Saturday, June 28, 2008

Two games today, though one of them is less of a game and more of an opportunity to rant.


Castlewars is a cute little card game which reminds me a lot of Mille Bornes with the most frustrating parts of the game removed. I actually like Mille Bornes quite a bit, so you'd think that this would be a lot of fun, but I don't find this as fascinating as you might expect. It might just be that playing it on a computer isn't as fun as playing with a real deck of cards with your friends.

Anyway, the basic concept is pretty simple: you have a castle, some resources (bricks, weapons, and crystals), and a hand of cards. Each turn you draw a card and play a card; the cards will build your own castle, attack your enemy's castle, increase your own resources, or decrease your enemy's resources (or some combination of these). Either getting your own castle to a height of 100 or totally destroying your enemy's castle will win you the game. (You can also build a wall, which doesn't help your castle height but which will absorb most enemy attacks until it's destroyed; building walls is thus naturally cheaper than building the castle.)

Each card costs a certain number of bricks, weapons, or crystals to play. At the beginning of the game, you get 2 of each of these at the beginning of each turn, but there exist cards which increase your rate of accumulation. Naturally, the more expensive cards have more powerful effects. Not surprisingly, building typically requires bricks, and attacking requires weapons, although there exist crystal-requiring cards which can do either, as well as a variety of other effects.

You can also fully customize your deck, so if you're tired of drawing a particular card more or less than you want it, you can decrease or increase its frequency as appropriately. (Somewhat oddly, although I won all of my games with the default deck, as soon as I started tweaking it I kept losing repeatedly. Maybe this means I don't understand the strategy as well as I thought I did...)

The graphics, sounds, and background music are all simple but inoffensive. Now, for the important disclaimer -- like other games, I only tested this against the computer, which doesn't appear to have any horrible flaws in its AI, but I did beat it pretty regularly. There's also apparently a pretty strong multiplayer presence, which seems like it would add a little more interest than playing against the computer. Overall, while it's a fun and simple game, playing against the computer just doesn't remain interesting enough in the long run.

Kongregate Chat

Kongregate Chat is a very simple game. There are at least five, and probably a bunch more, "games" on Kongregate whose purpose is just to have a chat window so you can chat with other people without having a game. Most of these have nothing at all other than the chat panel, but Kongregate Chat includes a tiny, very simple game; you dodge stars and get points. The game itself isn't that terribly interesting (and wasn't designed to be terribly interesting, it was designed to be quick to load, so I'm not really faulting it for that). But Kongregate has awarded an easy badge for dodging 100 stars, which is really quite easy.

So, the rant here is that the Kongregate badge system is gravely flawed. For those of you who don't know, there are four types of badges. Easy badges are 5 points, medium badges 15 points, hard badges 30 points, and impossible badges 60 points. Now, this particular easy badge takes maybe 2 minutes if you're not particularly competent, and most easy badges are similarly not very time consuming. They might take up to 10 minutes at most, and most of them require little to no skill. Now, I'm sure you can guess what my complaint will be -- the hard and impossible badges are nowhere near proportional. Some hard badges are relatively easy, but the bulk of them are going to take a lot more than 12 minutes; probably at least an hour or two. And the impossible badges require a really substantial time investment; at least on the order of several hours, if you're already particularly skilled, and potentially a lot longer than that if you need to build up your skills to get the badge.

For the time being, the fact that there aren't that many badges on Kongregate makes this not a huge problem -- people have to earn hard badges in order to earn a reasonable number of points simply because there aren't that many easy badges. But eventually Kongregate will become large enough (or at least they hope that they will) that this simply will become ridiculous. And I'd really like the impossible badges to have a little more cachet, given how difficult they are to earn. Maybe the solution is to not have all badges measured in points, but to have different numbers of each required to earn levels. (Or, perhaps given how difficult the impossible badges are, have different numbers of easy, medium, and hard badges required to earn levels, and the impossible badges give some extra reward, like gold stars.) In any case, some way to give more recognition to the hard and impossible badges would be a very good thing to add to Kongregate.

