Bisaac gets a retlease

Isaac will be available in stores just like this one!

More news!  Today word reaches us….err, wait, what’s that?  I usually only write overlong, rambling essays once every other crescent moon, why am I suddenly writing short daily news articles?  I don’t know what you’re talking about!   And no, it certainly isn’t to do with that news writer job I might apply for!  The people need to hear the latest gaming news, isn’t that reason enough?  Yes, I know I read it somewhere else, but how do you think Trevor McDonald gets his news?  Because he was at the scene of every major newsworthy event of the last 30 years!?  No!  Quite.  Now keep quiet, you’re eating into my precious, precious, imaginary word count.

Right, sorry about that readers, my internal dialogue somehow spilled onto the web for a second there.  I’ll have to keep this brief:

The superlative Binding of Isaac is to get a proper retail release in a special ‘Unholy Edition’, which includes a DRM free version of the game, a free Steam gifting key, the soundtrack, a poster and a 40 page “Devzine.”

A “Devzine” is presumably a magazine made by the developers, and is one of those horrible new words formed by smashing two perfectly good old ones together, like bromance, Subo and spork that will inevitably lead to all language being combined into one massive word every one will bark at each other in the end days before a giant George Orwell returns from the grave to blast us with lasers from his eyes, tutting “I did warn you” so loudly, the entire world explodes.

The Binding of Isaac: Unholy Edition will ‘hit’ stores on the 16th March.  Here’s a picture:

Monitors not included (just as well, they're hideous)

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The PC gaming year that was 2011 – Part 2

Another game about permanent death

.. and I’ve seen it before

.. and I’ll see it again

.. yes I’ve seen it before

.. just little bits of history repeating

Dame Shirley Bassey there, singing about PC games.

Have I ever told you about my first video game?  I’m not so sure that I have.  The first video game I owned was Super Mario Bros 2 that came with the NES I got one Christmas in 1990 or thereabouts.  The one infuriating feature of that game and pretty much every game of that era that remains so strongly ingrained in my memory, buried somewhere between memories of stubbing my big toe on mum’s coffee table and catching myself in the zip of my jeans, is that you could not save your game.  None of the games at the time let you save your game, apart from very rare exceptions (the first Zelda title did in 1987) the consoles and game cartridges just didn’t have the memory to support save games.  It took hours and hours to complete Super Mario Bros 2, even with a healthy knowledge of the hidden warp pipes to skip whole worlds (all of which would have to be found personally or learned from the playground, as the internet wasn’t an option) you could still spend an entire day reaching level 90 only to run out of lives and be booted unceremoniously back to the start.  Or worse a power cut would take it away, or you’d brush the overly sensitive reset button on the front of your NES and all those hours of hard work were worth nothing.

Thankfully technology soon caught up and the ability to save your progress or at the very least get a level code to bring you back to the last level you reached next time you loaded took off in the SNES era, meaning we didn’t need to worry about failing or turning our computers off quite so much ever again.  In fact the safety net provided by the proliferation of ‘quicksave’ buttons, save checkpoints and respawning over the course of the decade mean the modern gamer rarely has to play the same stretch of game twice, and is therefore no longer afraid of death.

Some people think that is not such a good thing.

PermaDeath is Dred-ful

2011 – The year of PERMADEATH!!!

So if there is one gaming trend in 2011 that I’m fascinated by the most it is the sudden resurgence of Perma-death as an acceptable gaming occurrence, and in some cases the entire premise around which to build a game.  Of course the idea of a game that doesn’t let you save is not new, and the genre that holds perma-death as a core belief, roguelikes, has been quietly producing games since the 70s right through to now, but 2011 was the first year I’ve seen so many popular games released where death means death.  Plus I’ve largely enjoyed all of them instead of running out of the room screaming, which is a first (Spelunky aside) since those heady days of the early nineties.

What games am I wittering on about you ask?  In no particular order I am thinking of:

Binding of Isaac  I talked about this in part 1.  Whilst it shares more in common with early Nintendo games in its gameplay it does share all the basic premises of a roguelike with: no saving, no ‘lives’ (well, except for one very rare 1up item), and every new level is procedurally generated at random when you start.  The beauty of the Binding of Isaac is each game is thankfully short, so even if you reach the second last level and die, it’ll only take you 20 minutes to catch up.  But maybe next time there won’t be any keys around to let you into the item rooms on each level leading to a certain death half way through this playthrough?  Or perhaps instead the devil will appear after an end of level boss and offer you a super power up in exchange for a heart of health that makes the difference and helps you reach the final boss?  It’s the random nature of each game and the never-ending list of items and power-ups to be found that make it so replayable, which is essential for a game that forces you to start again every time you die.

