Friday, 4 November 2011

Suddenly I'm reminded of a Lemon Jelly song...

Well, for the second time this year, I've gone and moved where my blog is situated. This move should be the last one, however.

My blog can now be found at

Please be sure to update your bookmarks and RSS feed-readers =)

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Defending Dungeons

So I've been playing Dungeon Defenders a lot lately. And I mean, a lot. So I figured I'd do a mini-review slash intro (I say "mini" but it's going to be rather longer-ish) of it. I've now played it both on PC and 360 (it's running in the background right now, actually), but the majority of my playtime on it has been on the 360 version, so please keep that in mind.

Dungeon Defenders is a third-person RPG-ish tower defense game. Okay, that's a little vague... When you start the game, you have your choice of four different heroes that you play through the game with, that you can level up as you go, with varying combat moves and defenses. And of course, it's a tower defense game, so while you're running around killing mobs yourself (or supporting teammates or your towers), you have various towers that you can place to help you defend.

It's a bit unique in the tower defense genre (at least in my experience) outside of the active engagement part (which Sanctum did as a sci-fi FPS, and Orcs Must Die! has done as a fantasy 3rd-person combat), in that enemies will actively engage your defenses. A core component of every TD game I've played is the "mazing" you do on a level. That's the placement of towers and barricades strategically to make the route the enemies have to take as long as possible, while your towers whittle them down. In those games, enemies will only attack your defenses if you've made it impossible for them to reach whatever it is you're defending without them attacking something. There is no "mazing" in Dungeon Defenders, so to make up for that, and delay the horde, enemies will go after your defenses. Depending on tower placement, some that you don't think will get attacked, and some that you think will, don't.

As for characters to choose from, there is currently the Apprentice, Squire, Huntress, and Monk (which the game classifies as being harder to play, in order, with the Apprentice being the easiest). There are also apparently plans to release more hero types as well, and if the character creation screen is anything to go by, there's at least two already in the works, as they're present (in silhouette) and locked at the moment.

The Apprentice, which is your basic Black Mage-looking wizard type (with a bloodninja reference in his in-game description). His character attacks are ranged shots from his staff with an alt-fire AoE knockback. Both the shots and the AoE can be charged for added damage and knockback, as well. His towers consist of an elemental resistance-stripping Magic Barrier, a Magic Missile shooty tower, an AoE fireball tower, a local AoE lightning tower, and a wall-hack (it can shoot through walls) single-target massive damage cannon type thing. The Fireball and Lightning towers do elemental damage, and some enemies are immune to certain elements at random, so it's important to place magic barriers nearby to strip that resistance when they get attacked so that those towers aren't useless.

The Squire is a knight in shining armour, as you'd expect with heart boxers instead of greaves and chausses. His character attacks are melee attacks which can hit more than one enemy at a time, and his alt-fire is a blocking stance, which reduces the amount of damage you take (by how much, depends on your weapon) and prevents character movement while doing so. His towers are a spiked barricade, which hurts enemies that touch it, a bouncer blockade which is essentially a spiked horizontal wheel which will pop out and knock enemies back while damaging them, a ballista with bolts that will pass through all enemies in a straight line, a cannonball tower, which has long range, but a very narrow firing cone (as it doesn't rotate like all the other shooty towers), and a spinning sword blockade, which takes a bit to spin up (and only starts to spin up when enemies get close) but does large amounts of damage. All of the Squire's defenses are physical damage, so you don't have to deal with resistances, but since most of them are melee-range, there's still complications from the archer and suicide bombing enemies. And of course, your towers tend to take more damage just in general, since even the melee mobs can often get in a swipe or two before the tower finishes them off.

The Huntress is your ranged rogue class with a main fire of shooting her crossbow/gun (if there are bows, I've not encountered them), and an alt-fire of reloading said weapon. Her "towers" are traps with a set number of triggers (that you can increase via stats from equipment and levelling up). Her "tower" mechanics are one of the reasons she's listed as one of the harder classes to play as you have no barriers to stop the enemies, aside from a stun from one of your traps later on. Her traps consist of  a proximity mine, which, as you'd expect, explodes in a certain radius when triggered, a gas trap, which stuns any non-poison-immune caught in the radius, a n inferno trap, which causes a massive conflagration that damages enemies the longer they're in it (that aren't fire-immune, anyways), a darkness trap which takes monsters' attention away from any nearby players (making it mostly a co-op only trap, and I've not seen it used there ever), and the ethereal spike trap, which does massive damage to a single target in it's radius, chosen at random (it could just easily go for the 100hp goblin nearby as for the 10k hp ogre you placed it for). This class works great in co-op but can be maddeningly frustrating in solo play, since two of her traps have to deal with elemental immunity, and you have to watch your trigger count so you can repair them before they expire, and if a trap of the same type as one you have placed has a blast radius large enough to overlap the trigger radius of the other, both will trigger.

