Thursday, 28 February 2013

Teleglitch: A masterful immersive action experience

I've recently had the pleasure of discovering a fantastic indie game entitled Teleglitch. So addicted have I become to it, that I have been playing it non-stop and contributing to the Teleglitch WikiHere is the introductory text I wrote, it provides a description of the gameplay without spoiling much. I recommend playing this game, it is the best recent immersive gaming experience I have had the delight of encountering, and it isn't even a first-person game:

Teleglitch employs a number of gameplay elements to create an immersive "action horror" experience.

As a military scientist on a backwater, uninhabitable planet, you find yourself trapped in a research station where things have gone horribly wrong. Get to the teleporters on each of the 10 levels, and you will escape. This is the simple premise of the game, but the gameplay itself is certainly not trivial.
The core of the game can be described as a "twin-stick shooter". Using WSAD (or similar) keys moves your character, while the mouse aims them. Left click either uses an item, or swipes with a knife. Don't resort to this if you can help it. Right click brings up an "aim line", which extends depending upon how far the mouse cursor is from your character. With a weapon equipped, left-clicking while also holding right-click will shoot. Some weapons auto-fire, others shoot once per click.
There is a basic but effective inventory system, listed down the left-hand side of the display. The player can use the mouse wheel to select items. Q drops them, holding E allows them to be re-arranged. White items are weapons, red are explosives, blue are healing items, yellow are special items, and green are parts for crafting.
Yes, Teleglitch also has crafting and it, too, is basic, but tremendously effective. Pressing C brings up a list of craftable items, based upon what is in your inventory. Again, using the mouse wheel allows one to select the item required, and left-clicking crafts it. If there is no space in your inventory, you will drop the item.
Levels are made up of interconnecting rooms, and these are randomly placed based on various "parts" each level has. They can be in various orders, but you will always start and finish in teleporter rooms. You can blockade doors with furniture nearby, by simply pushing it. There are secret rooms which must be shot open to gain access.
There are various audio cues that can help the player discern what they may be about to face, and where enemies may be. Teleglitch employs locational audio with some effective audio design. The result is an immersive experience, despite the pixelated visual style.
As you progress through the game, some of the secrets of Militech and their research are revealed, and you will face larger and more dangerous enemies. In classic Doom fashion, you will find that almost every weapon will be useful in different situations. You only have so many inventory slots, but you will want to keep a variety of weapons handy for different enemies. Some may be slow but take many shots, others will be fast and in larger numbers attemting to swarm you, often you will meet many different enemies at once. Combine this with the thick atmosphere of dread, the highly rewarding exploration (storage boxes with medical items become rare treasures), the visceral combat and the distinct feeling of place, and Teleglitch ultimately becomes a unique experience that you will find difficult to put down, or forget once you are finished.
The developers are - as of this writing - putting the finishing touches to the Mac port, and are then looking to add more levels and content. Be sure to consult for more details.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Exai, not exciting. At all.

So Autechre have decided to drop another album on us, and not only that, it's a double. Needless to say it will take a long time to fully digest all of it, but having had a lot of trouble enjoying it even after a couple of listens - which was quite the opposite reaction I had to the magnificent Oversteps - I'm already feeling rather disappointed with it. So my initial feelings are as follows:

On Oversteps, Autechre made a big step back to melodic composition augmenting their convoluted rhythms and textures. I wasn't expecting Exai to be "the same" - this is Ae after all - but it often sounds to me like a completely different artist than those involved with Oversteps (yes, I'm aware it's still Booth and Brown, the point still stands).

Exai is the first Autechre album that adds NOTHING to their "legacy". It is a concoction of the industrial bleakness of Confield, mixed with some of the masturbatury rhythmic excess of Draft / Untilted, and the atmospherics of Quaristice. Occasionally, echoes of Oversteps drop in here and there, but this is Autechre back to being "obtuse" and excessively programming-focussed. Many of these tracks go on for far, far too long and do nothing new that we have not heard before.

