining/salvaging if the asteroid is too far from your station. 

You may also experience a meteor shower.  Without proper preparations, such as shields, these can be totally devastating and wipe out much of your station.  There are also mobs which will show up from time to time such as the peaceful space squids and hostile pirates.


An oxygen producing space squid hanging around in the officers quarters

I've had great fun playing this game over the past few months in pre-alpha and it's been good to see the game progress thus far with numerous additions and changes already with more to come (confirmed so far are FULL mod support and changes to the Meeple with personalities which will affect the job they do and how they interact with each other).  The devs are also very active and open with engaging the community on Discord and weekly posts to Imgur, including this post about the turbulent journey towards alpha so far.  Even though the game is early alpha I definitely recommend it as it is pretty stable and has decent performance.  The few bugs that I have encountered during playing have been quickly fixed. 

The game is available to purchase now from the Vox games dedicated store and will be release on Steam at a future date.  You can also read more about the game and download the demo at their Itch.io page.

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Tracks - The Train Set Game - It's like virtual BRIO!


Tracks - The Train Set Game is being developed by UK developer Whoop Group and published by Excalibur Games.  This game has been on my radar for a while and I want to say a big thank you to the team at Excalibur who have kindly provided me with a copy of the game.  This will be the first of a number of their current and upcoming games I'll be looking at over the coming months.

Tracks started life a little under 2 years ago as an entry in the the February 2017 AGDG Comfy Jam, a 2 week game jam to make a 'comfy' game.  The game received positive feedback and was released as a prototype onto the Itch.io platform under their 'Pay What You Want' model.

Due to the generosity of the players who decided to support the game by making contributions, the prototype was able to be developed further into a full game, being published again to Itch.io as a paid product and also into the Steam Early Access programme on September 28th 2017.

If you ever owned, or like me wished you owned, some BRIO wooden rails (other, compatible, brands are available) then you know exactly what to expect from your available parts.  Imagine you have a massive, empty floor and the worlds biggest box of wooden rails, trains and accessories and you might be partway to knowing what to expect from this game.

Working on a track layout which started as the small oval in the centre and was gradually expanded

When you load the game the default 'Clear' environment is selected for Free Play mode.  As is suggests this is simply a blank canvas in which you can play with all of the pieces to make your dream wooden rail layout.  In the level select menu, you can change between, at the time of writing, 5 different environments: Clear; Clear (Night); Modern Apartment; Apartment (Night); Bedroom.  All of these allow Free Play with the Modern Apartment environment also offering the Passengers game mode.

If you jump straight in to play without changing the level you are greeted by a tutorial introducing you to the game, how to lay tracks, place decorations and, possibly most importantly, how to drive your trains!  This tutorial can be replayed just by starting a game on the Clear environment again, but can be skipped if you want to get straight into it.

A simpler layout with a small town (complete with a seasonal Christmas Tree), a farm and a train shed 

When you start the game in the Clear and Bedroom environments you start with a single straight track piece and train, the Apartment environments have a small section of track consisting of a curve and a few straights.

To expand your tracks, you simply decide if you want a straight piece, an incline/decline by scrolling the mouse wheel or using Q and E keys, a curve left or right, or an S-bend into a parallel track by moving the mouse left or right, and place the piece using left click.  This will add a new piece to the existing track.  It is also possible to create junctions simply by selecting the node of a straight or curve and adding on to that piece.  By hovering your mouse over the junction you are able to select which path the train will take through the junction by default.

Top: The basic track piece available in the game.  Bottom Left: A junction with default route going straight across.  Bottom Right: A junction with default route going to the right 

At some point you will probably want to start decorating your layout.  You are spoiled for choice with the possibilities in the Toy Box.  This contains over 100 items which you can use to make your layout your own.  There are also a range of items which are tagged a 'experimental' and are not fully implemented or contain bugs currently.

These items range from static houses, trees and vehicles to interactive fireworks, passengers who will get on and off your train at stations and, probably my favourite, a tunable bell which plays as a train passes it.  These make virtually endless possibilities as if you literally have a bottomless tub of wooden rail and a massive floor to play on.  As with many sandbox games however this can also be a problem with creative block from getting overwhelmed a very real possibility.  It's probably best to start small, complete an area and then expand slowly despite the urge to go full steam ahead and make a huge layout.

Some of the massive selection of items available in your Toy Box

Once you have completed your layout and are happy with it, it's time to play!  This is an aspect of the game I thoroughly enjoy.  It would have been very easy for the developer to simple put a start/stop button for the trains in the game, however as there is practically no UI outwith the toy box would have felt strange.  Instead they opted for a first person driver mode.

