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.

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Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Stardew Valley - Now on Android

Developed by ConcernedApe and published by Chucklefish, Stardew Valley was originally released for Windows in February 2016.  3 years later, the game is now available to play on every major platform with OSX, Linux, PS4, XBONE, Switch, iOS, and, most recently, Android ports of the game being available.  Following a change in the business relationship between the developer and publisher, with Chucklefish now only having rights to Switch, iOS and Android versions, the Android port was completed by The Secret Police and released on March 14th.  This is the version we're primarily looking at in this article.

Humble beginnings with a small crop and ongoing construction of a coop
If you've never played or heard of Stardew Valley, first where have you been, and second its an RPG game where you must make a profitable farm.  For people who have played the older Harvest Moon games or Animal Crossing, you will see familiar elements throughout the gameplay.  As is the trope for these sorts of games, having being gifted an old, derelict farm by your grandfather, you are new in the Valley and nearby Pelican Town.  As you arrive in town you are greeted by the mayor and shown to your new home.  You start out with a small, one room house and a plot of land littered with trees, rocks, weeds and general detritus.  Thankfully, these items will be of use to you by providing some of the raw resources you need to build up your farm.

As you clear your farm area actions, such as chopping, digging and breaking rocks, will cause you to expend energy.  The easiest way to regain this is by sleeping.  Provided you remember to return to your bed before you pass out, you will wake in the morning with fully regenerated energy.  Having a late night, between midnight and 2am, will result in a penalty to your energy the next day.  If you pass out at 2am outside your home, there is an additional financial penalty to pay for your return to your home by the person who found you.  Energy, and health, can also be regained through eating food.  Food can be either farmed or foraged and eaten raw, or cooked in your kitchen once you have upgraded your house.

Cave diving leading to a growing collection in the museum
To start your farming career you are given a small number number of parsnip seeds.  Planting crops is as simple as using your hoe to prepare the soil, planting the seed and watering it daily until it produces the chosen item.  There is a wide variety of crops which can be purchased from the local shop ranging from parsnips and potatoes, to beans and even fruit trees.  Each of these will only bear produce in certain seasons so you need to make sure you time any planting to allow you to harvest the crop before it spoils.  You may also find some seeds whilst clearing weeds which will allow you to grow a random crop for the season.  Farming also isn't restricted to crops.  After you have managed to purchase/construct some farm buildings such as a coop or a barn, you will be able to purchase animals such as chickens, pigs and cows.  If you care for them well they will produce items such as milk and eggs to increase your profits further.  On your farm you may want to refine some of your products to make them more profitable, such as pickling vegetables, making fruit into jams or even keeping a hive or two of bees to produce honey.

In addition to farming there are many other activities which you can use to fill your time.  You can gather wood and replant trees in your farm, go fishing in the river or sea, or, my personal favourite, head into the local mines to gather stone, ores and coal.  If venturing into the caves it's advisable to make sure you take something to protect yourself from the creatures who live there and a supply of food to regain health and stamina, or even explosives to help gathering items.  Whilst mining you may come across various items such as quartz and topaz, or even some rare geodes.  You can ask the local blacksmith to crack these geodes open to discover what is inside them, and along with the rarer gems found in the mine, donate many of these items to the town museum and learn more about them.

The Community Centre
During the course of the game you will come across a semi-destroyed community centre.  To save spoilers too much I'll glance over this and simply say that it will be worth your time to visit the community centre and follow through the "storyline" in there as this will allow you to increase your funds, provides you with various items and also helps to unlock new areas of the Valley.  Note that there is an action which you can do during the game which changes how the process of these unlocks, such as repairing the bus or broken bus, works.  There are also a number of citizens to befriend and build relationships with, even leading to marriage, and a number of events on the town calendar throughout the year to break up the daily activities.

Onto the Android version now, and how it plays.  Ever since I first played Stardew I've been waiting for a portable version to become available so that I could play on the go.  The Android version contains all of the same content as the PC version, including having 5 different farm maps to choose from, each playing better to different styles (for example fishing, mining or conventional farming), however it lacks the multiplayer functionality (which is coming soon to PS4 and XBONE versions).

Reading through the reviews on the Play Store there are a lot of people complaining about the controls, however I've found them to be very intuitive.  The game comes with a variety of control options, and controller support, but I've found the default control set to work very well.  For moving around the map it's a simple tap to the location you want to walk to.  What I had been concerned about was the hotbar and tools.  In the PC version you have a 10 item hotbar and switch tools using the number keys.  On a mobile game that could get very repetitive and boring having to select a new tool constantly by tapping on it.  Thankfully they have made it so that the game will know, in most cases, what tool you want to use and will automatically switch between the scythe, axe and pickaxe.  The have also replaced the 10 item hotbar with a scrolling bar on the left of the screen.  This includes every item in your backpack, and again as a QoL feature saves having to tap in and out, although I did 'lose' one of my tools for a while when I didn't realise it scrolled.

Fishing minigame - keep the fish within the green bar to catch it
I played the game on a Huawei MediaPad M5 10 inch tablet and have to say that I experienced no issues in terms of the performance of the game, or how the game played and it is refreshing to play a fully featured game on a mobile device rather than the usual freemium fodder and swap-3 clones.  They have also added a nice feature to the game which means the PC and Android save files are compatible.  This means that rather than having to have two separate farms on the go you can keep working on your 'main' save whilst out and about.  This does have a slight drawback however, in that you need to remember to plug in your device and drag the saves back and forth, or back them up to a cloud sharing service.  What would have been nice to see would have been integration with Google Play Games and cloud saving which would have allowed me to sync progress across my phone and tablet.

My overall verdict for the game is that at £7.99 it is an amazing game.  For being feature complete and not containing any in-app purchases or adverts I also think it's a very fair price (the PC version costs £10.99) considering that it is the mobile market place - why is it that we're not prepared to pay the same price for a fully featured mobile port of a PC game? - and it is a worthy addition the the library of any device.  It's a game where you can get totally lost in the world and what you are doing, suffering very much from a 'one more day' kind of experience, where you can sink a lot of time into it and not even realise.  Most definitely a buy it now game! 

