Tag Archives: Videogames

5x Video and 5x Tabletop – 10 Awesome New Gaming Projects on Kickstarter This Week


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Lynn and the Spirits of Inao

A Studio-Ghibli-esque platformer with flying whales.


Niche – a genetics survival game

Natural selection is a tricky, messy business.


Pirates of the Polygon Sea

Like Sid Meier’s Pirates, but with more polygons.


Dystoria, a 6-axis space shooter with an 80’s arcade vibe

So many axes of action in space! Turn up the synthwave.


Stern Pinball Arcade: AC/DC

I always fill my ballroom / the event is never small.



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HoloGrid: Monster Battle (Augmented Reality Board Game)

That guy who made the holographic chess game in Star Wars? He’s making this.


The Depths of Durangrar: A Dungeon Crawler…in the dark

Strap on (real) night-vision goggles and hunt hapless heroes.


Sol: Last Days of a Star

An imminent supernova throws several worlds into a bit of a tizzy.


Campaign Trail

Play along at home with this timely election-based boardgame.


Awful Fantasy: the Card Game

A very serious take on a game about writing hilariously bad fantasy novels.

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5x Video and 5x Tabletop – 10 Awesome New Gaming Projects on Kickstarter This Week


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Quench: A Narative Puzzle Game

Play as an avatar of nature and guide animal herds in this narrative puzzler.


Gunkatana – Lightning Fast Cyberpunk Action 

Live. Slice. Die. Repeat! Fast, top-down action murderfest.


Potions: A Curious Tale

“Combat is not always the answer” for this young witch.



Sniff out enemies of the state as a Big-Brother-ish building manager.



Space is not the final frontier. Keep exploring and discovering.


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Larklamp | Magic Lantern Game System

“An ancient kind of game console” that casts shadow-boards on a tabletop.


Bloc by Bloc: The Insurrection Game

Incredible marriage of theme and system in this Euro-style board game about insurrection.


Rifts for Savage Worlds

You’ve always wanted to play a Glitterboy using the Savage Worlds rules.


Super Hazard Quest

Retro side-scroller as card game!


The Golfing Dead

Ought to be polite to a man with a golf club. [Swings club.] Only common sense.

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Cogs Will Spin Your Gears

Cogs game in progress

I’ve always loved sliding tile puzzles, from the simple number kind to distant relatives such as the Rush Hour Traffic Jam puzzles. There’s just something appealing about putting things back in order with only the one open square to work with. Cogs adds a new dimension to the idea.

Created by Lazy 8 Studios, Cogs was first available for the PC and has just been released for the iPhone and iPod touch. Both versions are fairly similar with some minor tweaks in the iPhone version. Instead of completing pictures or putting numbers in order, your challenge in Cogs is to build machines by sliding gears together or hooking up steam pipes. The steampunk theme is great and carries over to the timer, move counters, and menu screens. It’s an attractive game with all sorts of mechanical contraptions and wonderful animation, and the sound effects are pitch-perfect.

Some of the puzzles are three-dimensional cubes (such as the one pictured) which require you to spin the cube around to solve each face individually. There are also two-sided sliders (you have to solve both sides simultaneously) and cylinders, nontraditional shapes that will really get you thinking. Inventor Mode is the basic game: put together the machine using the least amount of times and number of moves. Challenge Mode allows you to replay the puzzles you’ve solved, either in fewer than ten moves or in less than 30 seconds.

The one disappointment on the iPhone version is that the initial purchase only gets you ten puzzles. There are five “puzzle packs” in all, each available for $.99 (with a bonus 51st puzzle at the end). After you solve the first ten puzzles there’s a button to purchase the next pack in-game. But $4.95 for the whole thing is not a bad deal, and half as much as the (still not so expensive) $9.99 PC download. The PC version, appropriately enough, can be downloaded from Steam.

I really enjoyed the app, particularly since I’m the sort of person who likes to go for all the awards and achievements. Once you’ve gotten all the achievements, though, the replay value goes down. The iPhone version is tied to Crystal, a system for tracking your position on leaderboards and achievements as well as integration with Twitter or Facebook. (I generally don’t use this sort of feature but I suppose kids may like the bragging rights.)

