Today, I'm just going to talk about what I liked in some demos I've played over the past week or two, and the ideas they've spawned.
Bladestorm isn't a game I would buy, but it's a very interesting game concept; something I hope inspires other game designs.
It brings RTS gameplay into a close third-person perspective focused on an avatar and one unit (swordsmen, bowmen, pikemen, cavalry) directly controlled by the player. You feel the battle from the more personal and chaotic ground-level perspective. I'd like to see more ground-view RTS gameplay.
Your units gain skillpoints and can be upgraded RPG-style. Most RTS games have upgrades, but they're based on "research" which is not connected to any unit's actions. RPG-style upgrades and customizations are based on the concept of growth from experience. How far could this be pushed?
Most of the gameplay is more tactical than strategic, but the game also has a strategic map. The map is dotted with all the forts and lands each army controls, and the player gets to choose which battle to fight next. Since I started playing Battle for Middle Earth: 2's "War of the Ring" (Risk-style war campaign) mode, I've been a huge fan of strategic maps in RTS games. It might be cool to see something similar in an FPS game, allowing the player to choose which area to fight through next.
The game's also interesting in that it's clearly an Asian developer designing in a setting of 17th-century Western Europe. Seeing a setting like that done in an Asian art-style and with Asian aesthetics is strange. Some of the game mechanics have an oriental flavor, too, like all the numbers representing damage that flash over NPC heads (sure, Western games do it as well, but it's something that was picked up from Nintendo and Sony... and something that's still done a little differently in each region).
Another XBLA demo. Again, not one I plan on buying, but I'll probaby rent it sometime.
This game has the best voice-acting I've heard in a game yet. The adjoining animations could use a little work at times (the woman's eyebrows rise at awkward times), but the acting was superb. I'd be interested to know if this was all due to the actors or the developers and recording crew had a hand in it.
Being able to pick up a dead enemy's sword, throw it at someone, then pick up another enemy sword is pretty sweet. Fighting with one scimitar, two scimitars, and one greatsword all felt significantly different from each other.
I like the split-second opportunities that arise in combat. If you block an enemy's swing at just the right time, with some other factors involved that I couldn't figure out, then the game pauses for half-a-second as it offers you a chance to perform a special kill. I would take the arcade "push B!" message out of it, but the general idea is cool.
I like how the enemies strategically surrounded me whenever they got the chance. Some animations could have been tailored more to that scenario.
And another XBLA demo. This one feels mainly like a puzzle-solving game, but the humor is obviously the hook.
I loved the beginning of the demo, with the TV news reporter. I can't describe it, so you'll just have to play it. The reporter continues to comment on the game's events as if he's describing them to his TV viewers, and it's hilarious. He doesn't just comment when the gameplay moves forward (when you solve one of the puzzles). His comments occur at fairly regularly intervals regardless of progression, but those comments are also relevant to what's happening most of the time.
Comedic commentary and funny dialogue are great additions to many games; even serious war games.