Knifetank: The Shuffling is a two player card game I’ve been working on for a bit. After a year or two of playtesting, I recently started working with two artists in Italy and I’m really liking the results so far.
My latest gaming obsession is a roguelight real time strategy game called “Bad North” (Steam link here). The game’s low-poly aesthetic combined with brutal battles is what pulled me in, but I’m really love the minimalistic gameplay which works surprisingly great as a console experience.
The game’s basic strategy comes down to a rock/paper/scissors dynamic: Pikemen beat knights. Knights beat archers. Archers beat pikemen.
Loading screen tips:
It’s that simplistic concept that makes the game easy to get into, but there’s a lot more going on beneath the surface. What islands are worth attacking, when to level up, what units to assign items to, when to restore a unit, etc. A lot of the games nuances take a little work to figure out, but many of the basic tips are randomly displayed during loading times. Unfortunately these only appear for a few seconds, so I wanted to compile the list of them here for anyone to find. If I missed any, please let me know in the comments.
- Replenish squads in houses to bring them back to full strength
- You can flee an island on an empty ship if the battle seems lost
- Ships can stun your troops if they are too close to the beach
- Archers are vulnerable in melee
- Your Pikes can’t fight while moving
- Troops with shields can block arrows
- Your Militia are basic troops that can be upgraded
- The large viking brutes pack a punch – be careful where you face them
- Pay attention: all units have their strengths and weaknesses
- Adapt your strategy to the shape of each island
- If your commanders fall in battle, they will be lost forever
- Shields can only block one threat at a time
- Stunned enemies are vulnerable
I tried running a grep to find these loading screen tips in the game’s directory, just like I did in this Fallout Shelter post, but I couldn’t find them. Luckily one of the developers shared a list on a Steam forum, but I still feel some are missing.
A few other basics:
- Archers always target the closest units or buildings to them, so so let it be your knights. As far as I can tell, their shields will block all (or most) of the damage.
- Some units, like the Berserkers with the red and white shields, will go straight for the nearest unit instead of a building. This means it’s easy to lure them up a ramp where you pikes are ready to demolish them.
- Game state is saved between islands. I’m not saying it’s okay to force quit when a battle goes horribly wrong… I’m just saying.
- Falling into the water is instant death. So you can position your pikesmen to push units into water or use items like bombs or hammers to fling opponents to their watery deaths. Be careful though, bombs can damage your own troops too.
- Focus on one upgrade at a time, there’s no reason to spread your gold out too thinly. I always start by turning my militiamen into the three basic units, starting with my archers then knights, then pikesmen. After that, I do the basic upgrade on each unit in that order, then the full upgrade, before I start messing with upgrading items or other units. If I gain a fourth army of militiamen, I will convert them to a second archery unit asap, then keep them in the rotation of upgrades I mentioned before.
- Once you’ve clicked on an island, you can leave it before a battle begins without losing troops. This means if you open it up and don’t think it’s defendable, or the risk isn’t worth the gold (because there aren’t enough buildings), you can select another island instead.
- Don’t rush to the end. Try to maximize the gold you can gain on each island before they disappear. Sometimes it might be better to go for an island with more gold than it would be to go for an island with a new army or item to unlock.
- Use the highground. Pikes work great at entrances to high ground, and archers seem most effective from higher positions too. Pikes also work great for narrow passages, but knights only seem to fight one at time in these narrow areas, so it seems best to keep them on flat ground when attacking.
- A great breakdown of advanced strategies and formations. Use this!
- A great article about how they make these tiny soldiers feel so human. It breaks down unit behaviour that makes it really easy to understand how best to use units.
- The Bad North soundtrack is on Bandcamp.
- An interview with the developers.
In Lucas Pope’s newest game, “Return of the Obra Dinn“, you play an insurance adjuster who travels to an abandoned ship to learn what happened to it’s crew. It’s an insurance themed murder-mystery game at sea.
