Name: Simon

Bio: I'm addicted to gaming and have been since I was a wee boy. Worked in the industry as a tester, designer and producer. I'm now a full time freelance writer and editor.

Posts by Simon:

    Best endless runners for Android

    December 11th, 2014

    Keep on running, keep on hiding,
    One fine day I’m gonna fall down a hole,
    Or be eaten by an ape,
    Or maybe trip over something.

    The endless runner is a weird offshoot of the platform game genre. You play as a constantly moving character and have to tap controls to jump or dodge obstacles, pull off special moves, or attack enemies. The simple controls make them ideal for smartphone screens and that’s why they’ve exploded on Android. There’s something about endlessly generated worlds, increasing speed, and twitch response that makes them really addictive for short bursts.

    These are the best endless runners on Android right now.

    Canabalt HD [69p]

    This was the first endless runner on the mobile scene that really took off and, as with all successful games, it spawned a massive megaton of steaming clones, a few of which managed to improve on the formula. You can try Canabalt out in your browser for free. It’s super simple, tap to jump. Try to avoid things. Try to get as far as you can. You can easily miss the fact that you’re running from invading aliens. The stark white, black and shades of grey art style with a be-suited character jumping over rooftops look very much inspired by The Matrix. It’s a minimalist 2D side-scroller that builds a real feeling of speed and it’s quite hard to stop playing.

    Robot Unicorn Attack 2

    Robot Unicorn Attack 2 [Free]

    The Robot Unicorn galloped to fame as a Flash game, but it soon made the leap to Android. It’s a car crash of absurd humour, pastel colours, and catchy music, although the 80’s pop ear worm from Erasure that accompanied the original is an IAP now. There were several versions before this sequel landed and introduced a few extra elements. The novelty joke wears off, but it’s a deceptively addictive game and it’s a decent challenge for endless runner fans.

    Temple Run and Temple Run 2 [Free]

    Flipping endless running into 3D, so you’re heading into a map, brings a new element and there are probably more games emulating Temple Run than anything else. It has been phenomenally successful with over a billion downloads of both versions. You’ve presumably just stolen a golden idol and you have to try and escape from some giant rabid monkeys that want to eat you. Dodge left or right by tilting, swipe left or right to turn, and swipe up to jump or down to slide under something while collecting coins for power-ups. The second version looks better and adds death slides and cart sections. The main character and environment are so original it’s odd that they’ve never inspired a movie series.

    Despicable Me [Free]

    Chaotic, hyperactive endless runner action, broken up with challenges, unusual camera angles and bonus levels, this is well worth a look for fans of the movie. My kids find the minions hilarious and the environments and characters are nicely realized here. It’s a good-looking game with tried and tested game mechanics. It does have IAPs, but you don’t need to bother with them in order to progress, so it’s good choice for kids as well.

    Into the Dead [Free]Into the Dead

    Every right-thinking person loves zombies and this clever, first-person twist on the endless runner genre is packed with them. You start off in a dark field with zombies lumbering out of the fog as you run for your life, frantically ducking and dodging to avoid them. It’s reminiscent of Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead as the shuffling corpses pose little threat unless you get too close to one. The fact you can pick and use weapons adds a new element to the gameplay and there are missions and goals to keep things interesting.

    Looking for more endless runners? Gravity Project gives the genre a sci-fi makeover and lets you mess with gravity, though laggy controls can be a problem at times. The aesthetic of Vector brings Canabalt to mind, but introduces Parkour-inspired moves into the mix. Headless is a darkly humorous gore-fest that casts you as a recently beheaded chicken. Subway Surfers is a solid endless runner that gets the balance right. Jetpack Joyride is an unmissable classic with loads of depth and replay value.

    Got an endless runner to suggest? Post it below!

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    Plague Inc. Tips and Musings

    October 1st, 2014

    Sometimes you just feel like wiping out the human race entirely, don’t you? Slaughter every last one. Free the planet. We all feel it, especially on Monday mornings. In Plague Inc that’s the idea. Can you create a plague that spreads, infects, and kills every last human being on earth before a cure is developed?

    A few years ago, 2007, to be precise, I got addicted to a wee game called Pandemic. It was a browser-based flash game that challenged you to create a pandemic that would wipe out humanity by choosing various symptoms and abilities. The formula was greatly improved by Dark Realm Studios in Pandemic 2 and we spent many a happy lunch hour at my old work competing to see who could spark the apocalypse fastest.

    I actually thought that Plague Inc. was a port, but it’s more of a spiritual successor. An Android and iOS game that bears more than a passing resemblance to Pandemic 2, but looks a bit slicker and has a few new features. It is every bit as perversely satisfying to play and extremely moreish.

    Plague Inc

    The main challenge of the strategy is to ensure that you spread your plague to every corner of the globe before countries start shutting down the airports and shooting all the pigeons. In Pandemic it was always Madagascar that held out, but your nemesis in Plague Inc. is Greenland.

    You’ll choose a type of plague, bacteria, virus, fungus, parasite, prion, nano-virus, or bio-weapon. You’ll need to succeed with one on at least Normal difficulty to unlock the next, unless you’re open to spending on IAP. There are some extras available if you spend, enabling you to modify the genetic code at the start (they’re basically buffs), but you don’t need them.

    Pick a country for your plague to start in and you’ll accumulate DNA points as the infected numbers rise. These points can be spent on transmission (ways of spreading the plague), symptoms (to spread, incapacitate, and kill faster), and abilities (making your plague hardier and tougher to kill).