Finally, the Monk is your stoic Shaolin-style guy with a polearm melee-range main attack and "chi" shots alt-fire, making it the only class that has both melee and ranged attacks. This guy is a great online support hero with the right stat allocation, but in solo play he can be even more frustrating than the Huntress. His "towers" are auras; domes that you place that have varying effects on enemies, and uniquely, one that affects players as well. There's the ensnaring aura which will slow any mob that walks into it (with lesser effect on large monsters, and non on bosses and poison-immune), the electric aura which does electric damage to anything caught in it (again, excluding lightning-immune), the healing aura, which will heal any player that's inside it, effectively making it a god-mode spot while it lasts, the strength drain aura which reduces the damage enemies in it do, and the enrage aura which has a chance to enrage enemies in it, making them attack each other. Different auras can be stacked, so you could have the ensnare placed in the same spot as your lighting aura to maximize the amount of damage the aura can do. Auras of the same type can not stack, however, so you have to be careful of your placement of duplicate auras. Part of the reason this is a hard class to play solo is that only one of your auras does direct damage (the other one that can damage, albeit indirectly, Enrage Aura, drains pretty quickly, and won't effect enemies that have a "real" tower in sight), and that aura does elemental damage. Another reason is that your auras are constantly draining, whether they're having enemies or players (depending on type) pass through their radius or not. They'll drain faster if they're in use, obviously, but Ensnare Aura will still drain as though in use, if a poison-immune monster walks through. They are, however, great support in multiplayer, with the right upgrades and careful placement, as you can support your whole team with just two or three auras placed in total. The special class abilities are great for multiplayer support as well.

Oh, that's right, each class also has two special abilities which cost mana to use/maintain. The ones that you maintain have a ramping mana cost the longer they're in effect. The reason I didn't mention them initially is that in solo play, I tend not to use them very often, and there's very few that I see used by others in online co-op. The Apprentice has a maintained cast-speed boost, and an activated (with a cast time that is affected by the other ability) massive AoE. The Squire has an activated circular slice ability, and a maintained damage/speed boost. The Huntress has a maintained invisibility (though you can still get hit by monsters if you're in the way of their attacks) and an activated penetrating shot. The Monk's abilities are both maintained ones, and they're both very similar to each other. One boosts the damage of nearby players while healing them, and the other boosts the attack speed and damage of nearby towers while repairing them.

Right. Now that I've got the basics of the currently available classes out of the way, let's move on to the basics of the game itself. It's fairly similar to most tower defense games out there, with the exception of the things I already mentioned. There's a thing; don't let the monsters get to the thing. All the monsters are dead and the thing isn't? Success! The "thing" in this case is called an "Eternia Crystal" (and various accomplishments {not achievements [not on 360, anyways]. I'll get to that later} unlock various crystal appearances), and instead of having a counter of X many enemies can not touch this, it has an HP bar, tying into the RPG aspect of the game. You build your defenses with mana, your currency in the game, which is helpfully provided by the chests that spawn at the start of each build phase (aside from a few challenge modes, you can build in the combat phase as well. There's just an absence of monsters in the build phase), and by the enemies when they die. Monsters also occasionally drop equipment which you can equip (obviously) or send to your item box to sell/upgrade later.

