Ancient Space and Hard West: CreativeForge announces two games in as many weeks

Ancient Space, by CreativeForge Games

I’ll beat you at your part…

When a new developer announces its first game, it’s cause for celebration. When a new developer announces two impossibly good-looking games back-to-back, one begins to suspect some form of demonic assistance. Yes, it seems CreativeForge Games met the devil at the crossroads and sold its soul for the ability to turn out two games at once. Only this time around, the devil got shortchanged.

The first, a Homeworld-inspired RTS called Ancient Space (seen above), was just announced today. Good old Paradox, apparently not content with having dominated Gamescom last week, has signed on as publisher. It’s got a full single-player campaign, a swanky voice cast (I’m always pleased to see Dwight Schultz’ name), and is due out sometime this fall.

It’s ostensibly a game of exploration as well as combat: your fleet is engaged in a scientific mission To Explore Strange New Worlds and etc. It’s hard to tell whether the exploration stuff is for real or mere pretense, but it all looks splendid in motion (for which, keep on reading).

Hard West concept art, by CreativeForge Games

…I’ll take you both together!

Second is Hard West, an X-COM-style tactics game set exactly where the title suggests. It features an overworld map with exploration elements and travel between towns, plus a “sinister” tone influenced by the works of Stephen King, David Lynch, and Cormac McCarthy–all patron saints of unflinching violence.

Whereas Ancient Space is all but finished, Hard West is early in production; the image above is concept art. At this very moment it’s closing in on its $70,000 CAD Kickstarter goal–and you can hang your hat on that one, partner.

After the jump, see the trailer for Ancient Space and the Kickstarter pitch for Hard West. And when you’re done, pencil CreativeForge in your list of developers to stalk. On second thought: use ink.

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Out Now: Heroes of a Broken Land, King’s Bounty: Dark Side, Five Nights at Freddy’s and more

Heroes of a Broken Land, by Winged Pixel Inc.

Hero of a lonely land / Much better than a / Hero of a broken land.

At the risk of angering the gods of epistemology (the extent of whose wrath cannot be known), I’m sure Heroes of a Broken Land is the coolest game I’ve never heard of before. It’s an old-school grid-based dungeon crawler like Dungeon Master or Legend of Grimrock, except it’s also got a Civ-style strategic layer slapped on top. You can play a demo right in your browser, or drop $14.99 on Steam, Desura, or the Winged Pixel store.

Now let’s see, where did I put that trailer? Ah yes! I put it below.

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On judgments of taste and the wisdom of critics: Rebutting PC Gamer’s Top 100 list

Half-Life, by Valve

BORING.

If you frequent the same Internet haunts that I do (in which case, seek help before it’s too late), you may have noticed PC Gamer’s most recent list of the best 100 PC games of all time. The magazine has updated its list every few years since the mid ’90s. The several years’ gap between updates is understandable: it must take the staff that long to work through each deluge of enraged responses.

This year’s list is particularly controversial. The surprise position of Mass Effect 2, a console port from 2010, as the best PC game of all time is only slightly more galling than Mass Effect 3 at #8. Here are some more of what we might generously describe as anomalies, and more accurately as atrocities:

  • The highest ranking Blizzard game is Diablo 3–the developer’s worst misstep since the cancellation of Warcraft Adventures.
  • X-COM resides at #83, whereas the remake Enemy Unknown is ranked #6.
  • Absent genres: roguelikes, racing sims, flight sims, war games, text adventures.
  • Puzzling omissions: Half-Life (which in a former age laid claim to the #1 position), TIE Fighter (ditto), SimCity (whether original or 2000), Dwarf Fortress, Battlefield 1942, Starsiege: Tribes, Privateer, Dungeon Keeper, Syndicate, A Mind Forever Voyaging, Civilization IV, Heroes of Might & Magic III, Master of Orion II, Morrowind, Baldur’s Gate, Counter-Strike, Rainbow Six, Doom II, Quake, Quake II, Homeworld, Age of Empires II, Warcraft II, and StarCraft.
  • Troubling inclusions: Hearthstone, Mirror’s Edge, FIFA 13, Battlefield 4 (which was unplayable on release), Dark Souls (a famously bad port), Final Fantasy VII (than which a crappier port has never been known), Empire: Total War, Total War: Rome II, Doom 3, Max Payne 2, Kingpin: Life of Crime, DayZ (still in development), Starbound (ditto), and aw hell no! Y’all hold me back before I make the evening news!

