Wednesday, 6 December 2017

ForeveRacers - Preview

Driving like an incompetent maniac in ForeveRacers...

Being personally intimate with my style of driving – or should I say, complete lack of any style – I imagine that SuperSmashingGreatGames’ ForeveRacers is what would happen if you put me in a car on top of a mountain, cheerfully wished me well and then left me to follow a race course as the night slowly drew in. It would be complete and utter madness, but ultimately very entertaining; assuming, of course, that you weren’t in the car with me as I plummeted to my doom.

ForeveRacers autumn desert track
Doesn't that tree look gorgeous?

The concept is simple: have an endless race [that goes on forever, if you will  - ahaha!] that players can drop in and out of as they wish. They’re not racing the other players, per se, but trying to beat the clock on a variety of tracks incorporating all manner of terrain, while driving a smattering of low-poly cars. That may seem like a glorified time trial and, in a very real sense, that’s exactly what it is.

What this setup does mean for those too impatient for post-race loading screens (i.e. me) is that the race continues, to quote U2, with or without you; the adrenaline-fuelled seconds of a really tense race won’t abruptly end as soon as you cross the finish line, leaving you champing at the bit waiting for the next one to load up. For me it also completely took the pressure off; I could actually enjoy cruising haphazardly along without constantly worrying about my position in the race because, in reality, I was trying to beat myself, so to speak.

This is possibly getting slightly too metaphysical, so let’s explore other areas of this charming game before my head explodes with the pressure of writing such convoluted prose.

ForeveRacers crash desert
This was my natural racing position...

Ah, that’s better. That’s the sound of me enjoying the delightful view of the low-poly terrain in ForeveRacers. There are several tracks to choose from at this stage in development, all with variable terrain ranging from rather imposing mountains to delightfully quaint countryside cottages. All in all it looks lovely as you completely wreck your car through total incompetence.

At least, that’s what I keep doing as I try out first the Van and then the Sports Car in an ill-fated series of test drives around the tracks. There are a few vehicles to choose from with different handling qualities, and all can be thoroughly beaten up as you plough them into trees and, if the fancy takes you, other players. It’s a nice touch which makes the whole thing even more slapstick.

I’m sure the developers would be the first to say this isn’t the most serious racing game on PC, and nor should it be; the whole drop-in/out idea is brilliant because it is a distinctly accessible way of encouraging multiplayer races to those not looking for anything hardcore. On the other hand, there are other players and there are leader boards, lap times and all manner of paraphernalia to keep even the most competitive racer screaming down the winding roads.

ForeveRacers mountain van
Oh dear...

Or, if they’re anything at all like me, crash the van into a barricade, manage to embarrassingly flip over it and slide forlornly down the side of a mountain.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Pixel Assassin

...feeling a somewhat worrying sense of accomplishment in Pixel Assassin

You may recall that I already reviewed Pixel Assassin, an Android game about, well assassinating people, in its early development (take a peek) and, much like a washing machine stuck in an endless spin cycle, I've decided to don my hood and gloves to have a go at the final release.

Oh Good...

Perhaps it says something about the difficulty of today's assassination-based games (ed - steady on, grandad), but Pixel Assassin really makes you feel good about managing to land that backstab on an unsuspecting guard without dying for the 50th time. If you haven't already guessed, it's still a bloody hard game. Getting too close to a guard, or managing to walk headfirst into a speeding arrow, results in instant death and respawn at the checkpoint - which, I am happy to report, actually works now, yippee!

Yep, spinning traps make things even trickier...

Possibly the somewhat floaty jumping animation doesn't help in this regard, as it's hard to time your landing behind a fellow before he turns around when you're slowly sinking to the ground like a deflating balloon. I can't quite decide whether this is something that should have been 'fixed' before full release, or if the developer has deliberately left it in. I'm hoping the latter...

...because I enjoy pretending to be a mildly incompetent assassin! How's that for a smooth segue? Ahem. You see, there is something almost comedic about the strange floating jumps my character does, or the little stabs of the dagger that almost suggests a certain shyness. Indeed, I like to imagine my assassin has become one by accident, wildly flailing at passing soldiers with a knife until one of them falls over. Jumping over that bloomin' Crimson Knight boss over and over again to avoid his massive sword is rather frustrating, but also a bit awkward and amusing, like we're both engaged in a dance but neither of us can figure out the moves.

