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  1. It might be hard to recall, but there was a time when a program by the name of Steam was detested by gamers. Alongside Valve“s release of Half-Life 2 was a new requirement that players needed Steam in order to access the title. However, the software barely had any functionality at all and was prone to crashing. This was in 2004. Today, invoking Steam“s name results in a very different opinion. Many gamers flock to Steam as their number one choice for purchasing digital PC games. In fact, there are many out there who go so far as to state they won“t buy a game until it has come to Steam. Yes, you can add your own game files to the program and launch through it, but that isn“t the same. There“s something to actually owning a game on Steam and increasing that collection amount. Of course, then there“s the much-loved Steam holiday sales which through copious deals around day after day, some of which price games at incredible discounts. Valve has had a very good last few years thanks to Steam. But it seems like it might soon begin to fall out of favor with its massive user base. A handful of policy changes have been rolling out over the past few years which are now becoming a large portion of the store. These include the Steam Greenlight and Early Access initiatives. Both seek to allow more titles onto the service without having to go through Valve“s slower and one at a time approach of the past. But shouldn“t more games being made available be purely positive? Yes, it is exciting that any game has the chance at Greenlight success. However, there are many issues with the program (that Valve itself acknowledges). As long as Greenlight stays as is, however, these issues will remain as sticking points. One of the biggest issues is the fact that it ends up being a popularity contest. Games that best know how to market themselves, have an existing fanbase, are able to bribe users, or happen to be from a popular genre (horror) always take the lead. Well, the point of Greenlight is to let the players choose, isn“t it? The main problem with that is the majority audience is simply unaware of what they“re voting for in droves. Sometimes it“s obvious, such as a well-known mobile game or indie success outside of Steam. Then there are other games that provide gorgeous screenshots or cool concepts that get voted up into being Greelit quickly. And then they come out and… it“s not pretty. Many Greenlight games are excellent and add a much needed facet of the Steam Store. However, there are other games that are absolutely broken or horrendous in other ways that make it through. Managing to fool players is rewarded and Steam isn“t able to say no. After all, they can“t exercise quality control as that goes against the rules of Greenlight. While this is a great positive for small games that otherwise would never get past Valve, but also lets in drivel. Without mentioning names, I have already wandered into many Steam Communities to see players distressed, annoyed, or rightly angry at developers for not fixing their clearly broken titles. There were some questionable games on Steam before, but at a lesser amount than there are now. Alongside this trend is the Early Access program. Steam devised it as a way to get currently in development games onto the store. By doing so, the developers may speak more directly with fans, gauging their desires as well as getting reports on glitches. At its core, it is a very helpful service for developers and a neat way for players to feel like they“re helping shape a product. What could go wrong? So far, very few games have made it out of Early Access so it“s hard to tell where this will lead, but right now there“s a lot of trouble. Some developers seem keen on squashing any criticism on their respective Steam Community, completely voiding the point of being on Early Access. Others have in the past asked for egregious amounts of money. There“s no guarantee that these games will even ever reach a finished state. As no one has outright stated they quit development, we can“t tell how Valve will or will not choose to reprimand them. Some games are progressing nicely, while others appear to have gone live at super early states and not gotten far since. On one hand, it is an exciting prospect that Steam will eventually be a very “open” storefront. However, thanks to many poor quality games arriving, users are becoming more cautious with their purchases. Getting burned by a purchase once might not deter a user, but after a few stinkers who knows? Steam“s audience is vast and has been built up by the promise of good games at (often) great prices. With an increasing amount of broken projects though it is aiming to hurt that image which took so long to build up. Will as many users purchase Steam titles because they simply like the synopsis, concept, or selected screenshots? It seems this will not be as frequent as it has been so far. Then again, what can be done about it? The concept of Steam being open to all developers is fantastic but proves to be much harder to manage in reality. We“ll have to see how everything continues to evolve. We“ll also have to see whether the current diehard Steam users will continue to lavish blind affection onto Valve. As a user, be sure to do your homework before buying any new games on Steam. For all the great new releases coming out, there are always going to be a handful that don“t deserve your money.
  2. Have simulator games gone too far? No, not until absolutely everything in the world has been simulated. Bossa Studios, the fine purveyor's of Surgeon Simulator, are about to unleash a new game onto the masses - I am Bread. As the title suggests, you play as bread. The bread is alive, though and controlled via QWOP-style keyboard controls (one button per edge of bread). This piece of sentient bread can wander around a house, burn itself on the stove, go in a toilet, and basically cause trouble in someone's home. I am Bread will hit Steam Early Access on December 3rd. What is Bossa Studios look to improve before a complete version is ready? They're going to add a full story, more levels, and include some achievements.
  3. Marcus Estrada

