Tag Archives: Steam

Shatter(ed) Dreams – A look at the inde game ‘Shatter’

In 1975 Atari released a game with the inherent influence of the timeless smash hit Pong. This game is known as Breakout! The gameplay, like many games of the time, was simplistic yet thoroughly entertaining. You bounce a ball off of a paddle and smash bricks one by one. Since it’s release, there have been a lot of games over the years that have been released in various formats. Cell phones, dollar store pocket games, even as extras in computer programs or some special package deal you get when you buy a new computer from one of many vendors all chipped in to help to not only keep this game’s memory alive but also gave the game the chance to evolve and keep pace with the constant evolution of gaming. While some kept the game simple, others attempted to emulate Breakout’s successor, Arkanoid.

Michael P. Welch forever set his name in the great stone of video game icons when he came out with his clone, DX Ball. Released in 1996 for the PC, DX Ball did what many others couldn’t. He took a classic and gave it a evolutionarily chronological make over without removing any of what made the game so great back in ’75. ┬áThe graphics were boosted to allow it to look as smooth and shiny as the original Unreal, gameplay challenging to both the casual as well as the hardcore gamers, and a soundtrack using a genre of music that was also beginning to get it’s start around this time. However, even with these aspects giving the game strength amongst gamers, the one aspect that completely overshadows all others… DX Ball was SHAREWARE!!!!!1!!!!11!1111!!11!!!1ONE!!1!1!1!1! For those of you who may not have been around during the 90’s, ‘shareware’ is a term for games that are not only free but also encouraged to be passed around any and all gaming circles as if it were crack or MP3s on a P2P network (yes, it was once legal to share PC games!). DX Ball has had three sequels released over the years, but none of them caught on as the original, seeing as DX Ball 2 was the only sequel that was also shareware.

Of course, as the years fly by DX Ball becomes more and more like the original Breakout. All but completely forgotten and left as a footnote in the pages of gaming history. That is, until Sidhe Interactive developed a game that has changed the face of Breakout forever with they’re independent game, Shatter! It takes its cues more from Arkanoid than it does from its more simplistic predecessor and then proceeds to blow the mind with its stylistic visuals, up-to-date graphics, impressive and creative music, and it’s intense gameplay. Rather than ramble on about just how much this game has changed the face of Arkanoid forever, lets dig a bit deeper and see just what makes this game so f@#%&$g epic, shall we?

Upon entering the game for the first time, you are met with how the 2.5D graphics enhance the game’s visual prowess. The opening scene of the tells the basic tale of this game, escape! What appears to be some sort of scientific testing causes an ‘accident’ to occur and thus we are thrust into the meat and potatoes of Shatter. From here, you are shown different methods of gameplay level by level. More specifically that of the game’s main strategy, the suck-and-blow method. With every brick destroyed fragments fly about. Collecting these fragments build your power meter. The use of the shards as well as an explanation of the power meter shall be explained later in this review. The ‘suck’ ability allows you to collect these fragments in abundance. It also allows you to control where the ball will bounce. This shall be referred to from here on in as the ‘bounce point’. You can set the bounce point using the suck and blow method as a means of enhancing how many bricks you can hit per re-collision with the paddle, or as the game calls it, the bat. Simply using the suck feature as a means of collecting shards is all but eliminated, as you could reposition the bounce point to an area where you are unable to bounce back the ball.

There are various bricks in the game, ranging from the standard stationary bricks, to brick that move in patterns, even brick where upon hitting them will collide with other bricks. The possibilities in this game for clearing levels seems endless. But this is only a more than direct impersonation of Arkanoid, as the game goes one step further in enhanced gameplay with its stage designs. The first level immediately reveals its innovations by taking the basic game board and flipping it 90 degrees to the right. Boards can vary from the simplistic up-and-down gravity-esque boards to boards that are circular rather than square in shape. A circular board presents a level of challenge similar to that of DX Ball, where the precise area of the bat collides with the ball can change the angle at which the ball is bounced back.

And much like Arkanoid and DX Ball, hitting bricks can also yield power-ups to drop. Collecting the power-ups with use of the bat changes gameplay, allowing the ball to become more controllable or giving the ball the ability to rip through every brick in its path. There are also power-ups to increase the number of shards dispensed per brick break, gives the power bar a significant boost, and the ever useful 1-ups. Unlike Arkanoid and DX Ball, multi-ball power-ups and ball size power-ups absent from Shatter as well as power-ups which yield negative affects. The multi-ball power-up is now an ability which can be used to increase the challenge of the game and allow you to break more bricks and clear levels faster. Using this feature also eats away at the number of lives you have. For each ball released, a life is dispensed; so unless you’re incredibly skilled at maintaining multiple balls in a single game board you’ll find yourself losing the game quick, fast, and in a hurry.

