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Zigfrak
Sgt.Psycho 13. helmi, 2013 19.31
Initial Impressions - The Tutorial
(Note: I loathe first-person perspective writing, but have done so here as a personal exercise and also to give it a more immediate, intimate tone)

I gave the demo (Win-r1_01) a whirl today, here's my experience from scratch. For reference my system is Windows 7 SP1 on a dual-core i5 2.60Ghz system with 6Gb DDR3-400 matched RAM and a GeForce 9500GT.

My gaming history in this genre stretches back to Elite on the 64 and Amiga, Frontier Elite II, FOFT, Privateer, Freelancer, I-War, Dark Star One, X2, Oolite, EVE, etc etc so I'm expecting this game to equal or better those if possible. As a matter of fact I still play Freelancer on a modded-up dedicated server even now...

Zigfrak? What is a zigfrak? Sounds like a Slavic epithet. I hope I don't get a virtual face punch from Eastern Euro online friends when I mention it to them... The first five pages of a google search turn up only references to this game, so that seems okay.

Manual... there's a manual! Highly unusual for Greenlight. It's well-presented, cleanly designed and tells you everything you need to know without additional fluff. Maybe some additional background on the politics and culture would be nice, but I think the game is more about a blank-slate sandbox style adventure. Extra points to dev to effort.

Run the executable, game starts up almost instantly, and I am presented with a nice clean windowed game interface, funky tunes and a star scape that immediately induces nostalgia for games of yore.

After fumbling with the audio sliders I realise that unlike most games, there's no dynamic update, no matter a quick stab of the Apply button soon rectifies that.

"Enough of this framing rubbish, fill my Acer X243H!" I cry, and select Full Screen mode 1920 resolution. It flicks into 24 inches of 16:9 widescreen goodness. Ah. Throwing caution to the four winds, I recklessly bump the graphic detail to Maximum Maximum, with extra glowy goodness, and hit Play. After some confusion with player naming (what no spaces allowed?) my computer shows my tiny ship drifting near the starting space station.

This looks great! The objects all around are nicely modelled and have good detail. The ships in particular have a really great design. I'm a bit meh about the Terminator-2 shininess, as it makes them look a bit like toy models, but I rationalise it as part of the defence against energy weapons. The shield effect is not bad, but reminds me too much of Unreal/Quake 3 power up effect. It's okay and conveys the idea well.

The universe is not quite as detailed and beautiful as some other space games, but it's more than impressive for an indie development. Space dust and junk floats in parallax motion nicely, and there's a surfeit of solar bodies, asteroids, coronas, dust clouds, spatial anomalies and space craft to please the eye.

The music is moody and atmospheric, and matches the overall feel of the game well, being slightly edgier and more dramatic than your stereotypical space romp.

I experiment with the controls. Although the default controls are a bit FPS, they work well, and it's a great pleasure to see that everything is configurable and there are multiple control schemes (not tested: joystick support). Elite roll/dive? You got it. Simple keyboard navigation? You got it. Mouse-flight? It's yours at the click of a button. I find the keyboard and basic mouse-drag navigation a bit over-snappy to the galactic axes and the ship jerks around a little wildly, but I can see how that will be handy in a furious firefight or desperate navigation. With mouse3 and 4 bound to mouse-flight and cruise, I am soon zipping about handily.

Travel is not particularly fast, but seeing as the action appears to be system-bound, it seems fine, and representative of the distances involved. Newtonian physics seem okay with nice delta-V stats on targeted objects (love a Frontier-style scientific notation instead), but perhaps a bit nerfed. Inertial dampers engaged.

Dialogue and status windows are sorted neatly in the top left corner and tile neatly when toggled. Neat. It takes me some time to figure out that there is more in the dialogue window to see... perhaps some ellipses or flashing chevron/arrows are needed? I also don't even notice the scroll bar until later and clicking in it like a windows scroll bar does nothing. Dragging it is fine, as is scroll-wheel with auto focus. Cute. I notice there is no audio feedback from the UI. I would expect when I accept a mission or complete it, to hear some kind of audio confirmation a la Freelancer, et al. The window just closes silently. Wait.. did I succeed? Fail? Oh well. The game log in the bottom left says it was okay, and the mission log in bottom right is gone. I guess it's part of the minimalist look and feel of the game.


