#GamesMatter Review: Sproggiwood

Life is pretty peaceful on the idyllic island of Clog, and you’re living well, working as a farmer, living off the land. But then, you’re lured through a mysterious portal by, of all things, a talking sheep! And that talking sheep turns out to be Sproggi, a mischievous forest spirit, and he’s taken you prisoner… What he wants from you is to live in the village he’s built for you, and save his forest from desolation and destruction by taming the wild creatures that live within it! Are you up to the task? This is the premise of Sproggiwood, a turn-based roguelike by Freehold Games, available on Steam for Windows, Mac, and Linux for £10.99 (as of time of writing). You can also find it being sold through Freehold’s sales widget (powered by Humble) on their website.

Meet Sproggi, who cares so much for his forest that he felt he needed to kidnap you in order to save it.

Meet Sproggi, who cares so much for his forest that he felt he needed to kidnap you in order to save it.

I’d heard about the game a little while ago from a few Twitter friends, who told me I was missing out by not having it… and it looked great, so I wishlisted it! Then the other day, Nelson of the GamesMatter team announced that he had copies to give away in exchange for a review of the game on social media, so I jumped at the chance :)

Sproggiwood is bold, cute, colourful and jolly; a very appealing look, making for a great first impression. But don’t be fooled: beneath that cute exterior lies a game that’s hard as nails in Normal mode, and it’s no cakewalk in Easy mode, either… Incidentally, you can switch difficulty modes during a game, which is cool. On the map screen, you’ll earn a silver star for completing a dungeon in Easy mode, and a gold one when you manage it on Normal difficulty.

Sproggiwood's death screen. Get used to seeing this - a lot.

Sproggiwood’s death screen. Get used to seeing this – a lot.

There are six different classes that you can play: Farmer, Archer, Warrior, Thief, Wizard, and Vampire, each of which having their own set of handy skills to hopefully make your time in the dungeons a little easier. But you only get one or two classes to start with, and the remainder have to be unlocked by completing those dungeons. That’s fair enough, though. The skills have two or three levels of power each; when you go up a level, you have one skill point to allocate, either to unlock a skill, or to upgrade one you’ve previously unlocked on your travels.

Using the skills costs stamina: from one to three points (represented by stars at the top-right corner of your screen). That stamina is regained by killing dungeon denizens, or by consuming stamina potions. Fortunately, your base attack doesn’t need stamina, so even if you’re completely out of juice, you won’t be up that proverbial creek without a paddle.

Playing as the Farmer, with the skill unlocked that lets you throw your weapon as a ranged attack, rather than just melee.

Playing as the Farmer, with the skill unlocked that lets you throw your weapon as a ranged attack, rather than just melee.

What’s a little odd is that every time you play a dungeon, you begin at level 1… and items that you find in the dungeons are taken from you, once you emerge victorious. However, each new item that’s found (whether you choose to take it or not) is added to the village shop, so that you can buy it. When you do that, you can keep the item permanently.

Speaking of the village, you can purchase upgrades to increase the rate of XP gathering, reduce the cost of items, and other good stuff like that, which is great for when you tackle the harder levels. Additionally, there are decorations you can buy, like paths, trees and buildings, to make Sproggiwood feel more like a home (far away) from home. Those decorations don’t add anything to the game in itself, but it does make the village a lot less barren and desolate.

The village of Sproggiwood, your very own sylvan prison.

The village of Sproggiwood, your very own sylvan prison.

So anyway, I dived into the game on Normal difficulty, and although I was taking a beating quite often, I did manage to beat the first few dungeons (there are ten in total, as far as I can tell), scoring myself some gold stars. The issue of starting all the time at level 1 wasn’t an issue, because it was quite easy to level up. Just as well, really, because the Archer can’t even use his bow until he hits level 2… But then, things started to get to be really frustrating, and I just couldn’t manage at all, so I decided to see how much easier it would be to jump to Easy difficulty. It did make a difference: the enemies don’t seem to hit you as hard, and I was able to progress through more dungeons, even though I was now only getting silver stars.

I only have the final dungeon left to go, and I did reach what I believe to be the final boss. But getting there was so dispiriting. There are a couple of things in particular which make matters particularly tough. First of all, there is a fish duo, bound by a glowing line. You can do damage to them, but as soon as they teleport to a new location, they heal back up to full health! Oh, and the buggers are always flying, too – so they’re not constrained by the gaps between rooms, which naturally block ground-based creatures.

Worse still are the portals which appear in later levels. Once they appear and open, they spawn “Bizarro” monsters every couple of turns or so, until you reach the door and close it, whereupon it disappears. If you’re not quick about it, then you can be quickly mobbed. What makes it harder is that an attack from one of these creatures can teleport you to a new location, so you’ve got to make your way back over there… and all the time, more and more creatures are pouring through that portal.

This is what happens if you leave a portal open. And there's the bloody flying fish off to the left as well!

