A Varied Gaming Diet

The posts I’m vaguely writing in my dashboard here are getting very long and game-designy, and I’ve done a lot of that lately. So now I’m just going to tell you about everything I’m playing at the moment.


Osmos: You are a blob, propelled by firing tiny chunks of yourself behind you. Hit a smaller blob and you absorb it, hit a larger one and it absorbs you. It’s a serene, slow and hypnotic game-ification of some of the most fundamental principles of physics, which at first makes it boring, but later transforms it into something beautiful. One branch of levels involves blobs with gravitational pull, and once you’ve got four of those bouncing around and you turn on orbit prediction, watching the curve of your future motion flex, curl and invert as you drift through the gamespace is an extraordinary glimpse of pure mathematics at its most disarming.


Civilization IV: Having played Civilization Revolution on the Nintendo DS enough to a) get Civ and b) get that this was a travesty of it, I finally felt less daunted by the full game. So far I’m getting the same absorbing satisfaction from it that I get from Galactic Civilizations, but it feels somehow watered down. It’s just as complex, sometimes more so, but potential sites for cities don’t seem to vary in quality anything like as much as planets do in Gal Civ, and so I’m less inclined to bicker over them. No-one really has anything I want in Civ, and I’m only really crushing them because winning by cultural influence is too dull.

Batman: Arkham Asylum: Can’t talk about this, since I’m playing on PC and have reviewed it for PC Gamer. As a tip, though, I’ll say that everyone should try Hard mode once.

Half-Life 2: Synergy: Graham and I are playing through the whole game in co-op with this – a co-op mod. It also supports Episode One and Two, which we’re hoping to complete around the time Valve at least say something about Episode Three. We just finished Nova Prospekt today.

ai war

AI War: Preposterous co-op space conquest game in which tens of thousands of ships clash over vast networks of up to eighty planets, each of which is as large as a conventional RTS map. I’m still in the tutorials, but the tutorials are good.

Gratuitous Space Battles: Sort of like ‘Space Battle Manager 2080’: you design the ships and fleets but the battles are hands off. I like the concept, but the tutorial is five hundred and sixteen text-box interrupts that I am not even close to having the patience to read, so I have no idea how to play.


Team Fortress 2: In which I play a class I like right up until we need to win, when I switch to Soldier. Every now and then, though, you hamstring a Scout mid-air and all is right with the world.


Spelunky: I am always playing Spelunky. I’ve now completed it twice in my 1,000 attempts. It’s coming to Xbox Live Arcade.


Champions Online: I’m a level 16 Gadgeteer called Angel of Beth. The game is like City of Heroes after a design-flaw epidemic, and it’s a testament to City of Heroes that it’s still not half bad. I have a more specific post brewing about those two games, and a third imaginary one.

28 Replies to “A Varied Gaming Diet”

  1. Synergy is nice but I tend to like Obsidian Conflict more, because… well I don’t know but there’s a load of little side games in that one that are pure fun. Plus I had made a machinima film in OC so I am inclined to like it a bit more

  2. I played Minerva metastasis on synergy the other day and found it way more enjoyable then the single player had been. While the levels were really good I found the shooting all too boring until I had a friend with me, and then I realized that Minerva’s single path through an open level layout meant that it was perfect for situations where one person can cover another.

    Almost every area can be seen from the area before, and having a mate wait back and cover you with the pulse rifle makes everything much more tactical then either straight Minerva (which turns into run and gun) or Half Life 2 synergy (where the rooms are all too disconnected to provide good flanks and sniper nests).

  3. THANK YOU, Dan. Obsidian Conflict is the superior mod, with support for everything from Half-Life 1 to Episode 2, and also has a lobby (literally!) for choosing maps democratically. Why its whiny little brother, Synergy, got Steamworks status and not OC is absolutely beyond me. OC has a larger playerbase too, but it sounds like you’re going the “play with a friend” route, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

  4. Interesting! Does Obsidian Conflict let you play with just the original weapons and abilities? What I’ve read about it made me think it was new maps and weapons.

  5. Me and my brother had that plan with Synergy, but I guess we just forgot about it. I love doing playthroughs with people. Synergy pubs are weird, though, because the server rotation always includes some crazed community map where everyone has to run from ten choppers or something. I love community maps, though.

