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Over recent years, the dissemination of game content has shifted from a single complete and finished product in a cartridge or on a disk, to a first release version that then has updates added at various later points. This is even becoming true of consoles, such as XBox Live and PSN games. Whilst there are debates about whether it means paying players are the new beta testers, rushing releases and suchlike, one thing that has caught on this year especially is the idea of seasonal updates.

In short: christmas has come to a video game near you.


MMOs have had this sort of content for years, with plenty of titles adding in bits and pieces ranging from encounters to phat lootz to social costumes. Halloween and Christmas seem to be the most popular and this year is no exception with just about everything on the market going for it. Even EVE Online gets in on the act, though these days they have restricted it to gifting each account with some sort of present item such as a ship or an implant.

Trion Worlds Holiday Greeting

The MMOs I have dealings with all have Christmas festivities in some form or another. Anarchy Online has present-dropping leets in tower fields, big christmas trees in the main cities and a series of minigame encounters around a tongue-in-cheek storyline about aliens (lead by the commander Grin'Cha) infiltrating Santaleet's workshop to spread throughout the planet... Rift has had a three phase Fae Yule event going on for the last month or so and and the final phase is due to being any day now, revolving around the newly-freed Fae going overboard in celebrating the rites of Grandfather Frost with gifts, special footholds and costumes. Champions Online has costumes and perks associated with defeating armies of misfit toys, and the final part of an adventure pack series with a wintry theme.


But it's not just MMOs. Game all across Steam have popped up free DLCs with christmas content ranging from decorations for the Tavern in Dungeon Defenders to a new map with its own achivement and music in Sanctum*. Killing Floor has christmas-skinned zombies, to follow up their Halloween themed DLC. Bunch of Heroes also has a holiday pack... You get the idea.

It's even becoming present in mobile gaming: Alchemy Classic just updated with a christmas addition set, chaging the backgrounds to be festive and adding some 50 new combinations for christmas and yule related items, like Coniferous trees.


Of course with a fixed theme such as Christmas/Yule, there's only so much you can do based on the same hashed-out old tropes (trees, presents, candy canes, snow etc) and it is all a bit jarring with the setting of each game unless it's based in the real world and the here and now. Ultimately it's why Eve Online moved it's christmas celebrations out of game, so to speak (although it was fun pelting the devs with snowballs in my destroyer). It's all just some silly fun, though, and it can make a change in the scenery from the rest of the year.

*For the record, Sanctum devs can't sing. It is funny though.
achtungexplosiv: (Default)
I've been giving Sanctum a proper playabout over the course of the last week, after an initial evening back in July chasing after the Steam Summer Camp award related to the game. It's a first person tower defence game made by indie developers Coffee Stain Studios, and it's main schtick is that when the building phase is over, your character (Skye) leaps into the fray with a choice of firearms and helps with the defence. The multiplayer function is co-operative and good fun to boot.

Sanctum Screen

You are placed on a map that has a mixture of fixed components like ramps and walls, with entrances on one end where aliens will swarm from and a big glowing core on the other end which is what the aliens are trying to destroy. The open space is mostly given over to sites where you can choose to construct blocks to house towers or place something on the floor. The strategy comes from how you choose to herd the aliens through block placement and kill them through strategic tower use, bolstered by your own FPS skills. The FPS aspect isn't hardcore - you don't have HP and the aliens don't care about you though if you get in their way you will get bounced about. Each wave of aliens you successfully destroy (before they destroy your core) gives you a money reward. Towers, floor items and weapon upgrades all cost money. You have to choose whether you want to spend your earnings on upping your own personal combat capabilities, for example upgrading your sniper rifle, or on upgrading your existing tower/floor structures, or in placing new basic ones. Towers act on their own initiative, either going for the closest target or else choosing targets randomly. Flooring acts on aliens that run directly over them. You can run and jump about to shoot and the placement of Televators (teleporters combined with elevators to move up to the top of the block layer) gets to be critical to avoid getting yourself stuck out of the way with a long run back to the action.

