Game of the Week Puzzle Saga

I want to do more regular updates. So I’m going to try to do a game of the week. Admittedly, most of these will be apps since that’s the bulk of my game time these days.   I’ll try to mix in some classics, indies, and big budget games as well.  I’ll probably shoot for Fridays, but if anyone prefers Mondays let me know.

First up is the game I mentioned earlier, Puzzle Saga by Flipscript.  Don’t confuse it with a game that goes by the same name on Facebook.  This is an action match three puzzler with RPG trappings.  It will inevitably be compared to Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes, but it’s much faster and doesn’t have story elements.  A quick word of warning, one update added a big ad when you start up the game.  However, since the game has been free for the past month, this can be forgiven.

In the beginning of the game, most everything is locked.  You unlock things by winning battles and earning coins.  You select a hero who determines the magic you can use.  Then you select the types of units you want to lead into battle.  Initially, you have basic Soldiers and Archers, but then you can unlock Knights, Axemen, Black Mages, Assassins, Witches, Clerics, Vikings, Snipers, Priestesses, and Druids.  Each has their own attack type and can be upgraded twice, for coins, of course.   Melee units generally only attack straight ahead in their row, but range units will attack any enemy.

Each level will start with your units in a grid formation at the bottom of the screen.  You can swap two units to make a match of three or more.  Any time you match three or more, those units will attack.  If you make a match of five or more, you’ll launch a super attack.  Enemies appear in patterned waves.  They attack on countdown timers.  If you’re efficient enough, you can keep attacking fast enough that they can’t attack you.  If they do attack, the damage comes out of your hero’s hit points.  If your hero’s hit points reach zero, you can continue with a full health bar for a fee of coins or it’s game over.

After you defeat all the waves of enemies, you get ranked based on the completion time and a technique rating.  High combos, super attacks and magic attacks improve your technique.  Time is based on a par for each level.  If you come in under par, you get the full 1000 pts for time on that level.  Each second over costs points.  Technique only goes up to 200.  You ideally want a combination that adds up to 1000 or more.  That will give you an S ranking for that level.  You can advance with any completion ranking of the level, but you’ll need all S ranks to unlock the challenge mode.

You see the game is broken up into theme islands, forest, undead, ice, etc.  Each island has ten day levels.  Get an S on all of those you unlock that island’s challenge mode.  Playing challenge modes is where you can really earn coins.  There are endless levels in the challenge mode, but you have a timer counting down.  You have to complete as many waves as possible before the timer runs out.  If you complete a wave below the par time, you can actually skip a level or two.  That’s how you get the big coin rewards.

You’ll need all those coins since unlocking the upper tier units and heroes are pretty expensive.  Unlocking all units and upgrading them while doing the same for heroes would be a near endless grind if you don’t get the bonus coins from the challenge levels.  As it was, I unlocked everything without any in app purchases by moderate grinding on the ice level’s challenge.

So why is it fun?  It’s got those great puzzle cascades from games like Puzzle Quest.  With practice, you can launch near constant attacks that light up the screen with flashing animations and dying enemies.  The sheer variety of units and heroes accommodates a huge variety of strategies.  I ended up with the General as my hero.  His low level magic lets you order any column of units to attack without a match.  His second level launches every unit of a selected unit type.  His top level magic super charges all your units increasing their damage output.

Most of the fun comes  from the fast pace.  While some unit animations will lock you out from making a particular match, most of the time you can just keep making matches even while other matches are attacking.  You sort of settle into a zen rhythm of matching.  Once you find a mix of units you like, it’s pretty addicting.

In addition to the basic mode, each island has a night mode with harder enemies.  There’s also a completely separate puzzle mode that gives you limited units and moves to try to take out a set of enemies.  In short, it’s a great deal of fun at $.99, but it’s a no brainer to try it while it’s free.

Any negatives?  Well, I did have a handful of lock ups on my iPad.  Also, I didn’t find the fire island much fun, particularly at night.  Perhaps I didn’t have the right mix of heroes and units for it.  Overall, highly recommended.

