The Flock on TimeDoctor.org Live

The Flock was released today on Steam for Windows. It’s the first game from a new developer called Vogelsap and it is an asymetrical first-person multiplayer game. The asymmetry comes from everyone in the titular Flock fighting against one player who has a glowing artifact that kills the flockers if the light shines on them. This is a fairly unique concept but what is entirely unique to The Flock is that after a certain number of player deaths the game will cease being for sale and end with some kind of finale that the developers aren’t talking about yet.

Sounds interesting, right? Well, I have some more impressions about the game in the video above, but I would definitely not recommend anyone purchasing The Flock in its current state. The game is incredibly limited in content and seems to be very broken from my play time with it. Hopefully Vogelsap will be able to resolve all of those issues because I am interested in the concept.

Shadowrun: Hong Kong Released

Shadowrun: Hong Kong was released today on Steam:

Shadowrun: Hong Kong is the third standalone game in Harebrained Schemes’ critically-acclaimed Shadowrun cRPG series. Experience the most impressive Shadowrun yet with an all new crew, expanded magic and cyberware, a revamped Matrix, an upgraded Shadowrun Editor, and much more! 

I’ve never cared for mixing magic stuff with cyberpunk, but that is what Shadowrun’s always been about.

Sentris Review

Sentris

Until I played Sentris I wasn’t sure what it was. All I knew was that there was a new music game from Samantha Kalman’s Timbre Interactive game studio but not what the actual gameplay entailed. Was it a rythym game in the style of Rock Band or Guitar Hero but with a circular note highway? Or is Sentris more along the lines of Rockstar’s Beaterator as a musical toy?

If you have ever tried to go your own way in Guitar Hero you would hear broken notes that sound terrible. Sentris is more free form, and can also be a little intimidating while you’re becoming familiar with the process of laying out tracks. I hope this explanation helps new players because it is too easy to plow through the tutorial without learned anything.

Instead of the vertical note highway typical to other other music games, in Sentris you’re only dealing a tight loop of music on a circular plane with four tracks that rotates automatically. Different instruments are represented as different colored sets of blocks, each block has a honeycomb shape on it that represent the different pitch of each block note. Those blocks are placed onto the leading edge of the track or stacked together to form chords before being placed.

There are 20 songs in Sentris. Each song is a selection of handpicked instruments and puzzles. On top of that, there is a 21st song that is always randomized for infinite variety. The puzzle is in the stages that divide each song. Each stage has a different configuration of dots that match the colors of the note blocks which need to be put in place. Once you’ve completed a stage you unlock the next layer of instrumentation to be laid down on top of what you’ve already created.

It isn’t very challenging to slap down something that meets the base criteria for success, but as soon as you get out of the first three tutorial stages you’ll be given more block notes than you would need simply for meeting the goal. This is the first taste of freedom. You’re being encouraged to experiment and make some music you actually enjoy by picking whatever you want and putting it down wherever you want. There is no failure in Sentris that you can’t recover from. You can recycle the instrumental note blocks and replace them.

Making music through this process is so much fun, it’s exciting to build a piece of music and be happy with what you’ve created. The only downside to music creation in the 1.0 “final form” release of Sentris is that you’re not prompted to save your work upon completing all of the stages in a song, and there is no way to go back in to the song and export it. I expect this will be rectified in a future update. Saving the loops that you create in Sentris are what it from a game into a practical instrument. With the ability to remix songs using different scales, beats per minute, and instruments, the possibilities are incredible.

Although the instruments do have some surprise guest stars (disasterpeace, for example) Sentris users are limited to the instruments included with the game. There’s no Steam Workshop or other support for users to contribute instrument sets. Given that Sentris is also distributed on non-Steam stores it would probably be an incredible pain in the ass to add that feature, but it would go a long way towards improving it for more serious musicians.

Behind the rotating circular note highway are amazing backgrounds that the game calls dreamscapes. From rocky desert landscapes, bamboo forests, and urban cyberpunk dystopias where your beats cause windows and neon signs to flicker. Each dreamscape is grand visual accompaniment for your music. If you want fewer distractions there are also dreamscapes that are just visualizers for the music and with muted colors aren’t very distracting at all.

There are a few technical quibbles. The background disc is polygonal instead of actually being a circle. Each time I restart the game I have to change the track rotation back to Goofy mode so that instead of the entire track looping on the screen it’s the playhead that loops because that setting isn’t saved. If I leave my flight stick plugged in the prompts are all for the keyboard instead of my Xbox controller. The tutorial seems to be confused about using an analog stick versus a directional pad. One of the tracks, Kentucky Fried Chernobyl, is just completely broken in the Steam version at launch and loads no instruments. None of these are particularly large issues and I expect they will be resolved quickly.

