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Review: Eets December 13, 2006

Posted by Jesse in : Game Reviews , add a comment

Game: Eets
Developer: Klei Entertainment
Version: This is a review of the full version of the game.
Recommendation: Buy this game right now!
Try it!Buy It!

In my review for FizzBall, I mentioned that Professor Fizzwizzle was my favorite indie game of last year. I received an email from a reader asking what my favorite indie game of this year is. I think I’m going to have to cheat and declare it a tie between Titan Attacks by Puppy Games (it’s been on my list of games to review since shortly after I started the website) and Eets by Klei Entertainment.

Several months ago, I saw a screenshot of Eets and downloaded the demo thinking that my wife might think it was cute. I started playing it, and I was caught completely unaware by how great this game is.

There’s this little guy, called Eets. He’s collecting puzzle pieces, and needs your help. Unlike the heroes in most games, you don’t get to control Eets directly. Instead, you modify the environment around him by carefully placing various toys and by clicking on the other objects around him. And Eets is an emotional little fellow. His emotional status effects how he moves through the level. If he’s sad, he is far more cautious and unwilling to jump. If he’s angry, he throws caution to the wind and jumps a great distance whenever he encounters a gap.

There are several objects that you can interact with in the environment to help Eets along. There are Prankster Whales who will inhale any object in front of them (including Eets!) and then send them flying through the air. There are clouds of chocolate chip cookies that can fire chocolate chips from a gun placed on their heads. Explosive carts will explode, blowing holes in walls and floors and sending nearby objects flying. Ejection carts will pick up other objects and send them flying when you click on them. This is just a small sample of the objects in the game. There are many more.

What I liked:
There is so much that I liked about this game. I love the Prankster Whales, the exploding pigs shouting “Freedom!”, the Marshomechs, the Merch. (Oh my God! It’s the Merch!) I like that there are sometimes multiple solutions to the puzzles. For example, with the explosive effects you can sometimes punch totally new paths into the levels that weren’t there before. That kind of emergent game play really means a great deal to me.

What I disliked:
When I installed the game on my wife’s computer, we had some trouble getting the text in the tutorials to appear. It made it a little difficult getting started.

Games it reminded me of:
The obvious connections are Lemmings and The Incredible Machine. It’s a platform based puzzle game, so it might draw some comparisons to games like Professor Fizzwizzle, but the controls are so completely different that they don’t have much in common. (But that’s okay, I love them both.)

Recommendations:
This game is brilliant, and was worth your immediate impulse purchase when it cost $19.95. But now they’ve dropped the price to $9.95. I can’t come up with any reason not to buy this game. Go buy it right now!

Review: Fizzball December 7, 2006

Posted by Jesse in : Game Reviews , add a comment

Game: Fizzball
Developer: Grubby Games
Version: This is a review of the full version of the game.
Recommendation: Try the demo

What happens when you mix Katamari Damacy with Arkanoid? You just might get something that resembles Fizzball, the newest release from Grubby Games. If that name seems familiar to you, and it should, it’s because that’s the company that bought us Professor Fizzwizzle. (Which is, in my opinion, the best indie game of last year.)

In Fizzball, the Professor (and his robotic friends) discover that all the people have fled the islands, and the animals are mysteriously vanishing. Luckily, the professor has a new invention that just might be able to help. He calls it a fizzball. It starts out small, and looks like a simple bubble. But when it comes into contact with something smaller than it, it will pick up the object, and then increase in size. At first it can only pick up butterflies and apples, but pretty quickly it’s big enough to pick up cows and horses. Once all of the animals are safely gathered together, the professor can take them to an animal sanctuary he has constructed, where they can be safe from whatever is causing them to vanish from the islands.

The gameplay is essentially very similar to Arkanoid. You control the professor, riding back and forth on a track at the bottom of the screen. When the fizzball comes down, you simply place him in the way, and the fizzball will bounce back up the screen. If you miss, the fizzball will fall out of play, and you have to start over. When you run out of fizzballs, you’re all done. In addition to collecting animals, you can also break open crates, which often contain money, or items that will make your fizzball grow in size. Sometimes they also contain powerups.

Some of the powerups are simple things, like speeding up or slowing down the movement of the fizzball or inreasing the size of the barrier the professor uses to keep the fizzball in play. Some of them, however, are incredibly powerful. There’s a bulldozer powerup that will make the fizzball smash through any obstacle that gets in its way. This is very handy to get to animals that are sitting behind a pile of crates or a fence. There’s a gravity well powerup that makes the fizzball attract any nearby object, making it so that you just have to get somewhat close to objects instead of having to come directly into contact with them. If you get both of these powerups at the same time, you’ll absolutely fly through the level you’re playing.

But it’s not quite that easy. Somebody has left barrels of toxic waste laying around the island, and if you break those open, it’s bad news for everyone. And once you get a little ways in to the game (the end of the second island) you’ll encounter some enemies that will actually try to hurt you. They have laser guns, and if you get hit, you’ll be stunned and unable to keep your fizzball in play.