However, the simple action of breaking bricks in multi-versed levels would get boring to players that don’t have the basic nostalgic love for Shatter’s predecessors. Sidhe Interactive has thrown in yet another twist to this cocktail…boss battles. Yes, you read correctly! Boss battles are an element in the game that not only enhances the gameplay but also challenges your skill in the game as now, simply clearing bricks has become a less than secondary task. Bosses have their own life bar which depletes every time they are stuck with the ball is a specific area. This area is clearly marked by the game, but the real skill comes in being able to hit this area as bosses tend to move about as a means of defending themselves. Bosses also have bricks as part of their ‘bodies’ which allow you to further collect shards and power-ups. Some bosses even use their bodies to strike at your paddle, sending it back and preventing you from being able to collect fragments and power-ups as well as bouncing the ball back for a brief moment.

No need to panic, however, as Sidhe Interactive compensated by not letting you go at it with simple Breakout skill alone. As mentioned before, the shards from the broken bricks you collect fill up your power meter. The power meter is a very unique feature to the game that grants you the ability to use two key tools in the game. The first you learn is the shield. At times, bricks as well as bosses will be sent flying in your direction. The collision causes the bat to be sent off course and spins uncontrollably for a short time, which can prove to be rather costly in completing a level. The shield will destroy any stray bricks and protect you from incoming boss attacks. This allows you to continue your assault as you chip away at the bosses life meter, but depending on your basic Breakout skill and use of the suck-and-blow method, simple ball hits to the boss’ weak spot will take a considerable amount of time. Again, no fear, as you are given one more special ability…needle shot. You can use the power bar as ammo and send needles flying at bosses, thus increasing your chances at total victory. There is one more perk to the needle attack, once you are able to completely fill your power meter, you completely drain it and send a barrage of needles flying at your enemy in a Matrix style slow-motion effect. The needles are not exclusive to bosses, however, as you can also use the needle barrage method to quickly rip through bricks and clear levels in record time.

With all these perks in full effect, Shatter is enhanced one step further with its in game music. The music is created and composed by artist Module, and can be heard on such mediums as iTunes, Rhapsody, last.fm, Zune and AmazonMp3 and consists of over 90 minutes of original music to help tease and tantilize the senses during gameplay. Each level has its own ‘look and feel’, and the music reflects this with seamless and flawless effort. During the boss levels, the music intensifies and gives you the sense of dread and urgency similar to what you’d expect from any epic boss battle from games such as Prince of Persia or Unreal.

For any of you nostalgia freaks out there, you may make note of a failure to mention the Ricochet series from Reflexive Entertainment, developed back in 2007 just two years before Shatter. In all honesty, Ricochet could be seen as a reimagining of DX Ball, as the graphics and gameplay are similar if not identical. Where Shatter exceeds Ricochet is in the gameplay, as Sidhe Interactive created something with more of a progressive aspect to Shatter. One could also make mention of the fact that Ricochet is adding to it’s levels each week, thus increasing game replay value, Shatter is a relatively short game. However, this is not as much of a ‘short’ coming for Shatter one would think. Shatter was originally released for the PS3 via the Playstation Network back in ’09 and released this year for the PC via the gaming network Steam. Currently, Ricochet is only available for the PC also through Steam. The game’s small size is also a valuable merit, as it downloads in little to know time at all. One more thing to consider is while Ricochet was released in ’07, Reflexive Entertainment has had valuable time to establish a fan base as well as the ability for its players to download updates and new level sets. Shatter is still in many ways a relatively new game and is still developing its own fan base. And with Shatter being a part of the Steam network, addons and updates are much simpler, as Steam has a reputation of offering excellent deals for game updates. A prime example of this is with the Left 4 Dead updates being available on Steam for free while XBL gamers had to pay for the same updates.

In conclusion, Shatter picks up where many others left off in the evolution of Breakout by not only updating the graphics, gameplay and music but by surpassing all it’s predecessors with something innovative by all aspects of the term. Should you come across this game via Steam or PSN, definitely pick it up, for it is more than worth the price!!!