    Valve Updates Early Access Rules and Guidelines

    The concept for Steam Early Access is quite cool. It's a way for teams to get their beta versions of games into the hands of players directly through Steam. Of course, certain developers have tarnished the system's reputation by abandoning development or releasing a completely unfinished product to get gamers off their backs over the "Early Access" tag. Although it has seemed as such for over a year now, Valve was apparently taking notes. This week they revealed an updated list of rules and guidelines for all Early Access developers to keep in mind, lest they lose the ability to sell their product on Steam. Some of the more interesting rules and guidelines are as follows: "Do not make specific promises about future events." "Don't overcharge Steam customers." "Don“t launch in Early Access if you can“t afford to develop with very few or no sales." "Don't launch in Early Access without a playable game." "Don't launch in Early Access if you are done with development." These are definitely a great start as long as Valve ensures that everyone is following their policies. Of course, some of these statements could easily be sidestepped by a conflict of opinions. One developer may not feel they are "overcharging" customers, while customers believe it to be the case. Similarly, a "playable" game is hard to nail down. Does this mean the game has to be playable as intended or is okay if you have a blank avatar that can move around a barren field? With that said, these updates are better than Valve remaining entirely silent on the matter. What do you think of the new rules and guidelines for Early Access? Do you play Early Access titles?
  4. Marcus Estrada

    Preview: Adventurezator: When Pigs Fly

    Over the years, I“ve tried a great deal of ways to make games. Of course, with my code-phobic mindset this led to many programs that focused primarily on graphical interfaces and “easy” game creation. The latest of these simplified game creators is Adventurezator: When Pigs Fly, currently on Early Access. Interestingly, the software has been positioned as a new way to make adventure games specifically. But does it really function as intended so far? I mucked around and found out how Adventurezator currently stands. For being in a very early stage, Adventurezator already has some things going for it. First off, it includes a handful of levels as an example of the kind of stuff you can create. This introduction both serves as a tutorial to the gameplay as well as possible inspiration for creators. The world is presented in a third person perspective and features 3D models. Your goal is to solve puzzles with the pig protagonist which consist of picking up and using items. Sounds pretty standard as far as point-and-click adventure games are concerned! One notable feature of item pickup and use is the way it“s implemented in this engine. Whenever there is an object, players can attempt to interact with it in a variety of ways. Some of these choices are context sensitive. Once it“s picked up the item is added to your inventory (which has an item cap, by the way). Using items also feels odd since they“re not completely context sensitive. For example, if you have a key you can“t just click “open door” and have the key work with it. Instead, you must click the key in inventory, click use, and then click the door to complete the expression. Although the mechanics make sense, they don“t feel especially smooth from a gameplay standpoint. After working through Pigasus Games“ stages, it“s time for you to create your own stuff! Adventurezator currently splits game creation into three separate sections: Actors, cutscenes, and levels. What are actors? These are the many characters set to inhabit your world. Actors can be NPCs, quest givers, or the main player. As of right now there is a very simple actor editor in place that doesn“t leave much room for player creativity. The best offered is a mask option where you cna place a photo file over an actor“s face. It“s amusing enough, but it would be great to see a model import option, or at least more freedom. Cutscene creation mode works somewhat like a video editor with a flipbook slant. Basically, you are given frames and can fill each one with a background, characters, text, and the like. Once done with one frame you add another and repeat the process. Frames, as well as the objects within them, can have time attached to them. For example, you can set text to fade in at a certain second or end the frame when needed. Again, the editor isn“t massive, but it offers a good deal more creativity than the actor one. In particular, creative types can input their own image files freely here. If that“s more work than desired, you can use Adventurezator“s built-in assets. What most people are probably wondering about is the level creation, as that feels the most “game development-like” of the three creation areas. You“re presented with a variety of menus which each contain a bunch of objects. Objects range from walls to flowers and all can be placed as you see fit. However, clicking on certain objects currently causes the game to freeze. There“s nothing worse than getting deep into creating a level and then losing it because you didn“t save before an unexpected crash. Save often! Hopefully freezing will be brought to a minimum with future updates. After a stage layout is designed you can add in characters as well as the quests that need to be performed to succeed. Unfortunately, you can“t share your stages easily as there“s no Workshop support just yet. Adventurezator may not be as easy as some people hope, but it is definitely one of the friendliest 3D game creation tools I“ve used so far. The foundation Pigasus Games has created is solid so now we need to see what they bring to the table next. Creators need to be granted even more freedom and be able to create. It would also help to see the engine get spruced up as it feels pretty rough right now. When all this comes to pass it will be the right time for curious creators to check out Adventurezator.
  5. Harrison Lee