Caught mid-assassination, or awesome rockstar pose?

Quite why I'm imagining it like this is beyond reasoning, but there is an important point here: Pixel Assassin is perhaps even more rewarding because it is so hard to do any assassinations without completely cocking it up. And I completely welcome this, if only to lower my own sense of smug self -satisfaction I get from playing most AAA games.

In other words, play Pixel Assassin and prepare to feel totally awesome when you finally succeed.

*flies dreamily away*

Monday, 2 January 2017

Indie Games Roundup

A look backwards, and forwards, at the indie games featured in this blog...

As the new year stretches ahead of us, it seems like a good time to write one of those terrible blog posts in which I take a butcher's at the cool indie games I've written about. Is this just a rubbish ploy to avoid writing quality content? Probably.

Age of Gladiators
Developer: Creative Storm Entertainment
You just can't beat a good management sim, especially if said sim includes loads of rock-hard gladiators; seriously, I wouldn't stand a chance. Age of Gladiators is a refreshing take on games like Football Manager, where you manage a small group of gladiators as they climb to the dizzying heights of Roman stardom. Of course, if you know anything about Ancient Rome, or indeed have watched the film Gladiator, then you know that often your fighters end their days as food for an irascible lion.

Abstract Arena
Developer: Credici

Abstract Arena gameplay

Abstract Arena is an interesting little top down multiplayer arena shooter, featuring a wonderfully simple 2D aesthetic and all the things you could possibly want in such a game: various ships to pilot, deadly powerups, dynamic maps, punishing AI, local multiplayer, you name it. It's still in early access, but it's just released an update which adds 13 new maps, with online multiplayer on the way. Definitely one to watch out for.

Developer: Fumiko Game Studio

Fumiko! gameplay

Possibly the most surreal game featured here, yet also one of the most brilliant, Fumiko! has you controlling an AI as it navigates around a virtual world in a stylish 3D platformer. It probably sounds more fun when I say you can jump across really, really large distances and bound up the sides of colossal cuboids before plummeting to your doom. The low-poly aesthetics are beautiful too. Seriously, play this,

I'm also happy to say that Fumiko! has been greenlit on Steam, which is, as I'm sure many indie developers are aware, is a massive achievement and of course is completely deserved - so well done (Check out the page here)!

Children of Apollo
Developer: Cargo Cult Gaming

Children of Apollo gameplay

Children of Apollo is an intriguing 2D shooter/exploration game where you wander around a hostile planet blowing up hostile alien life forms. Admittedly that description doesn't sound too exciting, but in actuality the clever aesthetic effects, such as the screen flickering in the guise of an old TV monitor, really display how cool this game is. It's still in an early build at the moment, but it looks like Cargo Cult Gaming are still working on it regularly. 

Developer: Kuupu
Wesbite: Steam page

Exdemon gameplay

If anyone has ever played Bungie's Marathon series from the 90s, then they'll absolutely love Exodemon. An old school, low-poly first person shooter where you have weird purple demon hands that can shoot all manner of projectiles at strange monsters, this was definitely fun to write about. Exodemon is an absolute must play if you want an old fashioned romp around spaceship corridors. So to speak.

Pixel Assassin

Pixel Assassin gameplay

The only Android game that's been featured so far on this blog, Pixel Assassin is a groovy 2D assassin-y game about, well, assassinating people. Set in ye olde medieval times, it's actually bloody hard to succeed as you battle your way through swordsmen and archers to kill the poor bastard at the end of the level. It may have received a slightly critical early build review on this site (in a nice way!) , but the developers are updating it fairly regularly with new levels and cool stuff. Definitely worth looking at if you fancy something different.

Guns N Boxes
Developer: Light Arrow Games

Guns N Boxes gameplay

Guns N Boxes already has a rather large following, as well as an Early Access release on Steam, and so it should; this top-down multiplayer arena shooter is a shedload of fun. Manically shooting boxes in the hope of acquiring an even badass-er to explode your friends is, in my humble opinion, the best way to start any local multiplayer match in a game. Pick this up if you want to annoy your mates by firing exploding bananas at them, although you should probably expect to be fried by a fire breathing lizard in return.

