Steam Green Light finally approved its first 10 games to be featured on the site, and (for the most part) they’re proving why this program is such a great idea in the first place. From zombie games, to samurai simulators, to “Half-Life” mods, back to zombie games, just in the initial offering of titles we are seeing some really remarkable ideas that will soon become available for all. Ranking those initial 10 titles is no easy task, but if you want the best of the best of Green Light so far, here it is.
10. McPixel – Probably the type of game that looks fun to vote for, but won’t get that many buys, “McPixel” is an odd title to say the least. It’s made up of a series of 20 second levels where you have to achieve a goal (usually getting rid of a bomb) without many instructions on how to do so. It’s reminiscent of “Wario Ware,” and carries a very unique since of humor, but looks like it may wear its welcome faster than that classic ever did. Nothing to see here, move along.
9. No More Room In Hell – “No More Room In Hell” is a “Half-Life 2″ mod that more than favors “Left 4 Dead,” but this zombie squad based FPS gets some serious points for knowing its genre. I like the variety of zombie enemies, weapons, and appropriate environments, but what I love is the scarce ammunition, lack of crosshairs display, multiple game modes (including an awesome survival mode where you hold down a zombie fort) and overall fun factor. If you’re not tired of “Left 4 Dead,” but crave something new, keep your eye on this one.
8. Cry of Fear – A “Half-Life” mod, this is one of two horror games to make the final cut. “Cry of Fear” uses the old “you have amnesia” story to throw you into a world of fear and constant terror. The goal of “Cry of Fear” is to simply throw as many unexpected atrocities at you as possible and test your limits of composure. “Cry of Fear” reminds me of a really good carnival haunted house, and its use of sound, light, and atmosphere are top notch. Also, you have to see the above video of people playing it and losing their minds to the game’s scares.
7. Heroes and Generals – Maybe the most technically proficient of the initial Green Light games, “Heroes and Generals” looks to breathe a little life in to online FPS shooters. “Heroes and Generals” allows players to either take to the frontlines in a variety of combat situations FPS style, or take the role of a commander and manage the battle in more of an RTS format. This type of game has been tried before, but has never really produced a big hit. However, the media released so far is intriguing, and the team behind the game is some of the same people who worked on the “Hitman” series and “Freedom Fighters.” It’s got a lot of pedigree going for it, and could be a quick hit.
6. Project Zomboid – ANOTHER ZOMBIE GAME? Yes, but don’t hold that against it. This may be the most conceptually intriguing zombie game I’ve ever seen, as the emphasis is on survival and not shooting. Using a sandbox mode and isometric perspective, “Project Zomboid” allows players to scavenge supplies, build safehavens, maintain their hunger and boredom levels, and of course, fight the occasional zombie. It’s so in depth, you have to consider things like hanging sheets over your windows so zombies don’t spot your lights, and already features an active mod community who contribute to the game regularly. I’m a BIG fan of this one, and you should definitely consider it if you’re a fan of the first two “Fallout” games.
We’re really starting to hit that horrible lull in the year when it comes to video game releases. I don’t know what the complete logic behind it is, but for some reason, game development companies do not see fit to release big titles during the summer months, and instead prefer to back up the holiday season with every title in their arsenals, Triple-A release or otherwise. It’s not fair for gamers who would like to stretch their funds and time instead of trying to invest everything they have into a two-month period at the end of the year.
It’s this time of year that you have to hope for a good surprise to come along and really blow you away. While everyone enjoys riding the hype wave of a major release, and enjoying the fruits of your patience on a game’s release date, there is no feeling that is comparable to that experience when you go into a title with zero expectations only for it to send chills down your spine with just how good it is.
To prove this theory, and maybe generate some positive vibes so a sleeper hit will come our way again, here’s a small sampling of some of the greatest surprise hits of all time.
It’s fitting that a game all about building also represents the typical building blocks of a surprise hit. It had no hype, no budget, a no-name developer, and no real precedent as far as its concept.
I don’t remember when “Minecraft” took the world by storm, but it wasn’t quite after its 2009 beta release. Instead, it was sometime after that when people’s creations started appearing online, and when every game site in the world ran a 200 word feature piece about some novelty game called “Minecraft” that was gaining steam. Slowly, as the unlimited potential the game’s engine possessed became more and more clear, gamers everywhere divided themselves into two groups. Those who “got” “Minecraft,” and those who didn’t.
