Monthly Archives: May 2019

Burning Daylight: Ascend, Naked One.

Games built by students are, for the most part, completely terrible. Many of my friends went into game development courses and the games they developed as part of them were clunky, god awful messes that never made it onto their resumes. That’s part of the learning experience though as it’s one thing to play games and think you understand how they’re crafted and a completely different thing to actually sit down and do it yourself. With the democratisation of game development and distribution tools however we’re starting to see more games from students that will likely become the foundation upon which their creators look to build their future careers. Burning Daylight, made by a team of 12 students from The Animation Workshop, is likely to be one of those games as, whilst far from perfect, it does showcase just what that team is capable of producing.

Waking up naked in a grotesque slaughterhouse, you have no recollection of who you are or where you come from. Your only clue is a mysterious tattoo on your chest. You must now escape and travel through a dystopian society in order to uncover the mysteries of your origin. The story is set in the future where life cannot sustain outside, what remains of human society, now lives in megastructures waiting for the day, when they once again can live outside.

Burning Daylight’s artwork is quite an interesting array of barren dystopian corridors, oversaturated neon futurscapes and minimalistic nature scenes. Given that the game is really just a walking simulator these different landscapes are mostly just there for you to get a sense of the world you’re in, giving you different views of what life in the the giant megastructure is like. The artwork simplistic but still above par for what I’d expect from an all student team. The animation could do with some work though as all the interactions feel incredibly stiff and unnatural. Strangely the team did a good job of making the Unreal engine feel like Unity, something about the modelling style and lack of overused specular maps. All things considered though Burning Daylight does a good job of communicating story elements through its visuals, a key concept in walking simulators like this.

There’s really no mechanics to speak of, save for a few extremely rudimentary puzzles that you’ll have to solve. That’s likely for the best too as the ones that are implemented are a little janky, both in their implementation but also in their logic. Indeed whilst I’d consider the visuals above par the rest of the game’s implementation is very mediocre. The game crashed on me once and for some reason didn’t record that I’d actually gone past a checkpoint, forcing me to replay an entire section for no reason at all. In a 45 minute game this is no real drama of course but it’s not like checkpointing is a NP hard problem.

The story is an interesting one, told mostly though the activities of those milling around in the background as you run past. It’s nothing original but thanks to its short duration it gets right to the point. There’s some overemphasis on things that don’t mean anything to the overall story, like your character being naked from the waste down for half of it, but thankfully you can ignore them. The story in the game is self contained however the Steam page paints a picture of a bigger world that I think the developers want to explore. Given the game’s success I think there’s a real possibility of that happening.

As a standalone game Burning Daylight isn’t much: a 45 minute walking simulator experience with good artwork that’s marred by its janky animations and rudimentary mechanics. However what it represents is something much more: students can now go from concept to public release, giving them real world experience that they can then leverage into something more. Whilst Burning Daylight isn’t exactly game of the year material it is a solid first try from those who’d never attempted the craft before.

Rating: 7.0/10

Burning Daylight is available on PC right now for free. Total play time was 47 minutes.

Rise of Industry: Our Profit Runneth Over.

Transport Tycoon has a very special place in my heart. It started back when I was a young lad, the game likely coming to me from my father who’d got it from some friends at work. I remember loving building little bus networks and trying to figure out just exactly how to make a business profitable. I was so proud when I made my first virtual million, ever so slowly creeping towards the goal as I finally began to understand the mechanics. Decades later I’d revisit it with my wife and house mate. All of us installing OpenTTD and having a blast competing with each other for hours on end. So when I saw Rise of Industry I was instantly intrigued, the gameplay giving me instant waves of nostalgia for those times. Whilst I can very much appreciate the mechanical depth that’s been built into this game there just wasn’t that something, that X factor, to keep me coming back after I’d grasped the base mechanics. It’s a shame really as I think that there’s probably a great game in there somewhere, it’s just not where I’m looking for it.

The premise is easy to understand: you’re a new business owner seeking to profit from the old fashioned game of supply and demand. You’ll choose a place to plonk down your headquarters which gives you the rights to build various gathering and production buildings in the region. The town has demands that you can meet, although you’ll want to pick your products carefully as not all of them will put you on the path to wealth. From there you’ll work through a tech tree to build even more elaborate products and infrastructure, allowing you to extract even more profit from your town. Over time you can expand your empire to other regions and you’ll have to set up transport routes between your different areas as there’s likely going to be things one place has that the other needs. As you’d expect this can all get pretty complex and whilst the tutorial does a good job of giving you the basics from there on out it’s up to you figure out how you and your company will profit.

