I am a one-man modding army. I do this for fun and for the love of games and gaming. Not for profit. Games are art. They are culture. Don't let anyone fool you into thinking otherwise. This is NOT an "industry". I am the Creator of Fairy Tale for Civilization IV (2010), Dibella's Watch for Oblivion (2011) and Frontier for Skyrim (2012-13).
So 2012 came to a close and the world didn't end. That's actually great news, although I know some of you are disappointed that the end is late again, but 2013 will be the most splendid gaming year ever, so there's something to look forward to. There's a lot of great stuff coming. I'm looking forward to Total War Rome, Grand Theft Auto V, Saints Row 4, Europa Universalis 4, among others, and a whole host of great DLC's for different games that have been promised; Skyrim's Dragonborn, to name one. Don't worry, apocalypse-fans. You can save your expensive survival kits for the next hype!
As for gaming, 2012 was a rather dry year for me. I haven't found many new releases that have taken my interest. Crusader Kings II was released at the beginning of the year and has been a favourite of mine during the course of the year. Fallen Enchantress also caught my interest and I've been enjoying that quite a lot. It would have grabbed my personal "Game of the Year" award if it hadn't been for me finding the title I'm going to tell you about in this review - Distant Worlds. I found this game in april through a coincidence as I found a Let's Play of it on YouTube. When I went to buy it, it was seriously overpriced for such a game and I even complained about that on the game's forum. I've been keeping my eyes on this title though, because I found it really interesting. Right now, they're offering Distant Worlds on Sale, so I went ahead and bought the base game as well as its two huge expansions in December.
Distant Worlds is a 4X Space exploration and conquest game. This genre is known for having some bad titles; I've stepped in a lot of bad ground myself trying to get into the genre. I seriously disliked Endless Space and Sins of a Solar Empire wasn't something that I caught onto although it was fun for a while and looked smashing. Sadly, due to terrible marketing and the pricing, Distant Worlds hasn't gotten the attention it deserves, because this could have been the 4X game to rule them all. The game is created by CodeForce, a small New Zeeland team, and produced by Matrix Games. The small team has been working at it for a long time and it started as a personal project and developed into a full-fledged commercial game. There are two expansions, "The Return of the Shakturi" as well as "Legends". Both are massive and improve the game in so many ways; I know, because I started by playing the base game and worked my way up. Both expansions are recommended, and there's more, there's a THIRD expansion coming early next year, "Shadows".
The game runs as a pausable Real Time Strategy and has a lot in common with the detailed strategy titles Paradox produces in that regard. The map is zoomable right down from the grand galaxy map into seeing single spaceships, fleets, planets and other details in the galaxy. Depending on your choices, the most common start is when you start the game with just one planet and a few ships and resources and you expand from there by colonizing suitable planets in other systems, and/or attack and capture the colonies of other empires. The next expansion, Shadows, is going to... erm... expand on this theme and let us start our civilizations in a pre-warp era with no means of getting out of our starting systems before the proper research is done. That sounds absolutely amazingly fun to me.
The galaxies this game creates are truly enormous; you can generate massive galaxies with up to 1400 stars, which is really huge. Each star has a logical planetary system orbitting; and it's on these planets that you found your colonies, mine for resources and fight other empires or pirates over. There are treasures and surprises and other "pre-warp" civilizations to be found. For exploration fans, this is heaven. The galaxy feels surprisingly alive as you explore ruins from lost civilizations, encounter pirates and friends and/or foes and try to exploit the star systems you discover. It's filled with surprises that makes exploration a lot of fun and on top of that there are two storylines to follow if you want that in your game.
There are many other empires out there to discover and all represented by a different race; you can choose to play any of them and they all have their own traits, weaknesses and strenghts and even specific victory conditions. There are the usual humans, but also some relly weird ones, like the ones who look like dinosaurs and the irritating rodents to name some examples. Diplomacy works like in Civ4 with masses of options of trade between empires, treaties, defence pacts, DOW's and so on. One feature I really enjoyed is the fact that you can committ acts of war without openly declaring war on another empire. These situations lead to exciting border conflicts where you take out irritating mining stations or single ships that haunt you. You take a diplomatic hit from using this strategy, and the other empire might respond forcefully, but sometimes this feature can be very useful and a lot of fun. All empires also get hero characters who boost certain areas of your empire. There's a national leader (who actually gets replaced every once in a while, which is really cool!), fleet admirals, planetary governors, great scientists, ambassadors, army generals, and even spies who you can send on missions against the other empires to gain valuable information or disrupt their activities.
