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I love PC game developer Tilted Mill.  Their games (most notably Children of the Nile: Immortal Cities) have amazing concepts, though the execution is often flawed in some way.  There's plenty of playable life in these games, though not as much as the concepts would suggest.  Tilted Mill is also very supportive of their games after release.  For instance, their SimCity: Civilizations was very broken out of the box, but they patched it for free until it almost resembled a game.  That title is the least successful of their games, possibly because it was entangled with the SimCity brand, so they didn't have full control over its direction.

On the heels of re-acquiring the rights to Children of the Nile (and releasing an expansion pack for it), they've released a new single-player RPG, Hinterland.  Unfortunately, the game was only available through Steam, something I'd avoided until then, but for Tilted Mill, I signed up.  At $20, Hinterland was a steal, especially because of who developed it.  Hinterland came out on September 30th and by October 10th, they'd already released the first free content pack.

In Hinterland, you play a noble who has to pacify a small region of the countryside and build a village.  The twist is that your citizens double as your party members (up to three + you).  If you take the farmer out to hunt monsters, he's not producing food.  The hammer-wielding smith in your party isn't back in the village making stuff.  Et cetera.

It's a very interesting concept, capably realized.  There's also a lot of room for expansion. 

First, the problems:
  • You can't scroll out.  This is the deal-breaker.  I'm used to a wider field of vision for these "run around and kill things" games.  Enemies shoot (magic and arrows) at you from off-screen.  You can't effectively play an archer, since you can't take advantage of the full range of your weapon.  I end up playing with the region map open so I can see where I'm going, but it takes up a lot of the screen and I often get hung up on scenery.  The lack of higher view levels makes the game even smaller that it needs to be: claustrophobic and sad.
  • No auto-attack for your main character.  Sometimes, in the heat of battle, it's hard to click on the enemies' attack spots, which seems pretty small.  I'm my character isn't walking or running, but is taking damage, it should automatically attack whatever's hurting it.  Some people don't like this.  I get it.  Let them turn it off.  Or let us turn it on.  I think more people would like this than wouldn't.  (Though, probably not from the subset of beta-testers and people who post on the forums.)
  • The town's borders are too close to the outermost buildings.  You can set your followers in town to defend it when the enemy raids.  (Though you have to click on each follower individually to do this.)  If you have high-enough level followers, armed and armored well enough, they can sometimes survive the raid without your main character (and party).  Besides the townspeople's AI not being too good, enemy spellcasters and archers can stand beyond the town limits and shoot into town.  Since the enemies are outside of the limits, the townspeople won't react as if it's a raid (by fighting or running away).  Instead, they'll stand there and get killed.  It's very, very annoying.
  • Followers' character cards overlap, hiding their class and/or level.  The buzz on the forums seems to indicate only people playing at the widescreen resolutions have this problem.  I play at 1920x1200.  'Nuff said.
Now, the awesomeness:
  • The concept.  Hinterland is a quick game, especially if you play a small map.  There's the rush of hiring your first followers (a couple at a time visit the town, more if you have a hostel) and the strategy of deciding who to take with you into the wilderness.  There's no campaign, no ongoing story, just this match.  I always play on Hardcore (permadeath for your main character, resulting in a loss) to up the stakes.
  • The humor.  Tilted Mill included some hilarity in the game.  For instance, the character portrait of the female goblin is just the male portrait with lipstick and a wig.  The game doesn't take itself too seriously and encourages you to follow suit.  Sure, you died to a bunch of dire wolves and there's no saved game.  Just fire it up and try your luck again.
  • Followers in town auto-equip.  This was included in the first patch.  The cynical part of me thinks Tilted Mill held it back so they could appear to respond quickly to player demand.  What probably happened is that they were working on it, but knew it would take another couple of weeks.  The game shipped a little late and they didn't want to delay it any more.  Either way, it's cool.  This was a necessary addition to the game and now all players will have it.
  • Tilted Mill's commitment to the game.  It's very clear from the forums that the developer is deeply invested in this game.  They've quickly corrected some issues (like early minimap troubles at widescreen resolutions) and offered players fixes and additions free of charge, only a couple of which seemed like they should have been included in the first release of the game (see above).  I believe they enjoy working on Hinterland and delighting and amazing us with more of it
I've had way more than $20 of fun out of this game and I look forward to future patches and expansions (including those that I'll pay for).  I hope the lack of scroll out isn't due to some basic property of the Torque engine, but is instead something that's relatively easy to fix.  If they do that, I'm with them for the duration.

In short, this is Tilted Mill's usual: fun and flawed.

[Majesty NE Box Art]

In 2001, Cyberlore Studios released Majesty: The Northern Expansion, obviously an expansion to my favorite game of all time, 2000's Majesty: The Fantasy Kingdom Sim. The expansion addressed one of my major problems with the game: you had to manually attract heroes to your buildings. With the expansion, there's a new building, called the Embassy, where you can turn on automatic hero attraction. As long as you have the requisite amount of gold (around a thousand), the embassy will automatically attract heroes. As a bonus, the heroes are higher level (around three). The expansion also brought new (to me, much harder) scenarios, new player-castable spells and new monsters.

