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We Can’t Wait for Terraforming Mars Mobile to leave Beta

By Michael Coffer 21 May 2019

Like many greats before it and to come, Terraforming Mars is both a hybrid of existing archetypes and something fresh all its own. The digital app stays true to that ground-breaking (pioneering, geoforming) spirit. It features robust AI, a thorough tutorial, and generally well-organized menus and interface, as well a pretty sophisticated online multiplayer. If the beta is any indication, the final release is going to be spectacular, launching an already popular game into the stratosphere. Accessible and quick, the game’s app is about as good as it can (and should) be.

Just like with older, established Eurogames like Castles of Burgundy or Princes of Florence, Terraforming Mars comes down to cold, hard Victory Points. It scrambles the path to acquire them, making players undertake the seminal work of, you know, actually terraforming Mars. There are a host of resources, card types, and effects to cross-reference, the sort of thing that produces grand strategy through a million cogs and gears. Featuring a great level of competition and finesse, the game is also about ecological creation as much as it is economic competition, and it is this push-and-pull between the two which animates the core gameplay.

Terraforming Mars Beta 1

The tabletop game is excellent, but full of borderline busywork as everyone trundles through the phases of a turn. Not for nothing does it call its’ turns ‘Generations’. It takes time because the decisions are agonizing, and there are so many to fuss with. Map layout is crucial, card management & memorizing the deck are almost must-haves for build planning. The bean-counting of resource generation, not to mention cost-benefit analysis, are all important and mentally taxing. Dozens of hotspots of activity and intel need to be on the player’s radar more or less constantly to allow peak performance.

Fortunately, the app organizes these multiple variables into a single screen, with the map dead centre, an individual player’s attributes along the bottom row, and the full player roster on the left-hand side. Details of how many effects, tags or cards someone has are behind tabs, which work like drop-down menus would. In short, the information is logically nested and more easily researched here than on a sprawling table. (For five player, anyways). Another benefit of the layout is that each player can separately spend their time between turns parsing the information most relevant to their aims discreetly and with a minimum of fuss. Terraforming Mars has a little bit of disruption and player interaction, more-so in the (superior) drafting variant, so the fact the app makes opposition research a breeze is no trifling matter.

Terraforming Mars Beta 2

The multiplayer lobby and experience is equally polished, though it does require an active Asmodee account (to be fair, that one account will cover any of their digital properties, so you get your mileage). In lieu of matchmaking, players host and join each other’s games, with ranking determined by the existing ELO scores of the participants. There’s a chat lobby, which was relatively lively and handy despite only being in beta. Games are ‘asynchronous’ in the sense that they are disconnect-friendly; each player can be replaced by a bot or will auto-forfeit if they are away for too long; otherwise the game preserves a snapshot of the last stage. Because a game will last between one to two hours, the soft asynch option will prove a great fit for those craving regular play amidst the micro-interruptions of everyday life.

This tired broken record of a pre-re-viewer must dutifully report that the game, which I hadn’t played in ages, has aged excellently. Moreover, its digital incarnation is fast displacing the bulky physical predecessor. Some games (Can’t Stop, Targi, a host of others) are simple enough in gameplay and small enough in shelf-space to keep around, but for complicated, intense games a good app breathes second life into the original’s excellence and lets those Kondo-ing their collections a way to say goodbye without excising the game from their repertoire entirely.

Terraforming Mars has been ‘almost out’ for over a year now, so it’s hard to say how much longer the wait will be (or the price of the app), but before the end of 2019 is a safe bet.

Humble Computer Graphics Book Bundle

In what may be my favourite Humble Bundle by far, the folks over at Humble just launched the Humble Book Bundle: Computer Graphics by CRC Press.  This is a collection of e-books on a huge number of computer graphics topics, including shaders, OpenGL, GPUS, VR, Volumetrics and much much more.  Humble Bundles are broken into tiers, if you buy a certain tier, you get all tiers lower than that one in price.