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Thursday, 14 March 2019

Factory Town - Now In Early Access

Factory Town is a game which I've been watching for a while, and you'll have seen it given a spotlight in my article of games to watch for 2019.  Thanks go to one of my readers, Games PC Plays on Youtube, who kindly gifted me the game with beta on Itch.io a few months ago.  I've dipped into it a bit during the beta, but there have been a lot of changes over recent weeks and I thought with the game hitting Steam Early Access it was a good time to look at it again.

Factory Town is a combination of a colony builder and a supply chain game being developed by Erik Asmussen.  As mentioned above, the game has been going through a limited beta which means that the game already has a good amount of content and has had a lot of bug fixes even before hitting Early Access.  More content is planned and a general roadmap has been posted to Steam, but remember this is Early Access so anything can happen!

An early town ready for first level base upgrade
Before you can start, you need to customise your map.  There are 3 'scenarios' you can choose, Default, Advanced and Creative.  The first two options will generate different mixes of biomes and materials, with the creative giving you a blank flat canvas to work with.  You also get to customise a range of other options such as your starting biome, available biomes, and 'starting state' which determines what technologies are available at the start of the game.

As you would expect for a colony builder, you start with a map with a variety of resources available and must choose where to place your base, which comes with a small number of settlers, and then expand and optimise.  The game will guide you through a tutorial, but predictably, you need to firstly establish supplies of wood, stone and grain to allow you to expand.  By building houses and supplying these with food, you will make your settlers happy and earn coins.  Building houses also increases the population capacity of your town, allowing you to build new and better production buildings.

As you progress, you will unlock new buildings, technologies and ways to expand your town.  These will unlock in a few different ways including, completing objectives, constructing and upgrading buildings and research through a school.  Research requires bot resources and currency which is generated by houses.  Your workers will spend money at food markets and general stores on the items they require (dependant on the house levels) which will grant various amounts of the 4 different currencies, which can be seen in the economy panel.

Wood supply chain producing wooden wheels, planks and paper
for storage in a barn
A large part of the game is about optimising your supply routes, for example you can deliver grain from fields directly to each house, requiring one worker per house, or supply it to a food market which then automatically supplies the houses in a certain radius.  I set up a fairly simple supply chain for my wood with a forester generating logs into a chute which then fed into a few different branches.  This allowed me to have a lumber mill by some water producing paper and two producing planks.  One of these then fed to a workshop to produce wheels and these 3 end products transported along conveyor belts to a barn.  Note that this is a VERY basic example of the sort of systems you can build, but I did not need any workers gathering wood and transporting the goods as this was all done automatically.

In addition to your chutes and conveyor belts, you also have some other transportation options.  The most basic is your workers walking across the terrain but this is very slow.  You can speed them up by building a network of dirt footpaths and stone roads to speed them up.  You can also set up wooden wagons which move faster again, particularly on the stone roads, and can carry more materials than a worker.  As you play and unlock more techs you also have rails and minecarts which you can build.

A food chain with grain from a farm to a grain mill on a chute and a
conveyor belt transporting berries and flour to a food market.
There is also a simple bridge which was the cause of much frustration!
There is a lot to play with in the game and that can make your supply chains complicated and means you can lose track of things- if this workshop making wheels or is it making books?  Is that worker transporting logs to the lumber mill or planks away?  Why do I have 8 people gathering grain?  This is probably less a reflection on the game and more so on my unorganised brain where I see an objective to build x, y and z and just start throwing things down without much thought or planning for the future.  There are also some features which I have had some frustrations with, again probably more that I need to spend more time with it, but I did find it pretty difficult to get conveyor belts working on multiple levels or paths crossing over them and often found myself completely cutting some resources off from my town.

The production line game is something that seems to be going through a bit of a surge at the moment with Factorio and Prouction Line steaming towards their full releases and the early access of Satisfactory on the Epic Games Store starting in the coming days.  So where does this stack up?  Having been fortunate to get access to the alpha weekend of Satisfactory, I can say that these two games scratch very different itches.  This game feels a lot like an evolution of the colony builder/settler game, although your region can become over run with houses due to the population limit, and has a nice touch of being able to purchase new areas of land to build on, giving access to different biomes and resources.
The town starting to take shape with some resources being transported
across the river on a simple bridge

Having gone through a development cycle of about 3 years to reach this Early Access state, and having gone through the closed beta, the game is very accomplished.  Despite my frustrations noted above the game is very stable and feels well optimised.  The art style very much appeals to me with the low poly assets and the grid system makes construction and designing your town simple.  As I've noted there are a lot of things to get involved with, so as usual don't get turned off by the 'simple' graphics as the game is very involved and features some deep systems with some players having made some crazy systems.

The game is now available on Steam in Early Access following the beta keys selling out a while ago.  The game is extremely fairly priced at £15.49, although if you are quick off the blocks you can pick it up with a 10% discount making it £13.94 until March 19th.  You can also join the official Discord in which the developer has been extremely active.

If you enjoy my content, please consider becoming a Patron giving you access to exclusive roles and channels in the Discord server.  Also please follow me on Twitter for updates about articles and games I am following.

Saturday, 2 March 2019

The Great Launcher Debate

Over recent months there has been a great debate raging amongst the PC gaming community - is the Epic Store a good thing or not?  This week rather than a review I thought I would share an opinion piece and my thoughts on this issue.

For a number of years now, Steam has had a bit of a stranglehold on the digital distribution market.  Almost everywhere that you purchase games will actually be for a Steam key - see Humble Store, Games Planet, Green Man Gaming, Instant Gaming etc.  Even your local bricks and mortar gaming store (if you still have one) will no longer have racks of DVD cases, but will rather have a couple of shelves of accessories such as mice, headsets and gaming surfaces, with a rack of digital keys and gift cards, predominantly for Steam.