    Tips for Plague Inc.

    The first question you have to answer is “Which country should I start my plague in?”

    With a bacteria or virus it’s relatively easy to spread, so you can afford to start somewhere that will spread it fast. India and Egypt have worked best for me because both have airports and seaports and they are poor.

    If you’re starting with something tougher to spread, like a fungus, then pick one of the toughest nations to infect, like Greenland or Madagascar.

    Developed nations like the U.S. have better medicine and that slows the early rate of infection, but I have had success starting plagues in the UK or Germany, you just need to develop the Drug Resistance ability fairly early on.

    Plague Inc. abilities

    Spreading the plague under the radar

    In order to win the game you will need to infect everyone on the planet and then kill them. This should be viewed as a two-step process. Infect first and then turn your attention to killing. If you allow your plague to become too deadly too quickly it can end up killing people before they have a chance to infect anyone else.

    The trickiest one to spread is the fungus. You should start by spending DNA points on Water and Air transmission and maybe Livestock if you picked a rural country. Don’t waste points on the spore release just be patient and try to max out water and air, so you can get the Bioaerosol ability, which will enable the fungus to travel overseas more often.

    I usually develop multiple transmission types to spread the plague faster. Livestock for rural countries, Rodent for cities, and Birds will spread it across borders when they migrate. The only trouble is that each transmission type increases the chance of mutation.Plague Inc mutation

    Greenland is the hardest country to infect and your plague will spread slowly there even once it’s in. Develop Cold Resistance 1 and 2 to speed it up dramatically.

    Managing symptoms

    Later in the game you’ll need to develop Symptoms that will kill infected people, but early on all these do is alert the authorities and get them working on a cure so every time you get a new symptom mutating go into the symptoms menu and tap on it and select Devolve. You’ll gain two DNA points and the plague will keep spreading unnoticed. You want to wait until you get the message popping up to tell you that “There are no healthy people left in the world” before you start to develop symptoms.

    Plague Inc devolve symptom

    There are a few other ways to fight the discovery. Parasite offers the Symbiosis ability which makes it less likely to be noticed, for example. But if you have the patience it’s best to wait it out until everyone is infected and then start developing deadly symptoms.

    If they do start on a cure then I like to develop Insomnia and then Paranoia which makes people less likely to seek medical help and slows down the cure effort. You can also spend DNA points on Genetic Hardening and Genetic Reshuffle, but they are very expensive.

    Bring the pain

    The other way to go once the whole world is infected is to just make your plague super deadly. If you’ve gone the paranoia route then Inflammation and Seizures are a good next step and Insanity will slow things down further and encourage countries to fall. You can also go for Coughing > Pneumonia > Pulmonary Oedema > Pulmonary Fibrosis > Total Organ Failure > Coma.

    Plague Inc symptoms

    Remember that you can devolve some of your abilities and transmission boosts in the end game if you need points to develop more symptoms. Once everyone is infected you don’t need to worry about transmission so much. If it’s a fungus and you used the spore release ability then you can devolve those for points.

    You’ll be able to tell pretty quickly looking at the death rate whether you’re going to beat the cure, there’s a tipping point where game over for the human race becomes inevitable.

    Plague Inc

     

    We’ve reached the end of my Plague Inc tips, if you want to add any then post in the comments.

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    Is parenthood the end of gaming?

    June 26th, 2013

    So, you may have noticed the complete lack of updates around these parts. I’m going to tell you the same thing I tell all my friends who I never see anymore. Parenthood is time consuming. My son was born four years ago now and I haven’t slept since. Between him and my one year-old daughter gaming has become a distant memory.

    Is parenthood the end of gaming? No, not really, but it does at least put a temporary halt on marathon gaming sessions. I can’t nurture a civilization to greatness, constructing cultural monuments to stand the test of time, and laying waste to my enemies, as time marches on into the wee small hours or until my eyes are bleeding. I can’t find the time to guide another lower league bunch of no hopers into the top flight and develop a generation of wonder kids into the next European champions. I definitely can’t scream a torrent of expletives as I tear a bunch of digital avatars representing strangers around the world into bloody bits of flying limbs and guts.

    The sum total of my gaming in the last month consists of Nimble Bit on my phone (which is awesome btw, review forthcoming), watching my son play Ant Smasher (exactly what it sounds like), and a frustrating multiplayer game of Little Big Planet in which my son repeatedly finds interesting ways to get stuck in the scenery and then shouts at me to come back, “Come back!” over and over until I turn it off explaining that the PS3 needs a rest now because it’s tired.

    It’s not that you can’t play a game with a four year-old; it’s just that they really suck at games, and I’m the world’s worst back seat gamer. I can watch ineptitude for about 3.2 seconds before I have to snatch the controller away and show how things are done properly. I also enter into a kind of fugue state when I’m gaming which is not compatible with parenting. This involves crossing the finishing line in first which temporarily breaks the spell long enough for me to turn around and find my baby eating a box of hankies.

    Lack of sleep also tends to turn everything into a horribly frustrating trial. What was once an addictive, fun challenge is now no longer so appealing. When I get a rare calm moment I like to lie motionless while television’s warm glow washes over me. The thought of playing that game I really should go back to has somehow made its way into the chore pile in my head and is now labeled “to be avoided”.

