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Archmage: Stabat Mater posted 3/27 at 8:32:44 PM PST by Dave / Mason / TAN

Developer: Mari Telecommunications Co., Ltd.
Trailer: 28MB

The most unique thing about Stabat Mater I noticed was that the game is voice-activated. Say "Fireball!" and your character summons forth a ball of blazing hurt.

Other niftyness about this game: It's based on the strategy game Archmage, and supports 32 player multiplayer. There's also a potential for massively-multiplayer features with the right server. It also has a random dungeon generator, ala Diablo, which makes sure every game is unique.

The game is full 3D (OpenGL), with a first-person interface. A small toolbar runs along the bottom of the screen. The graphics look really good - terrain is varied, and NPCs and enemies look detailed. Spell effects are also nicely done.

All in all, the game looks like it's shaping up to be a big ball of role playing goodness. Keep an eye on the Stabat Mater web site (www.stabatmater.com), and don't be surprised if you see it on the shelf one day. - Mason McCuskey

Chase Ace 2 posted 3/27 at 8:18:44 PM PST by Mason McCuskey

Developer: Space Time Foam
Demo: 5MB

If there were an IGF award for "best explosion," Chase Ace 2 would own the trophy. Seriously, this game has some of the best 2D, retro-style eye-candy you're likely to find anywhere. Denmark-based developer Space Time Foam really went above and beyond the typical explosion sprite and rehashed sound effect. Apparently the IGF judges agreed with me, awarding Chase Ace 2 the "Best Audio" award.

The killer explosions are just one of many things that make Chase Ace 2 one of the best top-down action games I've seen.

Gameplay is simple: it's basically a top-down deathmatch. You pilot a ship, you destroy other ships. What more do you need?

The game's artwork is all done manga style, which means bright colors and huge explosions. Attention to detail is evident in all respects; one of the coolest things I noticed while playing was that even though the game was 2D, the tall objects in the arena were 3D, similar to how certain objects in Diablo 2 appear 3D.

Chase Ace 2 is available RIGHT NOW for purchase online for $19.50 through the Chase Ace 2 web site at www.chaseace.com.

Hardwood Spades posted 3/27 at 9:20:57 PM PST by Dave / Mason / TAN

Developer: Silver Creek Entertainment
Demo: 6MB

Those folks with the funny hats are back again at this year's IGF, with another great looking card game: Hardwood Spades.

Anyone who thinks making a card game involves ripping the card graphics from Solitare and slapping a few Visual Basic forms together in a couple of hours obviously hasn't seen the stuff the folks at Silver Creek Entertainment are creating. Hardwood Spades, like its older sibling Hardwood Hearts (at the IGF last year), is all about details - the graphics are excellent (the game won the Best Visual Art award), the sound effects crisp, and the interface intuitive.

Hardwood Spades sports a long list of features. You can choose to play by yourself or online. You can choose from 4 card decks, 24 card designs, and 21 different characters, all beautifully hand-drawn. You can create your own deck using Silver Creek's unique Deck Press software. This game has everything card players want, and then some.

Best of all, you can purchase Hardwood Spades right now, from the Hardwood Spades web site at http://www.hardwoodspades.com.

Hostile Space posted 3/27 at 10:49:06 PM PST by Dave Astle / Mason McCuskey

Developer: Interadventure
"There is a known region of space, where shadows hold secrets. It is said great treasures are hidden there, and company is not welcome."

I had the privledge of talking briefly with Douglas Cobb from InterAdventure, the developer of Hostile Space. He spent some time demoing the game to me and explaining how it worked.

In essence, Hostile Space is a MMORPG (like Everquest or UO), where players take on the role of a ship captian and cruise around the galaxy. It's a heavy dose of sci-fi setting, mixed with traditional role playing game constructs (for example, psionics for spells, fame points for experience levels, etc.) The game is being sold as shareware; registered players who purchase Hostile Space online, and who have enough silicon, can set up their own servers with their own rules, or choose to play on an existing server. The only thing you can't do is charge people to play on your server.

The interface reminded me immediately of Subspace; it's a top-down, 2D view of space, with a small map in the corner and some icons running along the side. The interface appeared very functional and unobtrusive, a definate Good Thing.