Phew. That's 2016 over in a nutshell. If you've got any suggestions for Indie games to look at in 2017, let me know somehow.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Guns N' Boxes - Early Access Review

Shootin' peeps with exploding bananas in Guns N' Boxes...

Guns N' Boxes shoot

Much like a pixelated version of the Hunger Games, I'm stuck in a corner surrounded by crates of goodies, waiting for the carnage to begin. I can see my opponents in their respective positions - my mouse hovers over them expectantly, eager for bloodshed. As the match begins, I immediately start blasting away at crates with my pistol, hoping for a weapon drop. Success! I run over to it, desperately attempting to dodge my foes' bullets as I scoop up the precious weapon; it's a....weird lobster thing that shoots fire? Ok! 

That is Light Arrow Games' Guns N' Boxes in a nutshell. Madly scampering all over the place, shooting crates with weapons in the hope of getting other, crazier items of mass destruction, all the while trying to blow up everyone else. Sounds like my average Saturday night [note to self: stop trying to insinuate you actually leave the house once in a while and get some fresh air].

Guns N' Boxes character washing machine
If that alone doesn't persuade you to play, what will?

What the developers have cleverly created here is a top down arena shooter that's so madcap anyone can pick it up and play, no matter their skill level - even I, notoriously bad at aiming with a mouse while trying to move with WASD, did some damage with my exploding banana shooter. Everyone is so busy trying to figure out what effect their weapon has, or indeed what weapon they even possess at the time, that any sort of tactics (other than desperately pointing and shooting) go flying out of the window.

This is most certainly a good thing, as multiplayer arena shooters are meant to be fun, especially ones such as Guns N' Boxes which include local multiplayer. An element of slapstick always helps to reduce the tension of being beaten by your friends, and nothing says slapstick like being shot by a pixel art hotdog launcher. 

In fact, if I had one niggle, it would be that there aren't enough different weapons to go around, at least in the current version. You heard me - I crave more wacky launchers to blow my enemies to smithereens, with more obvious onscreen effects. While things like the railgun, which spews forth a bolt of lightning across the entire map, are awesome and obvious, other guns seem oddly generic in such a chaotic game.

Guns N' Boxes railgun

Guns N' Boxes is still in Early Access, so understandably lacks a few features which I hope would be present in the full release. There are only a few arenas to wreak havoc in, though admittedly it looks amazing (as does the pixel art style of the whole game!). Online multiplayer is an available option, yet no-one seems to be playing it; whether that's just because it doesn't actually work at the moment, or just no-one is bothering to play online, I can't tell, but it would have been nice to play against some  fellow humans. As it is, with my nonexistent social life being what it is, I had to play against some punishing ai bots - which are, again, another praiseworthy addition.

Guns N' Boxes hotdog launcher
Hotdogs, away!

I feel like when Guns N' Boxes is fully released it'll be an insane playground of destruction,  full of weird people desperately shooting crates and destroying each other as some sort of bizarre alternative to the after work pint with colleagues. Actually, I really hope that happens. At the moment, it's perfectly enjoyable to play with some mates for a little while. Early Access, as the name implies, gives you just a taste of that carnage, leaving you craving more. And I want more.

No seriously, I need more. Please?

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Pixel Assassin - Beta Review

Being all sneaky-like in Pixel Assassin...

Creeping along the top of a crumbling, grey brick wall, I spy a lone sentry at the other end facing the other way. Heh heh heh. I steadily sneak up to him. Slowly slowly, catchy monkey I think to myself - though surely, if I was actually trying to catch a monkey I'd be going extremely fast. Readying my dagger, I walk up behind him and...he goes sailing away in a downwards trajectory to land at the bottom of the wall. Eh?

Although it's not quite what you expect when you go to backstab a man, I enjoyed this somewhat bizarre introduction to Pixel Assassin's Beta, a mobile 2D platformer centered around the elimination of key figures. Admittedly, the poor guard seemed to drift into the air rather than go tumbling down at gathering speed, but you can't have everything in such an early build. It's the thought that counts.

I think his last words were 'argh...'

Indeed, that exact phrase fits quite well with Pixel Assassin at this stage in development. There is a lot of potential for a fun, rather tense mobile game where you are given a target to kill at the beginning of each level, and yet it's held back at the moment by minor niggles and annoyances.