Christine and I just finished the game and loved the experience. The story is fantastic, but what really hooked us was the highly stylized graphics. Lucas wanted to recreate an old school look similar to what you’d find in older Sierra Online games. To recreate this look, Lucas takes a 3D environment, adds wireframe lines (to give 3D objects a 2D look), converts it to grayscale, then uses a dynamic noise effect to break the shading into a dithering effect.
I remember a year back when he was sharing some of his early experiments and some of the challenges that dithering created when used in a 3D environment:
Reducing 1-bit dot flicker via sphere-mapped dither pattern:https://t.co/rcxdgLBrLU pic.twitter.com/LoDoEuxneU
— Lucas Pope (@dukope) November 23, 2017
Front-back is hard to watch on loop so here's side-to-side instead. The dither pattern is less critical during camera translation because everything else in view is also changing. pic.twitter.com/28mva8uXeC
— Lucas Pope (@dukope) November 23, 2017
You asked for it. pic.twitter.com/hB9RrORUTu
— Lucas Pope (@dukope) November 23, 2017
It can be aligned up/down/left/right for some views but that produces slightly more aliasing artifacts. pic.twitter.com/mu3ZHIotZl
— Lucas Pope (@dukope) November 23, 2017
A more detailed explanation of Lucas’s dithering technique can be found on this tigsource thread.
The Return of the Obra Dinn can be bought on Steam here.
This year is the 30th anniversary of Akira, the 1988 anime classic based on Katsuhiro Otomo’s manga series. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic “Neo-Tokyo” in 2019 and coincidentally predicts Japan’s hosting the 2020 Olympics. I recently “live-gif’d” a walkthrough of Akira on an NES emulator and got to wondering how many other Akira games were out there.
Akira was one of my favorite films as a teen and I remember hearing rumors of a video game version, but I could never find it. Eventually, I just filed it away as a myth, like the supposed Akira live action film adaptation starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Not only are these games real though, you can even be able to play them thanks to ROM archivists.
Since playing the NES version, I’ve since learned of at least 4 other ports, so I thought I’d round them up here. I won’t provide any links to the ROMs, but a little Googling should get you to them quickly.
Akira for NES/Famicom (1998 by Taito)
Akira was originally released as a Famicom game that was later translated by a team of volunteers and released on a gaming forum. It’s the only Akira game I’ve played entirely and I really recommend checking out my GIF collection of it’s stylish cut-screens instead of downloading the ROM yourself.
The game sucks. It’s simply awful! It’s not the translator’s fault, it’s just a garbage game. The graphics and music are fantastic, but just getting through the game’s decision trees is such a frustrating experience that I’m glad I never had the chance to buy it as a kid. The only way to enjoy this game is by using a walkthrough. Otherwise, you’ll easily die on levels that require seemingly random orders of selections and actions. For example:
- Look > Gang: Look at various members of your gang. If you take too long, the interrogator will demand you return your attention him. Keep looking at your gang, particularly Kaneda (center) and the two members to the left of him until the interrogator is convinced that you’re not with the Terrorists.
- Peek > List: Try to look at the list, but the interrogator will insist that you stop.
- Peek > List: Do it again anyway, and you’ll discover that it’s a list of suspected Terrorists, including a girl who Kaneda thinks is cute.
- Inquire: Kaneda will ask what the girl’s name is, but the interrogator just tells you to shut up.
- Inquire: Next Kaneda will ask where the girl lives, with the same response.
- Inquire: Kaneda begs for the girl’s phone number, and the interrogator will insist they don’t have it. The lackey will conclude that the gang has no connections to the Terrorists, and you will be told to wait outside of the room.
Akira for Amiga CD32 (1994 by ICE Software)
This British made Akira game is a sidescroller consisting of 2 motorcycle levels and 5 platforming levels. In the motorcycle levels, you basically steer up or down (as Kaneda) collecting power ups while trying to avoid obstacles and police while heading to the military base. Once you reach it, you play as either Kaneda (with a pistol) or Tetsuo (with fireballs?) and try to kill every single person on the level in order to advance. You can tell the game designers sort of watched the movie by the surreal enemies in Tetsuo’s level, including: fire breathing toy cars, deadly bunny rabbits, and fighting teddy bears.