    I know this will change as my kids grow older and get better at games. I’m hungrily anticipating the day when they develop enough skill to make it really fun beating them. As they grow older still I may find the time for those long gaming sessions once again. I can’t help feeling our generation will be the first to really enjoy retirement. Forget about gardening or golf, as long as my mental faculties are still sharp enough for Civ I’ll have no trouble filling the days.

    Parenthood is not the end of gaming, but it is causing a temporary break. I’ll try to do better, but it might be more realistic if I sign off by saying, see you when they start school.

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    English Hero FM 2012 Achievement: Winning promotion from the Championship

    January 4th, 2013

    It’s taken a while to find the time to finish off the English Hero achievement, but this Christmas holiday finally saw my Stalybridge Celtic side promoted to the Premiership. As expected winning the Championship was beyond us and in the early part of the season it didn’t look like we’d be getting anywhere near the top end of the table.

    I squeezed as much money as I could from the board by promising a promotion challenge, but the stadium expansion made things very tight. I ruthlessly transfer listed all the players on the biggest wages and anyone I doubted would make the step up. As usual I edited the budget to put everything into wages and signed free transfers only.

    The early part of the season was horrible. A threadbare squad struggled to accumulate points and I didn’t manage to sign enough players before the window slammed shut. Loan deals saw us scrape through with a few home wins and draws until mid-season when the stadium expansion was finished and we managed to sign in some quality.

    The players who performed were:

    • Samir Bihmoutine DL
    • Carl Jenkinson DR
    • Hrayr Mkoyan DC
    • Frederic Veseli DC
    • Hugo Fernandez DMC
    • Bram Splinter DMC (loan)
    • Lee Cattermole MC
    • Kyle Hutton MRC
    • Joe McKee MC/AMC
    • Yassine El Ghanassy AML
    • Esteban Lopez AMR
    • Jose Baxter ST
    • Gregory Tade ST

    I sold some of my League 1 stars to fund new players. The star of the season was El Ghanassy as a left winger. He got goals, assists and plenty of man of the match awards. Baxter gave us some quality up front and Tade was a decent target man for support. Jenkinson and Mkoyan were huge signings for the defence and Fernandez and Cattermole came in to catapult us up the table in the second half of the season. Having taken him on loan for three seasons in a row we were finally able to sign McKee.

    Bihmoutine continued to perform despite having awful stats and not being rated by my coaching staff. Veseli, McKee and Lopez also all made the jump as their development seemed to keep pace with our promotions. I signed Finnish international goalie Fredrikson, but he was a disaster and I ended up reverting to Lukasik.

    I tried playing 4-1-3-2 and 4-1-2-1-2 diamond formation at home, but it was 4-1-2-2-1 with a trio of defensive midfielders and two wide wingers that really worked for us. We became a devastating counter attacking side and picked up loads of points that we probably didn’t really deserve against tougher opposition. Thanks to an awesome late run we finished 5th with 78 points to secure a play-off place.

    We got Crystal Palace in the semi-final and the first leg lulled me into a false sense of security as we romped to a 3-0 win. We went into the away leg over confident and ended up 3-0 down at half time after two weak goals and a truly horrible own goal from stand-in left back Cintolo. As the minutes ticked away our defensive hero Mkoyan came up to score a header from a corner and we sat on it, hanging on by our fingernails to get the aggregate win.

    The final paired us with an in-form Blackpool who had finished five points ahead of us in third. We set up to counter attack and tried to hit them on the break after each attack. It was actually end to end stuff, but plenty of missed chances for both sides. Eventually Veseli broke the deadlock just before half-time with a headed corner and Blackpool couldn’t get back into the game. We won promotion and Veseli was voted player of the year by the fans.

    That was it. English Hero achieved. I took Stalybridge Celtic from the Blue Square North to the Premiership in five seasons. The board has borrowed £22 million to build a new stadium and they’ve actually given me some money to spend. Let’s see how long it takes to win the Premiership.

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    English Hero FM 2012 Achievement: Winning the npower League 1

    August 27th, 2012

    If you’ve been promoted straight up the leagues in successive seasons and you have a small club like Stalybridge Celtic then you’ll be disappointed to learn that any money you manage to generate is swallowed up by the requirement to expand the stadium for entry to the next league. A slight wage budget increase was all I got to take on the npower League 1 after winning the npower League 2, and so I had to sell some players.

    Once again I put everything into wages and only signed free transfers and loan deals. The start of the season was a total disaster and the gulf in class was obvious. It was only by making a couple of key loan signings that we started accumulating points.

    The players that stood out with good averages over the season were:

    • Przemyslaw Lukasik GK
    • Samir Bihmoutine DL
    • Andrew Wright DR
    • Giuseppe Prestia DC
    • Billy Tsovolos DC
    • Frederic Veseli DC
    • Bram Splinter DMC (loan)
    • Kyle Hutton MRC
    • Esteban Lopez AMR
    • Gyliano van Velzen AML
    • Charlie Telfer M/AMLC
    • Joe McKee MC/AMC (loan)
    • Kal Naismith AMRL/ST

    The key signings were Andrew Wright, who brought some experience into the defence, but also ate a large portion of the wage budget. Bram Splinter was downright immense – the defensive midfielder on loan from Liverpool gave our defence the cover it desperately needed. Kyle Hutton worked his socks off as a ball winning midfielder in the middle of the park. Gyliano van Velzen proved to be a goal-scoring assist machine on the left wing.