Rise of Industry has the tried and true low poly look that’s very much in vogue these days. For the most part the developers have done a good job of keeping the visual confusion down with most buildings being recogniseable from a decent distance, saving you the trouble of hunting for that one factory you put in the middle of everything. Performance is also quite good, only really suffering when you fully zoom out and numerous other towns come into view. By default the UI is painfully small but thankfully there’s an option to increase the scale of it, making the game quite a lot easier on the eyes. The developers have also done a good job with the sound design, emulating a lot of other simulation style games. I’m not sure how to describe it, just that there seems to be a certain kind of soundscape that screams “You’re playing a simulation game!” which everyone uses. It seems the 2 or so years it has spent in various beta and Early Access forms has paid off.

Where TTD was focused just on the transportation of a few kinds of goods Rise of Industry takes it well into the next level with multiple different industry types all requiring their own specific set of resources. The staple is the Farmers Market which is mostly focused on items that can be built directly but the rest of them typically have requirements for products that you’ll need to manufacture. Of course that then means there’s usually inputs to those factories that you’ll have to gather first before you can start generating that item. From there you can start moving up different tiers of products which will likely require input of products from the previous tier. This then progresses up a further 2 more tiers, finally culminating in “prototype” products which win you the game once you sell one. There’s also a city levelling system built in, essentially allowing you to help the city expand and, by extension, get more shops for you to profit from. I believe there’s also trade built in here somewhere but I never got to the point where I needed to do that. Suffice to say there’s an absolute truckload of stuff to explore in Rise of Industry which is both a blessing and a curse.

Logistics will play a large part in your success and whilst the tutorial gives you the basics of how to run things it also sets you up for a micromanaging nightmare. Warehouses by default will gather everything produced in their radius, you don’t need to set up requests for them like the tutorial tells you to do. You can, however, direct places outside of their gather radius to send things to them, something which helps immensely if you didn’t plan your layout particularly well. You’ll probably need to make use of the manual routes quite often regardless as it seems that, even in an abundance of a particular resource (say water) some places will still not get their needs filled for whatever reason. Further on you’ll also have numerous routes going everywhere, something that’s easy enough to keep track of whilst you’re building them but becomes a tangled web of crazy once you’ve moved onto the next item you want to build.

There were two things that killed it for me: the feeling that every product is essentially the same and a lack of overall driving force to keep me playing. The first is easy enough to explain: basically every product you produce is basically the same in the end. Progressing through the tech trees really doesn’t reward you much more than giving you another building to look at. TTD at least gave you new vehicles, different kinds of transportation and a changing landscape with the passage of time. Rise of Industry by comparison feels pretty stagnant once you get everything set up and all you end up doing is counting down the time till the next research project completes. It’s much the same feeling I got after playing Stellaris for some time as the mechanical depth feels great initially but after a while it gets tedious as you simply wait until you can do the next cool thing.

The lack of meaningful competitors is probably what’s driving the latter as it’s blindly easy to build a profitable business, taking a lot of pressure away from you. Sure, your competitors pop up from time to time when an event or auction happens but they don’t ever seem to want to muscle in on your turf or say trash talk you when you’re trying to expand and losing cash like mad. The game itself does warn you about these things though, so the mechanism is in there for them to make the AIs something more than the one dimensional automatons that they are now. Without a meaningful adversary and little drive to want to achieve the next tier of products I ended up just getting bored each time I played, ultimately only ever making one save and even then I didn’t go back to it more than once.

Rise of Industry is a game I was so sure I’d like as it had everything that I’d want in a spiritual successor to one of my favourite childhood games. The aesthetics, mechanics and sound design were all done in a way that made buying it a no-brainer. However it just didn’t grab me in the way I expected it to, instead lacking that driving force that used to keep me glued to my seat for hours on end. To be sure I recognise that it’s a very well built game, one I’m sure many will find countless hours of enjoyment in, it’s just that it just didn’t hit the mark for this old reviewer. Perhaps if I’d been involved in it from its early days I might be singing a different tune but for me, today, Rise of Industry is something I’ll be leaving up on the shelf.

Rating: 7.5/10

Rise of Industry is available on PC right now for $42.95. Total play time was 4.5 hours with a total of 29% of the achievements unlocked.

Katana ZERO: Yes, That Should Work.

