Archive for ‘Gamebook’

February 1, 2011

Gamebook: Mighty Pirates

Wow, it’s been a long time since there was a Gamebook, but I haven’t been playing too many social games recently, especially new ones. I was looking for something new today, and saw Mighty Pirates was pretty popular. I’ve been playing it for the last 90 minutes or so, and I’m very impressed.

In Mighty Pirates, you own a ship and have to explore various islands, collecting resources and improving your ship in order to discover treasure and OWN NOOBS. Yes, you can own noobs in this game. There is a simple combat system in the game, which is really excitingly presented and actually quite tactical. This is why I’m writing a Gamebook entry on Mighty Pirates, since there is actually a knack to raising enemy pirate ships!

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My fledgling ship; Valkyrie!

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August 18, 2010

Gamebook: NanoStar Siege

‘Gamebook’ is a series which focuses on hardcore gaming on Facebook. These games are similar to those you’ll find on a PC or console, featuring skill based gameplay and PvP action.

NanoStar Siege is a strategy game in which an army of attackers attempts to breach the castle of an army of defenders. While the gameplay is very simple, the overall strategy and tactics set it a class above the competition and give it a unique flavour.

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A simple (free) NanoStar Siege game goes as follows. First you select which opponent you wish to battle. The game gives you a selection of someone below your level, 2 people at the same level and one person stronger than you. If you attack the stronger enemy, you’re likely to lose but if you’re a Sun Tzu-style military mastermind (or your opponent is stupid) then you’ll get greater rewards. Once you’ve chosen your opponent you will see the battlefield. From here you choose how many troops you want to commit to the battle, and how you will compose your attacking force depending on the enemy’s defence (more on that later).

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The opposing forces meet in a wall of death

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There are 3 core troop types and 3 special ones. The swordsman has high health but causes low damage, use him to protect your weaker troops. The bowman has small health but a powerful ranged attack. As you can probably work out, a basic tactic involves placing your bowmen behind your swordsmen. In addition there is the berserker, which is the fastest and strongest unit… but also weak. You want to place your berserkers on the wings, to avoid fire from bowmen.

Once you’ve composed your force, you select your Heroes. Heroes are what make NanoStar Siege a great Facebook game. Using the NanoStar cards (which also work in NanoStar Castles), you have a number of abilities that you can cast to influence the battle. Without heroes, the 2 armies mindlessly wander towards each other. With heroes, you can choose which enemies to remove, which special units to summon and buff/weaken troops.

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Creating a solid defence

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Hero examples include ‘Hellhound’ which casts a medium power attack across an entire row. Use Hellhound if your enemy has placed all his weak bowmen in a single row. Master Archer lets you convert one of your troops into a powerful archer, who can attack outside his column and can shoot from much further range. Paralysis lets you target a group of enemy units and prevent them from moving and attacking. There are 151 heroes so there is a lot I haven’t seen (since the majority you have to pay for with real cash). This gives a lot of flexibility for how you’ll attack and defend, although I doubt many people have access to the full collection.

The final nuance of battle is reinforcement. Throughout time you can send more troops to the frontlines (although they’ll take a while to reach the ‘kill zone’). The longer you wait, the more troops you’ll get. However sometimes you just need to send troops to catch those sneaky enemies who managed to pass your army unscathed. If you wait long enough, you can recharge all your hero abilities which often spells game over for the enemy if your troops have managed to survive that long.