Alternative stores and launchers are not a new thing with EA releasing Origin in June of 2011, Ubisoft following with UPlay in July of 2012 and GOG with GOG Galaxy having been in beta since October 2014, so why has the Epic store caused such a stir?  Whilst the first two of these other stores have been primarily for the publishers own content, they haven't been without issues and are generally negatively received (UPlay being feature light but resource heavy and EA having many questionable marketing tactics), they have not received the vitriol of the Epic store, and in the case of Origin has the advantage of the Origin Access programme acting as a sort of Netflix for games.  Of course, with the DRM free philosophy of GOG, and their favourable regional pricing, whilst still being feature light (only featuring cloud saving for 29 games in the catalogue) players have generally been more positive about that platform.

Whilst these are the most popular stores, there are a number of others which also have their own launchers.  Following the acquisition by Amazon, Twitch began to offer games for free each month to Amazon Prime subscribers, Discord recently launched a store and, although opened in 2013, indie distribution platform Itch.io is becoming more popular, and actually saw over 100,000 new games listed in 2017 vs just over 7500 on Steam.

For consumers, each of these stores offers a different experience ranging from regional pricing strategy, to community features, reviews and access to user generated content such as mods.  Steam has always been ahead of the curve on many of these, partly from being first to the market.  Unfortunately there has been an increase in games which are non-functioning, asset flips and pure money grabs.  The removal of the Steam Greenlight programme is something which has fuelled this, you only need to look at the new releases page of the store to see the effect this removal of a curation system has brought, with numerous sex games and low quality projects released every week.

Moving back to the debate of Epic vs Steam, this has really garnered traction due to a few games deciding to completely pull their Steam releases, including Satisfactory, Metro Exodus (which had offered pre-sales on Steam which were honoured) and The Division 2 (and all subsequent Ubisoft titles).  This, along with gaming now accounting for over 50% of the entertainment spend in the UK with over £3,500M being spent on gaming in the UK alone in 2018, compared with £3,300M being spend on music and video combined, giving the gaming industry a larger voice in the mainstream media.

Epic has come under fire for a variety of reasons, partly due to the decisions of publishers and developers to move away from Steam having used that platform to gain exposure, but also for lacking many basic features.  As yet, the Epic store has no community features to speak of, and is a rudimentary launcher.  There is no way to contact developers for support, with many people turning to the Steam forums for assistance, and no review system, with a refund policy which was not in favour of consumers, although this has now been brought in line with the Steam refund policy of a request within 14 days, provided the game has been played for less than 2 hours.  

There is also the question of convenience,  I currently have almost 10 different pieces of software on my computer which allow me to purchase, download or launch games.  This leads to extra hard drive usage, and also losing track of purchases with the potential to purchase game multiple times in multiple stores.  It also causes issues for people who have their computers set up to act as consoles in a sense, with them connected to a TV and set to launch by default into the Steam Big Picture mode.  There are of course ways around this, by adding non-Steam games to the launcher, but why go to that extra effort if you can just buy the game on Steam?

As you can tell from the majority of my content, I spend most of my time playing indie titles.  This is somewhere that these emerging stores really come in to play.  When you have been working on a game for perhaps a number of years without any pay, every penny really does count.  Each sale can be the difference between you being able to continue the project, having to work another job alongside or being able to hire additional team members to help with tasks like translations and QA.  

If we take an arbitrary value of £10 for an indie game and look at a few different scenarios across a few of these platforms.  
  • A game developed in Unreal Engine and released on Steam or GOG will see £3 of that taken in commission by the store and a further 50p will go to Epic, giving the developers £6.50 of your £10 (before any taxes and operating costs are deducted).  
  • When released on the Discord store the developers will get £1 taken in commission by the store and the same 50p royalties to Epic, giving the developer £8.50.
  • When released on the Epic store, that game will see a marginally higher £8.80 due to a 12% commission and a waiving of the Unreal Engine license fee*.
  • When released on Itch.io the developer chooses how much to give to the store in commission with a maximum 90/10 revenue split in favour of the developer, meaning there is potential to receive £9.50**.
  • Unity games would receive £7, £9, £8.80 and potentially £10 in the same scenarios***.
* On paper this is actually a change in the revenue split with UE games paying 7% in commission with 5% in royalites and games developed in other engines paying 12% commission
** Itch.io also permits overpayment by the players meaning that if I felt the game was actually worth more than £10 I could decide to pay £15.
***It should be noted that Unity carries a license fee based on the number of seats in the organisation while Unreal Engine is free to use, however carries the royalties.  Unity fees are currently: <$100k annual income - Free; $100k - $200k annual income - $35/seat; >$200k annual income - $125/seat although these higher plans come with various benefits.

With the potential to make more money, it's easy to see why these alternative stores are popular with developers, and are making me think about where I am wanting to spend my money and the ways I can best support these smaller teams.  Itch.io in particular is a store which I have a great opinion of, whilst it is full of a lot of game concepts and tests, there are also a number of game jams held throughout the year which have resulted in games such as Machiavillain, Evoland, Superhot and Surgeon Simulator.  In my experience, a lot of developers use this platform to test out their projects and ideas, and to gather a following before moving to Steam or Kickstarter, such as Meeple Station, Snowtopia and Creo God Simulator (due to hit Steam Early Access soon) and, whilst sometimes feature light or buggy, gives players a chance to really be involved in the development journey in a different way than the Steam Early Access programme due to the smaller communities.

Am I going to be getting rid of Steam any time soon?  Of course not, but I am going to be doing more in the way of shopping round to get better prices, experience platform exclusive games, such as Satisfactory and The Settlers which are both due out later this year, and watching to see how these platforms grow and develop over the coming months and years.  I hope that I've covered some of the main points and some of the pros and cons of having a variety of stores.  I think that we are in a pretty amazing time for gamers, where not only is gaming no longer seen as a niche activity you do on your own, but is becoming more and more about building connections and communities and also where there are these possibilities and opportunities for anyone who has the time and inclination, can develop and publish a computer game.