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Sony Defense Force

Sony had their Playstation 4 press conference on the 20th of February. Some have wondered why the seemingly sudden announcement. Personally, I think it’s a good sign. Sony actually recognizes that they’re in trouble. They used to dismiss signs of trouble with the wave of an imperious hand. Now they’re reacting to a problem like any crisis manager would advise them to do. They went out and replaced bad news with good. They replaced rumors with facts. They took control of their narrative. Those are all good, but the most important rule of crisis management is to stop the bleeding. Don’t do any more stupid. Sony could use a break from stupid.

I admit that I have fond memories of Sony. They ruled the electronics hardware world for a while. Just about any Sony product you could buy was a quality product. Yes, they started charging a premium for that quality, but it felt worth it. I had a ton of Sony products back in the day, monitors, camcorders, diskmen, TV’s and, of course, Playstations. The fondest memories were from the Playstation 2. Action games, fighting games, RPG’s and JRPG’s, and strategy games, I played them all on my faithful PS2.

It seemed like Sony could do no wrong. Unfortunately, Sony started to think that way too. They made a whole series of decisions that reeked of arrogance. It didn’t help that they had a new generation of competitors nipping at their heels. When those competitors caught up on quality and beat Sony on price a reckoning was coming. With the disastrous launch of the PS3, it had arrived.

For a while, it seemed like they retreated into their shell. Bad behavior and financial losses abounded. It became obvious the problem wouldn’t be solved without the culture changing. Slowly that seemed to be happening. The Vita was a great product at a reasonable price point. Unfortunately, the market had changed. It might still be saved with a strong PS4 environment and the announced tie in capabilities. A price drop wouldn’t hurt either.

Based on the announcement, the Playstation 4 is much further down that road even than the Vita. The entire announcement, however clumsy, was a love letter to game developers. The PS4 is actually a reasonable answer to the complaints developers had with the PS3. It’s a standard X86 environment with standard libraries but still allowing close access to the metal. It’s got a faster drive, more and faster memory. Most of the developer commentary indicates it will be easier to program than either the Xbox 360 or its successor.

Regardless of whether it’s the most powerful console this coming generation, this new attitude could save Sony if it hasn’t come too late. I hope it isn’t because, I’d like to make some more memories.

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Puzzle Saga (iOS)

I haven’t been playing too much lately. I finally completed a full run through Borderlands 2. It’s a great game. The only other game I’ve been playing recently is Puzzle Saga on my iPad. I’ve been meaning to write up a post on why I enjoy it. For now, I’ll just say it’s like the high speed action cousin of Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes, a game I loved for the DS, but is now available on PS3, Xbox 360, PC and iOS. I was going to recommend it when they dropped the price to $.99, but they just went a made it free (presumably for a limited time). So go grab it now. I’ll try to do a full write up soon.

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Post Secret

I’m sorry if comments get turned off any posts.  Sometimes the spambots latch on to a post and keep posting comments.  I’m sorry if any of you are out there searching for discount sex shops or deals on beats by dr. dre.  If anyone wants to pay to advertise here, they can contact me.  Spamming the site with your advertising drivel, probably linking to malware laden sites, just annoys me.

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This is kind of cool.  Bluetooth powered stickers so you never lose that remote again.


Yes, it’s another kickstarter (ok, Indiegogo) project, but it’s already funded.  I can think of a few people who could use this as a gift.

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XCOM Impressions

Even with my backlog, I wasn’t going to be able to resist Borderlands 2, Torchlight 2, Carrier Command, Dishonored, and XCOM releasing in short order. I played a little original Borderlands (anyone else think about ‘Keep on the Borderlands’ every time they see that title?) to dull some of the desire there. Carrier Command sounds a bit buggy at launch (from Bohemia? I’m shocked). Dishonored might have to wait until I get a new rig. So I was choosing between Torchlight 2 and XCOM. Despite the price differential, my love for the original series won out, and I got XCOM.