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Using the 'Draft' ability to summon double reinforcements

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What makes NanoStar Siege such an interesting game is that it feels like two games in one. On one side you attack, using your hero abilities as effectively as possible and trying to get through to the enemy castle. On the other hand, you also need to mount a defence. Despite the fact that you attack other players, you are not in fact attacking a real-time foe. Your enemy has chosen his defence before the battle, which you also get to do. This is actually surprisingly fun. You have to predict what your enemies are likely to do, then place your troops accordingly. The Hellhound ability is a great example. If you place all your archers in one row, then the enemy will just use Hellhound to wipe out most of your offensive power. If you place all your troops in one area then you can create a meatgrinder (using a few swordsmen to protect masses of bowmen), but if the enemy goes round the side you will be defenceless. In addition to troop placement, you can select heroes. Since it’s not real-time, you choose areas where the heroes should be activated. At the start of the battle, when the enemy is far away, you’ll want to cause damage with your heroes. Once the enemy is in the middle-ground, you’ll want to buff your troops or weaken theirs… so that your army can attack them without being attacked back. When they’re at your gates you’ll want to summon new troops or paralyze the enemy, to give your towers more time to kill them.

A well thought-out defence is surprisingly hard to crack and it’s lots of fun imagining what enemies will do. One feature which has been grossly ignored is a test mode. You cannot test your defence. You cannot see how effective it is, unless you’re playing someone at work and looking at his/her screen. It’s a big oversight because it’s quite complicated to imagine all the effects. A few people don’t bother with a defence, probably because it’s quite confusing.

NanoStar Siege also has a campaign. It’s called the ‘Frozen North’ (an obvious Warcraft III reference!) and it’s similar to the PvP single player game. However the enemy armies are designed by the developers, so you get to see a range of cool heroes that you’ll never see yourself. It’s fun to see these spells in action, which gives much more variety and longevity to the game. There are times I’ve been tempted to purchase some cards just to get some cool new abilities!

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Battling in the Frozen North

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Whether you can class NanoStar Siege as a real game or not is up for debate. While it’s most definitely very tactical and requires a lot of strategy (in a similar vein as RTS games), it also would be quite lacking for a real gaming experience on a console or as a standalone PC title. But perhaps that’s just the budget and technology, the game itself is very similar to the Fort Condor mini-game in Final Fantasy VII.

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Fort Condor in Final Fantasy VII

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If the game was fleshed out with more campaigns, a better selection of cards (for cheapskates like me) and a feature to test your defence… then maybe there would be a unanimous decision that “Yes, NanoStar Siege is a real game on Facebook”.

Right now it feels like a casual/flash game on Facebook, which isn’t to say it’s bad. However it’s definitely not up there in the ranks of true gaming experiences like Brave Arms.

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Sam

July 21, 2010

Gamebook: Brave Arms

‘Gamebook’ is a series which focuses on hardcore gaming on Facebook. These games are similar to those you’ll find on a PC or console, featuring skill based gameplay and PvP action.

Launched this week, Brave Arms is the ‘first social shooter’ on Facebook. Now this isn’t exactly correct, since Paintball Paradise 3D (PP3D) has been around for a while and that is the first shooter on Facebook. Adding ‘social’ to the first shooter tagline might be ok if it had social features, but right now Brave Arms is as social as Quake. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Lets have a look!

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Brave Arms - 3D online deathmatch

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Brave Arms instantly reminded me of Unreal Tournament or Quake. It plays in a similar way. You just run around one of 2 arenas and blow the enemies to bits. Since it’s a new game, everything is a bit barebones but the skeleton is there to play around with. I’ve got to say, I think it’s the best game on Facebook.

Of course, that’s not saying much. It’s one of the only games on Facebook (the others being virtual chores), so there isn’t much competition. However it is definitely one step ahead of the real Facebook games in that the graphics are pretty and the gameplay is pure twitch awesomeness. PP3D is essentially the same thing, with more maps and modes and cool powerups (although I kinda think they suck). What sets Brave Arms apart from PP3D are the weapons. I’m not sure why but shooting paint just isn’t that satisfying. The weapons in Brave Arms feel, look and sound badass. An FPS is only as good as its weapons (or it’s shotguns in my opinion!) and the arms in Brave Arms feels nice in your hands.