Take, for example, the level layout and enemies. I liked the fact that there a few different enemy types to avoid and/or poke with a dagger. Guards armed with swords patrol aggressively, cutting you down without a moment's hesitation if you stray into their line of sight. Archers are irritating bastards, constantly firing arrows with pinpoint accuracy like they're in a Robin Hood lookalike contest. Get behind them though, and their ass is yours (so to speak). With Pixel Assassin's handy virtual keyboard control system, navigating obstacles while avoiding these ne're-do-wells is rather challenging in a good way.

I'm the king of the castle!

The problem is that, while the levels are indeed tricky to complete, as any game should be, the lack of a checkpoint system makes it incredibly frustrating when you die over and over again and have to start from the beginning of the level each time. I'm not sure whether the red flags dotted around are supposed to be a checkpoint system of sorts, but they weren't working in this test build. I like games to be hard, but not this hard.

The cute pixel art graphics and the appropriate-sounding  music fit well into the game's medieval theme, and the scrolling background is a nice touch which I didn't expect. Again, the issue here is that although these things are great, and praise should be given to the developers for including them, there isn't enough variation - on each level the same sprites and backgrounds are recycled. I'm taking this with a pinch of salt, as I know it is an earl;y beta, but perhaps for a future version a different background per level would be nice.

Sounds suspiciously easy...

I did enjoy receiving an objective screen with my target's details upon it, as it at least gave me a clue as to what I would face at the end of the level. A particular favourite of mine was a target named 'Donald' - just 'Donald - who kicked the bucket while tucked up in bed. Is that the definition of a good night's sleep, I wonder?

The key thing to take away from this is that Pixel Assassin has great potential. This is an early beta, and it shouldn't be judged too harshly. Sneaking up behind guards before cruelly ending their lives is fun, and the overall design is at once captivating and challenging - though perhaps slightly too much of the latter. The effort has gone into the right places; all it needs now is a lot of polish.

And, quite possibly, more opportunities to throw people off buildings.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Exodemon - V0.3.91

Clawing weird creatures to death with my purple hands in Exodemon...

Exodemon menu titles

'Whoooaaaaoooowwww' was my immediate reaction upon booting up Kuupu's Exodemon for the first time; the crusty depths of my soul giggled with delight at how similar it was visually to an old favourite of mine, Bungie's Marathon series. The same blocky graphics, bizzarre alien monsters and sci-fi surroundings transported me back to a simpler time of FPS gaming.

Thankfully, this time I wasn't watching my dad play while I fearfully peeked over his shoulder.

Exodemon puts you in the role of a scientist who's been somehow infected by demonic forces, resulting in the subsequent possession of two purple clawed hands instead, well, the regular ones (is it wrong of me to assume this scientist had 'normal' hands to begin with - can't purple alien scientists also become possessed by aggravated demonic forces? Stop me if I'm over-analysing this.). Really, the game doesn't need any more explanation than this as you rampage around with your purple hands, but I'd be interested to see if Kuupu adds any more backstory.

Exodemon ranged monster enemy
Oh dear...

Visually, Exodemon delights with its old school approach to graphics and, indeed, level design. Much like early shooters such as Quake, beautiful sprites appear to be 2D in a 3D first person environment, which makes me feel like I'm playing in the 90s again. Enemies are colourful enough to easily stand out from the muted tones of crates and walls as they beam into existence. The surrounding environs feel enchantingly old fashioned - there are even moving platforms to jump across, and panels to open doors you've already gone past! [Inner child: heeeheeeeheee!]

Exodemon ranged combat
Eat energy bolts, weird alien scum!

For those who're thinking I've just been suckered in by rampant nostalgia, Exodemon is actually rather nice to play as a shooter regardless. Gameplay feels balanced, as the player constantly chooses whether to get in close with a one-hit-kill claw swipe or, as the need arises, shoot blazing energy bolts from the right hand to take out troublesome sharpshooters. The foe might not be clever, but the various enemy types make it a challenge to stay on top, and I died on several occasions by not paying enough attention.

Exodemon swarm enemy
Yeah these get annoying to deal with very quickly...

Perhaps one of the most intuitive things Kuupu has done is to place the health bar and ammo counters actually on the hands themselves - which constantly curl and uncurl in a sinister manner, by the way - which does wonders for the level of immersion. By  modernising UI in this manner, instead of having annoying top of screen health bars, Kuupu have made sure Exodemon isn't just another old school wannabe.