War is fought mainly in space. You have complete control over your ships and can even design them yourself with all the systems you think your ships will require. Are you going for small and lightly armed, or big but with a deadly punch? Shipbuilding is easy and you soon have your fleets set up; you can bunch ships together to form grander fleets so that they are easier to move about the galaxy. The battles are fast and furious; like lightning. Land battles are a bit more basic. You build regiments at your own colony and transport them over to the enemy planets and then wait for your troops to either conquer or fail. The Shadows expansion coming next year will give more detail to land battles and land troops though, so thumbs up for that. As it is now, it seems like it's following the formula of he who has the most regiments on the planet wins.
The UI may seem cluttered and daunting at first, but you soon find your way around, because everything is there for a reason. The game supplies you with a lot of good, detailed information about what's going on in your empire and around you in the galaxy. It makes Paradox' games come to shame. This game is an information and statistics fetichist's wet dream, but the statistics are only there if you really want that kind of detail. It's all well laid out and works as intended. The game may not look like much in the screenies, but I swear it's really beautiful. The ships are made up of simple sprites and graphics overall are quite simple, but when it all comes together it creates a game of stunning and surprising beauty. Watching your own colour paint the galaxy is quite something.
Your technology advances at a steady rate, giving you updates to your weapon systems, shields and other ship equipment, but also offers some fun new functions as you go, like planetary surface bombardment. The extensive tech tree is divided into three categories and you research stuff from each category simultaneously, giving you advances in ship upgrades and civilian techs at a steady rate.
The economy of your empire is run by the private sector. You have no control over what happens in there, and this is actually one of the ideas of the game. The player plays the state, setting the foundations for what the private sector does. The private sector builds and maintains freighter spaceships, passenger ships, mining operations and all those other small details that make the economy tick. You, as the state, are tasked with exploring, colonizing planets, expanding the empire as well as protecting the trade routes of the private sector from pirates and enemy attack and really setting the stage for that private sector that works in the background. This is all a very cool idea. Much of what you can control in this game can also be completely automated and run by the AI. In theory, it's possible to let the AI run the whole empire around you while you yourself only control one ship. This is an area where the game could shine even more and probably will in the future, because the devs are evidently really hard at work on this title.
The game has a few problems that need addressing. Among other things, the economy soon goes boom and you start making heaps of money with nothing to spend it all on. The money just keeps rolling in and there's never financial crises or money problems that makes you have to decide between whether to buy a couple of cruisers or building that defensive base. It's a matter of game balance. Also, as I've mentioned, the land battles are quite meh at this point and there are other problems with the game within it's extensive automation and AI that need addressing. Luckily, from what I've read, the devs are hard at work on these areas with Shadows and I bet the problems will all be addressed sooner or later to create what will in the end be possibly the best 4X game out there, and just overall a purely fantastic PC game. Overall, what I found to be problems are also just down to balancing and other small things. I've put in a lot of hours in the game already, and I've found nothing game-breaking so far. The game doesn't crash and it runs fairly well. The game is also very moddable and the devs have written modding guides and continue to support the moddability of it in different ways. There are some really excellent mods for you to try out at the Matrix forum as well; everything from single new ship designs to grand-scale total conversions featuring, for an example, the Star Trek universe. The games' devs are proven to listen to their fans and take suggestions into account and they have a forum where you can discuss the game and get in contact with the devs themselves. The crowd gathering on that forum are also polite, intelligent, suitably nerdy and dedicated to the game and its development leading to a good atmosphere over there.
All in all, Distant Worlds is an enjoyable, fun and interesting game with staggering attention to detail that keeps me going and which I can't recommend strongly enough for those interested in the genre and strategy in general, and it is the only worthwhile 4X space game I've seen in a long, long while. It's also under continuing development which is also encouraging, since those few problems will be smashed and new, exciting functions added to the already excellent game in the future. So let's throw out those over-hyped excuses like Endless Space and Sins and get to some real 4X gaming with Distant Worlds. Although not a new release for 2012, it still gets my vote for Game of the Year 2012, with the excellent Crusader Kings II as a close second and Fallen Enchantress as the glorious third.
There are several things to look forward to during 2012. Here are my favourite picks right now.
