Archive for December, 2007

First video of Roll ‘Em Out

December 20, 2007

Having been busy with finals and other projects, I haven’t put much time into working on Roll ‘Em Out, but to keep things going, here’s just a short gameplay video of a still early debug build of the game. The score display is just a mockup- I won’t actually be using this in the final game.

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Kart racing approaches the sound barrier with M&M’s!

December 15, 2007

Third party developers and the Wii have an iffy relationship right now. Some of them really mean well, and others want to get away with the bare minimum (i.e. lazy bastards). With M&M’s Kart Racing you get the latter kind AND hilarious results from it. But you need to turn up your speakers to understand what I mean. Props to you, Destination Software. Your game is now ranked #1 in the Google search results for APPROACHING SOUND BARRIER (linky)

This game is meant for little tykes, and it may provide a small snack before the main course that is Mario Kart for the Wii, but its in-game announcer voice is immortal. Who knew breaking the sound barrier would require little effort in this game? I had a hard time doing this in the original X-treme G. A fellow member in a message board stated that the “sound barrier” quip might have been taken from the gyrocopter pilots in Warcraft III. Interesting assumption.

Wait till it hits the bargin bin, it will be the most sought after so-bad-it’s-funny game since Big Rigs. Maybe this is why the developers are so uppity about the posted Youtube videos of their game (most were taken down).

Balls to the Wall: A review of four “-ball” games, part 2

December 15, 2007

It’s been a while since I posted, but it’s still time to wrap up my last two-part post where I briefly reviewed two of four “rolling ball” games. Well, now for the rest. This time the games are Switchball and Super Gerball.

Switchball

Switchball

Switchball, the 800-pound gorilla- er, steel ball of the crowd. This game has the best production values, professional marketing and distribution put behind it, and backing by a major PC games publisher, Sierra. Just from visiting the game’s website, you can tell a ton of work has gone just into making it pleasing to look at. It sounds unfair to compare it to the other games on this list, but it’s all in a couple days’ work of research and testing out the competition.

Unlike the other ball games, and especially against Hamsterball Gold, Switchball is played at a more methodical pace and its central focus is solving puzzles. In the early stages you never feel like you’re coming close to falling off the ledge. It’s all about finding out what to do next, so logic prevails over steady nerves and reflexes. This would be a great game for anyone that finds other similar games frustrating because of frequent deaths. Adding to the puzzle-solving element are special contraptions that turn your ball into different materials. Your ball becomes marble, steel, or light-weight, depending on the situation at hand. A steel ball, due to its greater momentum, rolls down faster and moves objects around effortlessly.

As said before, this game pulls out all the stops in its presentation. This is the only game where you would actually need a good graphics card in order to experience all the goodness that its graphics have to offer. Features include high-quality textures and the ever-ubiquitous light bloom. Fortunately for users of older computers, you can turn these enhancements off and improve speed and performance. The menus are professionally done, as well as the sound effects. The music is never too invasive or annoying, but it does sound generic at times. Maybe not much of a big deal- you can turn down the game’s music if you so desire. Finally, the aesthetic is consistent and pleasing- the steampunk look works well all around and nothing feels out of place.

The physics are also worth mentioning. After proper adjustments, you never feel out of control of your ball. Your interactions with the environment are very convincing, and it’s all due to the highly acclaimed PhysX engine that the game is built upon. Switchball has a slightly weightier price at $19.95, but considering its production background, it’s a very good offer.

Super Gerball

Super Gerball

Now we’ve come to the last game that I checked out, Super Gerball. We’re back to budget quality, but how does this game hold up? Well, this game is high in spirit and hopes, meaning that its creator really tried to push to make this a Super Monkey Ball clone to the best of his abilities. Neverball and Switchball, beyond the gameplay, never tried to be exactly like SMB. But Super Gerball tries to get everything down pat, including the announcer voice-overs, cute critters and checkerboard patterned floors. You collect crystals, the equal to Aiai’s bananas, and many obstacles abound the trickier levels. The levels are grouped into themes just like SMB, and each set of themes are divided among three difficulty levels.