My only experience with music creation before Sentris was with Rocksmith on Windows, Garageband on the Mac and iPad, and various Korg musical toy applications for the iPad. However, Sentris very much reminds me of some of the great iPhone and iPad music looping applications like Loopy. The downside to it being a looping application is that when you do export your music you’ll find out just how much work goes into making beats. For all of the work that you put into each track you will only have produced about 5 seconds of music.

Sentris could be amazing in the hands of a talented musician. As a casual musician, I’m happy with the music I’ve created using Sentris. It has been difficult in the past to start from nothing when making music, and the loops I can make with the tools that Sentris provides are so much better than starting from a blank slate. The only major improvement I would like to see is the ability to unwind and replay or fast-forward your changes to the loop so that you could replace instruments on the fly and experiment with different placement of your note blocks. Even though it’s the lack of complexity that makes Sentris approachable to casual music creators like me, I think the triggers on the gamepad are mostly unused and could be part of such a feature if it were to happen.

At $15 for a fun music game that can also be a legitimate creation tool on Mac OS X, Windows, or Linux I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Sentris to anyone who has that itch to create music but doesn’t know where to get started.

4 out of 5 Ronald Reagan Birthday Cakes

4 out of 5

There Are Alternatives to Video Game Piracy

Daniel Starkey writing for Offworld:

Some, perhaps most, people in industrialized countries have the luxury of seeking out media they care about and stories that speak to them, and they can afford to support that work with their money. But for others like me, it can feel like a seemingly insurmountable struggle. To live even in relative poverty deprives of you new ideas; it deprives you of the tools and education you need to escape. In the most severe cases, it locks you out of society—out of voting, out of socializing, and out of connecting with others.

This is obviously a very personal decision that we all make, but I disagree with large portions of this article.

When I was younger there was the barest of excuses for video game piracy due to the lack of free options and my family was poor. There are more options now. For people who live in the United States or other countries that have internet access and libraries you can borrow books like I did when I was younger, and now you also have access to an enourmous library of free (both as in speech and as in beer) games available for a free operating system or on Windows and Mac OS X.

The one thing that bothers me about those options is that I no-longer have a good place to point people who are looking for good, free games. That used to be the Linux Game Tome, or even my own LGFAQ game list, today I’m not sure where to point people besides the Internet Arcade at archive.org.

Everyone I know who worked on games for Linux over a decade ago is now a professional game developer working on big games like Call of Duty and others great places if they decided to keep doing it.

Raven Software’s 25th Anniversary

Judy Newman in the Wisconsin State Journal:

In a place like the Madison area, where people supported home-grown businesses way before the phrase “Buy local” became a battle cry, it’s not all that unusual to find companies that have been a mainstay for decades.

But in the highly competitive and ever-evolving world of video games, it’s much more rare.

Raven Software is one such survivor.

Launched in 1990 by brothers Brian and Steve Raffel, Raven, 8496 Greenway Blvd., Middleton, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

[…]

Raven is one of several studios working on any particular game for Activision, its parent company.

Daniel Suarez, vice president of production for Activision, called Raven “an impressive developer with a wide range of experience.”

“As the primary studio on ‘Call of Duty Online,’ Activision’s free-to-play product for China, and as a supporting studio on the last several ‘Call of Duty’ games, the team is an incredible group of talented designers, engineers and artists whose contributions are invaluable to Activision,” Suarez said from company headquarters in Santa Monica, California.

[…]

Raven is responsible for 10 to 25 percent of the “Call of Duty” games, he said, a series that has drawn more than $11 billion in worldwide revenue since it launched in 2003. “Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare” was the No. 1 console game, worldwide, in 2014, Activision said.

“Yeah, we’re part of the success,” Raffel said.

The company that made Jedi Knight, Jedi Academy, Elite Force, Soldier of Fortune, Heretic, Hexen and so many other great games has been reduced to a B-team working on a free-to-play Call of Duty redux, and 10-25 percent of assets and code for other Call of Duty developers at Activision. 🎉

Sentris

Samantha Kalman’s music game Sentris was released this week out of Steam’s Early Access program, it looks very innovative:

Sentris is a musical performance puzzle game. Make your own music as you Drop, Recycle, and Stack “Sound Blocks” into a spinning loop. Freestyle with a huge degree of musical control. Or focus on achieving the goal and let your song emerge organically.

There’s also a great interview with Samantha on the latest episode of Giant Bomb’s Beastcast podcast where they discuss the game’s development and the challenges of crowdfunding and Ouya’s failed developer investments which partially funded Sentris.

Jonathan Howard Interviewed by David Wolinsky

On Don’t Die:

I don’t know how you come to the point where you think the problem in your hobby is that more people want to be involved with it and they want to explore that medium in new and different ways.

