Tuesday, June 10, 2008

News Flash: Celtx 1.0 Released

Celtx 1.0 finally got released today. Go check it out at celtx.com.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

What I've Been Playing: TrackMania and Painkiller

I have a habit when it comes to playing newly purchased games. It's basically a planned splurge of my free time. For about three days, or how ever long it takes me to beat the game, I'll use all my free time to play it until I've completed it, at which point I'll move on with the rest of life. For this reason I usually buy games on a Friday and then play it through the weekend.

If it's a really good game I'll play through it twice to relive all the good moments or to find/unlock things I've missed. If it's an exceptional game I'll play it often for a few months or even years. This doesn't happen very often, and I can only recall doing it with Descent and Unreal Tournament 2004.

This habit lets me play plenty of games and gives me a pretty uninterrupted experience of the entire thing. I've also found that I can get through games faster this way since I don't have to remember what it was I was supposed to do when I left off.

Thanks to Steam I can buy games on an impulse and play all kinds of different and interesting titles from big studios and indies. Steam has recently become my primary source for games, so here's what I've been playing recently that are worth talking about.

TrackMania Nations Forever
I'm a big fan of games where you can create stuff. Yes, a lot of games have external level editors or other modding tools, but those usually take a long time to learn. I like simple and robust editors that are built into the game. Customizing the appearance of my character/vehicle is fun and all, but I like it when they let you take it a bit further.

TrackMania Nations Forever has a few good things going for it. First, it's not a racing simulator, or a racing game with realistic driving physics. Those are the kinds of racing games where the vehicles will spin out if you turn too fast and you need an analog steering wheel to play it properly, along with 2 weeks worth of stunt driving courses. The only racing simulator I've played that I liked was Need For Speed: Carbon for the Wii, probably because the steering was analog, and it had this unrealistic bullet time mode that slowed time down and made your vehicle more responsive, making difficult maneuvers possible and a lot more stylish. TrackMania is a simple but challenging racing game. There's no handbrakes, no gear shifting, no spinning out or drifting physics, just four buttons for left, right, go and stop.

Now, TrackMania is no F-Zero GX or Rollcage Stage II as far as being an off-the-hook awesome racer, but it's solid, has really fun tracks, and comes with a good level editor. TrackMania Nations Forever is also free. So if you have Steam check it out. You can also get TrackMania United Forever for $40, which has more tracks, cars, content, and so on.

If you want to kill some time by being creative, like racing games, and have no money, give TrackMania a try.

2008.10.24 Update: I did in fact buy TrackMania ($40), and I will say that compared to the demo you may feel gypped by the price, but if you didn't play the demo it's worth it. Let me explain.

The full game comes with 6 new environments: desert, rally, snow, island, coast, and bay, all in addition to stadium which the demo came with. The kicker is that each environment has it's own vehicle type that handles completely different from each other, and most steer so sharply that your need an analogue steering wheel to effectively control the vehicle. And because I use a keyboard, driving became very difficult. And then you have the coast environment. The sports car feels so heavy and drifts so much that it doesn't feel like the same game anymore.

The good news is that it comes with all of the demo tracks and about twice as many additional tracks spanning all 7 environments/vehicle types, and three new game modes: platform (obstacle course), stunts (getting points by doing tricks), and puzzle (combination track building with limited pieces and time trial), all of which are fun modes.

So, if you do decide to buy the full version of the game, think of it as buying the full game and the demo, then the $40 will be worth it.

Recommendation: Play the demo for sure. Creating your own tracks is a blast and in of itself makes this game awesome. The full game comes with cars that should be driven with a steering wheel controller. The entire package is well worth the $40 if you like racing games.

Painkiller
A couple of weeks ago I watched a Zero Punctuation review of Painkiller, a game which Yahtzee claims kicks the ass of most modern first person shooters. Since being let down by Unreal Tournament 3 I've been starving for some good, less serious FPS action games, so I decided to take his advice and give Painkiller a try.

The first place I looked for it was on Steam. They had the free demo, but they were also selling it for only $10. It's kind of hard to go wrong with paying $10 for a critically acclaimed game, so I bought it, played through it, and have beaten it twice already.

The game is as fun as he says it is. It's simple fun, but has plenty of gameplay subtleties to make you feel like you are being clever in combat. The different locations for each level break any kind of monotony throughout the game.

The weapons feel very powerful. Shooting the undead with a shotgun at point blank range will either send them flying 20 feet back, or 20 feet in all directions. Each weapon has a secondary fire mode, not in the Unreal sense where it's just a alternate fire mode that uses the same ammo, instead it's a completely different weapon: melee spinning blades, lazer; shotgun, freeze ray; long-ranged stake gun, grenades; rockets, minigun; shurikens, lighting; machine gun, and flame thrower. I'm always talking about wish fulfillment, and these weapons are certainly it.

What was also surprising is how quickly Steam started advertising Painkiller with Yahtzee's quote, "All you really need to know is there's a gun that shoots shurikens and lightning," the same day the review was released. No doubt it was planned in advance, but I smile every time I think that under appreciated games from four years ago are being recommended and advertised by people who are in a position to do so.

One thing that also intrigued me about playing through Painkiller was the last level: Hell. After finding the gateway to Hell to do battle with Lucifer, I was expecting fire and brimstone like what was in Doom 3 (another simple shooter which I loved), but the depiction of Hell was quite unusual. Of course, Painkiller's idea of purgatory is also unusual, which was pulling locations and themes randomly from the living world into a parallel demonized version of it, so in that context the Hell level fits right in with that concept.

The only way I can describe it is it's a 3-dimensional collage of warfare from the middle ages all the way up to the atomic bomb. Time is frozen and there are no people; weapons and debris are floating in mid air, but the screams and sounds of war are still audible all around you. You are also being attacked by demon ghosts, and you have to kill those before Lucifer comes out, at which point the scenery suddenly changes completely.

No matter what their reasoning for it was, the final stage paints a surreal and poignant interpretation of Hell.

Painkiller was certainly worth the $10, and I'm thinking about purchasing the sequel even though it's twice as much and wasn't rated as highly.

Recommendation: Simple first person shooting fun done right, creative environments, rock solid (simple) gameplay, every weapon is fun to use, story sucks, but for $10 bucks you won't be disappointed if you want something action packed and full of giblets.