Author: Rex Kramer

Desert Island Games – Episode 1 part 2

Back again with the 2nd part of Rax’s selection of Desert Island Games. If you haven’t read part one then I suggest you sidle over here and catch up otherwise you might not be able to follow the complex narrative.

Anyway, on with the show.

The  Rollercoaster Tycoon series of games were originally developed by Transport Tycoon dev. Chris Sawyer. Utilising a similar isometric viewpoint, it gave you complete control of designing and running a theme park. Similar in concept to Bullfrog’s Theme Park, it added a wealth of design options allowing you to custom build any rollercoaster you could think of. The original launched in 1999 on PC and was well received gaining very positive reviews. It was later ported to XBox in 2003 to significantly worse opinion (a metacritic rating of 61%). It was also followed by the sequel, Rollercoaster Tycoon 2 in October 2002 which added significantly expanded customisation options. The third game on Rax’s list is OpenRCT2.

So Rax, what exactly is OpenRCT2? And are you trying to play the system here?
This is an open source adaptation of RCT2 (you can find more details here, an installation of the original RCT2 is required), it’s in the early stages of development but I want to add it with a couple of, let’s call them addendums. I want to add the original RCT parks to it (easily done by dragging and dropping into the scenarios folder) and I’d like to keep receiving updates to it.

Sneaky, but I guess we’ll allow it.  Similar to the OpenTTD (Open Transport Tycoon Deluxe) question, did you play the original Rollercoaster Tycoon? I remember playing it a hell of a lot when it first came out, I had a go-to simple double loop rollercoaster (based very much on the Missile at the old American Adventure theme park) that I’d drop in for every park. Is it the rollercoaster designing that you love or the money making, park design aspects of the game?
I loved the original Rollercoaster Tycoon, from the very first moment I saw a screenshot in a magazine I knew I would love this game. Thankfully it did not disappoint, it clicked with me right away and I played it every moment I could. When I first played it I had never actually been to a theme park, I had always wanted to go to one but living in the wilds of southern Ireland meant there wasn’t one within easy reach, I don’t know if that was the reason why but I was terrible at coaster building. I was obsessed with making them bigger and faster with more loops so they were all vomiting inducing nightmares so I stuck to the prebuilt ones at the start.

I did eventually go on a family holiday to Orlando, went to all the theme parks, and when I came home I could actually build a good rollercoaster, I think being on one and realising it doesn’t need to go 100mph to be exciting helped me reign in my virtual coaster building. I still don’t think that’s the major appeal for me, it’s a cool part of the game and it’s really satisfying when you make an exciting coaster that isn’t a vomit comet but much like TTD I just like the management aspect of it. Adding new rides, improving the aesthetic of the park, making sure the guests and happy, the park is making money etc,. I’ve always preferred the management style of strategy games to the military style ones.

The potential for evil in the game is also weirdly appealing. On the surface it’s a game about making a theme park but you can turn it into the biggest and most sadistic murder simulator you can imagine, just have some unfinished track over a footpath and watch the mayhem unfold when the train comes down the tracks. You can also pick on guests and make their lives hell, giving out that your perfectly designed coaster isn’t good enough, chuck em in the lake, or better yet on top of a pillar of earth to spend eternity pacing around a tiny square watching the people below enjoy themselves.

I am usually a benevolent theme park manager though, I like to make the parks look good and people to be happy. Just don’t complain that the queue for the log flume is too long…..

Grand Theft Auto V is the fifteenth entry in the GTA series of games (including offshoot games and stand alone side stories). Returning to the fictional state of San Andreas, first seen in 2004’s GTA: San Andreas, the single-player story follows three criminals and their efforts to commit heists while under pressure from a government agency. The open world design lets players freely roam San Andreas’ open countryside and the fictional city of Los Santos,  which is loosely based on Los Angeles. As of May 2017, the game has sold an astounding 80 million copies across all platforms making it the 4th best selling game of all time and only 2.2 million behind Wii Sports which it will certainly surpass during 2017.

