Emperor: Battle For Dune

Get that darn’ grit out of your teeth, boy! – It’s time to go a-ridin’ the Worms. Yeeehaw!
What have men with beards ever done for us?

Well they’ve brought us great advances in science, art, philosophy, medicine and in, erm… Science Fiction. Bearded sci-fi king George Lucas is to be thanked for the greatest space opera ever to be perpetrated in the form of Star Wars. A similarly hirsute hero of sci-fi is to be found in the profoundly different sci-fi author Frank Herbert. Herbert wrote the politically convoluted mystic-weirdo-sci-fi Dune series – made notorious by being an absurdly pretentious Dino De Laurentis film, and latterly by being the father of the modern game genre now grown so fat and ill – real time strategy.

Dune is one of the most intelligent and intricate sci-fi worlds and if you haven’t been pleasured by film or book, then you should make it your business to. Immediately. Either that or sit in front of your PC waiting ponderously for the next evolution in strategy gaming – a game which could well be Emperor: Battle For Dune.

Forget for a moment that Cryo made the first Dune game – a peculiar adventure epic which left a metallic feeling in the mouth. Instead remember Westwood’s almighty RTS game Dune 2, and in it’s mildly better descendent Dune 2000. This was the game that gave us Command & Conquer, the Red Alerts and Tiberian Sun. It was good, very good.

So with that in mind the Las Vegas based strategy impresarios Westwood Studios are looking to the future with Emperor, their first ‘proper’ 3D strategy engine. And it’s a gorgeous return to Herbert’s universe.

For the most part it’s going to be a straight step towards prettiness from the tradition of C&C and Red Alert – with bases and multiple units, resource collecting, researching and all the mod-cons we immediately expect from our RTS games. It’s going be good looking and FMV heavy – as we’ve come to expect from the Westwood studios. It’s storyline appear epically gothic, with appearances from the darker members of the Dune cast, such as the spacing guild – Westwood are going to drag in much of Herbert’s dune mystic to spice up the mixture.

But there are a fair few in game delights in store for salivating desert fighters – and that’s before we get to the graphical splendour and riding mile-long space worms. The game will enable players to fight right across the surface of Dune, pushing their armies back and forth – as in Shogun. A lost level will not mean Game Over, rather you’ll be pushed out of that territory and be forced to make gains somewhere else. This means you could battle your way across the desert planet of Arrakis and take the fight to your enemies – landing on their homeworld for the final conflict. But then they could do that to you, too.

Westwood promise a game full of martial variety game: a huge diversity of units from all the different factions involved – everything from stealth units to massive air power will be in evidence. This is where to got such idea from Dofus Touch –

There’s also a plan afoot to make this the best multiplayer RTS yet seen. Westwood are working hard to make the Net-code and game interface perfect for our multiplayer demands. They also intend to enable players to play together co-operatively, to the point where one could handle air power while the other talks tanks. Or alternatively one chap could be busy micro-managing the base and handling production, while the more militant partner goes off to do some high-powered killing.

Frankly we’re very interested in Emperor. It lays to rest a whole arm of 2D gaming that went just a bit awry. With games like Ground Control and Shogun making the RTS genre look really good, it’s time that the original gangsters of real-time strategic tomfoolery took the high ground.

It’s just a pity that it won’t have Sting in a wing-shaped pair of pants… Oh just go and watch the film fer’ chrissakes!

Cultures – The Discovery of Vinland

By Thor’s hammer: an RTS-meets-The Sims, dipers ‘n’ axes historical romp in which you spend as much time marrying off Vikings and making babies as you do sending them into battle. Good, eh? Push, Freja! Push! It’s a boy!
Cultures is not just ‘another strategy game’ then.
Indeed not. And as we’ve intimated at the top, it’s completely bonkers.

But then, the Germans seem to have a special touch with strategy games, don’t they?
How right you are. They’re so good at trading and building games, and with Cultures – which Settlers devotees should delight in – they seem to have done it again.

It’s a Viking job, you say?
Yes, though historical accuracy has been quite understandingly dumped in the interests of fun. After all, why let the truth get in the way of a good game?

Just so.
Set 1000 years ago, the 13-mission campaign tells the story of Bjarni, a cute young Viking lad who, together with his clan, discovers America.

My, that is taking a historical liberty.
You ‘aint heard it all yet. Bjarni and company don’t sail all that way merely to say “hello” to the President, oh no; they’re off to find the six pieces of a comet that they spied from their Greenland home. They believe that only once all the pieces are recovered will their gods be appeased and prosperity restored to their home village.