Most equipment can be leveled up by spending banked/currently-held mana as experience points for it. Upon leveling an item (or a pet) up, some of the stats on the item/pet will highlight and you select which one you improve. Most only go up by one point, but some go up higher, like a weapon's amage (selecting elemental damage if present scales faster, as some enemies are immune), projectile speed, things like that. Others only become available to choose every few levels like a pet's attack speed or an added projectile on a gun. The stat already has to be present for you to increase it, obviously, so you can't make your staff shoot an extra projectile if it's not already capable of shooting two. Sometimes there are penalties present on equipment too, but depending on what your previous item was, these can work in your favour by selecting them in the item leveling process. You can also use banked mana at the tavern's store to purchase pets or new items of gear, though the store only has 9 items in stock at the most; 3 pets, 3 armour pieces, and 3 weapons. If you purchase one, it isn't instantly filled with a new item. You have to go complete a new level for it to restock. The store also restocks normally while you're playing the levels too, but if you see something you want that you can't currently afford, you can lock it, so it stays in stock until you can afford it. Pets can also be attained via unlocking certain accomplishments, and beating challenges on certain difficulty levels.

Speaking of difficulty levels, the ones in this game are no joke. Every level and challenge can be played on easy, medium, hard, or insane, and even on easy the levels can become quite challenging. As the difficulty scales up, so do the number and strength of the enemies spawned, and on Insane, the Build Phase's infinite build time (which is something you can toggle on other modes) is replaced by a countdown. The enemies will start to come out whether you're ready or not. After you complete each level, you unlock three modes for that level. Survival mode, which is an endless (I think it actually has a cap, though) wave after wave of progressively strong and numerous enemies. Pure Defense mode, which makes the enemies ignore your hero completely, and your hero can't attack. In that mode you have to rely exclusively on your towers to defeat the enemies, and you can only build or repair during the Build Phase, so if one tower with a sliver of health is all that stands between the horde and your crystal, that tower's pretty much going down. And the third mode is a Challenge that takes place on that level. The Challenge for the first level, as an example, is you can't build towers at all; it's all on your character to beat back the horde. The second level Challenge is instead of protecting a crystal, you're protecting an ogre, that will walk around the map engaging the nearest enemies (and incidentally, if he walks near any of your towers his body will move them aside, ruining a lot of your tower placement).

The game was designed with online co-op in mind, (the PS3 and PC versions have cross-platform to boot. The 360 version does not, due to Microsoft's rules about cross-platform gaming on their system), but the solo offline mode doesn't suffer for it. Just as an aside, there are two types of online servers, there's the ranked servers, and there's the other servers. When you select online play (this applies to PC {and PS3 presumably} only) you can choose between the types. The reason for this is the characters you play on the ranked servers are online-only. The normal servers you can bring your solo play hero in, and vice versa. Difficulty & rewards scale up on multiplayer as well, so if a map normally spawned x monsters with y reward in solo play, it might now spawn 2x monsters with 1.5y reward with 2 players (I'm just making these numbers up btw, but it's similar to that).

Now I say that the solo gameplay experience doesn't suffer from the intent of online co-op, and that's true. But that's not to say that things are easier just because the difficulty isn't scaling from the presence of another player. On some maps, especially once you start having to defend multiple crystals, you'll become really stretched thin. You'll probably want to level more than one hero, maybe even all four. During the build phase you can switch out between your heroes (there's a hard limit of 24, I believe, so you could ostensibly have 6 of each currently available class, if you wanted to). This won't give you the ability to actively guard multiple crystals at once, without running between them, but it will allow for some more effective tower guarding. You could switch in your squire to build a bowling ball turret at the top of some stairs, switch to your apprentice and place some fireball & magic missile towers, switch to your monk to place ensnare auras on the approaches to your towers, and then finally switch to your huntress to actively engage the enemy. It doesn't have to be that complex, either. You could just prefer the apprentice's towers, but want to run around stabbing things on your squire. This also allows for self-power-leveling. You could have your hero with uber tower stats place all your towers, and switch in your lowbie and just stand there soaking up the xp.

If it hasn't become clear by now, I enjoy this game a lot. It's fun, it's addictive, I've poured a lot of time into it since acquiring it. That said, it's not without flaws. They're all fairly minor, but two are very annoying for me, personally (and I'm sure for others as well).

First off, the controls. Now this one may seem a little obvious, but tower placement can be a little iffy (especially aligning your cone of fire) on the 360 since you're controlling with the analog stick. These same issues are why every shooter on consoles has some form of aim-assist. On PC, the tower aspect is, of course, much more precise, but the hero combat can feel a little sloppy. On PC, hero combat generally works best in full camera zoom, or half-zoom. In full zoom, it's over-the-shoulder-cam, and it works well with aiming for your ranged classes, and charging into the thick of it if you're meleeing, as well as having good movement, but you lose situational awareness of what's behind you. You'll often take an arrow in the back because you didn't see it coming and lose your 30% bonus for not getting hit during that wave. In half-zoom, you can see what's going on around you a lot better, but character movement is a bit more clunky. Now, this is probably absent if you're playing the pc version with a controller, or using the controller for your hero and the mouse for tower placement, but I can't vouch for that since I don't have a wireless receiver for my computer.