So is it a sure winner? I’m still hesitant to say yes. It has the fundamentals right, and even has the best control scheme imaginable with a mouse. You can click-drag to tilt the floor and releasing the mouse button “snaps” it to neutral position, just like a joystick. However, everything else about the game is not up to par. Most of the levels aren’t very creatively designed, or at least the easy/medium ones (you have to pay to play the hard difficulty) and the overall feel and look is sorta cheap. The midi-sounding music is not the best out of the four games I played, and the graphics, well, are passable. It would benefit greatly just from better textures. Neverball was done with programmer graphics as well, but at least with Neverball its creator understood his creative limits and played it safe by making the setting more abstract. In Super Gerball, you have to roll your gerbil in different house environments like the backyard, attic, etc. You need to put up with more realism to make you feel like you’re in the game (though I have to add, the motion blur on the ball is a nice touch).

The visual flaws in Super Gerball just stand out more simply because it strives the most to emulate a commercial-quality game. The similarities are many and they’re not subtle. But all is not lost with the game. It does have the added benefit of having a level editor, so you can choose to create wackier, more exciting levels if you choose to. They will just not look as good as ones in Super Monkey Ball, that’s all. Also at $19.95, the price is up there with Switchball, so I strongly recommend trying before you buy.

That is all for the review of Monkey Ball clones, and if you have found any more freeware/shareware/demoware games in this style, let me know.

Portabalooza, my new site

December 6, 2007

Portabalooza

For the past week, I’ve been concentrating on getting a new site up and running, and making some further tweaks to it. It’s called Portabalooza, which will be a place for updates and news on portable video games. Soon I will be thinking about doing game reviews, as well. Keeping up to date with the news is tough, but it’s still nice to give my views about certain stories and games. So whether you’re a DS fan, PSP fan, or love any sort of portable games, keep posted, because as the site grows it will be updated on a frequent basis.

Balls to the wall: a review of four “-ball” games

December 1, 2007

While I was busy working on Roll ‘Em Out, it seemed fitting to do some research on any possible clones that might already exist, both for inspiration and to evaluate the competition. I have found four PC games that closely fit this “rolling ball” genre, and here are my reactions after giving each a try. They are Neverball, Hamster Ball Gold, Switchball, and Super Gerball. And this is also why I chose the title that I did for my game, because anything with “ball” in it already sounds overdone and unoriginal. Today I will be talking about Neverball and Hamsterball Gold.

Neverball

Neverball

The first game I tried, Neverball, was made by a grad student that actually attended the very same university that I am attending, and around the same concentration of interest (electronic visualization). How awesome is that! Never got to meet him, though, so I just know about him from his brief bio page and an interview he did (You can find more about him on his website, icculus.org).

Now for the game itself. Unlike the other three games, Neverball is completely open-source, allowing for tweakable levels and custom music, and it’s all freeware. Big points already right there! Control is what you’d expect to be for a keyboard and mouse. A lot of people would complain about motion sickness because the levels meander quite often as you move the ball. You get that in the Monkey Ball games too, but at least the movement feels quick and responsive. Neverball’s controls feel floaty and a bit too loose, and it definitely needs getting used to.

Aside from this issue, the levels provide a good challenge and the core game is divided into three levels of difficulty. Due to its open source nature, Neverball has gotten a loyal following and the dev community has made marginal improvements to the game, including new levels and features.

But the presentation is a bit lacking. While clean and simple, this doesn’t have the polish of a full-blown commercial game. Not to say that it’s ugly, but it follows the “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” mantra- sparse text menus, voices, and simple visuals- it’s all thrown together in a no-nonsense manner that you would expect from an indie game developer. Neverball still gets props from me, as it gives a reasonable learning curve, solid gameplay, and extensive customization from a developer’s point of view.

Hamsterball Gold

Hamster Ball Gold

Some games aren’t what they seem until you play it for yourself, and that’s what I got with Hamsterball Gold. Instead of tilting the level around the ball, you just guide the ball directly with the mouse, as in Marble Madness. The style of play follows that game as well, since all the levels emphasize speed over dexterity, in a mad race to get through an obstacle course in the shortest time possible.

This is a more polished, commercialized shareware game and it shows. The levels are very colorful and have some sort of theme to them, at least presented in a more illustrative manner than Neverball. And unlike Neverball, the music is mostly upbeat as well. The shareware value is acceptable- you can progress through the game until you reach a certain level, where the game freezes in the middle and asks you to buy the game. But the levels you do get to play are still pretty good, and fun to beat your own personal records.

That’s it for now. I’ll continue the reviews in the future, when I’ll be scoping out Switchball and Super Gerball.