Dungeons of Dredmor Probably the most roguelike of the games I’m talking about Dredmor has turn-based combat, RPG levelling-up, item looting and crafting, and an increasingly difficult depth of dungeons to fight through.  Slightly disproving my point, though, savegames are an option in Dredmor.  However, Permadeath is still very much, err, alive.  Which just means you can spend all week getting further than you’ve done before, saving your progress as you go, levelling your character into a super Diggle hunter, crafting marvellous weapons of destruction, only to die in a slightly over-ambitious skirmish and lose everything you worked for with your saves being wiped instantly.  That said most of my attempts have ended in the first 2 dungeons, meaning I’ve barely levelled up or collected anything to lose.  While there’s a wealth of items to collect the biggest problem with the pleasantly humourous Dungeons of Dredmor is the decision to make almost all enemies Diggles.  They’re just so daft and repetitive.  They’re the RPG equivalent of Halo’s grunts.

Realm of the Mad God Mad is the operative word in Realm of the Mad God.  Give it a go now if you haven’t before.  It’s totally free and plays in your browser.  Go on, play it now.  Stick with other players and try to be the first to grab any dropped loot.  You’ll die within 10 minutes, but have a good idea what I’m talking about then.

Finished?  Have fun?  It’s insane isn’t it?  I can’t remember a game in which you level up quite so fast.  Once again it’s a game released in 2011 that cares not for how much loot you’ve collected or what level you’ve reached.  When you die, YOU DIE.  Imagine if Skyrim did that to you?  Realm of the Mad God shares that pace and brevity with Binding of Isaac that mean it’s not too frustrating to start again following death, and it brings back that other aspect of early nineties gaming – trying to beat a personal best.  It’s certainly wormed its way onto my favourites tab.  My highest level reached?  A pitiful level 10, so far.

Desktop Dungeons Again there is a free version of this if you want to try it (there’s also a spruced up complete version on the way).  This was the first game I played this year where permadeath was a key feature.  The turned based combat, loot drops, permadeath and dungeon delving are all taken from roguelikes and again they’re packaged up in an accessible, addictive, coffee-break lengthed blast of fun.

Made by the Spelunky guy.  He's got a thing about PermadeathSo…yeah.  that’s just a thing I noticed in 2011.  Will permadeath feature in more games next year?  Or were roguelikes just this year’s 2D platformers?  Will Modern Warfare 4 feature a ‘Realism’ mode where when you die the game shuts down and can’t be played ever again even if you take it back to the shop and get it replaced?  Will I take the hint made by the fun I’ve had with the 4 games mentioned and take a dive into a true roguelike, like Nethack or Brogue perhaps?  Probably none of the above.  But I will be playing Binding of Isaac and Realm of the Mad God again.  And again…  And again….

The PC gaming year that was 2011 – Part 1

Spooky2011 now officially over it seems a good time to review the year that was, and what a year it was for PC games!  The world seemed to fall apart around us month by month, but thankfully those hard working developers large and small kept producing a vast amount of high quality video games to keep us all distracted from impending Armageddon.  There has already been a few opinions on whether 2011 was a vintage year for gaming.  Perhaps the quantity of titles masked the quality of them.  Perhaps the need, in this big-budget money driven industry, to make games that are known to be popular over games that are original and new has been to the detriment to the art form, and the fact that the vast majority of big games this year were sequels and the remainder were new stabs at tired genres would probably back that up.  Whatever the case though, I don’t think anyone can disagree that there were a lot of great games released in 2011.  I can’t remember a year in which I had so much fun.  So to round it up there’s a couple of things that happened this year that I think are worth noting over the course of a few blog posts.  First of all, 2011, the year that was….

2011: The year of Indie abundance

With the big developers sticking to what they know best (more on this later) it was again down to the independent developers to provide something new and exciting for the jaded gamer in 2011.  Although Minecraft only officially came out this year I think it’s fair to call it 2010’s game, and along with Amnesia: The Dark Descent, it stole the show from the AAA developers last year with the 2 being my favourite games of last year.  This year I don’t think any Indie game was quite that good, but so many came close and this can only continue to inspire a future of small, cheap, original and superb games from creative and unrestricted indie developers.

So in a very particular order of ‘quite pleased by’ through to ‘most pleased by’ 2011 produced (deep breath):

Spacechem You only had to wait until 1st January to get your first gaming fix of 2011 with this delightfully brain-twisting puzzler.  It’s hard, confusing and feels a little bit like doing science homework but if you want originality in a neatly presented package with just the right amount of narrative to give you reason to carry on then that box was ticked on day one.

Limbo Visually stunning, great use of sound, shame about the puzzles and the fact the first 10 minutes are the best part of the ……OH CHRIST!  A SPIDER LEG!

