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Game Industry Games

Review – FAST Racing NEO (Wii U)

FAST Racing NEO is an anti-gravity arcade racer developed by Shin’en Multimedia with fans of the F-Zero series in mind. The game features a variety of high-speed hovering vehicles designed for use on 16 futuristic tracks in single-player tournaments or competitive multiplayer.

As a huge fan of racing games in general it’s nice to see a new competitor on the Wii U. I downloaded Mario Kart 8 the night I unboxed the console and I’ve beaten and revisited it many times now. I exhausted Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed on the PC thanks to Humble Bundle. Many of the other noteworthy Wii U racers are ports from older systems and Nintendo loyalists simply don’t have access to a lot of today’s top racers. I couldn’t help but secretly harbor high hopes for FAST Racing NEO and, many hours later, I’m happy to report that it’s a solid title for Wii U players.

The basic race flow throughout the game involves navigating tracks at breakneck speeds while dodging hazards, collecting boost energy, and phase shifting in anticipation of track boosts. That last mechanic needs some explanation. FAST Racing NEO vehicles have two “phase” modes, which is to say they respond to orange and blue boosts. Changing modes in anticipation of the next track boost is the ever-present responsibility of the player, which adds a unique challenge to an already-difficult control system. The combination of speed and track difficulty requires effective use of hard banking turns, subtle strafing adjustments, manual boosts, and phase shifting, all of which have their own shoulder buttons/triggers assigned. This works best if you have two index fingers on each hand. Mastering this system is a reward within itself, but you won’t get there without scores of crashes because you flew off track, jumped and touched a railing, or ran into a rotating fan blade.

The racing challenges are multiplied by the game’s circuit structure. To unlock new circuits and vehicles, players must earn a top-three point total after four races, none of which can be restarted or continued between play sessions. In a game where one mistake often ruins a podium finish, this pushes the difficulty into brutal territory. This isn’t necessarily a complaint; Wii U racing fans deserve a challenging game that offers the player no special treatment and they certainly just got one.

FAST Racing NEO in-game screenshot

I was very impressed with FAST Racing NEO’s graphics. The visual design of the sci-fi fantasy tracks and vehicles is attractive and fits well. I found that appreciating the detail and realism of the environments breaks up the frustration of frequent crashing quite nicely. 60 frames per second gameplay in single player and two-player split-screen also go a long way to make this a stand-out racing experience.

The sound design is fitting if somewhat forgettable. Races unfold over the expected future-techno/house music you’d really only notice if it were missing. The sound effects are great, though the gameplay only allows for a small variety of whooshes and hums. The announcer will likely earn a lot of eye rolls (which will cause countless accidents). As an arcade racer, some enthusiastic yelling is to be expected, but the frequent excited commentary from what sounds like someone’s dad chiming in eventually becomes grating.

FAST Racing NEO Multiplayer

FAST Racing NEO’s feature set locked in a solid score for the game but could have pushed it even further. There’s a lot of ground to cover and goodies to win for solo players and the game supports just about every type of multiplayer from local split screen to competitive play online. If the game had implemented some basic vehicle customization and upgrading it might have overcome some players’ indifference to which vehicle they use and the replay factor may have risen significantly. Still, there’s no reason players won’t be hover racing happily many months from now.

Overall it’s easy to call FAST Racing NEO one of the Wii U’s top racing games. I’m still having fun with it and I already find myself curious about the possibility of more content down the road. It’s a solid value at $14.99 and would be a no-brainer in the event of a sale. Look out, Mario Kart!

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Game Development Game Industry Games Web

It’s Not a Trap: The Case for Star Wars Battlefront

It probably isn’t news to you that players have been very hard on Star Wars Battlefront. While Metacritic awards the PC version a 71/100 based on average reviews from 17 top critics, site users have slapped it with a 3.4/10 (!), citing a variety of complaints including an unfair DLC model, no space battles, and the lack of any campaign content. While I have no intention to present Battlefront as a perfect game, this post is going to take a harder look at some of the chief complaints against it and see if it didn’t perhaps at least deserve a higher score than My Little Pony – Friendship is Magic for the iPhone.

No Space Battles?!?


I don’t know that I’ve heard a single rant about Star Wars Battlefront that didn’t put the lack of space battles near the top of the list. This is understandable. Battlefront 2 certainly had them, they’ve been popular in many other Star Wars games, and it’s easy to have a knee-jerk reaction when you hear about a Star Wars experience that won’t involve space.