Of course, the new release got me thinking about the original game. The early 90’s is ages ago in games terms. Back then X-Com: UFO defense was a revelation. Despite nostalgic temptation, it wasn’t a perfect game. Certain random events could ruin your game. The aliens could sometimes decimate your team before you even debarked the skyranger. The alien movement phase sometimes showed too little or too much. Your odds of making the amazing clutch shot always seemed much lower than the aliens. Then, the game was often brutally hard at the beginning and the end.

However, the original X-Com did so many things right that it earned its place as a classic hall of fame game. The over game (or meta game or whatever you want to call the global strategic part of the game) constantly had you balancing your radar coverage, troops, research, production and facilities to keep your benefactors happy and your budget in the green. Research combined story with technological developments that unlocked new tools, weapons, armor, facilities and even weapons platforms. But if you didn’t balance your budget, you wouldn’t be able to afford all those new toys.

All that work fed into the tactical game where your team actually fought the aliens. Better weapons and armor tended to lead to better results, but only if you employed sold tactics. X-Com didn’t have the nuance you’d expect from a tactical game today, but it was pretty amazing with multiple elevations, solid line of sight detection, cover, stances and environmental destruction. Not bad for a 2D sprite based game. In short, it was amazing for the time. It did many things I’d never seen before and many I wouldn’t see again for years.

That’s quite a legacy to live up to. So how does the new XCOM fare? The first thing I should say is ‘Go buy this game!’ It looks like an updated X-Com, but more importantly it feels like it. It adds enough modern flair and UI enhancements to make it feel current. So let’s break it down.

The graphics feel inspired by the original game without being needlessly bound to them. Different enemy types are easy to identify. The dreaded chrysalid is appropriately menacing. The environments are largely interactive and look nice generally without obscuring the action. Sure, more assets, especially for different parts of the world would be nice. I had far more wow moments visually than any noticed disappointments.

The controls are pretty good especially since they had to design for both keyboard and mouse and a gamepad. Deaths only come from tactical errors or bad luck. XCOM reminded me why I miss turn based tactical combat. You always feel in control of you team and their abilities. That’s so far removed from the spray and pray of too many modern games. I will readily admit that my twitch reflexes have atrophied a bit over the years not that I was ever good at rocket jumping in Quake. The only problem is that while the internal rules are consistent, it’s not always clear why an option is greyed out. Once you learn the rules, it’s not a problem, and there are ways to find out, but it could be clearer.

The sound is great. It provides the proper atmosphere. It can be quite creepy and paranoid at times which is just perfect. You can identify enemies and weapons by sound. Ambient sounds are nice and appropriate, but could use more localization base on the mission’s area of operations.

So how is the AI? I didn’t play around with all the difficulties, but you won’t win without caution and sound tactics even on the easier difficulties. If you want a cakewalk, you probably want a different game. Enemies are aggressive, use their abilities well and don’t hesitate to press their advantage. Yes, it can feel unfair on the harder difficulties. You are taking on a battle hardened enemy wielding superior technology. With research the playing field levels out a bit.

In summary, the parts of the game come together to make something greater than the sum of the parts. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this game to fans of the original or the genre. Like I said, go buy this game.

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A Few Updates

I’m sorry I’ve been away for a while. It’s been busy lately. Combine that with my wife being away on business trips and the stomach flu, the site has been neglected lately. I did want to give you some updates.

First, Planetary Annihilation was fully funded with all stretch goals. That means that Galactic War is coming. I’m not going to hold my breath that they’ll make their exact release date, but I’m glad their full vision will see the light of day. I’m old and jaded enough to realize that this is the best part of game development for the fan. We have just enough information to get excited and fill in the rest with our imagination of the best game possible.

Still, they’re starting from a good point modeling on Total Annihilation and SupCom. I always like the idea that no base is impregnable. Beyond that I’m looking for frantic battles and fast action. Generally, I prefer games where initiative is rewarded though I don’t like victory going only to the highest Actions Per Minute (APM). As you might guess, I like sound strategy, use of tactical advantage and mass, combined arms, good supply lines and initiative over pure APM. As long as I get to blow up some planets, I’ll have fun.