Building Screenie
Chargin' mah lazorz...

Examples of the sorts of towers and flooring you get:-
  • Gatling Guns which are cheap, high rate of fire, low damage and target the nearest ground units
  • Scatter Lasers which are more expensive, have higher damage and lower rate of fire and randomly targets both ground and air units
  • Slow Fields that snare enemies passing over that square
  • Amp Fields that decrease the armour of the aliens passing over the square
Alien types are specialised and swarm in numbers without much in the way of AI. Some examples:-
  • Bobble Heads that are immune to all damage except to their tiny, fragile, waving bobble-heads
  • Chargers that move very fast in straight lines but slow down considerably at corners
  • Dodgers that fly and move in random jerks
  • Spore Pods that don't do much of anything beyond fly slowly and die easily, except that they come in large numbers

I became quite the sniper rifle and assault cannon fan. Sniping the bigger and tougher aliens to thin the ranks before they come into tower range, then switching over to the assault cannon to spray the smaller, faster things. At the lower difficulty ranges, you can easily out-DPS your towers and go all rambo. At harder levels you are the emergency backup.

Combat Screenie
Getting up close and personal in multiplayer

The three bits I don't like are as follows:
  1. The difficulties are shagged. That is to say; the difference between difficulty levels follows abstract mathematics as yet unknown to modern science.
  2. Occasional bugged (or possibly just ludicrously unbalanced) mobs. An example of this is sometimes found in the Big Walker waves. Usually when found in a wave, these aliens have got a wodge of HP that means they take a good pounding before keeling over. Once in a while, there will be a bugged one (or perhaps it's some sort of special invulnerable one) that will take the combined firepower of all my turrets and myself sniping for 4-digit damage in the weakspot for the duration of the entire pathway to the core, and STILL doesn't fall over. It's taking damage, as the mass of orange and red numbers can attest to, it's just not dying. Exceedingly frustrating.
  3. Occasional bugged Achivements, though that's hardly unique to this game to be fair. Still irritating when you've got to that last awkward strawberry fish and shot it in the head at point blank range and it squeals in its death throes and... no record of it.

It's a really well presented game, in my opinion. I love the aesthetics (even if the 'futuristic' UI style has been done to death) and the soundtrack is great too. There's been some free updates and also some cheap DLCs (a couple of dollars for the lot in a recent Steam sale) consisting of new maps and tower/flooring types. If you Steam it, there's a ton of achievements as well ranging from the usual 'kill X of Y using Z' to uncovering hidden easter eggs. And boy, that's a lotta easter eggs...

The icing on the cake

There's a veritable ton of hidden bits to find, from random items tucked away in obscure corners of the map you didn't even know had pathing to whole other areas and layers to explore. Hardly any of these have to do with building towers and pewing aliens but the amount of work that's gone into some of these secret parts is quite mind-boggling. 'Voyage au centre de la Terre' is one such example with a whole other section of labyrinthine tunnels, unique script dialogue and such. Masses of guides on how to access everything can be found all over YouTube. The various additional levels haven't skimped on the hidden bits either. All in all it adds plenty of extra goals to pursue and extends the longevity of the game. For once, in a break with recent gaming tradition, there are no cake references either.
It's been a long time since I've played a game with so many random extras that have nothing whatsoever to do with the gameplay, the genre, the setting and so on.

Sanctum is not too expensive on Steam at the best of times but when it comes up in the sale rotation, it definitely gets a recommendation from me.
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Another weekend, another round of games being played with.

3DS gaming

On the 3DS, I've completed Ghost Recon as far as I can without doing the Multiplayer maps, mostly because I don't know anyone else who has the game. I quite enjoyed it, because I do like turn-based tactical squad games. For some reason it made me miss playing Vandal Hearts on my PSX. I might have to dig it out again and see if I can persuade the now-ailing and cantankerous console + TV combo to work in order to play it. Either that or figure out why my PS emulators don't work.

