Alien Swarm - A Casual Gamer's Game

Posted in Blog, Gaming, Random on July 28th, 2010 by Matt – 1 Comment

Originally released as a mod for Unreal Tournament 2004, Alien Swarm has been bought, refreshed and released by Valve as a free mod for their Source Engine. Being free, there's absolutely no reason to not download this game and give it a shot. According to my Steam profile, I've managed to put in 12 hours of play into Alien Swarm since it's release 10 days ago. That's a lot for someone like me who only manages an hour or two after work. I love this game and would gladly pay for it. Let me tell you why.

The long description: Alien Swarm is a four player, co-op, online game, that's played in the top-down perspective. The goal is to travel through various levels with four companions played by other players and complete various tasks to try to rescue a colony on another planet that's been over-run by alien creatures. There are four roles to choose from that can give each player a boost in various abilities.  Included among the many abilities: shooting, explosions, hacking and healing. A large selection of weapons are available with each person carrying two to allow for some flexibility. Tactics can be discussed over the games integrated voice chat or drawn on the in-game level map, similar to football plans (though often with much more penis drawing).

The short description: Kill massive quantities of aliens with three buddies.

For a free game, the quality is outstanding. Alien Swarm can be compared to games that many other companies wouldn't flinch at charging $50 for. However, being free, there are some downfalls: There isn't a single player campaign or an offline campaign (there is an offline practice mode). You can only play with three other real people, no bots. There's only one official campaign available, but with the modding tools freely available I expect many community developed campaigns swiftly appearing.

Here's why I really love this game: The average level requires about 8 minutes to complete. That means, even if you only have about 10 minutes to spare, you can drop in, play a level and pop out. Unlike many other online games, Alien Swarm doesn't require time for you to "warm up" and get into the game. Most levels start slow and build up to a crescendo at the end.

Alien Swarm is the definition of a casual gamers game. It's the antithesis to StarCraft 2. If you know my opinion on StarCraft 2, you know that's a good thing. Where StarCraft2 is a frustrating grind that requires a significant time investment to get anywhere, Alien Swarm is a relaxing walk through fields of mindless slaughter. That's not to say Alien Swarm isn't intense. The finales to the levels are often finished on the brink of death, with much yelling and laughing over the voice chat.

Once the mod community release a few more campaigns, Alien Swarm will really hit it's stride. Go download it now if you haven't. There's no reason not to. It's the best game for its price, bar none.

Why I'm not buying StarCraft 2

Posted in Blog, Gaming on May 11th, 2010 by Matt – 12 Comments

I spent countless hours playing the original StarCraft. A buddy and I would stay up till the wee hours playing; our computers connected directly via over the phone dial-up. Our games were more often then not ended by our parents yelling at us to get off. We were tying up the phones, "What if someone had to call us in an emergency?!".

Get StarCraft 2 at

Since StarCraft 2 was announced I'd been desperately trying to get into the beta. Last month, when GameStop started offering beta keys to all pre-orders, was the first chance I had to play.

I put some serious time in. The game is solid, it feels like an old friend. Even in beta form SC2 has more polish than most games that have been released for months. Game companies could learn a thing or two about attention to detail and release quality standards from Blizzard. Of course, Blizzard having a cash cow like World of Warcraft probably helps.

Even with all the quality, I won't be purchasing StarCraft 2.

Three weeks I've been playing StarCraft 2. Lately when I think about sitting down for a game, I start making up excuses.

"Why play? Your odds of winning a game are 50-50. What's the fun of that?" Blizzard can take some of the blame here. They're new matchmaking system dynamically moves you up and down the ranks until it finds you a home. A home where you lose exactly half your games. I understand the competitive mindset that the StarCraft franchise has earned, but what percentage of the gamer base really plays for the competition?

"Why play? Your next game is going to be just like your last. Build a SCV at x level supply, a supply depot at y, get those reapers and attack." Competition is what its all about. You don't want to lose do you? As with any game, certain builds are more effective than others. If you don't use these builds then you're asking to get steamrolled.

You might say: "This is a beta!" Indeed it is, but the bones of the game are there. Blizzard isn't going to change any of the basic game play characteristics now. They're just looking to fine tune the balance.

You might say: "You're forgetting all about the single player game!" This is true. The short teasers of the single play story do look amazing. Is the story $50 amazing? I'm leaning towards no.

in ur base, killin ur doodz

This series of small complaints pile up to a bigger issue. The fun and novelty of the game wear off fast. Its great fun for your first dozen battles. Then the "correct" builds start to become your bread and butter. You get mad when someone wins with "cheese" tactics. Eventually when you think about playing, you realize it's more stressful than fun.

I adore StarCraft and wish I had a solution to bring casual gamers like myself into the fold. But I'm not sure it can be done with SC2. Ironically, If it weren't for the beta, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to test drive StarCraft and realize it wasn't for me. I'm not worried about the game's success, it will be hugely successful without my dollars. I'm worried about future games and weather I'm still the target audience.