Spy DNA Pre Alpha Review

I love strategy games. I spend way too much time indulging in SRPGs, building empires in 4x games, trying to become the best trader in merchant style games, getting my squad out alive in tactical games, and clicking faster then other people in real-time strategy games. I recently got a pre-alpha copy of Shy Snake‘s Spy DNA to play around with. If you are not familiar with it, Spy DNA is a squad based tactical role playing game that prides itself with being grounded in real life mechanics. If you want some examples think Syndicate or X-COM but with a more free moving system rather than turn movement.

The Demo

main

The pre-alpha demo provides two previews of game play. The first being Crolimax Lab and the second being the outdoor combat demo.

Crolimax Lab

introThe lab demo takes you through a bit of the story. I talked with a number of folks working at the lab and learn what the lab is for, the history of the organization, and what I would be doing for them. I ended up using this area to get used to the controls. One thing that got me over and over was the camera movement. I kept wanting to use WASD to move the camera with Q and E to rotate. I’m not sure why I kept gravitating towards those bindings but, for me, they would make more sense than the arrow keys. In any case I’m sure Shy Snake will either add similar bindings or will be able to explain why the arrow keys make more sense for Spy DNA.

It was during this demo I noticed the bottom left camera. This is known as the “body cam” and is quite interesting and useful. As the squad member moves around you can watch their movement from their point of view. This is helpful for when you want to make sure you are covered or verify you have a clear line of site while still keeping your eye on the over all tactical view of the theater.

Outdoor Combat Demo

fightIn the outdoor combat demo you get a three member squad and are faced with an encampment of enemies keeping patrol. For some reason one of the members always started far off the screen, but this is pre-alpha after all! In any case, this is where the fun really begins! I was able to sneak in and around a few guards before needing to start taking out some of them. By default you move quickly from point to point but, by clicking and holding, you can change how you traverse terrain allowing for sneaking and other options.

As I played I picked up the mechanics around the sight cam. At first I misinterpreted what I was seeing and didn’t understand why I kept missing almost every shot but after a few more tries it became clear how it works (and it totally makes sense).

aim

The pre-alpha manual states that the innermost green circle is where 50% of shots will land, the yellow circle is where 90% will land, and the outermost where 99% of shots will land. You can tweak the shot making the entire circle larger or smaller, move it around the target, select the type of shot you want to take (from single shot, burst, and auto “spray and pray”), as well as the amount of bullets to be used.

Following the realistic vibe you don’t have infinite anything and landing a shot causes real damage. There are no over the top 40 shot kills here and it’s a breath of fresh air!

One thing I found myself doing a lot was making use of the pause. I think this is due to how many other games in the past relied on turn based movement and my brain wanting to keep trying to fit Spy DNA into that pattern. With a full manual or tutorial map and a little practice I believe I could really get into the more free movement system. Until then I can’t stop myself from wanting to use pause.

Conclusion

Obviously, being pre-alpha, there were a decent amount of bugs present (mainly camera placement/control related) but the basic ideas came through and came through well. Many people who enjoy games like Jagged Alliance or Silent Storm are still playing them as the AAA or indie game industries have not really kept up with the game style. It’s a pity as well as tactical games can be very rewarding. Spy DNA feels like it could become a very refreshing entry into a genre which needs a revival.

Sim City 5

Sim City was one of the first PC games I played when I was young. I remember enjoying the sequels I was able to get my hands on. EA recently released Sim City 5 to a largely upset audience of gamers who have turned very vocal in the last few weeks. For one, digital rights management (DRM) required single player games to still be online (or maybe it was a bad creative decision). Servers were overloaded on launch. AI pathing was more or less broken causing traffic pile ups. RCI didn’t seem to always work as expected. Zoning sizes are not as obvious as they should be. I could go on and on…

So, when a friend asked if I wanted to join and play I was understandably reluctant. Why spend money on something people seem to dislike so much? Reading reddit made the game sound worse than Duke Nukem Forever. For instance one person says the game is broken to the core. Another person noted that their legitimate copy was disabled. Even mainstream media was writing up negative articles. None of these things inspire confidence in a game which usually inspires positively rabid fans.

