Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Sid Meier's Pirates! Revenge of the Remake.

I love pirate games. Arrrrr.

The original Sid Meier’s Pirates! (installed off a 5 ½ inch floppy disk – anyone remember THOSE?), ate up hours of my time back in the late 80s. You sailed the high seas, bore down on treasure-laden ships, bombarded them, then swashbucklingly swung on board and engaged rival captains in dashing duels. You looted, played politics, flirted with lissome lasses, double-crossed greedy Government scum, and made a tidy profit. It was marvelous.

When Pirates! faded away, the Monkey Island games took over. Guybrush Threepwood, my Man! Laugh-out loud humour being the cornerstone, the games featured interesting plots, unforgettable characters (Murray, the talking skull has to be one of the funniest game characters ever.), lovely graphics and interesting puzzles. And of course, lots of Pirate action. Insult Sword Fighting. Unbearable coolness.

Now, it’s back to Sid Meier’s Pirates! Again, and in Technicolor.

The geniuses at Firaxis have, almost unbelievably, retained the EXACT same flavour and fun factor of the original, while adding just a wee bit to the gameplay and generally giving the game a this-century facelift. Does it work? Hoo, boy!

I’ve been playing for hours. Every day. Arrrrrr.

Some of the things you'll do in Pirates! These screens are all from the SAME game.

Simple, addictive gameplay that makes this one of the most accessible games in years. Newbies, this one’s for you. Lovely, colourful graphics and joyful music that makes the Caribbean come alive. It’s so much fun, there ought to be a law.

Ship to ship combat. Sword fighting (non-insult, for Monkey Island faithfuls – this one’s the real thing). Town raids. Treasure Hunting. Ballroom Dancing. Clever trading. All these activities are introduced as deceptively simple mini-games that exist together in a delightfully charming package.

This is a game I can cheerfully recommend to any kind of gamer – casual or hardcore, soldier or strategist, embryo or fossil. You’ll all dig it. God promise.

Available for PC, and shortly for Xbox.

Tuesday, June 7, 2005

The Coming of SPORE

SPORE is generating the most exciting gaming news in a long time. With all the bla about lack of innovation in games, this is poised to mark an evolutionary leap – from both a development and gameplay standpoint.

Visit spore.ea.com and follow the links for more information on what’s getting me all excited.

However, gaming history is rife with games that promised big but failed to deliver on their ambitious bluster. Black and White. Fable. Ultima Online. Neverwinter Nights. Impossible Creatures. Some of these were great games in the end, but the pre-release hype promised a level of innovation that they never reached.

Here’s hoping Will Wright doesn’t fall prey to his own vision. I want a jaw-dropping SPORE, not a lukewarm one.

Gamers Must Experiment.

I don’t play flight simulators.

I just spent three hours playing a flight simulator. What a blast!

Admittedly, the game was Star Wars : Rogue Squadron, not the most complicated or hardcore of flight sims. However, this fun, action oriented title has got me interested in the genre. I now want to check out other titles, potentially unlocking many hours of fun-filled gaming I would previously never have accessed. I’ve already begun enjoying the peerless Wing Commander, and have my eyes set firmly on Crimson Skies. Hours of blissful gaming entertainment I’d have missed out on if I didn’t give the genre a try.

My point is this – there are too many gamers who are locked on to a particular genre, who will say things like “I don’t play action games, they’re too violent”, or “That medieval role-playing stuff is just too slow for me.”, or “Mario? That’s for Kids. I’m more of a Doom 3 kind of guy.”

More’s the pity.

We’re fortunate enough to have available to us hundreds of amazingly compelling games from various genres and time periods. They’re all worth a try, at the very least.

So here’s my suggestion : this month, apart from your regular gaming schedule, resolve to play a few hours of one game from a genre or time period you don’t normally play. Hey, if you don’t dig, then you can always go back to your staples.

Thursday, June 2, 2005

Indian Gaming Magazines - a lowdown

As a reader of computer gaming magazines since the mid-80s, I can testify to the pleasure of getting your gaming fix from the printed page.

