Games I’ve Been Playing: Pocket Trains

I’m back, my people!
Playing game

Get Pocket Trains for iOS here.
Get Pocket Trains for Android here.
Or watch the gameplay video here.

Oh wow, it’s been quite some times since I posted anything here. Have no fear, I’m back now! And I also got a much longer and heavier post ready to be published. In the meanwhile, I hope this light post on the latest game I’ve been playing would whet your appetite.

Onward, then.

Choo choo!

So, what is Pocket Trains? Is it some sort of Tamagotchi game where you raise train that grows longer and longer? Well, the truth isn’t far off, because instead of raising a train, you’re managing a network of railroads that grows larger and larger.

Pocket Trains is the latest game from Nimble Bit, a game studio known for its addicting timer-based game Tiny Tower. So as you might expect, Pocket Trains is another one of their attempt at the casual, timer-based simulation genre. On Pocket Trains, you will send various trains across the world, wait for them to arrive at their destination, and then proceed to collect the reward. The reward you get can be used to grow your railroad empire by purchasing track to another city or building a new train you can use.

Despite being a timer-based game, Pocket Trains isn’t one of those games where you can advance by just mindlessly tapping stuff on the screen. For each train you have, you must manually choose which stuff the train will deliver. Since different jobs have different reward, there’s some sort of tactical aspect to the game where player must choose the best route and jobs to attain the best reward possible.

To be honest though, I still can’t decide wheter this tactical layer a bad thing or a good thing. It sure brings more depth to the game, but it also brings more complexity.

Map

In addition to the standard delivery job, Pocket Trains also has daily events to spice things up. Every day (real life day) you will get a new random goal to deliver stuff to (or from) a certain location. I really like the addition of daily goals on this type of game. It gives a smaller goal that player can chase everyday so they won’t just play around aimless.

Speaking of aimlessness, despite the addition of daily events, progression (or the lack of it) is a major problem in Pocket Trains. Yes, your railroad empire gets bigger and you also have more trains to manage, but the game does a really poor job of conveying this growth. The railroads isn’t getting more used, the stuff you deliver stays the same, even the stations aren’t getting more crowded.

Part of the problem with the progression is the low amount of available upgrades. You can only upgrade the train fuel capacity and how much stuff it could carry. So no, you can’t make your trains go faster or use the fuel more efficient or any other upgrades you can think of. I mean, it’s called Pocket Trains for god’s sake, so why can’t I tinker with those trains?

Station

I may have been a bit harsh on Pocket Trains on my writing here (still, Nimble Bit has shown that they can do better), but it’s still a game I’d easily recommend to anyone. Despite all its flaws, Pocket Trains is still a good game that you can easily get into when you found yourself with a tiny bit of free time. And it’s free too!

For the time being though, I’m still waiting for that Tiny Deathstar 😉

Games I’ve Been Playing: Minigore 2 Zombies

Would the “Zombies” in the title drive more readers to this blog? =p
Playing game

Get Minigore 2: Zombies for iOS here.
Or watch the gameplay video here!

Hi there, it’s been a while since I blogged about anything. Yeah, sorry about that, my schedule is kinda tight lately. But don’t worry, I’m going to be more free in the coming weeks, so hopefully I can get back to my regular blogging routine. And with that, let’s open up this comeback with another Games I’ve Been Playing post!

So, what game have I been playing lately? Well, after getting over my affair with Nimble Quest, the game that I seem to keep picking up these days is Minigore 2: Zombies. Truth be told, this game has been sitting on my iPod for quite a while now, but I only around got to play it lately (yeah, I have a habit of purchasing a game and not touching it until days later @.@).

Screenshot 1

So, what is Minigore 2: Zombies? Is it just another zombie game?

Well, it IS a zombie game, but it is also a dual-stick shooter. And I always have a soft spot in my heart for mobile dual-stick shooter. I think that genre has the perfect combination of simplicity and intensity for mobile platforms. And come on, who doesn’t like killing zombies or other monsters?

Then, how does Minigore 2 differ from other dual-stick shooters? Well, for starter, your weapon is limited by the number of ammunition that the weapon has, which means you have to keep scouring the maps for more weapons to switch to. So you need to keep your eye on the ammo indicator if you don’t want to find yourself weaponless and (later) dead. There are also some melee weapons for you to try, but unfortunately they aren’t as fun to use as the machine guns.

