VideoWars

Calling VideoWars a real-time strategy game almost seems wrong.  Game play zips along so fast that you have no time to really plan out anything.  Passive-Aggressive Action-Strategy might be a better name for it, but that would be abbreviated PAAS and I hear those Easter Egg dye people are really protective over their trademarks.

Sorry.  Sigh.  Writer’s block sure is a bitch.

Anyway, in VideoWars you play as one of six character classes themed from classic video games.  There’s a single-screen map and you start with one base, called a “node.”

No, not "Noid."

Every time you lay a new node down, it extends your territory.  Scattered throughout each map is special spaces that either give you points or increase the speed at which you accumulate money.  Using money, you can buy new Nodes, upgrade current ones with a defensive turret, build troops, or purchase missiles.  The object of the game is to destroy all the enemy bases.

It all sounded kind of like a stripped down version of Advanced Wars to me, but VideoWars is really nothing like that series.  The game isn’t turn-based for one thing, and there’s also no micro-managing like in your typical RTS.  Once you release a trooper, it will automatically do its own thing.  This design choice had the potential for disaster, but it actually works really well.  The AI is smart enough that if you are in need of defense and you unleash a minion, it will stay behind and defend your territory.  If nothing is attacking you, it will go on offense. Hell, my average team on Call of Duty isn’t that smart.

VideoWars is not a game you’re going to jump right into an instantly get a feel for.  The controls are fairly complicated.  You have to call up building options while holding the right trigger and action options using the left trigger.  CORRECTION: You do not have to hold the left trigger to do action commands.  My bad.  This gives you a lot to juggle, and it takes about twenty minutes for everything to “click” and make sense.  Sadly this is, oh, twelve minutes longer than the average player usually devotes to an Xbox Live Indie Game.

If you actually do purchase it and wait out the opening learning curve, VideoWars is a lot of fun.  It’s like a real-time strategy game as developed by someone with zero patience for any clichés the genre is known for.  The game moves along at an insane speed, with troops making short order of bases, money that builds quickly, and construction times that are minimal.  And if all that is too slow for you, or you’re sick of watching your AI troops have all the action, you can build missiles and fire them directly at whatever enemy targets you want.  You don’t even need to build anything special to get them, although you’ll acquire the ability to use them faster if you build more nodes.  The only way to defend against them is to have your nodes equipped with turrets and manually shooting an intercepting beam in the general direction the missile is traveling, sort of like Missile Command.

However, all is not perfect.  When playing the local-only multiplayer, the issue of balance came up.  There’s six classes you can pick from, themed after games like Defender, Robotron, the ghosts from Pac-Man, etc.  Once I had properly broken in my playing partner to the control scheme, we started having a really good time.  And then, we suddenly realized that the Defender ships were about as balanced as a two-year old who was just introduced to Jack Daniels.  Every character class has a super-duper power that can be activated once a minute.  For the Defender ships, it doubles their attack speed.  This allows them to pretty much steamroll over entire enemy troops and bases in just a matter of seconds.  The other character classes’ super-duper moves can’t remotely compete with that.  We tried to ban using the Defenders, but it quickly became apparent that balance was an issue in every other possible match-up.  No matter what, one class is always going to be too good to be a fair match for the other.

But, if both players agree to not use the super-duper powers, it’s actually the best multiplayer experience I’ve had in an Indie game thus far.  Really.  It’s awesome.

Which brings me to my biggest complaint.  The game’s primary focus is on multiplayer, but like damn near every Xbox Live Indie Game, there is no online support.  People tell me I need to quit bitching about this because it’s hard to program for and people don’t have the time and blah blah blah.  You know what, fuck you.  If your game could really use it and you don’t include it I’m going to call you out on it.  It’s hard to program for?  Here’s a thought: learn how to.  If it frustrates me to play a really good game with no online support then I promise you, it frustrates most non-XNA fanboys too.  You’re making games for a platform that millions of people own primarily to play online with.  Tell your average Xbox Live user that it’s just too hard to include online play and they’ll call you a newb, claim to have had sexual relations with your mother, and spend their money somewhere else, likely while teabagging their own floor.

VideoWars was developed by Baaad Dad

80 Microsoft Points said “granted, the average Xbox Live user is a pit viper raised in the depths of Hell itself, but you should still try to cater to them” in the making of this review.

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23 Responses to VideoWars

  1. Gingerlink says:

    I had a go at this while it was in playtest and even then I thought it was really good.

