Wednesday, January 21, 2009

My Secret Santa Gift: Warriors of God

I've taken part in BoardgameGeek's Secret Santa program for a few years now, and it's always a great deal of fun. I surprise someone with an awesome gift and I receive one in return. This year was no exception though I had to be extra patient. My Secret Santa gift just arrived two days ago having traveled many miles from the far north.

And inside was Warriors of God.

Warriors of God focuses primarily on the Hundred Years' War from 1337 - 1453. The game is beautifully produced with excellent components. The rulebook read very easily, and suggests that while the rules are simple, there is a great deal of depth in the game play. I'm looking forward to getting this on the table soon.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix

I love Street Fighter. I am a huge fan. I love the game, the mythos, the characters. But I'm not very good at the game.

I played the single-player campaign, and several online multi-player matches last night. I still have a long way to go before I am even close to competition level. I lose way more than I win against other players. Even my track record against the computer is horrendous.

Ken is my primary character, because I like that we share a name; we share little else in common though. And through the brief play session yesterday, I've noticed many gaps in my game.

Jumping Around
I have difficulty closing distance with the opponent, and unable to use ground movement effectively. As such I resort to jumping in and out far more than I need to. This has led to predictable movement for my opponent who can counter easily with a upward attack.

Blocking has always been a weakness of mine, especially when it comes in a combination of high and low attacks. I'll need to learn to read the opponent's movement better

Reliance on the Same Moves
I'm always using the Hurricane Kick, because it's easy to pull off, closes distance with the opponent and fairly damaging if it connects. But this plays into my weakness of predictability again.

Dragon Punch
And because the Dragon Punch is harder to pull off, I don't use it as often or as effectively. This is a great counter move against jumping attacks and can be extremely damaging if used as such.

Medium Punch and Kicks
Medium attacks are excellent tools in a Street Fighter's arsenal. It balances damage, range and recovery time excellently. It is also a good start to begin combos with. I rely too much on the heavy attacks, which leaves me open to counter attacks.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Xbox Live Points are Region Specific

At least, they are if they were bought through a retail store. Imagine my surprise when I picked up a Xbox Live Points card from EB Games yesterday and wasn't able to redeem the points through my Xbox Live account.

Apparently Xbox Live accounts are region-locked, and my account was set-up when I still lived in Singapore. Which means I can only access the Singaporean Xbox Live Marketplace, and points bought through a retail store here are not valid. Points bought here are only usable on the Australian marketplace using an Australian Live account.

This is annoying on two fronts. Firstly, I now have a Points card at home which I cannot redeem. I can't return it to the store because I've already opened the package and scratched off to reveal the redemption code. Which probably means I also won't be able to sell it off second-hand, at least not at a comparable value at which I bought it.

Secondly, if I do want to use the points, I could set up an Australian Live account and gamertag. This would give me access to the Australian marketplace, but this would mean I'd have to start everything from scratch again. My gamer points, in-game achievements... even my Xbox Live Gold membership, which is tied to my original account.

The absolute worst thing is that I can't really blame anyone but me. I should have clarified with the store clerk before I bought the redemption card. I should have read the small print on the back of the package. I should have consulted the FAQ on the Xbox website.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Sins of a Solar Empire

Building a space empire sure is a tough task. One must concurrently maintain an efficient economy, develop industries and living standards, build a awe-inspiring space fleet whilst fending off enemies and pirates. The resources on each planet system are barely sufficient and offers only a small amount of developmental space. So venturing forward and the need for expansion quickly becomes a prerogative. Scouting for fertile colonies is often a challenge because the enemy will also be seeking the same interests. But conflict often occurs in this struggle for new colonies and new and more powerful fleets of spaceships are needed to fend them off. This brings the conundrum back full circle as new technologies cannot be developed without first expanding. This is the mainstay of any 4x game (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit & eXterminate), and Sins of a Solar Empire packages it together very nicely, offering an accessible entry into the genre.

What I did like about the game is its accessibility. The developmental cap on your home planet quickly points you in the direction you need to go; to expand and develop colonies to support an ever-growing economic and military machine. Exploration, colonising and developing has been simplified/abstracted to enable the player to manage to multi-frontal expansion. Building new planetary and orbital structures, and new military units is also a simple process as each item will highlight which resources and technologies are needed. And researching upgrades and new technology is also a simplified/abstracted process. Combat has also been simplified, as it only occurs on a 2D plane; one assumes that maneuvering and tactics have already been taken into account in the game engine.

As many of the game's mechanics have been abstracted, it offers a high level of automation. Automatic placement of new structures can be turned on. Planetary defenses operate by themselves. Military units engage enemy fleets automatically as well, based on parameters set by the player. Individual units join the most suitable fleets and use their special abilities on the optimal targets without prompting.

There were a couple of things that I did find frustrating. Firstly, the research and logistical requirements for units can be very convoluted. For example, building a Hoshiko Robotics Cruiser requires research in the Hoshiko Prototype, which in turn requires research in Superior Repair Bots, which requires research in the Repair Platform, which requires a Military Lab to be built first. And the ship is only a mid-level unit, and does not include any other general upgrades such as hull reinforcements (which can again be further upgraded).

Secondly, the pirate element in the game is extremely annoying. Pirates will attack periodically, which begin as small annoyances but quickly become credible threats. Repelling them either requires a commitment of troops or offering escalating bounties on enemies. Either way, it's a drain on precious resources.

What I haven't seen is the ability to win the game peacefully through diplomatic or cultural means. It seems that the game has a predilection towards military victory, and I can't yet tell if any other means of victory is possible. There are structures in the game that increases cultural imprints, but I'm not sure exactly what this does. It will become apparent as I explore the game further.

While I do have my gripes, I believe I can overcome them as I become more familiar with the game. Knowledge of the research tree is a key to mastering the game, and it's knowledge that I haven't yet acquired. The other problem I have just requires careful management of time and resources. Overall, I like the game very much. It offers a lot of depth in a very accessible manner. Coupled together with an intriguing storyline and an easy to use interface, Sins of a Solar Empire easily gets a recommendation from me.