One other thing, and this, I think, is the best differentiator that the game has. There’s only a single currency in the game. Hurrah! No more badass weapon that can only be unlocked by purchasing some In-App Purchase. Hurrah! No more depression because you just lost and the best weapon needs to be unlocked with real money. To be honest, I think this is the reason why I keep playing the game.

And by the way, while this is a zombie game, and the game title even has the word “gore” in it, don’t think for a second that this is a scary game. It’s quite the opposite in fact, I think the visual in this game is quite charming with all that blocky looks. Sometime I wonder if blocky model is the pixel art version of 3D artworks XD

Screenshot 2

Zombies, penguins, and Russians. What else could you possibly want?

I may have lied a bit when I told you that Minigore 2 is a dual-stick shooter. In fact, the game is a lot closer to a single-stick-with-a-separate-button-for-firing shooter. Yeah, the game default setting has the Auto Aim feature turned on, so the player will automatically shoot the nearest enemy (or something like that, the aiming is a bit weird sometime) when the fire button is pressed.

Based on the decision to turn on the auto-aim by default, it is clear that the game is much more geared toward moving and positioning the character instead of plain old shooting (so, dual-stick mover?). In fact, I found my left thumb hurting a lot since I tend to press really hard on the screen, hoping the character would move faster. A lot of stuff in the game supports this focus on movement too, like having the enemy not instantly attacking when the player got in the attack range.

Making the game more about about moving rather than aiming and shooting is a really nice move on the developer’s part. It fits the touchscreen control perfectly since it reduces the amount of control the player need to worry about. Not to mention that it makes the game really simple.

Screenshot 3

One thing that surprises me the most about this game is the replayability. I have finished all 7 levels provided in the game, yet I still find myself playing the game from time to time. This is partially due to the fact that I can still progress further, namely in the weapon department, even though there’s no more new level for me. In fact, I think I only unlocked 20% of all the weapon upgrades, so there’s still long way to go for me.

Apparently separating the level/game progress with the unlockable/character progress is a good way to extract more play time from a game. Just keep in mind that it won’t work if the base gameplay isn’t fun, since I wouldn’t buy better guns if killing those zombies with better gun isn’t fun. And by the way, each level in the game can be repeated with increasing difficulty, so the game actually does still offer more challenge to overcome even after the player beat the game.

Seems like we have reached the end of my game impression, and I haven’t uttered a single complaint about the game! Wow, is Minigore 2 a flawless, perfect game? Well, it may be flawless, but it surely isn’t perfect. While the game is good and overall enjoyable, there is no high point that could make me think “Whoa, this thing is awesome!”. And I don’t think I ever find myself got really sucked into the game.

All in all, Minigore 2 is money well spent and I know it will keep me entertained for a couple more days. Well, that’s all for know, I still got zombies to kill!

[1GAM-Apr] Black Holes iOS Log

May be I should have gone with “Black Holes iLog” instead?
Black HolesWelcome to the progress log for my OneGameAMonth entry for April! As usual, it’s late, but at least it’s only late by 7 days.

You may have noticed that there’s no numbering in the post title, unlike the previous logs where I numbered my post with Log #1, Log #2, and so on. Don’t worry, that just means this log is going to cover everything I did in April, so there’s no need for a second or third log.

Wait, a single post for an entire month of work? How could that be?

Well, my entry for April is a bit unusual, you see. Instead of working on a brand new game, I simply ported one of my Android game, Black Holes, to the iOS platform. But that doesn’t mean I have it easy. In fact, I think this April entry is the one that requires the most work so far (not the most difficult work, mind you).

And since I’m just porting stuff, there isn’t a lot of design process happened. I don’t really like writing a lengthy, technical stuff either, so there isn’t really much I could write in the progress log. And with that in mind, I decided that a single log would be enough to cover the entire month.

To be honest, I’ve always wanted to have a game for Apple devices. Not because people said that’s where the money is, but because I want to know more about the iOS market, about the behavior of iOS users, about stuff that would affect my download count. And what would be a better way to learn about it other than to actually release a game on the App Store?