    RE: the complaint about online play. A lot of developers are very cautious, especially in their first game or so about adding it as it seems pretty daunting. I’m making my first forays into it at the moment and not having too much difficulty, but it requires a completely different kind of thinking to get it right. As such, for first games at least, a lot of developers will stick to what they know and then add it to their next game.

    Given the effort needed to add it, what then puts a lot of developers off is how worthwhile its going to be. You’ll need several people online to play at once and given the sales figures on XBLIG, only the most successful of XBLIGs will have any other players online more than a week after release. Of course you could also point out that by including online play, you’re going to make people stick around longer too.

    • Kairi Vice says:

      “Given the effort needed to add it, what then puts a lot of developers off is how worthwhile its going to be. You’ll need several people online to play at once and given the sales figures on XBLIG, only the most successful of XBLIGs will have any other players online more than a week after release.”

      Faulty, lazy logic at play there. Maybe it would have more players if it offered online play. Not offering it takes away both the game’s replay value and it’s potential to spread by word of mouth. If I didn’t do Indie Gamer Chick, I wouldn’t buy any multiplayer-centric games from XBLIG if they didn’t offer online play, and again, if I think that way other people do too. I firmly feel that I share a similar mindset with the average consumer.

      The task might be daunting and the reward could be very little, but the potential it offers is huge. VideoWars is the third game THIS MONTH that would have been a contender for the #1 spot on my leaderboard if it offered some form of an online feature. It didn’t. And this is the Xbox 360 we’re talking about here. Not offering online play on it is like an arcade not offering quarters.

      • Actually I’m going to offer my point of view as someone who has added and then removed networking from his game.

        Basically, here’s the thing: real-time networking is COMPLICATED (note that I say “real-time”, to differentiate from, say, a turn-based game. Turn-based networking is EASY MODE). Not in a “waaaah it’s so much work” sort of way but in a “my game really needs to have been designed from the ground up to handle it, and even then it might not work” sort of way.

        The problem with networking, ignoring all of the tricky-but-doable network lobby/game joining/signing crap, is LATENCY (or, if you prefer, LAG). Basically, you’re going to have lag. A lot of it. Retail Xbox games (including XBLA, not including XBLIG, of course) require you to handle, at MINIMUM, a 250ms ping, gracefully.

        Certain classes of games (FPS, fighting games, and many classes of RTS) have known issues with known good solutions.

        With FPS games, because bullet-based weapons are instant-hit, you can SUPER-FUDGE the aim of players on the server, and it’s hard for players to tell the difference. Rocket-like ammo is trickier, but much rarer, and those are the most likely weapons that you’ll see go weird first when pings get bad.

        Many RTS games can generally hide input latency by not having any units react right away. if every time you click, it takes a second for a unit to start moving (after they say their Blizzard-inspired Funny Dialog Line), that’s a lot of time to make sure that all players involved know that you did a thing, so they can keep in sync.

        HOWEVER, for fast-action games, such as shoot-em-ups or fast-action RTS games where such latency wouldn’t be viable, you’re in a world of hurt: you can’t simply cause the input to be delayed, because sluggish input in an action game will ruin your game completely. Most weapons are not instant hit, so it’s really hard to fudge them without it being obvious (since they’re always on-screen, you either have to start them from where they SHOULD be now, causing them to appear far in front of the other player’s ship or you have to start them at the other player’s ship and accelerate them towards the proper spot, meaning they don’t move smoothly like they should).
        And then there’s AI behaviors. If the AI has to make decisions based on where a player is, and each player sees the other in a different spot from where they “really” are on their own screens (due to lag), the AI is going to diverge quickly on both machines without a TON of corrections (which could really destroy bandwidth and lead to enemy rubber-banding or other odd-looking behavior).

        Basically, when everything’s on-screen and there’s nowhere to hide latency in the input, good luck getting a good networking experience out of your game. I haven’t seen a networked shoot-em-up that didn’t behave badly under even moderate amounts of lag (values still under the Xbox Live Minimum)

        For my own game, I had a really, REALLY solid networking layer, but it had one massive downside: due to what I described above, enemy behaviors had to be perfectly deterministic, and not based on the players’ actions in any way (except when they die, of course). With this assumption built into the game, there was never any sort of popping of enemies because they always acted 100% the same on both machines, and the game was totally playable even at a ridiculous 2000ms ping.
        But holy CHRIST was the game ever boring, because there were no aimed enemy attacks, no homing missiles, nothing of the sort. Because of the restrictions I’d had to build into the game design, the game itself suffered. So I did the only sane thing:

        I removed my game’s networking.