  6. Synergy needs a better explanation for how exactly it works. A friend and I attempted to play through HL2 game together, but spent the whole time in a strange new level that wound up in a dead end.

    Also, are any of these games free, or at least have demos? I’d love to try one of them out.

  7. Civ IV has a limited Demo that’ll suck you in. I don’t really like Civ IV. I always feel like the AI is really annoying. It doesn’t help when they plant a city right in a spot that your settler was going to reach the next turn.

    Tf2 also has free weekends, those’ll rope you in nice and quick.

  8. @Pentadact: While OC does indeed have a large number of custom maps, it has, more or less (there are some “fixes” to make the campaigns playable for more than one person, as you’ve probably seen in Synergy already) the original HL1 and HL2+Episodes campaigns.
    I can’t find a good video showcasing the lobby system, so I’ll try to briefly explain.
    All players in the server are spawned into a large lobby, complete with vending machines, NPCs, and a pretty fountain. All around the lobby are doors, which lead to different maps. In order to select a map, players must break down the door (which takes collaborative effort), and go through it, which causes the selected map to load. For HL campaigns, the same system is in effect, except that a chapter is being selected, not an individual map.

    A quick screenshot of the lobby can be found here:

    All of those doors lead to maps.

  9. Spent my last few days getting CoH: Opposing Fronts up to date (about 2 gigs of updates) and playing with various mods, I played Shattering of Countries till I had it up to date. Now I’m playing the newly released (about 2 days ago) Normandy 44 (v3.00 beta), which is absolutely brilliant. Oh yeah, and the AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! – A Reckless Disregard for Gravity demo.

  10. Synergy is great funs. Me and a friend have played through HL2 and the episodes over a couple of weekends (HL2 involved a 14 hour marathon gaming session) and it is tops with voice comms. We tend to take the story a lot less seriously and muck about with the characters while exposition is taking place. Somehow the impending doom of the world makes everything funnier.

  11. The Civ 4 vs. Gal Civ 2 thing is interesting. I love both games.

    Gal Civ 2 has a sci-fi theme which I love, a streak of humour, neat space battles with LASERS, and with the expansions, really significant variation between the sides. But the fundamental game mechanics aren’t anyway near as satisfying (it annoys the crap out of me that I can’t run my labs and my factories at full capacity at the same time even when I COULD afford to, for instance, and the population/morale mechanics always bemused me)

    Civ 4 is so much cleaner in terms of mechanics: everything links together so well, it’s packed with interesting and meaningful choices, they really are a large number of valid approaches. The civics screen is particularly well conceived.

    Contra your comment, I’d say that Civ 4 has done a far better job than ever before in Civ of making individual cities fell particularly significant. One of the things I like best about it now is how much actual sense it makes to deliberately develop some cities to churn out military units, some cities to pop out great people, some cities to just farm up as much commerce as physically possible…

    Neither game has figured out a good way to make the latter third of the game less tedious.

  12. As someone that’s played quite a bit of Civ in my day, I know what you mean about the “There’s nothing that I want” sentiment. It changes game to game, of course, and there’s nothing like the panic you get upon researching a landmark technology and realizing you have no coal for railroads, or oil for tanks and planes, or aluminum for ships, and without a war to get these resources, you’re going to get stomped in the next 40 turns. That’s when it gets fun.

  13. James: Sadly I have nearly always found in my Civ 4 games that I always have the resources I need, except in the very earliest stages of the game, where I often lack copper. But I can nearly always ensure I have some iron in time for the traditional Swordsman Lebensraum war.

  14. I played Minerva multiplayer myself.

    The elevators in the second part were the bane of our four man group.

    On the upside, the endgame fun of running to the helicopter, thus dicking over your friends and being the only one to escape was excellent.

    Enjoy the death lasers. Suckers.

  15. “Gratuitous Space Battles: Sort of like ‘Space Battle Manager 2080?: you design the ships and fleets but the battles are hands off. I like the concept, but the tutorial is five hundred and sixteen text-box interrupts that I am not even close to having the patience to read, so I have no idea how to play.”