Next, I did get FTL (Faster Than Light). I’ve had a lot of fun with it. I might be getting old, but for me, easy feels more like normal than normal. Perhaps if I get better I’ll move up. I’ve unlocked a few ships and each seems to offer different battle strategies. There rarely seems to be an optimal build order that works for each game.  And, in true rogue-like fashion, you depend on the random drops and shop selection to deal with the randomized (but steadily tougher) enemies.  I die a lot, but feel like I’m getting better each time.  That’s what I look for in a rogue-like.  The scifi trappings are just icing on the cake.

Finally, both iOS and Android offer pretty nice apps for updating the blog.  Of course, you can’t do too much text on the touchscreen.  Dictation is somewhat spotty and not always practical in noisy environments.  So I figured I needed a bluetooth keyboard.  I was impressed with the sheer number of recommendations for the Apple version.  While I like the stylish appearance, I didn’t like the chiclet style and shape of the keys.  I also wasn’t thrilled by the price.  I ended up going with this one.  Yes, it’s from Microsoft, but they’ve made some surprisingly good hardware through the years (the early Xbox 360’s not withstanding).  I really liked the ergonomic shape of the keyboard and keys.  There are some things I’d change on it, but the feel of typing on it is a dream.  That’s exactly what I wanted, and the price was significantly cheaper than Apple.  Here’s a picture if you’re too lazy to follow the link.

Microsoft Bluetooth KeyboardThanks for the patience and understanding.

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Working at Wolfram and Hart

Memes die. That doesn’t mean they’re forgotten. They’re just not propagating anymore. So if I say ‘dancing baby’ or ‘wazzup,’ many people still know what I’m talking about. While I’m not here to call for the death of Call Me Maybe parodies, I can still hope for a sudden end. No, I want to dredge up ‘jumping the shark.’ Even with Shark Week just passed, the Jumped the Shark website is barely above here in web rankings. (Side note: one of the top queries to this website is ‘crash to desktop’) So while the phase is clearly self referential now, there’s one question I haven’t forgotten, what is the opposite of jumping the shark?

You may argue that such a thing doesn’t exist. It’s true that once most shows go into decline they never return to form. Often talent has left and premises may only be used so many times. More importantly, once viewership drops everything tumbles towards cancellation. There’s little time or resources for a renaissance. However, it has happened, so I’m pressing forward.

This year I rewatched the Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel TV series. Even though I own the disks, I watched them on Amazon Prime for the convenience. The down side was that I didn’t get any of the bonus features. The up side is that I wasn’t slowed down by those features and actually finished watching. I was even pretty good about interleaving the crossover Buffy/Angel episodes.

Most shows that I go back and watch seem worse or much worse for time passed. Some of the stuff I watched as a kid is just awful (Hello, Knight Rider). Fortunately, Buffy and Angel don’t fall into that category. I can’t say they’ve gotten better with age, but they would still be some of the best TV on the air if they were running now. I will say there are many clever things you miss when you watch the first time. I also can’t deny that some of the jokes and pop culture references don’t work if you don’t remember the time when the series originally aired.

I might go into my favorite things about the two series at some later date. Now I’ll just try to stay on topic.

There’s some debate when (or if) Buffy jumped the shark. Buffy dies (again) and Dawn are solid choices. There are some classic episodes after that point, Once More with Feeling jumps to mind, but Buffy never consistently regains the mid series form.

Angel is a little different. Whether you choose teenage Connor or just season four, it’s clear that Angel got so dark for so long that it turned off a lot of fans. However, that all turns around at the beginning of season five as team Angel starts working at Wolfram and Hart. Ok, technically they signed up at the end of season four, but the fun didn’t really begin until season five.

I could list over half of season five as great episodes. However, I’ll just give you some of my favorites. It should be noted that bringing Spike over from Buffy added a lot to the fun.

