jurassic world alive

Jurassic World Alive is a Better AR Game than Pokémon GO

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I love Pokémon GO. I fell in love with the brilliant concept of hunting Pokémon in the real world and forgave the horrendous networking issues along with everyone else when it launched two years ago.

Jurassic World Alive borrows much of the basic gameplay and mechanics of Pokémon GO, using dinosaurs in place of Pokémon. Even if you’re not a big dino-fan, Jurassic World Alive improves upon Pokémon GO in several key areas, making it the AR game I’m more likely to play when I’m out.

Bingo, Dino DNA

Inn Jurassic World Alive you are a member of the Dinosaur Protection Group. Your mission is to save dinosaurs by, uh, shooting them with tranquilizer darts, creating genetic hybrids, and battling other dinosaurs. Who knew prehistoric conservation could be so much fun?

jurassic world aliveJust as in Pokémon GO, your primary job is to collect creatures on an augmented reality map, localized to your current location. Dinosaurs and Pit Stops are scattered around the world, the latter giving you darts to capture dinosaurs and gold for upgrading them.

When you find a dinosaur you enter a timed mini-game. The dinosaur runs around as your flying drone attempts to fire tranq darts from above. A crosshair reappears in different places on your target as you hit the marks, upping the challenge. It makes capturing the dinosaurs far more engaging and less frustrating than flinging a bunch of poké balls.

The other key difference is that you never capture a single dinosaur. Instead you collect a number of DNA points, depending on how well you hit the crosshairs. A direct bullseye will net over 10 DNA per shot, while a grazing shot gives half of that. If you miss the crosshair you’ll receive none at all.

Since each capture session is timed, you can only get a limited amount of DNA from each dinosaur. This provides a welcome incentive to capture duplicates dinos.

Gather a certain amount of DNA and you can create that dinosaur. Rarer, stronger dinosaurs like the Tyrannosaurs Rex require much more DNA. Each dinosaur can also be leveled up by collecting additional DNA, with upgrades granting more health and stronger attacks. You’ll definitely want stronger dinos because the turn-based combat is legitimately fun.

We Need More Teeth

Combat in Jurassic World Alive isn’t limited to Gyms as in Pokémon GO. You simply select the Battle button from the menu and match up with a similar rank opponent. You can bring up to four dinosaurs on your battle team, with the goal of defeating three of your opponent’s dinosaurs before they do the same to you.

Battles are intuitive and fun. Unlike the constant clicking chaos of Pokémon GO, combat in Alive is entirely turn-based. Each dinosaur has two to three moves you can choose from. Most include secondary effects like slowing down an opponent, or adding a protective shield for your next turn. Passive abilities include armor that reduces damage, or automatically counter-attacking after receiving damage.

jurassic world aliveThere’s enough variety in the starting common dinosaurs that I’ve already been adjusting my team several times over as I find the right mix. The Velociraptor, one of the easiest dinosaurs to level up in the beginning, hits extremely hard with an ability that does an additional x2 damage. It has very little health, however, making it good for a strong opening attack that I immediately switch out with something beefier, like the Euoplocephalus.

While many of the abilities are outlandish and very video gamey (like the aforementioned shield, which literally looks like a sci-fi hologram in front of the dinosaur) I appreciate that most of the dinosaurs are drawn from real world creatures. Each stat sheet includes a nice little About This Creature section, featuring a few sentences of science facts. Euoplocephalus, for example, means ‘well-armed head.’ It’s not exactly National Geographic but it’s nice to see some effort made to create some educational content in a game about collecting and battling dinosaurs.

In another improvement, the Supply Drops, Jurassic World Alive’s equivalent of Poké Stops, are much more frequent and accessible. This makes a huge difference to folks living in more rural areas, where the dearth of Poké Stops makes Pokémon GO almost unplayable. A free incubator is also given every six hours, which always includes a pack of 20 darts, no matter where you are.

You can purchase additional incubators (essentially loot boxes), gold, and darts with cash, and cash can be acquired with real money purchases. But it never pushes them on you, and I haven’t felt the need to spend any real money despite devoting quite a few hours into my new dino collecting hobby.

If I have one complaint, it takes a long time to level. Like Pokémon GO, your character also levels up. Reaching higher levels spawns better and rarer dinosaurs in the wild. The leveling feels painfully slow, even early on, limiting you to seeing the same few dinosaurs everywhere.

As it cross its two year anniversary Pokémon GO’s star-studded status has faded from the public view. Pokémon remains a stellar franchise and finding Pokémon in an AR game is still very enjoyable. I have no doubt that the upcoming Switch tie-ins, Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee, will spark a wave of new interest.