The Skyrim Creation Kit which lets us mod Skyrim will be released at the end of January. This is something I and many others have waited for for a long time. This CK will probably supply me with years of modding fun. I already have my next big mod planned and ready to start work on it, so the CK tool is my most anticipated this year, actually.
Crusader Kings 2 from Paradox Interactive will be released on February 14. This is a grand strategy game where you guide your own family through the Middle Ages and keep them in power in your chosen nation. The system builds on Paradox' popular strategy games, like Europa Universalis, and promises strategy like never seen before. I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to this one.
This gem is something I found today here on ModDB, really, and although its release date is december 2012 I must really mention it, because I'm already looking forward to the release of Malevolence really much. As a player and lover of the real RPG's that were released in the 90's, Malevolence will be a must. It plays on the same strings as old Daggerfall, with a massive world to explore and discover and some real in-depth RPG'ing inspired by the great classics.
Star Trek Online has gone Free To Play, and as such I tried it out just because. I'm a trekkie. The gameplay isn't much, as it seems, and it's quite influenced by violence, shoot this, shoot that, as usual for online games, but I still sit there playing and enjoying this thing, and I guess, along with Eve Online, this game will be something I will waste countless hours on this year.
This year has been the best gaming year ever. It even beats the golden age of 1996 and that's saying a lot on my part. Here is my own personal pick of this years' highlights.
During 2011 I finally got into Total War when I bought Empire. For some reason, I've never liked the Total War series, although it should be right up my alley, since this kind of stuff interests me. Empire Total War had me totally immersed though. I added only one mod to my copy, and that was DartMod, which expands on the AI (both BAI and CAI) and also gives the player masses of new options.
I discovered Saints Row 2. Being a fan of the GTA series, I thought it would be a pleasant little side-show to GTA, but I've put in more hours on Saints Row 2 than I have on GTA IV at the moment. Saints Row 2 can actually be described as a combination of Morrowind and San Andreas, and only that makes it into a winner. Pity Saints Row the Third didn't make it though. They released the sequel this year, but they've been cutting away everything that made 2 great and The Third is obviously nothing but a cash cow with expensive DLC and such. If you want to play Saints Row, play the second instalment. It sells cheap nowadays too.
The Indie Game I will always remember from 2011 is the little known Star Ruler. This game is of the so called 4X genre. You build an empire in space, outfit your star ships, fight enemy civilizations out there and explore technologies and new weapons. It's really immersive. Everything happens real time. The creators of it need to work on it still, but as it stands, it's a fun and playable game well-worth the dosh I forked out for it, as usual with Indie Games. It doesn't look like much, but I assure you, the game is packed with content and complexity that the new AAA titles certainly can't match. Overall, in my own gaming, there's recently been a turn to Indie and Online games when looking for complexity and detail, while I also enjoy the great AAA titles, but for other reasons than during the days of old Morrowind.
The year of 2011 was spent waiting for the Big One - Skyrim. As a player of the Elder Scrolls since Daggerfall, and of the elitist faction that thinks Morrowind is the greatest ES ever, I was seriously worried that Skyrim wouldn't suit me. I didn't have to worry. I loved it from the start and it's well worth both the wait and the dosh. Skyrim will give me years of enjoyment, since I am waiting for January when the modding tools will be released. With Skyrim, Bethesda has reached new heights.
I need to mention EVE Online. This is the first quite mature online game I've joined. I tried it out back in 2009, but didn't like it then, but gave it a new shot this year, and have already put in a lot of hours on it. It's a game that will take years to get to grips with and it's going to be interesting to be there during the continued development of it. Its audience seems to be relatively mature, which is unique for online games.
2011 will in my book for always be remembered for my mod Dibella's Watch. I spent ten months of 2011 creating and fine-tuning my own continent for Oblivion. I wrote quests, created castles and cities and had lots of fun doing it all. For Skyrim, I will be doing something similar and have it all planned out already, but more on that as we enter 2012 and the modding tools come along.
Yeah so. Waiting for Skyrim was getting hard and I started looking about for games that I might play in the meantime. I found several good gems that I've overlooked through the years and gave them a go. It includes this one. Saints Row 2. This was also one I should really not have missed.
I thought it was a cheap copy of GTA San Andreas (which I loved) and I thought Saints Row would take away a few hours at the most, but now I've been sitting here playing this gem several days because it's seriously addictive and it's a lot of fun. It plays on the same strings as GTA; with intense violence and destruction. There's never a dull moment in this game.
