Nerves and Baby Mutant Ninja Rabbits

Today, I finally got my first real nerves about leaving, complete with a full-blown panic attack about ongoing effects of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. In my efforts to calm down, I decided getting more information on the situation was the way to go. Unfortunately, the following news item on youtube was the first thing I encountered.

mutantbunnyA nuclear rabbit has sparked online panic in Japan. Amateur footage shows an earless mutant rabbit, and the person who made the video claims it was shot just outside the exclusion zone near Japan’s crippled Fukushima plant. The clip has given rise to fears the radiation threat in the area is far worse than previously thought. The funny bunny has caused an online frenzy, with predictions that babies in Japan may soon be born with mutations.

Far from feeling reassured, this rather silly, populistic news item managed to make me incredibly worried all of a sudden. I stayed worried until my mother was kind enough to point out that before the smoking ban in Belgian bars came into effect on June 30th, I sat for hours on end surrounded by cigarette smoke, while I know that second-hand smoking greatly increases the risk of getting lung cancer. If there had been no such smoking ban, I would have continued going to bars until the day I dropped dead, and chances are that lung cancer would have had nothing to do with that. People die, that’s a given. And as Alan Watts so poignantly phrases: “It’s better to have a short life, that is full of what you like doing, than a long life spent in a miserable way.” Leave it to mom.

As an added bonus however, I found two great resources explaining just what was what concerning the nuclear crisis in Japan. The first is this article, which answered most of my questions on potassium iodide pills. It’s the most readable explanation on how those pills work I’ve seen to date, and to summarize the entire article in a sentence, there’s no longer any need to take those pills because of the very short half-life of radioactive iodine. Over 95% of the radioactive iodine in the Japanese atmosphere has been dissolved. The real problem is now with radioactive cesium that has entered the food chain at various stages. There are countless tests on food samples, and I’ll just have to trust that most of the really badly poisoned food gets taken out of circulation. I can’t be certain, but then again, I’m not about to stay home for the rest of my life, in fear that something outside might do me in.

Another very interesting item I came across, was this chart, which details all the different radiation doses human beings absorb throughout their lives. Most fascinating. I wonder what happens to banana peels.

What’s all this then?

finnairI booked a return plane ticket to Japan today. If I’m to believe what the confirmation from Finnair says, I’ll be boarding a plane to Tōō exactly five months from now. My first trip to Japan, which was planned in 2008, was canceled because of various circumstances (which is a euphemism for me failing my second period exams), and to this day I have yet to see the promised land with my own eyes. But that’s all about to change, this Japanologist-that-has-never-been-to-Japan is about to lose his defining characteristic, and it’s about time.

Planet Boelex – Misplaced EP

Misplaced EPLet us take you back to 2006, the year which some of you might remember for outbreaks of avian flu or the 250th birthday of Mozart, but that will actually be remembered for the third release of Planet Boelex on Monotonik. Misplaced EP is a masterpiece of beautiful, layered synths and IDM drum elements.

Forgive me, analogy old and weary, for disturbing you once more during your well-deserved rest, and let us compare Planet Boelex’s musical poetry with a painting, if you will. Though IDM made by lesser gods often suffers from the a-lot-of-different-colors-make-a-quite-unpleasing-brownish-tint, this is not the case here. Planet Boelex knows his art, his canvas is silence. The synths and pads which serve as base layers of cyan, green and yellow are decisively added in broad strokes, but without smothering the underlying calm of the cloth. Pleasantly crackling noise, distant hihats and other drum elements enhance what is already present and the painting comes to life, pulsating to the heartbeat of a growling bassline.

The four tracks on Misplaced EP are quite different. ‘Diciassette Anni’ combines the aforementioned classic Boelex composition with vocals written and performed by Valentina Gualtieri. ‘Seadreamers’ is the odd song of the bunch, which sees Boelex trade most of his synths for a guitar. However, every track breathes that special quality that one comes to recognize as a sort of beautiful melancholy always present in Planet Boelex’s tracks.