One nice touch for the iPhone version is a tiny spark that shows where you’re touching the screen: depending on the puzzle it helps to have that pinpoint accuracy. Also, I was told there were some minor tweaks for the iPhone version to “smooth out the learning curve and get players into the 3D puzzles faster.”

Fellow contributor Jenny Williams had this to say about the PC version:

You have to do the first puzzle to unlock more puzzles, then do those to unlock more, etc. Once you solve a
puzzle, it gives you an medal for finding a solution, for how much time it took and for how many moves you used. As soon as you click “Play” for a puzzle, the timer starts up so you better be ready!

This game adds a whole new level of complexity to conventional slider puzzles, because you have to design the system while you move things around. You have to have the design in your head, and then figure out how to get the pieces in the right places. Often, though, there are two or more possible pieces which could both work in one place. Definitely a thought provoking game.

Since there aren’t too many puzzles, you could easily solve all of them in a short period of time (my husband and I played about 15 puzzles in an hour or so). So it’s a good game if you like to try to beat your previous scores on things, but once you figure out how to solve a puzzle, the charm may be gone. (Not sure how much the PC version of this game cost.) It’s a great game, though, very different from a lot of what’s out there, so major points for that.

If you like puzzle games, it’s definitely worth a try. You can download a free trial for the PC, or just buy the first puzzle pack for $.99 from the App Store to get a feel for it. Visit the Cogs Game website for more details (and a really cool demo video).

Wired: Very cool steampunk look, nice take on sliding tile puzzles. Just an all-around pleasure to play.

Tired: iPhone version separated into five puzzle packs (still not expensive, but disappointing if you’re not expecting it). Loses some replay value after you’ve gotten all the achievements.

Disclosure: GeekDad received a free download code for each version for review purposes.

Slugging It Out: Slug Wars for iPhone


Down in the garden there is a war being fought … slowly. Two armies of slugs face each other across the battlefield, each determined to break into the opponent’s base. Armed with acorn guns and salt shakers, they race—er, trudge—into the fray.

Slug Wars is a new real-time strategy game for the iPhone and iPod touch, a little reminiscent of Plants vs. Zombies, but with both offense and defense. Instead of just defending your own base, the goal is to get three of your slugs into the enemy base. You queue up various types of slugs, each with its own abilities and cost, and when they meet the opposing line they do battle. Get all the way across the field, and your slug enters the enemy base.

There’s a campaign mode pitting you against the computer, and winning unlocks new slugs to add to your arsenal. You start with the Soldier (very basic but fairly fast) and the Tank (slower, but can shoot from farther away). Eventually you get such slugs as the Kamikaze (with a salt-shaker strapped to its back) or the Airborne, carried by a butterfly over the heads of the other slugs. You earn more funds by defeating slugs and by picking up flowers that sprout up on the field, and the trick is balancing firepower and speed with your available funds.

Skirmish mode is just a one-time battle against the computer, and Slug-It-Out pits you against a friend. There aren’t really any options to speak of: just turning sound effects on or off. There’s also a brief tutorial in case you need some help getting started.

The Slug Wars battlefield

The Slug Wars battlefield

The controls are very simple: dial the wheel at the bottom of the screen to select a slug, and then tap the lane where you would like to spawn the slug. Since some of the heavy-duty slugs are slower and cost more, you have to balance them with the faster Soldiers to gain ground and pick up flowers.

The graphics are great, with different color palettes for the opposing armies. The character designs are funny. Aside from the Kamikaze, who douses himself and the nearest enemy with a pile of salt, there’s the Nuke, sipping a cup of salted seltzer water—when he explodes, he wipes out half the screen, both enemies and friendlies. The sound effects are decent but nothing especially exciting (mostly some battle sounds, and each type of slug has its own battle cry as it enters the field).