I’ve never really been a fan of GTA so tell me, why GTA V?
Simply because its the biggest and most expansive one. Vice City is still my favourite GTA and if I had to play through a story again I’d go with that one but as a complete game taking everything into account I’ll go with V. Its a huge sandbox that I have barely scratched the surface on, there’s so many possibilities there that it’s an obvious candidate for a desert island game for me.

I also loved the heists in it, I loved having multiple missions set up one big one and I was looking forward to more of them being added as DLC. The fact GTA online blew up and is making huge money for Take 2 means we’ll likely never get anymore heists in GTA V which is a huge shame, they were my favourite thing about the game. At the very least I can console myself with taking the different options in them every time I do a playthrough so I can see every side of missions and the story.

Game 5 of Rax’s list is the 8th major release in Nintendo’s classic cart racing series, Mario Kart. Originally released on Wii U in 2014, it is easily the console’s highest selling game with well over 8 million copies sold by end 2016. What’s even more impressive is that this is on a console base of only 13.5 million units. The game received two DLC packs which added extra tracks, characters and carts. These are all included in the re-release for Nintendo Switch which
also includes a significantly improved battle mode.

Are you a big Mario Kart fan? What’s your history with the series?
I played some of the original Mario Kart but not a lot. I never had a SNES so I only got to play at my friends or cousins house so I was never good at it. My first proper Mario Kart was on the N64 and I instantly loved it, I know its not well regarded (I can hear the howls of discontent from GR) and I can see the flaws but it was my first one so it will always be special to me. Not wanting to give you any ideas for another series of articles but if I had to play one game to save my life (hhhmmmmm….) it would be Mario Kart 64, I’m not unbeatable but I would fancy my chances against just about anyone.

Is Mario Kart 8 the best entry?
Double Dash was my favourite (don’t tell anyone else but I also love DD) until 8 came along, I really liked the tag team aspect of it and the unique weapons for each character was a cool little twist. But 8 does just about everything right, the battle mode isn’t up to snuff on the Wii U version and while it was never my bag and it didn’t bother me much, its cool that they took fan feedback on board for the Switch version and corrected it. I’m very much focused on single player content, even for things like Mario Kart, I will play multiplayer on occasion but it’s rare so the fact that the single player championships in 8 have some challenge to them is a big plus for me.

Do you have a character you always pick in Mario Kart? I’m a Yoshi fan though that isn’t on the basis of any gameplay aspect, I just like the little green bastard.
I’ll try every character in every Mario Kart but I usually find my way back to Mario. I played as Yoshi in the N64 version but I think that was mostly cos my brother insisted on being Mario and he was younger and cried so he had to get his way! For me its not a gameplay thing either, I just prefer to be Mario for some reason.

For me the kart is as important than the character, but again its not a performance thing, it’s got to look good. So I usually go with the ATV on triforce tyres, I’m a baller like that.

And yes or no, is there a better track than Baby Park?
Baby Park is pretty great but I have a soft spot for Bowsers Castle on the N64, I’m going with my heart and saying that’s a better track.

Some more great games from Rax and part 3 will be along really soon.

Desert Island Games – Episode 1 part 1

Welcome to the first edition of the new Desert Island Games series. This series was initially inspired by a combination of the famous BBC radio 4 show, Desert Island Discs and a section that was in the Digital Cowboys podcast several years. I’d been considering something like this for a while and then I stumbled across the very excellent Final Games podcast by Liam Edwards (which I would recommend everyone listens to). Liam’s format works very well on a podcast and I wondered whether something similar could work as an article.

Each episode will take a member of the GR community and strand them on a desert island forever more. But I’m not completely heartless so they’ll be able to take along their favourite 8 games to play for the rest of their days. There are a couple of rules in place though, any game with an online component is fine but any kind of voice or text chat is banned (we can’t have you calling out for help). Also, availability of DLC is completely at my own whim.

So who is the first (un)lucky fella to take the long journey to isolation? They’ve been a member of GRcade since the very start, back in 2008, having jumped ship from the old home at Future. Aside from gaming, it looks like they’re GRs unofficial NFL cheerleader. This episode’s contributor is Rax.