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Gamescom in motion: All this week’s trailers in one place

Cities: Skyline, by Colossal Order and Paradox Interactive

A beautiful day for a neighbor. Or an earthquake, giant lizard assault, whatever.

If trailers could throw cocktail parties, you’d need to step out on the RDBK balcony to hear yourself think. (If you ash in my flowerpots, I’ll know it was you.)

Below you’ll find all the accumulated trailers from this week’s Gamescom convention, or at least as many as would fit. If we packed ‘em any more tightly, the nuclear regulatory agencies of the world would have a collective aneurysm. I suppose the ensuing rush would give all the ER workers heart attacks–and then where would simple folk like you and me go to have our stomachs pumped? No, it just wouldn’t do. Not one more trailer, do you hear? Not one more.

The king of the crowded hill is Cities: Skylines, the city-building sim just announced by Paradox. It’s got every crucial quality in its favor that EA’s SimCity lacks: which is to say, a good publisher. It’s in development at Colossal Order, the same folk who made Cities in Motion, and is due out for Windows, Mac and Linux next year.

Crack the lid to see the trailer–but open it carefully, you hear?

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Research complete: Galactic Civilizations III enters Early Access

Galactic Civilizations 3, by Stardock

“Go ahead, punk. Pick the ‘creative’ trait. See what happens.”

The regular vibrations of certain cesium isotopes; the thermodynamic tendency toward entropy; mutual animosity among the members of Fleetwood Mac. That’s the short list of things in life more dependable than Master of Orion II, which I’ve installed immediately on every hard drive I’ve owned since 1996.

If any game can threaten that streak, it’s surely Galactic Civilizations III, Stardock’s long-awaited return to the 4X space genre. We’ll have to wait a while longer for the full game–it’s not due out until April 2015–but the beta version’s available now through Steam Early Access. $44.99 is a modest $5 off the launch price, but if you think of it as eight easy monthly installments of just $5.62, maybe you can psych yourself into it. (Got any species bonuses toward self-deception?)

Early backers have been playing the alpha version for months now. Here’s what’s changed in the transition to beta:

  • Race-specific tech trees – Each race discovers the secrets of creation in its own way. Look out for Drengin invasions a whole age before anyone else can pull one off.
  • Ideology rework – Get an entire invasion fleet for free, take control of all planets inside your sphere of influence, and more!
  • Huge hulls – For when you absolutely, positively, have to kill every last filthy alien in the quadrant.
  • New colonization events – Thirty more events will challenge your ideology whenever you bring the light of civilization to a new world.
  • Terraforming – Maximize your adjacency bonuses by filling in gaps on your colonies with SCIENCE!
  • Map features – Durantium, Elerium, and Antimatter are now on the map, waiting to be harvested by your starbases. Watch out for black holes!
  • So much more – reworked planet traits, shipyard queues, automatic improvement upgrading, tons of new art, vastly improved rendering (ships are so shiny now!), the list goes on.

Below is a new beta gameplay trailer showing off all those sci-fi dreams that, if we’re lucky, we may yet see in our lifetimes: ships and space stations, off-world colonies, interstellar genocide, all that good stuff.

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John Romero’s about to make you his… customer

John Romero's head, from Doom2 by id Software

The face that launched a thousand rockets.

Put down those pitchforks real quick and let’s pause to remember a few things about John Romero. So central was he to the evolution of the FPS, he coined the very term “deathmatch.” He was a brilliant level designer, the chief architect of Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake. At id Software in the ’90s he was the yin to Carmack’s yang, and id’s single-player efforts suffered terribly after he was forced out.

He also hasn’t had a hand in any games you care about in at least 15 years. (1999 is when sane people stopped caring about Daikatana.)

Now Joystiq’s Jessica Condit reports that after a long involvement with mobile and Facebook games, Romero is getting back into FPS design. He and his wife Brenda spoke with Joystiq at this week’s Gamescom convention in Germany:

Here’s how it went down:

“I’m working on several games at once right now,” John Romero said. “But [Brenda] had mentioned earlier that I’m working with a concept artist, and so I’ve got some cool imagery for the main character.”

Brenda Romero jumped in: “I’m concerned about how much you’re going to say.”

“I haven’t made a shooter since 2000. So I’m basically starting to work on another one,” John Romero said. And the room. Went. Wild.

One wonders whether selection bias might have colored the audience’s reaction, but Romero’s return to AAA development (or anything remotely like it) is titillating news, to be sure. If his new endeavor is for the PC, as I’m betting it is, he would join Cliff BleszinskiSoren Johnson, and untold other devs who’ve recently returned home from the wilderness.