If you like what you hear, we absolutely recommend other releases from Planet Boelex. One of my personal favourites is the one hour liveset he played at Virus Festival in Lithuania, back in 2007. You can find it here.

Planet Boelex – Seadreamers


Release Page

This review was originally published on, an online music magazine covering netlabel culture and releases. I was editor for the magazine from January 2011 until December 2014.

Netwaves interviews me about Netlabelism

Belgian Radio Scorpio dedicated episode 176 of their Netwaves broadcast to Netlabelism. I was interviewed about my work with the magazine. The interview is in Dutch. You can find it below.

Al voor de 176ste keer brengt netwaves jullie een dwarsdoorsnede van netaudio-land en dat is vandaag niet anders. Alhoewel, zoals we vorige week al lieten vallen, hebben we vandaag een speciale gast in de studio. Simon van Bockstal is een naam die waarschijnlijk niet veel belletjes doet rinkelen, maar als ik er bij vertel dat deze jongeman zowel bij het netlabel Stadtgruen als bij de website van actief is , mag het wel duidelijk zijn dat deze Gentenaar wel bekend is met de netlabelcultuur. De uitzending van vandaag staat dan ook helemaal in het teken van Deze website is ontsproten uit de Keulense netaudio-scene en bundelt reviews van interessante releases, maandelijkse compilaties, filosofische mijmeringen rond vrije muziek en nog veel meer.

Gras – Gras

gruen005_artworkOriginally released in 2004, Gras is still as green as ever. This album was released on the Stadtgruen netlabel, which houses an interesting combo of both techno (Stadt) and ambient/downtempo (Gruen) releases. They have released some 45 albums and EP’s in total, the last of which has been published almost two years ago, in April 2009. Unfortunately, the label has been silent ever since.

‘Gras’ is an alias for Tobias Hornberger. He chose to name this album ‘Gras’ as well, but he might just  have called it ‘Soundtrack for Moving Snail’. Actually, he could have called it ‘Soundtrack for Snail Taking a Nap’ and he still would have gotten away with it. This album is a garden of slowly-moving, ever-evolving ambient soundscapes with parts of grooves sprouting, than quietly wilting away again. All songs have lots of space, and it seems ‘Gras’ is characterized by the silence between the notes just as much as the notes itself, which is both a tell and a prerequisite for great downtempo.

The preview track is called ‘Morgentau’ (which means morning dew), a fitting metaphor for the light and delicate atmosphere created throughout the entire album. If you like ambient/downtempo releases, you simply have to download this release. And even if you don’t, this release might be the one to change your mind.

Gras – Morgentau


Release page

This review was originally published on, an online music magazine covering netlabel culture and releases. I was editor for the magazine from January 2011 until December 2014.

Martin Schulte – Underwater EP

Before proceeding any further, readers are encouraged to press play on the preview track. This text will make a lot more sense if you do. Done? Welcome to the submarine world of laidback sounds that is ‘Underwater EP’ by Martin Schulte (an alias of the Russian musician Marat Shibaev)

Throughout this 20 minute EP, listeners’ ears are massaged by muted bassdrums, pleasant crackling in the high-end and pads that seem to come rolling from miles away. Sporting characteristics of deep house, dub, and some very lazy techno (this techno is so lazy it has started living in symbiosis with the couch, man, seriously), this is one heck of a chill-pill. I chose the title track for the preview, because out of all 4 tracks, this is the one that best illustrates these qualities.

underwaterep_coverThe title and cover are incredibly well-chosen, as they are spot on when it comes to conveying the mood for this EP. The occasions for playing this record will be plentiful: as one is equally inclined to play these tracks on cold winter days as on lazy summer evenings, for they fit in remarkably well in both contexts. This is no false claim, as it has been tested and found true for the past five years since its initial release in 2006. This is that most remarkable of gems, a release that sounds fresh every time you listen to it, no matter how many times.