Bladelores is one particular nadir I find: it's just one filtered pad that never shifts notes, merely sustaining under ridiculous beat-munching for far, far too long. Sure, they spent a lot of effort on going nuts with the beats, but one pad? For most of a 12~ minute track? Lazy!

Flep, tuinorizn, deco Loc, vekoS, 1 1 is, prac-f and Fleure stand out for me, as all being drum-focussed workouts, favouring obscure, intentionally difficult rhythms and textures and little else to latch on to. On the occasions that pads, leads, plips and squelches do form some sort of melodic layers, they often do so without forming anything memorable. recks on, irlite (get 0), runrepik and YJY UX are good examples of this.

jatevee C has some delicious synth work though, with some off-kilter donks over those huge pads. T ess xi follows that with some of the best chords on the album, recalling old Megadrive soundtracks put through the wringer, though I'm less fussed with the latter half where it degenerates into irritated splutters. cloudline recalls some of Ae's LP5 / EP7 era work, with its skittering, destroyed hip hop beat underlying some "barely there" synth stabs.

Spl9 has some punch and intensity with some quirky melodies over some huge beats. But this is rare on Exai, had there been more Mcr Quarter-style industrial ear-bleeding workouts, I'd have approved. No the vast majority of it feels like Confield mk 2 with somewhat more elaborate MAX patches. Disappointing and tedious. Exai will likely convince many that they are listening to a higher art form, despite being quite a vacuous and unmoving experience. Oversteps remains their best.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Doom Maps (10-2-2013)

CAFEBRK1.WAD: Coffee Break Episode 1 by Matt Tropiano

I've played a fair few MegaWADs over the years. While it's tempting to assume that a 32-map monster WAD is where most of the fun is to be had in Doom's copious range of fan-made addons, it would be doing many good map authors a disservice to ignore single and "episodic" map packs only because they somehow appear to offer "potentially less" gameplay.

A few days ago I reviewed a couple of standout single WADs, this time I took on Coffee Break which is an 11-map "episode" that's been brewing since 2009. Matt says he decided to release this as is, despite not having a full 32 mapset (his original intention), and it was a damned good thing he did. This is one of the better episodes I've had the pleasure of playing.

Highlights include Map 4 "Toxic", set in a dingy waste processing facility. Featuring a claustrophobic crossroads / hub structure with the usual keycard-locked doors surrounding a central area. In this central area are two conveyor belts pushing toxic barrels, this is one of those cool map features that not only serve to give the player the impression that they are indeed running around a dangerous waste facility, it is tremendously useful in the opening fight!

Map 5 "Control" goes for a more open-plan design, initially challenging the player with multi-directional battles with imps and sergeants and only a minigun to fight with. Starting in a typical base room, the player is then thrust in an outside area surrounding a central room inaccessible at first. Like all the maps, Control features cunning traps and monsters placed at varying levels making good use of height. One of the greatest aspects of Doom's game-play is the challenge of dealing with fire from various directions and distances. This isn't a case of running forward, shooting and hiding behind cover a-la Call of Duty.

Map 9 "Channel" is another highlight. Starting in a room connected to a monster-strewn outside area, this unusual flash of green is connected to an ochre atrium with some challenging rooms, trickily-placed Revenants, and a fair bit of vertical fighting crossed with some touch-and-go monster traps. The final section takes place in a large stream of water dug into some earthy areas. Here the map introduces some high-level firepower and throws a ton of monsters at you, and I found it easier - and more thrilling - to attempt speed-running this section.

Matt peppers his maps with mini set-pieces such as this, but also with small touches and attention to detail. (The aforementioned conveyor belt room in Toxic houses some cool UAC logo windows, through which falling waste can be seen. Such decoration shows a level of map design that borders on the artistic.) Though the maps are generally small, they don't feel claustrophobic and - particularly due to some appropriately clever and unpredictable monster placement - do not ever feel tedious.