Sure, there are web sites that carry far more comprehensive and customizable gaming content, but there's just something about a good old fashioned magazine ( I can't browse gamespot.com lying on my hammock or sitting on the throne, for instance) that has always found favour with loyal readers. It also helped that the contributing writers to the top magazines were experienced, knowledgeable people who had a knack for putting their wisdom into words that spoke volumes, read easy and sounded witty.

With CGW India sadly out of print, (and many gamers in India lacking the kind of Internet access needed for dedicated gaming news gathering) the role played by print magazines in keeping gamers plugged in to the global scenario is crucial to the growth of the industry itself. At present, there are three that I know of – SKOAR, GameForce and R.A.G.E.

SKOAR – the brash young thing.

SKOAR is the best produced and designed product among the three. Bright, imaginative and user-friendly layouts. Lots of artwork, screenshots, pictures. Nice.

And the writing? A witty, youthful style that has a lot going for it – some of the gags are genuinely laugh-out-loud. Most of the reviews and features are reasonably informative and well-researched.

However, I can't help get the feeling that this is a publication run primarily by 23 year old action gamers. Sections titled Nooze, Pheechers, Reevus. Writers with middle names like ‘Zoom', ‘BadJag' and ‘Shifty Shellshock'. A layout that tries far too hard to be cool. Please. (Note – this is a personal opinion, not a comment on the magazine's quality. I am a wizened old gamer who bought his first ATARI 2600 25 years ago. Perhaps the younger crowd digs this kind of style. Ugh.)

Besides, not all the reviewers seem to truly understand the products they're writing about. The review of the Sims 2 in the latest issue, for instance, missed the point completely. The reviewer scored the game low because it didn't have an ‘objective' and ‘structured missions' (an ignorant insult to the genius of Will Wright and his seminal ‘sandbox' gaming approach). To top it off, he, quite ridiculously, compared the game unfavourably to Splinter Cell! (a game which, sensibly for its genre, had these features.) That's like saying a particular model of car isn't a good product because it isn't chocolate flavoured. Stupid.

However, these cribs are merely to draw attention to specific issues which may not be of concern to the widest cross-section of gamers. If you're primarily interested in Action, Sports and RTS gaming, you'll find few complaints.

GAMEFORCE – new and improved.

GameForce used to be the magazine I ignored every month – crappy writing, blatant plagiarism and eyeball-hurting design. But not anymore.

This is India 's most improved gaming magazine. This month's pleasantly surprising issue had well written reviews set in an easy, user-friendly layout. This is what I like to see – functional, crisp design without overdone graphics or needless chaos. Lovely.

What's more, the writing and design have none of the wannabe-cool factor that seems to prevent SKOAR from being what it can be. The new avatar of GameForce has a mature, earnest quality to it that is at once both endearing and heartwarming.

Though the magazine comes with just two CDs (as opposed to a whopping two DVDs with SKOAR – good on you, guys), the content was again a pleasant surprise : I was delighted to see a gaming comic strip, several PDF issues of an online adventure gaming magazine called Inventory, and additional reviews and content in addition to the game demos. That's the way to do it folks : even if you have limited resources, use them well. Applause, everyone.

From the evidence at hand, it appears that the folks at GameForce are making a laudable effort to bring out a quality publication. If they continue to show the kind of improvement they have with this issue, they can easily be India 's best (but for now, SKOAR just manages to hold on to the title).

And R.A.G.E.? I don't know. The design is horrendous. The reviews are passable, but curiously patchy – as if different writers worked on different paragraphs within the same article. It's not an awful magazine, but there's no compelling reason to recommend anything about it. It will have to show great improvements if it is to compete with the other two publications in the fray. I wish them well – I'd love to have another good mag to read, you know.

In conclusion

It's great that there are three magazines catering to what is still an essentially niche (but fast growing) market. As the people behind the magazines try and get better with every issue, it's important that gamers support their efforts by buying, reading and interacting with them. I still remember how long it took for MTV to shed their hopelessly uncool wannabe image when they launched in India , before they finally settled down to honest-original-desi-hip. So here's to SKOAR, GameForce and R.A.G.E. Godspeed.