And since I did Black Holes purely using Android SDK, it is only fitting (or stupid?) to do Black Holes for iOS purely using iOS SDK and Objective-C as well.

Title screen on iPhone

So, how did the porting go?

Basically, I worked on it using a bottom-up approach. I started with porting a lot of the game base components, like images, file loading, and touches detection before moving to the more abstract stuff like game loop and resource management. Not surprisingly, the abstract stuff can be ported quite easily while the low-end stuff requires a bit more work (AKA googling).

Fortunately, despite the differences in both platform, I didn’t encounter anything too difficult. Two things surprise me though, one is the fact that iOS doesn’t seem to have a definite place to store game save data (whereas Android has SharedPreference). Another one is the fact that iOS has a really complete suite of audio processing. I mean, it has like 6 different classes just for handling audio.

Oh, and another thing that surprises me is the fact that file management on an Xcode project is a total nightmare. I keep having to create and recreate the project since moving stuff around often leads to things breaking down.

With all said and done, I finally managed to port the game and have it running on my iPod. I was fortunate since Black Holes is on the simple side and doesn’t utilize all the components my game framework has. Yeah, you guessed it, there are actually still tons of stuff not ported yet to iOS, most notably accelerometer input and scrollable item list.

Another major omission from the game’s (and framework’s) current state is the support for iPad. My game framework has been doing pretty well in handling multiple resolutions, but having two base resolutions is a whole different beast. And I’m not prepared for that.

Yet iOS developers have been dealing with that problem for years now. So yeah, I still need to research how other people are doing it before actually adding iPad support. Not to mention that I would need an actual iPad to test it, since the iPad simulator on Mac doesn’t seem to work for me.

Black Holes on iPhone

While I did say that the game has been successfully ported, it has not been released on the App Store yet.

As this post is written, I’m still struggling to finish up some administration stuff since I want to sell the game. I suppose I can just publish the game for free, but I kinda want to see how a paid game would fare and how the market would react when the game becomes free. After all, I did this for the sake of learning more about the market.

All in all, I’m quite satisfied with how the port turns out. Haven’t test it thoroughly yet, but so far I haven’t see any lag or memory leaks. That said, there are some rough edges since the size isn’t exactly optimized for iPhone’s resolution. But eh, I can live with that.

Oh, and speaking of which, my game and the framework it used is totally open sourced on GitHub (except for the music, that is). The plan is to have Black Holes as an example of how the framework can be used since its quite complex but still pretty simple. And since the game is also available on Android, it would easily shows how the framework can be used for multiple platforms. So yeah, feel free to check it out.

Phew, and with this, I’ve paid off all my progress log writing debt. We’re going back to our regular schedule, people!

So, what’s coming up this May? Well, you’ll have to see for yourself in the May progress log, which hopefully doesn’t take too long to be posted. Suffice to say, it would be totally different from my previous OneGameAMonth entries. This time we’re going to focus our effort on a rather unusual aspect of a game.

Wait, did I just say “we”? Indeed, for my May entry I’ll be teaming up with a friend to help me finish this massive undertaking. And when I asked for help from other people, you know it’s going to be something exciting or something big, or may be even both!

Games I’ve Been Playin: Slayin

Almost couldn’t resist naming this post “They See Me Playin, They Slayin” XD
Playing game
Get Slayin for iOS here.
Play Slayin on your browser here.

Whew, seems like it’s been forever since I wrote anything here. Granted, it’s only 3 weeks, but it still feels like a long, long time to me. So let’s open up with something light, a Games I’ve Been Playing post!

Our guest of honor for this post is Slayin, an endless arcade game for iOS with retro looks. Some days ago I promised that I’ll have the game as the topic of my next Games I’ve Been Playing series, and so, here we are.

My first encounter with Slayin is on a preview article, and I immediately knew that I have to give it a try when I saw the screenshot (pictured below). I mean, come on, it has a pixelated retro look, a fire-breathing dragon, an armored knight, and a freaking NES controller for controlling the knight. If that doesn’t scream awesomeness, I don’t know what does.

