Tahira: Echoes of the Astral Empire
[developer] Whalehammer Games
I grew up devouring science fiction and probably my most beloved settings involved civilisations which had once been advanced and spacefaring, but were then plunged back into dark ages. You never quite knew the reason for the calamity, but incomprehensible technological artifacts were the perfect justification for magic. I could read Tahira: Echoes of the Astral Empire’s title alone for several hours, I reckon. It’s like flash fiction.
Creative Director, Peter Castle, explains some of his narrative influences, “I was trekking in the Himalayas, sketching a few ideas onto a notepad in the evenings. One of them was a picture of a princess standing at the top of a sand dune, she was looking down at a burning city that was being attacked by a huge army. It was her kingdom. The image stayed with me and I began to ask myself how that situation could have arisen.”
In the demo, this question was merely posed, not answered. But, I gleefully battled Astral Soldiers, wondering at their incongruous name in this seemingly ancient place. Battled, yes, for the compelling narrative is only a mere backdrop to an incredible, turn-based strategy game. It is deep, without ever being confusing. Picture a Banner Saga where combat is explained perfectly, but without solving any aspect of the scenario for you.
For example, in one battle, I was overwhelmed. My options were to allow opponents to be distracted by killing civilians while I employed hefty flanking bonuses against outer groups. Or, I could try to reach civilians, tell them to flee and recruit the uninjured. Either way, positioning was paramount. Enemies get a free hit in their Zone of Denial. And, you must carefully manage statistics like Guard, which soak some damage and allow you to strike efficiently.
One thing is clear. Tahira, who is a military unit herself, must be protected. She is also formidable. What does her “magic” staff do? Currently, it zaps people in a column of blue light. It is both a useful area of effect weapon, on a grid which currently sees mostly basic melee and ranged attacks, by design, and a reason to wonder precisely what it is and why she has it. I strongly suspect this is a game I would play to the very end.
Objects in Space
[developer] Flat Earth Games
[release] Mid 2016
The only game I wasn’t able to play at home, after PAX, was Objects in Space. It is both the quintessential, “game for a convention,” and, ironically, something you need to sink hours into in a solitary space. Why? Well. For starters, to fire a missile, I literally had to flip back a safety switch and push my finger down on an ominous red button. If you were waiting for an invitation to build your own spaceship, this is it.
Lead designer, Leigh Harris says, "Objects uses a virtual serial port to interface directly with arduinos, LEDs, buttons, switches and dials. We'll release the source code for everything we build and do how-to guides online.” Can you also play it with a mouse and keyboard? Sure. Will you still want to? Absolutely. Harris describes the game as, “Marrying the tense stealth action of submarine sims with the open-world exploration of space trading games.”
During a 15 minute demonstration, I barely scratched the surface of the game’s systems.
As well as powering down for stealth, hiding in nebulae and physically touching the many things required to blow up a pirate, I learned that engagement is limited only by your curiosity. Pay for repairs or figure out how to do it yourself. Further, if you lose the ability to control a system due to damage, look to the command line interface in the corner.
You can even get detailed, political leaning news from the different sectors you pass by and it is this depth, beyond hardware customisation, that promises flexible, meaningful play. PAX-goers may have been drawn to Objects in Space because of its peripherals, but were then treated to a deep simulation experience. In a convention full of fun, but often fleeting moments, Objects sparked enduring eagerness in everyone who played it.