Saturday, December 06, 2008

Gravity Master

Today brings us to the next Shootorial contest winner, Gravity Master. Well, actually, Gravity Master wasn't really a winner -- it was disqualified for not being based on the Shootorial (and rightly so; it has pretty much nothing in common), but awarded a special Honorable Mention anyway for being quite a neat game. And indeed, there is an interesting concept there. It needs a little more fleshing out to be a really good game, but this is precisely the kind of game that I hope to see more of in Flash -- a really clever idea, simply and cleanly implemented.

The basic premise of Gravity Master (which more accurately should be called Gravity User, but that sounds considerably less cool) is very simple. You have a ball, and one or more tokens to collect. How do you get the ball to the tokens? Well, you use the mouse to draw shapes which you drop on the ball to nudge it in the correct direction. Naturally, as the game progresses, you have to do more complicated things with your shapes -- you can use them as ramps, bridges, or even drop them onto the other side of a see-saw to launch your ball.

Sounds like a neat idea, right? Well, I'll be honest -- I only completed six out of the 24 levels, because it does get a little frustrating at times. (I know, normally I try to complete the whole game before writing a review. These Shootorial contest games don't have real badges, though, only dinky little 5-point challenges, so the incentive to play the game for much longer isn't really there. And given that none of the Shootorial games is particularly great, that's not much of a loss. This is definitely the best of the bunch, though.) Dropping a shape on the ball is easy enough, but precisely placing shapes to use as ramps is often quite difficult, and getting the ball over even the smallest of bumps can often be an annoyingly tricky task.

The graphics are extremely basic, and there aren't any sound effects, though the background music is pleasantly soothing. Although simple, the interface does offer you everything you would want to do -- destroying shapes and restarting the level (both things you want to do often) are quite easily accomplished. (Though I didn't notice the return to menu button in the corner my first time through -- that could definitely use an improvement to its conspicuousness.) It does seem a little odd that blocks that fall off the bottom of the screen have "fallen into hell", though.

Overall, Gravity Master is a cute little game with a clever idea. It's still not quite ready for prime time, but it definitely has the most promise among games I've seen in this Shootorial contest. A little work on the puzzles (or perhaps the engine) to remove the more annoying parts of the game would make this an excellent puzzle challenge.

Friday, December 05, 2008

First, an announcement: I've added tags to the posts. Each post is tagged with Kongregate, the game name, and then a general tag with the category. Most of the tags should be pretty obvious (e.g. "turn-based strategy"), though a few perhaps require further explanation. I use "survival shooter" to refer to the particular subset of shooters where you have to defend yourself and/or a target from unending waves of enemies, and often have breaks between waves to buy upgrades and various more powerful weapons. I also had a tough time coming up with a good term for games which I could call real-time strategy if that term weren't already used for a much more specific genre -- in the end, I settled on "action strategy", which is not an ideal term, but it was the best I could do. My definition of "puzzle" is also much more restrictive than Kongregate's -- any game which requires a high degree of dexterity (e.g., colorfill) doesn't count as a puzzle game in my classification. I also ended up with "action" as an extremely broad catchall category (including most shooters not classified in the "survival shooter" category) -- maybe I should subdivide it further at some point.

Anyway, on to today's game:

G-Virus: Episode I

G-Virus is the third-place entry in the Shootorial contest, and by this point, I'm getting very glad there are only five winners overall, since I'm getting pretty bored with these games. G-Virus is basically exactly the same game as the Shootorial except with nicer graphics and a few minor gameplay changes, but certainly nothing to make it interesting enough for me to want to play it for any length of time.

So, the biologically problematic premise of G-Virus is that you're a virus fighting your way through a body. But you're a good virus (hence the G, apparently), destroying other viruses and rescuing cells. You shoot at the other viruses, which shoot at you; from time to time there's a really big enemy virus. There's an extremely unintuitive health bar at the top, and you can recover health by picking up red blood cells from destroyed enemy viruses (like I said, biologically problematic). The game doesn't have levels per se, but there is a progress bar indicating your progress through the level, and when it fills your firepower is increased.

Anyway, the game is pretty difficult, so I only got through a level and a half or so (not helped by the enemies that can shoot you from offscreen), but I really didn't see any need to keep playing, because there just wasn't much interesting about the gameplay. The graphics are colorful and cartoony (why do all of the viruses and cells have eyes, exactly?), the sound effects are pretty basic, and the background music is not very good -- it's not even really music so much as background sound effects. The English is also terrible -- clearly this is yet another game written by a non-native English speaker who didn't think it would be a good idea to have a native English speaker at least look at the game before releasing it. This is kind of frustrating.

Overall, G-Virus is simply not an interesting game. I suppose it does a good job on incrementally improving on the Shootorial, but the Shootorial isn't an interesting game (nor is it really designed to be; it's just a way to teach you to use Flash). I was kind of disappointed by the results, but maybe in retrospect I shouldn't have been, since after all the contest was for beginning programmers, and if you're supposed to model your game on a very elementary shooter, you're going to end up with a bunch of elementary shooters.

