From the PAX Prime 2011 floor: AirMech!

Though there are a handful of games that really stand out in my mind from PAX this year (bearing in mind that I deliberately skew my time heavily towards the indie games fighting for air along the edges of the show floor), AirMech is in my mind the most underappreciated and underreported game of them all. Tucked away into a corner next to Snapshot's non-PAX10 booth and Closure's lone station, newly minted Carbon Games, comprised of much of the core team that worked on Fat Princess and based here in Seattle, was showing off their newly-announced RTS-MOBA-dual joystick shooter-thing game. I ended up stopping by to play the game no less than four times.

Bear in mind that the game is earlier than super-early, and I only got a limited exposure to the game and the developers, so everything I say here is subject to change and could be outright lies.

Ever played Herzog Zwei? Neither have most people. Honestly, I haven't physically touched the game myself either, but I know enough of it to recognize the influence. Trust those who have experienced that venerable game when they say that those are good influences. For the sake of most of you, I'm going to assume you haven't.

In AirMech, you play as what I presume is the titular AirMech, which you may think of as your RTS mouse cursor. Except it can shoot with dual-joystick controls. And transform from a plane to a bipedal mech at any point. Its primary utility, however, is to be your avatar on the battlefield, picking up and dropping a single unit at a time. While you're holding onto a unit, you can change its stance, ranging from holding to defensive to aggressive. When you're not holding onto units, you can become a rather powerful force multiplier for your army by jumping into the fray yourself and doing some dual-joystick shooting. This combination of mechanics is really an excellent way to solve the console RTS "problem", and it's frankly surprising that it's taken this long for someone to cobble together the pieces of it that existed previously and improve upon it until it makes sense in today's terms.

There is a rather large set of units in the game, ranging from main battle tanks to rocket artillery to support units to infantry to turrets and beyond, and while you'll earn many over time, you'll be choosing 8 of them as your deck going into each match. This has become a light trend in strategy games recently (you'll find a similar mechanic in Age of Empires Online) is one I'm really appreciative of, and I hope that like in Age you'll be able to go beyond even choosing your slate of units to being able to customize the stats on the units themselves with points you earn over time, or perhaps artifacts you pick up from in-game maps.

These units, in matches, get built at bases. Bases are prebuilt on the map rather than constructed by players, and expansion happens by capturing bases for your own use. You do this by creating infantry units and defending them enough that you can drop them and they make their way into the base in question unscathed. Doing this some number of times (four times with the bases in the demo I saw) means the base is yours. Each base you occupy adds to your resource output, and you can spend resources to build units. You can queue up to three units to be built at any time, and once a unit is built you can pick it up from any of the bases you own. Though my mind drifted to Onslaught mode in Unreal Tournament, there's no concept of connected bases which you must fight through in some given order; all bases are subject to capture at any time. I think it would actually be neat if some modes experimented with that style of capture.

The absolute most standout part of the game are the tightly streamlined controls. The game feels great on a 360 controller. The last time I stopped by to play, I tried out the mouse and keyboard controls, and while they're extremely competent (you can even right-click to direct your mech to places and drop units), I found myself wanting to go back to the controller to play with. For a strategy game, this speaks volumes about the care that's been put into crafting the gameplay to fit the limitations of the controller without sacrificing depth. Literally the only thing I had trouble with was the fact that pick-up-unit and transform are both on the same trigger, gated contextually on whether you're near a unit or not, and sometimes the game disagreed with me on whether I was near a unit. It should be easy enough to move transform to L3 or some other button and resolve the issue, so I'm not awfully worried.

There will of course be multiplayer, though it wasn't shown off in the demo on display. Carbon is planning at the moment to feature up to four players, with maps to scale to that size. You can also play cooperatively, with multiple people essentially manning the same army of units.

All in all, I'm really looking forward to this one, and I don't think it's gotten the coverage it deserves, so I felt compelled to write something up with a bit more detail than the other articles I've seen. I hope you all take a look and sign up for the alpha/beta.

