First Impressions: Dual Gear Pre Alpha

Dual Gear is a mecha game which is on Indiegogo right now looking for support. I’ve written about it a few times already. Their pre-alpha demo it out, and free to download and play from IndieDB.

I’ve had the time to play through the demo a few times, and above is a recording from today’s stream. The game shows a lot of promise, and the cinematics are really a delight to watch. The gameplay itself needs some work, and there are some bugs, but it’s a pre-alpha so that’s expected. What’s not expected is that the build is stable, hasn’t crashed yet, and is already getting me excited for (hopefully) this game coming out in the future.

If you’re interested in learning more or supporting Dual Gear, here are the two links:

Indiegogo campaign link: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/dual-gear-mecha-turn-based-x-action-game/

IndieDB download link: http://www.indiedb.com/downloads/dual-gear-pre-alpha-demo-050

Cool Dual Gear News

A few weeks ago I posted this article about Dual Gear, an interesting new mech game which is in development.

To coincide with their Indiegogo campaign, which you can view by clicking here:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/dual-gear-mecha-turn-based-x-action-game

they have released an alpha demo of the game (thanks to MrFlou for the heads up!). You can download the alpha from IndieDB via this link:

http://www.indiedb.com/downloads/dual-gear-pre-alpha-demo-050

Do be aware though that the download speed seems quite slow right now, and their website appears to be down as well at the time of writing.

Look out for a report on how well the demo runs, and whether or not you should consider backing the Indiegogo campaign, in the near future.

And while you’re waiting, here’s 18 minutes of mech pr0n:

Developer Review: CAT Interstellar

CAT Interstellar is an indie sci-fi game, set on Mars, and aims to tell story of a seemingly barren planet. The review looks at the developer behind CAT Interstellar, a small 2-man studio called Ionized Games.

Developer Rating: Negative

  • Community: A
  • Development Speed: D
  • Development Clarity: D
  • Developer Honesty: B

Full Review:

Although Ionized Games received a negative recommendation from the review, it was a close-run thing. If this team can increase it’s communication about the game, where it’s going and the milestones to get there, it could easily tip into a positive recommendation.

What’s your opinion? Do Ionized deserve a Positive recommendation based on their great community interaction, or should their lack of progress and information about what the final game will be override that?

 

Have an Early Access game you’re thinking of buying, and want some feedback on the developer before buying? Click this link to request a review.

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Introducing Developer Reviews

How do you judge an Early Access game? It’s not finished, it’s probably buggy, almost certainly lacking content, and yet the devs want you to pay for the privilege of playing their incomplete masterpiece. Should you trust them?

That’s what the new Developer Review series is here to help with – which Early Access developers should you trust when they ask for your money?

Developer Reviews look at the studio behind the game. How are their community relations? Are they honest when describing the game they want you to buy? How long will it take to complete, and what will it be like when it gets there? These and many other factors will be looked at to arrive at a simple:

Positive – signs are good this developer can be trusted
Negative – think twice about handing your cash over, things might not work out

In its Early Access FAQ for purchasers, Valve advises:

When you buy an Early Access game, you should consider what the game is like to play right now.

Which is a great metric to use. If you buy the game now, and you get enough value out of it to justify what you paid, then it doesn’t really matter if it’s finished or not.

But our devious human brains don’t work like that, do they…?

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Dual Gear Caught My Eye

Mech and mecha games have long been a personal fascination, and Dual Gear’s new Indiegogo teaser video is so cool it had me grabbing the tissues to wipe up the saliva. There’s tons of indie games out there, so it’s nice to see one from a small team that has obvious high production values which helps it stand out.

It’s 3rd person view, graphics and interesting UI stand out immediately. Looking at bit further into the project, a lot of the concept art is top notch as well. You can see quite a lot on their Facebook page by clicking here. Since they’re doing an Indiegogo campaign, and they’re only 5 people, it’s safe to say they’re probably not well funded, so this might just be the first project I back on Indiegogo.