It’s usually fairly easy to tell when a game developed in Japan is going to make it to American store shelves. If it’s the new “Final Fantas,y” it’s probably a pretty good bet you’ll see it stateside. If it’s a mech-noir dating simulator, chances are slimmer.
So it’s still something of a mystery, then, how a game that features a deformed space prince rolling up a perpetually growing ball of objects to replace the various cosmos his father, the King of the Cosmos, accidentally destroyed would end up a smash hit. There’s little doubt that the concept of “Katamari Damacy” is what got gamers to give it a try, but from there it was the game’s simple controls and creative and addicting gameplay that really started moving titles off the shelves in earnest.
It’s odd that the very concept of “Katamari Damacy” both alienated it to start, and made it irresistible thereafter. It just goes to prove that the occasional chance against all odds, can result in a success story worth more than all the failures that led there.
I don’t think I need to waste much space explaining the basic premise of “Minecraft.” After all, with the astounding (and I mean just shocking), download numbers the game has posted, my general impression is that most of you fine readers have played, or at least heard of, this game that follows a blocky protagonist, isolated in a blocky world, whose sole mission in life is to harvest the resource blocks around him in order to build sturdier blocks, weapons, items of all kinds and, most importantly, a shelter from the creatures that roam the night.
“Minecraft” is a blank canvas that only the most patient artists will be able to make proper use of. Unlike other world building titles like, say, “SimCity,” the effort required to make that first brush stroke to build off of is much greater, but the works you can create after that are limited by almost nothing. I wish I could say the same for this 360 adaptation, which is unfortunately burdened by several limits. While the simple graphics and atmospheric music transition perfectly to the console, and the controller handles the very basic functions of the game admirably, as the game gets more and more complex (and it can in a hurry), the 360 finds itself ill equipped to smoothly handle the wealth of inventory you soon acquire in a manageable way. The various menus you have to navigate to perform even the most basic functions and creations are annoying enough without having to scroll via joystick and force yourself to try to organically manage everything with the face buttons as your main tool. This game could have greatly benefited from the use of more hotkey features (the D-pad, for instance, is completely unused).
The biggest problem? There’s just no real reason to own this game on the 360. While playing, I actually found myself with my PC nearby just to look up the finer points of the game and look for reasonable tips on how to proceed. I don’t think I’d be alone in this, and if it’s a case of having to have your computer by your side anyway, why not play it in its native format? The controls, community and everything else are greater there, and the system requirements are so absurdly low that they shouldn’t cause a problem for most anyone.
While I respect the effort that developer 4J Studios put forth on this adaptation, I just can’t recommend this port to anyone. I didn’t get to try the 360’s splitscreen multiplayer mode (due to confidentiality reasons, though the idea is a fantastic concept), but I imagine it would do little to alleviate the main problem with the game. Overall, “Minecraft” is still a great idea and a unique experience that the patient and creative will inevitably get the most out of. If that’s you, just make sure to start your adventure on the solid foundation that only the PC can give this game.
In the nearly three years Notch has been developing Minecraft, hires what is now his development company, Mojang, have been few and far between. The lack of hires certainly wasn’t need-based (or lack-of-need-based). It’s pretty easy to make the case that Minecraft has been in need of more developers for at least the past year. There is still no modding API, despite the fact that Minecraft enjoys one of the most active modding communities in the world. The game still feels like a bit of a fragmented mess. All of this could be solved with more manpower. Yeah, I said it. All they needed were a couple warm bodies with a basic knowledge of java.
Well they finally picked some, and it just so happens to be the fine folks at Bukkit. For those that don’t know, the Bukkit team produced an alternate version of the Minecraft server code that was more stable than the original, had a modding API, and required fewer resources to run. Luckily for the four fellows who ran the project, the Bukkit team won’t be working for free any longer. They’ve officially joined the Mojang team.
Their first project will be to write a brand new API. Now, I don’t claim to be a programmer, but I can only imagine one good reason to do this: Mojang didn’t want to pay for Bukkit. I have nothing but respect for the Bukkit guys. They started on a project for fun, they kept it going after it grew into something huge, and now they’re reaping rewards. Without knowing the details of their employment agreement, I think they’re getting the short end of the stick, and unfortunately so are we.