When in the driver mode you can change the speed of the train and over-ride the default paths through junctions, using the W,A,S,D keys.  You can also do a quick stop of the train using Space.  This can be useful when trying to stop at stations to collect passengers, or stopping on the turntable piece.

Train sitting in stables whilst in train driver mode

The Passengers game mode combines the Free Play with groups of passengers which spawn around the room.  These spawn one group at a time and you will need to build a station near this group and then tracks to link that with the stations which have been pre-placed.  There are a combination of 'standard' and 'business' passengers.  These are delivered to different types of station and the business passengers have a 2 minute countdown to deliver them.  Unfortunately there is no penalty for missing this and you can still deliver them to the station.

Top: The first group of passengers awaiting transport to the station.  Bottom Left: Standard passengers boarding the train.  Bottom Right: Business passengers boarding the train.

Overall I've thoroughly enjoyed this game, from first opening it and thinking it had maybe an hour or two entertainment I can easily see how time can run away with you once you start to detail your layouts.  Being in early access there are a few issues, for example passing through a tunnel in the first person mode seems to break that view for the remainder of the session, the lack of penalties mentioned above and a few polish aspects which I'm sure will come with time.  The main complaint I have is more due to me than the game.  I constantly try to rotate the camera using Q and E which actually raise and lower the camera and track, but this is more due to what I am used to in other games.

Passengers waiting for their Christmassy gingerbread train

You can purchase Tracks now on Steam priced at £14.99/$19.99/€16.79, and Itch.io at $19.99 or local equivalent + relevant taxes, and support the game through its early access cycle.  The game gets updated about once a month with new items/features and the developer seems very active and responsive on the Steam Discussions when players have feedback and queries.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Parkitect - Out of Early Access


First off I want to say a big thanks to the guys at Texel Raptor for letting me have a sneaky peek at the full release of Parkitect a couple of days early.  The game will leave Early Access and reach version 1.0 full release on 29th November.

One of the games I sank hours into as a kid was Theme Park on the Amiga 1200.  For a few years there was nothing, then in 1999 a coverdisk from a magazine was passed round the playground at school containing a demo for a new theme park management game RollerCoaster Tycoon.  That demo contained only about 20 minutes of gameplay with the first scenario but I was immediately hooked once more, going into my local games store to check their magical binder behind the counter with all of the release dates regularly.  Over the following 6 years the game saw two expansions, followed by 2 sequels each with their own 2 expansion.  And then...?  Nothing, nada, silence for over 10 years.  Finally our patience was rewarded with not 1 or 2 but 3 new theme park management games announced.  A successor to RCT with RollerCoaster Tycoon World from Atari, a new franchise called Coaster Park Tycoon, which would later be renamed Planet Coaster, by Frontier Developments, who developed both the expansions to RCT2 and RCT3 and it's expansions, and Parkitect by indie outfit Texel Raptor.

Top Left: RollerCoaster Tycoon World; Top Right: Planet Coaster; Bottom: Parkitect

These games all approached the genre in different ways.  Planet Coaster would follow a path that very much felt like they were building on the foundation of their knowledge and experience of RCT3. RCTW had a pretty muddy development being bounced between a number of developers, delayed and was plagued by a number of issues relating to performance and features that players felt were missing, particularly things like no longer being able to set the entry and exit points of rides or colour them as wished.  Parkitect went back to an isometric grid based system reminiscent of the first two installments of the RCT series.

All of these games used an early access model through phases of their development to get player feedback.  This phase started for Parkitect in September 2015 when Kickstarter backers were given access to alpha builds, with Planet Coaster and RCTW following in March of 2016.  Parkitect then entered into Steam Early Access in May of 2016 opening up the game to a wider audience.  The early access model has a generally bad reputation with games not being completed or released in a poor state, but Texel Raptor have shown the way to do Early Access.  They have committed to a schedule of a monthly update and have kept players involved and engaged throughout the process.


A simple mini coaster with plane wreck

Each of these updates has built on the game with systems being added or improved, such as a new lighting engine and a rework of how scenery affects guests, and  steady stream of new rides.  Having owned the game for most of the time it has been in Early Access I would say that the biggest improvement I've seen in this 1.0 version is a massive boost to performance and stability, although admittedly I don't have a huge amount of game time and have missed a few updates.  The big thing being added into this 1.0 version though is the campaign.  This takes you through 26 scenarios in which you will hone your skills to become a true parkitect.  As seems to be the way these days, when you start the campaign you open up a map rather than a list of scenarios, similar to the county map in Two Point Hospital and what looks to be the route Parkasuarus will also go down.  Initially you can only see a tutorial park and the first scenario Maple Meadows set in "a large clearing on the frontiers of a maple forest" (see what they did there?)  As you complete scenarios the clouds will clear, revealing more of the map and allowing you to progress.  As expected, these scenarios will challenge you to make a certain amount of money or have a set number of guests in your park, for a 'bonus' there are additional challenges such as doing it within a set time period.  Sometimes these additional objectives will give your park a financial boost.