Victory Pose!Chtulu Saves the WorldFrom my limited knowledge of what ‘the kids’ are listening to nowadays I understand 2011 was all about the early nineties sound, and so it seems that gaming in 2011 had a big early nineties thing going on too.  Acronym of the year must go to SNES, and Chtulu Saves the World probably played the greatest homage to the best console ever (you can quote me on that, future historians).  Chtulu plays like a SNES RPG, like Final Fantasy IV era FF games, but gives away its year of birth through the reams of hilariously knowing writing that takes the piss out of its own genre’s foibles as well as every other genre and media form.  From the story, to the characters, enemies, weapons (there are SO MANY characters, enemies and weapons) and even the options menu this game is silly, you’ll know in the first 2 minutes whether you’re going to enjoy its brand of humour.  If you do, play it on easy, blast through the annoying combat and you can enjoy one of the funniest games of the year.  Plus at £1.99 full price on Steam and clocking in at 10s of hours of play it’s also the year’s best bargain (ignoring ‘free-to-play’ things).

SmashingAtom Zombie Smasher Insanely fun, apocalyptic, explode everything-em-up that once again proves there is no end to the different genres zombies work in.  AZS is basically a Real-Time Strategy game with a turn based ‘preparation’ layer between levels, making it sound a tiny bit like a Total War game, but believe me it is something completely different that I’m not even going to try and explain.  Look, just try the demo, it’s great.  It’s one of the few games I actually enjoy losing, there’s just something right about the game ending with your valiant efforts being all for nothing as the zombie infection spreads across your entire city.  Which is just as well because I have only ever beaten it on the patronising ‘Casual’ mode.  AZS also wins the award for soundtrack of the year, in my humble opinion.

Terraria It’s not a 2D Minecraft, but it does involve mining and crafting.  Where it differs is the complexity of things you can find and create and the structure that increasingly difficult monsters and bosses bring to the procedural proceedings.

Like a cute AlienCapsized Indie developers love a side-scrolling platform/shoot em-up and 2011 was no different, but Capsized really is as good as the genre gets.  It is beautifully drawn, has a wealth of slowly discovered weaponry, the best use of a gravity gun outside of Half-life 2 and every level is different and interesting.  You really need to play this one to the end so you don’t miss out on the low-gravity floating-island hopping of the last couple of levels.  Then play the gravity-gun only ‘armless levels’.  Just perfect.

Frozen Synapse I’ve talked about this before.  I’m still enjoying it when I occasionally hop on for a game.

Gemini Rue I’ve done this before too.  It’s ace.

Wait til his mum finds outBinding of Isaac Another game that drips with early nineties inspiration, the Binding of Isaac plays like a bastard child of the Legend of Zelda and Smash TV that was locked in the basement for the length of its childhood with nothing to do but relive its rogue-like nightmares over and over again day after day.  Providing you’re ok with the setting this is an incredibly addictive time-sink that I’m still enjoying even after finishing it once (and trying and failing to complete it about 50 times) there’s just so many items to unlock and achievements to achieve.  That setting, though?  Well, the Binding of Isaac is a cartoon game with biblical overtones whose main protagonist, Isaac, is a naked child who shoots tears and pee at his horrifying enemies who are all flys, worms or contorted caricatures of himself.  His goal is to find and kill his own mother (in self-defence), and the power ups include a dead cat, his mum’s high heels and sanitary towels, and bomb diarrhoea.  It’s, err, not for everyone, but that just makes me like it even more.

The kid done goodBastion – Last and (just) best in my little Indie round-up of 2011 is this beautiful action-RPG that’s light on the RPG, heavy on the action and absolutely dripping with artwork, atmosphere and superb narrative (and I mean literally, the narration is superb).  Considering the story sees you trying to salvage a home and search for survivors in a post-apocalyptic world torn apart by genocide, war and weapons of mass destruction the game built around this dark heart just looks so nice and sweet!  The graphics and artwork are lovely.  The combat is fluid and fun, with unlocked weapons providing different tactics rather than just more firepower (except for the last couple).  And the way the story unfolds through the narrator’s Big Lebowski style southern-US drawl is charming, original and, come the final moments, genuinely neck-tingling.

One of the most exciting things about Bastion?  It built so much hype pre-launch that the game was snapped up by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment for publication (who’ve published Batman: Arkham Asylum, Lord of the Rings Online and FEAR 3 among others), proving that Indie games are getting a lot of attention from big investors nowadays, and whilst Minecraft and others have proven you don’t necessarily need the backing of big publishers to make big games, it has got to be a positive sign that the most creative source for games are getting proper backing and attention.  Are publishers tiring of backing massive-budget games in the same old genres where one failure can bankrupt a publisher and endanger an entire network of developers?  I don’t know about that, but the gap between ‘AAA’ games and ‘indie’ games is definitely getting narrower which can only be a good thing for the future of games.

Next up in the 2011 round-up – Perma-death and Detective work