‘Underwater EP’ is permeated with a warm, submerged sound that inevitably reminds one of tropical seas. If you’ve never scuba-dived in your life, then this is about as close as you’ll get without actually getting your feet wet. Highly recommended.

Martin Schulte – Underwater


Release page

This review was originally published on, an online music magazine covering netlabel culture and releases. I was editor for the magazine from January 2011 until December 2014.

StarCraft 2 Beta

The original StarCraft was launched in 1998 and became an amazing success. Now, 12 years later, we can finally get our hands on the sequel to this real-time strategy game.

Three-way mayhem
The focus of the game is still on its three playable races with drastically different mechanics in base building, tech and units.
Zerg, the evil animal-like alien invaders, are all about wave after wave of cheap units. All of their units and buildings are biological, living things, spawning on a purple slime called creep.
Protoss, the ancient race of philosophers and century-old rastafarians, use more expensive units which have a lot of nifty abilities up their sleeve. Their buildings are powered with energy radiating from giant crystals called pylons.
The most user-friendly race are the Terran, a bunch of human ex-convicts let loose in outer space. They take the middle ground between the cheap masses of the Zerg and the high tech units of the Protoss. Most of their buildings can be lifted off, and landed somewhere else. Vastly different races, but the different matchups rarely feel unbalanced.

As with the first StarCraft, your economy is the backbone of your play. Each map has a few areas which have a cluster of minerals (the basic currency) and vespene geysers (whose gas is used for more high-tech units and research). Maintaining a strong economy is crucial for your survival: if you fall behind in workers, you might very well never catch up, and diverging economies can mean vastly unequal armies in a matter of minutes. Some tweaks have been made to the original: expansions now all have two vespene geysers instead of one, giving players more flexibility in choosing when to expand, whereas high-tech army builds (higher tech costs more vespene gas) used to force a player to early expand to get sufficient gas to keep teching at an acceptable pace.

sc2-screen-01Once you have a decent economy, you can diversify your build any way you want, and believe-you-me, there are a lot of options. There’s a wide array of units with a lot of different abilities and mechanics. Some units from the original have been left out, such as the Terran vulture or goliath, Zerg lurker and defiler and Protoss reaver, corsair or dark archon, but they all got very nice replacements, among which the Terran hellion and thor, Zerg infestor and broodlord and Protoss immortal, phoenix and colossus.
Overall, the new units work very well, and after a few matches the new mechanics feel very familiar and just right. They also show a lot of potential for high level play. Features like spamming impenetrable force fields with the Protoss sentry to contain your opponent’s forces (these recently got nerfed in patch 13 for the beta), or controlling your foes’ units with the Zerg infestor is a blast (especially if you manage to convert a handful of giants like the Terran thor or the Protoss colossus). Old favorites such as launching nuclear missiles with a Terran ghost are still present, and just as fun as they were back in the 90’s.

It is when juggling with all the elements of managing an economy, finding the right time to expand, fine-tuning build orders and micro-managing your units to use them to their fullest potential, that the complexity of the game becomes apparent. A typical match of StarCraft 2 requires you to multitask in three or four locations at the same time, and hotkeying your production pipelines and economy buildings are essential to succeed. That is one of the reasons why a lot of players stress APM (Actions Per Minute) as a measure of a player’s strength. For some very high-level players this can go up to more than 400, meaning more than 6 actions per second. Quality prevails over quantity, however, so you can get by with a lot less neurotic clicking if you know what you are doing. It does make a big difference in managing individual units in big fights, and differing levels of APM can often mean a huge difference in the outcome of an otherwise equal battle.