This is what happens if you leave a portal open. And there’s the bloody flying fish off to the left as well!

But I don’t mind tough enemies, really. That’s what roguelikes are all about, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Freehold’s other offering, Caves of Qud, and that thing is tough, too. It seems to me that the thing which really hobbles gameplay is the fact that, in Sproggiwood, you only have one slot available for consumables (e.g. potions). When you come across a new item, you can use it immediately without losing what you’ve already got in the consumables slot, keep it for later use (replacing the previous item, which is automatically sold for you), or selling it.

While that in itself is useful, it’s still a bear to be lumbered with just that one slot. There was a number of occasions when I really could have done with a haste potion or a freeze potion to take on those damned flying fish, but I’d been sacrificing them because I’d wanted to hold onto the health potion I had with me. I think that even extending the consumables to three slots would make a world of difference. But perhaps that would make it too easy for some people.

It would be very helpful if enemies’ health bars could be placed over their heads, rather than underneath them. As it stands, the bars are completely obscured by scenery directly in front of it – see the pic below to get the idea of what I mean.

The positioning of the health bar makes it impossible to tell, sometimes, just how well you're doing at killing things.

The positioning of the health bar makes it impossible to tell, sometimes, just how well you’re doing at killing things.

In the village screen, there’s a peculiar incongruity when placing scenery: Placing pathways/grass is done with the mouse – but placing all other scenery requires you to use the movement keys and Space…

And the last thing I noticed is either a bug, or just me being really unobservant: When playing as the Archer and using the bow skill, it’ll stay on the bow skill until all enemies you can see have been defeated, and then it’ll switch back to the knife attack – that’s fair enough, and is rather handy. However, there are occasions when the switch back doesn’t occur, even though there don’t appear to be more enemies on-screen. But as I say, this might just be me being unobservant.

I feel bad for being so negative about Sproggiwood, especially considering the welter of good things people have had to say about it. But, to me at least, that inventory issue is quite the deal-breaker, and adds a layer of difficulty that I’m not sure the game needed. You might feel differently!

My thanks once again to the GamesMatter team for providing the whole GamesMatter framework, and to Freehold Games for providing them with the Sproggiwood keys.

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Doctor Who: Legacy – a great use of Time!

With my PC effectively dead for playing games for the foreseeable future, I’ve been turning to Android and (shudder) Facebook games to fill the gap. And then my friend Adrian “OzIndie” Schurmanns told me about Doctor Who: Legacy, an official, licenced game by Tiny Rebel Games (TRG) for iOS/Android/Facebook. So, I took a look at DW:L’s Google Play page, saw the magic words “NO ENERGY SYSTEM”, and I was in and hooked!

The various incarnations of The Doctor await your command in Doctor Who: Legacy.

The various incarnations of The Doctor await your command in Doctor Who: Legacy.

The Sontarans are playing merry hell with Time (flippin’ Sontaran stratagems), and it’s causing all manner of disturbances – not least of which is the presence of multiple Doctors and companions in the same space/time location! But this is potentially all to the good, as you can assemble teams of people to wage war against Sontarans, Weeping Angels, Daleks, Cybermen, Whispermen, and many more enemies.

As for how you get your team to fight for you: Each character, be they Time Lord or Companion, has a colour: red, green, blue, yellow or black (a sixth colour, pink, heals your party). Enemies have colours, too. Making matches of at least three of the same colour triggers the attack of a character whose colour is the same as the one you just matched. Should a “wave” of multiple matches occur, the attacks increase in power – and every character whose colour corresponds to a matching set will attack, so things can become quite devastating! Also, if there is more than one enemy facing you in a round, matching five or six in a line at once will attack all enemies simultaneously. Nice!

My team all getting stuck into the Whispermen. Pew pew pew!

My team all getting stuck into the Whispermen. Pew pew pew!

Like Pokemon (to use just one example), the colours follow a “rock, paper, scissors” mechanic, where one colour will do heightened damage to another, reduced damage to a third, and normal damage to the others. In the case of DW:L, they’ve made it nice and easy for a geek like me to remember: Red defeats Green, Green defeats Blue, Blue defeats Red (RGB, geddit?). In reverse (Green attacking Red, for example), the damage is reduced. Meanwhile, Black and Yellow do increased damage on each other, but have no colours against which their damage is reduced.

You can use this information to target particular enemies, when there’s more than one on screen. Normally, you attack from left to right, but tapping on an enemy targets it (tap again to remove the targeting).

The “match-3” genre (e.g. Bejeweled) has been done to death, of course – but where DW:L differs is that, provided your path is clear and the gem can be moved (some enemies can lock gems), you can drag it anywhere you like around the board, even backtracking, switching places with other gems again and again – although there is a time limit for moving, so you’re not messing about forever. This means that it’s pretty easy to set up those multiple combos, which is a good thing – being able to heal and attack at the same time is pretty handy. While you can probably get by with playing as if it was Bejeweled, particularly in the early stages, getting the knack of “walking” gems across the board to make matches is valuable.