The mana currency, as it is right now (hopefully they'll change this in a patch in the future, but they just as easily might not), is a bit inconsistent. When you end the build phase to go to the next wave, or the next level, any mana that is currently laying on the ground automatically gets banked. Any items on the ground also get sold and the mana from that gets banked. (Also, on multiplayer, this automatically collected mana gets split between the players, which I wish more people knew so they'd quit being dicks about collecting the loot instead of preparing for the next wave). This is fine. It's actually surprisingly thoughtful. It saves you the hassle of having to track down every single mana crystal and item after a wave is done. You just collect what you need, and don't have to worry about the rest. During the combat phase, items and mana that drop despawn after a while (and there's a hard limit on how many mana crystals can be laying on the ground at one time too, so if you have x amount of crystals worth 50 mana each, and x is the hard limit, if a mob drops a crystal only worth 5, one of your 50 pt ones poofs). Your characters have a set limit to the amount of mana they can currently hold as well, and the only way to raise that limit is to level up. My squire can currently hold 680 mana right now. When an item or a mana crystal despawns, it's gone. No automatic selling or banking - it's just gone. And that would be fine too, if mana wasn't the in-game currency. It's the inconsistency that's the problem. Either remove the despawn timer, and make me collect everything manually, or keep the timer and bank it automatically. This isn't game-breaking, but it is incredibly annoying to me.

My other major issue is with the accomplishments and achievements. Accomplishments work on the same concept as achievements. You get an accomplishment for reaching level 10. You get one for reaching wave 15 on a survival mode on medium difficulty. You get one for completing act 1. You get the picture. There's rewards for getting these accomplishments too. You get a tiny little trophy that's displayed in your player's tavern, some (most) of them unlock skins for your eternia crystal. Some even give you pets as rewards, like a little robot, that will attack in melee by doing a barrel roll at the enemy (the robot is basically a barrel with arms and jetpack feet). Accomplishments are achievements, just with a different name. But at the same time, they're not achievements. There is some overlap - with a lot more overlap on the (PC) Steam version - but there are Accomplishments that don't count as Achievements on either version I've played, that definitely should. The disparity between Accomplishments and Achievements is a lot more obvious on the 360 version (possibly PS3 as well?). I've easily clocked 50 hours on the 360 version, and the easiest "actual" achievement to unlock - and oddly, not the one I have (I unlocked the wave 15 on medium survival one) - is beating the game. In the end, achievements don't really matter to a lot of people. I'm (very recently) one of the people it does matter to. Again, it's the inconsistency that's the real problem here. If you have an in-game achievement-alike, tie it fully into the actual achievements. I can kind of justify it with the 360 version, since it's tied to a base gamerscore of 1000 - or 200 in this game's case since it's on XBLA - and every achievement has to have a point value, but on the steam version, that gap shouldn't exist.

All complaints aside, I really do enjoy this game. I consider it time and money well-spent (though it was gifted to me for PC, so I only actually bought it once). And now that I actually have a copy of it for PC, expect some gameplay videos in the future. Dungeon Defenders is currently available on Steam & PSN for $14.99, and on XBLA for 1200 Microsoft Points. (Personal note: While Steam isn't the only online distribution source you can buy the PC version at, it is the only one with bonuses {to my knowledge})

And if my word-a-thon 3000 with bracket abuse wasn't enough, or you just want to see some pretty colours, here's the gameplay overview dev diary (I'm having issues with embedding it, so sorry for the text link):

Friday, 28 October 2011

Achievement Unlocked: OCD

Aside from in WoW, I never really cared about achievements. Even within WoW, my interest only went so far; I was after titles and mounts, and there were achievements that provided those. In other games, I really didn't care. It was neat when they popped up, but I didn't seek them out. So why is it, that I now have an account at Raptr, and have it set up to tweet my achievements? Why now, do I suddenly care?