Of course there’s already reason for cynicism: per his own words, Romero’s permitted himself input on character design. Here’s hoping that this go around he manages to leave his buddy Superfly behind.

With a host of furious fancies: Bedlam’s looking awfully bonny

Bedlam, by RedBedlam

Still I sing bonny boys, bonny mad boys / Bedlam boys are bonny.

A short ten years ago, PC gaming wasn’t just on its deathbed–it had already been wheeled feet-first out the house. The nascent Steam was an object of ridicule, a primitive, burdensome affliction and itself a sign of the end times. Brick-and-mortar retailers had relegated PC games, their previous bread and butter, to rare and forlorn back shelves. The most formative games of the ’90s were hard to get through legitimate channels, and even if you did track down an old boxed copy, there was nobody to configure your DOSBox settings for you.

But even a worm will turn, and with time the situation reversed itself. One characteristic of the present PC renaissance is the rediscovery of old gameplay styles, styles that in the mid-2000s seemed dead and buried. That trend has percolated through every genre, from survival sims to roguelikes to strategy games… every one, it seems, except first-person shooters.

That’s why I find Bedlam so compelling. It’s not just a throwback to earlier FPS styles; it’s a potted history of the entire FPS genre:

Pitched as a shooter for those who survived online gaming in the 80′s and 90′s, Bedlam takes a look through an iconic time in online gaming and serves up some authentic gaming nostalgia with up-to-date graphics and gaming features. Bedlam is set entirely in the first-person but will explore other game genres from a first-person perspective.

Players will take on the role of Heather, a programmer at medical scanning developer Neurosphere who finds herself transported into the world of Starfire: a nineties FPS she remembers from her teen years. Searching for an explanation and a way home, she ventures beyond Starfire to discover a vast realm of interconnected game worlds documenting the evolution of the FPS genre and of video games in general.

That sounds leagues more sophisticated than anything in recent memory. It’s a good premise, but it remains to be seen how cleverly the devs can exploit it. How does one pay homage to the history of a genre without recapitulating its old errors? Perhaps with satirical tongue-in-cheek–but this is still a game, and it has to be fun not just to discuss but to play.

If you’ve got $19.99 to spare, you can try an early build through Steam Early Access. There’s also a new trailer below, the first for Bedlam in a couple of years.

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It’s azure thing: SSI reborn as Tactical Simulations Interactive

Curse of the Azure Bonds, by SSI

Those Tilverton cops learned nothing from First Blood, I tell ya.

A crude sketch of the timeline of CRPGs would look something like this:

  • 1980s: golden age
  • 1992-97: yawning chasm; blighted wasteland; ruination, depravity, and despair
  • 1997-present: salvation

Few breathed more life into that initial golden era than Strategic Simulations, Inc., which despite its prodigious output is remembered especially for its Gold Box AD&D games. Pool of Radiance, Curse of the Azure Bonds, and Gateway to the Savage Frontier are just three of the RPGs that defined a generation–and that may go on to define the next one, too.

Word today is that some of the principals of SSI have formed a new company, TSI, with aims to revive the classic spirit. TSI stands for Tactical Simulations Interactive, and the company’s first priority will be to explain why it didn’t go with “Inc.” for old times’ sake. After that, though, comes old-school RPG goodness. Quoth the press release:

Tactical Simulations Interactive (TSI), a new independent video games studio with old school RPG sensibilities, has been established by Strategic Simulations Inc. veterans Paul Murray and David Shelley, and company President David Klein.

Drawing on their experience at SSI, the team at TSI aims to provide the next step in meaningful player experiences in the same way that SSI’s ‘Gold Box’ titles did during the 1980s and 1990s.

David Shelley takes on the role of Producer/Lead Designer, while Paul Murray serves as Technical Designer at TSI. The team was integral to the international success of Strategic Simulations Inc.’s genre-defining RPGs, such as Curse of the Azure Bonds, Pool of Radiance, and Wizard’s Crown.

SSI is arguably just as celebrated for Panzer General and its successors, but TSI’s emphasis seems strictly on RPGs. The website shows a ten-day countdown timer, whereupon presumably we’ll learn their exact intentions.

Will it be an official D&D license, or a spiritual successor like Torment: Tides of Numenewhatever? Oh please, please let it have a rune translation wheel! And some period-authentic paper journal DRM while you’re at it.

If you need me before then, I’ll be gazing wistfully at our What’s in the Box: Gateway to the Savage Frontier feature.