Friday, 6 December 2019

Thrillville: Off the Rails - Moonlit Critbit

Frontier Developments has always been a favourite of mine, even before I truly followed video games. It was a name I would recognise whenever I saw it, with Rollercoaster Tycoon, the Wallace and Gromit games (Project Zoo and The Curse of the Were-Rabbit), and even LostWinds. Later games such as Elite: Dangerous, Planet Coaster, and recently released Planet Zoo have catapulted their popularity, but there’s one game that I’ve always had a soft spot for.

Thrillville: Off the Rails released in 2007, and I owned it on the PSP. It was another of those games that I loved playing on the handheld, much like with Midnight Club and GripShift. The reason for liking this one was that it served as many games in one, all contained within a business simulation where you build a theme park. The business simulation part of the game kind of takes a back seat to everything else, however.

Each of the five parks had a story of sorts, where you had missions to uncover the plot of what was happening within that park that was ruining the reputation of it. One had you needing to convince three reporters that the park was good, with another needing you to find who has been sabotaging the park and restoring it to what it once was. And even stopping a robot invasion of a park.

And while that’s fun, there were also side things relating to other characters, and playing the minigames against some of the guests. Interacting with guests was fun, with options to flirt with some of the guests or even matchmake them with others. Of course, there’s also options to learn what they think of the park, and all of this guest interaction is something I wish would return in a future game.

But the minigames are what make Thrillville. Everything can be played. All things that are placed have a game attached to them, and while there are several games that are just reskins, they are all fun to play. There’re racing games, first-person shooters, top-down arcade classics, and side-scrolling shooters, and pretty much a lot of others. Even stalls have a matching game attached (including restrooms) to restock them. Even the training of staff is done through minigames.

Those that feature racing are my favourite minigames, as they allow track creation where you can make some wacky courses to try out. Unfortunately, there’s no props or anything to liven things up, and you can only have four racers at a time, but it’s still fun to play creations and see how the AI fare. Minigolf also falls under the same fold. While you are restricted to a square field, you have the freedom to create any zany course you want. There isn’t even a limit to the number of holes you have to include, so you could just make one very long hole if you so choose.

I had a lot of fun with Thrillville: Off the Rails and have replayed it a few times. Mostly, though, I like playing through the various minigames on offer, even if a few don’t really hold up these days through stiff mechanics. Because of those minigames, I’ve never really seen Thrillville as a business simulation game, but it is still a real fun one. I hold hope that one day we can see how this series can use the current generation of hardware to create a much larger game.

Sunday, 1 December 2019

December ’19 Monthly Update

There were a few first impressions posts last month, with the unannounced one being Mario andSonic at the Olympics Tokyo 2020. Along with the post, I showed off a few ofthe events in a video. This one was a fun game, so I couldn’t pass on the chance to talk about it. I also covered Farming Simulator 19, as I’m really enjoying the series, and even went as far as calling the series one of my favourites. Now, I didn’t give a video for it, as I realised how dull that would have been without commentary.

The two that I did announce were Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and Pokémon Shield. Both of these had post and video to show them off and give my thoughts. And this idea of post and video continues this month. Thrillville: Off the Rails is going to see some focus in a Moonlit Critbit, as that is one of my favourites from Frontier. I’m also tying another GTA Online video to a post related to the GTA series.

You’ll remember in October that I said I would show off a completely original map concept for a state based on Michigan, then changed that to a smaller concept based on the Project Americas rumours/leaks. Now, however, I am ready to reveal it. Because I couldn’t just leave it alone. So this will be a completely new thing for everyone to see. I won’t go into detail, but will give a summary of the places I used as a base and the thoughts in connecting it together.

The video will be another winter themed one, looking around the map as well as showcasing another race in snowfall in GTA V. There’ll also be other winter themed videos, with Star Wars Battlefront 2005 on the snow biome maps, and Steep – which is one I’ve loved since it released. There might be one other if I decide to go for five videos to end the year off.

As for stories, last month was a bit off. Pokémon: Shadow Boom chapter five failed to appear, as I needed to rework it and just had it left by the wayside as I worked on other things. A new story did appear within The Alternate Extras of Halesowen, with Jogging Reflection offering a look at what Jack felt his future would have been like. There was also a big new something added that I teased at the start of November.