Characters also have special skills, which become available after a certain number of turns have elapsed. These can be such things as healing the party, curing poison, removing locks on gems, or changing gems’ colours (to name but a few). Their portrait will flash when the skill becomes available. As for Doctors, they have two skills, and they become available after a certain number of combos have been created. You can only choose one of those skills at a time, however: when their portrait flashes, that’s the lower-powered skill, but when their portrait has a light running around it, you use the higher-powered skill (and you can’t choose the lower one until it becomes available again). Pressing and holding a portrait will show you the name of the skill(s), and how many turns or combos are left until the skill becomes available.

Twelve's special skill: Attack Eyebrows. And they're pretty powerful, you know...

Twelve’s special skill: Attack Eyebrows. And they’re pretty powerful, you know…

When each enemy is killed, it has a chance to drop an item:

Characters: More characters mean more people to fight with, naturally – and as I mentioned above, some characters have special skills which will help greatly in fighting particular enemies. But also, each time a new character drops, or a character reaches a new rank, you gain a star; reach a particular number of stars, and perks unlock, such as increased damage for a chosen colour, resistance to locks or poison, that sort of thing.

Costumes: They’re purely cosmetic, although some fans have asked for them to carry additional bonuses for the team. You can tell the difference between a character and costume: Costumes have a little “coat hanger” icon on them on the level-selection screen. And costumes are applied in the “TARDIS” screen, in the characters’ profile section.

Time Fragments: Used to bring characters to a new rank: Once they’ve reached level 10, 20, 30 and 40, characters won’t gain additional experience points (XP) or levels until you upgrade their rank; tapping on a character from the “TARDIS” screen will show you how many of each Time Fragment is needed. Doctors are different: they don’t have levels, just ranks – so you can upgrade them as soon as you have all the necessary Time Fragments. Maximum rank is five – at which point, characters gain an additional colour (e.g. K-9 goes from black to black/blue, whereas Jenny Flint goes from red to red/red). Each time a match is made which matches a rank-5 character’s secondary colour, it does additional (albeit lower) damage.

Time Crystals (TCs): I always get way too excited when these drop, because you can do so much with them!

    • 2 TCs enables you to take a Companion to the maximum level for the rank they’re at, without having to level it;
    • 2 TCs (4 for a Doctor) instantly upgrades a character to a new rank, without requiring you to have the necessary amount of Time Fragments;
    • 1 TC enables you to continue a level, if (when) you’re killed;
    • TCs are also used in the Store to buy characters, packs of characters, costumes,and  Time Fragments.
    • 2-4 TCs (depending on the “Season”) can also be used to “roll” for a character or costume that you don’t already have; it should always be something you don’t already have, so no wasted TCs!

Time Crystals are also where the in-app purchasing (IAP) comes in – the game itself is free to play. But Doctor Who: Legacy has received a great deal of praise for “IAP done right”: their pricing is pretty damn reasonable! Here’s the cost, in UK pounds, for the various packages available (prices are correct at the time of writing):

  • 1 TC: £0.59
  • 6 TCs: £3.00
  • 13 TCs: £6.01
  • 31 TCs: £11.80
  • 70 TCs: £30.08
  • 170 TCs: £60.17

I don’t really see myself buying the large packs at present (what with unemployment and everything), but I did spring for the pack of six TCs. The reason is because if you buy 6 or more in a single transaction, the Fan Area is unlocked! This gives you a ton of extra levels, characters and costumes to add to your collection. Three quid is a pittance for that kind of extra goodness.

Outside the game, there’s a great little community for DW:L. As well as a forum on the Tiny Rebel Games website, there’s also a Facebook page, a Google+ page and a Twitter account (Susan and Lee, the devs, are friendly and helpful). And TheAdiposeTV (“Adi” for short) is a gamer who hosts a DW:L podcast every Thursday at 8pm UK time (midday Pacific, 3pm Eastern). The devs are usually on the show each week, to reveal new stuff coming to the game (forgot to mention: they add new content weekly). And a couple of weeks ago, Adi had a special guest: Pippa Bennett-Warner, who played Saibra in the Season 8 episode “Time Heist”! (She plays DW:L, too!) Adi is as mad as a hatter1 (or possibly as mad as Four), and charming with it – he also plays the game on screen while talking to his guests… It’s thanks to him that I finally realised I needed to change my play style, to make those multiple combos I was talking about earlier.

And then, there are the giveaways… In all the community locations, Tiny Rebel gives out promo codes for all to use, though many are time-limited. These can net you just about anything that’s available in the game, according to the devs’ whim. Just go to the Options screen in the game, select the Promo tab, and type in the code to get your goodies!