I don't think there's any point in deliberately trying to find fault with this game for the sake of a 'review', especially as it's in such an early stage; I certainly couldn't find anything particularly displeasing. 

Exodemon background sky
Oooo so pretty!

I really hope Exodemon continues to be a proud descendant of the great FPS titans, and I can't wait to play more of it.

Not  whilst hiding behind anything, I might add. Well, maybe just a little bit.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Children of Apollo - Test Build

It's probably something to do with my warped - and somewhat overactive imagination - but it's amazing how the simple enemies in CargoCultGaming's Children of Apollo seem so very sinister.

Children of Apollo title screen
Look at that screen!!

I reckon it's primarily down to the way this intriguing 2D exploration shooter has been visually designed. The player, and the aforementioned enemies, are composed of simple pixel art shapes, plain white on a completely black background. This is perhaps interesting itself in today's hyper-artistic indie game market, but that's not what fascinates me. Oh no.

What makes Children of Apollo so beguiling is that the in-game view resembles watching footage through an old monitor. It curves at the edges. It flickers. The sides of the screen even wibble around, as if the signal is poor. It's a strange design choice, but a brilliant one considering the planet exploration setting.

Children of Apollo shooting
Yeah, I don't know what's happening...but is that the point?

You see, looking at that old screen, I can instantly believe that what I'm actually seeing is a video representation of an astronaut wandering around a planet and encountering weird aliens - aliens which could now be wildly different in the flesh as opposed to on-screen. Sure, the quality isn't great, but perhaps this is all I can see from a far-off space station - maybe I'm actually controlling some sort of weaponised, man-shaped robot on the planet's surface. 

Sometimes it amazes me what I can convince myself to be true.

It probably helps that in this very, very early build, I have no idea what is going on. I have a gun, which I can shoot continuously and seemingly forever. I can wander around and find strange creatures in a limited area and, because of that artistic design, get extremely creeped out by them beyond all reason and run screaming away in terror.

Children of Apollo enemy
Probably safer to stay in the circle...?

Maybe it's just me. Maybe I really do have an overactive imagination, and people are wondering why I've wasted time writing about it, when clearly I've gone slightly mad. Perhaps if anyone reads this, they'll pity the poor fool banging on about some simple pixels moving around on a screen.

But I'd like to think not. I think any game that can induce such a reaction is worth watching, and I'll certainly have one eye firmly on Children of Apollo. From a safe distance.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Fumiko! - Preview

Going on a weird trip in the Fumiko! demo level...

Fumiko! demo level

Entering the world of Fumiko! is a bit like finding yourself inside some weird, narcotic-induced episode, full of bright lights and beautiful colours slapping you in the face as you fly past. The fact that you appear to be playing as a nude representation of a female AI who's head is, essentially, on fire doesn't exactly scream 'reality'.

You know what? Sod reality. Reality doesn't let me spring 100ft up in the air to cross a chasm made of luminous cuboids.

Fumiko! on the other hand, most definitely does.

Fumiko! black demo level
Think I'm supposed to aiming towards the middle one...?

The mechanics of the game thus far seem to be those of a standard 3D platformer i.e. you attempt to jump and dash to different floating platforms to reach objectives and, if you've got my manual dexterity, more often than not plummet to your doom.

Yet that simplified summary does Fumiko! a disservice. For one thing, the jumping itself is insanely enjoyable, primarily because pressing spacebar (though a gamepad is recommended) launches you into space with such force that you can barely control your trajectory all, leaving you desperately trying to aim for any platform which might be reachable. This sounds frustrating, and admittedly coupled with the somewhat slippery interaction with objects it can be. If you add in double jumps and dash jumps, though, then what at first is annoying actually turns into something incredibly fun as you bound across the level like a low gravity Ezio.

Fumiko! demo falling
Bugger, there I go again.

Just what it is that you're bounding across is open to interpretation. Fumiko! is charmingly psychedelic in appearance, its extremely colourful and delightful low-poly models adding to the sense of being in some abstract, AI-based otherworld. In fact, being low-poly helps to avoid visual confusion, as there's nothing more annoying in a platformer than misunderstanding where a platform actually is. The sheer amount of colour on display in this demo level adds a significant 'wooow' factor, as nothing says dull like drab aesthetics. To cut a long story short, Fumiko! looks flippin' good.