    Some of my existing players continued to improve and made the step up without a problem, Bihmoutine, Tsovolos, Veseli, Lopez, Telfer and Naismtih were all good. The most improved was definitely Lukasik in goal, who saved us on countless occasions.

    I had most success playing counter attack 4-1-2-2-1 with two wide advanced wingers (van Velzen and Lopez). I continued to switch to 4-1-3-2 for most of the home games. The big problem was scoring goals. Naismith was top scorer with just 10 goals all season. The whole midfield chipped in and I rotated a string of useless strikers, some free transfers and some loan deals. Free transfer Stephen McAuley was probably the best of a bad bunch. On loan Marcello Trotta from Fulham was definitely the worst.

    In the end we won the league with 96 points, 6 ahead of Charlton in second, although Charlton were top virtually all season and we only caught them after they collapsed in the last few matches. We beat them away from home with four matches left and they lost or drew all their remaining games.

    So on to the Championship but once again all our cash has been swallowed by a stadium expansion and we have to ground share with Oldham at Boundary Park. This season is going to be really tough. I don’t think another straight promotion is on the cards unless we can get some seriously awesome loan deals.

    I’ll keep you posted.

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    Warlock: Master of the Arcane Review

    June 28th, 2012

    The original Majesty game offered a welcome twist for the RTS genre. Hiring a bunch of mercenary heroes and desperately bribing them to kill a multitude of monsters was a whole new kind of challenge. The developers Cyberlore Studios apparently planned a sequel but couldn’t secure a publisher and so after the expansion pack in 2001 it lay dormant for a few years.

    It was pleasing when Paradox bought up the rights and had Russian developer 1C create Majesty 2 which was released in 2009. Many critics wrote it off as buggy and overly difficult but it was a seriously addictive game and a decent challenge for RTS fans. The land of Majesty is Ardania, a kind of fantasy world filled with all manner of monsters, from zombies and vampires to trolls and dragons. Paradox have apparently decided to release a bunch of games based on the same world and so we got Defenders of Ardania developed by Hungarian developer, Most Wanted, and now we get Warlock: Master of the Arcane from Ino-Co Plus who seem to be another Russian dev studio under the 1C umbrella.

    Forget the muddled tower defense gameplay of Defenders of Ardania, Warlock: Master of the Arcane is a much more ambitious game. This is turn-based strategy on a grand scale as a bunch of grumpy wizards go head to head for dominance over a monster filled land of magic and mayhem. You can choose your warlock of choice from a bunch of pre-generated avatars or create your own; they each have specific powers or bonuses to offer.

    The races – humans, undead and monsters will be familiar from the Majesty games. You’ll also encounter a wide range of hostile monsters on each map from armoured bears to giant spiders.

    Your aim is to conquer the world. There’s a hex grid and you start with one city which you must turn into an empire. To grasp it quickly just imagine a war focused, scaled down, fantasy version of Civilization V. There are four victory conditions – you can beat all your opponents, kill an avatar (sent by the Gods), take control of all of the Holy Grounds or complete all the spell research and cast the Unity spell.

    As you progress the trick is to balance your resources – gold, food and mana. You’ll want to ensure that you can continually churn out armies to defend your cities or conquer new territory. War is completely unavoidable because the diplomacy system is virtually non-existent so just plan to fight your enemies regardless of the victory condition you are pursuing.

    There’s a decent choice of buildings although they don’t always have the same logical sense that a game based on the real world does. As your cities grow you’ll get the option to build more and to recruit troops if you have the right buildings. Since battle is unavoidable you’ll probably end up with a mix of races in your army as you conquer enemy cities and gain access to their military buildings.

    Combat is exactly like early Civ V games. Each unit can only occupy one hex and ranged units can fire over distance. You’ll want to build a decent sized army before attempting to take a city and maneuvering it into the right slots is important. Cities have a weak inbuilt defense and you can obviously station one unit to defend them. There’s no substitute for experience and you’ll find that your troops will develop loads of bonus abilities, growing significantly tougher the more action they see.

    Apart from the fantasy overlay there are thankfully some other differences that set Warlock apart from Civ. Instead of having a research tree to boost your society you have a magic tree that allows you to research spells. These are all direct actions that you can perform on the map and they mostly relate to boosting your troop’s strength, killing enemies or summoning extra troops. Used correctly they can definitely sway the course of a battle but you’ll need plenty of mana.

    At the start of each turn you’ll get a series of icons stacking on the right that reveal your outstanding tasks. You’ll have to deal with these before you can move on so it’s a good failsafe to ensure you don’t forget anything.

    One other oddity is the presence of portals that lead to foreign lands. They are always completely monster filled so make sure you are mob-handed if you intend to go through. They do increase the exploration possibilities which is always fun and there are rewards to be had if your explorers are tough enough.

    Having played Civ V a lot there’s no escaping the fact that Warlock: Master of the Arcane borrows from it heavily; in fact it steals from it liberally. It lacks the depth but it does introduce some more interesting tactical battles to the warfare as the different races have genuinely different strengths and weaknesses and then there’s the addition of spells. The focus is inescapably on combat and you’ll find that a constant state of war seems to be the norm, so if that doesn’t appeal then it’s probably best avoided.

    The battles can feel like a bit of a slog and that boring end game when victory is in sight but you have to mop up the remains of your enemies to win feels inevitable. The barbarian-like monsters are seriously tough as well, I had terrible trouble with armoured bears attacking my undefended rear and even snatching a city at one stage.