I love Pokémon and Pokémon GO, but Jurassic World Alive does a better job of everything Pokémon GO does. At this point I have fully switched over from Gotta Catch ‘Em all into humming that classic John Williams theme.

cities: skylines

Learn Civics with the Educational Version of Cities: Skylines

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Paradox Interactive announced a partnership with TeacherGaming to launch a special educational version of Cities: Skylines. Cities: Skylines – Education Edition is designed for teachers to use in their classrooms as part of TeacherGaming’s subscription service.

“Transitioning our games into teaching tools that make learning fun and interactive is something near and dear to our hearts at Paradox,” said Shams Jorjani, VP of Business Development at Paradox Interactive. “We chose TeacherGaming to help structure our games for the classroom, because this is a new field for us and they have the right experience and knowledge to do it right.”

Cities: Skylines is the heir apparent to the SimCity builder series. It originally launched on PC in 2015 before coming to consoles last year. It’s been hailed as the definitive city builder sim, and Paradox have released numerous expansion packs since release. The most recent, Parklife, released earlier this year and added national parks and zoos.

Cities: Skylines – Education Edition includes eight custom lesson plans. Each scenario covers different relevant topics, such as government, engineering, and budgeting. The educational version also includes student progress tracking and in-game tutorials.

“Paradox Interactive titles turn niche topics like civics and serious history into unexpectedly entertaining experiences that educators will fall head over heels for,” said Santeri Koivisto, TeacherGaming CEO. “Committing to such an unconventional portfolio means Paradox is combating prejudices about the very nature of video games, and that’s also what we have been out to do for the past six years. In that sense, and many others, this partnership is a perfect fit.”

TeacherGaming offers both individual gaming licences as well as an all-in-one subscription service. Each game, including Kerbal Space Program, Universe Sandbox, and Epistory, offers multiple lesson plans tailored to classroom learning. The company was founded in 2011 in Finland by gaming educators. Their most successful program was MinecraftEdu, which has since been purchased by Microsoft.

Cities: Skylines – Education Edition is available now in the TeacherGaming Store.

stardew valley

Stardew Valley Co-op is a Wonderful Excuse to Return to Pelican Town

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Ever since Stardew Valley captured our hearts two years ago, fans have been clamoring for one new feature above all others: multiplayer.

But the pixelated farming sim was never designed as a multiplayer game. It took a dedicated team from indie publisher Chucklefish over a year to build the networking code, but the results are stunning.

Currently multiplayer is only available on the PC version of Stardew Valley in a beta stage. Enabling the beta is incredibly simple thanks to Steam and GOG Galaxy’s built-in beta features. Publisher Chucklefish has outlined the specific steps for hosting and joining games.

Once the beta patch is applied, it’s a simple as one player hosting a co-op match and the others joining. You can continue your same games and build cabins for joining players, or simply start a a fresh farm with those cabins already built.

Joining a co-op game feels a bit like being a sidekick in another person’s story. The host player gets the house while joining players are regulated to smaller cabins away from the mailbox and roads (although the inside of the house and cabin are about the same).

Everyone gets their own starting tools, energy bar, and freedom to tackle whatever they wish. Having multiple farmers running around tackling different projects opens up a whole new world of speedy efficiency.

One player can explore deep into the mines, upgrading their pickaxe and returning with artifacts and ore. Another can make loads of money improving their fishing skills, while one person keeps track of crop rotation and watering needs.

Share the Wealth

Players still have to work together for one crucial reason: everyone shares the same chunk of money. If someone upgrades their pickaxe, you may not have enough cash to buy seeds at the start of the next month. One player may be gathering wood to buy a chicken coop, but another grabs 300 wood from the storage chest to repair the bridge at the beach.

Coordination between players becomes key. An unruly player could easily tank the entire farm, much the same way they can destroy your hard-earned work in Minecraft or Terraria. That being said, the community around Stardew Valley seems genuinely sweet and earnest.

If playing with friends and family and those who have a shared goal of success, Stardew Valley is absolutely magical. Sharing money becomes a wonderful exercise in mutual responsibility and future planning. Can we splurge on a new fishing pole right now? Do we have enough cash to get all our crops started next month? Are you going to spend all day fishing again? Yes, yes I am.

stardew valley

The shared money pool also acts as an interesting teaching tool for shared bank accounts with couples. Just as in real life, couples need to maintain an open, honest dialogue when it comes to spending and saving money. Making big purchases without consulting your co-op partners could result in hurt feelings, unfinished projects, and a disastrous experience.