Campaign screen before (L) and after (R) completing the first scenario

Before jumping in though I would recommend completing the short tutorial.  This is accessed as the first scenario on the campaign map (but can be ignored if you don't want to).  For players of RCT2 much of this will be familiar with a simple grid system and easy to understand UI, however this game does bring some new stuff to the table.  The biggest change is related to your staff and shops.  In Parkitect your shop stock will arrive at you delivery centre near the park entrance.  The stock must now be transported to the shops by haulers.  Whilst you can just allow them to roam through the park with the crates, this will affect the happiness of your guests as it will break their immersion.  Shops can be stocked from behind so you will want to build a network of staff only paths.  Thankfully this is a specific path type within the game so you don't need to rely on no entry signs to block off areas of your park.  For shops which are further afield you can either develop a network of underground paths, but it will take a while for your stock to be delivered, or set up a tube delivery network.  This allows the stock to be transported to a depot at the other side of the park, but are quite expensive.  As with the crates of stock, guests don't want to see your depots or staff pathways.  You can conceal these with a combination of scenery and fences, or even by enclosing them completely in a building.

Decoration overview showing the negative effect (red) of having a depot (magenta) in view and the improvement to the decoration rating after placing some trees and fences

The coaster builder is also very familiar, looking and feeling very similar to that of RCT.  The main difference here is that you can now change the length of a section.  This will provide longer straights, smoother transitions through inclines or banking and is how you alter the radius of any curves.  This can also be a source of frustration and difficulty however.  While you are getting used to the way the builder operates you are likely to find yourself coming back up to the station and not being able to line up your tracks.  This is as different lengths of incline will result in you arriving at different heights.  This has led to entire coasters being scrapped and started over, but is something I am starting to learn how to use better.  My other frustration with the coaster builder is that you can't build backwards from the station.  I would often find myself in the past placing my brakes, or last few sections of track out of the station to help me with lining up, but again is something that you get used to with time.  One of my favourite things about the coaster builder though is that not only will it auto tunnel into the terrain, but it will also generate a tunnel for the coaster to run through, rather than just carving into the dirt as happens in other games. 

Building a mine train coaster with auto-generated tunnels in the terrain

I've mentioned that the campaign is only being added in this 1.0 update, so what have people been doing for the past 3 years?  Up until now the game has had a sandbox mode and a scenario editor.  Personally I would say that the sandbox is more a custom mode.  In this mode you can play on one of the base sandbox terrains of flat, hills, lake and river or you can also play any of the campaign maps which you have successfully completed.  You are also able to enable/disable the financial, research and objective aspects of the game.  If you disable all of these this will give you complete creative freedom, with no financial constraints and all in-game items available from the start.  This has allowed players to create some fantastic looking parks, really showing off the aesthetics of the game.

Era of Exploration park used with permission of Ryan Mooyman from All About Parkitect group.  Park file can be downloaded here

The Steam Workshop is one point where this game has really stood out from the crowd.  Whilst Planet Coaster has recently released their Theme Makers Toolkit allowing player to import 3D models, Parkitect has had a modding community from very early on.  With the included scenario editor, players have been able to create their own objective based scenario maps and share these with the community via the Steam Workshop, at the time of writing there were almost 300 additional player created scenarios.  Players have been able to share not only ride and scenery blueprints, but also other types of mod.  These range from scenery packs such as the Building Kit from Kenney which gives additional walls, roofs and building decorations to the CoasterCam by H-POPS allowing you to ride your own creations.  You can also browse the Workshop whilst playing using the Steam overlay with subscribed items being seamlessly added to your game 'on-the-fly' without the need to restart the game.  There is also a content manager in game which allows you to easily see what mods you have installed.

In-game content manager showing your currently subscribed mods, you are also able to remove mods from this menu

I feel that I've barely scratched the surface of what is possible in the game but I am thoroughly enjoying the campaign and have had more fun I've had with this game in the past 24 hours than I have had in the past two years.  It takes the foundation set in the RCT series and really pushes it forward.  If you are looking for something to scratch you theme park management itch and Planet Coaster and RCTW haven't been doing it for you then I would say that Parkitect is the game for you!  It is available to purchase now on Steam priced at $29.99/€24.99/£23.79 and you can join the community on Discord.