    Review: Insurgency

    Developer: New World Interactive Publisher: New World Interactive Platform: PC (Steam) Release Date: January 22, 2014 ESRB: Not rated (M suggested) Modern warfare used to be the sexy theme in first-person shooters. Rarely portrayed prior to Call of Duty 4, games with combat against insurgents and present-day military forces were usually pipe dreams, confined to the likes of Battlefield 2 and the old Source mod Insurgency. After Call of Duty bucked the trend, the market became supersaturated with modern guns and grit. It was fun for a while until it became the annualized norm. Gamers grew tired of the endless cycle of shooting generic, stereotyped terrorists. So why would anyone want to make yet another modern warfare shooter in an overcrowded market? I asked myself the same question until I got my hands on newest iteration of Insurgency. It may very well be one of the best tactical shooters to come out in years. Insurgency's roots can be traced back to the free Source mod of the same name, introduced in the early 2000's. Insurgency back then was a revolution, featuring intense combat and a difficult learning curve that encouraged teamwork over guns-blazing. Striking a middle ground between Counter-Strike and Rainbow Six, the mod knew how to balance realistic combat with fun, competitive gameplay. All of that experience and knowledge has been brought to bear with the rebuilt, reborn Insurgency. The game is divided across a few different multiplayer styles. For those looking to engage in frequent firefights, check out the Sustained Combat modes. Looking for more team-based, objective-oriented gameplay? Tactical Operations has you covered. And if standing side by side with team-mates against AI insurgents gets your blood boiling, there's a co-op mode made just for you. Better yet, the AI can be deadlier than the human opponents you'll face. Insurgency has 7 distinct game modes across the 3 different categories, though each mode can share objectives from other modes. My personal favorites were Seek and Destroy (blow up enemy arms caches) and VIP Escort (protect/kill the VIP as/before they escape). Matches are tense, violent affairs that kill quickly and forgive little. Mistakes can end in the decimation of your whole team if your allies get careless. Clearing corners and always keeping an eye for movement is crucial to surviving the brutal world of Insurgency. A single bullet will often kill you, especially if the enemy has swapped out their loaded rounds. At the start of every match, you can choose the types of attachments you have, how much ammo you carry, the rounds you fire and more using a points system. The better the add-on, the more points and added weight it'll cost you. These things all matter and can quickly change the balance of combat if you find yourself overwhelmed by the enemy. Forgoing that 4X scope to snag an extra frag grenade might just save your life in a serious pinch. The only frustrating part about the expertly balanced loadout system is that you can't save setups. It can be a tad aggravating to keep buying and removing the same objects over and over again. It's a fairly minor complaint and one that could easily be addressed with a patch. Otherwise, the technicals are in great order. Visuals are relatively conservative, focusing on some great dust and particle effects rather than fancy textures (after all, it's the Source engine). The audio is stellar, witholding in-game music in favor of the soundtrack of bullets and explosions. Rifles crack and rounds whizz over your head to terrifying effect. It's all very gritty and intense. The selection of maps is somewhat limited as everything tends to blend together. My least favorite was Heights where I was often blown away by snipers, even when I thought I was safely in cover. Perhaps that's part of the appeal but I've never jived with it. The other locales are varied in range from wide open battles during the day in valleys to frantic night battles across market streets. You'll find a little bit of everything, whether it's sniper-friendly maps or CQC-oriented corridors. Your enjoyment of Insurgency will depend entirely on whether or not you're willing to slow down your pace, embrace teamwork and play tactically. This isn't the game for constant-action junkies or thrill-a-minute gamers. It rewards patience and planning, not trigger-happy rushers. You can certainly play it that way but it'll quickly end with a bullet to your head. Is Insurgency absolutely perfect? No, there are a few minor glitches and the loadout system is a tad annoying. Some levels also don't look great, especially with some shoddy ground textures. But if you're looking for an fun, rewarding tactical shooter, Insurgency is practically begging for your $15. It's bargain-priced and packs a fair bit of intense gaming, especially if you've been looking for a change of pace from Battlefield and Call of Duty. Dust off your BDUs and load up those rifles! It's time to go to work. Pros: + Lots of bang for your buck + Relatively varied game modes and maps + Nice change of PC from most shooters + Great audio and particle effects Cons: - A few minor glitches - Enemy AI skill varies wildly - Loadout system won't save Overall Score: 8.5 (out of 10) Great If you're tired of the endless modern shooters, Insurgency does just enough to make it fresh again, and at a bargain price.
  6. Marcus Estrada

