I haven’t played a good strategy title in some time, the entry on my dislike of recent titles is the cause. With Civ 4 Colonization ,I’m eyeing it right now but I’m not sure if I’m going to like it. Anyway its brought up my dream idea for a TBS game, one I came up with about 6 years ago. I never documented this idea as it eventually became too complex and I pulled the plug. The idea ballooned to the point that it made Civ look like a game of Candy Land, so like my RPG idea (that I’ve started documenting ) I figured I’ll share this idea on my blog.

(Note before I start, I just want to say this is a 6 year old idea so don’t expect the same amount of polish and detail from other ideas I’ve posted)

The game has some parallels to the Civ series, your goal is to take over the planet through a number of different goals. Unlike Civ this title begins either in modern day or a few decades back. You create a leader unit who represents you in the world, if he/she is killed it’s game over. Unlike Civ in which the entire world is represented on the map, the game is shown by countries. Starting out you can only issue orders to territories that your leader unit is currently in. As you add in better forms of communication you can issue more orders per turn to areas outside of where your leader is. Eventually you will reach the point that you’ll control continents, you won’t be able to order everything at this point and must give your generals control to manage while your busy elsewhere. The challenge is to give them enough control so that they can keep the land, but not so much that they can betray you.

Originally combat would have taken place during RTS battles, but with the release of Armageddon Empires, perhaps a turn based combat system could work. Units can be customized and build up from using different parts, such a solider with a flak vest, AK 47, and combat boots. You can also turn units into your own private guard, which costs more and they can only be with the leader unit, but they will be much stronger and protect them.

There are a number of ways to take over, using peace, force or something in between. In the early stages the other countries may help your fledgling nation out, but eventually your going to have to be on your own. Research will go down numerous paths, with some that restrict others once researched. You won’t be able to research “World Peace” and then go for “Super Anthrax”. By keeping the game focused on countries at a time instead of the world, it allows there to be a deeper game play interaction.

Sounds good so far right? The next part is where things blossom out of the control. I came up with numerous victory conditions, from taking over the Earth, to going into space, and even digging into the Earth and forming an underground society. That’s not the weird part, whatever victory you choose will set up a new game starting from that victory. Including fighting into space to colonize alien worlds (Alright I was playing Alpha Centauri around this time), and so on. Eventually the idea became a kitchen sink game and I killed it. I have no idea what the hell I was thinking 6 years ago, but I did send the idea to Firaxis… who promptly disregarded it.

I’m still on the search for that perfect TBS game for me, a game that is easy to learn but hard to master. Battles have the right amount of control, and min/maxing will not save you. I would go on about what I want from a strategy title but I already did that rant awhile ago.

Josh

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When it comes to playing games you could say that two of the main draws of games are the story or the actual game play. I’ve noticed over the years how these two forces aren’t balanced in most titles. Some of the best titles with game play aren’t known for their engaging and well though out story. On the other hand the best game stories aren’t usually put into game play intensive games. Personality I prefer the former to the latter and I’ll tell you why.

A few years ago I was playing the action adventure Mortal Kombat game at a local EB, being friends with the manager gave me the chance to play it over a few days and beat it in the store. As I got to the final boss fight a customer came over and watched me get the crap kicked out of me but eventually beat the final boss and watched the end scene. He then turned to me and said “thanks, now I don’t need to buy this”, and I have to agree with them. The game play was very repetitive and the story seemed to be the main draw. The problem with this is that not all games are like this. How many people do you know play the Mario games just to see the end scene of Peach kissing Mario?

Going back to that saying the journey is basically the game play and the destination is the story. A great story will keep players playing, but it shouldn’t be the focal point. Take the Final Fantasy titles for example, these games are known for epic story lines, and at least 50 hours of grinding and added fluff to make sure you got your money’s worth. I’m not a fan of games that the reason for playing is the storyline, as it usually means that the game play has been ignored. One example would be the latest Suikoden game, I loved the storyline but once it got out the story driven beginning , the game play was so boring and uninspired I stopped playing, and the best part was that people complained about the intro taking too long. The problem is that these two important components seem to be at odds with each other.

To create a compelling story, leaves very little room for letting the player control their characters, and the opposite goes for focusing on game play. I think some of the RPG makers are getting the point as we’re seeing less of the 80 hour rpgs. However I think it’s harder for game play intensive games to add better stories to them. Even the cinematic action titles like God of War are still only about 8 hours long, which doesn’t leave a lot of time to tell a compelling story. I think a good combination of game play and story (regardless if the story makes sense) would be the Metal Gear Solid series. In my entry on AARs, I talked about how they add flavor to strategy titles, and I hope at some point strategy titles can create AARs out the player’s game (an idea that was planned for Galactic Civilizations 2 but was dropped). Strategy titles are heavily on the gameplay scale, and the AAR is the perfect way to compliment the game play.

I’m still waiting for the 80 rpg that has non stop amazing game play and no grinding required, but I believe that statement could be an oxymoron 🙂

Josh

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Since they’re aren’t a lot of good topics to talk about in the industry right now, I figured I’ll start this segment on some of the worse moments of the industry when a good company or system went under, This entry is on the fall of Interplay.