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Outland first-hand first impressions

I saw played a reasonable amount of Outland at PAX Prime yesterday, and have perhaps a slightly better grasp of what's going on here than some of the articles floating around seem to. 
In some respects, Outland wears its influences on its sleeve. The  polarity mechanic not only works like, but looks almost identical to the way it did in Ikaruga. As you platform through the game, there are often emitters that will fire bullets of varying color and geometric patterns, which you must match the color of to avoid injury. Unlike in Ikaruga, getting hit means losing health, not instant death
There are, however, a lot of complications thrown your way over the basic formula. While avoiding bullets of the wrong color, you are also forced to fight various enemies, such as spiders. Most of the time, these enemies will have a polarity themselves, and rather than simply do half-damage if you are of like polarity to them, Outland takes it further and renders your attacks useless — you absolutely must be of the opposite polarity to do damage to these enemies. In addition, there are a lot of puzzle- or action-based mechanics in the world of Outland that are based on your polarity: moving platforms won't move, some stationary platforms will simply disappear, and ornate patterns of light won't illuminate unless you are of the correct alignment. 
 
Visually as well, there are influences there. I'm reminded strongly of Shadow of the Colossus in terms of environment and character design, while the trails of light are reminiscent of Tron, or perhaps even some of the more ornate patterns in Twilight Princess
 
I asked the developer who was demoing the game whether there would be co-op of some kind coming. He pulled a "haven't announced anything," which to me meant yes.

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World of Goo [impressions]

I was holding out for a Steam version of World of Goo before purchasing it (I only buy PC games on Steam out of principle), and when it was announced last night that the game would be on Steam today, I simply had no excuse not to buy it just now.

I played through the first of apparently 4 or 5 worlds just now, and this game is beautiful.  While so far the puzzles have been more action-puzzle oriented than pure puzzle, requiring you to stay quick on your feet as much as think ahead, the game is absolutely stunning simply for the sheer amount of effort that 2D Boy very evidently put into every aspect of the game.

As I type this, the lines of text on the screen on bobbing peacefully up and down as if they are lines of goo.  Gragh.

I think I enjoy the experience of World of Goo for the same reason that I enjoyed the experience of Spore, which is, in fact, just that.  Let me disentangle that: I enjoyed the experience because it's enjoyable, in both cases.  I think a shared element is a certain sense of wonderment.  In Spore, it came from the feeling of scale in the game: there are things bigger than you, smaller than you, and right there struggling along with you, and for once it doesn't feel like the game world cares if you live or not -- the game truly isn't about you.  In World of Goo, the wonderment that you feel as you play comes from an entirely different sorts, which is a very simple and visceral joy that the game manages to deliver despite its starkly simple -- and if you think about it, rather inane -- premise.

Gripes:
  • Why is there no options menu?  I have a 1680x1050 display; I'd like to use it, thanks.
  • Couldn't seem to connect to the internet the first couple of times.  Third time was the charm though.
  • It's a neat feature that free goos flock toward your cursor, but highlighting precedence should go towards balls on the structure so that if I want to get at them I don't have to clear the way first.
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Will be at PAX Saturday!

I haven't mentioned it here, only on IRC, so I might as well post it up:

I will definitely be at PAX on Saturday chilling with the rest of you fine folks.  Hope to see some of you there!

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Confessions of a Submissions Moderator

I posted this in a thread on the forum, but I guess it bears repeating in a more indelible place:

  • It's been mentioned that you should do an advanced search before you suggest new pages, which I would like to re-emphasize, but please also note that the search engine hiccups a bit if your search query has a colon in it, so if you're submitting, for instance, Resistance: Retribution, search up Resistance instead of the whole title.
  • Please, please, please put down what type of change you are making in the box at the bottom. Are you relating similar games?  Are you adding games to a character?  If you're making changes to article text, what section is it from?  These things really help us prioritize and streamline when approving submissions.  "Adding information" doesn't really help us, because hopefully that's what you're all doing! =)
  • I will re-emphasize that we'd like Giant Bomb to be fresh and original.  If people want information from Wikipedia, they'll go there.  Let's build our own world here, yeah?
  • Finally, please be patient with us.  You're going to get a lot of stuff rejected because in 3+ days' time, other people are going to come up with the same characters to add and similar games to relate and all these other wonderful things as you do.  As Jax said, it's a process, we're doing our best to make it work, and we're all together on this.

Hang in there and keep up the good work, everyone!  Remember to not be bitter about points, they're just a number.  I'm constantly amazed at what everyone is coming up with (someone please fill in the grass concept page we just approved with ridiculous minutiae)!
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