    The backdrop is good – I’m a fan of Majesty so the Ardania monsters and the familiar Connery impersonating advisor are welcome touches. It looks quite good, it’s very accessible and it’s only £15. On the other hand it is all about combat, you can build cities but it just feels like a means to support your army and the spells are just directly aggressive or defensive. Initially it hooked me in but the novelty is wearing off fast.

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    English Hero FM 2012 Achievement: Winning the npower League 2

    June 19th, 2012

    Winning promotion from the npower League 2 was a real step up in difficulty over the Blue Square Premier on my journey to get the English Hero achievement in Football Manager 2012 with Stalybridge Celtic. I had to ditch a number of players in order to free up their wages for new signings. I also relied on a lot of loan deals, some of them short term.

    As usual I recommend putting all of your resources into wages and bargaining hard to sign out of contract prospects on reasonable wages. You’ll also need some good loan deals to win the league. A cup run would help with your cash flow but we managed to get there despite another first round exit.

    These are the players that really stood out with decent averages over the season.

    • Samir Bihmoutine DL
    • Conrad Balatoni DC
    • Billy Tsovolos DC
    • Frederic Veseli DC
    • Jamie Masson MC
    • Esteban Lopez AMR
    • Charlie Telfer M/AMLC
    • Joe McKee MC/AMC (loan)
    • Kal Naismith AMRL/ST
    • Alex Davies ST (loan)

    My key signings were Jamie Masson, Esteban Lopez and Kal Naismith. In terms of tactics I changed my style to accommodate Lopez so I alternated between 4-1-2-2-1 with two wide advanced wingers (Lopez on the right and Naismith on the left) and a defensive midfielder sitting deep to protect the defence and the familiar 4-1-3-2. The wingers formation worked superbly along with a counter attacking style for away games. At home I switched to 4-1-3-2 and played a short passing attacking game.

    At the start of the season it was tough going because I had to offload a number of players to free up the wages to sign decent replacements. Bihmoutine was consistently the best player at left back and my central defenders handled the step up beautifully. Balatoni and Tsovolos seem to be improving at the right pace as we climb the leagues and Veseli is class. The real trick to winning promotion this season was Lopez on the right and Naismith on the left, they performed brilliantly and notched 27 goals between them.

    My problem position was definitely in goal and McHugh from last season simply didn’t cut it. I eventually signed Przemyslaw Lukasik and he was better but I wouldn’t recommend him especially.

    In the end we won the league on 93 points, 5 ahead of Bury in second place. The npower League 1 is going to be an even bigger challenge.

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    Tropico 4 Guide: Tips and Strategy

    May 31st, 2012

    As a veteran El Presidente of countless Tropican islands I thought I might do a Tropico 4 strategy guide to share some of my Tropico tactics. I’ve actually just been playing through Tropico 4: Modern Times so I’ll cover some of the new elements in that as well. To be honest the core game hasn’t really changed that much since the original in terms of winning strategies so most of this guide should work for any of the Tropico games.

    In the beginning

    The first thing to do with any game of Tropico is to set up your avatar. Do you want to be a communist revolutionary intent on bringing a decent standard of living to the oppressed or perhaps you’re a silky smooth singer looking to create a tourist haven of epic proportions?

    The older Tropico games used to make you choose your background, route to power and then two positive traits and two flaws, which was a cool trade-off. In Tropico 4 you’ll find you can avoid picking any flaws at all. You still have to pick a background and your rise to power but now you pick three traits and they are all positive to varying degrees.

    Choosing a Background

    In terms of Background I think Professor is the best. In order to have a successful island paradise you can’t do without educated people. You need them for the army, various government buildings, power stations and industries. As a Professor you’ll get +20 respect from the Intellectuals but more importantly education and skill training will be 50% faster.

    A lot of the other options have drawbacks attached. Pop Singer is good if you want a tourist island, Self-Made Man is good for industry and Silver Spoon combines the two but at the cost of Communist respect. Farmer gives you a 50% boost to farms with a slight hit in the shape of a -10 hit with the Intellectuals. If you need maximum cash in a hurry then Booze Baron works well.

    Rise to Power

    For Rise to Power you can go for Capitalist for industry and US relation boosts or Communist for farming and USSR relation boosts. The best by far if you want to have a tourist trade is Hotel Corporate Buyout. If you don’t choose that then Capitalist Election is probably the next best.

    Traits

    When it comes to traits you can pick three and what you choose will depend on what you’ve already picked and the individual mission you’re undertaking. I’d recommend Administrator, Charismatic, Diplomatic, Entrepreneurial, Financial Genius, Hard-Working, Scholarly and Well-Travelled. You’ll want to pick the same ones again to build up the potential bonuses.

    Scoping Out Resources

    When it comes to the individual levels you’ll start each new game with a new island map. Begin by conducting a thorough survey. Seriously, pause the game and then check what resources you have. It’s a real pain if you later find out that you’ve built an apartment building on top of a gold deposit or a farm on an oil field. The quickest and easiest way to do this is to just select the building (gold mine or coffee farm) and then check where the good spots are on the map, the greener the better.  You can use the Overlays above the mini map to do this too and it is something you should refer back to as you go to quickly identify any major problem areas.

    Once you have done this you can start to plan your island. The type of economy you build will depend on your personal tastes and on the mission you have to complete. You can go for crops, industry or tourism as your main focus or you can blend them.