Also, TRG holds other giveaways in the community locations, as well as special giveaways on Adi’s podcast. Examples: To celebrate the inclusion of “Mummy on the Orient Express”, TRG gave away 66 Time Crystals! (I missed out on that contest, waah); and on Adi’s podcast, they gave out Xbox 360 Editions of Minecraft, plus the Doctor Who Skin Pack DLC!

So, enough description (goodness knows I’ve done a lot of it!). What do I think of the game?

When OzIndie told me about Doctor Who: Legacy, it was because I’d been playing a similar game called Battle Camp, and although it has more features than DW:L (PvP battles being one, for starters), the “energy” mechanic – where you can only play until that energy runs out, unless you buy more – was really getting on my nerves. It’s probably my biggest gripe about mobile and Facebook apps. Hence my diving on DW:L like a rapacious vampire when I learned that no such restriction applied. I’ve not touched Battle Camp since!

And if I really get into a game, I’ll play it to death – which is exactly what I’m doing with DW:L! Sure, it’s on the repetitive side (especially when you’re trying to score a rare drop from a level), but that doesn’t really bother me, as such. I’m used to that sort of thing from World of Warcraft and, of course, the Bejeweled series. Your mileage may vary. Besides, I’ve been using grinding on a level for drops as a way to quickly level up characters – I’ll throw in one or two lower-level characters in with a group of maxed ones, grind the earlier levels again, and get them all beefed up for later battles. I might need their ability to remove poison, or huge healing capabilities.

Meanwhile, DW:L’s artwork is gorgeous – TRG’s lead artist, Pest Jiang, hand-draws every single character in the game, and it’s all a treat to see! You can see several examples of Pest’s handiwork on the Facebook, Google+ and DW:L forum pages, and they really help add character to the game.

The addition of the Fan Area makes a great incentive to buy at least one six-pack of Time Crystals, and support TRG. With additional storylines, expert-mode levels (boy, are they tough!), and extra goodies to glean, it’s well worth your money.

Doctor Who: Legacy is essentially a glorious mash-up of Bejeweled, Puzzle Quest, and Pokemon, and I love it to bits. I think that, if you enjoy those sorts of games (and are into Doctor Who, too), you’ll love it as well!


Doctor Who: Legacy – iOS Version

Doctor Who: Legacy – Android Version

Doctor Who: Legacy – Facebook Version

Tiny Rebel Games’ website

Doctor Who: Legacy’s Facebook Fan Page

Doctor Who: Legacy’s Google+ Page

TheAdiposeTV on Twitter

TheAdiposeTV’s Twitch channel

1 And I mean that as a compliment!

Posted in Android Gaming, Gaming, Reviews | Comments Off

Space Engineers: Pesky automated turrets…

It’s been a busy old week for me at Astra Station, between the Space Engineers updates for June 12 and 19… Although I’d been pleased with the actual mining performance of my ship, Scarab III, I was far from happy about the amount of mess I’d been leaving behind (no collector attached, you see). And even though we still have many millions of tonnes of rock to chew through, I’d very much prefer to reduce my wastage!

But when I came to look at the size of a small-ship collector, I was stunned… It’s bloody huge! I thought it was going to take a single block space… so I decided that I was going to have to start again from scratch, and make Scarab IV. And because I didn’t just want to channel the collector into a drill’s storage compartment, I chose to go with a large cargo container, and slam everything into that. I figured I might as well go with a large reactor, too, to cover any potential power problems.

And then, just as I got IV up and running, and collecting nicely… the June 12 update happened, adding large-ship drills, and my eyes grew wide with wonder (*cough*… and greed, I suppose, even though all resources are always shared with my fellow engineers). So IV was abandoned, and I got to work on making a large ship, which I chose to call Bear, since it was going to be too damn big to be a Scarab :)

The large-ship drills have eight times the capacity of their smaller counterparts… but this is only because the smaller drills, since June 12, now have a quarter of the capacity of what they had before the update. I guess this is what comes of players demanding tools for both ship types… And, since I had lots of room to spare on the front, I stuck on three collectors. Gotta be better, right?

After getting it all completed (and also bearing a large reactor and large cargo container, like a humongous version of Scarab IV), I flew off up to the Csteroid and got to mining. It didn’t take long for the front two landing legs to be ripped off, along with the three front-mounted thrusters, so I couldn’t reverse away from the asteroid. But then it was a pretty dumb idea to mount the thrusters there anyway. I know my therapist and I agreed that I shouldn’t be so hard on myself, but this really was taking the cake. Besides, she hadn’t seen this particular ship design ;)

So I hobbled back to base, figuring that I’d just stick the ship in the grinder and make Scarab IV again. When I first started with Space Engineers, I’d quickly found that me and large ships do not get along, so I figured I’d made a mistake.


Bear, hovering above the grinder, awaiting its fate.

But I probably didn’t help myself, calling it Bear… I’d become a little attached to the big guy, and so I added reverse thrusters in better positions, and left off the front two legs, figuring that they’d get ripped off again if I wasn’t careful. Off I went to mine again!