What I liked:
Just like with Fizzwizzle, the guys at Grubby Games put alot of work into adding special little touches to the game. When your fizzball collides with a tree, apples or acorns will fall from the branches. When you run into an animal that’s too big to pick up, they’ll respond to it. For example, dogs will bark, ostriches will hide their heads in the ground, and chickens will lay eggs. The soundtrack is also really nice, and fits well with the mood of the game.

What I disliked:
While I enjoyed playing the game, after about a half hour of playing, I was ready to stop. I guess I’m just not very into Arkanoid style games. Of course, I was glad to come back later and play a little more. Perhaps it’s because I didn’t have a big sense of accomplishment when I beat a level. Perhaps I’m just not the target audience. I gave my young step-sister a chance to play it, and she was absolutely hooked.

Games it reminded me of:
The obvious choices here are the previously mentioned Arkanoid and Katamari Damacy. (Though the latter is only in spirit. That’s a totally different style of play.) The mouse control will be easy to pick up for someone who is used to Luxor or any of the games like it.

Recommendations:
I suggest you grab the demo, and give it a whirl. While it isn’t the kind of game that I would normally buy for myself, I think it’s very likely that I’ll be buying a few copies for family members as gifts. I think it’ll be a big hit, especially with the younger members of my family. It’s a very well made game, and I’m excited to see what the guys at Grubby Games come up with next.

Switching continued December 6, 2006

Posted by Jesse in : Game Development , add a comment

After writing yesterday that I was considering switching my development platform back to Windows from Linux, I discussed the idea with some friends and colleagues. Basically, the conclusion I’ve come to is that I don’t have any compelling reasons not to make the switch, but several good reasons to do so.

So, last night I began the process of moving everything over. This isn’t a terribly complicated process, as I was already setup for dual booting, so I just needed to make the necessary files available to Windows. I found a really neat program that lets Windows access ext3 file systems, and that made things really simple. (Since this specific machine works as my dev system, game system, and DVR/entertainment system, I have alot of files. It was almost 83 gigabytes of data. Ouch! TV shows take up alot of space.)

Tonight I need to setup my Subversion repositories and install all of the software libraries I’m using. Then I can get back to work. I’m really excited.

Switching to Linux (and back?) December 5, 2006

Posted by Jesse in : Game Development , 2 comments

About two months ago, I converted my development machine into a Linux box. A few of my friends have told me repeatedly how much they love theirs, so I was really curious. Additionally, I was having a problem with my Windows installation, so it seemed like a perfect time to give Linux a shot.

I installed Ubuntu Linux, and most things have been really nice. I love apt-get and Synaptic. (Tools for easily installing programs with all of their required dependancies.) If something isn’t in the apt-get repositories for me to snag, I can generally grab an installation package or source code archive from a website and getting things installed is only a few keystrokes away. For most programs that I’m used to having around, there are free versions available that are almost as good at the originals, and in some cases, the free versions are even better.

But there are two important things that I’m not sure if I can live without.

Games
By looking at some of the past entries in this blog, it should be really obvious that I love video games. And there just really aren’t that many games that are built natively for Linux, so I’m stuck trying to play games in wine. (Wine is a program that can attempt to run programs created for Windows.) Sometimes wine works great. I’ve gotten World of Warcraft running at almost exactly the same speed as it was in Windows. But most of the time, it doesn’t even come close to working. Most games crash out with incredibly useless error messages. A handful will run but can’t seem to get any input from the mouse or keyboard. Or they have no sound, or put out static. I have a huge list of indie games that I’ve wanted to try out, but I couldn’t because they wouldn’t run in wine.

Visual Studio
I’ve tried KDevelop, Anjuta, Eclipse, and a bunch of unmemorable products, and nothing comes anywhere near Visual C++. The projects are almost always built around a makefile that you manage yourself instead of working through the IDE, and the debuggers aren’t nearly as nice. Lately I’ve spent almost as much time fighting my tools as I have developing new features. It’s really a pain.

So I’m not sure what to do. I’m really, really happy with my Linux box, but I don’t see anyway not to just go back to using Windows most of the time.

Getting back to work December 4, 2006

Posted by Jesse in : Game Development , 2 comments

It’s been a little over three months since I’ve written any game reviews or updated the blog here. That’s far too long of a gap.

During that time, I’ve changed day jobs, which has been a somewhat stressful process, and it has left me little interest in spending my nights and weekends working on game development. But things are settling down now, and I’m getting back into the swing of things.

Unfortunately, the Annie project has completely fallen apart. Back before the job change, the artist who was working on the project became too busy starting his own company to work on the game anymore. The idea may be revisited in the future, but for now, the game is on hold.

I have a new game concept, and I’m actively developing a gameplay prototype of it. I’m hoping to have that distributed for feedback within the next week or two, and if that goes well, I’ll start turning it into a real product. I’ll post some news about that as soon as possible.