Unlike GTA you build your own character in this one and dress him/her up to your heart's content. You then take on the city of Stilwater and try to make your gang ruler of it. Customization options are many and diverse; you customize everything from your own face to the gang style, vehicles, weapons and even the hangouts. It's highly recommended.
Saints Row The Third is soon out, but will be released a few days after Skyrim. This means I won't have time to dive into that one as yet, but I'll take it on later. There's a great demo to play around with though, where you can already create your character for Saints Row 3.
I need to slap my own face right now. Why the hell have I missed this!? Why the hell have I missed Total War. Yeah, so, I didn't like Medieval 2 Total War for some reason. I didn't like it, although I knew that by logic I should have liked it and even loved it. I'm a great fan of the Middle Ages and Medieval Total War should have been right upp my anal, but no, I just didn't like it.
Therefore, I never paid any attention to the subsequent Total War games either. Naah, why should I, when I hated Medieval!? Yeah so, a couple of weeks ago, I bought Empire Total War just to pass the time a bit, and because there was a sale on Steam and I got Napoleon too. Well, why not try it out, because the waiting for Skyrim is driving me nutters and I need something to do?
I actually ran Napoleon first and ended up hating that one too. Yes! Although I'm a great fan of Napoleon and his era. When I was about fifteen they even called me Napoleon at school, because I knew everything about him, his time period and the Napoleonic Wars. I ended up hating his game. Shit! What a bad game series, I thought, there's no hope in this crap whatsoever!
Then, last and I thought least, I tried Empire Total War, and I fell in fucking love. What the hell does this game have that the others don't? I mean, I'm spending hours each day playing this game, and I've even gone as far as to call it the greatest strategy game since Civilization 1. All that masculine, hardcore brutality of the Medieval Ages and man's man Napoleon have nothing on the 18th century when even military uniforms were gay.
Screenshots all by me. Try out the DarthMod, for the best ETW experience ever! Now sod off from my page and go play Empire Total War instead.
Let me sit down for a while, be the old geezer I am, and tell you about the olden days; when games were uncool and no girls wanted us at school just because we were gamers; the days before Grand Theft Auto and Total War, the days when Sid Meier was still the King and when an RPG was more about numbers and statistics than huge boobs and plastic Japanese armour.
I am a veteran gamer. I was born in 1976, and experienced the first wave of home computers as well as the games that followed them. My first contact with computer games came in the early 80's and it was primitive games for the Vic 20 and later also the Commodore 64 that I remember. In 1987 I got my first own C64 and started collecting games and establishing my gamer style. I loved strategy games, but also played flight simulations and action games. Back then there wasn't much of a choice, but games by Microprose held high quality and I collected and played many of the games they produced. I especially remember Pirates! by Sid Meier; I owned a copy of it, Sid's first game to carry his name on the box. It was an excellent game. He later went on to produce shitty so-called games for Facebook (CivWorld), like the fading, forgotten old rockstar he is, but back then he was a fucking god.
The first RPG I played was Times of Lore. It's a good game even by today's standards, a top-down, open world simple adventure type RPG which was addictive and fun and also kept your imagination working. It's a classic and I fell in love with RPG's through it. I continued with more advanced RPG's, such as the Ultima series, where I played and loved Ultima 4, 5 and 6.
Later came the Amiga. This was a superior computer to the crappy PC and it was an excellent games machine. I played several games on my trusty old Amiga; mostly I remember Civilization 1, but also a little-known real classic called Hunter, which was a really early attempt at creating a 3D action game. Today it seems like a good precursor to The Elder Scrolls or the Grand Theft Auto games in my opinion. I also kept playing strategy games; like Fields of Glory (again by Microprose), which was one of the very first RTS games, actually. Another classic I played to death on the Amiga was Settlers 1 and that series also went on to become really big. A sadly forgotten game I loved was Elite 2 Frontier, by genius David Braben, a 3D space trading shooter game which was so huge that it was absolutely astonishing for its time. The Elite series could have gone the way of the Elder Scrolls if they had worked on it and not lost pace.
The Amiga had some great games that became forgotten classics. Frontier Elite 2 and Hunter both received undeservedly little attention. Frontier was released for the PC too, but wasn't a major hit like its predecessor Elite 1. Hunter was Amiga only but was the GTA of its time!
