E3 2006: Paraworld19 May 2006 0
In the 3rd grade, I was a boy obsessed with the prehistoric. Turning the pages of the National Geographic and my school textbooks, visiting my local science museum, and playing with any number of plastic toys, I became captivated by the mystery of the dinosaurs. There was the mighty T-Rex, the long-necked Brontosaurus, and my personal favorite, the Triceratops. They dominated the discussion among my classmates, and we all developed an affinity of the subject in science class (a nerd at an early age, no doubt). So when I first met the acquaintance of Paraworld at last year?s E3, I was completely enthralled by the idea of playing an RTS with dinosaurs. This year I caught up with the title to see how it had progressed.
Paraworld is a combat-oriented, real-time strategy game set in a fantastic parallel world (the Paraworld), not unlike the one found in Jurassic Park. Here, the dinosaurs weren?t killed off by a comet, but instead continued to survive through time, until the game?s present day, in which the primitive humans and dinosaurs co-existed. The premise of the game is simple enough to accept, but the developers behind Paraworld have deemed it necessary to insert an even more fantastic storyline, one in which scantily clad women and boy band rejects traipse about as scientists, getting mixed up with a nasty cult of evil scientists. I?ll stop there and make the recommendation that readers not concern themselves with the storyline. Instead, I?ll focus on the meat of Paraworld: dinosaurs.
In the game, the player controls one of three unique tribes (Norsemen, Dustriders and Dragon Clan) of prehistoric man as well as a fleet of dinosaurs as they battle through a campaign of 16 different environments. Both human and dinosaur units can be controlled as part of the player?s army, and they can also be upgraded with fiercer attacks and strong skills. In the demonstration we saw at this year?s show, one upgraded dinosaur lobbed Velociraptors into enemy lines, while another carried a squad of archers in buckets thrown across its back. In every case, these dinosaurs are fantastically detailed and carefully animated. These are the stars of the show, after all.
In order to manage Paraworld?s 52 unit types (40 of which are dinosaurs), the developers have spent considerable time developing their ?Army Controller? interface. The latest iteration of his interface was my biggest surprise from last year?s show: even without playing the game, the demonstration of the system made it crystal clear how the player would lead their troops in the game. The Army Controller is a sidebar interface which displays five segments, each of which represents a power level for the units. Units can be leveled up five classes, based on their combat experience and the player?s allocation of points to their individual units. Since the highest level (1) only contains room for one unit, it requires that the player strategically plan their unit upgrade path. Because the controller is always shown during the game, Paraworld?s unit management is made much easier. Players can click on a unit icon in the Army Controller and the map will automatically jump to that unit. Multiple units can also be organized through Controller by simply selecting entire units, rather than locating and corralling them under one sweep of the mouse. It?s even possible to direct units with specific orders from the Controller. It?s too early to say with certainty that this new controller is a success, but we were genuinely impressed with its sophistication and ease of use.
Building on the Army Controller, the developers have also spent considerable time on the multiplayer modes in the game. In head-to-head combat, the game is set up similar to a collectible card game: players are allocated a set of points from which they can choose to build up their army before engaging in combat. With 10,000 points, for example, it?s possible to buy one level 5 unit, but not much else. That may limit a player?s strategic plans in a multiplayer game. Another strategy might involve buying a collection of lower-level units and then building them up during the game itself. But in that case, an opponent with a stronger set of units may very well bulldoze such a weak army. The balance is complex, and the different unit strengths in Paraworld can be designed for different RTS personalities, ranging from the rusher to the turtler. The point-based system isn?t new to games, but its application in Paraworld appears to be quite well executed.
Paraworld has made some impressive progress since its debut at E3 2005 ? and even since November, when we last saw it, and we?re pleased to report that Sunflowers aims to have it done by the end of the year. In the meantime, the German-based company is still seeking an agreeable strategic partnership for a North American release.