It took a little convincing but I eventually decided to give it a shot based on how much fun my friend was having playing the game. I figured I’d get a game session or two out of it before getting bored or frustrated from bugs. I was wrong. While I noticed some bugs (most of which were minor UI glitches) overall the game was fun and playable. In fact I spent five hours one night experimenting with industry. It’s fun! So why are so many people unhappy? There are a few reasons…

There is a simple theory that may explain why some people still rage about the game. Sim City 4 had a large modding community which expanded the game greatly. I’ve even heard some of the mods were done/inspired by people who deal in civic work making the sim even more realistic (I can not confirm this — I did not play Sim City 4 or any of it’s mods). If you try to take the young Sim City 5 and place it up against the older and more  worldly Sim City 4 then 5 won’t be much of a match.

As many people noted the game is far from perfect. While I initially noticed the minor UI bugs I later started to notice more and more wrong with the game. For instance the numbers didn’t always seem to add up which is a problem for a simulation game. Another problem was with destroying service vehicles accidentally. Or  setting up a bus station in a specific way that makes them disappear. The end result is useless mods to service buildings.

But even with these issues I still have had fun. Why? Because I believe the developers will fix the issues — at least most of them. No game is perfect. The more complex a game is the more likely there will be bugs at launch. Some of the bugs can even be fun or funny. However, if most of these bugs still exist in roughly a month I will be pretty upset. If by the end of April the game is not making big leaps forward in polish I’ll probably join in the frustration. If the game does make big movement forward then I’ll be continue to be a happy camper.

If you are thinking about buying the game I recommend waiting till at least the next patch is released. EA has offered a free game to people who bought Sim City 5 but this will be going away after today. While Amazon is selling the game far cheaper than EA I believe most players will want to wait for a more polished product even at that cheaper price point. If you already purchased this game don’t forget today is the last day you can redeem your free game as a Sim City 5 owner. If you have not done it yet, choose and download!

AR Gaming: Ingress If Fun If You Don’t Give Up

In 2001 a game was released that I so badly wanted to play. It was called Majestic and was one of the first alternate reality game with a lot of game press and hype. I wanted to play it due to the blur between reality and game as the game takes place in real life — but just with false facts. I remember reading that one could change the level of realism for the game. For instance you could configure it so that any communication that came your way would be prefixed by a notice that it was from the game, with a marker of some kind or simply not differentiate itself at all. Or at least something like that could be done.

In conversations with my friends I found out that I was the only person I knew who thought this could be fun. My friends would state things about how it would be to much of an interruption to life or that people with severe mental problems could be sucked into the game believing it as reality. As it turned out there was not enough love for the game for it to continue and, sadly, I never got to give it a go myself.

Years went by where I figured the genere had been put in to a corner where only AR geeks would dare go. Half baked sub-indie attempts, extreme role playing guilds and stupid marketing tie-ins. None of these seemed that fun to me. I actually thought about trying to write my own (as in the server application for an ARG) as that seemed more fun than joining one of those ARG-but-not-really-ARG games.

Then Google released Ingress and I waited for an invite. I signed up for the closed beta. More waiting. And then a coworker passed me an invite and I was in.

I loaded up the game and went through the tutorial which confused me. See, I thought I was actually playing in the tutorial and not just learning how to play. I looked around and saw no portals (except the tutorial one) and though that maybe my area was not that hot for playing. Then I realized it was not the full AR but just a tutorial and got into the game proper.

Still confused. I saw these large green things on my device. There wasn’t anything explaining to me what these were so I assumed it meant ‘out of bounds’ areas. Of course later I learned what this meant. I actually played the game for a few weeks before realizing that they were Control Fields. If it wasn’t for my coworker essentially being the instructor of the game mechanics I’d probably of grown tired of being confused.

Once I got the hang of the game running to locations with portals became fun. Granted, I couldn’t do much yet a I was a level 1 agent in a level 4 or higher world but I still I knew I was helping. And it got better. Like any good ARG there was a community which was very active. And not just active within faction but outside as well. While playing it is faction versus faction but we all can have fun outside of the ARG together as well. How great is that?

I’m so glad that today there is the Ingress Field Guide which is exactly what I could have used when I joined up. It explains the dynamics of the game much in a way that Google should have done itself. If you get to join the closed beta take the time to read it guide.