As a note, they do say there’s a public demo download on their site. The link does not work, so hopefully that’ll be sorted. The Indiegogo campaign is due to start on Jan 25th.

For more info, their contact details are:

  • http://www.dualgeargame.com/
  • https://www.facebook.com/DUALGEAR
  • https://twitter.com/DUALGEARGAME

Could Star Citizen have a second wave?

ScreenShot0012Star Citizen has been around for a few years now, and recently passed the $100 million funding mark. In almost every way possible, it has become the poster child for a successful Kickstarter, and post-Kickstarter, game.

But at some point surely it’s going to run out of steam, and the number of backers joining and people buying has got to slow down. Right?

Maybe not….

With the release of the 2.0.0 update, Star Citizen has released an early version of its persistent universe. You can now fly several ships around a singular star system, as well as run around a star port and play in the Arena mode (if you have access to that).

And that’s why I finally bought a Star Citizen game package.

We’ve all heard the horror stories of games that have not been completed. And there’s been more than a little doubt cast on Star Citizen in the last few months. Update 2.0.0 is the first time, in my eyes at least, that Star Citizen has delivered. Not just a demo mode, not just an (admittedly pretty) ship in a hangar, but a straight-up example of what they’re aiming to achieve with this game. And it’s pretty cool.

So I plumped for one of the basic start packages, which gives access to all areas + 1 ship. The game is still very early, but the fact you can now fly around and do limited missions is a major milestone. Plus, just playing with the HUD and in-ship systems is quite a blast. There’s a lot to learn there, and spending time getting up to speed is surprisingly fun. Now I can get a feel for where Star Citizen is heading – and it’s a journey I want to join them on.

So I wouldn’t be surprised if Star Citizen gains a second wind as new features and content come online. Who knows, in a few year we could be talking about them passing the $200 million mark!

Are Games Simply Worse Than They Used To Be?

MechWarrior Uziel and Mad Dog

One of the amazing creations from the incredibly gifted Pawel.

Many years ago I used to be able to sit down for hours on end and simply game. Every so often I’d put aside an entire weekend just to play my current favourite addiction: no chores, no family, nothing but gaming. Oh how I looked forward to those times!

But for some years now nothing has grabbed my attention in that way. I’ve not had that buzz you get when a new game comes out and You. Just. Cannot. Get. Home. Fast. Enough. To. Play. It.

So that got me thinking: are games simply getting worse? Have game designers run out of ideas? Do larger publishers rely too much on sequels rather than looking for that next big thing? If I can still regularly find new music (thanks Spotify!) that excites and moves me, then why can’t I find new games, the form of media entertainment I prefer above all others, that do the same?

Power Corrupts, Absolute Power….

There is some justification for laying part of the blame at the feet of the Activisions of the world. After all, the dominant FPS right now is Call of Duty, a poster boy for sequels if ever there was one. But is that really the publishers fault, or are we, the customers, to blame? CoD’s core audience are the same people who come back year after year, looking for a refreshing fix of their favourite franchise. And since the ultimate power to force publishers to do what we want lies with us, then purchasing sequels just reinforces the publisher’s bad habits. To be clear; publishers go where the money is – if it’s in sequels, then that’s where they’ll be.

Sometimes the larger publishers will try new formulae. Titanfall was a game I was hoping would be The Next Big Thing. Infantry and mech combat in a fast-paced game from a top publisher with a AAA budget. Hallelujah! Unfortunately it did not live up to its hype (although it was far from poor). A free weekend spent with the game and I’d had enough. To put that in context, when MechWarrior 4, which is another mech game, came out in 2001, I spent two years solid getting up at 4am to play with my Euro and American buddies. In fact the guy who made the image on the top left of this post inspired me to spend several years modelling, texturing and animating mecha.

Is Small Really Beautiful?

Elite, a game from the early 80's.

Elite, a game from the early 80’s.