Gamerscore, that's why. I know it doesn't mean anything in the long run. But that doesn't stop me from wanting to 100% all the games I own on 360. I want that number to get bigger. I've even purchased some games for the 360 that I already owned on PC, though they were re-bought simply because the control scheme was more fun on console for me.

Some of the games have avatar rewards when you unlock certain achievements. Again, it's another meaningless thing. It's just a small cosmetic reward that I can choose to display or not. But it's a tangible reward, in a completely intangible setting.

None of it really makes sense to me, but hot damn does it have its claws in me. Now if you'll excuse me, I have some Dungeons to Defend...

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

One point One-Up

Well, it is now four days after my participation in this year's Extra Life gaming marathon charity event, and while I still haven't found a way to describe it that rolls off the tongue, the event itself was an overwhelming success. I, personally, was able to raise $200 for a local hospital, and the charity itself was able to raise somewhere in the sum of 1.1 million dollars.

Let me say that again - Extra Life raised over ONE point ONE million dollars this year. Not bad. Not bad, at all.

As for personal experiences during the marathon, they're a bit varied. I'm very happy that I was able to participate, and raise money. I will absolutely do this again next year. Hell, there's a make-up day for those that weren't able to complete their 24 hours (or just found out about the charity) this coming Saturday, and I'm tempted to participate in that as well. But I will admit to some ... unkind ... thoughts in the days leading up to the event.

Parts of me were annoyed with myself that I never thought to send a message asking for retweets to Jesse Cox or Totalbiscuit on twitter until somebody else actually did. I actually had to sit here and remind myself, that all the money is going to charity, so as long as the donations are coming in, it shouldn't matter who got the donations. I shouldn't have had to say that to myself, not when I'd been saying it for about a week prior to that event.

I'm also, kind of annoyed that I wasn't able to stream the full 24 hours of gaming. My livestream program crashed with something like four hours of "official" marathon time to go, and I took it as a sign and went to bed, as I'd been struggling to remain awake for the previous hour. I really wanted to stream a full 24 hours of gaming. But I'd been awake for 9 hours prior to me starting the stream, and I had done at least four hours worth of gaming in that time.

If I'd been awake nine hours prior to starting the stream, then why didn't I start the stream earlier, you may find yourself asking. It's really quite simple. I was waiting for a store to open so that I could get some essentials for the marathon, and I didn't want to have to disappear in the middle of my stream in order to do so.

I know this post is a bit rambly, and for that, I apologize. Most of my blog posts tend to go that way, for one reason or another. Anyways, in conclusion, I'd like to thank all the people who participated in Extra Life this year, as well as all the people who donated, and the guys at Sarcastic Gamers for creating this charity.

Extra extra thanks to all the people who donated to support me specifically.
Extra extra extra thanks to Tomaj for keeping me company (and awake), both on skype, and the livestream chat for the entirety of my streaming.
And extra extra extra extra super thanks to Jen and James for all the support they gave me up to and during the event. The sheer amount of promotion they did for me, was unbelievable and they donated too. If I'd ever had any doubts how good people they are, they would've been dashed away.

Thanks again, guys. Extra Life was amazing, and I hope to see you guys next year! And in the time between then and now, as well, of course.

PS: Should you so desire, saved about four and a half hours' worth of my stream at that you can view (Warning: it's from the tail-end of my broadcast, where it was the least interesting and I was fighting to stay awake) for the next couple days. I'd thought they would save the entire thing, but it appears I was wrong.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Howdy, neighbour!

Hey guys. If any of you have happened to wander by my blog in the last month or so, you'll have noticed that I haven't really said anything since I made my Extra Life post. While I have plenty I'd like to blog about, I've been holding it in reserve because I wanted the post about a very good charity (Extra Life durr) to be the top post until the event is over.

The day is quickly approaching when I will be participating - less than four full days until it begins, actually - so I just wanted to ask that, if you haven't already, you read the post I already made, and help support me in this venture any way you can, whether it be donations or even just spreading the word.

Also, as an extra FYI, any gaming that I do on the PC during the event, I will be live-streaming. will automatically tweet the URL when I go live, so if you're not already following me on twitter, that's what you'd need to do to get that info.

Links to my twitter and to donate, are at the top of the page from the little button and the massive header image, respectively. Thanks again guys, for any support you've either given or about to give, and I look forward to not getting any sleep over a 24-hour period for a good cause =)