    You should check for good tourist spots at the start too because you want to keep them well segregated from your industry and farms and….your Tropicans!

    Housing and Food

    The fastest route to an unhappy population, rising crime and violent rebellion is homelessness and hunger. You absolutely have to provide enough food for your population. Always start by placing a couple of food farms and at least one fishing wharf. The good thing is that you can sell any surplus food you produce. You can import food as well, but you have to get your economy on track first. You can build a marketplace (or supermarket in Modern Times) and allow imports to avoid starvation but you might find it quite costly at the start.

    You’ll inevitably see shacks popping up as your homeless population look for shelter. These shacks aren’t just an eye sore they are also a major source of crime. Keep an eye on your housing stock as your population grows. When you have enough housing to cater for your whole population (which will be a running battle) you should consider making your bottom tier tenements free so that even the unemployed homeless have a basic option that will discourage them from building a shack.

    If your Tropico 4 housing stock includes a lot of tenements make sure that you upgrade them to have air conditioning when you get power because it seriously improves the living standards for tenants.

    Stay in the Black

    You can actually spend up to $10,000 into the red but if you go into debt it will harm your relationship with foreign powers which is very damaging. You can easily get stuck in a negative feedback loop. If you treat $5k as zero you should avoid problems but this isn’t always possible early on. Watch out that your export cash doesn’t all get splurged on imports or you may struggle to get out of debt.

    Useful Edicts

    There are loads of useful edicts in Tropico 4 and the Modern Times expansion adds even more. In any standard game you should build your Ministry early and hire a Minister of Foreign Affairs so you can enact edicts with foreign powers and go for USSR Development Aid for a 50% discount on tenements and apartment buildings. A little later when you want to build a power station enact the USA Development Aid edict for a 50% discount on power plants and airports. These two edicts will save you a fortune.

    As your economy grows you can save Food for the People as a happiness booster when you need it. You’ll also want to enact the Literacy Program to encourage some more skilled workers. Everyone likes Social Security and Police Sensitivity Training has no negative side effects either.

    There are a host of edicts that will encourage tourism, if you’re going for a tourist economy and you have the cash then they are all worth doing. Most of the other edicts have particular political implications so whether you use them or not will depend on your aims. I usually enact the National Day, Anti-Litter Ordnance and Pollution Standards.

    Sometimes Free Housing is a good idea, especially if you have a lot of empty housing stock and homeless people who can’t afford to move in. The Papal Visit option in the US Foreign Affairs edicts is great for appeasing the religious faction and there’s no downside to it apart from the cost. The last one worth using periodically is the Amnesty for rebels.

    Construction

    Everyone knows that builders are a lazy bunch and in Tropico 4 this unfortunate truth can be a real pain. You’ll often find that you’ve put out multiple buildings and you’ve got money to spend but your builders can’t keep up. Now each building only has a set number of slots for builders to work on it so building another construction office won’t speed up individual building projects, but if you have multiple buildings waiting to be erected at once then it will help. I usually have at least a couple of construction offices. You can also set priorities for buildings so always hit high priority for the ones you want completed first.

    The best way of getting them to speed up on an individual building project is to find El Presidente and send him to visit the construction site (you can hit Backspace to select him and just right click on the construction site you want him to visit). This can make a real difference and get your builders moving.

    It’s also worth noting that you can press the [ or ] key to change the layout or style of some buildings before you place them out.

    Imports and Exports

    Your balance of goods will ultimately decide whether you win or lose. At the start of each game I’d recommend going to the dock and lowering your maximum imports to $2,000. That will give you a chance to build up some export money though you’ll definitely want to raise it again quite quickly.

    The fact you can import goods is great. You can build a furniture factory and just import lumber instead of chopping down your own trees which will anger the environmentalists. In fact it means you are free to import all manner of goodies and build any industry you want. Just make sure you set the building to allow imports and that you’ve got the bank balance to cover it.

    Always try and get a Customs Office fairly early to increase the prices of your exports.

    Transport

    Your Tropicans will get around by car so you’ll need to build garages. You’ll want at least one garage for each group of buildings. The traffic will inevitably build up and become gridlocked as you grow. For some reason 4-way intersections are especially bad, you’ll actually find things run more smoothly if you avoid making any of them and build loops instead but it looks weird.

    Modern Times introduces a wonderful new transport option to the world of Tropico – a subway system. You can build subway stations anywhere and your Tropicans will happily use them which means – no more traffic problems. Just be careful when you put them out that you keep an eye on the cost, the further apart they are the more expensive they are to build. You should also leave gaps in your busy areas so you can slot the subway stations in when they become available.

    Logistics

    Another important Tropico tip to keep things running smoothly involves logistics. You need plenty of Teamsters to pick up your exports and transport them to the dock for sale. They’ll be much faster if they have easy access to a car so they need to be close to garages. I don’t think it really matters where you build them because you can’t tell them where to pick up products from anyway. As long as they are near a garage and you have enough of them to pick up all your goods then you should be fine.

    If you have a lot of surplus goods at your factories or mines and they seem to be taking too long to get picked up then you need more teamsters. On some islands (depending on the layout) you should consider building a second dock to help. Ideally you’ll have separate docks in separate bays rather than two in the same one.

    Industry

    Getting your industry up and running can really bring in the cash. You can always sell raw resources but if you use them to manufacture products instead your profit will grow significantly. You will need an educated workforce though, so a high school and college are essential.