Friday, June 27, 2008

3D Logic 2: Stronghold of Sage

3D Logic 2 is, as the title may imply, a sequel to the puzzle game 3D Logic, which I discussed previously. The basic principle is the same: to link each pair of different colors. However, 3D Logic 2 has a few differences from the previous game. While you start out with a 3x3x3 cube, it grows quicker and more complicated much more quickly; you pretty quickly reach 6x6x6 cubes with seven colors, which poses quite a challenge. As a result, I found 3D Logic 2 considerably more difficult than the original.

The interface is nicely improved: you can finally clear individual squares, and you can also use the scroll wheel to rotate between colors. These are both welcome improvements (though I found myself using the first considerably more). One thing which still didn't get improved is the overall interface; the game saves your current position, but there's no way to go back and look at a previous puzzle, and once you've completed the game, your current position gets reset so you can't look at any of the puzzles at all.

A few frills have been added. There's very peaceful and relaxing background music, which will almost certainly drive you crazy after a couple of minutes listening to it while stuck on a given puzzle. The sound effects have also been beautified a bit. Finally, a bit of "story" has been added where the game will tell you various mystical properties of the different colors between levels; I didn't really feel that this added much to the game.

Overall, this is a nice addition to a solid puzzle game, although don't play it if you're easily frustrated, since it will take a while to get through, unless you're much luckier or smarter than I am.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Dungeon Defender

Dungeon Defender is an interesting game -- it is an attempt to add some RPG elements into the traditional tower defense structure. While the effort is not entirely successful, there are some interesting ideas in here I'm glad the game designer took a look at.

The basic concept behind the game should be familiar to anyone who's tried a tower defense game. Waves of enemies come in and attempt to reach your base; your job is to build structures which will destroy them before they do so. So far, entirely normal. However, in this game, your structures aren't just static buildings which fire at the enemy. Instead, they are lairs which spawn creatures. These creatures then go out to attack the enemy (if they are melee) or fire weapons or spells (if they are ranged units); the enemy similarly has different types of units which will engage you differently. Your creatures have a finite amount of health just like the enemy's, and if the enemy happens to kill them they will be free to proceed unimpeded. However, your creatures will respawn after a short amount of time from their lairs. The enemy can also destroy your lairs simply by walking over them, but it won't go out of its way to destroy your lairs, so if you don't place them along the direct path to your base they'll be safe. (Of course, it may be harder to successfully block the enemy if you do that!) Note that you play the role of evil in this game, so your creatures are of the typically evil type (goblins, vampires, hydras, etc.). You can also augment your defenses with traps, which do various nasty things to the enemies (though the number you can place is strictly limited, so you can't just fill the map with traps) and support buildings, which increase the effectiveness of your lairs. There are also some maps that contain neutral lairs, which will fight any creature (yours or the enemy's) that stray nearby. The map begins with some paths running through the dirt from the enemy spawn points towards your base; you can dig out more dirt if you want more space to build lairs, but you can never fill space back in. Some dirt also contains precious metals that give you more money; these are usually cleverly placed so that digging out the most valuable deposits will also give the enemy a shorter route to your base, so you have to balance your monetary needs with your defensive ones.

There are also a few other RPG-like additions to the game. In addition to the lairs, you also have an avatar, which you control directly, and can be chosen from one of three different classes. The avatar is a powerful fighting unit (and hence is useful to throw in at the point where your defenses are weakest), but he can also be killed, in which case he will respawn at your base after a while. The avatar gains experience, and as he reaches higher levels, you can build more types of creatures and defenses. Similarly, unlike normal tower defense games where you increase the power of your towers by upgrading them, in Dungeon Defender your lairs gain more experience as they win battles and the units that they contain thus become tougher. Units also have their own strength, dexterity, and magic stats, and defeating certain enemies will give you items which can be equipped on your avatar to improve his fighting stats.

If you've made it this far through the block of text, you're probably beginning to get an idea of the first problem with the game: there's just too much crammed in. For instance, are you ever you ever going to look at the items on your avatar? Well, there is (unfortunately) a fair amount of idle time in the game, but even during that, you're probably not going to be interested in comparing the different kinds of breastplates that you might have picked up. Similarly, it's generally too much information to have such detailed stats on each creature -- all you really need to know is how generally powerful and fast they are, not the minute little details of their strength and magic resistance. Having to micromanage, for instance, the distance melee units should travel to engage the enemy also becomes quickly tedious.