Yogsimulated was a passion project that I worked on intermittently throughout the year, adding and removing ideas based on what I felt would work, which then started the heavy writing and editing process to get it released before the Jingle Jam. Featuring ten of the Yogscast, it is a story told from four points of view as they venture around a virtual reality Bristol in various races. In the New Year I’ll give a behind-the-scenes, but for now enjoy the full thing.

As for new stories, one each of Shorts of the Rula and The Alternate Extras of Halesowen, and chapter five of Shadow Boom will be released this month. I’m not going to reveal the one for Shorts of the Rula, but it will be themed around the month. The Alternate Extras one is featuring some of the secondary group of the media students, giving them a bit more focus.

That’s quite a bit coming, and planning for more for the next year. Thank you to everyone checking out my content throughout this year, and I hope you stick around for more. Videos, blog, or stories, I hope you have enjoyed all that I have given this year, and continue to stay for more next year. Bye for now.

Thursday, 28 November 2019

Farming Fever Still Holds With No Signs of Faltering

Back at the beginning of October, I made a post talking about my latest hook in gaming. That hook came from revisiting the Feed a Cow For Christmas Jingle Jam 2018 stream of the Yogscast, and within the post I gave a brief history of my exposure to Yogscast content which led into how I first got that hook into Farming Simulator.

At the end, I said I had my eye on what would become of Farming Simulator 2020 on Switch. Depending on if I felt that would give me a great experience, I’d either buy it or give it a miss and wait for 2021 – which would be the new entry rather than a mobile port of the previous year’s game.

Well, things didn’t progress that slowly. From 2017 on the Xbox One, it took no time at all before I jumped onto the Switch edition of 2017, which is pretty much the same game with just a few tweaks to get it running on less powerful hardware. I was already having doubts about 2020 on Switch being the full content packed offering, and to see that there was such a thing on Switch had me wanting it. In a portable form, I’d get more play out of it.

And that indeed happened. In near enough two months, it has seen more than one hundred hours of play. To make things feel unique between the two versions (I’ve still been putting a few hours on the Xbox One version since buying the Switch version), I played on the other map included within the game, with separate goals in each. I was still in love with the gameplay loop, the relaxed nature of everything, and even exploring around the maps.

2017 was great fun, but I’d already said how it wasn’t as refined as 2019 looked within that previous post. From that Feed a Cow For Christmas stream, I’d seen a good amount of the maps within 2019 and wanted to explore them for myself. So, to try to push myself back to playing games on a PC (other than GTA V), I bought Farming Simulator 2019 on Steam.

I’ve recently hit and gone beyond ten hours of play on it, and it does feel a much better experience over 2017 in some areas. The mission system, where you’d help other farmers, feels more involved now. Whereas 2017 would have you work from the field the mission was tied to and hold you there until the job was done or the timer ran out, with 2019 you are no longer locked to the field of the mission’s origin. Missions can be accepted anywhere on the map through the menu, and you are no longer restricted to the set vehicles of choice, with the ability to use any you already own.

The freedom that offers is a lot better, and the same goes for the start of the game. With 2017, you started with a full farm already – complete with buildings, machines, fields, and a silo to store crops within. 2019 gives you none of that, instead giving a large sum of money for you to do what you want with. Instead of buying fields, you are now buying pieces of land, so you can choose where you want to base yourself. While the largest pieces of land are not going to be available to you even with such a large amount of starting cash, there’s a good amount of areas you can buy with the freedom to go for however many you want.

But you still need to buy all that equipment to run your farm, so there needs to be a balance of land ownership and vehicle purchasing (or leasing if you want to go straight for the big stuff). But it’s those vehicles that are perhaps the largest downfall of the game. Things were floaty and very easy to lose control of in 2017, sure, but in 2019 the problem seems a bit worse. Harvesters – great massive heavy beasts – shouldn’t be losing grip so easily. It’s not a problem when working on a field, but when travelling between them and on the roads, they do seem to like acting the same as the lightest of tractors when turning.

There’s also a few things missing that 2017 had, most notably placeable solar collectors and greenhouses, though a mod can sort that easy enough. Instead, animal pens have now been made placeable, which is much better than having a set point where you have to look after them. It’s a feature that really pushes that freedom to have things where you want them, and I’m currently saving up the in-game cash to make use of it.