I'm not usually fond of "MegaWADs" where pistol starts are suggested, instead preferring to carry over weapons onto maps that "keep this in mind." But I played Coffee Break like this and it kept up a consistent and steadily growing difficulty (at UV -fast, as always), and gradually more intricate level designs with superb visuals and monster placement. Play it as soon as you can.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Yamaha UX256 USB MIDI interface

There is a distinct paucity of multi-port MIDI interfaces being released these days. It's not difficult to understand why, iOS and "In The Box" software-based music production setups are increasingly more common nowadays. But for those that wish to keep their hardware synths and effects connected to and controlled from a modern DAW such as Reaper, Ableton, Studio One, Logic etc etc. it can be difficult to find a reliable MIDI interface with more than 2/3 ins and outs, and full support for newer OSs.

It just so happens that Yamaha, being the awesome people that they are, released Windows 7 drivers (32 AND 64-bit! See the support page here they've updated them for Win8, even.) for this excellent little 6-in / 6-out MIDI interface. And I bagged one for about £25 on eBay.

It has worked flawlessly for me, in Reaper, but even more brilliantly it is truly multi-client. I've had Ctrlr, Reaper and MIDI-OX all running at once, playing notes from my master keyboard through the UX to a separate rack synth and not a single "MIDI interface not available" error in sight.

The UX256 is a tremendously rugged little half-rack unit housed in a metal exterior, and it feels quite substantial. Probably one of the best purchases I've made, and I'd heartily recommend it for anyone needing such an interface. There's very little information about them on the 'net, and only a couple of less than glowing reviews (Sound On Sound seemed to like it though). The new drivers have never given me trouble, and apparently it works in Linux, too. I'm not sure it'll work on iOS, but I'll update this post if I have any luck.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Doom Maps (7-2-2013)

ADMSM.WAD: Administration Center by Sergeant_Mark_IV

This map has a fairly typical hub-style layout, you begin off one branch, play through some linear rooms leading to a crossroad of sorts, then proceed to find each keycard to open the appropriate doors. The game-play ramps up appropriately swiftly for a single map, and it was only a few minutes running through some imp-infested white corridors before I was greeted by a hell knight in an office!

The main hook of this map isn't just the layout, but the visual style Sergeant goes for: A foyer, filing rooms, office cubicles (this is the area you'll have to cross through a few times - the cubicle walls make for some useful cover), a dimly lit storage room make for a refreshing change from the usual military base designs. It didn't take me very long to finish, perhaps half an hour at most - and I play every map on Ultra Violence with fast monsters - but it was a memorable little journey with a perfect challenge level, a couple of cool traps, and some unpredictable monster placement. For a "speedmap" this is worth your time.

BLRVOUTP.WAD: Bloodriver Outpost by Henri Lehto

Ah, some ZDoom features! I find it makes a pleasant change to play the odd map with slopes, swimmable water and the like. Bloodriver Outpost makes good use of both: this is probably the first occasion I've had to crouch under some slopes to pick up some items, in Doom!

A cramped base entrance opens almost immediately to an open area (shown in the image), though I was already given a super shotgun, I was assaulted on all sides from Cacos, imps, and a few hitscan enemies. A couple of quick runs to pick up some enemies, and peeping my head out of the nearby secret, was enough to get some infighting going amongst the monsters, and this eased things somewhat.

A few button presses and a quick swim later, I reached the other side of the open area, leading into more base rooms and enemies from various directions. The level design move to a more room-based Quake 2-style at this point, punctuated with one or two more outside areas, with varied monster choice and placement keeping things interesting. The only irksome point with this map is that it becomes a button-fest, doors, rooms, floors opening progressively as you kill enough enemies to hit the next button.

Even with the caveat this is strongly recommended, I enjoyed my time with this map and found the difficulty just right. I'm not against using (G)ZDoom features in Doom maps, and in the right hands they augment fun map design with elements that can bring out further diversity in the gameplay. Good job Henri, keep it up.