    Steam Early Access Adds Three Interesting New Titles

    Despite how many games are currently available on Steam Early Access there are always more to come. This week we see the addition of three more games - each with their own unique style and gameplay. First up is Betrayer by Blackpowder Games. The distinctive black and white visuals play into the story as players must discover what sapped color from the land to begin with. Right now, only an introductory area and a level are included. Players can buy into the beta now for $13.49. Dream is another game now available thanks to Greenlight and the Early Access program. Right now you can jump into the alpha build, which developer HyperSloth acknowledges is incomplete and has bugs. All the same, it looks like quite the intriguing adventure/puzzle title. Dream is currently $14.99. Full Mojo Rampage is the final new Early Access game for this week. It's a cartoony, voodoo-themed roguelike. Developer Over the Top Games have committed to bringing out updates for the game every few weeks until it is finally ready. You can buy into it now for $17.99.
  7. Developer: Tribute Games Publisher: Tribute Games Platform: PC Release Date (of Early Access on Steam): July 22nd, 2013 There's just something about nostalgia that makes us want to go back to older games, games that we played as a kid or in our teens. Games on the SNES or Neo-Geo had vibrant colors, great music, and some addicting gameplay. Mercenary Kings nearly perfectly catches this same vibe of nostalgia and uses it the max with some fresh, more modern gameplay ideas. Mercenary Kings primarily takes from two games about 10 years apart- Metal Slug and Monster Hunter. Is this a bad thing that it copies concepts from two equally classic games? Well, for the most part, not really! Gameplay consists of your slightly customizable character running around, shooting your weapon in the four basic directions (up, down, left and right), killing baddies. Crafting new, fancy weaponry is also a key part of being successful in the currently ~60 missions in the game. If you don't have a bigger gun, you can't defeat the bigger enemies, right? The gun crafting, while not too complex, seems pretty neat from the start. You have a wide variety of "parts" that you can attach to your little base weapon that make it larger and more cool-looking. Do you want to make a pistol that looks like a shotgun? Get a pistol base and put tons of shotgun parts all over it. You can also have different ammo for your gun, but certain guns will only take certain ammo, which makes sense. The way you get different materials to craft parts is through killing enemies and picking up what they drop. Beyond that, the RPG elements sort of stop, which is a bit unfortunate. You have a military rank, which is like a level, but all you do to rank up is just complete missions for a flat XP grab each time. There's 60 missions in the game currently (with a confirmed 40 more to be added by release), and each is fairly long, so the game isn't really lacking in length at least. Depth? Perhaps, but if you play with friends the fun can be endless. It doesn't really feel like a game meant for co-op though, so playing by yourself is perfectly fine. Each mission for example tasks you with a different objective, but if you watch your map it isn't too hard to find where to go. Well, the game is still fairly challenging. You can only take a few hits before dying, but you merely respawn at the last infirmary you passed by. The time limit, however, is your greatest enemy. Can't find all 8 hostages before the 15 minute limit is up for that mission? "Mission failed!" The somewhat low time limit on some of the harder missions and how the game doesn't seem to be meant for co-op are my only two major complaints however. Every other aspect of the game is stellar! The gorgeous SNES/Neo-Geo style graphics are lovely, and the animations are very fluid and sometimes amusing. I swear, Tribute Games and whoever does their art do some amazing retro stylized graphics! The rockin' chiptunes are equally great too though. I made sure to listen to some of the catchy tunes while I worked on this review and sometimes even while just sitting at my computer doing nothing. That main theme on the title screen is gold! The music will not disappoint! One thing I'll say before concluding this look at what will probably be one of the best pixel-art games this year is that the keyboard+mouse controls are pretty bad. The options menu is blocked so you can can't change anything yet, and the default keyboard controls are really strange. I immediately switched to just using a controller because it felt way more natural and not awkward and weird. This is definitely a game that you can only use a controller on for now, so keep that in mind before you check it out! Honestly, Mercenary Kings feels much more like a finished game with a few small nitpicks that can be patched in with "version 1.1", if you get what I mean. This doesn't seem like an early alpha that is barely playable, no, it's a full game pretty much. So, I highly recommend you play it! It's not an insta-buy as is, but if you can wait for the price to drop or don't mind the $15 price tag, this is a fantastic game to check out!. If you aren't into platformers with a lot of shooting in them like the Metal Slug games, this isn't for you most likely. If you're fine with that though, this game is a ton of fun and with friends it's even a bit more. In it's current Early Access state, Mercenary Kings gets a: 8.5/10 "Whether its solo or with friends, move out, cut down CLAW and save the world!"
  8. Marcus Estrada