I do the basic navigation test and agree with the NPC about how easy the ship is to manage, doing a clean barrel roll through the last ring, just for the hell of it. I get a jump drive, wahoo, time to explore. The galactic map is neat and clean, although the overprinting of names at small scale is a bit annoying, these should fade to just the system names or similar. Mouse wheeling the dialogue also scrolls the map in and out at the same time, which is disconcerting. Dragging the map around would be nice, but I can't figure out how to do that. I look around fruitlessly, deliberately ignoring the helpful 'click here, idjit' icon helpfully provided. Hmm... navigating is not easy when space is this big, like really really, big. *Insert HHGTTG quote here* The search function doesn't accept partial (or any) matches only exact full names, and Enter doesn't search, you must press the search button. Mildly annoying.

I finally complete the journey made more arduous by my own pig-headedness and locate the right destination system. Double clicking and pressing Enter on it doesn't work... arg. After a long pause broken by RTFM, I press J to make it go. Cool.

Combat! About time, I was starting to drool on the controls again. I sweep through the basics easily and yawn. Incoming! Great, where?

Before I can do anything my entire screen lights up and goes into nova while freaky doppler noises pour out of the speakers. Whut? There's damage indicators, enemy indicators going ♥♥♥♥♥♥c and numbers pouring out of my poor little ship like cheap box white at a bad mothers meeting. Before I can do anything but spin around like some kind of second-string loser playing The Last Starfighter, my shop goes white and kind of implodes. Did I just die? Not sure. Two seconds later it happens again, and again, and again. The screen is flashing red and white continuously.

Right, okay, we're taking this seriously. Jetting away (anywhere but here) I see a tiny red dot (points for accurate rendering at distance) laying down the hurt. Clicking it (I assume there's a hot-key as well) gives me a nice tactical readout. I hold down space to give him a volley and jink around, letting auto-target do it's thing. Sadly, he has it as well and it seems 'dogfight' is something of a misnomer in this game. It's doesn't matter what you do, you will get hit by auto-tracking it seems, making combat more akin to WoW than Elite. I disable a ship and think "Board and storm, woo! Hand me your pink slip, baby!" I slip alongside gently, despite being hammered by the other AI and go for it, only to be told that isn't allowed due to the script. I am sad.

Rejoining the fight eventually attrition wins out and I give a Bronx cheer to the space dust and wreckage spiralling away from my badass popgun of a ship. Wow, epic really does describe these combat sequences. I must give the music a panning though as there was no change to the score at all, it was quite surreal and disjointed. Frantic interstellar battles don't go that well with gently-paced music. If no combat music, then I'd like it to fade out as the energy bolts fly.

Boarding and looting the disabled ship is a little out of the box and I freak when I realise I just loaded a ticking time bomb into my cargo hold with 8s remaining on the timer. What the (zig)frack! I open my cargo hold and neutralise that sucker with prejudice, wondering why I was allowed to do that at all.

The unquestioned victor, I look for loot. Sweet, sweet, 'phat lewt' that's the premise of this game, so I am excited about it. But where is it? Unlike almost every other game, there appears to be no 'show/collect loot' button. WTH, I can do that in Diablo 2, and tractor-all in Freelancer but a game about looting has conspicuously no looting-assist options bar clicking on stuff?

The small arrows lead to loot, but I realise that exploded ships jettison their loot on random vectors, so chasing one means the other is probably leaving the area or despawning. I am sad. I chase them all down and end up with the equivalent of a showbag of crud. Bought for a high price and of lowest quality. I rejoice in my rubbish and fondle the icons lovingly, wasting precious time as my ship floats ever so slowly out of the solar system.

I zip about and gather up random minerals. I discover a mineable asteroid (blue!) but am saddened when I realise that I have no mining equipment and can't get any at the space stations I know of.

Configuring items is mostly-intuitive and works well. I found it confusing I was clicking on empty weapon slots, but couldn't load in a spare weapon I knew I had in the cargo hold. Instead you had to go to the hold and click it to load. Kind of backwards, but it works fine. The wriggly icons confused me until I realised that swapping weapons had a cool-down time, with the game paused in inventory. Probably to stop you from insta-changing weapons and cheese-ganking mobs with every gun simultaneously.