The much more serious problem, though, is that it's frequently impossible to tell what's going on. As usual, units have little health bars over their heads. However, as I mentioned earlier, a lot of the units are melee units. That means that oftentimes, you'll get ten or so units in an extremely small space, and it's simply impossible to tell what's going on, and then eventually some units begin to emerge, and hopefully they're yours, but it's impossible to tell why or really what happened. This makes it extremely difficult to get feedback -- the lifeblood of making a tower defense game (at least one which isn't a total pushover) is to give the user the opportunity to see what strategies work and what strategies don't. With this, though, it's impossible to tell which units are pulling their weight and which ones are completely ineffective, so it's very difficult to tell why a given strategy isn't working and what you might want to do to fix it. I find this personally extremely frustrating, and it's also why I resorted to using a walkthrough for four of the last five levels, simply because I found it so un-entertaining to try and fail without really being able to tell what I was doing wrong.

The graphics are pretty tiny, since there's a lot going on the screen (which only exacerbates the above-mentioned problem), and there aren't any sound effects, only music, which, despite being on an exceptionally short loop, isn't too bad (and there's more than one tune, so at least it doesn't become incredibly annoyingly repetitive).

In the end, this was a game which I found intriguing at the outset, but which really became a slog as it went on, and I was glad to get it finished. I like some of the ideas in the game, but it really needs more polishing to become a great game.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Filler is a game that will seem instantly familiar to you. If you've ever played JezzBall, or Barrack, or any of the clones thereof, you'll recognize the principle of Filler -- there's a number of balls bouncing around the screen, and your object is to claim as much of the screen as possible by placing objects on it. However, merely calling Filler a clone of those games would be quite inaccurate; there are major differences in Filler which make the gameplay substantially different.

First of all, in contrast to the aforementioned games (in which you claim territory by shooting lines across the playfield), in Filler you click and hold to draw a circle. The longer you hold the button, the bigger the circle becomes, but if a ball should hit you while your circle is still being drawn, then you lose a life and the circle vanishes. You can move the circle around while it's being placed, and once it has been placed, it can still be moved by gravity or by the action of the enemy balls hitting it.

The fact that balls can move after being placed creates a much more dynamic playfield than in traditional games of this type. For instance, you can drop balls from the top onto other balls to move them into more advantageous positions. You can also create balls in safe locations of the playfield and let them fall or slide into less safe areas. Conversely, it's much harder to trap enemy balls in a specific location because they can dislodge the balls that you've placed to block them (unless they're totally surrounded). This opens up new directions of strategy.

Unfortunately, the other major change has less beneficial effects. In JezzBall, for instance, once you've started firing a line, you can't stop until it hits the wall. However, the fact that you can release the mouse button and stop drawing the circle at any time means that you can get out of danger much more easily. (You do have a limited total number of balls that you can place, but in my experience this never became an issue.) This makes the game significantly easier than its counterparts; in fact, on my first play through, I ended up getting all of the badges for the game.

The graphics are exceedingly plain, and there's not much in the way of sound effects. The background music is kind of ethereal and relaxing, but it's not anything you'll be wanting to find a copy of for yourself or anything. Overall, the presentation is nothing special. So in summary, this is an interesting concept, but it really needs more attention to the game balance in order to be a truly fascinating game.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Micro Olympics

I tried out this game for one very simple reason -- the name. I was a huge fan of the original Apple II Olympic Decathlon, and the thought of a series of events, cleverly miniaturized, appealed to me greatly. You can imagine my disappointment when I discovered just how inaccurate this name was. This is a few events short of an Olympics, or even a decathlon. In fact, it's only one event. So apparently "micro" applies to the size of the Olympics, not the size of the competitors.

As for the event itself, it's pretty straightforward. You fire yourself out of a cannon (using the old "click to set angle, click to set power" interface) and try to go as far as possible. Going longer distances earns you money, which you can use to buy a variety of upgrades, which you can use to go longer distances, which earns you more money, which... etc.