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Arms of the Brave

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As mentioned previously, there isn’t much to Brave Arms right now. There is Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch (kill everyone or kill another team) and only 2 maps. But like most streamlined shooters, it knows what it’s doing and does it well. Each weapon is unique (although the SMG and Assault are a bit too similar) and the maps are big and varied enough, with lots of detail, that they don’t get boring quickly. One thing that isn’t bare bones is the character customization. The models are great looking and the clothes you are offered at the outset are varied enough to give you a good choice of looks. I’ve only see 2 people ever look the same once, although it was the generic ‘badass gasmask marine’ look which I can imagine is one of the most popular. My character; Mrs. Warboys, is wearing a 60’s style getup with a huge floppy hat and a boob tube. I’ve seen another guy dressed as a banana.

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Iron Sights in a Facebook game. Oh yes!

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So what are the problems? Well gameplay wise I haven’t got much to moan about. It’s annoying that you can’t change weapons mid-round (you’re stuck with your initial choice) but that’s not a huge problem. The only real balance issue is that the Sniper is way too powerful. It pretty much kills with just a body shot, no need for a shot to the head. This results in Sniper battles (*yawn*) or guys with shotguns having a severe disadvantage. At the moment it’s not a massive problem, because the maps are full of winding corridors and secret paths, but once Snipers start getting good and learn the maps there will be no stopping them.

Lag has been an issue for me, but I do have a slow internet connection and it’s likely that most players are not in Asia (like me). So I’ll leave this one open to debate. Other technical issues have been a real pain in the ass though. The game tends to just disconnect you randomly, but without telling you. The only way you know is if all the other players stop moving. Also when the game crashes (which it tends to do a lot), I keep getting this horrid bug where it says the game is still open but it isn’t. This prevents you from playing until you restart your computer. It is a beta so I’m willing to forgive, but these problems on a Facebook game will not be tolerated by the usual Facebook gamer audience.

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You be dead.

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Technical issues aside, Brave Arms has one final problem. No users! At least in my time zone. That’s why I urge you all to give it a spin. It’s really worth a play and once ranking and social features are introduced then it could be massive.

I’ll be eagerly following Brave Arms. I think the success or failure of this game will be a sign of the future of Facebook gaming. Lets hope it’s a success.

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Sam

July 20, 2010

Introducing ‘Gamebook’

‘Gamebook’ is a series which focuses on hardcore gaming on Facebook. These games are similar to those you’ll find on a PC or console, featuring skill based gameplay and PvP action. .

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Released this week; Brave Arms - The first 'social' shooter on Facebook

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The trends on Facebook game popularity are suggesting that more complex, strategic gameplay is becoming more popular. As InsideSocialGames pointed out just over a week ago, Strategy games are the new Farms. This is crazy in some respects but also unsurprising since there have to be some hardcore gamers on Facebook. Yes they can play traditional games, on the same system they access Facebook through, but perhaps they enjoy the social features. I often comment that Social Gaming doesn’t have to mean bad gaming, that social features can bring advantages to traditional gaming. Perhaps the hardcore gamers who are checking out Verdonia or Backyard Monsters enjoy the built in social systems.

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From the InsideSocialGames link above, the Chief Financial Officer of Playdom; Christa Quarles, had this to say;.

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“I think what’s interesting there is that you have a lot of people trying it out. It’s at least demonstrative that there’s really a harder core audience out there. The initial art for the game, even, is not puppy dogs with big eyes. It’s medieval knights with swords. It validates our opinion, which is that there are harder core gamers on Facebook.”

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While I agree that there are hardcore gamers on Facebook, it’s also important to point out that Facebook is just a huge viral marketing machine. When friends of hardcore gamers are publishing stories about the awesome game they’re playing, it’s likely that some of their Farmville friends might check it out. Maybe these are ‘closet gamers’ who just haven’t realized that challenging online gameplay is really fun. Maybe they’ve become bored of 1-click per minute gaming and the repetitiveness of accepting a quest, waiting for X amount of time and then completing the quest.

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‘Gamebook’ is going to be a regular series of articles on Sam’s Dev Diary where I focus on more hardcore gaming through the Facebook platform. Tomorrow I’ll make a post about Brave Arms because it could do with the publicity and it’s actually pretty sweet.

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Sam