I would be really interested to see what you all think of this issue, please leave some comments or come and join the Discord.

If you enjoy my content, please consider becoming a Patron giving you access to exclusive roles and channels in the Discord server.  Also please follow me on Twitter for updates about articles and games I am following.

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

No Review Again? What's Going On?

Hi everyone,

I just wanted to check in and give you all a bit of an update on the blog, particularly those who are not in the Discord.

Over the past six months I've been posting and building the site and recently was trying to increase my content output.  This along with some ongoing things I'm working through (work, health and family health) means that I've managed to get myself a little bit burned out.

Last week I sat down to write a number of times, and even started a number of articles, but just couldn't get into the usual swing due to everything going on.  As a result I decided not to push out an article I wasn't particularly happy with last week.

This past week I've taken some time to play some games just for the sake of playing and not stressing about whether I'm able to write and article, or it being of a quality I'm happy with.

This is something I've been needing to do for a while and I feel that it has been a really good thing for me personally.  Because I've been taking this time to regroup, I obviously don't have a review ready for this week.

So what's happening from here on to make sure I don't burn out again?  Well, firstly I'm going to be trying not to stress out about the content too much.  This is a hobby and not something I make anything from other than enjoyment, and I intend to keep doing it as long as I am still enjoying it.  From next week I'll be back with the regular weekly content but I'll be trimming back on the supplemental content.  This means that Flashback Friday and Mobile Monday won't be happening, however Discover Indies will stay for now.

What you will see is a bit more of a mix of things in the regular content.  Some weeks I'll be covering current indie games as has been the trend so far, but I will also be mixing in some of the older games and potentially some mobile reviews too.  I'm hoping that this will both relieve some of the strain from myself, and also keep some of the content coming more fresh and varied.

Thanks again to everyone for your views and ongoing support.  Remember that I'm almost always on Discord (even if I'm set to offline I'll probably actually be about) if you want to chat and the community there is growing and becoming more and more active.  Also, please do let me know what you are thinking of the articles, simply by commenting or retweeting the links.  As usual, I'm always looking for feedback and games to try out so please do reach out and let me know your thoughts.

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Thea: The Awakening

A big thanks to MuHa games who very kindly gave me a copy of the game to have a look at this week to coincide with the launch on Nintendo Switch on 1st of February (this article is based on the Steam version).  The game was developed my MuHa and initially released on PC in November 2015 and was ported to Switch by Monster Couch.

Thea: The Awakening is a survival game which combines elements of colony builder, turn-based strategy and tabletop card gaming in a cohesive package.  You will take on the role of a God who will direct their settlers in gathering, exploration, combat and, ultimately, survival.  The game is story rich, with a lot of inspiration from Slavic mythology, and has wide and varied gameplay, allowing for a variety of play styles.

Selecting the God you wish to play as, more become unlocked as you reach
various milestones, increasing replayability
 To begin you will need to select your playable character which will have some overall effects on your settlers.  Initially you have 2 from which to choose, Zorya, dual Goddess of morning and evening stars, who will give and XP boost to your settlers, or Mokosh, the Mother Earth, who will give a boost to the gathering speed of your followers.  As you play as each of these characters you will level up and unlock further bonuses and playable Gods.  You can also select your main focus at this point - will you guide your followers to be great gatherers, warriors or craftspeople?  For the purposes of this article, I decided to play as Zorya and focus on warriors.

When you start the game you are introduced to the world of Thea by a guide called Theodore.  You can then choose whether to work through a fairly comprehensive tutorial, or to just go for it.  Due to the deep and complex systems, particularly with the card based combat, I'd recommend going for the tutorial.  Theodore tells us that Thea has become broken and that the Underworld is closed with undead roaming the Overworld.

Our starting village with party having moved to Theodore's tower
When you enter into the game properly, you are presented with a beautiful game world.  You will see your starting village with a small expedition group just outside the gates.  You can also see that the world is divided into hexes giving away the TBS elements.  In a turn you can do various tasks either with your village or your expedition group.  You can set your villagers to gather and craft items, move your expedition group or set them up into a camp.

Through your exploration of the world, various events will take place.  These can simply be conversations but can include combat and other encounters.  These often have more than one way in which they can be completed depending on the skills available in your party, for example when you encounter a group of wild animals you can try to do a straight combat, but you may able be able to apply some hunting skills to prevent harm to your party.  You also have the option when you have these encounters to play them out manually in the card based play, or you can have the game do the calculations and auto-resolve the encounter.

A card based hunting encounter
These encounters are a fairly complex aspect of the game.  As with most table top games your cards have different stats.  These include your health, any defence bonuses and attack power.  Your deck (made up from the members of your party) is split into an offensive stack and a tactical stack.  Your offensive cards will deal the damage, whilst your tactical cards will allow you to use certain abilities.

In the set-up phase, the player and computer take turns to play their cards, laying these from left to right.  Once both the player and AI skip a turn without placing cards, you move to the attack phase.  In this phase, the play progresses from left to right, with each card attacking the closest enemy, be that to the left or right.  Don't think that by choosing not to play cards they are immune however, as damage will be dealt to cards in the hand and discard pile once cards on the battlefield are defeated.  Any damage incurred during a fight encounter will be carried forward, damage received during an encounter such as a feat of strength will not be carried.

Moving the party to a cell farther than they can reach on this turn
Movement is done simply by selecting your party and right clicking on the cell you wish to travel to.  A yellow border shows the edge of the cells you can travel to in this turn.  You can select a further cell, but you will need to wait until the next turn to reach it.  There are also other options available when you select your party, such camping which allows you to regain health, gathering of resources you can't get at your village, or interacting with an event.

Within the village there are a number of tasks you can undertake.  These include gathering of whatever resources are nearby, crafting of tools, food and equipment and construction of buildings.  To complete these you will need to assign people to the tasks, ensuring that you choose people with the correct skills to optimise the tasks.  As time passes you will also have children in the village who will grow up to provide you with more workers and warriors.  The game also features an extensive research system which allows you to access more resources, crafting recipes and buildings as you earn research points.