The graphics are cute; there's no music, and the sounds can get a little annoying. As far as the strategy itself, once you've gotten the hang of just how the different components work (it's not as obvious as you might think), it's not a terribly difficult game, although you probably will be frustrated your first few tries, when you are trying to figure things out and you have to start over at the beginning when you don't make the right choice. It's worth playing through once, but after that there's not that much of a compelling reason to keep playing.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Tactics 100 Live

(Note that I'm only going to talk about the single-player part of this game, since that's all that I've played. This is true in general, in fact -- I tend to avoid games which require playing with other people. Also, this is the last of the games that I had played before joining Kongregate, for what that's worth.)

Tactics 100 is brought to you by the same designer as Drone Wars, which makes this an object lesson in what genres are well-suited for Flash games, because this game (while not spectacular) is a fun little diversion, and a vastly more enjoyable game than Drone Wars.

The basic principle is pretty simple: it's a turn-based strategy game, where you have units of various types (knights, which are slow melee units capable of dealing and taking a lot of damage; rangers, which are fast ranged units but do little damage; mages, which are slow and vulnerable but can use their magic to deal large amounts of damage to multiple targets; and clerics, who heal other units) which battle it out on a square-grid battlefield. There's a fair degree of tactics involved; for instance, attacking units from their flanks or rear is generally advantageous. There's also high and low ground, though the battlefields are organized in such a way that this almost never comes into play.

One nice thing is that your army is fully customizable; if you choose to create your army from scratch, you're given 100 points, which you can spend either on buying units or on upgrades for the units you've already bought. (You can also choose to start working from the default army, if you prefer.) So you can build an army with lots of relatively weak units, or an army with a few super-powerful units, depending on your preferences. Quite a lot of the fun in this game is derived from tweaking your units to try to get the best combination psosible. (This process is somewhat aided by the fact that some upgrades are obviously much more useful than others, as you will rapidly discover.)

The single-player mode features ten successive fights against different enemy armies, some of which will provide a tough matchup and some of which are pretty much pushovers. Fortunately for those of you trying to earn the hard badge (which requires beating all ten without losing a single unit), the AI is not very smart, so once you've worked out a good army, rolling through all ten is not terribly difficult. The graphics are nice, the sound effects are pretty good, and the music isn't bad either. The game does tend to run a little slow on older computers, but that's not a really big problem for a strategy game like this.

Overall, this is a nice little game, but the replayability of the single-player mode is hampered by the fact that it's a little too easy. Perhaps the multiplayer feature would help make up for this, but that requires playing with other people.

Sunday, June 22, 2008


Although SHIFT 2 is one of my favorite games on Kongregate, I'm afraid this review is going to be rather short because I've already said nearly everything there is to say in my previous commentary on SHIFT.

Both the gameplay and the spirit of SHIFT 2 are quite similar to the original. The gameplay does have a few interesting additions, though. There are now buttons which can rotate the screen 180 degrees without needing to shift, and even buttons which rotate the screen 90 degrees, adding another dimension to the puzzle solving. These buttons make it surprisingly easy to end up going around in circles in some levels, though, so you'll need to pay a little more attention to what's going on. There's also checked squares, which cannot be shifted into but can only be removed by hitting the appropriate trigger. However, while SHIFT 2 may require a bit more thinking, it's still not a difficult game by any means.

The music is different from (and perhaps not quite as good as) the original, but provides a nice background. One welcome addition is a set of achievements, which gives you some goals to shoot for in addition to simply completing the game. Collecting the medals unlocks some additional bonus material (one thing that is promised, for instance, is the option to play as the "classic character" from the original SHIFT). There is also a level editor, which is a nice addition, and comes with a few extra sample levels that you can try out. On the other hand, the proofreading in the game is awfully poor -- there's a lot of typos in the game text (and there's not that much text, so fitting a lot of typos into it takes some work).

Overall, SHIFT 2 doesn't feel that radically different from the original -- it's still a very entertaining game, but still awfully short. But better a small addition than no addition at all, given how much fun it is.