Anyway, the game finally arrived on the App store and I was really pleased to discover that it actually has a solid gameplay to pair up with the fantastic theme. Later on I found out that I can buy equipment upgrades for my knight at a shop, giving the game a hint of RPG feelings. At that point, I just fell in love with the game.

I didn’t know that I could love the game even more, but I actually did when I figured out that I can purchase a new look for the controller (just check out the controller in the last picture of this post, it seriously looks bad-ass). And when I discovered that I could turn on scanlines effect for an even more retro look, I was simply ecstatic.

Slayin screenshot dragon

The screenshot that captured my heart

Wait, let’s roll back a bit. What is Slayin? How does it play out?

Well, Slayin is some sort of an arena game where you keep fighting monsters in a closed area to increase your level and collect coins. In a way, it really is similar to Spellsword, another really nice arena game. The difference is that Slayin is an endless game, which means that as your level increases, so does the amount of more monsters thrown at you.

Their difference doesn’t stop at that, while Spellsword is a hardcore game where you have to jump around quickly and accurately, Slayin is a really simple game where your hero will automatically move and kill any enemy he hits. So it’s just a matter of changing direction and deciding when to jump. This simple control surprisingly works very well for what seemed to be a hardcore game (I mean, slaying monsters and all that sound pretty hardcore, aren’t they?).

Slayin tries to add some depth to its simple gameplay by having a shop where the players could get upgrades for their hero. I really like their implementation of this shop since it lets the players choose how they want to play the game. You want to play a tank with tons of health? Upgrade your armor so you can endure more attacks! Or may be you want to kill enemies easily? Buy a longer sword. Coupled with the medieval setting, there’s a really strong hint of RPG oozing out from this game.

And have I mentioned anything about the bosses? Once in a while, a boss will spawn in the arena which can only be killed after a few hits. And I’ve gotta say, I’m really, really impressed with the variety of bosses shown in the game. At first I thought they will be as simple as “dodge twice, then attack the opening”, but instead the game got a teleporting insect, a bouncing-and-splitting giant slime, and other crazy stuff as the bosses. Simply put, boss encounters in the game never seem to bore me.

Slayin screenshot controller

That said, the game could really use more contents. While the game features 2 more heroes that can be unlocked, the second unlockable hero plays almost the same as the default one. It would be really awesome if the player has three ways to play the game instead of two, since each hero gives the game a unique feeling.

And the lack of noticeable progress is disturbing too. Sure, we have unlockables like the heroes and a few custom controllers, but these unlockables don’t make me any better at playing. I suppose the developer wish to have a pure-skill based game, which is totally understandable, but that doesn’t mean a skill-based upgrade can’t be incorporated into the game.

With all that said though, I still loved the game. I think it manages to nail a lot of stuff perfectly even though it lacks that addictive, one more time feeling.

A little trivia, I actually came to the same conclusion ages ago when I tweeted my initial impression on Slayin XD

Games I’ve Been Playing: Nimble Quest

Yep, it’s only one game this time around.
Playing gameGet Nimble Quest for iOS here.
Get Nimble Quest for Mac here.
Get Nimble Quest for Android here.
Or just watch the trailer here.

Well, it’s time for another helping of the Games I’ve Been Playing series!

As you’ve seen from the title, we’re only going to talk about one single game this time. And it’s not because I haven’t played any other mobile games, it’s just that this is the game that I’m most excited about right now. Not to mention that this game is rather unique so doing a thorough examination of it would be fun.

To tell you the truth, I could have talked about a recent super popular indie game called Ridiculous Fishing. Unlike most people though, I hated that game. So I don’t know if I’m qualified to write about it since I haven’t played much of the game. May be I should just write a short rant about it some time later.

Anyway, yes, I’ve been playing a lot of Nimble Quest lately. In case you don’t know, Nimble Quest is a game from NimbleBit, the creator of Tiny Tower and Pocket Planes. Seeing their track record of producing awesome games, could Nimble Quest be another hit? What is it about anyway?

Nimble Quest

In Nimble Quest you take control of a group of heroes fighting monsters in various places. This group of heroes will keep moving forward so you have to control their movement direction with a swipe of your finger to avoid hitting walls or monsters. As those monsters are defeated they may drop a power up or an additional hero that can be added to your group.