    It’s worth noting you can also set up imports for some of the manufacturing businesses. So even if you don’t have any tobacco farms you can import it and make cigars for profit. Just bear in mind that your import bill might be high and that you’ll need skilled workers for some of the factories. For this to work you have to turn on imports in the factory.

    Most of the industrial buildings have upgrades so always click on the building and take a look. Many of them require electricity so you may not be able to get them when you first put the building out but you should make sure to remember and go back when you have power. The chemical plant is a good industry to start with because it only needs power to run and it improves the quality of your clinics and hospitals.

    In Modern Times you’ll be able to get Borehole Mines; the big advantage with them is that even when the resource runs out they’ll still produce a trickle of output.

    Military and Propaganda

    You need an army to ensure that the rebels don’t overrun you. Make sure your palace is always fully staffed with soldiers (raise the wages if necessary) and build the improvements to increase their job satisfaction. You can build an Armory, Army Base and Guard Post later on. It’s a good idea to have a Guard Post near your power plant to ensure the rebels don’t attack it.

    Always build the Childhood Museum and consider building newspapers, radio stations and TV stations to improve your standing with the people (you can target specific factions if you like). You should also build the Mausoleum when you can afford it because the rebels will always attack it first (there’s a fun booby trap option too).

    Immigration and Wages

    You need a steady supply of immigrants to begin with but when you start to see unemployment and homelessness you need to close the gates. You can only control this with an Immigration Office so get one early.

    Wages in Tropico 4 are vital as they determine what your Tropicans can afford. You should keep an eye on average Caribbean pay and see how your wages compare. Increase them when you can to avoid expensive strikes and increase job satisfaction. If you go above the Caribbean average you’ll also boost immigration.

    Make sure you keep the same tier structure of unskilled – high school – college workers. You don’t want to increase just one. You can also use better wages to attract people to a specific job you want to fill. Make sure the dock workers and teamsters are always happy because they can effectively freeze your economy if they go on strike.

    Religion, Healthcare and Entertainment

    You will need entertainment and religion to keep your Tropicans happy. You should get a church fairly early to keep the religious faction off your back. You’ll also want a clinic early on. Both healthcare and religious buildings should keep pace with your growing population just make sure you have a sound economy to support them.

    You have a pretty good range of entertainment options to choose from and some of them, like the movie theatres can be set to provide different bonuses. The pub and the childhood museum are a good start but you should wait until you have the money and you’ve already provided food, housing, healthcare, education, and religion before you spend big here.

    A Few Final Tropico 4 Tips

    • Get your high school up and running early and buy in staff for it.
    • When you hire ministers make sure they are talented or they might trigger negative events. Always fire them if they do. Good ministers will trigger bonuses for you.
    • Check your Almanac frequently it has all the information you need to plan the right strategy and decide on priorities.
    • Remember to build some beauty in the shape of parks, trees and fountains.
    • Build a weather station so you get warnings about upcoming disasters.
    • In the campaign many of the missions have trigger points. Things will only advance when you complete certain tasks, so sometimes holding off on a specific task can help you build a solid foundation before advancing.
    • You’ll always make more money if you develop your raw resources rather than sell them. Even gold can be made into jewellery so take advantage.

    If you’ve got a winning Tropico 4 strategy of your own or you want to share some Tropico 4 tips then post a comment.

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    Defender II Review and Tips

    May 22nd, 2012

    So my latest Android addiction is Defender II which is a kind of twist on the tower defense genre. You pilot a single tower and have to guide a hail of arrows at the never ending waves of bizarre monsters marching in to take your castle down. You also have a batch of spells to aid you in your quest.

    The gameplay is instantly addictive and it has a refreshing frenetic feel as the waves of monsters pour onto the screen from the right and you frantically drag your finger around to try and target them. Basically wherever your finger is the tower spews deadly arrows. You can also drag spells onto the battlefield from the interface at the bottom and they’ll be enacted when you lift your finger from the screen. It is very accessible and it has that “just one more turn” hook to it that can lead to you missing your bus stop or running the battery down because you’re too determined to beat that last level to stop.

    It follows the usual model of upgrades as you go. You earn coins and crystals and you can spend them on upgrades and new defensive features like a lava moat or a tougher crossbow. Naturally the enemies you face get tougher as you progress and you’ll encounter bosses to battle every 10 levels. There’s also a multiplayer battle mode where you can go head to head with another player. The winner is whoever lasts longest. This mode seems a little broken because you’ll rarely encounter a fair fight, one player always seems to be significantly tougher than the other.

    Defender II has a grinding element to it because you earn coins even when you fail a level and you can always engage in battle mode against someone else for another chance to earn coins and crystals. You’ll need plenty of both to get your defences up to scratch and beat the higher levels. The nice thing is you can earn them by grinding instead of paying out real cash, which is obviously an option at $1.99 for 8,000 coins or 25 crystals and discounts as you go up.

    There is a lot of content here for free and there’s no real need to buy any coins or crystals. The levels seem to go on indefinitely so it’s inevitably going to get boring after a while but it should hook you in the short term. Check out the reviews at Google Play and you’ll find complaints galore about the higher levels, there’s a lesson there somewhere.

    Defender II Tips

    You might be tempted to blow all your coins and crystals as you accumulate them but some of the more expensive upgrades make things so much easier.