While some of the earlier levels took me a little longer to beat, I found that the difficulty level didn’t really keep pace with me. Most games I won three to zilch; the one time I lost (right after the Missile slug was introduced) the score was two to three. Probably playing against another person would be a little more interesting because their strategy would vary some. I found I was generally getting by with only four or five of the eight available slugs, and I was starting to lose interest in the game. I’ve gotten up to level 35 with the computer rarely getting a single score, and even that mostly just to see if it was going to get any harder. (It doesn’t seem to.)

A few other minor quibbles I had: you can actually start deploying slugs before it says “Ready, Fight!” so for a while the computer was getting a few slugs on the field before I was ready. Also, I did find that the slug-selection dial was a little, well, sluggish for me. (Note that I’m using a first-generation iPod touch so I know the processor speed on this is a bit slower than the newer versions.) Also, there wasn’t a very clear indicator of progress in the campaign, other than a small label at the bottom of the screen during the fight. It would have been nice to see that on the splash screen, perhaps, and maybe some statistics would be fun as well.

That said, until I had gotten all the slugs, it was fun trying to decide on a strategy and discovering the new slugs. If you’re a fan of tower defense games, this is certainly worth trying out, but you may want to find a partner because I didn’t find the AI particularly intelligent—I’ve settled on a strategy that seems to be unbeatable against the computer. They do promise to release more slug units in future updates, so I’m looking forward to see what they come up with.

Slug Wars is $1.99 in the App Store, and you can visit the Republic of Fun website for more information.

Wired: Amusing take on tower defense games that throws in offensive strategy; great graphics and character design.

Tired: Computer doesn’t put up much of a fight; bare-bones options.

Disclosure: I received a free download of Slug Wars to review.

Orbital: All You Need Is One Thumb

Orbital: Gravity Mode

Orbital: Gravity Mode

I’m a sucker for “casual games,” the sort of thing that runs in your browser or on your iPhone. Of course, the reason I play these instead of my old Xbox is because, theoretically, I can play for just a few minutes rather than investing several hours. In practice, however, I sometimes end up playing “casually” for several hours. Orbital is an excellent example of a game with an extremely simple mechanic (it only requires one thumb to play) yet is extremely addictive.

It’s based on a little online Flash game called Gimme Friction Baby, which I remember playing several months back. Here’s how it works: at the bottom of the screen is a turret which rotates back and forth. Tapping the screen shoots an orb which bounces off walls and other orbs, comes to a stop and then expands until it touches something. Each orb can be hit three times before it explodes, earning you a point. If the projectile bounces back across the line at the bottom of the screen, the game is over.

This is what 1980s arcade games dreamed of being. Orbital takes the original black-and-white Flash game and updates it with glowing neon graphics, better music and sound effects, and a gridded background that warps in Gravity Mode. Pure Mode is more like the original game: projectiles bounce off the existing walls and orbs in straight-line vectors. In Gravity Mode (which is both a bit easier and more fun to watch), each orb has its own gravity, so projectiles bend around larger orbs. And in an update just released on Tuesday, there’s a new Supernova Mode, which gives you a laser sight for aiming but kicks each orb up to five hit points. You can also play against a friend: instead of scoring points for smashing orbs, you just try to block your opponent’s path so their shots bounce back across their own line.

One other thing I like: the quick reload time after you lose. Sure, you can wait until everything on-screen explodes and it tells you “Game Over,” or you can just tap the screen to zip back to the menu, and play again.

There’s a free Orbital Lite which is restricted to 15 points in Gravity Mode and the two-player option. You can also try out Gravity Mode on the Orbital website. If you like it, it’s currently on sale in the iTunes Store for only $.99 (regular price is $1.99), and could make a nice last-minute gift for your iPhone-toting pal.

Wired: Simple game play + retro-futuristic graphics + electronica soundtrack = hours of fun for less than a dollar.

Tired: Maybe it’s called Gravity Mode because it will suck you into its gaping maw.

Ninja Versus OMG! Pirates! on the iPhone

OMG! Pirates!

OMG! Pirates!

“Ha! Foolish Ninja! Behold the power of rum-powered technology!”