The Orphan

References:

Shatter’s official website
Sidhe Intereactive’s forums
Steam’s store
Wikipedia

The Best 13 Day Holiday Sale Comes to a Close

As some of you dear friends know… This year, my holiday gift giving theme was “The Gift of Game” because of how important games are in my life as a tool to destress out from my life. The games, of course, would be delivered from the digital Santa Claus of the computer gaming scene: Valve Software’s Steam Store. Some of you got deeply serious games like Borderlands, while some of you a silly game of Zombie Bowl-o-Rama. Though… The thing I wasn’t expecting: to be gifted back. It was really a fun thing as my measly collection of The Half-Life Holiday 2005 box, The Orange Box, Left 4 Dead, and a few random games here and there totaling around 30 games… Some how exploded to a grand total (as of this afternoon) to 85 games. Of course, I also facilitated some of the growth by seeing some of the games being on sale for a wild $1 to cheap ones for $15.

Of all my gaming years, I was a “console gamer” as I never could build out a computer gaming rig that could even take the power of games. For that, I paid the price in console games. With console games, it’s rare to find fire sales where a game could be reduced down to almost 90% off. Which in turn meant my money as a student/working-man never went far for my purchases. A couple games for the tune of $80 may only last me barely a month total… When Steam came back in full force with my life back in late May of 2009, it made me proud that Valve took their online product key storage model and added a very worthy and easy to use gaming store. That was about the time I had bought up The Orange Box for PC to get Portal and Team Fortress 2 for the price of $30 (about $6 a game for the package deal). After buying my first ONLINE purchase via Steam, it was just amazing to see that since the inception in 2003 has grown so well polished. It was like the Apple iTunes model but for gaming and with TONS less restrictions. I know some naysayers will bemoan “God, Steam is a TERRIBLE platform!” but at the same time I am also willing to say I have tried some of the other digital store models and they are sub-par and worse with how much the games are locked up. The big advantage with Steam I had noticed once I became more active with buying on Steam was occasionally, they do hold “Mid-Week” and/or “Weekend” deals where games are just blitzed priced to move fast! Probably one of the best moves are the “Free Play” weekends where Steam will pick a game and just declare “Play this all weekend from Friday 11am – Sunday 1pm” (times are in CST) as well as discount the game should you like the free full-version trial.

Then came my first holiday sale on Steam… They started the day before Thanksgiving (US) with a sale that lasted until 11am Black Friday. Then had a sale Black Friday, Saturday, and ended Sunday. During that 5 day sales blitz, some of the games had insane pricing… I managed to snag a few games for an early Christmas delivery for friends of mine, but I lamented that I missed out… Little did I know what Valve was going to drop on us around December 22th. Around 5pm that day (12/22/09), Valve did something I didn’t think was possible, they announced the Steam Holiday sale that would be going on until January 3rd. Thirteen days worth of 24 hour sales and with some standing offers that were good until the end of the sale. Publishers like 2K games, Square-Enix Europe/Former Eidos Interactive, Atari, EA Games, Valve themselves were major players. To also level out the market, indie games (independently made/published games) also got some time to shine from their wonderful values. Sure there were some days I missed out, but… The final round yesterday was great. It was the “encore” sale, 7 of the best 24-hour sales deals would return for one last purchase. However, it makes me sad just knowing I won’t see another big PC gaming sale for a good while.

Thanks Valve for making this a great holiday season for me and my friends. We may have had bleak Christmas holidays, bickered with family, or were just trying to escape for a pleasurable New Years Eve celebration… but your sales for the last 13 days gave some of us something to look forward to when we woke up or got off of work.

(Factoid: As of this moment, per the Steam Calculator with Robin Walker of Valve Software who buys every game on Steam… there are 808 games in the catalog.)

The Zombies Move South! – Left 4 Dead 2 Mini-Review

[SPOILER WARNING] If you do not want to know the ending battle to “Dead Center”… DO NOT READ MY REVIEW!

I like many other gamers awaited for Steam to bless us with the arrival of Left 4 Dead 2 at 11pm CST that would be as specified per the Left 4 Dead/Valve blog’s time of “12am Eastern time”. Well… 11pm hit and there was silence… The forums exploded! Stuff like “Where’s my #$%^#%$ game, people?!” and the like were spewed. I then scanned for a topic with news regarding a delay… then I got one. Some users in the Steam Community forums were in the Official L4D2 group saying that Mike Blas made mention in the L4D2 group chat that the game was delayed due to a last second bug that was causing the game to crash so they were trying to fix it before officially letting it out. So the time kept going until 12:10am CST when Mike Blas in the L4D2 chat made the announcement “L4D2 is officially out!” At this time (12:27am), I am currently decrypting the files at 48% and counting until I can get full access to play it… For me, it’s like being 7 again on Christmas day! The suspense is MURDER~!