Though many different companies tried making an Akira game, you wouldn’t necessarily know it. With the exception of the Game Boy version (and the pinball version), most of these other games look just like the Amiga CD32 version.
Akira for Game Boy (by THQ?)
This unreleased Game Boy version was recently discovered by Patrick Scott Patterson and demonstrated on his Youtube channel. It has all of the same elements as the Amiga CD32 version, but I think gets away a little more since it has that 8bit Game Boy charm. Otherwise, it looks so similar to ICE Software’s version, that I wonder if they shared the same development team?
THQ was said to be working on Akira ports for Game Boy, SNES, Sega CD, Sega Genesis, Game Gear and others, so I’m assuming this prototype was one of theirs.
Akira for Sega Genesis (unreleased by THQ)
There has never been a good Akira game made, but I think this 16-bit Sega Genesis game could have been decent. At the very least, it could have been the best of the worst. Since it was never released, we’ll never know, but at least we have this showroom floor footage from the 1994 Consumer Electronics Show.
Again, it looks totally not-terrible. Like the Amiga CD32 game, this version starts of with Kaneda on his bike, but from a 3rd person perspective. The kicking and punching other cyclists definitely seems inspired by EA’s Road Rash series. Once we get to the military base, we actually get a DOOM-ish first person mini-game of Tetsuo escaping from his hospital bed. His trembling hand blocking his face as he tries to avoid the nurses. Then we return to a very similar side-scrolling experience where Kaneda jumps around with a gun. Surprisingly, THQ’s version still adds more game styles to their Akira game including a hoverbike level (with some 3D graphics intertwined with pixel art), a 3/4 view street brawl, and a Street Fighter-style final boss battle between Tetsuo and Kaneda.
Even though this was only a working prototype, I’m still shocked out how much nicer the sides-crolling graphics were compared to the Amiga CD32’s final version. Like I said with the Game Boy version, I believe the old school 16-bit graphics really work well with this game.
Akira for SNES (unreleased by THQ)
Though the levels in this version look almost identical to it’s Sega Genesis cousin, it’s said that both games were developed by two different teams. The SNES version had the bike fights, side-scrolling, and 2.5D hover-bike levels, but was also going to include more material unique from the manga (not just the movie version). There are no videos of the SNES version, so all we have are some magazine scans from a 1993 issue of Game Zone.
Akira Psycho Ball for Playstation 2 (2002 by Bandai)
Akira Psycho Ball is a Playstation 2 game that was scheduled to release around the same time as the remastered Bluray edition of Akira. The only thing I dislike more than pinball is pinball inspired video games, but I don’t think anyone was asking for a pinball version of Akira. I’d rather just replay the original Famicom version. At least wasn’t just scenes taken from the original movie with some pinball levels thrown between them.
So why hasn’t anyone ever made a good Akira game?
First off, have you seen Akira? How the fuck would you turn that into a game? These publishers all did a decent job at trying (except for you, Bandai… go back to your room!), but it’s also important to think about the limitations of the gaming systems of the time. As Jim Gregory, one of THQ’s developers on the SNES adaptation, tells it:
“One of the greatest challenges of game design, when it is for a license, is meeting the demands of the licensee. They often do not understand the trade offs that are needed to accommodate the capacity and limitations of the target device, and they expect it to look like an animated feature film. Those days [around 1993 – ed] were very much on the cusp between the old 8-bit systems with limited graphics, and the 16-bit systems with limited graphics. Many of the emerging consoles were ‘walled garden’ development systems and the manufacturers all wanted exclusive titles rather than me-too ones. It was hard or impossible even to get the data to develop on their machines unless they approved you.”