The tiers of this bundle are:

1$

  • 3D Engine Design for Virtual Globes
  • The Uncanny Valley in Games and Animation
  • Production Volume Rendering
  • Real-Time Volume Graphics

8$

  • Essential Skills in Character Rigging
  • Ray Tracing from the Ground Up
  • OpenGL Insights
  • Real-Time Shadows
  • Multithreading for Visual Effects
  • Graphics Shaders
  • Fluid Simulation for Computer Graphics
  • Digital Representations of the Real World

15$

  • 3D Math Primer for Graphics and Game Development
  • GPGPU Programming for Games and Science
  • Mobile Crowd Sensing
  • Interaction Design for 3D User Interfaces
  • Digital Character Development
  • The Art of Fluid Animation
  • Ultra-Realistic Imaging

When you buy a Humble bundle, you get to decide how your money is allocated, between the publisher, humble, charity and if you choose (and thanks if you do!) GFS.  The Bundle is available here until June 5th.

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Review: Fort Sumter

If you were one of those people who were intrigued by the epic two-player card driven game Twilight Struggle but found it all a bit too complex and longwinded, then Playdek’s latest release may be more to your liking. Fort Sumter shifts the action from the Cold War to the American secession crisis of 1860. The bombardment of Fort Sumter and the ensuing surrender of US army forces was a key event in the nation’s history and led to the outbreak of the American Civil War. Somehow, the designer has managed to condense these dramatic events into a fifteen-minute game, in which each player only ever gets the opportunity to play a grand total of twelve cards.

Do not, however, entertain the idea that the quick playing time means that Fort Sumter is just another in a long line of microgames in the mould of Love Letter. There is definitely a lot more going on here, with one player taking control of the Unionists and the other playing as the Secessionists. Players compete to exert political influence in an attempt to manoeuvre their way into the strongest position in preparation for the inevitable outbreak of war. The action is played out on a small map that shows four spheres of influence, namely, political, secession, public opinion and armaments. Each sphere is made up of three spaces, the most influential of which will be denoted as pivotal. For instance, in the sphere of public opinion, the pivotal spot is newspapers. Throughout the game, players will use cards to place political influence cubes in the various spaces in an attempt to wrestle overall control of as many spheres as possible.

Fort Sumter 1

Players begin each of the three rounds with a hand of six cards. Two of these cards will depict a secret objective, which usually means having the most influence cubes in a particular area. Each player then elects to keep one objective and to discard the other. Next, players take it in turns to play their remaining cards, whilst setting one aside until the final round. These cards represent a notable person or historical event and are colour coded to denote which of the two sides they are aligned to, although there are also some neutral cards. Players are not limited to only using the cards that match their side.

Each card has a number in the top corner that shows how many influence cubes that it allows you to place. This isn’t usually as strong a move as the special action but it is more flexible since it allows you to exert influence anywhere on the board instead of being tied to particular spaces. If the Secessionists side plays the ‘Plantation Class’ card for example, then they will either be able to use the card’s basic action to place one cube on any space or use the special action to place two cubes on any of the three secession spaces. If the unionist player plays the same card then their only option is to place a single cube by using the basic action.

Fort Sumter 2

It is pretty obvious to explain this thematically, as rich plantation owners with their invested interest in slave labour and their political influence, were the driving force behind the secessionist movement. However, unless you are a real American history buff you are not going to know the background behind many of the cards, and without latching on to this context, the game can become a very abstract exercise in cube pushing. There is a card gallery that provides the necessary historical relevance of the various cards, but this cannot be accessed without returning to the main menu. On the subject of abstract design, the map of the USA is also just window-dressing. Indeed there is an option to use an alternative map that completely does away with the whole pretence and so just groups the locations by type. This actually makes it easier to assess the current state of affairs.

Fort Sumter has a few more nuances up its sleeve; there is a peacekeeper who prevents cubes from being added or removed from a particular space. He can be brought into play by playing the appropriate card or by escalating the crisis. As players bring more influence into effect, tensions mount and the crisis level increases. The first player to trigger the highest crisis level will earn a larger political influence bonus, however, they are also perceived as the chief aggressor, costing them a victory point and possibly bringing about a premature ending to the game.

Fort Sumter 3

At the end of the first three stages, players that control the vital pivotal spaces will be able to add or remove cubes in that particular sphere. If a player has managed to secure a majority of cubes in all three of a sphere’s spaces, they earn a victory point. Extra points are awarded for completing that turn’s secret objectives. To add a tense climax to proceedings, the fourth and final round plays out a little differently. Both players secretly select the order in which they want to play the three cards that they have kept aside. The effects will then be determined by simultaneously revealing both players cards one at a time to determine if they have matching influence spheres.