The gameplay is still as engaging as when the original game launched and flourished, and the game has been given a serious facelift. The result looks very good: no longer are you forced to play in 800*600, as the game runs very smooth on high graphic settings, so you’re sure to find a playable yet eye-pleasing setting for your pc. To be honest, the graphics are good, but not really spectacular. The physics engine, however, is a serious powerhouse. Watching giant units come apart and crashing vehicles litter their final resting place with wheels, tripod legs or pieces of wing are a sight to behold, as these parts realistically bounce across the battlefield.

sc2-screen-02StarCraft 2 will be released as a trilogy. Blizzard has opted to release each race’s singleplayer campaign as a stand-alone product. These will be Wings of Liberty (for Terran), Heart of the Swarm (for Zerg), and Legacy of the Void (for Protoss). While this formula allows the developers to create much longer and more detailed singleplayer campaigns, this move has been questioned by many. At first I was not sure whether I liked the tri-release or not, but Blizzard’s record and previous commitment to quality seemed enough of a reassurance. However, some very poor design choices with 2.0 and an even worse job on communicating with their fanbase has raised serious doubts among players whether Blizzard has their best interest in mind. 2.0
StarCraft 2 also means the arrival of the long-awaited new version of Blizzard’s online server and matchmaking system: The changes to this service are not just cosmetic: the entire system has been redesigned.

Blizzard has tried to create engaging online competition on different levels. On first starting up the game, a player gets to play a few practice matches, after which he plays 5 placement matches against other players of varying skill levels. When placements are done, that player will find himself in one of 5 leagues (these used to be from low to high: copper, bronze, silver, gold and platinum, but with patch 13 these have been altered to bronze, silver, gold, platinum and diamond league). Each league consists of numerous divisions (horizontally separated pools of players) and each division within a league has its own ladder with players that have more points (calculated from win-loss ratios, relative strength of the opponents you played, etc.) higher on the ladder. The system is good for letting people with little or no experience play against people of roughly equal strength, and give them attainable goals.

sc2-screen-03One noticeable problem, however, was the lack of transparency of actual player strength. When checking profiles of people on the ladder in your league, you might find someone twenty spots below you in bronze league actually being a top-ranked platinum-league player. Also, when moving up the ladder, you don’t always get the competition you’d expect. When a friend and I made it to the 3rd position on the 2v2 ladder in our copper league division (pre-patch 13), we were matched almost exclusively with teams from gold and platinum league. At that stage, it seems more logical to match players with bronze and silver teams instead, to determine whether a player or team could migrate to these leagues. So while the leagues system is well thought out, it still lacks somewhat in user-friendliness and transparency.

The problems with the league system are nothing compared to some other fundamental shortcomings built into 2.0: there are no chat-channels, clan support, LAN-support or cross-realm (Blizzard has hacked the community into separate realms for Europe, North-America and Asia) play. Basically, you can’t join a chat-channel to look for other players to form a clan or 3v3 team unless you already know them and have their account. Also, playing with friends from another continent is not supported. When Blizzard was asked if this would be addressed, their response was to buy another client to access that realm. With 3 expansions that would mean buying the game 9 times to play cross-continent on a competitive level. These are the sort of PR-blunders that can really damage the trust from your fanbase.

With so many incomplete features, they still found the time to include achievements (for winning a certain amount of matches, going on a 3-game win streak, etc…) and unlockable content such as player decals and profile pictures. Blizzard has obviously got their priorities wrong as these are rather unnecessary additions to an as of yet flawed multiplayer experience.

StarCraft 2 as a vehicle for professional E-Sports in the West
Note: The terms amateur and professional are used here not in a way as to denote skill level, but to describe whether or not a person can make a living from playing a game.

People play games on different levels: some focus on singleplayer, while others enjoy casual competition. Some players, however, continually hone their skills to push the envelope of what is possible in competitive play. For these last players we have seen the formation of clans, and the emergence of sites such as clanbase which have played and continue to play a pivotal role in organizing and tracking competitions in various genres.
Nowadays, tournaments with cash and hardware prizes (a grey zone between amateur and professional play) exist for almost any game with a decent-sized player community. Most of these forms of competition, however, pale in comparison to the phenomenon that is StarCraft in Korea. StarCraft sold well with over 9 million copies worldwide, but 4,5 million of those where sold in South-Korea alone. The game had enough followers there for true professional play to become possible.