I head out to the next system and look at the missions...

That was the first hour.

From what I have seen, this is definitely a quirky, but well-made, bug-free game, with what appears to be great depth. I haven't even touched on factions, RPG elements and crafting yet, and feel I've barely scratched the surface.

For the asking price, it's less than a pint and chips from the local, and you'll get far, far more fun out of it.

Recommended for all fans of the genre.
Viimeisin muokkaaja on Sgt.Psycho; 24. helmi, 2013 15.52
Näytetään 1-7 / 7 kommentista
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Alex Ayars  [kehittäjä] 13. helmi, 2013 21.30 
Nice! Thanks for taking the time to share such a detailed writeup; the good, the bad, the quirky.

There aren't many loot drops at the very beginning, because I thought this might be too much of a distraction. It picks up significantly during the early mission tiers, and the mining laser is rewarded along the way as well.

You brought up some good points for areas that can be improved. This was a very ambitious project for my first game. I'm pretty happy with how it turned out, and do plan on continuing to support it and improve on it. Reviews like this are a strong motivating factor :-)
Sgt.Psycho 14. helmi, 2013 14.17 
I should qualify my review above. While it might seem a little over-critical, I was only bringing up the quirky bits or things that didn't feel quite right in the UI. In every other respect (graphics, sound, gameplay, mission structure, etc) it is very polished and works extremely well. Faultless in fact, really.

Correction: In OP "I didn't find it confusing I was clicking on empty weapon slots..." should have been "I found it confusing I was clicking on empty weapon slots..."

I don't mind the sound at all. While it seems a bit weird, the "because space" rationale is fine. I perhaps wouldn't mind some klaxons when there's heavy incoming or I'm getting nuked(!) but given the sheer volume of incoming maybe it's a good thing there isn't more warning noises.

I'm not sure if it was a bug, scripted, or perhaps I got unlucky on the playlist, but I have had no problems with action music since that initial fight. The music is well-paced to the adrenaline-pumping fire-fights that have ensued. Great stuff!

With graphics, I knew about the OTT bloom/full screen glare and wanted to try it out to see just how overwhelming it was. Lots. I'm getting used to it, and may turn it down a bit, but I guess if you take a multi-gigwatt hit, you can expect some visual after-effects...

In one of the Pathfinder station sub-missions (Going Viral) I was supposed to explode a scout, but happened to disable it instead. My joy at boarding it and capturing it (YESSSS!) was followed by dismay when I realised I had borked the mission. No way to abandon ship and kill it, I floated about helplessly clicking on the mission details and wondering if I had to Abort. Then the scout re-spawned suddenly and I killed it off, fulfilling the mission. Yay for smart programming.

Similarly, later on I had to disable some spy drones. That didn't appear in the log until later and I was too busy trying not to die, furiously spewing death in every direction. It was only after I almost ran out of ammo and got tired of shooting bazillions of drones that I realised I wasn't supposed to be killing them. Once again, clever programming stopping me from borking the mission.

After finally completing the Pathfinder Station mission, I saved, then this morning launched to look around. My screen lit up and oh no, Xeno capships assaulting the station! Frack! L14, L24, L26 Fortress with L14 fighter and L16 Mender (healer), and about zillion drones. I am level 5... OMGWTFBBQ time. I thank the fates my flight suit issue is brown.

I then proceed to die (for real this time, must have been shields down before) comprehensively, absolutely, wiped all over the mat, posted to Albuquerque and kicked back. I actually manage to take out the weakest capship with the help of station defences and a Breaking Bad power-up, but it is in vain... I am sad.

Eventually I get tired of being drone ♥♥♥♥♥ and Tri-Pd by massive gamma beams and hide behind the station from the capships and focus on the fighters. I can't kill the fighter as the healer heals faster than I can do damage, and if I target the healer, the fighter kills me over and over, and the healer raises shield in-between. I can't move or else will take drone swarms and gamma beams from the cap ships, so get pounded Big Time by missiles. Eventually I give up. I've blown heaps of XP, hundreds of thousands of credits, my ship is wrecked, out of ammo, all my equipment toasted. I am sad.

Note: I was playing on difficulty 50% (standard).