So Rax, what was your thinking behind the choices? Was it picking games that would last a long time or be replayable or was it games that you just couldn’t bear to be without? Or a mix of both?
Initially, I focused more on the games I love to play and had the fondest memories of so I had games like Ocarina of Time and Halo on the list but, while I love those games, I realised that I wouldn’t want to play them forever. They’re great games and I do enjoy going back to them from time to time but they have a defined start and end with not a huge amount to do once the story is over. If I’m going to be on a desert island, I want to be able to play for hours and hours at a time.

That’s when I looked at the genres of games, I wanted a good range of games because I like to jump around, I can’t go from shooter to shooter, I need that variety in my games. So I started to add games from different genres, including games I don’t play that often anymore and in the end, I think I got a pretty good range on there. I didn’t want to double up on a genre of game and while I do have 2 very similar management sims on there, to me they’re very different games and I love them both for different reasons and I kept them both on the list. Everything on the list is a unique thing that gives me a different kind of experience than the other games.

I also tried to get a range of complexities on the list, I didn’t want everything to be a big world with loads of systems to interact with, sometimes a simple game to unwind with is all I want. For this reason, I originally had mobile games on the list, Threes and BigBigBig 2 (it’s a kind of Chinese poker game) were both on the list at one stage but they both scratch the same itch. Then I realised that something else scratched that itch way better so both of them could go.

Without further ado, let’s dive into the list.

Game 1 on the list is the business sim which has players attempting to become a virtual Richard Branson. It’s an open source remake of the incredibly engaging Chris Sawyer game, Transport Tycoon Deluxe which was originally released back in 1995. This was a pseudo-sequel to the 1994 original Transport Tycoon. So Rax’s first choice is OpenTTD and if you’ve an interest then you can play it now for absolutely no pence!

Did you play the original Transport Tycoon?
I didn’t play the original release, I got on board with Transport Tycoon Deluxe (TTD) which was like a GOTY edition released a year or so later, but I was late to that party too. Back then there was nowhere in my town to buy games, I used to save up and go on a trip to Cork City to pick up the last few months releases. Along with the games I planned to get I’d pick up the odd impulse buy, TTD was one of these. I had played and loved Rollercoaster Tycoon and I was mad for some more Tycoon goodness, when I saw TTD had Chris Sawyers name on the box I had to get it.

But I was disappointed, I didn’t actually like it at first, I had no idea what I was supposed to do so I was on the verge of dumping it and never playing it again when I decided to actually give the included tutorial levels a go. They did a great job of explaining things and I was able to actually play the game properly. From there I fell in love with it, there’s a certain charm to Sawyer’s Tycoon games that really resonates with me for some reason and I couldn’t get enough of it. I’d play it obsessively for a week or two and then forget about it for months before going back to the obsession again later.

A few years back I came across OpenTTD, which started as an unofficial expansion for TTD but is now it’s own a self-contained game available for free. It’s made some major improvements to TTD, from nerdy stuff like adding better train signals and better routeing to things like allowing bigger maps, long bridges and different AI settings. I still play it as regularly as I used to, obsess over it for a week or two, leave it for months and come right back, usually picking up where I left off. I can’t really explain the appeal of it, I just love the mechanics of the game, connect up a transport route, make it more efficient, upgrade it, integrate to your wider network, expand it, it’s not heart pounding stuff but it’s the kind of game you can lose hours to, “I’ll just improve this next section of track then I’ll go to bed”.

My problem with TTD (and probably by extension OpenTTD and probably one of your later choices) is I get my business to a certain level and then just get bored, give up and start again, is that something you find yourself doing or are you constantly adding to the same save file?
A little bit of both really, I sometimes want the challenge of starting from scratch and seeing a new map but other times I want to have a pile of cash to try and improve my network. For this reason I have multiple save files on the go, sometimes I’ll add to an existing empire, sometimes I’ll be the small fry and start from scratch.