And I forgot all about the fact that I was piloting a big ship, with all the inertia that comes as standard on these models. Let me give you some figures:

  • Scarab III: 13 tonnes
  • Scarab IV: 40 (approx)
  • Bear: 400 tonnes

So it’ll come as no surprise to you that I released the W key way too late, and smacked into the asteroid, drills thrumming away, at about 30 metres per second. The drills didn’t just break off – they were vaporised. The large cargo container went the same way, losing the few tonnes of materials I’d mined on the previous outing. Amazingly, the cockpit simply detached, with me inside it, so I survived. The reactor made it, too – here, take a look:

What happens if you fail to properly take inertia into account. Poor Bear.

What happens if you fail to properly take inertia into account. Poor Bear.

That was it for me, as far as a large mining ship was concerned. I got busy with the grinder and tidied up the mess, reattached the cockpit at the other end, and flew the shattered, tattered remains of poor Bear into the grinder. Back to a small mining ship for me!

Unfortunately, the new Scarab IV (and yes, it probably should have been called Scarab V by now) isn’t faring so well under the current design. The drills are too high up from the collectors, the collectors themselves keep being vaporised, and I smashed a landing leg on… well, landing. So I’ve settled IV next to III on our launch pad for the time being – because of decoys!

Scarab III (left) and Scarab IV, my erstwhile mining ships.

Scarab III (left) and Scarab IV, my erstwhile mining ships, waiting their turn.

Since the update which activated the pesky turrets, being able to capture cargo ships has been bugging me, so I decided to turn my attention to the use of decoys (especially since there’s no EMP cannon as yet). It would have been nice to be able to launch them from missile tubes, but at the moment, they can only be placed as blocks. Time to make lemonade, as it were.

My first effort was a rather brute-force approach, so to speak. Rather than make a ship and add decoys, I made a ship of decoys:

The ship of decoys. Rather like a ship of fools, I suspect.

The ship of decoys. Rather like a ship of fools, I suspect, but with fewer human casualties.

The plan, such as it was, was:

  • Fly into the range of the turrets;
  • Eject myself from the cockpit;
  • While the turrets were busy targeting the decoys (which the turrets prioritise higher than everything else), I’d jetpack to the ship and disable all the nasty weaponry.

As I flew over to the target ship, I quickly learned that there were turrets on the other side of the ship which hadn’t been occupied with blasting the (unnamed!) decoy ship into smithereens. Naturally, they became occupied with blasting me into smithereens1.

OK, maybe I needed to spread the turrets’ fire pattern. Cue decoy ship 2:

OK, so how about a wall of decoys?

OK, so how about a wall of decoys?

Eighty-one decoys this time, but with an actual frame on the thing, made of heavy armour, so it’d hopefully take more dents after the decoys were shot off, even though it was a small ship (so 30x fewer materials per armour block than large-ship blocks).

I can’t actually remember if I even used this ship, because it was around this time that Kristal was online. When I told her what I was up to, she told me that she’d seen a ship with decoys on rotor arms, like a turboprop. She added that she didn’t have a link or picture to send me, but I figured I could work something out, even though I couldn’t understand why that particular engineer had gone with a rotor.

Regardless of my lack of understanding, I built a test ship:

Windy Miller Mark I. Spin those decoys!

Windy Miller Mark I. Spin those decoys!

Despite my considerable reservations about large ships, I decided to make one; I felt that using the bigger parts would provide more resilience against the onslaught of bullets and missiles. I’d taken a look on a Space Engineers wiki, to check out the armaments of each cargo ship, and decided I’d start off steadily, by waiting for a Mining Carriage to come along – only one Gatling turret on those things.

You’ll note there’s a beacon on there, because I had high hopes of bringing this one back. Maybe it’d be bloodied and bruised by the time it returned to Astra Station, but it’d be intact. I broke with the animal-names convention this time around, and called it Windy Miller. At this point, British readers over the age of 40 will either be smiling or rolling their eyes – Windy Miller is the name of a character from an old stop-motion children’s series called Camberwick Green, and he’s (surprise!) a miller! This link has a clip :)

Anyway, off I flew… and Windy Miller did come back – because I had enough caution to stop when things got hairy. But he held up well on the rotor side of things, thanks to the large armour blocks. During the encounter, I realised the obvious reason for the use of rotor arms – to decrease the chance of them being hit – and also realised I was most likely turning the rotor too slowly. I think I was initially using 1-2 rpm (out of concern that the rotor’s mass might tear it apart at higher speeds), and cranked it up to 15, out of a maximum of 30. On the way back to base, I further tested the strength of the rotor, and only stopped at 30 rpm @ 60 m/s because I needed to avoid crashing into the station!

But what the ship did need was more mass overall in the body – just thrusting, without the rotor turning, dragged the ship downwards horribly, though it was pretty easy to overcome. Still, anything I could do to counteract that would be welcome.