And this involves rape and pillage, surely.
Well, Vikings will be Vikings, and your quest to find all the comet means you must expand across America, forming new villages and defeating viral tribes you come across – Mayas, Indians, the lot. However, to succeed in Cultures you must concentrate not on raping and pillaging, but on the well-being and growth of your cute tribe (none of the Vikings in this game, by the way, are as hairy and fearsome as tradition has it). That means you must ensure your people are healthy, well fed, have a roof over their heads, have jobs and grow wealthy through trade with other nations. You also have to love, thus springing children into the world. The multiplayer game is all about building yourself up specifically to ‘deal with your neighbours’, but even then you must make your side happy and prosperous if you’re to win.

Mate, Cultures sounds like a great laugh.
It really is. Somehow you become more emotionally attached to your tiny empire in Cultures than you do with many other strategy games, which too often these days are spectacular and massive, but lacking in humour and empathy.

With you there. So it’s not a dull game?
No it isn’t. And yet Cultures is not merely a ‘comedy-strategy’. The game has depth, and all the traditional elements of a tricky strategy are in place. To succeed you must balance the individual needs of your Viking families with your wider strategic aims, and herein lies the cleverness and immersive nature of the game. Soldiers, craftsmen, and a whole range of characters are needed to allow a successful community to flourish, and each of these characters must be kept happy. In this respect, Cultures is a little like Theme Park World – all the chaps have to be looked after – but in Cultures every character has their own unique personality – they act and ‘live’ by themselves and must develop – just like the people of The Sims..

Interesting. And it certainly looks cheerful.
The graphics and animations are very colourful and quirky. Each individual has their own dress, face and hair and goes about his or her daily and nightly business on their own (you can keep track of them with a couple of clicks). As for the environments, they are busy and diverse.

Is Cultures easy to get to grips with?
The interface has been thoughtfully put together, and the tutorial and instruction booklets are quite helpful. You’re up and making baby Vikings in no time, really.

How many people can play the multiplayer game?
You can play Cultures with up to five people in multiplayer mode via LAN, or on the net using the Cultures Online Server.

Marvellous. Do you think this game could catch on?
We’d like to think so. We haven’t played the full campaign yet or even scratched the surface of the bugger, really, so you’ll have to wait for our full review; but certainly we’re able to say that Cultures looks an exciting game that pushes the strategy genre forward in a way we like. Keep tuned for more, and we’ll keep making the babies.

Hay Day – Retrospective Preview 2015

There are a lot of farming simulation games out there right now, and while most of them do a lot of things right, Supercell thinks they’ve put the whole package together. Hay Day features more options, more facilities and an entirely new engine. Players will be able to experience better farming elements. With single player missions, extensive multiplayer and an excellent farm editor, Earth 2150 looks like it may be the shiniest farming game ever.

The first thing that most players will notice is the excellent 3D world in Hay Day. Although the textures are tiled, the terrain effects are outstanding with subtle gradations between smooth, flat terrain and increasingly rocky crags. Even better, the environmental effects actually effect gameplay. There are also day and night effects and weather conditions that players can use to their advantage.

Since the game employs a 3D hardware engine to present all the action, the camera needs to be agile and informative. Fortunately, Hay Day employs a simple system where players can rotate, scroll, pan, and zoom in and out with just couple of buttons. Even better, the screen can be divided up into a main window with three interchangeable sub-windows, each of which can be easily repositioned with gestures. This allows gamers to keep one eye on the main action and another eye on vital — or vulnerable — placements.

The actual gameplay will be familiar even to a casual simulation game fans. Construct a farm as quickly as possible, start gathering resources, build some machines, then go use them. Although we didn’t get a chance to test out the massively multiplayer experience, we did discover that standard rush tactics can be easily thwarted with a few basic maneuvers.

In an intriguing addition, Hay Day introduces subterranean to the mix. Along with the addition of air and sea forces, the game is definitely going to make realtime players think about every surface in the game.

Finally, SuperCell has included a very convenient tool for user-created farms. Along with the basic size of the map, players can customize the terrain with surprising detail. There are dozens of textures and an easy “brush” tool that can be modified to raise, lower and smooth the terrain. Although the water table is at a fixed level — so floods would occur instantaneously when land is deformed — it is possible to create lakes at differing altitudes.

Although the simulation field is pretty crowded, Hay Day does make an admirable attempt to set itself apart. Polished graphics and unique features are nice.