This however, increases my resolve, not weakens it. I drop out, buy the game, because I really, REALLY want to equip some of these L20+ goodies I have stashed in bank. I'm coming back, with a vengeance, and those scumbag Xenos are gonna pay...

If you want a hard-as-nails combat space sim, I recommend this to you.

I've got more UI feedback, but may post that into another thread, or take it to the Zigfrak forums. Minor stuff, nothing broken, but just quirky stuff that made me go "huh?"
Sgt.Psycho 16. helmi, 2013 15.10 
I should note that as mentioned in the manual, there are multiple upgrades for the tractor system which alleviates the issue I noted above with losing the loot.

Would still like a hot list of loot, but in the main it is not a big issue once the improved tractors are available.

A Titan Quest/Diablo 2-style loot quality filter might be nice (perhaps as a UI threshold slider). Once you start getting into the game, you really don't want to know about the low-quality drops around you.
Viimeisin muokkaaja on Sgt.Psycho; 16. helmi, 2013 15.10
Sgt.Psycho 24. helmi, 2013 15.52 
Update

Just completed Anchorage station at L10 and got the mining laser and access to crafting (finally!). This is the end of the demo, but I think the beginning of the real game. Interestingly, at this stage you seem to get more xp for mining and crafting discombobulating (tearing old stuff apart for components) equipment. I jumped two levels from this alone while drifting around Anchorage.

Crafting is also essential as unless you're combat-mad, you will have many drops, but (in my experience) not many awesome quality drops. Crafting allows you access to new shinys of blowingupiness and essential upgraded defences (like shields and armour) that will help you survive. You can get by and I expect if you do a lot of combat you can get those drops, or buy the shinys outright; it's up to you.

I also found that if you've chosen a non-core primary weapon (not pulse or ballistic) then you'll probably need to craft the ammo as other types aren't generally available, and are expensive when they are. You'll probably rip through two stacks of ammo per mission (varies depending on difficulty, ammo and loadout) so that will be pretty exy; maybe 6k in ammo costs alone at this stage.

Crafting itself is dead-simple. Buy the recipe (template) for the shiny you want, and it will tell you what sub-templates are required. Once you have all those, just say how many shinys you want, and it will automatically create required items for the template from base materials. You can also queue up multiple crafting operations in a pipeline, so you've not stuck watching a progress bar all day if you don't want to. This neatly eliminates the potential nightmare of swapping screens back and forth trying to match materials to components to templates (there's dozens of them in the beginning alone).

Simple and efficient, the crafting system puts the power in your hands and lets you decide how to optimise your ship without relying on random drops. It's also the quickest risk-free method of getting access to mythic and epic-quality gear.

Addendum:
When I did the Motherlode mission, I didn't bother picking up items as I was getting beaten up big time. The drops stayed in small clusters near wrecks and did not despawn (afaik), so my prior concern about losing loot seems unfounded.

Correction:
The crafting pipeline allows you multiple crafting operations (research, discombobulation etc) in any order, but you can have only one build order queued at a time[forum.zigfrak.com]. This is a bit odd, but I guess, stops you from making endless items. If it's all taking too long, you can build the components for the item en masse, and just draw from your inventory instead of building on demand. This is substantially faster.
Viimeisin muokkaaja on Sgt.Psycho; 6. maalis, 2013 15.22
Alex Ayars  [kehittäjä] 26. helmi, 2013 11.02 
Thanks for continuing to dig in. Very few reviews even begin to scratch the surface of the game -- which is probably due to the slow moving tutorial. Apparently, ain't nobody got time for that.

I am listening, and an alternate starting area which gears up players and gets them into the action faster is being planned and developed.
C0untzer0 24. syys, 2013 3.09 
This was so convincing that I went from "Voted, followed, faved" to "Bought on IGS" I must remember to send him copies of all my future projects...
Viimeisin muokkaaja on C0untzer0; 24. syys, 2013 3.09
Lucifalle 6. joulu, 2013 17.09 
This review also convinced me to buy the game, so far I've completed the tutorial and I'm having a blast! Great job on your first game! My only wish would have been for the combat to be more skill based (having to manually dodge, evade and track the enemy etc) and less random. It does have a bit of a single-player MMORPG feel at the moment. That being said, some kind of multiplayer would be great - but I understand that it may be difficult to implement. I'm not a game developer, and this project has impressed me enough already. :D
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