It’s funny how most article about this game likened it to Snake (yeah, that classic game on your old Nokia phone) while it actually reminds me of those old JRPGs character train. You know, it’s that silly system where the main characters are lined up and moves around the map in a single row. Not to mention that Nimble Quest takes place in a medieval setting, which is one of the most common settings of JRPG.

Actually, that’s what gets me so excited about the game. If you use a bit of your imagination, you could see Nimble Quest as some sort of Action RPG where the heroes roam around the map battling monsters. And if the mechanism in this game is actually good, then other developers could use the same control scheme to build a new breed of mobile RPGs (because let’s admit it, those virtual joypads suck).

Party train

Well, since I’m kinda pumped for this game, I quickly give it a try when NimbleBit provides a web version of the game as a preview. Unfortunately, my initial reaction after playing it for a while is just “okay”. The game isn’t bad, but it doesn’t make me go “Holy crap, this is the best thing on Earth!” like when I first played Punch Quest or Temple Run.

However my opinion slowly changed once I got the the game on my iPod. Somehow I still feel that the game is “meh”, but then I realized that I’m actually playing it whenever I have time to waste (waiting for a download to finish, int the toilet, etc). So is it actually a good game?

Well, part of if why I play it every time is because it has such a perfect session length for a mobile game. Games like Jetpack Joyride also has a short play session, but each time you finish a session you actually still want to play more. Nimble Quest doesn’t have that feeling, so once I died I feel it’s okay to just close the game.

Now that I think about it, may be that’s why I’m not really into the game in the beginning. Because it doesn’t leave me wanting for more.

Heroes

Another factor that makes me keep playing the game is progress. Not “progress” in the sense of advancing to the next level or unlocking new stuff or revealing another part of the story. While that kind of progress would help, I would stop playing once I got stuck at something.

What I mean by progress is to have every game I played to be meaningful. To have every game session contributes to me getting stronger. And Nimble Quest does pretty well in this area since every time I play I will get some crystals (the in-game currency) and the hero will get some experience points.

I especially like how the heroes can be be leveled up. The heroes can be leveled up by both filling up their experience bar as well as by using crystals to unlock the next level. And they’re not exclusive, filling up their experience will make their leveling up cost to be cheaper. And that further reinforces the feeling of progress since anything I do in the game, whether it’s defeating enemies or collecting crystals, will make my heroes get stronger.

That said, I’m not really a fan of the game upgrading system. The game only have upgrades for those powerups that are randomly dropped by the enemy. And since they’re random, upgrading those powerups doesn’t make me feel stronger. After all, those power ups are not a reliable source of power since I some time get a powerup that I don’t need (such as an attack-increase when there’s no enemy).

The hero leveling system actually suffers a bit of this problem too. Each hero has a specific set of upgrades, like an armor increase for the first level up and an attack range for the second one. So a lot of times I found my hero level up to be kinda useless, because who needs armor when you died instantly if you run into an enemy.

Pre level

By the way, while the early part of the game (like, the first four levels) kinda resembles Snake or even a simple Action RPG, the late-game part actually feels like you’re controlling this train of doom that shoots fireball to all direction. It’s a giant bundle of chaotic fun, too bad at that point the game becomes really hard.

Anyway, right now I’m kinda stuck at the Depth level (a hell/volcano-themed area) and the third hero level up requirement is kinda crazy. So yeah, I don’t know if I’ll ever finish the game at this rate.

Well, that’s all for now. Besides, this post has gotten longer than I originally planned for. Let’s hope I found another game that I’m excited to talk about!

Games I’ve Been Playing: Pixel People and Virtual City

Seriously contemplating to name this post “Games I’ve Been Playing: City Builder Edition
Playing game

Remember when I said I wanted to review games?

Well, problem is, I don’t really want to play things that isn’t interesting to me. A couple of days ago I tried Grudger, thinking that I can write a review for it. However, after a couple of minutes of playing, I can see that it sucks so I quickly refunded it. Unfortunately, that has invalidated me from reviewing it (the only review I can give is: Don’t buy it). I also got interested in Hell Yeah! and The Gods: Rebellion, but their size are too big for me to download (my connection has bandwidth cap at the moment).