As something which I would not normally pick up, this has been really refreshing, although I will admit that it took me a little bit of time and a couple of failed attempts before I really got into the game.  The game is extremely solid and I noticed no issues with performance or any bugs (granted it is a game that is now over 3 years old).  The game is visually pleasing, although it would be nice if the cards had a bit more detail or colour rather than simply appearing as a piece of parchment with a drawing.  The sound is also done very well with an atmospheric soundtrack and well executed SFX.

The game has not only spawned the recent Switch port, but also had 3 free content packs (one of which introduced multiplayer co-op) and has a sequel which entered Early Access on 30th November last year.  Even at full price of £15.99 for Switch and £14.99 on Steam I would not hesitate to say that this is a great game and well worth to money asked.  At the time of writing, however I'd say this is a great time to pick it up as there is a 10% launch discount on Switch (£14.39) and the game is in the Steam Lunar Sale with a massive 60% discount down to £5.99!

If you enjoy my content, please consider becoming a Patron giving you access to exclusive roles and channels in the Discord server.  Also please follow me on Twitter for updates about articles and games I am following.

Friday, 1 February 2019

Pepper's Puzzles - #discoverindies

Discover Indies is an initiative devised by Indie Gamer Chick.  Content creators are urged to play a small indie game without a large media footprint which they have never heard of, and produce content on the first Friday of each month through 2019.  I will be using this as an opportunity to possibly try out some different genres, and games I generally wouldn't normally play.

This month, we are taking a look at Pepper's Puzzles by Emad.  The game released in August of 2017, and even had a recent patch, and features a variety of logic puzzles.  

Pepper guiding us through our first puzzle
The game is split into three game modes: Classic, with over 200 puzzles to test your grey matter; Time Trial, where you need to solve procedurally generated puzzles as fast as possible; and Mosaic, where each puzzle represents a tile in a mosaic.  There is also a level editor bundled with the game, allowing you to make your own puzzles which you can then share to the Steam Workshop, currently with over 60 additional puzzles.

The puzzle of choice for this game is the Nonogram, or Picross, puzzle.  These puzzles hail from Japan, and were invented in the mid-1980s, with the first book of these puzzles being published in 1993, and the first electronic versions a couple of years later.  These puzzles present you with a blank grid and numbers by each row and column.  Using these numbers, you must deduce which squares need to be shaded with the end goal being to reveal a picture.

Puzzle selection menu in Classic Mode
If you are unfamiliar with these puzzles, the games has a really good, in-depth tutorial.  This walks you through 4 increasingly difficult puzzles before letting you solve the fifth on your own.  Then you are unleashed onto the 'meat' of the game.  Unsurprisingly this game isn't going to be a hardcore game, however will eat up your time.  It's very much a case of 'one more puzzle' and it's suddenly 2am!

The puzzles are split into categories, such as warm-up, food, animals, science fiction etc. with each category getting progressively more difficult.  The puzzles in the categories are also listed by difficulty.  There is no 'progression' system however, with all puzzles being unlocked.  This means that if you are a veteran of these games, you can dive in at the deep end to get a challenge, or you can start with the simpler ones an work your way through them if you are less experienced, or just need a quick puzzle fix.  For newer puzzlers, there is also a hint system, however this is only available in the first two categories whilst you are still learning the ropes.

In the process of solving a puzzle
The controls are extremely simple, with a left click marking a cell you wish to colour.  As you fill in the grid, some of the clues become greyed out as you complete them.  This can also allow you to mark cells you know which must be empty by using right click.  If you make a mistake, you simply left click on the call the clear it - very much like minesweeper.

Whilst not something I would usually play, even though I have played them on paper before, I had really enjoyed this game.  It has been a nice change of pace where you challenge yourself in a different way.  The gameplay is solid with no bugs experienced in the couple of hours I've played it recently.  The soundtrack, with over 1 hour of relaxing music, is also wonderful and helps with escaping into the game.

Starting to uncover an image in Mosaic mode by solving puzzles to fill each square
Overall, I cannot fault the game in any way - it has great art, a great difficulty balance and wonderful music.  I have no hesitations recommending this game.  Whilst it won't become your next 500+ hour game, it's a nice addition to your library when you either want something different, or only have a short time available to play.

You can buy Pepper's Puzzles for £4.99 on Steam.

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Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Odd Realm - Early Access

This week is the first of the games from my  2019 New Year article.  Odd Realm is a sandbox colony building game, taking place in a procedurally generated world.  It was released onto the Steam Early Access programme on 11th January 2019 and is the first game to be developed by Unknown Origin Games, who have very kindly provided me with a copy of the game to have a look at.

Being set in a fantasy type world, you have a choice of a number of races to rule over, although only Humans are currently implemented with 4 more due to be added.  Each race has 1 or 2 specific traits which will make your time easier.  When selecting your race, you also need to name your realm and select a world seed.

There are a number of biomes available to choose from on the world map: Desert; Taiga; Voidland; and Tropical.  Each of these comes with their own benefits and will affect what resources are available to you.  When selecting you will also be able to see the temperament of creatures and neighbours.

Clockwise from Top Left: Desert, Tropical, Taiga and Voidland biomes
 You start with a small number of settlers and some basic resources to start you out.  On your first playthrough, you will be presented with some tips as you play, but the game doesn't have a traditional tutorial.  You also can't reset these tips without deleting a file from the Appdata folder.

The game systems are fairly involved and complex.  You must gather and refine resources to be manufactured into goods.  Rather than this being passive like other colony builders I've played, the game requires the player to assign a job to gather the resource and then order the manufacturing, provided the appropriate rooms have been constructed.

Using a grid based system, you can build you colony one block at a time.  Providing you have the resources available, you can build walls, doors, flooring etc. wherever you want.  This allows you to make custom buildings and set your colony up exactly as you wish.  You can also build items such as ladders and stairs which allow your settlers to move between z-levels more easily.