Again, I don’t know exactly what I’m talking about here, but I would imagine there’s a legal case for Mojang to say hey, stop doing that to our code or we will sue you. There certainly would be if Bukkit tried to sell their server package. As such, Mojang doesn’t really owe the guys at Bukkit anything. Wouldn’t it suck, though, to be such an integral part of the Minecraft community–as in, so big that you’re essentially synonymous with multiplayer gameplay–and be compensated with just a job offer? I know, job offers are hard to come by right now, but the guys at Bukkit have done more for multiplayer than anyone else, including Mojang. All of the notable multiplayer Minecraft servers run Bukkit. Now they’ll be forced to migrate to the new API developed in-house with Mojang.
I’m hopeful that the new API will be pretty much the work of those four guys, because I stopped trusting Mojang to build one a long time ago. The Bukkit guys certainly know what they’re doing and, who knows, maybe starting from scratch will be nice for them. It won’t be nice for players, though. Certainly not in the short term. Yes, they’ve pledged support through 1.2, but the transition probably won’t be super slick, to say nothing of the additional wait time we now have for development of this new API. For being a “released game,” Minecraft is in critical flux an awful lot.
Seriously though, congrats to the guys at Bukkit. You deserve all of your success.
If I had to choose just one contribution to gaming for which I could thank Notch and the team at Mojang, it would be the popularization of early alpha for indie games. While Minecraft’s level of success remains unique, developers have noticed that early alpha access to their games can build plenty of hype to carry the game through to release. I’ve been digging around in the indie scene for a while now, so I thought it might be cool to throw a spotlight on some of the interesting games that are out there.
Today’s Indie Spotlight falls on a game called Towns. The game is being developed by a small indie group known as SMP. By the way, good luck searching for anything related to this game for the next couple months. Being that Minecraft multiplayer, a system in which players often create their own towns, is called SMP, you’re going to get mostly Minecraft-related results. I’ll save you some trouble and just point you to their official website.
The game is basically an RTS with a slight Dwarf Fortress influence. You play from an isometric view, controlling a group of villagers to gather resources in order to support your spelunking efforts. The game is built on levels that increase in difficulty as you descend. There is a tiered crafting system whereby you can make armors and weapons to keep yourself safe, food to keep your village sated, and housing, to keep everyone happy.
This game is in alpha, so some of the mechanics are a little buggy or just haven’t been implemented. There is no priority system for tasks, so it’s possible to “hunger lock” yourself, meaning your villagers are too hungry to even make more food. You can then watch them all starve to death, but it’s probably better to start over. The game also features some terribly obnoxious music, though it is possible to toggle off.
There is a lot of good in Towns, too. In a lot of ways, Towns reminded me what the “game” part of Minecraft is missing, which is essentially something to do with the mountains of resources you gather over the course of a game. Exploring is definitely fun, but once you’ve seen your fourth or fifth epic cave, you’ve seen them all. Towns puts your resources to use, even if it is a bit grindy.
In future updates, SMP has plans to add a hero system. My guess is that your town’s resources will now be dedicated to decking out the hero and letting him crawl through some dungeons. It seems like a great idea that, when coupled with a solid crafting system and the hilarity of mass-butchering cows, makes this quirky little game a great buy for under $20 at retail.
If you’re interested in town management sims or even games like Terraria, I would highly recommend giving Towns a shot. The game has a demo that allows you to experience 20 in-game days, which is plenty to get your feet wet. You can also purchase the alpha version of the game for roughly $13. Alpha purchasers have unrestricted access to the latest builds of the game.
I was never one to enjoy Minecraft mods, at least not at first. The modding process was lengthy, often frustrating and totally unsupported. When I first started playing Minecraft, most mods were single-player-only, so as a multiplayer fanatic they just didn’t hold much appeal. I recently started playing Minecraft again just to see what all had changed. In browsing some of the forums I stumbled upon something called the Technic Pack, a group of mods that had been compiled to be distributed as one pack. The mods mostly focus on industrialization of the Minecraft world, introducing machines, new redstone recipes, alchemy, advanced minecart systems, and so on. Yeah, it added a lot. The best part? It was all available for multiplayer.