But I still want to talk (or write) about games. So I decided to forget the reviewing part and just write about games that I’m currently playing. After all, I wrote this because I’m interested in a certain game and want the world to know about my opinion, not to create a review site. Besides, this allow me to write older games and not just new ones.

Oh, and I guess I’ll stick to mobile games. I’m also currently playing Guild Wars 2 and Farcry 3, but talking about mobile games is more fun. Anyway, let’s get it on!

Pixel People

I just got a 5th-gen iPod touch (I lost my previous 4th-gen one T_T), and the first new game that I put on it is Pixel People. I’ve actually taken an interest on the game ever since I saw its beautifully detailed pixel art on a preview article, and boy, it definitely doesn’t disappoint.

On Pixel People, you must build city, assign workers to buildings, and collect money every hour or so. Kinda sound like your typical freemium, timer-based, city-building game, eh? Fortunately Pixel People has a really interesting twist on it, you can combine professions with one another to unlock new profession. Combine a secretary with a dreamer and you a get writer, then combine the writer with a detective and you get a reporter. Seriously, discovering those profession is really, really fun, and there are 155 professions for you to find!

Interestingly, this 155 professions limit actually provides the game with an ending, because once you got all of those professions, there isn’t much incentive to play any more. This simple limit actually made the game much more enjoyable since there’s a feeling of progress other than the size of your city. I really like Tiny Tower for it’s simple interface, but I eventually gave up playing it since there’s just no end to it. With Pixel People it’s different, I can see myself playing it for days until I finally unlock all 155 professions =D

For me, Tiny Tower has always been the epitome of timer-based game, but now it looks like I have to give that title to Pixel People.

Virtual City

The other games I’ve been playing is Virtual City (on Nexus 7 this time). Truth be told, I’ve played it on my PC several years ago but never got around to finish it (I managed to got 60% through the game if I recall correctly). So the moment I saw it on Google Play, I know it’s my chance to finally finish it (and continue with the sequels =p).

Virtual City is another city building game, but it takes a way different approach to Pixel People (or other city building games). Instead of simply putting down buildings and expanding a city, on Virtual City you have to manage supply chain for factories. So it’s not enough to just have a sawmill, you also need to setup a transportation route that can move those lumbers to a furniture factory effectively. Oh and there’s also houses and buses that you need to manage on top of that supply chain stuff.

All in all, I really like Virtual City’s spin on the city building genre. It doesn’t feel as strategy-heavy as real city building simulation like SimCity but it doesn’t feel as shallow as those timer-based, casual city building game. That said, the game isn’t translated very well for mobile platform. There’s some addition that makes it easier to use on mobile device, but it’s clear the game isn’t made with touchscreen in mind.

Now I need to finish both of these games so I can move on to the next one. Or hey, may be it’s time for me to learn multitasking properly? =3

SHADOWGUN trailer

So… I just saw the trailer for SHADOWGUN, Madfinger’s latest game.
(it will come to Android, don’t worry)


My reaction? Holy shit…

I have always loved Madfinger Games, Samurai II: Vengeance is one of those games that I bought for my Galaxy Tab 10.1. And it definitely doesn’t disappoint. To be honest, I always thought they will simply reuse their Samurai engine and make Samurai III, but they developed this game instead. Come on, an over-the-shoulder shooter with cover mechanism and beautiful graphics? Definitely a first day buy to me.

From a technical perspective, it’s really amazing. In action games like this one, FPS is really important as it affects your skill and gameplay experience. But from what I saw in the video, it manages to deliver a really smooth gameplay while still having one of the best graphics in mobile games. And it uses Unity as the engine that powers the game, which should say something about the capability of Unity for mobile platforms. Where’s that mobile Unreal Engine, BTW?


From that gameplay video, other than how awesome it is, I have two things that trouble me. First off, how are you going to move the player and rotate the camera? I don’t see any joystick, only a button for shooting and interacting with objects. And the second one is the fact that there is no cover-to-cover movement, which is a really important feature of a cover mechanism.

Nevertheless, I like games like this, as it pushes the boundary of mobile gaming.
BTW, does anyone thinks that the main character of the game looks just like Bruce Willis? XD