I took Windy out again, after putting on a load of armour blocks, and this time, I went up against a Commercial Freighter (four Gatling turrets). I didn’t make it as far as exhausting the freighter’s ammo supply, because I had the cockpit exposed at the top, so it was targeted when there were only three decoys left. But again, the rotor held up well – here it is after getting back to the station:

Windy, battered and bruised, but otherwise holding up well.

Windy, battered and bruised, but otherwise holding up well.

A close-up view of the damage to the rotor. Gotta love those large-ship heavy armour blocks.

A close-up view of the damage to the rotor. Gotta love those large-ship heavy armour blocks.

The only real problem I had was getting the rotor to stop turning – which didn’t happen before! I eventually realised that I didn’t have any braking torque… and when that didn’t work, I also realised that if your turning torque is 33,600,000 Nm, trying to stop it with a braking torque of ONE Nm ain’t gonna do shit ;)

I became bolder, doubling up the thickness of the rotor arms, got myself into pursuit of another craft, and tested the structural integrity of the rotors: worked fine at full 30 rpm, and 104.4 m/s – lovely! On Kristal’s recommendation via Twitter, I also moved the cockpit smack-dab in the middle of the body, for safety. But I was too bold: I’d gone up against a Mining Hauler, which has 4 Gatlings and 2 missile turrets. BIG mistake. It was quite probably the missiles which caused the bodywork to collapse so badly that it popped me out of the cockpit, and quite probably the Gatlings’ bullets which took me out as I was squirted out of the back of the ship like… well, never mind.

Luckily, despite Windy’s beacon being taken out in the encounter, I pointed myself in the direction of the hauler, and spotted twinkling of sunlight on body parts. This is what I found:

Windy Miller, R.I.P.

Windy Miller, R.I.P.

Foolishly, I’d gone out to the site by jetpacking, instead of taking St. Bernard the rescue ship – so I wasn’t able to reclaim much in the way of materials. I was forced to leave Windy’s corpse behind, clipping along at about 25 m/s – and I actually felt bad for doing so. OK, so it doesn’t even remotely compare to losing an actual human being (I do have some sense of proportion, folks), but in the brief time that Windy and I had worked together, he had served me well, taken a lot of punishment, and my hubris cost him dearly. Maybe it was because I’d named him (and referred to him as “him”), but there was a sense of loss.

But Windy shall rise again, and this time, I think he shall have teeth… I’m planning to equip him with automated missile turrets; between Kristal, Deamon and I, we’ve mined enough materials to make a few thousand missiles (OK, OK, we’ve got the assemblers on 10x as well, so that helps – under Realistic, we could still have made several hundred, which is awesome in itself). And I promise the ghost of Windy Miller, and the nascent Windy Miller II, that I shall be more careful. I’ll stay away from ships with missile turrets for the time being, and try not to run before I can walk!

So, onto the June 19 update! Although it doesn’t have much in the way of new content, what it does have is pretty damn useful! First of all, it’s now possible to set the world’s size, from unlimited all the way down to 10 km. Beyond that world border, you will die – but you get a warning before this happens, so it’ll only really take you by surprise if you’re zooming along at full speed.

Other great news is that there’s now automated trash collection, so it’ll remove ships drifting in space without a pilot – the feature can be toggled, so you’re not obliged to have it in place. But potentially, it could help a lot with reducing lag…

Landing gear can now be set to auto-lock, and you can also set a break force, so that when that force is exceeded, the gear auto-unlocks. This is set on a per-gear basis, so you can have everything set up just as you like it.

Oh, and if you’re on a dedicated server, rather than doing “host & play”, you can now ban players!  Very handy for if you’re suffering from griefers…

Happy space engineering!

1 And that’s led me to look up the etymology of “smithereens”. Wiktionary says it comes “from Irish smidiríní, diminutive form of smiodar (‘fragment’).” Cool!

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Hello again, quesadillas!

Since leaving America back in 2012, I’d missed a couple of things in particular: quesadillas, and my George Foreman Grill. I’d actually been given a proper quesadilla maker by a former boss when I was in the States, and I loved it – but even if I’d had enough room in my suitcase for it, I’d probably have had trouble getting it working with British AC current. But I only found one UK version, and it was on eBay; I didn’t have the money at the time to buy it.

As for the George Foreman Grill, I’d managed to pick up one of the little ones (big enough to do a couple of burgers) from a Goodwill store in Danbury, CT for just $4, and it had worked a treat. And, since getting back to the UK, I was getting a bit fed up of my burgers swimming in grease in the frying pan, so I definitely wanted another grill.

And I figured that I could kill two birds with one stone: Perhaps if I bought a large enough model of grill, it would be big enough to accommodate a tortilla, and I could have a crack at making quesadillas on it, instead of pining for my lost quesadilla maker. Yes, it’s true that you can make quesadillas in a frying pan, but I didn’t fancy the prospect of trying to flip the food to make sure both sides were nicely tanned. So I was really pinning my hopes that using the George Foreman would work; if not, at least I could use it for its intended purpose.