Having multiplayer characters with a shared money pool also provides an interesting quirk to the game’s balance. Previously the game was balanced by having tons of stuff to do each day, but with a limited pool of time and energy. Time remains a factor but multiple players means multiple energy bars worth of tasks that can be accomplished per day. This seems like a huge advantage until you realize you also have that many more tools to upgrade in the early game.

Although still technically in beta, I’ve found multiplayer to be extremely stable, with only a few minor hiccups and stutters. The biggest issue is that one-time rewards, like the chests every five levels of the mines, are only given to the person who opens them. Already Chucklefish has responded, and they’re fixing it so everyone gets a chance at the unique loot.

When Stardew Valley first launched my spouse and I sunk dozens of hours into it. We played our own separate games but loved updating each other on how we were building our farms, and any neat little tips and tricks we found. It’s one of the few games she has logged more hours that I did, and I practically play games for a living.

The 1.3 multiplayer update has rekindled our mutual enjoyment of the charming indie game. I cannot thank the designers enough for pledging to add a highly requested yet significantly challenging feature, and following through so successfully.

Stardew Valley’s multiplayer is available via beta on PC. The 1.3 update is coming next to Switch, followed by PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

age of wonders

Rome, Planetfall, and Board Games: All the News from PDXCON 2018

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Over the weekend publisher and developer Paradox Interactive hosted their annual PDXCON event in Stockholm, Sweden. Like Blizzard’s BlizzCon, PDXCON celebrates everything about the prolific publisher, including panels, discussions, tournaments, parties, and new game announcements.

Paradox have successfully carved out a niche with their massive grand strategy PC games, such as Crusader Kings and Europa Universalis.

We’ve compiled the biggest headlines from PDXCON 2018 below.

 

Imperator: Rome

Release: 2019

The biggest announcement was an all-new game, Imperator: Rome. Like many of their titles, Imperator: Rome is a Grand Strategy game, meaning its meant to emulate history through real-time strategy. With Rome it focuses on the rich history of the Roman Empire. Though you’re free to rule it however you see fit, creating an entirely different era for Rome. It promises the most detailed Paradox map ever.

 

Age of Wonders: Planetfall

Release: 2019

Last year Paradox acquired Age of Wonders developer Triumph Studios. Now we see what Triumph has been working on since the 2014 release of Age of Wonders III – Age of Wonders: Planetfall. It will feature a single-player campaign and multiplayer, as well as a random map generator. It’s also coming to consoles, though without any officially confirmed consoles yet.

“We’re thrilled to finally announce our latest endeavor alongside Paradox,” said Lennart Sas, Triumph Studios CEO. “Age of Wonders: Planetfall is roughly three years into development, running on a new generation of our multi-platform Creator Engine. While the setting is new, we’re confident that Age of Wonders fans will feel right at home exploring the remnants of the Star Union. Our aim is to make a game that greatly expands upon its predecessors, and still employs the core principles that made Age of Wonders such a success.”

 

Stellaris: Distant Stars

Release: May 22, 2018

The latest Story Pack for sci-fi grand strategy game Stellaris will be launching tomorrow. It’s called Distant Stars, and adds a mysterious new constellation outside of the existing galaxy. It also adds new anomalies, solar systems, and gargantuan space creatures.

 

Hearts of Iron IV: Man the Guns

Release: TBA

Man the Guns is a new naval-themed expansion to World War II strategy game Hearts of Iron IV. It adds the ability to design your own warships with a modular design. Details are sparse and no release date has been given, but a large free update to Hearts of Iron IV will release at the same time.

 

Crusader Kings II: Holy Fury

Release: 2018

Crusader Kings II is six years old and still going strong, thanks in large part to Paradox’s dedication to post-launch updates and DLC. Holy Fury is the newest expansion to the medieval grand strategy game. It focuses on the holy wars and crusades between Catholics and Pagans. Canonize the faithful, engage in religious wars, join a warrior lodge, and pass on the legendary bloodlines of infamous conquerors and warlords.

Holy Fury is coming later this year. Like Hearts of Iron IV: Man the Guns, it will be accompanied by a major free update for Crusader Kings II.

 

Europa Universalis IV: Dharma

Release: TBA

Yet another new expansion from the expansion-loving company, Dharma adds a lot of new content and features to India in Europa Universalis IV. A free update will include a reworked policy system. But Dharma will add even more bonuses, as well as new Indian Missions and Estates.

 

Board Games

Release: 2018-2019

I saved the most exciting news for last. In a surprise announcement (and humorous video) Paradox Interactive announced a slew of licensed board games based on many of their beloved games, including Crusader Kings and Cities: Skylines.

The first board game, Crusader Kings, has already tripled its funding goal on Kickstarter in a single day. It has a tentative release date of November 2018.