Hell Bound — A non-corporal Spike must take on a powerful ghost while fighting the pull from Hell.

Life of the Party — Lorne takes on the task of throwing the best Halloween party ever at Wolfram and Hart, but something is wrong.

Harm’s Way — A look at Wolfram and Hart and team Angel from the outside as Angel’s secretary tries to plan a conference and clear her name at the same time.

Why We Fight — A look at Angel durning World War II that raises the question of what it really means to be a vampire with a soul.

Smile Time — The magic from an evil kids tv show turns Angel into a puppet.

Not Fade Away — the series finale leaves team Angel where they started fighting the good fight even though they can’t win simply because it’s the good fight.

And my personal favorite:

The Cautionary Tale of Numero Cinco — It must be watched to be appreciated, but it does have Angel asking the question, “Did you ever hear that the devil built a robot?”

I think the season was helped by the fact that there was more of thematic feel rather than a particular big bad to fight. That meant that threads could run through one off episodes. Characters could come and go as needed. Incredibly, in the end, almost all the loose ends from the series are tied up while the characters reveal their true selves under extreme duress.

Season five ended up being the best of the series even though they knew towards the end that they were being cancelled. So what’s the opposite of jumping the shark? My answer is working at Wolfram and Hart.

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Galactic War

Update: The kickstarter achieved $1.8 million last night so the Galactic War is on.  The next stretch goals are an orchestral score and a documentary about the making of the game.

Original post:

It’s probably a good thing that I don’t have $350,000 to spare.  Otherwise, I’d be making a huge investment in Planetary Annihilation.  As it is, I only upped my backing level a few notches.  There’s nothing stopping me from encouraging you to do the same or to jump on the bandwagon for the last few days of the Kickstarter.  In short, Galactic War is their vision for a single player campaign while trying to avoid the expense of a scripted campaign.  It has me excited, but I’ll let them explain.

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Ipad Apps Stuck on Waiting

I’m not a big Apple user. In fact, the new Ipad was my first Apple purchase for myself in years. More on that in a minute.

First I’d like go over the resolution to a problem I had with the app store. Normally when you purchase an app in the store, you select buy and enter your password. The store verifies your password and takes you to a home screen where the icon appears with the text waiting. Then waiting turns to loading then installing, and then your app is ready to use. I ran into a problem where the process hung at waiting. It would hang for whatever the timeout period was (15 minutes?) then ask to retry or cancel. If you retried, you would enter your password again and go back to waiting. It would never start loading.

Of course, eventually I had to cancel the download. Restarting the process gave the same result. I tried rebooting the ipad and got the same result. After verifying it wasn’t a connection problem, I hit the internet. Most of the solutions seemed to indicate that itunes songs or podcasts were having problems downloading resulting in the background downloader locking up. Clearing the queue in itunes or podcasts would solve it. Unfortunately, for me, my queue was clear already.

Anyway, here is the solution that worked:

1. Cancel all downloading apps

2. Go to the app store on the device and sign out

3. Reboot device

4. Go to app store and sign in

After that, everything returned to normal. Hopefully that might help someone else who’s stuck on waiting.

Anyway, I wasn’t sold on Apple due to the whole ‘walled garden’ argument. However, I’m a gamer. Despite Android’s huge success in number of devices and apps available, many new and interesting games were still coming out first or only on iOS. I’m sure momentum is behind part of that. I admit that there’s also a creative culture that Apple has fostered. So, in short, I didn’t want to miss out on those games. Hence, the Ipad. I certainly haven’t regretted it.

I am going to take this opportunity to plug a couple of my favorite mobile gaming sites. First is Pocket Tactics. They cover strategy and tactical games for both Android and iOS. There’s almost always something there I want to play on the front page. Next is iPad Board Games. You’ll never guess what they cover. Actually, what you’ll never guess is how many great board games there are out there for the iPad. You can also vote for your favorites. Please check them out.

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