Well, a few weeks ago, I ended up with enough money available to be able to buy one – and a few minutes ago, I finally got around to slapping quesadilla ingredients on the thing.

George Foreman Grill

I’ve been wanting to get my paws back on one of these bad boys for ages… but would it make my quesadillas?

It’s the ideal substitute, as it turns out… The tortilla does have to be folded in two – a quesadilla maker is like an oversized sandwich toaster, so two tortillas are used, opened out; the George Foreman model I bought just doesn’t have the room to do that. But it matters not one bit to split the ingredients and fold the tortilla. And the quesadilla is ready in a couple of minutes, if that – and yes, I did remember to point the thing with the fold facing forwards, so nothing melted out and ran out of the grill!

I’m thrilled that my plan worked, so I can once again satisfy my cravings for those tasty Mexican treats!

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Space Engineers: Not simply “Minecraft in space”…

In 2029, The Second Space Race revitalised global efforts to conquer and colonise space, and at the forefront of humanity’s activities were the Space Engineers… Now, it is somewhere after 2077, and the plucky band of men and women who choose to spend most of their lives inside spacesuits has grown to over five hundred thousand…

A few weeks ago, Kristal and I watched a video by NerdCubed, about a game called Space Engineers, by Prague dev studio Keen Software House. A couple of instalments of Dan’s Let’s Play, and I knew I wanted the game… Kristal, meanwhile, had had it on her Steam wishlist for months!

Well, the pair of us got the game on May 2nd, and we’ve been having a blast. Even though the game is in Early Access, there’s still a great deal to keep the pair of us occupied, together with our Krash Palisades friends Wedgehog and DeamonEngineer :)

So what is Space Engineers? Well, the first thing that springs to mind is “It’s Minecraft in space!” – which is exactly what BitBurner said when he came to visit our game. And sure enough, the main parts of the game at the moment ARE mining and crafting. But simply to leave the description at that would be doing Space Engineers a terrible disservice. The game is a sandbox – you can create spaceships of any size and character you choose, capture unmanned ships which fly into your territory, and even try to cope with meteor storms which can devastate your hard work…

Additionally, you can either choose to brave the wilds of space alone, or with up to 16 other people; options allow you to play offline, privately online (I actually don’t understand the reason for that option), with people on your Steam Friends list, or make your world fully public. Because I wasn’t sure how well my PC would handle the game in multiplayer (it works great in offline mode, so long as I don’t choose more than four asteroids), I made sure the meteor showers were turned off, and set the inventory size to 10x (4,000 litres), because I knew how much Kristal hates having to deal with a poky inventory! (So do I, for that matter.)

Pretty soon, we were joined by Wedgehog and Deamon, and we’ve been having quite a few daring adventures in space since then! Here are a few:

Kristal was mining the “Csteroid” (a C-shaped asteroid, unsurprisingly), just minding her own business, when she suddenly died for no apparent reason. Unfortunately, the drills were still on when she died, causing the ship to whirl around madly – instant death for anyone trying to get to the cockpit. So Kristal had the idea to take another ship that we’d built, and slam the mining ship into the inner wall of the asteroid in the hopes of stopping it spinning, so that I could get inside. It took two or three attempts on Kristal’s part, but she managed it – and I was able to rescue the ship.

On another occasion (and after we’d been able to set the drills to be controlled with the mouse button), Kristal was again killed while mining, but this time, her cockpit had been completely destroyed. (We think it was caused by a delay in synchronisation between client and server.) I flew up with my suit’s jetpack to see what was going on – not that I was confident of helping – and saw the ship was, as in the last anecdote (but a different mining ship), whirling madly, with the drills stuck in the “on” position. With the cockpit gone, there was no computer to tell the drills to stop going. After staring at the thing for a few moments, I suggested to Kristal that she get some target practice in with the missiles she’d manufactured.

But before she went to go grab her assault ship, I realised that it wasn’t spinning in the same way as the other ship: this time, it was spinning in a flat plane. So, I was able to go and get the parts to make a cockpit, come back and position myself over the axis of rotation, build the cockpit, and get inside – which caused the drills to instantly stop.

Possibly my finest hour – and I sure as hell felt heroic afterwards – was when we were trying to grab a Mining Hauler. Now, the computer-spawned ships are unmanned, but set on a particular course and velocity, and you have a certain amount of time to take them before they de-spawn. But most of them come with booby traps (and, since a recent update, automated Gatling and missile defences), and Wedge had discovered this on a previous occasion with the Mining Haulers.