Thursday, December 04, 2008


Today brings us to the second-place winner in the Shootorial contest, Elastic. As you can probably guess, Elastic is also a shooter, but unlike River Raid, it introduces a couple of new ideas to the basic shooter formula. The game is not very polished, but I think in this case I'd rather take a somewhat buggy but novel idea. (OK, I know there are bunches of people in the comments pointing out that this idea has been done before. But this is the first that I, and I suspect most of the people who've played the game, have seen of it.)

In Elastic, your vehicle is, well, a little glowing ball. It doesn't actually do anything by itself, though (except get killed and pick up the occasional extra life) -- you also have a large hammer, which swings around your vehicle as you move. (This is kind of tricky to describe, but you'll see what I mean if you give it a try.) You also have two special abilities, one which fires a laser in the current direction from your vehicle to the hammer, and one which holds the hammer in its current position (which is very useful in conjunction with the first ability). There are two types of enemies, one of which can be smashed by the hammer but not lasered, and one which can be lasered but not smashed by the hammer, so you'll have to be constantly changing tactics, which gets kind of annoying. In a given level, you can only let a certain number of enemies go by before you lose, so you do have to engage most targets. I found myself not swinging the hammer very much, but generally just setting it in front of the enemies, locking it there, and then letting the enemies run into it while I lasered the other enemies.

As I said, the game has a few bug issues. The introductory text at the beginning promises that you can play five levels and get a reward (which I assumed was some kind of boss fight), but I reached level 7 without anything particularly interesting happening. There was also one point where the background merrily scrolled itself off the screen, leaving just gray behind (c'mon, that was like one of the first things they covered in the Shootorial!). Still, there aren't any showstoppers that I noticed, and the game's interface, while pretty basic, seems to function fine.

The graphics are pretty basic -- your ship looks kind of pretty, but the bacgkround is quite bland and the explosions are downright ugly. The sounds are nothing special. The background music is kind of peacefully soothing, and is a very nice addition to the game -- it blends nicely enough into the background that you don't mind its being continuously repeated, which is nice.

Overall, Elastic deserves credit for its basic gameplay concept, but it doesn't really add very much to that concept -- once you've gotten through the tutorial, it's just the same thing again and again, except with more enemies. As a result, it doesn't really hold its value very well; I got pretty bored with it after a few levels and didn't really see the need to play very much more. Still, I can easily imagine this idea being turned into a more interesting game. It at least has potential.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

River Raid

So a while ago, Kongregate had a very clever idea: have a series of tutorials to teach people how to program Flash. The tutorial featured a very simple shooter (called the "Shootorial"), and the tutorials stepped you through the basics of creating it -- first the simple things, how to make a ship and move it around, and then how to make that ship shoot, and then how to make those shots collide with enemies, and then a few additional features, like power-ups and bosses. Anyway, you get the idea, and like I said, it's very clever, because the more Flash programmers out there, the better for Kongregate.

Accompanying the tutorials was a contest -- you had to make your own game based on the Shootorial (which means, apparently, that it had to be some kind of shooter) and there were various cash prizes for the winners. Which brings us to today's game, River Raid, which captured first place in this contest. To give people an incentive to try out the contest winners, Kongregate created some points challenges (no badges, though), so, being the type of person that responds to incentives like these, I decided to give it a try.

As you might be able to guess from the preceding, River Raid is a pretty basic shooter. It is apparently a remake of an old Atari 2600 game by the same name, and it feels very much like an Atari 2600 game -- very low-resolution graphics, and pretty simple and unvaried gameplay. You control some kind of attack aircraft flying along a river filled with enemy ships, helicopters, and balloons; even though you're flying, leaving the river will cause you to crash. Naturally, your goal is to shoot as many enemies as possible. However, there are also fuel stations along the river, which you don't want to shoot, since your fuel is continually dwindling and you need these to refuel, so, unlike your typical shooter, holding down the shoot button is not recommended.

So, that's pretty much all there is. The game does offer a variety of different play modes and missions, as well as a variety of achievements (not that it'll tell you what they are), but since unlocking the different modes required completing five levels on the normal mode, which is nontrivial, I didn't bother. Oh, one other strange thing worth mentioning -- your shots can be steered even after you fire them; moving left or right also moves your shots, which is kind of unusual. Anyway, as mentioned, the graphics are pretty low-res, and the sounds are also pretty low-quality. The only thing which isn't Atari 2600-like is the background music, which isn't bad to begin with, but which is on way too short of a loop, so you'll get tired of it pretty quickly. The game is also riddled with typos and awkward constructions -- a native English proofreader would really have been a good idea.

Overall, River Raid just doesn't have interesting enough gameplay to be a really good game. For someone just starting out with Flash, it's not a bad effort, but it's just a simple shooter of the sort that has been around since the dawn of videogames, and so there's really no good reason to play this other than curiosity.