Steam’s recommendation engine, despite the unholy treasure trove of data they have on what everyone plays, is total arse. Even the new discover queue is a hit and miss affair; weighted extremely heavily towards the last handful of games you’ve played. I’d know too as I got recommended dozens of visuals novels after playing Dream Daddy and not a single other visual novel game (I don’t count Pyre in that genre, for what it’s worth). Suffice to say I don’t have a lot of trust in it and there’s not many games from there that I end up buying. Katana ZERO is an exception to this rule however as it popped up as a recommended game for me and was bought shortly after. The videos were just enough to grab my interest but its solid mechanics, great artwork and perfect game length is what makes it one of 2019’s more interesting titles to date.

You are a samurai assassin, blessed with the gift of precognition. This allows you to look into the future and plan out your moves, ensuring that no target is outside your reach. However you know nothing of your past, save for the fact that you were involved in a great war some time ago and you’re haunted by nightmares from your childhood. Your therapist is helping you though and thankfully the dose of the drugs he gives you is going down. So you keep doing his bidding, taking out targets that he gives to you after each session. Still though something feels off, time seems to flow strangely every so often, the past, present and future mixing together until they all coalesce back together. Although that can’t be right, time always flows forward right?

Katana ZERO has some of the best pixel art I’ve seen in recent times, seamlessly mixing in modern elements that give it a really nice visual flair. This is made all the more impressive that it’s created in GameMaker, something which has a reputation much like Unity for having a certain kind of aesthetic for all titles built with it. The frame rate was also consistently high, something that I’ve definitely not seen done a lot with other GameMaker based titles. On top of this Katana Zero has a great original sound track, one that’s available in ogg format in the game’s base directory should you happen to want it. Overall I’m very impressed with Katana ZERO’s level of craftsmanship.

Mechanically Katana ZERO is a kind of beat em up puzzler as every level is about planning out your moves, figuring out what triggers what and how to overcome seemingly impossible scenarios. You have a couple key mechanics at your disposal: roll which makes you invulnerable, the ability to slow down time significantly for a short period and your usual array of 2D melee combat mechanics. You’ve got one life and a single hit will take you down so you’ll have to plan your attack route carefully. There’s no upgrades, items or inventory to manage; all you have to do is make it to the end of the level by laying waste to everything in your wake. Of course that’s much easier said than done but Katana ZERO provides ample challenge without being unnecessarily difficult. A fine line to walk in this age of Dark Souls clones who are trying to out compete each other in brutality.

The combat is incredibly satisfying when you’re able to clear a stage in a single section, giving you that lovely feeling of being the badass ninja assassin. Of course there’s certain levels which have the “fuck you player” mechanics in them, I.E. things right at the end of levels that’ll kill you instantly and the only way to know about them is to play the level. The boss fights could also prove challenging for some as they all have very particular mechanics that aren’t particularly straightforward. Still Katana ZERO’s combat feels a lot more forgiving than other, similar titles that I’ve played in the past and I think that’s one of the reasons that it didn’t feel like a complete chore to play through to the end.

I only have minor gripes about Katana ZERO which says a lot about it’s quality. Every so often the game would lose its capture of the mouse which meant that it’d shoot out the side of game window and onto my browser running on the second monitor. Clicking would then minimize the game and, most often, lead to a death. The game can also be quite visually confusing when a lot is happening on screen, something which can make it rather hard to understand exactly why you died at one particular time. For me it always seemed to be the shotgunners because, despite being able to reflect the projectiles, it appears you can only reflect one of them. Given there’s like 20 of them coming at you it’s pretty much guaranteed death, even if you hear the ting of the reflected shot. Other than that Katana ZERO was pretty much solid.

The story of Katana ZERO is really what brings it all together though as it’s well thought out and given ample time to develop over the course of your playthrough. Initially it just seems like another typical super soldier story but it quickly starts morphing as you uncover other elements that I can’t discuss without spoiling it. I’m not quite sure how much control you have over the various elements but there was definitely enough freedom of choice to make me feel like I had some control, which is probably all you really need in the end.

Katana ZERO will go down as one of my big surprises for 2019, coming out of nowhere and providing an experience that is just well done all round. The art, music and mechanics are all on point, providing ample amounts of challenge without making it difficult for difficulty’s sake. The story is engaging, well written and appears to give you just enough influence to make you feel like you’re in control of what’s happening on screen. I could go on but realistically if your interest is piqued I don’t think you could go wrong by giving Katana ZERO 4 hours of your time.

Rating: 9.0/10

Katana ZERO is available on PC and Nintendo Switch right now for $21.50. Game was played on the PC with a total of 4.6 hours playtime and 16% of the achievements unlocked.