Indie Spotlight: Towns

Towns game.

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.


Is casual MOBA play possible?

Since I got started with the DotA 2 beta, my time in League of Legends has dropped off significantly. At first I thought it was just that DotA 2 was a new game and that I might someday reach a point at which I was splitting my time between the two. That hasn’t happened yet, and I honestly don’t see it happening in the near future.

Every time I’ve gone back to League over the past couple weeks, I’ve been sorely disappointed. My games have been quick and unenjoyable, whether winning or losing. Those same kind of games have been happening in DotA on occasion, but with DotA I’m playing enough to balance the bad games with plenty of good. With LoL, that’s just not the case.

I think this is a core part of the MOBA experience, and something MOBA developers may have to address over the next couple years. Though I go into each play session hoping for a hard-fought, drawn out battle, I would bet the majority of games tend to be shorter and fairly one sided, at least to some degree. Once the lopsided game has played out, my inclination is not to walk away; it’s to stay and play until I get the game I was looking for.

This situation isn’t totally unique to the MOBA genre. RTS players have long dealt with a protracted gaming curve, wherein they might spend as much as 70-80 minutes developing a strategy only to be wiped off the map in 90 seconds. In a lot of RTS matches, though, there are things to be learned. Maybe I should have had more resource nodes. Maybe I needed more unit diversity. Maybe my micromanagement needs work. Most competitive RTS matches provide an immediate and actionable feedback loop. That is, the player knows what he/she can do in order to improve their next experience.

With MOBAs, it’s more like two teams of five people trying to throw darts at the same dartboard, all at the same time. If they all get a bull’s-eye, the game is a success. As players start to miss, the game deteriorates. A few people from a team may be playing well, but when there are two people who can’t even hit the board, the game gets dramatically skewed. That actionable feedback loop from RTS games is all but gone. It often doesn’t matter if I’m hitting the bull’s-eye every time (and let’s be clear, I don’t); the failed efforts of my teammates have a dramatic effect on the outcome of the game.

So back to the question at hand – is it possible to play MOBAs casually? I can’t do it. I’ll own that. I can’t just jump into one game, unless that one game is the 50+ minute back-and-forth that MOBA dreams are made of. How do you guys do it? Do you focus in on a small subset of champions? Do you save up your playtime for one long play session every so often? Do you even bother? Sound off in the comments.


Blizzard throws a bunch of content at Starcraft II site

Starcraft II.Blizzard updated the official Starcraft II page today with all sorts of goodies for you ravenous fans. I was excited to see some 17 new screenshots from both gameplay and cinematics. As you’d expect, the cinematics have that special Blizzard flair, the kind that usual makes me wish the company’s games were a tad less stylized for actual gameplay.

The update also showcases the storytelling aspects of SC2. I love to see tidbits like this, especially because it can be difficult to develop a solid storyline with, well, any game. The Starcraft II campaign sounds great, even if you’ll spend the vast majority of your time online. Blizzard also tossed in a short story about the Changeling unit.

For the map addicts among you, there’s also a closer look at how Blizzard makes 1v1 maps into a strategic battle. Again, a nice read and a great look behind the scenes.


OSC prefers a turn-based strat

Orson Scott Card.In a recent interview about Shadow Complex, the man himself, Orson Scott Card, talked a bit about his favorite types of video games: turn-based strategy. He’s no warmonger, though. OSC prefers games like the Civilization series, where you definitely have to be ready for battle, but most of your time is spent actually organizing and building up your civ.

“I like the turn-based strategy game and there aren’t very many of those made, and most of them are made badly,” OSC said. “Really Sid Meier is the only guy who does it reliably. And I wish more people would learn the lessons from the way he does it. Because I’ve looked at some of the other offerings and they emphasize the tedium and the fog of war.”

You can find the full interview at Big Download. If you made it through any of the later books in the Ender’s Game series or read much of Alvin Maker, I’m sure you’ll make it through just fine.


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