If you're a fan of MMORPGs and sci-fi, you should definately keep an eye on Hostile Space. -Mason McCuskey

IronSquad posted 3/27 at 9:19:58 PM PST by Dave / TAN / Mason

Developer: Gigantic Games
Demo: 10MB

Ahh, war games. IronSquad is an online war game, with a slew of features and some great graphics. Oh, how far we've come since Combat.

IronSquad's gameplay is simple. You are one member of a squad of up to 16 players; your squad is engaged in a bitter battle with the other squad. Take over the territory of the opposing squad, and win the day.

The game revolves around "troopers." Troopers are basically mobile hit points - your objective is to ferry your troopers from your base to an enemy building. When you get there, you deploy the troopers, and they kill the troopers already in the building, weakening its defenses. Ferry enough troopers to a building and they will eventually eradicate the enemy and cliam the building in the Name Of You. You can also fortify your own buildings by bringing additional troopers to them.

Ironsquad is played from an overhead perspective. The screen is divided into several windows, showing the main play area (rendered in beautiful 3D), plus a map, stats, and a chat window. All the graphics look great, and you can play in a wide variety of environments, from cities to deserts.

Bottom line: IronSquad is a great game which takes elements from squad-based RTS games, first person shooters, and MMORPGs, and combines them all into a game design that works very well.

-Mason McCuskey

SabreWing posted 3/27 at 9:30:55 PM PST by Dave / Mason

Developer: Wild Tangent
Demo: 5MB Fast action space combat comes crashing into your browser, thanks to SabreWing, by WildTangent. Sabre Wing has a very simple premise - it's all about interstellar dogfighting. Your mission is, in a nutshell, to fly around and shoot down the evil Grom armada.

Several things are unique to SabreWing. First of all, there's the WildTangent technology. Thanks to a piece of code developed by WildTangent, called the Web Driver, games like SabreWing can stream the game through the net, even on 56k connections.

Also, WildTangent has done something unique with the campaigns of SabreWing: they have released them over the web as episodes. By now, you can get all five campaign missions directly from the web site - the campaigns were released from Nov 22, 2000 to December 15th, 2000.

These two technologies allow us to catch a glimpse of the future of gaming - episodic games streamed directly into a gamer's web browser. What's surprising is that not only does this technology work, but the game that showcases it is also fun to play in its own right.

Point your Internet Explorer (sorry, no Netscape) at http://www.sabrewing3d.com now, and give those Grom what for! -Mason McCuskey

Shattered Galaxy posted 3/27 at 10:50:05 PM PST by Dave / TAN / Mason

Developer: Nexon
Demo: 59MB

Shattered Galaxy dominated the IGF awards this year, winning the Audience Award, the Game Design award, the award for Technical Excellence, and the Seumas McNally Grand Prize. It's easy to see why: this massively-multiplayer online RTS sports several new and exciting features.

The game is divided into two parts: hero mode and battle mode. In hero mode, Shattered Galaxy plays a lot like a console-style RPG: you play a hero in the game, who travels around, trades with players, etc. You also use your hero's money and clout to create the units of your battle squad.

In battle mode, your "hero" becomes the commander of your squad, and you put your units to the test on the battlefield. The results of your battles change the state of the persistent universe, making each conflict important.

Another nifty thing about Shattered Galaxy is that your units are completely customizeable. You "build" them from the chassis up, adding engines, weapons, and technology. There are four main unit types - aviation, infantry, mobile, and specialist. As you use each type of unit, more "parts" are available for you to build even more advanced units. This makes it very difficult to cheese someone using only one or two unit types. To succeed in Shattered Galaxy, you must have a balanced force, and that means you must use each unit type more or less equally in order to advance them at the same rate.

Just like the units, your hero also grows and develops based on your actions. You must spend time enhancing your hero's education and tactical abilities to unlock more advanced units. For example, a hero with a very high "clout" value (a measure of political power) will have access to new units before a hero with low clout does.

It plays as cool as it sounds. Shattered Galaxy has an isometric interface, augmented with a good dose of beautiful eye-candy. All of the graphics look amazing, and the interface is streamlined and polished. The stats of your squad are displayed on the left hand side of the screen, and typical RTS command bar runs along the bottom, showing a thumbnail map, chat window, and button interface.