Two months with the series has been enough to cement it as one of my favourites. There will come a time that I burn out, as always happens with games, but I’m confident that it won’t be happening any time soon with this series. No matter which version I’m playing, I can lose myself in it and pass hours away. It can always grab me, and unlike a few other similar games, still continues to do so.

Once again, I must give a shout to the Yogscast, as while I knew of the series, it was seeing the Yogs play it on that stream that pushed me to giving it a try. And my wish of seeing them return to it for this year’s Jingle Jam has happened, with the first week of the schedule having been released. This year’s Jingle Jam is one I am sure will be brilliant, and it gets started on the first of December, with Feed a Cow For Christmas being on the second.

Sunday, 24 November 2019

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order - First Impressions

Since EA took exclusive rights to make Star Wars games, we have seen nothing to rival The Force Unleashed games, or even Knights of the Old Republic or the Jedi Knight games for those more retro players. But then at E3 2018, the name of Jedi: Fallen Order was name dropped, and we had just a bit of info about it. It was to be a game that Star Wars fans craved – a solo adventure within the world they loved.

Sure, the Battlefront games are great for making you feel a part of large-scale battles, but that isn’t the only thing Star Wars can give. There’s plenty of scope for a slower, more exploration-oriented experience, and since that name drop at E3 2018, everything shown about Jedi: Fallen Order was showing that it had the story and the locales possible to pull this off. All that was left was the gameplay and how it felt, which is something no video could ever truly show.

And it works great. The opening introduced the gameplay mechanics that get built upon throughout the adventure, with lightsaber combat proving to be a more technical experience than what The Force Unleashed offered, with a build-up of abilities to make sure you aren’t a powerhouse from the off. The skill tree also allows those abilities to be earned rather than just given, or for those core abilities tested to make sure you can use them.

Then there’s the openness to the game itself. The story is linear, but exploration is not, so as long as you have the right core abilities, you can progress through areas for secrets and even story elements you won’t have seen yet. Then there’s the reason this is coming later than it would have done.

Upon exploring the Vault of Bogano and heading back to the ship, the helpful droid companion BD-1 will scan an additional objective. To head to Dathomir. Now, this is entirely optional at first since it's a late game planet, but the option is there for one reason and one reason only. The upgrade to get a double-bladed lightsaber (or dualsaber, as I like to call them).

The fight to get to it is a constant struggle as a woefully underskilled Cal attempts to fight off the Nightbrothers, but persevere and the reward is truly worth it. Those three hours constantly being killed – even to the first set of three enemies – meant that no progression was made, but to have endured that test to be rewarded with the dualsaber was special. Even if you know what the prize is at the end of the test, it certainly isn’t an easy thing to reach.

But once I had it, I could get to progressing some more through the story, exploring a few other planets, and being able to give a true account of what the game is like. And the story – both told through interactions with characters and with the world itself – is worth playing the game for. It connects you to the worlds you explore as you uncover the echoes of the past and see the present consequences that arose from those actions.

Combat, as said before, is technical. With both a light and heavy attack, along with a few Force abilities to aid in situations, you can make short work of enemies. But as you attack them, they can attack you with just as much force, which is where the block and dodge play their part. Enemy variety also means you won’t just be rushing through cannon fodder with barely any repercussions for doing so, as attacks can be blocked, and you can be stunned. Some will attack from range and some will get up close, and with a combination of both, you need to be aware of your surroundings to not get overwhelmed.

It’s a fun combat system, with plenty of enemy types both large and small to overcome. The worlds are also great to look at, with plenty to see around. When the music kicks in, it can feel truly wonderful to run through the various locations. They offer different things, with each being distinct enough that you can tell them apart from the outside. Even inside, things can be recognised as being a part of one of the factions, whether the Imperial rigidness, the Jedi regalness, or the mystique of the Zeffo temples.

Overall, it has been a blast to play through. It is one I can really recommend giving a play to anyone, with difficulty options to lessen the challenge should you need it. The number of worlds available to explore might be small, but they pack a serious amount into them, and while the story might not be for everyone, it offers a reason for everything that happens within the game.