So says one of the pirate bosses in Mika Mobile’s newest game for the iPhone (and iPod touch). OMG! Pirates! is a heaping serving of awesome. Unless, of course, you side with the pirates, in which case you are a fool. In this game, you take the role of the lone ninja battling the pirates who have invaded the ninja village. Slash your way through wave after wave of pirates, taking the battle to their home turf, where you will face their ultimate weapon: … but of course I shouldn’t give it away. Suffice to say, it involves rum. And piracy.

Noah Bordner of Mika Mobile explains:

While the game definitely plays off the silly and absurd “Pirates vs. Ninjas” meme, I hope you’ll find that it’s also a solid action game first and foremost.  As an old-school geek myself, games like Double Dragon and River City Ransom from the NES days were the core inspiration behind it.  It’s a game of positioning, timing, and most of all careful defense (via jumping and blocking)—button mashing won’t get you very far!

The lone ninja

The lone ninja

I got the chance to try it out, and I had a great time with it. The cartoon style of the graphics is fantastic, and when you unleash your “ultimate technique” it’s just a pleasure to watch. Unfortunately, there’s a limited number of enemy types, so it does get a little repetitive. However, as you play you also level up and gain different moves and better skills. “Ninja Vanish” was one of my favorites. Also, after you get through the nine levels and defeat the big bad boss, you unlock the Hard difficulty level as well as Survival mode, an all-you-can-fight buffet of pirate baddies.

A few minor quibbles: I wish that there were multiple player profiles, because when I let a friend play they were leveling up my ninja stats, and they didn’t get to start from scratch. Also, I did have a few problems with the controls from time to time but that may be my own clumsy fingers. Still, for the current $1.99 price, it’s a pretty good buy. In the week since I first downloaded it, I’ve logged nearly four hours and over 2,000 pirates slain.

Just a note for parents: while it is quite cartoony, the pirates do get hacked into pieces, so use your own judgment about whether it’s appropriate for younger kids.

Wired: One word: Ninja! (Oh, and great graphics and gameplay.)

Tired: Limited number of enemies; not recommended for pirate-o-philes.

Buy OMG! Pirates! from the iTunes Store.

So Your Kid Wants to be a Civil Rights Lawyer

Our Courts is a web-based education project designed to teach students civics and inspire them to be active participants in our democracy. They have produced two video games to help educate our kids about the legal system. Being the resident GeekDad-lawyer, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to promote video games about the legal system.

supreme decision

In Supreme Decision, a middle school student has sued his school for preventing him from wearing a T-shirt featuring his favorite band, Hall of Rejects. You play a Supreme Court clerk, advising your boss, Justice Waters, on how to rule in this First Amendment case.

Our Courts is the vision of recently retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who is concerned that students are not getting the information and tools they need for civic participation. She also thinks that civics teachers need better materials and support. She made sure that Justice Waters in Supreme Decision was female and that the Supreme Court in the video game is more diverse than the current Supreme Court.


The other game, Do I Have a Right?, takes you through the Bill of Rights. You play a law office manager, introducing clients with civil rights cases to lawyers with expertise in the appropriate legal areas. I could do without the consultation between the lawyers and the clients being simulated with a talk bubble reading “Yadda, yadda.” It just seems to reinforce the idea that law is boring and complicated.

Playing a law firm office manager or a Supreme Court clerk probably won’t appeal to middle-schoolers like Halo does. The animation is very simple and won’t appeal to kids raised on the graphics and gameplay of the Xbox.

The two Our Courts games are engaging enough for the classroom. Students may prefer them to a textbook at helping students understand judicial decision-making.

While appearing on The Daily Show to promote Our Courts, Justice O’Connor noted that only a third of Americans can name the three branches of government, while three quarters percent can name the American Idol judges. Jon Stewart responded: “We’re going to need more than a Web site.”

Aion MMO Is More Than WoW With Wings

Aion: It Gives You Wings

Image: NCsoft

Chances are you’ve already heard of Aion. Released back in September, it was touted as the biggest massively multiplayer online game launch of the year. At nearly 450,000 preorders, it started off a little rocky (what MMO doesn’t?) and publisher NCsoft had to employ a 16,000-player ban-fest back in November. With upgrades to the game’s already-stunning graphics engine slated for 2010, Aion is a strong contender as MMO-of-choice under the tree this holiday season.