The most obvious response to this is one that I haven’t actually seen presented at all yet: Fighter Squadron mode is every bit the dogfight experience the series has ever presented. It’s true that you’ll see clouds instead of a black backdrop with pretty stars and you won’t board a larger craft and shoot things with a gun, but if you add all the ship flying you can do in the game’s other modes, this is the most flight-oriented Battlefront title to date.

It shouldn’t be a shock to anyone that the developers of the Battlefield series reversed the “mostly flying, some running” formula throughout the rest of the game to focus on the ground. While actual space battles would have been a welcome addition to Battlefront, their absence doesn’t technically remove anything from the experience.

No Campaign?!?


That Forbes comment needs to be clarified: Star Wars Battlefront made the list (#1, in fact) of The 15 Most Disappointing Video Games of 2015 at Forbes.com. It joins the ranks of games like TellTale’s Game of Thrones, Fallout 4, and The Witcher 3. Forbes seems to understand video games about as well as I understand the stock market, but I’m careful not to blog about day trading.

I may have been one of the few potential players almost completely unconcerned when I heard there wouldn’t be a playable story in Battlefront. Since when are we dying to play campaigns developed by DICE? Maybe no one read TechnoBuffalo’s Battlefield 4 review titled “No, Seriously, Skip the Campaign”. Modern shooters simply aren’t judged with emphasis on their single-player experience anymore.

“But it’s Star Wars!” I know, but let’s not pretend to be too excited about Star Wars side stories. What impact would DICE actually be allowed to have on the Star Wars universe for the benefit of this game? This would have been a loud, flashy play session with all the toys in the early films with strict orders from Mommy and Daddy to put everything back where we found it when we’re done. I’m just as happy to invite my friends over so we can “pew-pew!” those toys at each other for the afternoon. The previous games in the series had campaigns in the same way that Titanfall had a campaign. Why bother?

OMGWTFDLC?!?


Complaints about the DLC schedule for Star Wars Battlefront are understood, but there’s this fascinating trend online of players complaining about the DLC and, in the same breath, completely misrepresenting the base game. I think this has to be part of a huge marketing failure. The complaint above is a very popular one. Who would release a game with four maps? No one in their right mind. That’s true. Battlefront has 12 maps as of the initial release and 14 including the first free downloadable content. Maps are playable locations like the Rebel Base and the Ice Caves. All of Hoth is an environment. Somehow “Screw this game, it only involves a dozen maps across four planets” seems like a less valid complaint.

Now, maintaining that EA did indeed release a complete game, the DLC model is much less consequential. What wouldn’t players have paid for more Goldeneye 64 content in the 90s? Now that we have the option, we collectively despise it. That’s perfectly fine. You aren’t required to shell out any additional money to dump countless hours into Battlefront. You can evaluate the quality of that time as you please. The simple act on the developer’s part of creating additional content does not necessarily entitle anyone to that content free of charge. It’s up to developers and publishers to determine when they’ve put together $60 worth of content and it’s up to players to determine whether to spend that money. The same goes for subsequent content releases.

Overall I feel Star Wars Battlefront was and is a victim of poor marketing and community management. The core gameplay is still fun (decide how long for yourself) and the visual design was some of the best we saw in 2015. If the game is in fact a disappointment, it’s because too many players didn’t know what to expect and too many still misunderstand what the game is meant to be, which is a recipe for disaster at the end of a series with the fan base of the earlier Battlefront games. Still, Star Wars Battlefront doesn’t deserve this much heat.

Go ahead, let me have it in the comments.

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Business Game Industry Games Web Writing

Weekend Roundup

Time for the weekend roundup! It’s been a big week here and around the web. I’m always happy when a post starts a discussion here on the site, so I was glad I shared my Google Adsense disaster story. I also kicked off a new series detailing my countless indie dev missteps and my first contribution over at Zam.com has been posted! Check out anything you missed and tell a friend!

My Google AdSense NightmareInvalid Activity: My Google AdSense Nightmare – Long before Code Write Play came along I spent years building and running a geek culture site with a close friend of mine. This post discusses some of the ups and downs of building and monetizing your own site and some of the pitfalls that can catch you by surprise. Google didn’t exactly catch wind of this post and come running to resolve the issue so hopefully it’s at least entertaining.

Confessions of an Indie DevIndie Dev Confessions: Part 1 – As well as things have been going, I felt the need to step back at the turn of the new year to assess my game development progress. It hasn’t gone well. I decided the best thing I could do is evaluate my strategy as objectively as possible in an effort to make 2016 a better year. If you have a passion for creative projects of your own, perhaps this series will strike a chord with you.