        And you know what? It’s a better game for it. The gameplay restrictions are gone, and now I have really cool enemies that do cool things.

        tl;dr: Networking isn’t hard because of the effort involved, it’s hard because for certain classes of game, it’s not really a solved problem, and can either force unwanted restrictions onto your gameplay or present a horrible experience over the network.

  2. Baaad Dad says:

    Thanks for checking it out Kairi, and spending some time with it to really check it out. I get the impression some reviewers base their reviews on the 8 minutes alone.

    One little correction: you don’t have to hold down LT to activate basic commands; that’s just a reminder if you forget what to press. That should make commanding a little easier.

    Interesting that you found Defenders overpowered! Some playtesters warned about the Ghosts’ ability to warp around and produce a mass of units behind your lines. I guess it all comes down to how you approach the game. I think arguments could be made for the Ghosts or Zombies also having really dangerous powers, or for the Bugs taking out your missile defense.

    Online… no arguments there. I think I’ll just say that I learned enough during the making of VideoWars that I am planning to include online multiplayer from the start for my next project. Online play would have made VW a better product, but at this stage a still non-existent product :).

    Glad you had fun with it; hopefully there are a bunch of others out there who will too!

    • Kairi Vice says:

      It’s really unfortunate (and at times laughably pitiful) that so many out there review just the demos. Some games you simply can’t get a feel for in 8 minutes. You’re certainly not going to get enough information to make the type of critical observations that people looking for reviews want. Why wouldn’t a gamer just download the demo themselves and form their own opinion? That’s why I started Indie Gamer Chick, and since I have I’ve heard from a lot of people that it’s exactly what they’ve been looking for.

      I’ll correct the review by the way.

      • Baaad Dad says:

        Thanks for that!

        Seems like your site is off to a great start. Best of luck! I’ll be sure to send you info on the next project when it starts coming to life.

  3. dannobot says:

    Well you already said it for me, but I’m gonna say it anyway: online multiplayer is really REALLY hard, and it’s not a selling point on XBLIG. Xbox indie gamers are already a niche market, and xbox indie gamers who also have gold accounts is a niche of a niche. One of the rules of XBLIG is that online functionality is disabled during trial, but gamers buy/dont buy a game based on the 8 minute trial. If that game hasn’t been sold in that 8 minutes, the promise of online multiplayer is not going to influence any decisions. The marketplace can’t be sorted by “number of players” so there is no way for players to find online multiplayer games even if they are specifically looking for them.

    Online multiplayer isn’t just a switch you toggle before hitting the big red “Make Game” button either. Getting online multiplayer working on Pajamorama was a solid month of development on nothing but the online, and thats even after I reused most of the online multiplayer code from my last game Opposites. The whole entire game has to be designed around online multiplayer, and the number of potential bugs is an order of magnitude higher than single player games.

    Even testing it is a pain in the ass. First you need to get it working on system link (more work). Then you need either 2 xboxes with cc accounts ($$$) or get it working on a PC with Games For Windows Live (more work). Also GFWL is a peice of shit that only allows one account to be signed on a computer at any time, so you cant just run mutliple instances of the game. So to fully test a 4 player game like Pajamorama I needed 3 PCs and an xbox playing over system link.

    Even after all that work is done and the game is in Peer Review on the app hub, a lot of reviewers wont look at games with live integration because it’s a lot more work to test online multiplayer rather than simple single player games.

    So you can say “online multiplayer blah blah blah fuck you” all you want, I’d have to respond with Yes I agree that xbox live integration is one of the strengths of the XBLIG marketplace, but it’s a huge hassle and totally not worth the time and effort.

    • Kairi Vice says:

      I think consumers would disagree.

    • Dcon6393 says:

      I disagree completely. Go play games like Avatar Legends where online capability expands the life of the game exponentially. As a gamer I would prefer online be added to a game if it is necessary to make a better, more whole experience. With Indie games very very few people can do it for a living, so putting that extra month in to make sure it is the best game you can make is something you should want to do because you love designing games, not something you avoid because it is too much work.

      • dannobot says:

        Yeah I agree, all my games have online multiplayer. But having done it, I can understand why a dev would want to skip it. I don’t know if you realize the scope of how much more work it is. Like I had to rebuild the whole menu system in Pajamorama from scratch because of bugs in the character & level select screens for online games. Just that one little thing that no one will probably ever notice cost an entire weeks worth of nights and weekend.

        So yeah, I love designing games, but does tearing a menu system apart and putting it back together even count as game design? That kind of shit is tedious and not much fun, and online multiplayer adds a LOT of those kind of problems.