One thing that I do in every game is focus on trains, they’re the deepest and most interesting part of the game. They’re also the part that needs the most optimisation and upgrading, just when I get bored of having diesel trains I can use electric, then monorail and finally maglev. Sometimes I’ll skip the middle 2 phases and do one huge conversion job as soon as maglev arrives, doing it that way gives me a few in-game years of upgrade work to do and once that is done I’m itching to expand and optimise again.

I will admit to reading up on how to optimise the track layout in different situations, it’s magnificently nerdy I know, but getting every little bit of efficiency out of a virtual train network is a weirdly entertaining thing for me. The satisfaction of reconfiguring your stations and track layout to prevent trains having to wait to enter a station is a real guilty pleasure of mine.

I also try out the other tile sets from time to time, temperate is the original and definitely the best but I know where everything needs to go there so I don’t need to actually put much thought into how the industries fit together. A new tileset changes all that so while it’s still trains and cargo and things, where everything goes and the value of each is all changed so strategies need adjusting and I can’t just use the same early game strategy I always use. Toyland will always be shit though. :P

Much like another of my choices it has scope for foul play if you are willing to put the effort in. Park trains across roads your competitors use to slow them down, snake a train over and back the road to destroy his buses, bribe a town council to let you bulldoze the town and replace it with train tracks. I don’t do it that often but if I have the cash and have taken a dislike to a particular opponent then I’ll do what I feel needs to be done!

Originally created and designed by Swedish game designer Markus “Notch” Persson, and later fully developed and published by the studio he co-founded, Mojang. Mojang was subsequently acquired by Microsoft for $2.5 billion. Released on just about every platform under the sun and having sold an estimated 120 million copies, it’s the digital lego box known as Minecraft.

The whole minecraft thing seems to have passed me by but having seen my kids get addicted then I can easily understand the attraction. Is there a particular aspect of it that keeps you playing?
I think it’s the freedom of the whole thing that I love, it’s really only bounded by your own imagination. I dread to think how many hours I’ve actually put into it, I have a number of copies of the game and multiple worlds on each, I have a main one that I’ve been working on for years but lately I find myself preferring to play new worlds rather than adding to existing ones.

I wasn’t sure I would like it at first, everyone on here had been raving about it for ages but I was hesitant, I didn’t jump in until it got its official 1.0 release but I loved it. Looking back I’m actually not sure how I did fall in love with it as my first world was terrible, it spawned me in a desert so I had no wood and nothing to do, I had to pick a direction and walk until I found somewhere interesting. The lure of the unknown was a big deal in the early days, not knowing what I would find the other side of the mountain or a little deeper in the cave was pretty exciting. I think knowing that others loved it so much kept me going in that first world to try and get a handle on how things worked.

These days I don’t go in so much for the exploration stuff, I’ve “beaten” the game and seen all the stuff there is to see really, now when I play I play to build, or to survive. I’ll either set it to creative and make some crazy stuff or set it to survival hard mode and see how long I can survive without dying, the fact I can do both and get so much joy out of them both is one of the great appeals of the game to me.

What about other similar games such as Dragon Quest Builders or Terraria? Do they have the same hook with you?
I tried Terraria but it just didn’t click with me, I think part of that was that it felt like a Minecraft ripoff to me. I know since then it has grown and is now very much it’s own thing but the controls didn’t feel right and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was playing the inferior product. Maybe I should give it another go some day but for now I’m happy to stick with Minecraft.

Dragon Quest Builders is something I’ve been interested in trying but I don’t have the time right now, I’ve had my finger hovering over the buy button more than once but I know deep down I won’t have the time for it. I did dismiss it when I first heard about it but the reaction to it had been positive and it sounds like it brings something new to the table instead of just trying to be like Minecraft. If I do ever run out of things to play it will be near the top of the list for me.

I’ve also tried Lego Worlds, it seems perfect, Lego and Minecraft in one, but again the controls just aren’t right. I do still have Lego Worlds installed on my PC though and I will give it a proper try soon, I really want to like it and I don’t want to be turned away by a negative first impression, especially with something like controls which can just take some getting used to.

Some excellent choices by Rax in part one with a real emphasis on games that are open ended with masses of content. Will the rest of his list continue this trend?

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