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Runes and Zombies

Well, when I'm not brooding over my differences with jackhoblins, I can always stave off my boredom with gaming. Two interesting titles I've been mucking around with lately are Rune Factory and Zombie Panic.

"Rune Factory" is a Nintendo DS Harvest Moon clone that takes place in a fantasy world. Apparently Harvest Moon, originally a 1996 SNES game, has spawned dozens of progeny but most of them stay true to the original concept of working on a farm. It sounds boring, but it turns out that the day-to-day dealings of trying to keep your own virtual farm running can really establish a great feeling of gamer's flow. Each new version has added additional complexity to the farm game - even romancing for a virtual spouse has been introduced.

Like many fantasy farmers, you'll spend your mornings watering cucumbers and your nights exploring dungeons.

Rune Factory enhances the formula further by introducing dungeons to hack and slash your way through when you're done doing the daily watering and brushing. It's a good idea to fish in more players by making the concept more exciting than farm work. According to Gamespot, Rune Factory 2 is set to hit Japan in January of 2008, and here's hoping they do an English release.

I think that Rune Factory stands as an example that you can still do quite a bit with tile-based games. It's the power of the simplicity of squares - just by putting them down next to each other and making them represent different things, you can assemble a whole world and still have enough development time left over to add a greater level of interactivity than a more graphically focused game.

The "Zombie Panic" I refer to is a Half Life 2 modification that continues the tradition of the original Zombie Panic mod.

The rules of this multiplayer first person shooter game are simple: Each player starts out as a 'survivor" except for one player who is the 'seeder zombie'. Each killed "survivor" respawns as a zombie and, when there's no survivors left, the zombies win. The "survivors" can only win by killing zombies until the zombie respawns run out.

They're climbing the stairwells!

It's the details that really make the game work well:
  • The survivors need to desperately forage for equipment in order to have a chance at killing enough zombies to win.
  • The only way the survivors have a chance at winning in Zombie Panic is by watching eachothers' backs and working together. Wasting shots or hording equipment is a surefire formula for defeat.
  • Each survivor killed not only adds another player to the zombie team but also a number of respawns. The survivors have no idea how many of them are still alive - to them, the player roster shows everyone as a survivor whether or not they are.
  • The zombies can hear the survivors communicating with eachother but not the other way around. Even if they didn't, the dead survivors become zombies and are free to fink out their plans. Thus, the zombie horde always knows what the foolish mortals are up to.
The overall goal is to create the desperate zombie horror movie environment, and Zombie Panic does a pretty decent job of turning that into a good game.

I think that a really interesting thing about this game is that there's always more winners than losers. If you die as a survivor, you become a zombie, and your goal becomes defeating the rest of the survivors. The more players that become zombies, the better chance the survivors are going to lose. Even in a scenario where a handful of survivors defeat many zombies, all zombie players but the seeder can feel relatively good knowing they couldn't have done it were it not for their efforts as a survivors. It's an interesting take to PvP, which is usually a downer because it's a scenario of 50% winner and 50% loser.

Even in its unbalanced beta state, Zombie Panic is a whole lot of fun. However, I'm still looking forward to Natural Selection 2 (the Half-Life 2 update to the original Natural Selection mod that puts marines on aliens) if only because the original was a much deeper game.

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