Shattered Galaxy is a great game, and the amount of craftmanship and detail put into the game by its developers is obvious. I'll bet that when it's finally released (it's in open beta right now), it will go down in the history books as one of the greatest RTS games ever developed. -Mason McCuskey

Strifeshadow posted 3/27 at 10:34:13 PM PST by Dave Astle / Mason McCuskey

Developer: Ethermoon Entertainment

Last year, I had the good fortune of meeting Tom Cadwell, of Ethermoon Entertainment, when I was an IGF finalist. I was happily surprised, then, when I learned that the game Tom was helping to make - Strifeshadow - had been selected as a finalist this year.

And rightly so - Strifeshadow is a very deep, very excellent RTS, based in a fantasy world.

Everything about this game is deep. For starters, Strifeshadow has nothing less than a novel for an introductory story. Of course, you don't have to read it all to get playing, but if you're into the game, reading the story gives you a great sense of the game world, and thus provides an excellent backdrop for your battles.

From there, it only gets deeper. Over 30 units to choose from, divided into three races: The Accursed (undead), the Dark Elves (who, just like Martin Blank, have a certain "moral flexibility"), and the Sylvans (reclusive, faerie-like forest dwellers). Each of these races have their own, completely unique units, and traps (for example, the Accursed units can be reincarnated after "dying" in battle). You can combine units to create more powerful units.

The graphics of Strifeshadow bring the world to life wonderfully. The isometric view showcases the intricate graphical detail put into each unit and structure of the game.

For all of these reasons, and more, Strifeshadow could possibly be one of the best traditional RTS games in development currently. My impression was that it was a deeper, more intricate, and more fun version of Starcraft (yeah, it looks that good.) Keep close tabs on it; I guarantee it'll make waves when it's released.

Takeda posted 3/27 at 9:46:45 PM PST by Dave / TAN / Mason

Developer: Magitech Corporation

Imagine a video game version of Akira Kurosawa's "Ran," and you essentially have Takeda, an excellent IGF finalist developed by Magitech Corporation.

In Takeda, you take on the role of Takeda Shingen, the ruler of the Takeda clan and the province of Kai. This essentially means that you have loads and loads of Samurai to command.

The thing that struck me as most unique about Takeda was the scale of the battles. This isn't your typical two-dozen-unit RTS; in Takeda, there are literally hundreds of units on the screen at once. This means that a large portion of your strategy must be devoted to the formations of your ranks; each formation has a strength and weakness. This is a great spin on typical RTS gameplay - you must pay careful attention to avoid getting flanked.

Takeda's graphics are beautiful. One of the coolest graphical features is the ability to zoom way out, giving you a huge picture of your battles. This, combined with the awesome sound effects of rapidly charging Samurai and clanking swords, really makes you feel like you're watching a battle of epic proportions.

Another unique feature of Takeda is the "Chain of Command." Managing 500 on-screen units is impossible using traditional RTS interfaces, so the folks at Magitech developed a unique method of controlling a whole bunch of units at once. Your army is divided up into divisions; each division is divided up into battalions, which are groups of up to ten men. Officers lead these divisions and battalions, and your units listen to their commanding officer, not to you. This is really cool; the officers may not always obey your exact commands - they behave like human beings, cowaring if the battle turns ugly, or plunging headfirst into the fray if they know they're going to win.

Takeda has taken the traditional RTS gameplay and adapted it very well for large scale battles. The end result is a game that's supurbly designed and incredibly fun to play. -Mason McCuskey

Virtual U posted 3/27 at 10:44:47 PM PST by Dave / TAN / Mason

Developer: Enlight Software
Demo: 28MB
Several things are unique about Virtual U. First of all, it's not (just) a game - it was developed primarily as an educational tool for employees of a college. These "players" are cast as Chancellors of a prestigious University, and must manage several different aspects of the University's operations to be successful. The words "Sim" and "College" come to mind.

The game is played through an isometric interface, with beautiful graphics reminicent of SimCity. Your college's campus is displayed in glorious detail, and mangement of it is easy, thanks to an intuitive interface. If you've played an isometric city management game, you essentially know how to play Virtual U.

Virtual U was partially developed by Enlight Software, the company founded by Trevor Chan. Chan was the guy behind such games as Capitalism and Seven Kingdoms, and his influence shows in this title. The game has a very intricate economics simulator, and most of the game missions revolve around it.

Virtual U is a great example of software that teaches without being boring. This is a fun game to play, and it just so happens that after playing it a while you will know much more about how to run a college. Imagine how great life would be if you could learn everything through software as entertaining as Virtual U. :) -Mason McCuskey