Fumiko! text overlays
Looks very nice, but sorta hard to read...

Despite the fact that this is only an early demo level, it's already got some interesting little things going on. It makes clever use of hints and instructions in overlays on the surrounding scenery, so as to not break the sense of immersion by having an incongruous text box appear. What I would say about these, though, is that it's quite difficult to read writing on a nearby block when you're hurtling towards it at high speed.

There are even little cutscenes, cued in by interacting with strange robot fellow once you reach objectives. You can also (praise the lord!) skip the text of these tutorial cutscenes - not that the writing is boring, far from it, but my attention span wanes when I could be jumping around like a demented bunny. It's a thoughtful gesture that many games fail to implement.

Perhaps the only real criticism I have at this stage is that I struggled to comprehend where enemies were, or how they kept making me explode. They're represented as cubes of various colours, in keeping with Fumiko!'s low-poly nature, but they're so transparent that I could barely see them before they promptly forced me to respawn. It added a layer of difficulty which I'm not sure was necessary at that early stage.
Fumiko! demo white background

In any case, I think it's safe to say that Fumiko! is one to look out for, especially if you need some light relief from the humdrum of everyday life.

And, y'know, you basically play as a cross between Cortana and Superman. Awesome enough for you yet?

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Abstract Arena - Demo

A look at the Abstract Arena v1.006 demo build...

Abstract Arena title screen

The intricate skills required to master a top-down shooter have always eluded me. Having to maintain a state of 360 degree awareness while also trying to aim and shoot is something that my imbecilic brain can't readily comprehend, resulting in consecutive deaths in a variety of forms.

Despite this, they're often bloody good fun -  and, I'm happy to say, Credici's Abstract Arena  is no different in that regard.

 Aesthetically it's very pleasing, the clean white background contrastingly nicely with the crisp sprites of the arena...participants. There is a slight hesitation there, as playing Abstract Arena feels a bit like being inside the mind of an AI in an Iain M Banks novel, playfully sparring with its fellows in a simulated environment. It's not entirely clear just what it is you're controlling; they could be spaceships battling in some crazy universe, or, equally, representations of advanced AI Minds.
Abstract Arena singleplayer
In case you can't tell, I'm losing.

Frankly, it doesn't really matter -  the clue is in the name after all.

What does matter is how it's executed, and even my mind - with its haphazard top-down shooter skills - can tell that this is done rather well. Because of the aesthetic style, it doesn't take too long to figure out the key elements; who you are, and where the enemy is. Even the menus are presented in such a crisp simple manner that's incredibly easy to understand. The limited keyboard controls, while being in a slightly odd configuration, streamline the gameplay into a pure shooter experience; just primary and secondary fire, none of that confusing multiple-number-keys weapon swapping. I enjoy this kind of pure simplicity in a shooter, the better for me to concentrate on actually surviving (winning is normally out of the question).

Abstract Arena menu
Oooo just look at the pretty colours!

That isn't to say that Credici have skimped on content, even in this early build. Several different maps are available; while at this stage it's not too clear what the differences between them are, the fact that there are any others at all is a nice touch. The AI is absolutely fiendish, and even with the difficulty turned all the way down like a wimp I was still in a lot of trouble, especially when I had the maximum 6 players on a fairly small map. There is even, dare I say it, multiplayer, which seems like a shooter staple but is actually fairly ambitious for a demo. Sadly I didn't try that facet out this time, as the brilliant yet monstrous AI had me weeping impotently in a corner.

Abstract Arena singeplayer
Being honest, I died several seconds ago...
Admittedly, there is still a fair amount of work to be done before full release; there (understandably) isn't a massive amount of content here at the moment.  Despite the clean graphics, I initially had no clue what I was doing, and a tutorial would have been nice. I know, I know, tutorials are for the weak and worthless cowards too afraid to get their hands dirty! Even so, when you're dropped straight into the hungry maw of a ravenous AI, it's good to have a guiding hand. Or even a few hints really.