The different components that make up a StarCraft match make it an ideal candidate for high-level mind games, bizarre strategies and skill acquired through hours upon hours of practice. As a game, it has all the right ingredients to distinguish it from rival rts-games and establish itself as the definitive e-sport. This is one of the main reasons why the support for the game has remained, even though it is now well over a decade old.

Traditional television channels in Korea perceived that market demand was sufficiently high to create dedicated channels, only broadcasting StarCraft matches. These televised StarCraft matches, in studios full of raving fans, show just how big a game can become.
The case of Korea shows the two requirements for competitive (online) play to mature into a professional competition: a large target audience and continued interest and support for a game. These conditions are necessary to attract sponsors to continually fund prize pools for tournaments.

sc2-screen-04It seems that with StarCraft 2, the world is really taking notice. So why could StarCraft 2 succeed where others did not, and make e-sports a mainstream phenomenon? Hype, for sure. StarCraft 2 has been over a decade in the making, and is being plugged all over the place: in magazines, on websites,… More importantly: the audience demand for this product is unbelievable at such an early stage (remember that the game hasn’t even been launched). One can notice this on youtube, where the hard work of StarCraft 2 commentators Husky and HD has ensured them to be among the most viewed channels for quite a while now.
While only a few months into the beta test of StarCraft 2, the aforementioned casters hosted a major online tournament: the HDH Invitational. They managed to find a sponsor to fund a whopping $2.450 prize pool, and that sponsor was so pleased with the feedback and results that mid-tourney, they added another $1.000 to the prize pool. That is a lot of prize money for a game in beta-testing.

So what are we seeing? Large demand and satisfied sponsors. Personally, I don’t think that we’ll ever see dedicated StarCraft 2 channels on traditional television; but with peoples’ lives migrating more and more to “online all the time”, video sites such as youtube are definitely a viable alternative for sponsors. Time will tell if the hype remains, and StarCraft 2 can attract enough sponsors to fund a true professional scene in the west.

A lot of elements are present for making StarCraft 2 a major success and a gaming phenomenon for years to come: engaging gameplay, good and scalable graphics and enormous media attention. However, the 2.0 system seems to discourage organized competition and its incomplete feature set and Blizzard’s official replies to fans’ inquiries about this are a serious blow to its potential as an e-sport in the west. Let’s hope the problems with 2.0 will be sorted out before the game actually hits the shelves. It’s more likely, though, that these features will be added much later, or might never be added (e.g. LAN support).

Read on : Gamespot

Plants vs. Zombies

Plants vs Zombies’ simple gameplay and hilarious visuals will appeal to a very large audience, while at the same time managing to be addictive enough to keep even the most hardcore of gamers coming back for more.

Even the parents will like this one
Before saying anything else about Plants vs Zombies, you should know two things: it is a casual game and it was developed by Popcap. The former means that the game is targeted at as large an audience as possible (which is also visible in its dual pc/mac distribution), while the latter ensures it will actually be a good game. Popcap is known for elevating the creation of casual games to an art form, something which has been recognized at the 2010 Game Developer’s Choice Awards, where Plants vs. Zombies received three nominations: Best Game Design, Innovation Award and Best Downloadable Game.
And it shows: rather than assuming a wide variety of people would like this game, I actually forced a whole bunch of “volunteers” to play a few rounds. This invariably ended with me having to escort them politely away from the pc, or I would never have finished this review. You’d never think parents and girlfriends would enjoy spitting peas at the walking dead, but they do.