    After the third box, I got annoyed and just fucked them off and just guessed at how the game works. It’s not ahrd to figure out how to play it — it’s hard to figure out how to win, which the boxes don’t tell you. TBH, I feel no inclination to keep playing the game. I just don’t seem t ocare about it, which is odd, as looking at the videos etc I really really wanted to play ;(

  16. Playing through Ep1 with friend Dante on Synergy. Haven’t made much progress because we spent too long playing catch with combine corpses and the super gravity gun…

  17. Ahha, I managed to get opposing fronts to accept the CD key for my original CoH copy. I lost the box ages ago you see so lost both the CD key and CD, so found my old PC and hooked it up and ran regedit to retrieve the CD key wrote it down. Plugged my new one back in, so enter the CD key to try and unlock the CoH content, “please enter CoH CD” well that doesn’t help since I haven’t got it any more.

    So run regedit again, go to the CoH area, made a new string. Entered (on a hunch)

    “CoHproductkey [CD Key goes here]”

    Start up CoH:OP, hurrah, it works I now have what I’ve paid for and can play with all 4 factions.

  18. Oh yeah, first had to delete the String which had set CoH to installed. Also, sorry for my horrible grammar in the previous post.

  19. It’s worth persevering with Gratuitous Space Battles if you enjoy tinkering around, trying to eke out every last ounce of speed from a particular frigate hull say. But that early learning curve needs a lot of work. Even after reading all of the tutorial text boxes it still took me around half a dozen attempts at the first mission to beat it on easy (not helped by that being the only mission you can attempt when starting off). Once that first victory is under your belt though it’s relatively plain sailing and great fun.

  20. Dan, thank you for introducing me to Obsidian Conflict. That is an excellent mod that my friends and I were unaware of! Cheers.

  21. While I agree that there’s less inventive to steal other people’s property in Civilization IV than in GalCiv II, I think there’s an argument to be made that that doesn’t necessarily devalue war in Civ IV.
    In Civ IV, possession for possession’s sake is more important than in GalCiv II. In GalCiv, even hugely disadvantaged underdogs with control of significantly fewer planets than the leaders can, as your first GalCiv War Diary showed, go on to win a game. In Civ IV, this is less the case. The number of cities your civ has can pretty easily make or break your entire game. Putting aside production and research, which it shares with GalCiv, more cities mean more Great People, more influence (which is often more important in Civ IV than in GalCiv), more resources, etc. Even with few cities, of course, Cultural victories can be won, but those generally require a lot of effort to be put into them, even in the very early stages of a game. Diplomatic victories are possible too, but honestly, if you’re at the bottom of the charts, there’s almost always going to be some dickwad leader with the Aggressive trait who’s going to have everyone on his side and either steamroll you or win a diplo victory himself. Basically, even though cities in Civ IV aren’t as immediately valuable as planets in GalCiv II, they’re made equally valuable simply because of their necessity. Basically.
    I agree with Tom Lawrence, though, that the last third of the game is incredibly boring. I usually end up leaving my games somewhere during the Industrial Era, simply because of how much of a pain it is to keep track of all my cities. And because I think the music in the Modern Era sucks.

  22. I feel the opposite way about GalCiv vs Civ Civ. I bought GalCiv after reading your diaries and enjoyed it enough, but I found it didn’t have whatever magic keeps me coming back to Civilization. I think it’s partly that space makes for really dull terrain, partly that I don’t really respond emontionally to GC’s rival leaders, but mainly the micromanagement. Installing every single component on every single iteration of every single ship makes me feel more like a mechanic than a galactic overlord.

    Certainly there’s a good bit of red tape in Civ, particularly in the endgame, but at least you’re dealing with [i]lordly[/i] minutiae. Generally I end up spending more time than I’d really like wrangling an excessive military once I’ve progressed to a more scientific phase of development. In GalCiv, however, those moments of tedium are almost always spent arm-wrestling budget screen bureaucrats over the exact apportionment of state resources. (Or, as I mentioned, playing interplanetary Lego-Ship-Builder-In-Chief.)

    And while certainly GalCiv makes different planets differ wildly from each other, Civvers get that fix from the strategic importance of the terrain your cities allow you to culturally control. Resources, roads, water features, and defensive hideouts are very important stuff to control.

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