I sat down (via email) with David Noonan, content writer for Aion, and chatted about the game. Dave is no stranger to fantasy games, having worked for Wizards of the Coast designing two editions of Dungeons & Dragons. He talks about Aion’s story, how it stacks up against that other elephant-in-the-MMO-room, and the future of story-driven computer games.

GeekDad: First, can you tell us a little about the game world and its history?

Dave: Aion takes place in the world of Atreia—a world where the people live on the interior surface of the sphere (like a science-fiction Dyson sphere) and there’s a tower running from pole to pole where the god, Aion, lives.

Some of Aion’s earliest creations, the dragonlike Balaur, rebelled against their creator. That long war ended with the Tower of Eternity exploding and the world splitting in half at the equator. Now two factions, the Elyos and the Asmodians, inhabit their own hemispheres, and they blame each other for the tower’s destruction. And the wreckage floating in the middle of the world is the Abyss, a high-level mega-zone where the two factions fight each other and the Balaur that caused the trouble in the first place.

David Noonan, Writer for Aion. Photo: David Noonan

David Noonan, Writer for Aion. Photo: David Noonan

GeekDad: Aion is a big deal in Asia, but Eastern MMOs are traditionally very different from Western MMOs. When it came to the “culturalization” process, how did you go about reworking the game for its new audience? How were certain tropes converted, and were there any memorable quests that just couldn’t make the transition?

Dave: We actually took a light touch with specific Asian-themed plot elements; they’re fun, and I think a lot of players want a sort of mélange—I often told our writers to shoot for a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon feel.

We spent more time trying to satisfy the Western desire for game and narrative aspects that probably don’t rise to the level of full-on tropes. For example, I think Western audiences (speaking broadly here) want their quests to have explicit roots in what’s happening in the game world, and they expect the NPC questgiver to directly or indirectly explain why the PC must do the job rather than the NPC himself. It’s a matter of providing answers to the “If this is so important, how come you don’t do it?” question.

We were also cognizant of the desire for payoff—to have a plot thread resolved somehow. You can resolve it in a pleasing or troubling way, and you can even leave it as a cliffhanger (something that an MMO can get away with that other genres can’t). But you can’t just let it peter out with no consequence.

GeekDad: When World of Warcraft was released, there was a built-in playerbase already familiar with the heroes and villains of Azeroth. Without that advantage in your arsenal, how did you go about introducing the VIP NPCs from Atreia in a way that endeared them to players?

Dave: I think most games—Aion included—have a naturally instructive quality. In other words, if you want to teach anything, a game of some sort is pretty good sugar to help the medicine go down, and a game can show you how the discrete parts of whatever you’re learning fit together. So we deliver a lot of lore in the course of gameplay. As you run around fighting, questing, and exploring, you learn about the people and places as you go.

That said, I rebel against the premise of the question a bit. Aion intentionally avoids activist NPCs, and the metaplot is much further in the background. There’s no equivalent to Arthas, Thrall, and Jaina in Aion, and we like it that way. The NPCs are there to serve the player story, not the other way around. Our VIPs are the PCs. (And that’s handy, because NPCs rarely play MMORPGs.)

GeekDad: Could you explain the difference between the Campaign and Standard Quests?

Dave: It’s basically a question of degree. The campaign quests have bigger plot implications and bigger rewards, so the UI calls them out separately. It’s basically a big “don’t miss this one!” sign. Structurally, there isn’t much difference between the yellow-arrow quests and the blue-arrow quests.

GeekDad: Everyone’s excited about Aion’s flight system. Tell us a little about the flight system and how it affects game play and questing.

Image: NCsoft

Image: NCsoft

Dave: You gain wings at level 10—four hours of gameplay, give or take. You can immediately fly in a few places in the world, and you can glide—sometimes for quite a distance—anywhere you’ve got altitude and open space. (I think base-jumping is one of Aion’s more fascinating games-within-a-game.)