Just a quick nibble
Plants vs. Zombies is a simple tower defense game. The playing field consists of your garden in which you grow various types of plants to protect your house from being raided by brain-hungry zombies.
The game offers a simple system of resource management which involves collecting sun that falls from the sky for growing more plants. Survival depends on a healthy economy, so you will have to plant additional sunflowers to boost your income. The sun you gather can then be spent on a wide array of green weaponry such as plants that shoot peas, carnivorous plants, or exploding peppers or cherry bombs. During any single level you will encounter several waves of zombies and at least one huge wave, in which a large amount of foes try to storm your yard at the same time. These final waves never fail in producing total mayhem in both pea shooting and scrunching sounds.

plantsvszombies-screen-01The strategy element in Plants vs Zombies is two-fold. Firstly, one needs to assess the situation in a level by looking at both the playing field and the zombies that will attack you, and then choose the correct plants to counter them. Once a level has started you need to find a balance between enhancing your economy and investing in offensive plants.
The game gradually introduces new plants which encourages the player to test out new plants and strategies involving combinations of several plants. You will soon be faced with counters to these strategies, however, so Plants vs Zombies stays fresh until the very last of its 50 levels.

There are different combos and ways to be effective, but you might find yourself sticking to a certain routine once you have found it is effective. The game counters this in a surprising way: after you have finished adventure mode once, you can play through it again, but your neighbor ‘Crazy Dave’ chooses three plants at random from your arsenal. These cannot be changed, and you are forced to adapt to the plants that have already been selected.

Apart from this adapted version of adventure mode, the game offers a lot of mini-games and extra unlockables that greatly enhance replayability. Popcap even put in some references to its other titles, such as a bejeweled-style mix and match mini-game.

The controls for the game are very intuitive and the playing field is well-laid out, so even without the in-game help new players won’t find it too difficult to crack some zombie skull. In fact, most players won’t find the game difficult at all. Probably as a result of its targeting a wide audience, Plants vs Zombies is far too easy, and if you have any experience whatsoever with tower defense games, resource management or just clicking a mouse really, you won’t have any trouble chalking up the zombie kills. The later levels of the game become more challenging, but even then you will have to make some pretty gross mistakes to lose a round.

plantsvszombies-screen-04Another problem which might annoy the more hardcore gamer is the lack of a health bar for zombies and plants, offering no transparent way to check the remaining life of characters on the playing field. You get some visual feedback in the form of cracks appearing in half-eaten wall-nuts, or zombies losing some limbs, but this is imprecise and hard to evaluate on the fly. Also, an option for storing different plant setups (such as a selection for water levels, or on for night levels with fog) would have been nice, as re-picking the same plants for the umpteenth time gets somewhat tedious after a while.

None of these problems manages to really break the game experience, however, so even experienced gamers will find themselves being sucked in time and again by the Plants vs. Zombies desktop icon. “Just one level. Oh well, just one more.”

Plants with personality
The 2D visual style of the game is more indebted to modern flash games than the 2D games of old. What sets Plants vs. Zombies’ graphics apart from other titles (even among more ‘serious’ games), is the high degree of character that is to be found in every aspect of the game. The superb character design is an indicator of the rich sense of humor that permeates the entire game. This is especially visible in the facial expressions and animations for both plants and zombies.

plantsvszombies-screen-03The game’s design is simple yet effective, and in a time in which next-gen HD visuals seem to set an industry standard, Plants vs; zombies lofi-approach shows that personality in design is just as, if not more important.

Brains! Brains!
The game’s soundtrack consists of only a few songs, but the light touch of the music complements the visual style of the game very well. The tunes adapt to the chaos in a level, and the song for the earlier boss levels is one of my favorite in any game to date (though this probably tells the reader more about my preferences for old-school gaming tunes than it does about the quality of the music).

It is the voice acting, however, that takes the the crown. How many different ways can you moan “brains”? A lot, apparently. The enthusiasm with which the zombies assault you – yes… enthusiasm in zombies, you’ll see – is nicely reflected in shrill war cries as they launch from the skies to grab unsuspecting plants.
Squashing melons, peas shot against the bucket serving as helmet for tougher zombies or the blast of a doom-shroom all sound the way they should, and one can’t call the sound effects for the plants anything but decent, though they are somewhat overshadowed by the magnificent vocal work delivered by the zombies.

Home-grown buffoonery
The most memorably feature of Plants vs. Zombies is without doubt its humor. It is here that the game shows off its excellent writing, because its many puns and funny descriptions manage to keep both children and adults entertained.