    Steam Early Access Brings Mercenary Kings to Lineup

    Usually Valve unleashes multiple Steam Early Access games each week. For this week though only one game made it through. Perhaps this means Valve are being more cautious with the games allowed on the service? Or maybe they're just taking a little break before hammering users with a million more alpha/beta games next month. In any case, a really promising title just hit Early Access and it's Mercenary Kings. Although the game is still in beta, Tribute Games have already provided a fairly solid product. The current version available already includes 60 missions! According to the developer, they're aiming for over 100 missions in the final release. The 2D shooter looks like a mix of Contra and Metal Slug with really appealing pixel art. Both single and multiplayer co-op are included (local or online). If you're interested in Mercenary Kings then be prepared to spend $14.99. Or, if you are willing to bet that you (and three friends) will love the game then try out the 4-pack for $44.99.
  9. Undead Labs hosted a livestream today, as reported by VG247. What was revealed during the stream? Well, a few things, but the most notable was the talk the team had about State of Decay's previously announced PC port. They filled in a few details, although no release date is known yet. We do at least have a release window now. We should expect to see previously XBLA exclusive State of Decay join Steam before the end of 2013. It will also be lumped in with the Steam Early Access crew. Why would they do this when they already have a finished game available? For the Steam release they are keeping it in Early Access to start due to the fact that they still need to implement keyboard and mouse controls. The game will utilize Xbox 360 gamepads to start with. Similarly, they're going to need to add higher resolution textures and work out a better framerate before the real PC launch.
  10. Steam Early Access is the newest way that Valve has opened up their storefront to the benefit of independent developers. Steam Greenlight exists to get indie games onto a “fair” playing field where any of them might end up getting bumped up to an official Steam launch. Since so many of these games are far from completion, though, this leaves a great deal of Greenlit games in limbo between voting and release. So how has this been addressed? Steam Early Access was introduced which allows games in alpha and beta stages to actually be made available on Steam. They carry the marker of “Early Access” to remind viewers the games are incomplete. Still, if you choose to buy one you are then able to discuss with developers on the Steam Community who may just tweak their game dependent on the feedback they receive. Steam automatically downloads each update and overall makes the process of beta testing an even more involved process than it ever would have been within a small studio. So, as you might expect, many of these games are already looking quite finished while others are in the earliest playable stages. I decided to take a look at three Steam Early Access games and see how they“re doing thus far. Do they look like they“re heading in the right direction to be tons of fun or are they a long way from it? The answers are different for every title. Folk Tale First, let“s take a look at Games Foundry“s title Folk Tale. The version I played is, and the game appears to be very much in an alpha state. As far as gameplay is concerned, you take a God-type role as you survey and build a medieval town. Alongside building said town you must also train your citizens for different roles which benefit your community, as well as protect against enemies. Of course, you“ll also find yourself adventuring beyond the borders too, lest you think the game revolves solely around one measly town. It's a great starting point but it“s obvious there is a long way to go before the game is ready for Steam. This is not due to graphics or anything of that sort, but simply due to the current lack of features. As of right now, you can only play with the tutorial. Granted, it is a sizeable tutorial that takes you through a portion of story and multiple quests, but is hardly something to satisfy current purchasers for a very long time. Sandbox mode is where the developers are currently hard at work and have even of their many intentions for said mode. It looks pretty good, but you“ll likely have to wait a bit longer before it is added. Is it worth investing $20 in Folk