Weekend Roundup10 Indie Games to Watch in 2016 – This is my first published contribution to Zam.com! For this post I got my hands on a ton of great indie games and put together a list of titles I expect to turn heads in the coming year. Though I didn’t get to spend time with all of them (a couple are very early in development) all these games either have a great Early Access build available or they already have an audience in a pre-Alpha frenzy. Some are small initiatives that do what they set out to do well while others are highly ambitious, aiming to change the way we play. One of the developers was so pleased with his mention that he announced his game’s release window for the very first time in the comments! Check out the list and let me know what great upcoming games you’re looking forward to.

I’ve also been hard at work promoting the site around the web. If you haven’t yet you can follow @CodeWritePlay on Twitter or Like us on Facebook to see new posts as they go up.

See you next week!

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Business Code Game Development Game Industry Games

Indie Dev Confessions: Part 1

2015 was an incredible year. My son was born, my wife has an amazing new job, and I walked away from a career ten years in the making to care for my son and pursue my passion. I finally had the chance to take a run at full-time game development. While last year was full of unforgettable memories, the truth is that it also came with a lot of painful realizations about my indie dev career.

A basic Google search reveals that this experience is not uncommon. Countless developers have stopped to assess wreckage, unable to put their finger on exactly what went wrong. Others have made very astute observations about the challenge of going it alone in the game industry. I think the best thing we can do to carry that discussion forward is to be very open and honest about where we’re at in an effort to determine how we got here. That in mind, I’ve decided to start a series of posts exploring the real, hard truths about my experiences in the indie dev game.

Confession #1: I Abandoned the First Indie Dev Project I Announced Almost Immediately

Before I had even quit my day job I became fascinated with the idea of paying tribute to the old text-based adventure games with my own updated take on the genre. The ingredients were perfect: It would allow me to write (my other great passion), there’s a ton of room for improvement in the traditional formula for these games, and I could use web languages and tools like HTML, JavaScript, CSS, etc., all of which I’ve been fluent in for over well over a decade. It took some stumbling around but I eventually landed on great mechanics for updated text games and it didn’t take too long to lay a strong foundation for the engine. The writing also picked up encouraging momentum as soon as I was able to invest some dedicated work sessions. I settled on a story that I felt was compelling in its own right, but would also allow me to write about some issues that were very close to home for me. I was finally doing work that truly meant something to me.

It was at this point that I fell into a notorious indie dev trap. Instead of taking advantage of being my own project manager, PR lead, and filling all other pertinent roles, I wanted to act like a triple-A tough guy. I put together some screenshots and GIFs, wrote up some basic marketing material, and announced a needlessly aggressive release date for what would be my first product as a full-time game developer.

It felt great at the time. People liked and shared it around Twitter, they left notes to commend the ideas and implementation I was showing off, and let me know they were enthusiastic to get their hands on it. “This is it” I thought to myself. “I’m finally doing it.”

That’s when the most difficult development challenges arose, the writing got less creative and more technical, and the project generally demanded the most from me. I got quiet on social media and even quieter in person. I pounded at the keyboard every chance I got, working way harder than I had in my full-time traditional office job. I stayed in this state as my own senseless deadline came and went, never saying a word. I eventually gave in to the growing desire to work on something fun and new. I’ve never gone back.

It’s hard to remember what was going through my mind when I put that kind of pressure on myself and my project. I’m sure I felt embarrassed that I went months with nothing to show for leaving my office job. I’m sure the family was trying to adjust to less income. I have little doubt that I let my nerves get the best of me. I love being connected with larger indie teams on Twitter and I know a number of great indie dev community managers all over the world. It’s possible that I tried to follow their lead, much to the detriment of my one-man operation. I can tell you for sure I’ll never handle another project this way again. You’ll hear about my games when they have a functional beginning, middle, and end. If I’m not in the polishing stage, you’ll have to be content to hear that “work is going well!”

Join me in the rest of the series and I’ll tell you more cringeworthy tales, like how I left an LLC behind in another state and why I actually hate working in Unity. If you’re an indie dev yourself, leave a comment and tell me about the coolest project you left behind.

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Game Industry Games Writing

Weekly Roundup

I’ve been a busy writer (and even a fairly busy editor). Busyness is no excuse for not posting a weekly roundup so here it is: last week’s content both here and around the web.

Plenty more great stuff on the way!

UFC/EA’s Fight for the Cover – This story was great fun to cover. Never before have two professional athletes fought in a cage to grace the cover of a video game — and, sure, to win the division championship as well. We know now that “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor will appear on the upcoming EA Sports UFC 2, but it was fascinating to know that two potential game boxes were waiting to be revealed after the fight.