Clearing a flat area to build our settlement while establishing a small farm for food
As you explore the map, you will discover more resources, allowing you access to new blueprints.  To utilise these, such as copper or tin, you will need to refine them.  To do this, you will need to build a variety of rooms such as a workshop or a forge.  This is done simply by highlighting an area and ensuring that it contains the relevant furniture to function.  You can then give manufacturing instructions to your settlers.

Some of these manufactured items will give you access to new items, such as the bronze cauldron once you have made some bronze, or will allow you to improve how your settlers work, for example upgraded tools or being able to go fishing for food.

Speaking of food, this is something which needs some attention.  I've had a number of false starts because I was focussed on gathering resources, or constructing buildings and forgot to build a food supply.  Whilst you start with a small amount of food, you will quickly want to establish more supplies.  You can harvest food from bushes, although these are not plentiful, you can construct a farm to grow food and you can also domesticate some of the wild animals such as chickens.  You will also need to construct a campfire for basic food and eventually a kitchen for better recipes.

I've played the game for a few hours and feel that I'm barely scratching the surface so far.  There are a lot of things to learn, and a lot of menus to remember which can be problematic at times.  My primary issue when the Early Access was the scaling of the game and everything being very small.  I'm pleased to say that this, along with some other QoL issues I experienced were things which the developer was already considering, and a camera zoom feature has already been added.

Our growing settlement with carpenter, forge, smithy and living quarters
The game is still very early into the Early Access cycle, being released only a few weeks ago, but feels fairly solid.  Whilst I've found the game to be difficult, this is in no way a criticism.  I had expected it to be more along the lines of The Settlers or The Colonists where you build a lumberjack and a sawmill then everything happens passively.  This makes you pay more attention to what you are doing, and the grid building system gives you much more freedom in the way that you build and lay out your settlement, even being able to build on multiple levels.

For a single person developer, the amount of work going into make the game ready for Early Access is tremendous.  Since the start of Early Access, not only has he been working hard on new features (such as the zoom mentioned above) but he has also spent a vast amount of time engaging with the community.  On the Discord he is answering as many of the questions being asked as possible whilst also listening to the feedback being provided, even sharing some of the player screenshots to his Twitter.

The game has a lot of potential but is already at an very playable state.  The one time I thought I had experienced a bug was actually user error and I have not experienced any issues such as frame drops or crashes.  At the price point of only £7.19 I can't not recommend the game.  The game can be purchased on Steam or Itch.io.
A building over multiple floors with a kitchen on ground floor (L)
and bedroom on upper floor (R)

In addition to the review copy of the game, the developer has also very kindly provided me with 2 copies of the game to pass on to you.  I will be giving one of these away in my Discord server, head over to the #giveaways channel for more info.  If you're not into Discord, I'll be giving the other away on Twitter.  To enter, follow me and comment on this tweet.  For both of these a random winner will be selected on 6th February at 2100 GMT with the winners being contacted within 24 hours.

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Friday, 25 January 2019

Resort Boss: Golf - First Look

Before I start I need to say a massive thanks to Ari and James from Excalibur Games for allowing me to take a brief look at a preview build of the game.  Resort Boss: Golf is an upcoming management game from developer Gus Martin and published by Excalibur.  The game is scheduled for release on February 14th this year, some older promo content shows a slightly earlier date of 7th February, but the world of game development being what it is, the decision was made recently to push that release date slightly.

Born out of a love of Sid Meier's Sim Golf, and the frustrations of getting the game to run on modern hardware, the game sees you take on the role of manager at a brand new golf course.  Starting with only a small patch of land and a parking lot, you need to develop your course, and associated resort, to attract new players and keep those books balanced.

Planning out our fist hole while the clubhouse gets built.
Your first task is to provide the most basic of facilities for a golf course - the club house!  The process of drawing out your blueprint is very simple and utilises a grid system, but also allows for some freedom with the shape be it square, 'L' or 'T' shaped.  You also have some customisation options such as roof shape, colour and overhang, various windows, door and foundation options.  Sometimes I found slight frustrations with the way these items would snap to walls, particularly windows snapping at the base of a wall piece preventing a foundation trim being placed on that wall section.  As your resort grows, so must your clubhouse to increase the capacity

Once that is organised, and being built by your staff, you will want to design the first hole of your course. To make a hole you need to first place the tee and select where the hole will be, before customising your layout - no-one wants to play golf on a flat, straight course.  There are a variety of options available to you when designing your holes.  Using the grid you decide what areas will be your fairways, roughs and greens and can then adjust the difficulty of your course.  You can do this by adding hazards, such as ponds or bunkers, or by raising and lowering the terrain.  Once you are happy, you can send your staff to do the landscaping.  You can also add decor items to your resort, currently only trees but other decoration and furniture items are planned.

Now it's time to play our first hole!  Be careful to choose the right club.
Once you are happy with the layout, it's time to test it out!  That's right, you are actually able to play the courses you have built (unfortunately you can't share these to the Steam Workshop to challenge your friends, yet).  This is a good way to test out whether you course is playable, you don't want the golfers to spend so long on a hole that you end up with a queue!  I found this element to be more fun that I had expected.  I thought that you would enter the play mode and it would just be clicking the mouse with a single club.  Once your golfer has arrived at the tee, you are presented with a golf bag of sorts, allowing you to select from a number of woods, irons, wedges etc.  Unfortunately rather than just aiming and clicking there isn't a skill meter of any sort, but possibly this is something the devs could add to bring another depth.

As people visit your resort and you gain reputation and money, you will be able to build your resort up nearer to that elusive 5 stars. Along the way you will need to meet the need and desires of your patrons.  Sometimes this will be fairly obvious, such as needing to build holes to improve your course, others not so much.  To help you decide what to do, there is a messaging system in the game.  How this will work fully I'm not sure as the preview build had a lot of these messages due to the nature of the stage of development, but they will have requests for specific holes and facilities.