Some Issues

I think that Google not providing information is probably the biggest detriment to the game as people can easily get confused, bored or frustrated especially if there is no community already established in an area.

Another issue is in smaller cities in towns where portals are, at best, very sparse. In such areas I think they should start to place some portals based on people who have joined in the area so that there is something for them to target. When I visited the place I lived previously I found there to be 5 or so portals in the entire city even though there was probably enough players to have many more portals. I have a feeling that those players will get frustrated or bored fighting over the same 5 portals. Even as I left I noticed most of the portals were owned by one of the factions and were high enough level that I doubt the other faction could do much back (unless there was an Op coming in from other cities).

The last issue I see is in balance. If either faction becomes too powerful they can dominate and sort of force the other faction from playing any longer. This takes time (and a whole lot of effort from the first faction) but it’s possible. The only fix for this is in rules and game balance as set by Google. We will see how they fix this over time.

But Worth It

Even with it’s faults I’m having a lot of fun and meeting people I normally would have never met. People in different industries. Folks from different backgrounds. People traveling in from different areas. The game is still evolving and the player base continues to grow as well. If all goes well the issues will be addressed by Google over time. The game is still in closed beta so changes and fixes are likely to continue. But even if they don’t fix all the issues the game is still a blast right now!

Nintendo Wii U

It should come as no surprise I like video games. I’ve owned (at one time or another) each of the current generation systems. In fact that the believe I’ve owned at least two 360s and exactly two PS3’s. Why? Hardware failure. After my second or third 360 death I moved to PS3 which lasted years before needing a replacement. For the Wii I stood in line for hours launch day and was barely at the cut off point when they did the counting. I got sick from standing so long in the cold but it was worth it.

This week the Nintendo Wii U has been on my mind a lot. It’s the first of the next generation consoles. It’s marketing to people like me has been incredibly poor. I’m not a classic cable watcher or OTA network guy so all ads I’ve seen have been online. Many times I have to seek out information rather than be enticed by advertising. For me this means there is still things about the Wii U that I’m sure I don’t know about.

One feature I just picked up on was TVii. It actually matches half of what I’ve really been wanting in a media center device by finding the prices and availability across services I have seen subscribe to.

The primary usage of a Wii U is videos games. No brainer. It’s a Nintendo device. Recently I walked up to one of the demo stations at a store. The tablet style controller was comfortable and lighter than you’d expect but all of the games on the station were video only. I was pretty disappointed with the graphics quality shown.

I wasn’t expecting realistic graphics or anything like that but watching the videos on the station I felt like it was not much of a step up. Yes, better but an evolutionary step for the console series, not a revolutionary one. I saw artifacts on Mario. I shouldn’t be seeing that.

Granted, this could be the demo stations fault. It’s possible cheap televisions are in use. Maybe it will look better connected to a normal consumer TV. But then again this is a station that is there to entice me into buying. The only thing I could say for sure was that the station had the opposite effect. I went in with a secondary objective to find out about launch day plans or pre ordering but left pretty sure I would not be buying a Wii U.

But after further thoughts I think TVii is what will tip the scales for me. Not at first, mind you. I want to make sure it’s not a gimmick that falls into the shadows after launch. As long as TVii gets added sources and good post launch reviews  I think I’ll have a place for the the Wii U.

Indie Games and Mew-Genics!!

Over the last few months I’ve been getting more and more into indie games. I’ve even toyed around with the idea of trying my hand at a super simple indie-indie game (just to see what the whole cycle is like). I’ve not stopped playing games from big studios but I do find many if the indie games to be much more satisfying either due to the unique mechanics and new ideas or from the retro feel sending me back to why I started playing games in the first place. Who would have thought I could have so much fun watching a fleet of ships run away from my managerial skills?

And fun indie gaming brings me to Team Meat, the creators of Super Meat Boy. Team Meat announced development on a new game called Mew-Genics. Right now there is very little information other than the blog post and the teaser image. Though even with missing specifics I’m not any less excited about this great indie duo pumping out another fun to play game with a strong dose if uniqueness!

If you are unfamiliar with Team Meat or have not watched Indie Game: The Movie, watch it now!