    • Dcon6393 says:

      I agree that it is tedious. I might not be to the level of programming yet where I would be required to code something that difficult, but I am aware of the difficulty of it. My point is that if it is your hobby to make games, and not your day job, then you should want to put out the best game you can, even if it takes a few extra months. Now if it is your means of living, then you probably should avoid programming a game that needs online to be worth the money. Obviously the scope of problems that an online game can have as opposed to an offline game is huge, but it shouldn’t be skipped if it is necessary.

      • And it won’t be skipping if it’s necessary, but that’s just the thing… these games play fine with local multiplayer. Online would be an added bonus.

        That said, you can’t gloss over what Dannobot said about requiring other developers to be involved. These are the same lazy mouth-breathers that you’re usually begging a Peer Review out of, let alone playtesting, let alone online playtesting! A dev like Baaad Dad can be as ambitious and talented as he is, and still have an achilles heel in the form of relying on other devs who won’t put in the effort or the time to satisfactorily test online play.

        However, now that Baaad Dad has got himself a bit of street cred these days, he might find more devs jumping up to help playtest and peer review these additional features in the future.

      • Dcon6393 says:

        I was relatively shocked when I heard how playtesting actually happens. Some people just can’t be bugged to play a game for an hour or 2 in exchange for someone playing theirs. It is just a little bit of a turn off on a game that is based around multiplayer to not have online.

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  5. Melting Sky says:

    Amusing reviews. I had fun reading them. One thing I thought I should add is that the xbl indie programing platform simply doesn’t support multiplayer online. It’s not so much the programer’s fault in this case, but rather microsoft intentionally limiting and crippling their programing tools. I’m not sure what microsoft’s reason for nerfing it is, but it was probably some bureaucrat douchebag who figured out it would somehow cost the almighty microsoft pennies worth of bandwidth or something. There apparently are some ways to hack around this limitation to create things like leadershipboards but real time multiplayer just isn’t possible from what I understand. Perhaps some particularly gifted programer has found away around the intentional limitations, but I can’t think of one indie title I’ve come across that has online multiplayer.

    • Kairi Vice says:

      You’ve heard WAY wrong my friend. There are actually quite a few online multiplayer games on Xbox Live Indie Games. I’m reviewing one today, Take Arms. I’ve played a few that have online multiplayer already. It’s there, and if you look around hard enough you can find instructions on how to do it. XNA guys whine about my insistence of bringing it up, with some calling it “unnecessary.” And yet every single non-XBLIG/XNA fanboy I’ve talked to, without fail, says it would make a huge difference in them purchasing a game or not.

      • Melting Sky says:

        Sorry I guess I am mistaken. It was something I was told once by an indie game developer, and I simply have never encountered one of these games with actual online multiplayer. (Well up until checking out the one you just mentioned.) I’m a progamer, but I’ve never messed around with XNA (xbox programing tools). I was just reapeting something some developer had ranted at me about after I commented on a lack of multiplayer. My bad.

        • Kairi Vice says:

          No problem.

          I’ve never messed around with XNA (xbox programing tools).

          Thanks for putting that last part in. As the proprietor of a website dedicated solely to Xbox Live Indie Games, I had no clue at all what XNA was. I’m honestly not sure how I made it this far without you.

    • dannobot says:

      Yeah, you’re slightly misinformed. Online multiplayer is available in xna but leaderboards, acheivements etc. are not.

      If you’d like to try some online multiplayer XBLIG games, xboxindies.com has an excellent tool for finding new games. Here’s a view filtered to show only games with online multiplayer:

      http://bit.ly/oWPqBd

      I actually cry a little every time I see how good this tool is compared to the official search functionality on the marketplace.

  6. I just played this today, thanks to recently winning it and some others in the GameMarx competition.

    I haven’t played multiplayer, nor will I ever (since not a single one of my friends will touch an indie game with a bargepole). It plays pretty well in single player though. The thing that really impressed me is how much I didn’t hate it. You see, I’m terrible at RTS games. I’m pretty bad at the turn-based type, but when it gets into real time I’m utterly abysmal. I got about an hour into C&C Red Alert before I simply couldn’t beat my current mission.

    Video Wars removes all the stuff that aggravates me and that I can’t get my head around with RTS games in general. It starts immediately and doesn’t play out like chess. That is, it doesn’t require you to have a long-term plan at the outset and then painstakingly execute it. You don’t have to wait ten minutes to build a unit. You don’t spend all your time trying to guess why your opponent has been so quiet all this time.

    Video Wars seems to be a non-RTS player’s RTS. It almost, almost strays into tower defence. I approve.

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