I enjoyed playing a random map until it was reasonably safe, then leaving the game to run overnight. With the expansion, I was able to make sure that my buildings stayed stocked with heroes to take care of the monsters wandering in from the edges of the screen.

The main reason for this post, besides that I got to talk more about Majesty is to share the news that Paradox Interactive bought the rights to Majesty and plan on releasing games using that IP, or so they say. All I can say is that they better. And soon. Majesty's gameplay was so unique that there are still people trying to play it while the rest of us just pine for it.

When the Gold Edition (including the base game and the expansion) came out in 2003, I bought it, even though I already owned everything included in it. A friend of mine who was new to Majesty bought it at my urging and we played cooperatively through every scenario while talking on the phone. Even though I've played a lot of multiplayer computer games, to this day, that was my best "online" gaming experience.

As before, I recommend downloading and playing the free Majesty demo from Majesty's site before buying the Gold Edition, because it may not run well (or at all) on your modern computer.

[Majesty Box Art]

Majesty is a simulation game where you run a fantasy kingdom, though you don't directly control the heroes who live there. All you can do is place and upgrade buildings, hire heroes into your buildings, and place rewards for killing a certain monster or exploring a certain place on the map. Additional buildings of the same type become progressively more expensive to place.

It sounds simple, but it's the best single-player gaming experience I've ever had. I'm a sucker for simulation and god games, and Majesty scratches almost all of my itches. Your heroes make all of their own decisions about fighting, resting, running away, buying new spells, weapons, and armor (if you've provided the proper buildings).

The 2D isometric art is primitive, even for the turn of the century, but it doesn't matter at all. The gameplay is so immersive and entertaining that they could have used colored icons to represent the heroes and it'd still be fun. Each hero type is represented by a certain portrait which never changes, even when the hero upgrades its armor or weapons. Warriors can only be male, necromancers can only be female, etc.

Names for each type of hero are randomly generated from themed lists. Warriors are " the " like "William the Blue". Necromancers are "Sister " like "Sister Sleepwell". Some of these names are truly hilarious, and there are enough combinations that it's not too repetitive. Similar names for each class type help to identify them when you're looking at a textual list instead of the icons.

Speaking of lists and icons, Majesty includes an acceptable amount of ways to track your kingdom's inhabitants. It'll list them alphabetically, by level, or by class. It also lists your kingdom personnel, like guards and tax collectors (you don't control these directly, either). You can rename any of these, if you so desire. In times of peace, having Bob Smith defend the castle is more interesting than having Guard #3 do the same job. When war makes guard turnover high, employing a mass of faceless guards is just as well, since they all share the same character art.

One of the best aspects of Majesty is that the different classes behave differently. Rangers will sometimes go "exploring" off the map for a while. Thieves steal from buildings and tax collectors. Warriors, paladins, and chaos dudes live to fight. Healers prefer to follow warriors and provide assistance. Necromancers charm undead and raise skeletons to fight for them. Nature-dudes charm animals and can shapeshift into bears to fight. Wind protectors use their faster move rate to defend the kingdom. Sun ladies help the guards by garrisoning towers.

The different classes actually behave differently. Barbarians are very slow to upgrade their weapons, but paladins always want the latest in arms and armor and enchantments. Chaos dudes are often found in the gambling halls. Mages spend a lot of time resting. I wish there were a little more variability in actions (and that every class at a non-zero chance of undertaking a particular action), but that's only after playing for hundreds of hours.

Also, except in certain scenarios, some buildings are mutually exclusive. If you want necromancers, nature guys and chaos warriors, you can't have the very orderly healers, monks, and paladins. The wind guys and the sun ladies won't live in the kingdom together. Elves and dwarves won't move in where gnomes live. After you've played the heck out of the game, cheat codes enabling the placement of all buildings help extend enjoyment of the game. With the cheat codes, you can have fast-building gnomes, dwfensive-minded dwarves, mace-wielding sun ladies, and those masters of staves, the wind guys, all in one kingdom.

The last main point about Majesty is the voice acting. Each class and race has a phrase for use in different situations, like leveling or running away. My favorite are the phrases they utter upon their always untimely deaths. The gambling, cavorting elves say "No all." That phrase has been stuck in my head for the last seven years, but not everyone gets how relevant it is when I decide to use it. For this reason alone, everyone needs to try Majesty.

As far as I know, Majesty is the only game of its kind, seamlessly combining simulation, role-playing, and real time strategy. Though there have been rumors about a sequel for years (and even some concept art), a sequel never materialized. No sequel would make me happier than a sequel to Majesty.

There's a free demo at Majesty's website, and purchase information. I suggest you download and try the demo before you buy the game, since it runs very poorly (with quickspeed and crashes), if at all, on today's computers.