That leaves the smaller publishers and indies. There are a wide variety of games that have, and continue to be, created by this dynamic group. Steam’s Early Access gives some of them access to the funding they need and deserve, and Kickstarter can also be a great place for funding (just ask the Exploding Kittens guys).

Many of these games are great, and I’ve tried quite a few, but again none have caught my eye across a bar, winked seductively and literally tied me up for several weeks until I’m too exhausted to carry on. If the spark ain’t there, then it just ain’t there.

All of which leaves me in a quandary. If there are more games available than ever before, with at least the indies really pushing the edges of what you can call “a game”, then why am I so jaded?

The Final, Bitter Truth

After more than 30 years of gaming, with more disappointment than elation from games that have promised so much yet delivered so little, I’ve come to the conclusion that my standards are now so high a game would have to be virtually perfect to really grab me like MechWarrior 4 or Battlefield 2142 did. Epic doesn’t even come close to describing those games, they had an indefinable quality that hooked me and kept me wanting more.

Not only do today’s games not measure up, but they have to compete with the rose-tinted spectacles effect. I remember that BF2142’s launch was a screw up of magnificent proportions – as was BC2, BF3, BF4….you’d think DICE would have learned their lesson by now. But despite that I can forgive BF2142 because it was just so frickin perfect. The later games were not, especially when measured up against BF2142.

As for MechWarrior Online, the latest installment in the MechWarrior franchise, meh it just does not match up to its predecessor. Even the fan-made and very brilliant MWLL was better.

So maybe this is a challenge to development studios – and I include the studio I work for in that shout out – to make games that hook and cajole and wink and seduce just like games used to. Make something different, make something fun, make something that’ll appeal, and in return I’ll take off those rose-tinted spectacles and put them here to one side.

Why Community Managers Need To Use Tough Love

ProfileIt’s early on Sunday morning as I start to write this. Bacon’s sizzling in the pan, a cup of tea is brewing, the smells are floating through the apartment, and I’ve been going through some of my favourite forums and social media to catch up on what’s happening in the world after last night’s fantastic ASUS ROG winter invitational CS:GO tournament.

There’s a couple of things in particular that’ve tweaked my interest around t’internet. Specifically this tweet by Moxie, and this forum over at MWOMercs.com.

Toxicity

Over the years I’ve been involved in a lot of forums, from a user, admin and community manager perspective. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned it’s that an unregulated forum will very often become toxic. The BF3 alpha forum over on Battlelog had no admins when it launched. In fact I don’t think it even had the ability to have admins. That forum got to the point where it was totally pointless posting any kind of feedback, which defeated the point of having it in the first place.

More recently the H1Z1 Steam forums on release had very little moderation, and I spent a weekend watching with morbid fascination as that forum went to pieces very rapidly.

This is where strong, active, consistent forum moderation comes in. Either by a volunteer group of mods, or more preferably a dedicated community management team who have a direct link internally to someone who can answer their questions. Nature abhors a vacuum, and if there is no-one active on a forum who is knowledgeable and can answer questions, then answers will be made up by the community.

The community warfare forum over at MWOMercs.com is a classic example of this. It’s a F2P game, which by its definition relies on constant community interaction to ensure the survival of the studio. They rolled out a beta of a major new game component just before Christmas, but since then there has been practically no dev interaction with members discussing this new facet of the game on the forum. Almost since community warfare’s release there’s been a tension between organised groups and PUGs, but I cannot remember once when a dev stepped in and engaged the community in the discussion on the forums.

Tough Love

But that’s only half of the story. Ensuring the community is listened to, have their questions answered and receive pro-active information will hugely help community relations. Unfortunately though there will always be people who are there to troll, harass, cause problems or simply be jerks. This is where tough love is needed.