    • Don’t waste too many crystals on upgrading the first batch of spells because the next tier replaces them and same again with the final tier. I found the ice spells to be by far the most useful.
    • Don’t spend your money as soon as you get it. Sometimes it’s good to grind on a level you can’t beat for a while and build up your cash so you can unlock a big upgrade or a series of smaller ones all at once.
    • Remember that when you do upgrade spells you will need more Mana to power them. Upgrade your Mana Research and the Mana Power in your Magic Tower.
    • Fatal Blow and Multiple Arrows are both essential as you go up the levels so unlock them early.
    • Remember to save some crystals for new Phantom crossbow purchases. The bonuses are well worth getting.
    • In terms of strategy it’s pretty straightforward. I tend to sweep the enemies from top to bottom or vice versa and save spells for the next wave coming in. I usually save spells for ranged enemies but sometimes you need to use them on those prickly critters because they are irritatingly tough.
    • Every ten levels you know you’re going to encounter a boss so make sure to save some Mana for the end battle. The best way to use spells during boss battles is to wait until just before they unleash an attack and then hit them with the spell. If you time it right the attack will stop.

    Got any Defender II tips of your own? Discovered a great Defender II winning strategy? Post a comment and let us know.

    22 Comments "

    The Ultimate FPS Ever!

    May 18th, 2012

    So I’ve been thinking about the ultimate action game featuring characters that combine genre clichés to the max. By combining clichés and ripped off ideas with some juicy plot twists we can multiply the awesomeness and create the next FPS smash hit.

    The Baddies

    A disgruntled Russian general still mentally in the Cold War has teamed up with the North Korean government to unlock the secrets of some alien technology they discovered (probably in Antarctica). They decide to hire Al Qaeda to exhume the body of Adolf Hitler and deliver it to their secret base (probably in an extinct volcano or on an oilrig). They then use the alien technology to resurrect Hitler and have him lead an army of fellow zombies against the unsuspecting west. Too late they realise that Hitler is evil and cannot be controlled…shock, horror! It turns out he just wants to eat people rather than bring about a geopolitical transformation of the world…who knew?

    The Hero

    He is a monosyllabic, muscle bound, ex-soldier who saw too much on his last tour of duty and has a serious obsession with weaponry. He returned to an ungrateful country to get a job as a cop where he was brutally shot by filthy immigrants intent on stealing his job, wife, underpants and eventually his very identity. He now has to follow the clues to find the person who was really behind the death of his partner, wife and children and probably his postman too. The only way he can save the world is to torture and murder every person he meets between his beer can littered caravan on the beach and the opulent marble palace housing the evil mastermind.

    The Plot

    Our hero Griff McGraw or Bash Truckster or Wolf Loner (I haven’t got the name yet) will track down and kill a series of cheap racial stereotypes serving as sub bosses to a multitude of brainless drones who probably don’t have families or real lives or personalities, so it’s ok to violently kill them by the barrel load. To justify the murder we just need to put Nazi insignias on them or make them look foreign and sneery. As these evil cretins die on by one, like a set of increasingly big and scary dominoes falling over, we discover that Hitler is behind everything. He set the entire plan that created everything evil in motion before he died after striking a deal with some aliens to bring him back to life later and destroy mankind (they want a vacant planet even if it is slightly used).

    As our hero fights his way into the gold plated fortress of evil Hitler comes clean via a series of pre-set projectors and the public address system. He killed our hero’s family and friends personally using an alien time machine and he’s just back from doing it with little Billy’s cap in his hand. Our hero goes absolutely mental for the final showdown, pounds Hitler into submission and with his dying breath Hitler reveals the final kicker – he is our hero’s father! Just pause for a moment and let that sink in.

    The Sequel

    Our hero now uses the time machine to battle Hitler through the ages from medieval times up until just before the original game. At the end we find out that Hitler was actually an alien all along and so was our hero!!!

    Crowdfunding

    Since crowdfunding is all the rage nowadays I’ve thought up a few rewards for donations.

    • $100 gets you a really fast scrolling name at the end of the credits which no one bothers to read anyway because let’s face it that’s a drop in the ocean
    • $1,000 allows you to add your own death rattle, record audio of yourself pretending to die a violent death and we’ll attach it to a faceless bad guy
    • $5,000 and you can send us a photo of someone you really don’t like, with the magic of computers we’ll wrap it round the head of a previously faceless bad guy and they’ll be killed over and over by thousands of people around the globe
    • $50,000 you’ll get a backstage pass to meet Hitler and the gang and hang out in their volcano, by which I mean you can meet the healthy complexion challenged team who created an approximation of what a zombie Hitler might look like
    • $100,000 you can hang around in the dev studio and peer over people’s shoulders making irritating suggestions just like a real producer
    • $1,000,000 we will model your every nook and cranny, record your voice and motion capture your distinctive movements so we can make you the hero of the game, y’know Trip MacKiller or whatever

    Final Thoughts

    I know what you’re thinking….we don’t have robots or ninjas in the game…FAIL!

    Well hold on there a minute, we need some creative integrity here so we can’t throw everything into this. By the law of diminishing returns there will come a time when people don’t want to buy sequels to this game (I know it’s tough to believe) so we can reboot the series by changing the name slightly and turning the Nazi zombies into ninja robots. That’s right I’ve got the long term vision in mind here – you’ve got to see the bigger picture.

    If you want to get in on the ground floor then send as much money as you can afford to send right now. I guarantee it will be put to good use.

    I now invite your suggestions for names and general adulation.

     

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