UFC 2 Fight for the Cover

It’s hard to imagine other fighters on the cover but I can’t help but think Holly Holm got shortchanged, having beaten Rousey the day she was announced for the retail box.

Amazon’s Fire Tablet is Awesome for Mobile Gaming – I decided to write up the Fire tablet after my wife and I bought one for our son for Christmas. This thing is awesome. One of the biggest draws is the access it gains you to Amazon Underground, a program where players play popular commercial games totally free of charge and Amazon picks up the tab. It’s probably the best mobile gaming value for the cost.

Oriental Empires Headed for Steam Early Access – I love my strategy games. I could play Sid Meier’s Civilization V all day long and, more than a few times, I have. When I saw the press release about Oriental Empires I made it a point to follow the game’s development. It would be awesome to score a review copy at some point to cover for one of my sites.

Oriental Empires

Dawn of Steel Coming to New Platforms Next Year – Some of my closest friends spend a lot of their time in an iMessage group chat playing and talking about this game. While the news that it’s rolling out to new platforms wasn’t life-changing for us, we were celebrating when we heard word that players can now join alliances and work together on team objectives. For a free-to-play iOS game, Dawn of Steel is surprisingly well-designed. I’ll probably check it out on Windows when the time comes.

 

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Game Development Game Industry Games

Weekly Roundup

It’s been a busy week! My first Nerd Stash game review just went live and I got to cover a couple of cool news items.

More great stuff is coming in the next couple of weeks!

(Review) Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition – This game was the real deal! The Divinity series has been popular with PC gamers for years but Original Sin Enhanced Edition marked the series’ arrival on consoles. It was a pleasure to check it out on Xbox One and write up my thoughts.

Expect more reviews from me in the near future!

(Humble Bundle) Humble Codemasters Bundle Delivers Big for Racers – I love what the Humble Bundle team does and I love my racing. You can imagine my response to the Humble Codemasters Bundle. Codemasters is the studio behind the awesome DiRT and Grid series as well as some great non-racing games. As usual, the bundle supports a couple of great charities.

The Humble Codemasters Bundle

(New Release) Musical Language Game Lyriko Now Available for Android and iOS – Needless to say I can’t thoroughly cover mobile games and I don’t pretend to try. That said, occasionally I find a game I can’t help but talk about.

Lyriko was designed and developed by an MIT grad with a fascination for music and language studies. He combined the two and wound up with a game that plays like a musical Rosetta Stone course. It doesn’t pretend to be a full-fledged language learning tool but it’s outstanding for players who are already studying a foreign language.

Lyriko, a musical language game

In addition to these posts I finalized a feature that hasn’t been posted yet and also covered a great news story (currently in the hands of the editor) about the upcoming UFC bout between Jose Aldo and Conor McGregor deciding the cover art for EA Sports UFC 2.

I’ll include late posts in next week’s roundup!

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Game Industry

The Coolest Gaming Book I Had Never Heard Of

While working on a news story noting the 10th launch anniversary of the Xbox 360 recently, I came across a story I could hardly believe. Wikipedia suggested that the 360’s core processor was only a “slightly modified” version of the Sony PlayStation 3’s Cell Processor technology, and that IBM engineers had to “hide” this from Sony during the hardware’s development. The source link sent me to a Wall Street Journal article that not only corroborated this story, it introduced me to a whole book about it.

“The Race for a New Game Machine” tells the story of IBM architect David Shippy and his colleague Mickie Phipps as they carried out parallel development efforts of these console processors while sometimes trying to keep the companies separated inside the same building. If this isn’t surprising enough, manufacturing foresight on the part of Microsoft actually allowed them to ship their processor well ahead of Sony, causing huge trouble for the PlayStation team in the following year.

Cell Processor

I love books like this. It’s somewhat reminiscent of the epic struggle between Sega and Nintendo detailed in Console Wars by Blake J. Harris. Video games are fascinating far beyond what we experience at the controller; if you’ve never looked at the business behind your favorite pastime, you’re likely missing out.

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Game Industry Writing

New Adventures in Gaming Journalism

Over half a year ago, I left my full-time software development career of ten years to take care of my son and pursue indie game development. Since the closing of NightfallUnlimited.com, I hadn’t given much thought to what would be next in terms of my writing, podcasting, blogging, etc. Then a funny thing happened.

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Game Industry

SMH at the New Xbox One Experience

I’ve been in the Xbox One Preview Program for several months but, by now, most of us have finally seen the XB1 system overhaul and have had time to decide what they think. Industry writers are singing its praises and Microsoft execs are all but posing in front of Mission Accomplished banners; I’m over here shaking my head.