I wasn’t quite ready to jump in with all the mods, but Buildcraft, a long-standing mod from the community, caught my eye. The mod is pretty simple – it adds machines that, with a bit of planning can automate many of Minecraft’s tasks. The most notable is the use of quarries, which mine out giant chunks of the world when attached to an engine. There is also a very cool pipe system that allows for transportation of goods and liquids. It’s capable of supporting a player-built power grid. That’s right. Power grid.
After playing a mod like Buildcraft, I can’t believe Mojang hasn’t spent more time with a real modding API. The modding system just needs to get easier. For all that Notch loves about Bethesda, how has he not picked up on this part of the business model. People will improve your game for free if you just give them the tools to do so. Granted, they’re already doing that, but imagine if mods didn’t break the client with every update. Imagine if they could all interact reliably for both multi- and single-player. Wouldn’t it be a beautiful, blocky world?
I’ve been in the market for a solid new game for some time now, something to keep me occupied while I wait for Diablo 3 or DotA 2. For whatever reason, I fired up Terraria a few days ago and have really been enjoying the game. I know it’s not new. I bought the game a while ago when it was on a $2.50 sale. I had played with it some, but never really got hooked.
I think a big part of my initially cool reaction was the huge barrier to entry on Terraria. The game has a lot of unfamiliar mechanics, a not-so-transparent progression path, not to mention the fact that you’re stepping back in time in terms of graphics.
Those same things can be endearing, though. Once I was able to upgrade my pickaxe, I had fun just trying out some different things without any clear goal. While it doesn’t quite have the same creative, open-world feel as Minecraft, it’s pretty close. Terraria also has the added benefit of a robust item progression and much more extensive crafting options.
If you’re in the same boat I am, check out Terraria. Be prepared for a frustrating first hour or two, but the game really picks up from there. If I could give you one tip, I’d say find iron ore and upgrade that pickaxe as early as possible.
I know at least a few of you will be interested to discover that Minecraft: Pocket Edition, the version of Minecraft developed for Android, is on sale today for $.10. Yeah, ten cents. It’s usually $7, so this is a hell of a deal.
I won’t lie, the controls are a little clumsy, but that’s to be expected when you only have a touchscreen available to navigate a three-dimensional world. For now, Minecraft: PE is limited to creative mode, though survival is supposedly in the works. The game also has a limited set of blocks for now, and seemingly no crafting system. Honestly, though, it costs a dime. Just buy the damn thing already. Your bathroom visits will never be the same.
Big news in the game world today is that Notch has passed development of Minecraft to his number two at Mojang, Jens Bergensten. I was surprised at first but it makes a lot of sense. Jens, who goes by the moniker “Jeb,” has become the personable face of Minecraft over the past six months, guiding the community through the glut of development that led to Minecraft’s official release.
In the meantime, Notch has created his fair-share of public snafus. His involvement in social platforms is admirable, especially considering the size of the Minecraft community, but Notch has used his massive fanbase to air more than a little bit of dirty laundry off the cuff. It’s an ugly way to do business, particularly when you consider how much of Minecraft’s development has been a community effort at this point.
It’s funny how hot-and-cold I feel about Minecraft at different times. I’m in a cold spell now. We had a huge dearth of content for a while, then a massive boom. Unfortunately that boom required new worlds on a nearly bi-weekly basis, and I just burned out. With API modding I’m sure I’ll get interested again. I like the promise of easy mod access, especially for community run servers.
I realize I’m rambling a bit, but that’s how Minecraft goes for me. It’s a game that slips in and out of my consciousness but something I’m sure I’ll be coming back to for some time. I’m glad to know the game is still in good hands.
I mentioned the other day that I might be writing about Minecraft 1.8, the beginning of Mojang’s Adventure Update. Little did I know that I’d be writing a full article about the latest version of the world’s most popular sandbox game and absolutely loving it (the writing…well, the game, too).
If you’re in to Minecraft (and I hope you are) I’d love for you to check out my most recent article about the new Adventure Update. If you absolutely loathe all things not League of Legends, you can get only League-centric updates by heading to the League of Legends category page on this blog (which is roughly 99% of the blog at this point).