With my Good Old Games account now working I’ve been playing Sacrifice again, an imaginative well designed strategy title. For gamers like me who like unique original, works InterPlay was one of the best in the 90s. Titles like EarthWorm Jim, MDK, Giants, and many more were amazing. Without InterPlay there would be no Baldur’s Gate, which means no Fallout. You could attribute a lot of their success to the various game studios under their belt.

The two big sources of income from Interplay came from Shiny Entertainment and Black Isle Studios. Shiny produced a number of unique titles (some I mentioned above) and you could always count on a great (weird) time with one of their games. Black Isle was the RPG maker and worked along with Bioware to create Baldur’s Gate, giving us the RPGS I’ve mentioned above, and the ill fated Lion Heart which would be their final game. Since then Black Isle has closed and they tried making games under Troika Studios but went under. I believe Shiny is still around but the spirit of the studio lives on at Planet Moon studios. So what happened to Interplay?

They met with severe financial troubles, as unique games unfortunately aren’t often huge sellers. They were bought by Titus and then Titus went under, and since then a lot of financial problems happened. According to Wikipedia Interplay is still around thanks to the money earned for leasing the Fallout license to Bethesda and will make sequels to their popular titles. However there has been no information about this at all, and I haven’t heard anything from Interplay in a long time.I really do find it unsettling that unique IPs always seem to fall by the wayside while the umpteenth FPS or sports title rakes in the big bucks. At this point in time who can say if Interplay will be able to turn it around, but sadly the Interplay of the 90s is long gone.

Josh (who still wants a Sacrifice 2 dammit)

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Sequels of games are known for one thing, mixing up the game play for a new experience. I’ve seen game sequels get bashed for staying too close to the original, and I’ve seen them get bashed for being too different. One series to me that stays between those two complaints is the Castlevania franchise.

The Castlevania franchise is unique among classic 2d games, instead of evolving into a 3d series, it evolved into a different 2d genre. Originally the series was fashioned as a 2d action game like Mega Man or Mario, but more Gothic. When the series moved to the PS1 in the mid 90s the developers decided to mix it up and add adventure components to it. Castlevania Symphony of the Night is regarded as one of the best games of all time and the best Castlevania game (you could argued about Rondo of Blood but since not a lot of us have played that game we’ll let it pass this time.) SoTN was an action adventure title which is more like Metroid… and yes with more Gothic added in, the game delivered excellent art, music, and top notch game play which secured its top spot. Since that time we’ve seen 5 new Castlevania games (3 on the GBA, 2 on the DS) and a new one coming soon. Yet the word “new” is highly subjective, the basic game play hasn’t changed in any of them, but little nuisances exist between the games.

Time for a cliff’s notes version of the Castlevania game play timeline. The first one on the GBA (sorry no titles it’s quicker this way) was closest to the original Castlevanias. You could only wield a whip and sub weapons, but you now had magic that could be applied to your whip and character. #2 also had you stuck with a whip but now you had a different magic system to use , #3 is where we saw the biggest change. With 3 gone are the whips and sub weapons, now each enemy can give you a “soul” that could provide you with status bonuses or weapons when equipped. Similar to SoTN the main character could equip a variety of main weapons. #4 was a direct sequel from #3 but added in stylus usage, and lastly #5 changed things up again allowing you to play as two main characters at once, a weapon user or magic user. Each one of these games offers the same basic game play yet these subtle differences keep the fans coming back for more. There are two franchises that also do yearly iterations minus the nuisances.

Dynasty Warriors and Madden are similar in the way that we are bound to see a new one every year. We see people complain about a new Dynasty Warriors , but not so when it comes to Madden. The reason is the difference of how each iteration works, Dynasty Warriors is basically the same story, same game play and plot, with maybe one or two different features then before. While Madden is the same way but with a few stat tweaks and graphical changes. Madden however is a game that offers a lot more depth then Dynasty Warriors, as the game changes depending upon who your playing against. Dynasty on the other hand is the same thing each time, I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve stopped that rebellion and fought Lu Bu. Yet to me Castlevania beats both these titles on improving the formula with each new game. Konami has a lot of leeway to go on future Castlevania titles thanks to how detailed (or convoluted) the story has become. They could easily create another direct sequel of one of them improving the game mechanics or change them again which is what they’re doing with the next one. To compare the Castlevania franchise to either the Madden or Dynasty Warriors way of creating sequels, it would be like playing through the same castle with the same characters every year with maybe a few graphical improvements.

Some games had their game play right the first time , such as the old school Mega Man titles and of course Castlevania. There isn’t a need to radically change the game mechanics but slight changes that differentiate the sequels from each other is the way to go. While the Mega Man series doesn’t change as much over each version compared to Castlevania, it’s another example of designers getting it right the first time (technically the 2nd time if your picky) and giving us more of it with each new version with slight changes.

Josh

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