Cover of Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars

Overall, I enjoyed Ghost Recon a lot, though it did take me a little while to get into. The very beginning throws you in at the end of the game (literally) which was confusing and irritating because I didn't have a clue what was going on, what the two characters I had could do etc and as I was about to get my arse handed to me, it faded to black and the game proper began. The game proper is the complete opposite, slowly introducing you to the various gameplay concepts and abilities of the team, who are also slowly introduced. It's an excellent game for stop-start play because of its turn-based nature and the 3D isn't absolutely critical to the game, so in a bumpy tube train scenario there's no issues judging any distances. Some of the scenarios are utter sods, with random surprise spawns that will turn a convincing win to a crushing defeat if you happen to have the wrong unit in the wrong place at the wrong time. There's also a couple of maps where the instructions are surprisingly poor and I had no clue wtf was meant until I'd stumbled through by trial and error. Still, if everything had been completely obvious it would have been a bit dull...

Onwards and upwards into the next game. Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D was a bit of a no-brainer, given it's the first killer game for the system (and hopefully one that will spark more interest, with sales having slowed considerably). This one was a bit of an effort to get hold of. Two hours going from place to place in the Square Mile only to find no copies left anywhere until the HMV at Moorgate made for a frustrating afternoon...
Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D cover

So far, so good. I played the original on my N64 but after I completed it once I didn't go back to it, and that was more years ago than I care to remember so I'm pretty rusty about the whole thing. It's got plenty of rave reviews and I can see why: the graphics are very nifty indeed, the 3D aspect makes negotiating jumping and distances much easier without having to wiggle the camera, the 3DS gyro being used to move the camera is a smart move and they've toned down Navi's interruptions (thank the gods, she was a PITA). I'm also told that the dungeons are the revamped Master Quest versions rather than the original. Given I recall next to nothing about the original, I doubt this will bother me much. Master Quest version dungeons are supposed to be less annoying and more challenging anyway. Unlike Ghost Recon, it is not a stop-start and bumpy-transport friendly game, so progress is very slow. I do like it, although I have to be heretical and admit my preferred Zelda game is A Link to the Past (Zelda 3 on the SNES).

I'll do a review of it once I'm near the end. Currently I'm pottering around getting into all sorts of places I'm probably not meant to until later. Haven't even done Death Mountain yet...

PC gaming

With the Steam Summer Camp on I've been looking over the activities and games now and then, although this year I've been extremely slack compared to last year because my attention has been elsewhere. One game I was given in the Summer camp sale is Sanctum, an excellent little indie Tower Defence game with bold graphics and a nifty soundtrack. I've not mucked about with it too much yet (a multiplayer game with a friend for the Summer Camp Achivement that evolved into a full-on go at the Mine level) but it's definitely something I'll be going back to when I have some time.

Sanctum Game cover

I've played a bit of Minecraft and Left 4 Dead 2 here and there, and next up is giving Terraria a go, a game several of my friends have been sucked into, though I'm not sure how into it I'll get given I've gone off the 2D platform genre over the years, even if it is a 2D minecraft-meets-mario.

MMO Gaming

It's the 10th aniversary of the launch of Anarchy Online at the moment and as I was given a 14 day free account reup on my main paid account, I've been checking it out and catching up with friends and orgmates who'd also got the free reactivation for a bit of a reunion. I have to confess that I miss the game and the people I played with. I hope the project to rework all the professions and the new player experience picks up the pace so that it can all be released with the new graphics engine and breathe some new life into it. I know Game Director Means has only a small development team so its taking a long time but the game desperately needs the rebirth and population boost. Sadly it's FUncom and they don't want to market it which is such a shame because it offers a variety of experiences that no other MMO out there does. There's a reason it's lasted 10 years when other newer games have folded after 2. The population dropped below critical mass for me some time ago once virtually all of my friends and orgmates had migrated to other games or other hobbies entirely, one by one over time. It's even quieter now (aside from all the temporary reactivations for the birthday shennanigeans). At some point I'll do a full write up of the game.

Anarchy Online cover

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some Desert Nomads to kill...


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