The first thing that is likely to impress is an extremely comprehensive tutorial, which guides you through an entire game. This not only teaches the rules but also gives some useful strategic insights. It also introduces the player to the faultless interface, which creates an authentic representation of the board game in which all of the essential information can be taken in at a glance. The graphics are a mix of old photographs and illustrations and give proceedings a strong historical flavour, as does the patriotic piano tunes and spoken quotes. Unfortunately, the range of play options is a little limited, you can play online or offline but there is only one level of AI, which will not take many games to overcome. He is not the smartest; in one game he placed the peace commissioner on a space that actually served to protect my control of an area.

Fort Sumter 4

This game is easy to learn and contains plenty of interesting decisions. It manages to create some very tight pressure points, often feeling like a game of chicken as you try to force your opponent’s hand. The trailing player has the considerable advantage of having the final say at the end of each round, which means that it can be prudent to hang back until you are ready to strike. My main concern is that the luck of the draw can leave one player with a bunch of cards tailored for the opposing side. Also, in spite of the rich background, with a cast of strong characters and notable events, players are essentially just pushing cubes, which means that the historical significance of what they are doing can struggle to make an impression.

Fort Sumter may sound like a war game but it actually turns out to be more of a euro style board game. The slimming down of the mechanics hasn’t been without sacrifice and some may feel that the abstraction has gone a little too far. Yet, it still manages to be a fine, quick-playing political simulation that can give you a Twilight Struggle style fix in a fraction of the time.

Fort Sumter will be releasing on iOS & Android tomorrow. Because our review is early, we don’t have the store links yet but will update this review when we do.

The Future of CryEngine

This year, just before GDC, CryEngine released a stunning video Neon Noir showcasing real-time raytracing in CryEngine without the need for dedicated hardware.   Beyond that, they have been relatively quite about what developments are coming for the veteran game engine.  Thankfully that has changed with the release of their developmental roadmap.

Highlights from the CryEngine blog:

Tool Optimization

In the short term, our main focus is to increase the stability and usability of the engine. This focus is reflected on the roadmap with, for example, the new in-editor project management system coming to 5.6, along with numerous optimizations in all areas including rendering, compilation, and memory footprint. More details about the features included in 5.6 will be mentioned in the release notes.

Schematyc & New Features

These stabilizations and improvements pave the way for our mid to long-term ambitions which will bring exciting new features, tools, and support for additional platforms. These goals will include the rework of the Schematyc system, which will also bring a modern and modular visual scripting framework that will allow you to create your own game logic without the need to code.. The modular behavior of the visual scripting framework will enable other features to take advantage of this system, including, for example, our animation tools.

Ray Tracing

Of course, we will also be looking to integrate the new hardware-agnostic ray tracing technology into the engine, with the aim to make it available in CRYENGINE 5.7. If you want to know more about ray tracing in CRYENGINE, you can follow up on our latest interview with the developers creating Neon Noir, our GDC ray tracing demo. More news on the subject, just stay tuned and keep your eyes on our channels.

The full developmental roadmap is available here and is covered in depth in the video below.

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The Weekender: Earth Edition

Doing something a little different today, simply because a piece of news dropped we can’t really ignore (and because reasons I can’t really write this up separately). I have dabbled with doing upcoming releases and similar such things in Weekender, but it’s not been consistent so far.

Apologise for the rather lack-lustre week again – we’re on track to have some decent reviews and goodies for you next week though, so hopefully that’ll make up for it.

Meanwhile, in the world of mobile gamining…

New Announcements

Microsoft just announced their own take on Pokemon GO in the form of Minecraft Earth. This AR mobile game will allow you to drop your Minecraft creations into the real world for everyone to see. It’s going to be stand-alone experience, meaning you will need to build everything within the app itself, using resources you source from in-game nodes in much the same way you visit Pokestops.

There’s also reference to something called ‘Adventures’, which are quick scenarios where you can interact with Minecraft creatures or enemies, which can be done solo or with friends. Not much else to say at this point, other than to leave you with a promotional trailer (I feel like we’ve been her before-ED).

Oh there’s also a beta you can sign up for, if you want.

