So, here we are again for another volley. This time it's to talk about something I've wanted to do for a long time which is to review Conflict of Heroes on Shut Up & Sit Down. For all its shortcomings as a simulation, CoH is one of my all-time favourite wargames. I love its speed and its combination of mechanical and tactical conundrums. I also love the fact that it has tanks.
After submitting my last two SU&SD pieces I ended up getting excited about something I'd never talk about in public. No, not that: photography. I've always had zero interest in gaming photography, beyond the obvious taking aesthetic pleasure in seeing a nice picture. Truth be told my eye for visual detail is poor, so my own photography tends to be poor. I never took much care in setting up shots for any of my pieces.
Turns out, however, that it's astonishing what you can do with a little bit of prep, a bit of digging into your camera settings, and some image manipulation software. I still know almost nothing about photography, so whether this newfound passion will burn out as quickly as it flared up remains to be seen. But I might share some results sometime.
On the PC recently I've mostly been putting in the review hours for Stellaris and Total War: Warhammer. The former is good, the latter is great, but the most interesting thing about playing the two back to back is how it made me consider the vexed question of complexity in strategy video games.
Now that computers and programmers and game designers have had years to hone their skills, it's common for strategy games to be astonishingly complex under the hood. Players seem to like to have lots of levers to pull to get things done. But in an era where no-one prints manuals anymore, let alone reads them, it leaves an open question as to how you teach people the game.
Stellaris is fortunate in being able to take a piecemeal approach. You start off in one system and expand gradually, so the game has the luxury of being able to teach you concepts as you come across them. Mostly, this works, but it tends to leave you blind to the bigger picture. I restarted several times because I'd failed to appreciate how a new piece of information dovetailed with something I'd learned earlier.
Total Warhammer, by contrast, drops you in at the deep end. Your tutorial battle is a mass siege where you'll command units you won't be able to recruit until later in the campaign. Stuff gets flashed up in on-screen textboxes which is a terrible idea in a real-time game. Mostly, it wants you to stop and watch videos which I absolutely wasn't going to do. So it took me a long time, and a game on the easy difficulty setting, before I started to understand it.
Both, I think, are bumping up against the limit of what a player will accept in terms of learning systems. And although I'm in a small minority in disliking video tutorials, I still think it's a bad way to learn things. Consider: how much do you retain from watching a documentary compared to reading a chapter in a fact book? Either way it feels like the genre is creaking under the strain. It could be a ripe time for a resurgence of simpler XCOM style games and, ahem, board game adaptations.
Speaking of which, the creator of the original XCOM has a new strategy game in the pipe. It's called Phoenix Point, and it looks like equal parts turn based tactics, global strategy, Lovecraft and Stephen King's The Mist. It also looks awesome.
And speaking of Warhammer, I'm toying with the idea of investing in Silver Tower. I'm attracted by the fantastic looking miniatures and the choose your own adventure aspects. I'm turned off by the assembly time and the fact I've already got a ton of dungeon crawl games. Been playing Road to Legend recently and that's been really fun, plus I'm a big fan of the D&D Adventure System games. I've got Heroquest gathering dust too, so do I really need another? The eternal question.
Finally, I got down and dirty with some old-fashioned monsters this week when I saw Van Helsing for the second time. I don't care if it was a critical bomb, I think it's a fantastic film, full of action, fun and great set pieces. You can really feel the love for the old Universal monster movies seeping through the screen. And while the critics hated it, it made decent money at the box office. Which makes the lack of a sequel and the delay to an apparent reboot along with The Mummy franchise, as mysterious as darkest Transylvania.
Can't say the same for the Van Helsing PC action RPG. A feeble Diablo clone with none of the latter franchise's variety or polish. Avoid.