By 12:40 (after file unlocking and decryption) I would be able to get my game on… I decided to take a leisurely pace on single player Easy mode and grab some pretty screenshots for you all in a nice 1600 x 900 size image to boot, because you all deserve the best! I know my buddy Mobius from Clan Avalanche had requested me to screen capture my first kill with the baseball bat, which I have done, but there’s so much more! Do feel free to give the gallery a gander! The “movie” in question is the “Dead Center” movie.

I will say one thing for sure… If you initially had problems with the demo, like I did, the final copy works PERFECT! I had an odd sound issue where there was a constant buzzing or hissing which is not present on the game. I actually applaud Valve for delaying the game to ensure a smooth release…

Now, gameplay…

With the melee weapons, they are actually pretty fun! If you pre-ordered, the baseball bat is available to you immediately on the “load-out” table. You get your basic selection of gear at load-out… So a melee weapon(s), hand-gun (should you change your mind on melee), secondary weapons (machine pistol/shotgun), and first aid kits. The melee provides a fun element that even books like The Zombie Survival Guide mention “Blades don’t need reloading“. I got to witness this first hand with the katana or as the game characters call it a “ninja sword”. You can hack up swaths of zombies but you have to be careful and time the slashes right or the hordes will claw at you. Of the fun melee weapons, the chain saw is more of a psychotic spree good for the swarms. I will provide the disclaimer that the chainsaw does run out of fuel and if you’re trying to do the achievement of an entire game without using guns… The game will auto drop the empty chainsaw and instead give you a hand gun! As far as the guns go, the selection was pretty good in “Dead Center”! I personally loved the AK-47 and the FN-SCAR for your secondary guns. For primary guns, the option for the semi-automatic Magnum with its excellent stopping power was impressive. It really put the stopping power of the pistol from the original Left 4 Dead game to shame. The weapons can be “modded” so to speak as you can pick up laser sights for sharper accuracy and incendiary ammunition. The balance for the weapons is quite appropriate… Power guns will have killer recoil, but immense power. Your classic grenade items are back, in addition to the Boomer bile! The Boomer Bile being hilarious as when you smash it against a Tank, you not only get the achievement “Septic Tank”, you get to see the ravenous horde devour the tank~!

The enemies are a remix of the old but with some of the newer special infected such as: The Jockey, Spitter, Haz-Mat Zombie, Charger. The newer infected to take a strategy of breaking up your lines. This makes it vital for you and your friends to stick together or you will get pwned! The revision of AI Director 2.0 is rather good! If you dawdle around, the hordes do come out to play! The zombies also are more attentive to the strategy of trying to overrun you by surrounding you when you’re separated or with your comrades to boot. Smarter zombies make for a bit more challenging game play, that is GREAT to have!

However, should you get turned into a zombie silver-screen dinner… Your friends can rescue your corpse provided one of you in the team has a defibrilator! This and the adrenaline pen are new additions to the game… The adrenaline pen is really great for things like rushes to hit a switch, as it gives you a small bump in health and for a short duration, any actions performed (melee, switch activation, etc) are sped up. The addition to the new health items brings about a tactical aspect of gameplay as you have to decide with friends who will be carrying a defibrillator, adrenaline, pills, or first aid kits. This is one challenge I rather like!

The last bit is incorporating aspects of the scavenger mode to the in-game story… At the end of “Dead Center”, you find out that a modded stock car is on a pedestal but it needs gas before you can escape! So you have to find 8 gas cans, fill it up, while battling out the hordes and special infected. I could see stuff like this being hectic fun with good friends online! I will share my tactic… For the gas cans on the second floor… throw them down to the first as it will make life a little easier for you.

I haven’t gotten to try multiplayer campaign, Realism mode, and versus modes yet… But if I get to within the next 48 hours, expect another mini-review! For now… I leave you to enjoy the picture gallery!

If you want my official verdict on this game: 9/10 as the only thing that bothers me is how the AI for the teammates can be rather sluggish. It’s worth the $50 or if you were lucky to pre-order it $45!