Out Now

Steam Link (iOS & Android)

Well now, isn’t THIS is a surprise. It’s been a year since Apple blocked Valve’s attempt to release their SteamLink app on the app store, citing “business conflicts”. Us Android users have been sitting here smugly enjoying our ability to stream Steam to our phones… maybe. I don’t know I haven’t actually used it yet. Been on my to-do list…

Anyway, our smugness is now at an end because Steam Link has finally appeared on the App store. I’m not sure what’s prompted this change of heart, or whether there’s any difference between the version, but it might be high time we look at this probably now that all mobile gamers can make use of it.

Talisman: Origins (iOS & Android)

Nomad Games have released a new stand-alone Talisman experience. This new adaptation focuses on the solo experience and uses the completed Revisied 4th Edition Rules. It features 20 quests spread across 4 campaigns, with over 100 challenges and a new interactive tutorial. There are twelve characters you can control, and it seems like you can play as both good and bad.

Please note that at the time of writing, a bug on the App Store is preventing the iOS version from showing up when you try to search for the game. Nomad and Asmodee are working on a solution but it seems the problem is on Apple’s end.

Updates

Talisman: Digital Edition (iOS & Android)

Origins isn’t the only thing Nomad have been working on – the Ancient Beats DLC is also now available for Talisman: Digital Edition.

Please note that the same issues that’s effecting Origins on iOS is also affecting Ancient Beats on the app store.

Sales

There’s quite a few sales this week that attracted our attention:

  • On iOS, Overhaul Games have discounted their entire catalogue down to $1.99, which includes games like Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale and more (not on Android, sadly).
  • To celebrate the release of Origins and a new DLC, Nomad has discounted Talisman: Digital Edition on iOS & Android.
  • Kingdom: New Lands Is also discounted on iOS & Android.
  • Sentinels of the Multiverse was given a minor update at the start of the week, and is now discounted on iOS & Android.
  • And last but certainly not least, iOS readers can pick up Jade Empire for $2.99.

Seen anything else you liked? Played any of the above? Let us know in the comments!

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Now Available on Steam – Death end re;Quest / デス エンド リクエスト / 死亡終局 輪廻試練, 20% off!

Death end re;Quest / デス エンド リクエスト / 死亡終局 輪廻試練 is Now Available on Steam and is 20% off!*

Death end re;Quest takes the classic turn-based RPG and flips it upside-down. Switch between the RPG action of the game world and the visual novel segments of the real world. In the realm of game development, it may seem all fun and games until the lines between fantasy and reality begin to blur.

*Offer ends May 23 at 10AM Pacific Time

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Skulls for the Skull Throne Event – Up to 80% Off + New Content

Save up to 80% on Warhammer games as part of the Skulls for the Skull Throne event*!

Deals Include:
Total War: WARHAMMER II – 33% Off
Warhammer: Vermintide 2 – 60% Off
Dark Future: Blood Red States – 25% Off
Talisman: Origins – 10% Off
Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2 – 33% Off
Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus -35% Off
Warhammer 40,000: Gladius – Relics of War – 40% Off
Warhammer 40,000: Sanctus Reach – 70% Off
Adeptus Titanicus: Dominus – 33% Off
– and many other Warhammer titles!

*Offer ends Monday at 10AM Pacific Time

Epic Games Online Services Delayed

Announced back in December of 2018, Online Services is a collection of free and cross platform game engine agnostic services for multiplayer games, as battle tested in Fortnite.  Services such as achievements, player inventory, matchmaking and voice communications will be made available completely free.  The roll-out is over time, with the ticketing and game analytics services currently being live, with the remaining coming at some point in the future. 

Unfortunately there has been a bit of a delay:

As a result of our current prioritizations, several roadmap items are being delayed. Most notably, we are rescheduling the release of the Player Reports and Player Data Storage services. To provide more detail, we are moving the roadmap to a Trello board, which you can bookmark and revisit at your convenience.

It’s not all bad news though, there is one major new change that should be happily received.

We’re also working to open up the identity and social services we built for Fortnite to support cross-play in partner games without requiring the use of Epic accounts or other Epic dependencies.

This should make the use of Epic’s Online Services a great deal more appealling to many developers… once they finally arrive.  If you are interested in signing for the SDK click here.  To learn more, watch the video embedded below.

GameDev News