Tale at this point? That depends on how much you enjoy what Games Foundry is doing and if you really want to be in on the ground floor. Thus far, community members have been integral in reporting bugs which the developers have been quick to try and resolve. They also appear to be listening to the opinions of their players in regards to the features they are focusing on most heavily. The core of Folk Tale is off to a good start but it will be awhile before the game is ready for prime time. Gnomoria Chances are, if you“ve looked at Gnomoria and felt like buying it, then you may already have some preference for games such as Dwarf Fortress, Minecraft, Terarria, or Towns. As it turns out, Gnomoria charts its own identity very well, although it may still appeal to players of those other named titles. Anyway, let“s discuss what Robotronic Games' title is all about and how far along it is. My playthrough has been focused on version In the game, you start off with a band of nine gnomes on a plot of land. The land is filled with natural resources, animals, and a mountainside which you“ll want to direct your gnomes to. As the game plays out, you must mine for materials within there, as well as craft ever-increasingly useful things from the various environmental resources. After a while, enemies will even start to appear (unless you play on peaceful) and cause the game to become tougher. So far, there is a great deal of depth to the game. In fact, there is so much that many players will feel stranded at the start. Despite there being a multitude of wikis which can teach you everything you need to know it would be of definite use to add in some sort of tutorial or help text within game. Because Gnomoria is so in-depth, it may repel fans of more casual games, or hook them into the most intense gameplay experience yet. Unfortunately, there are a good deal of bugs and issues, such as gnomes sometimes not doing what they are assigned to. Beyond that though it is a surprisingly strong experience at the cost of only $8. Prison Architect Introversion Software is one of the bigger “indie” names out there. Having developed the likes of Darwinia, Defcon, and Uplink has made them a very popular company over the years. Their latest game is Prison Architect and is currently available on Steam for $30 in its alpha state. This may seem like an egregious price for an unfinished game, but it actually stands up to the higher-than-average asking price. For this piece, I played through both Alpha 10 and 11. Dispel any notions you have about alphas because, as far as I“m concerned, Prison Architect is practically already a game of “finished” quality. The game focuses around the player being a, well, prison architect who must build prisons from the ground up. Not only do you manage buildings, but also take care of hiring/firing of its many staff members. Everything is up to you as you work to build the most efficient, safe, and profitable prison out there. Although there are some niggling errors, and features that have yet to be implemented, the core gameplay is already addicting. Starting out on your own prison after the tutorial seems easy, until everything starts to go wrong. For me, I forgot about building a surrounding wall which allowed all my prisoners to simply run free after arrival. After the wall was built, and the next set of prisoners bussed in, I could only stare in abject horror (and grisly amusement) at the portly 2D prisoners rioting and taking much of my staff with them. If you pick up Prison Architect you“ll likely have fun designing better and better prisons as updates roll out. With this initial foray into the world of Steam Early Access games I now see the point. There are communities being forged around these games long before release and many of them are friendly and helpful. Through this, we should expect to see indie games with greater testing put into them, as well as possibly larger scopes than initially intended. There will certainly be "flops" available too, but thus far there appears to be some great titles currently working through their alpha and beta stages. We'll see if this continues to be the trend or not in future installments! What Steam Early Access games do you want to know about next?
  11. Marcus Estrada

    Prison Architect Screenshot

    From the album: Marcus's Album

  12. Marcus Estrada

    Gnomoria Screenshot

    From the album: Marcus's Album

  13. Marcus Estrada

    Folk Tale Screenshot

    From the album: Marcus's Album