I stuck with the Amiga system for long, too long. Commodore, who made the Amiga machine, were in serious trouble, while the PC was on the rise. I bought my first own PC in 1996, and it was a monster machine by those days' standards. Ah, I worshipped the the late 90's; The X-Files on telly, Clinton's blowjob, Boris Yeltsin's boozing, hating the Spice Girls and loving Lara Croft's boobs. Those were good days. I started collecting games for the PC too and the action was hot on the market! I played the first Tomb Raider and the first Grand Theft Auto, the demo of the latter was actually the first thing I ever downloaded off the internet; it was a whopping five megabytes large and took ages to download! At first I specialized in strategy games and bought a lot of Battlefield Series games created by a now dead company called Talonsoft. Napoleon in Russia was my favourite. These were really detailed - and dull - turn-based strategy games. I tired of them though, and stuck to good old Civilization 2, which I still today think is the second best instalment in the series after Civ 4.
The first Tomb Raider was a 3D masterpiece without comparison. It was considered graphically super impressive as well as well-designed and provided really great gaming. Hell, I sweated a lot over this game as well as Lara's feminine forms. They should never have released Tomb Raider 2, because all the games after this first one are pretty crap in comparison.
In 1997 I also discovered Daggerfall. This was the second game in the Elder Scrolls Series, and since then I've been a huge fan of ES. I also continued playing my old favourites from ten years past, since new versions of Pirates and other games were released. Pirates Gold was actually the first game I ever modded. In those days it wasn't called modding, but in reality that was what I was doing. I was disgusted by the ugly pictures in-game, so I simply applied new images to my own copy - and - poof - I had become a modder. The year 2000 came and went and the world didn't end just because of that although the religious fanatic pricks told us that our computers would blow up the world on new years eve.
Daggerfall and Civilization 1 were my introduction into two game series that I've modded and loved. Unfortunately the latter went on to become a shitty Facebook game, but there is hope in the former, since it is about to reach new heights of greatness with the fifth instalment coming out later 2011 - Skyrim.
With Morrowind in the Elder Scrolls saga, I started modding for real. My first mod was actually released upon an unsuspecting audience in 2005 and it contained a house full of drunks added to Morrowind! It's still online and has had a couple of hundred downloads (The Alcoholics' Guild). I then created a much larger mod for Morrowind called Tel Nechim, which added a whole town with quests and shit. Entering the present decade, my modding has really taken off, and during 2010 I modded Civilization 4 and released a large mod called Fairy Tale which also became quite a success. During 2011 I've been keeping busy with creating an entirely new continent for Oblivion called Dibella's Watch. It's my grandest project ever and something of that detail and size has rarely been done by one single bloke for Oblivion ever.
Computer games have come a long way since I first pushed the tape into the cassette player on my Commodore 64 and loaded up Pirates! for the first time. Today my favourite games are these great 3D masterpieces like Oblivion, Grand Theft Auto 4 and The Sims 3 (don't laugh), that are so detailed and so realistic and so magnificent in their artistry that they leave you in awe, but it's the same awe that I experienced when sitting there with Settlers 1 trying to figure out how the hell they got all those little fuckers actually working on-screen at once without the old Amiga burning up. Geez! What will stuff look like in ten years? You can be sure, I'll be there to play the games of tomorrow too. And hopefully mod them.
Computer and Video Games are an artform, and it is a superior artform, linking all the previous artforms into one; sculpture, writing, painting, even filming and video creation... You name it. This is the ultimate artform of our times, yes this is the avante garde, the cutting-edge, like impressionism and expressionism in their days - the artform that defines our age. You can throw traditional painting and sculpture in the rubbish bin; because - been there, done that. And we, the artists, will be remembered as the Van Goghs and Rembrandts of our age. Our online forums are like the cafés in 19th century Paris, and sites like ModDB are our galleries. I am so proud to be a small member of this.
You need to be friggin' Sid Meier to become rich and famous for creating computer games. Most of us will never have any sort of success like he's had. We do this for fun and because we have to, like real art is supposed to be done. Not because we get substantial state funding or community sponsored galleries. We do this because we enjoy it and see the vast possibilities within this area, we do it for the love of gaming and the artform it is. We do it for free, we share knowledge and work, we use each others resources and tips and really, every mod is put together by a vast community of modders and few are those who have put together substantial mods or games on their very own.
Some of us also do this with the strong persuasion that history will remember us.