The resort developing with a number of holes and facilities,
such as the pro shop and paths between the holes.
The game currently has tow options when you first start the game, either you can play through the tutorial, or can dive straight into a new game.  The latter acts as a 'sandbox' in that there are no set objectives, you can set the starting size of your resort and have a large amount of cash.  I would recommend playing through the tutorial at least the first time you play.  As happens with many of these games, whilst the tutorial is there, I found a couple of points where I had some difficulty, particularly with the water tool which could use some further explanations.

Overall I have enjoyed playing this and would certainly recommend buying it.  It may be a bit rough around the edges with things like UI scaling or some QoL things such as the exit button being a quit to desktop currently (although I have been advised these have been addressed), but having spoken with the developer there is a clear plan that Early Access will be used as a tool to gain more feedback and help the game to be shaped through its' development by players with a strong interest in the game.

I have seen a few comments by people regarding the art style, as you can probably see from the content I cover, this low poly style is something that I love, and I feel has been done really well here, the only thing I wish was the the buildings looked different to differentiate them from each other a bit.

The game will release on Steam on 14th February, although can be pre-ordered from the Excalibur website for £10.99 which I feel is a fair price for a game which is clearly early into its development life.  As I mentioned, this was a special preview build so a fuller review will come later into the Early Access cycle.

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Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Meeple Station - Steam Early Access

It's been a couple of months now since we last looked at Meeple Station, the new space station base builder from Vox Games and mod.io (the newly formed publisher from the team behind moddb and indiedb).

When we last looked at the game it had just become available to purchase as an alpha via their own website.  Well, now the time has come and the Steam Early Access release is (at the time of writing) imminent.  On the day that it released into the alpha there was an update with some changes to the core of the game and this release bring another.

The game sees you take control of a race called Meeple and take on the task of building a suitable space station.  Depending on the 'backwater quadrant' you select to start in, you will have various raw materials available, which you can then refine into new materials, or trade with passing ships (but be wary of the pirates roaming space).  You can read our previous article which gives a general overview of the game here.

Two Meeple enjoying the pleasure of private quarters
Since the last article the biggest change that happened, on the day that article went out, was the implementation of a personality system for the Meeple.  This changes the way in which Meeple arrive on the station and how you allocate the jobs.  The initial build phase has also changed with you having a starting cash budget, rather than a predetermined amount of resources.

Due to the way that Meeple now arrive, you need to ensure that you have some beds available.  Where you used to hire specific Meeple to fill roles, now they will arrive as long as you have available beds and a sufficient reputation.  You also now need to manually set jobs by using the Meeple Menu (default M).  This will display various information about your crew.  For each Meeple it displays a variety of traits about how they interact with others and their work ethic.  This allows you to match each crew member to their ideal job, but it also means that you can switch them between your vacant tasks as required - no more hoping for a janitor to be on the next trade ship!

The Meeple Menu displaying crew, traits and activity log
Due to the change in the start of the game, you will also now start only with whatever money you have left from your initial funding.  Your first point of action should be to build up an inventory of resources from the ores surrounding you, based on the area of the map you select to start in.  These will allow you to refine into advanced materials, trade with passing ships.

You will also need to concentrate a bit more on the needs of your Meeple.  due to the new traits system, you will have social tensions and disagreements.  You may have antisocial crew who would much prefer a bed in private quarters, but they will also expect a certain level of prestige in that room.

There is now a hierarchy system which will allow you to assign various specialists, such as a captain, chief engineer, chief of security etc.  Each level of this will unlock when you rank up your station.  These will also grant various unlocks, for example to be able to assign tasks you need a captain, a Head of Staff will unlock the scientist which allows you to carry out research, and Chief Engineer increases the efficiency of your miners and engineers.

The other big change coming with the Steam release is full modding support.  This will allow players to mod any of the assets in the game such as the look of the station hull or adding completely new pieces of furniture to the game.

I always enjoy seeing what the mod community is able to bring and am looking forward to see what people have been working.  To allow players on both the Itch.io and Steam versions of the game to enjoy mods, you can download them from here.
Large officer quarters and smaller private rooms made using the new mods
for internal walls, forcefield doors and a new table in the officers room

There are already a couple of mods available, including internal walls which make station design a lot easier and nicer to look at IMO.  Once you download the mod it is then a case of dragging it into a folder in your AppData and when you load the game it will open them.  The devs have also made a super useful mod manager in the main menu which allows you to browse and download the mods a lot easier for end users.

Over the month or so that the game has been available via their own store, there have still been a few updates, despite the holiday season.  These have included many bug fixes, the base work for the modding system and some localisations.  As I mentioned before it's been a pleasure to watch this game grow and develop over the last 5 months or so and the game keeps getting stronger.  For a game just about to start it's Early Access journey it feels very solid.  The gameplay is fun and enjoyable, the artwork is great with animations all being spot on.

There are places that the game could improve, for example every time an airlock opens I get notifications of oxygen loss despite a bulkhead door, or further UI/QoL improvements, although the current UI is a massive improvement on where it was 6 months ago.  There are still features to be added such as a campaign and the multiplayer co-op aspect which I am looking forward to seeing how that is implemented.

Even at this point I would have no hesitations in recommending the game and certainly think it's worth a look.  As noted, this article more touches on the changes in the recent build but I urge you to read the article I posted previously and linked earlier in the article.

Meeple Station will be available on Steam Early Access from 17th January, owners of the pre-purchase Itch version will also receive a Steam key.

Monday, 14 January 2019

Fiz: Brewery Management Game - Mobile Monday

Mobile Monday is where I take a look at some of the games available on Android.  I don't have specific criteria, however I will be trying to stick with truly free or premium titles.  Games which rely on a freemjum or pay to win model will likely not feature.  These will also close with a verdict as to whether I think you should download the game.  This is a monthly feature and will happen around the middle of the month (10 days after my Discover Indies post).  Next Mobile Monday is scheduled for February 11th.

