Thursday Reviews: Rogue Legacy and Blender 2.6 Cycles: Materials and Textures Cookbook

Today I have two reviews for you all, mostly because I couldn’t help myself and bit off more than I could chew, but also to celebrate Packt’s Columbus Day sale (see details below). Rogue Legacy is a “roguelite” Metroidvania styled game, whilst the lengthier titled work that I am also reviewing is a cookbook for materials and textures within Blender 2.6 (still compatible up to 2.68, I am happy to point out).

I’ll start with Rogue Legacy. It’s not a game for everyone, but it’s certainly enjoyable. Unfortunately, its main weakness is its repetition; it’s a likeable enough game but it always seems to say the same things whenever you talk to it, and at a certain point it wears thin. Of course, I played the demo to its utmost completion before it released, so I may have just burnt out before finally getting around to playing it. It’s an interesting game, though, heralding itself as a “genealogical” adventure, with an understanding of genetics coming from Infinity Blade rather than Mendel, apparently, given the remarkably weird traits that many of the playable characters have developed despite being in the same family.

As a Metroidvania, Rogue Legacy is very much a wonderful title; the combat feels engaging and the ability of traits to radically alter the game experience will be both frustrating and challenging at times, but is something that ultimately improves the whole deal. The gameplay is actually ninety percent of Rogue Legacy, despite some wonderful tidbits of narrative throughout the procedurally generated castle, so if you try the demo and decide you’ve had too much grind and repetition you probably shouldn’t put down the money to get the full version unless you’re absolutely held captive to the concept of squeezing the storyline out of diary entries and the climax to the game.

However, the character development is somewhat fun in and of itself; you build up a castle as you progress through a tree of abilities, and while it would have been nice to see a little more change in the castle as one progresses, the build-up is pretty enjoyable. You can unlock more classes, though as a general rule they don’t play substantially differently, instead offering a slightly different toolset for the same combat experience, and providing some special bonuses that you’d otherwise encounter through runes or the like. The Lich King, for instance, builds up his maximum health when he kills a foe, while a Spelunker will gain bonus gold and find chests in rooms he’s not in. It’s enough to make an educated decision on, but not so much that a bad generation of children will ruin the experience if you’re not focused on their exact classes’ playstyles. Of course. if you really don’t like a class, you don’t have to unlock it, but since the castle is built around classes you’ll likely unlock them to gain access to some of the more appealing upgrades (for instance, retaining more gold between dungeon entries). Indeed, if you’re happy building a wonderful character to go and face challenges that progressively increase in difficulty, Rogue Legacy is your game.

In short, Rogue Legacy’s not definitional. It’s not going to win a Nobel prize, and it’s unlikely to really change too much about gaming in the long run. However, it’s worth a play; it feels perfect for a coffee break setting, with each day bringing one closer to vanquishing the castle and its ruinous inhabitants.

Blender 2.6 Cycles: Materials and Textures Cookbook, on the other hand, is a little less fun (depending on who you are), and is focused on teaching the best practices and methods of creating textures in Blender. It’s written for 2.66, but everything applied nicely to my 2.68 install. The important thing to remember is that it’s not a tutorial in the traditional sense; it’s a handy booklet of methods of producing a variety of desired effects, focusing first on rote formula then on the motivation and reasoning behind the steps.

That said, there are still many things to learn; for instance, the author touches on some (still) experimental features that are pretty nice; true displacement mapping, for instance, which will help break up the silhouettes of models to match their shading. As a cookbook, it’s invaluable to novices or intermediate users seeking to create progressive textures; if you aren’t familiar with Blender, this cookbook won’t be terribly useful, though if you’re familiar with Blender’s old “Blender Internal” renderer, Enrico Valenza does a great job of explaining the differences, advantages, and concerns necessary to consider for a smooth transition. The book doesn’t touch on modeling, rigging, animation, or really anything else required for a full animation; it, as described, focuses on materials and textures and does so very well.

In short, while it’s not an introduction or comprehensive examination of Blender and its Cycles renderer, Blender 2.6 Cycles: Materials and Textures Cookbook is a great title for getting examples and guidance with regards to setting up an effective materials pipeline. For that, I’d recommend it to anyone who works with Cycles and needs to create materials on a regular basis.

And, if you actually want to grab it, you’re in luck, because the Columbus Day sale going on over at Packt is great; get 50% off any of their titles with the code COL50 (on as many titles as you want), for as long as the promotion continues today.

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