Nevertheless, Abstract Arena is a lovely little arcade shooter, and I can't wait to see it develop even further. Just don't try to get all philosophical on it and start questioning things, like I did. It's called abstract for a reason, dummy.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Crusader Kings II - Tales of Misfortune

Well that escalated quickly...

Crusader Kings 2 Duke death
There are worse ways to go, but few as ignoble.

The king is dead, long live the king! Except he wasn't a king. He was a Lotharingian Duke, and a pretty rubbish one at that. But he is dead. Very dead, leaving a 1 year old daughter on the throne. Bugger.

Anyone who's played Paradox Interactive's Crusader Kings II will know this is a less than ideal situation. If Europa Universalis is the equivalent of a documentary on foreign politics, then Crusader Kings is a gritty, hyper-violent soap opera where everyone is trying to snatch the reins of power. Sadly for me, the reins aren't that difficult to grab from a toddler.

Let's rewind for a sec. The year is 867, and Duke Primus Dunedain  - yes, I've abused the power of the Ruler Creator DLC to combine Stardust and LOTR - has just entered this bloodthirsty version of Europe, full of vim and vigour. He is the Duke of Burgundy in the Kingdom of Lotharingia, right on the border to the Kingdom of Italy. A Grey Eminence, he's got the diplomatic skillz to pay the billz...or so I hope.

Immediately I spot an initial problem; my king dislikes me. More than that, he hates me *gulp*. What have I done to offend him? Frantically I try to figure out the problem, as the last thing I need in an heirless new game is the monarch's displeasure.

Turns out he's just a bit of a racist. I'm of German stock and he, unfortunately, is not. I could convert to his culture, but then I'd take a massive hit to my prestige, presumably because I'd be seen as an ass-kissing idiot by my subjects.

Turning my attention to marriage, I discover that despite Primus being a Duke there aren't many eligible ladies on CKII's version of Tinder. The sooner he gets hitched and starts churning out potential heirs the better really, but thankfully I manage to spot a Princess, Hildegard Karling, lurking in the list. She's related to a king, so there's a handy prestige bonus for marrying her. Somewhat to my dismay - and, presumably, Primus's, - she actively dislikes her new husband, despite having only just met him. He just can't catch a break.

Crusader Kings 2 marriage
Let the baby-making fun commence!

With a gnawing feeling at the back of my mind telling me that this isn't the greatest way to start a game, I tentatively suggest that Primus go on a hunt to earn some prestige.

A stag's been sighted! Should I let the bold Duke run gaily after it, hoping to earn praise in the eyes of his retainers, with only the slight risk of being maimed? Blithely, I select this option.

Duke Primus has gained the 'maimed' trait. Bloody hell.

I imagine him chasing down the stag on his horse, hair flying in the wind, before shooting himself in the leg with an arrow and landing on his spear point first, much to the amusement of those around him.

Crusader Kings 2 hunting accident
I mean, c'mon, what are the odds?

Now an ailing cripple, it seems old Primus still has a bit of life left in him yet, as not long afterward Princess Hildegard gets pregnant. Shortly after that, out pops his only daughter, and heir, Eowyn - surely, I desperately think, with a name like that things can only improve.

Job done, Duke Primus Dunedain promptly pops his clogs at the venerable age of 31.

Options for toddlers are understandably limited in Crusader Kings; in other words, I make prodigious use of the fast-forward button.
Deciding that the only way for Eowyn to survive is to make her as deceitful and tricksy as possible, her Spymaster becomes her tutor when she reaches 5 years of age. Unfortunately for her subjects, she also gains the 'cruel' and 'arbitrary' traits. I suppose King Joffrey wasn't all that bad a ruler, right?
The Kingdom of Lotharingia has a couple of civil wars, one of which Eowyn declines to join on the rebel side, reasoning that pissing off a powerful king probably isn't in her best interests. She doesn't even get invited to the other one, which is just downright rude in my opinion.
Age 15, and Eowyn gains the moniker 'the Younger' - apparently she's been ruling long enough as a child to earn a nickname, which is more than her father ever did. Only one year to go until Crusader King's version of adulthood rears its ugly head; badly-timed wars, aggravating assassinations and, most importantly of all, boys.
They grow up so fast, don't they?
Stay tuned for Part 2, where it remains to be seen whether the Dunedain dynasty will find a quick and ignoble end in the dustbin of the fictional European family tree.