Fiz is a game which I discovered a few years ago via the 'actually free' program on the Amazon Underground app.  This was a scheme launched in response to the Amazon App Store being removed from the Play Store for a ToS violation (Google doesn't permit other app marketplaces on the store).  This service allowed users to download paid apps, or purchase in-app items, for free with Amazon paying developers based on the amount of time players spent in game.  Unfortunately this service is scheduled for closure later this year.

Character selection:
The three characters you don't select will be your starting staff 
(although with different stats)
Fiz is a tycoon management game which tasks you with developing your company from garage based micro-brewery to a larger scale brewery based operation.  It was developed by Bit by Bit studios and, unfortunately, is their only product to date.  There was signs that they were working on a second titled, however their website and social channels appear to have been dormant for a while.

The game starts with you and 3 friends working out of a garage with basic home brew equipment and a single recipe.  You are guided through your first batch by a tutorial, and there are elements of the game which are story driven.  The premise is that you are being trained by locally renowned brewer Cyrus Uprum, who also provides some of the story events.

As with many of these games, your first task is to select your character.  There are 4 to choose from and at this point is a purely cosmetic decision, the 3 you don't choose will form the rest of your starting staff team, and will have slightly different attributes.

To start you only have a single recipe for a light lager, creatively named Tutorial Lite, but through the game you can expand that list by either purchasing or acquiring recipes for beers of different styles and qualities.  You can do this in a few different ways.  You can simply purchase them from the recipe list, experiment with the recipes to discover them (recipes are randomised each play through but will use the same ingredients in a different order), or by collecting 3 scraps of a recipe by tapping on the mice running around your brewery.

Crafting our first batch in the garage
After selecting your recipe and filling the relevant slots with ingredients, you will need to start the brewing process.  To do this you must assign one member of your team to each of the 4 tasks in the manufacture process.  These are: Cleaning, requiring a lot of patience; Mashing and Boiling, requiring intelligence and dexterity; Fermenting, requiring intelligence and patience; and Packaging, requiring manual dexterity.  Thankfully, the game gives great visual feedback at this stage, enabling you to match your staff to the best tasks.  PRO TIP - assigning the same team member to the same job will allow them to develop their skill in that area faster.  The final thing you need to do before brewing begins is spend your skill points to increase yield, brewing speed or beer quality.  You start with 5, but as you level up or hire new staff, this will increase.

The actual brewing process is passive, in that your work in that process is complete.  Your character and staff will now automatically work through the process of brewing a batch of beer.  This takes a couple of minutes but there are a few things you can do during this time.  I mentioned mice earlier.  During brewing if you are on the main brewery screen, there is a chance that you might have a rodent problem.  You can scare the mice away by tapping on them, which will give you a small reward.  This will either be a small number of coins, or a scrap of a recipe (as mentioned above).

You can also use this time to catch up with your management aspects or queue another batch of beer to be brewed.  In the Manage menu you can view your staff, potential new staff, marketplaces, equipment and your storage.

Market information panels
Both of the staff menus will display character sheets showing the monthly salary, stats, special abilities (such as a boost to quality or brewing speed), and, for potential hirees, their hiring fee.  You can only ever have 4 staff, so hiring one will require you to fire another who may require a higher salary.  If you cannot meet the salary, the staff member may leave.  Thankfully the game has a mechanic meaning you will never find yourself completely stuck as your starting staff have no monthly cost and will happily come back should you find yourself with an unfilled vacancy.

Marketplaces will show you all of the unlocked marketplaces available.  You will need to use your earnings to purchase access to new markets.  Each of these have a different clientele or specialism - for example the Surf Shack is only open during the Summer months and specialises in lagers.  Each market has 3 tabs: Main, showing basic information such as their monthly customers, price for stocking your products and commission taken by the seller; Customers, where you can see the general budget of customers, their thirst and beer preference; Competition, where you can see the other beers currently stocked in the market, their markup and overall quality.  From this screen you can also see information about your past sales in that market, and carry out research to populate the details in the Customer screen.  The budget is how much money in total the customers have to spend and the thirst is the number of beers they expect to purchase within that budget.

Adding ingredients to a beer recipe
The Equipment screen allows you to purchase upgrades to levels 2 and 3 of your brewing stations: Cleaning; Mash Tun; Turkey Fryer; Glass Carboy; and Packaging.  By upgrading these you can get various boots to your production process such as higher yield or quality.  The Batches screen will let you see information for every batch you have every brewed and its status, such as in storage, sold out or expired if you haven't sold out prior to the beer going off.  If you select a batch you can also gather some more detailed metrics through feedback from the sale.  This includes your costs, profits and customer feedback.

In addition to simply brewing to make money, there are also over 60 challenges and events to tackle through the game.  Beating all of these gives the game in the region of 20 hours play time.  Some of these will give you rewards such as ingredients or recipes, whilst some will advance the story and allow you to move to bigger and better brewing premises.  Whilst it can often be tricky to make money, it is impossible to reach a point of no return in the game.  As with the staff mechanic mentioned earlier, if you get to the point where you can't afford a batch you will be able to 'find' the ingredients for your basic lager and your pal Eddy will waive his stocking fee for that batch.  Whilst this is welcome at times, it does sometimes mean that I will take risks which I might not otherwise as I know that safety net is always there.

After building a reputation you
will be able to move into a better
facility to further develop
This game is right at the top of my favourite Android games list.  Not only does the game not rely on in-app purchases, it also gives a very strong experience.  If you have played Game Dev Tycoon you will be familiar with the sort of game that this is, and how well it lends itself to the mobile market.  You can spend a couple of minutes making one batch, or you can find yourself lost in the process of running your company.  The game is regularly available on sale but I'd say even at the list price of £2.69 it is more than worth the cost and stands out as a good example of how games can be done well on mobile.

You can purchase Fiz: Brewery Management Game from the Play Store or (for the slightly higher price of £2.99) from iTunes.