Your forum rules need to be clear, and need to be enforced, so that people who join and take part in your forum can do so without worry. Clarity is king, and consistency is key. On the Interstellar Marines forums we’ve always had one clear rule: you can be positive or negative towards our game, but you must be constructive. Saying you don’t like the game because of X, Y or Z is fine (even better if you give alternatives which you think would make the game better). But, “you’re all shit devs and I hope you get cancer and die faggots” will result in an immediate permanent ban with no hope of removal.

I genuinely think that some studios, or just individual admins, are simply too worried or scared about public opinion to enforce these kinds of rules. To me it’s common decency. Behind every computer is a human being, and we all deserve to be treated respectfully.

If you set the tone of your forum early and ensure as much as possible that people are fairly treated, you’ll see your community members start to back you up. They’ll become self-moderating, helping new members to enjoy the community and working with the development studio for the benefit of the game. It’s a win-win scenario for both sides, but is only earned at the cost of professional, fair, active and consistent moderation.

Oh, the tea and the bacon sandwiches? They were fab, thank you 😀

The Disastrous Release of H1Z1

h1z1_logoOver the past few days I’ve watched with frank disbelief how the launch of SOE’s H1Z1 has progressed.

The game itself has had a technically poor release, with server problems, balancing problems, the rapid rise of hackers and a lack of servers in the EU.

But that’s not the depressing part, oh no, the depressing part is the abject refusal of a vast swathe of the community to take any responsibility for what they’ve bought..

H1Z1 is an Early Access F2P game which was launched on Jan 15th. The developers, SOE, who are also the developers of Planetside 2 (a game I’ve got a planet-sized soft spot for) stated about 8 months ago there will be no weapons, ammo or similar things sold in the game. That’s good, because selling those things would unbalance the game. It also pleased the community.

SOE later went back on this, and decided to introduce air-drops. The mechanic of how these work has changed, and will undoubtedly change again, but effectively you pay real money for an air-drop to be dropped within the game. The air-drop can include many different things, but often will include a weapon and/or ammo. Anyone can grab what’s in the air-drop, you have to fight for it and the first person to get there grabs the loot. The number of people on the server before an air-drop can be called, the distance it will land from you, the speed of the drop and the speed of the plane are all factors that SOE can/has changed.

SOE have been clear there will be air drops, that they are paid with real cash, and and may also contain weapons and/or ammo. They’ve been clear that is except for one mistake: several nights ago during a live stream a dev was asked if there will be any kinds of purchased weapons and other similar items. He replied no. He later published this apology and retraction of what he’d said. The short version is he’d forgotten about air drops. This is a short video which shows that clip along with some more info:

Having done a fair few live streams myself, I can entirely believe he forgot about air drops during the spur of the moment. Did he make a mistake? Yes, absolutely. Did he do anything out of malice to “scam” players? No, I don’t believe so.

But that’s not been the reaction of a large percentage of the community. I’ve been watching the H1Z1 Steam forums since Jan 15th because H1Z1 is a game I’ve been thinking of getting. A huge number of players have accused SOE of outright lying about air-drops, have posted bad reviews and have hammered the SOE devs, in particular John Smedley, the SOE President.

I’ve a lot of respect for Smedley. He’s put his head above the parapet and is taking the flak from the community – not a lot of President’s will do that, they’ll leave it to the community managers instead. He’s even arranged no-questions-asked refunds for anyone who wants one. That’s beyond what even we at Interstellar Marines have been able to manage – I bet his Steam contact and accounts department love him /sarcasm.

But a lot of people are completely forgetting they’ve bought an Early Access game – it’s not finished, it’ll have bugs, it’ll have downtime and outages, exactly as SOE have said on H1Z1’s store page. If you purchase H1Z1 you’re buying a game that is buggy, will reset, and at some time in the future you’ll be able to play completely free. So why pay for it now if you’re not 100% behind it?

It’s been sad watching the hysteria from many people. SOE may have scored an own goal, but as purchasers and players we have to take responsibility for what we’re buying and check to make sure we have our facts right. Doubly so when it comes to Early Access games that are inherently going to be buggy and have problems.