[Laughs.]
Like, how is that a problem? When students make student films, when auteur film critics make their weird, post-modern stuff, when people have those plays where they just pour honey on themselves and roll around in newspaper for an hour and a half — like, “Oh, I get it. That’s not art to you.”

Don’t buy a ticket. Who cares.

Yeah.
I don’t understand, again, the mentality where it’s like, “No. You’re not allowed to like my thing.” Like, the fact that Gone Home exists doesn’t mean that the next Call of Duty isn’t coming out. Right?

Grow Home on TimeDoctor.org Live

Grow Home is going to be put out on the Playstation 4 soon so I thought this would be as good an excuse as any to go back and play one of my favorite games from earlier this year. You can get it right now on Steam, and I would recommend that you do so. It’s an amazing game.

Halo 3 on Windows

Ian Birnbaum:

Halo 3 is coming to PC. Eight years after Master Chief’s last great multiplayer playground hit the Xbox 360, it’s coming alive, for free, on the PC—but not at the hands of Microsoft. Or Bungie. In one of the strangest things to happen on PC this year, Halo 3’s protracted PC birth is coming from a group of modders transforming the free-to-play, Russia-only beta Halo Onlineinto their favorite Halo game.

For years, Halo was a crucial console-exclusive system-seller for Microsoft. When it finally came to the PC again earlier this spring but was region-locked, fans moved fast. They created Eldorito, a mod that cracked the Russia-only restriction within a week of Halo Online’s reveal. Named as a portmanteau of El Dorado, the name of the Halo Online executable, and Dorito, Microsoft’s favorite corporate sponsor, Eldorito has been programmed over the past few months by a group of between ten and twenty modders. Because Halo Online is built over the top of a more-or-less complete version of Halo 3’s engine, the Eldorito modders have been working to pull what they really want from the shell of Halo Online: Halo 3 on PC. I spent a week chatting with one of the modders to learn more about a project that, for better or worse, is the only version of Halo we’re likely to get on PC any time soon.

[…]

When asked if releasing a mainline Halo game on PC would hurt Xbox One sales, the same source issued a non-answer. “It’s about delivering on the right Halo experience to meet expectations for PC gamers. We’re excited to be bringing Halo Wars 2 [a sequel to Halo Wars, the 2009 RTS] to both Windows 10 and consoles in fall of 2016. Additionally, PC gamers will also be able to stream gameplay from Halo 5: Guardians on Xbox One to their PC using Windows 10.”

Basically: PC gamers are welcome to play Halo on PC, as long as they purchase an Xbox first. That seems to suggest that, at least in Microsoft’s eyes, Halo on PC really would have an impact on Xbox sales.

Microsoft’s largest gaming platform, Windows, is still a second-class citizen to Xbox. Every new feature of Windows 10 for gaming is Xbox-branded or related. I understand that Xbox-as-a-braaaaaand is a big thing they’re putting lots of money into, and the Xbox hardware and software has worked better together than any other Microsoft product, but it doesn’t make it any less absurd to shovel console and computer playing together into this one brand. Keep gamertags and achievements in your programs, Xbox streaming is interesting, but no other developers or publishers are going to use your gamertags and achievements on Windows after the Games for Windows Live fiasco.

I almost wish that Microsoft would at least more actively try to destroy Windows for gaming to force Valve’s hand to move to Linux & SteamOS instead of this death-by-a-thousand Xbox-huge blunders like this Russian-only Free-to-Play Halo. It feels like Microsoft thinks that Windows gamers can’t be trusted with the full experience if it isn’t streamed from an Xbox.

TIS-100

After trying a bit of Pico-8 I was still craving another fantasy micro-computer. That’s where TIS-100 comes in:

TIS-100 is an open-ended programming game by Zachtronics, the creators of SpaceChem and Infinifactory, in which you rewrite corrupted code segments to repair the TIS-100 and unlock its secrets. It’s the assembly language programming game you never asked for!

The website and all of the other information about TIS-100 are very intimidating at first glance to anyone making a purchasing decision. Doubly so for non-programmers and who the heck writes assembly today unless they’re writing code for embedded systems?

Well it turns out that you don’t even need to know the barest level of programming to get started with TIS-100, the instruction set is so limited that it could fit on a three-by-five card and the way it starts out is kind of similar to that old Pipe Dream game where you’re trying to manage the flow of water by placing pipe parts and junctions. The difference in TIS-100, at the start at least, is that you’re managing a flow of data using written instructions instead of pipe pieces.

TIS-100 ups the challenge fairly quickly by moving on to more difficult puzzles where you have to transform the data in some way while it is moving through the system. Still, I think that anyone who appreciates puzzles could enjoy this game, and shouldn’t be intimidated by the programming and the aesthetic of the website. It’s only $7 to try it out via Steam or Gog and it runs on Mac, Windows, and Linux.