However, at the moment, Space Engineers suffers from a high degree of “rubber-banding”, where you and the ship will snap back and forth due to sync problems (they stop once you take control of the ship). This doesn’t happen so much for the person hosting the game – and at the time, it was still me hosting… so it was down to me, the least confident member of the group, to get inside, locate the warhead, get rid of it, rebuild the reactor, and activate the ship’s inertia dampeners to bring it to a halt. While the ship was moving. With no gravity. With my jetpack’s inertia dampeners off, so I didn’t get slammed into the ship walls at 10m/s and die…

Luckily, getting into the ship was easy – the turrets weren’t programmed to fire at the time this took place – but it turned out that the warhead was beneath the ship’s large reactor, next to a reverse thruster which blows up the warhead if you turn on the ship’s inertia dampeners. Even with the expanded inventory, it still took several trips between the diminishing reactor and a handy storage container to get rid of the thing and expose the warhead below.

We were all in Skype, so there was a running commentary from me, and welcome encouragement from Kristal and Wedge, as I struggled to get to the warhead. Amazingly, I managed to do it without becoming a bloody mess on the ship’s walls. I’d built a second cockpit on the thing, and took a break to get my adrenaline back down to reasonable levels. But when I got back, Kristal and Wedge told me that the game had glitched out, and the ship had blown up and vanished – all my hard work was for nothing! I did actually laugh about it, rather than raging…

It also turns out that there was a much easier way to deal with a Mining Hauler. Build a cockpit on the outside of the ship (power and computer control runs through all connected blocks), and then turn off the only small thruster on the ship… the one next to the warhead. Then you can safely enable the ship’s inertia dampeners without setting off the explosive! Of course, now there’s the issue of being able to get to the thing in the first place, without being chewed to pieces by bullets or missiles…

Lest you think that I’ve been nothing but an all-conquering hero: I’ve been in need of rescuing on more than one occasion. This is the first of a couple of incidents where my fellow engineers have had to come to my aid…

For some reason – I can’t actually remember what it was – I was trying to get back to base, from about 21 km out, with just my jetpack’s thrusters, before my suit energy ran out and I died… Turning off the inertia dampeners (whether it’s your ship or your own jetpack) is a great way to save energy. But even having done that, the prospects of survival were still pretty grim for me. So I was calmly reading off the remaining distance to the station, my speed, and my suit energy level every minute or so, awaiting the seemingly inevitable.

But then, at about 2km out and with my suit energy well below the 20% threshold, Kristal flew out to me in one of her ships – and I couldn’t figure out why, because there was only one seat, so she couldn’t fly me back. I expressed my confusion, to which Kristal replied, “I’ll get out of the ship, so you can get in and recharge, and make it back the rest of the way!” Derp…

On another occasion, Deamon very kindly took it upon himself to rescue my Scarab mining ship when I’d died, and ended up leaving the ship drifting out of control. I’d all but given up the thing as lost…

Speaking of Scarab, we somehow ended up with a naming convention for most of our ships: animals… We have:

  • Crow, Kristal’s mining ship;
  • Old Crow, the mining ship provided by the scenario, which Kristal had adopted;
  • Raven, Kristal’s assault ship;
  • Gnat, a tiny ship of my design which I’d done half-jokingly to see what was the smallest possible usable ship that I could make. It proved very useful as a runabout and reconnaissance craft, so I built several more for all of us;
  • Scarab, my mining ship;
  • The Mole, Deamon’s huge mining ship;
  • The Mini Mole, which Deamon made in response to us learning that using The Mole causes a lot of lag;
  • Bumblebee, Wedge’s grinder ship (he said he didn’t want to mine, as he already does that all the time in Minecraft!);
  • St. Bernard, a rescue ship that Kristal and I took and expanded its purpose, to serve as a mobile base for when we’re on deep-space missions.

Kristal also has a repurposed Military Escort ship – and it’s called Giblets… Oh, and there’s The Murder, too. As in “murder of crows”!

We’ve been having so much fun with Space Engineers, this post barely covers it… The game is pretty damn polished as it is, but weekly updates are helping to round it out with more features, plus bug-fixes, of course…

The devs have decided to garner loads of community feedback to shape the game, with the reasonable caveat that any proposed additions should be theoretically achievable for the late 21st century. And there are a couple of things that I’d love to see in the game:

  • First of all, with the Gatling turrets and missile turrets now coming online, I’d like an EMP cannon to be able to temporarily disable them, and provide a window of opportunity to take ships over.
  • Perhaps more importantly, I’d like conveyors to be able to both pull items out of an inventory (such as an assembler or cargo container) and sort them to go through different outputs (like the diamond pipes in the Buildcraft mod for Minecraft, actually).
  • What would also be useful are passenger seats… Players don’t seem to suffer from rubber-banding so much (if at all) when sat in cockpits, but there does seem to be flight-control issues. A passenger seat could give access to everything except actually flying a ship, so things like the control panel would still be accessible.

At any rate, with updates every Thursday, I love seeing the new stuff that Keen comes up with in Space Engineers… oh, I’d better go – I need to recharge my spacesuit!

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