When you reach level 25 and go to the Abyss for the first time, you see flight in its full, unfettered glory. This sounds kind of spacey, but battling in all three axes (x, y, and z) does cool things to your brain, especially in a PvP environment.

GeekDad: What are the crafting opportunities in Aion?

Dave: The game launches with six crafts, all fed by the same gathering skill, including staples you’d expect like weaponsmithing, alchemy, and cooking. You can level all of them simultaneously, and you get XP both for gathering and for actually making stuff.

More broadly, player-created items carry a lot of weight—they’re among the best-in-slot items.

GeekDad: What are Stigma stones?

Dave: In terms of gameplay, it’s useful to think of them as “equippable abilities”—attacks and powers that you have, but other members of your class don’t necessarily have. Coming up with the right mix of Stigma stones is a key character-building exercise for high-level PCs.

And in the lore of the world, Stigma stones are a fragment of a long-gone Daevas soul. Daevas are generally immortal; it takes something like the destruction of the Tower of Eternity or death at the extreme fringes of existence to render a Daeva irrevocably dead. The Stigma stone is a coalescence of that Daeva’s soul—a bit of consciousness that teaches you a long-lost technique you couldn’t learn on your own.

GeekDad: As a well-respected game designer, do you have any ideas on how you’d like the MMORPG genre to evolve? I used to play text-based MMOs back in the day and I have a long-held fantasy that one day a company will create a game that offers the in-depth, character-driven roleplaying experiences that I once had on MUDs and MUSHes. Should I stop holding my breath?

Dave: I wouldn’t hold my breath—instead I’d get to work finding the community within an MMO that can provide the in-depth, character-driven experience you crave. I think that with each passing year, MMOs are providing a player experience that stretches closer and closer to what a MUD or a tabletop RPG provides. Those character-driven communities are out there, and just as with a tabletop or MUD experience, they draw their strength from the consensual acceptance of the community, not from the gameplay mechanics. Put another way, you can take a trip far down the rabbit-hole of character immersion if you’ve got witnesses (friends, in other words) along to validate and support that experience. It’s no more or less inherently immersive than rolling dice in your basement or writing something great for a MUD.

When I look to the horizon for the next set of waves, I’m thinking more about how MMOs can provide the Dungeon Master experience—how they can satisfy the latent “content creator” within all of us. Put as simply as possible, how can an MMO help me make up a cool adventure for my friends? That strikes me as a tricky beast to tame, but given time and smart minds, I’m sure we’ll get there soon. That’s what I’m holding my breath for.

I’d like to thank Dave Noonan for taking time to chat with GeekDad.

Aion retails for around $50 and currently, anyone who buys Aion at one of the retailers listed below will get bonus in-game items. With the “Aion Holiday Ascension Pack”, you can pimp out your winged hero’s armor with special dyes. Check ‘em out:

Image: NCsoft

Image: NCsoft

  • Amazon - Hot Orange Dye
  • Best Buy - Mustard Dye
  • Game Stop - True Black Dye
  • Target - True Red Dye
  • Walmart - True White Dye
  • And, of course, 30- and 60-day subscriptions are great stocking stuffers for the fantasy fan in your life.

    Videogame Ratings on Your iPhone? There’s an App for That

    Screencap of the ESRBs iPhone app

    Screencap of the ESRB's iPhone app

    The Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB)–the people who bring you parental advisory ratings on videogames–have released an iPhone app that lets users search for rating summaries on games.  Here’s their pitch:

    The main attraction of the app is that you can access rating summaries, which describe the activities involved in the game, giving some insight into why a game got a particular rating.  The summaries, which aren’t on a game’s packaging, are only available for games released since July 2008.

    The app is fairly bare-bones: It’s basically just a wrapper for the mobile version of the ESRB website, without much added functionality (no ability to save searches, or any kind of customization).  Having said that, if you don’t know much about the video games your child is asking for this holiday season–or at any other time–then the ESRB app can provide you with a little more information.  And it’s free.

    The app is available now on iTunes.