As mentioned earlier, facial animations just ooze with character. You can’t help but laugh out loud when you first see a zombie with a traffic cone on its head being flattened by a squash with a temper. The character descriptions for both plants and zombies are down-right hilarious. These are stored in the Suburban Almanac, a sort of encyclopedia that lists all of the different plants and zombies you have encountered during the game, and as a result, you will find yourself leafing through more often than you’d expect in search for more laughs.

plantsvszombies-screen-02At the end of every 10 levels you get a particularly crowded level, and the zombies always leave a polite note (complete with cutesy spelling mistakes) to inform you they are coming over “for a midnight znack”.

At times absurd, at times unexpected, Plants vs Zombies captivates its audience from start to finish. I haven’t had this much fun in a long time.


Plants vs. Zombies equals simple yet incredibly addictive gameplay seasoned with personality and humor. This game is a great addition to any game library, and there’s no reason not to own a copy. Get this game. You will find yourself mumbling “Brains!” enthusiastically for weeks to come. And loving every second of it.



  • Top-notch character design
  • Makes you laugh. A lot
  • Large array of mini-games and unlockables enhance replayability


  • Too easy
  • No health bars for plants or zombies

Read on : Gamespot


Demigod provides an original take on the strategy genre dressed in breathtaking visuals, while offering a deep and rewarding gameplay experience. But certain design choices by the developers make this game more suited to hardcore fans than the casual gamer.

Does the mod become a god?
Demigod describes itself as a revolutionary combination of action, strategy and role-playing. What it doesn’t mention is its true source of inspiration: the immensely popular Warcraft III mod Defence of the Ancients (DOTA). The formula of this mod is relatively simple: each side has a fixed base with a core, a shop for items, and a regeneration point to quickly regain health and mana. Units with limited AI (or creeps) spawn automatically and move forward to engage enemy forces, destroying enemy buildings and units in their path until they ultimately destroy the core of the enemy base. Since both sides initially have an equal flow of creeps, the player’s job consists of giving his side an advantage through the use of a strong hero character that has special skills and items.

demigod-screen-03True to its roots, Demigod was clearly designed as a multiplayer game. One can complete the singleplayer “campaign” in roughly two and a half hours, during which not a single plot twist will surprise the unsuspecting gamer. You duke it out with other demigods to see who has what it takes to ascend to full-fledged godhood. Guess what happens when you finish the game? Judging a game like Demigod by its story would be to miss the point entirely.

Misses Demigod, can Rook come out and play?
Since most of the rts-elements of the game (like the spawning of creeps and gold income) are automated, the player can focus exclusively on controlling his or her demigod. The game’s diverse character roster (which was expanded from 8 to 10 demis through free DLC) is divided into 5 assassin-class demigods which excel in 1-on-1 combat with other demigods, and 5 generals, that aim to gain the upper hand through controlling minions. An immediate favorite is The Rook: a giant moving castle manned by archers and catapults. Other options include Queen of Thorns, a deadly beauty carried around in giant flower, or Lord Erebus, a sneaky vampire that moves in a cloud of bats and likes sinking his teeth in the opposition’s neck.

Once you’ve chosen a demi, you need to decide how you will play. If you can figure out what all the shiny buttons are for, that is. In a somewhat bizarre omission, the developers did not provide a tutorial, so you will have to figure out how to play on your own. The combination of the numerous items and skills and the fact that the game doesn’t pause while you are reading their descriptions, can be a daunting prospect for anyone. As it turns out, the game is relatively easy to pick up, even if you have to do it on the fly while your base is being attacked by enemy forces.

Playing the singleplayer tournament or skirmish mode will pit you against AI opponents with 1 of 4 difficulty settings. Both the easy and normal settings are pushovers, but the hard and nightmare cpu levels provide a real challenge.
However, the core experience of Demigod is to be found online. It is when playing with and against other human players that the game shows its true face: that of a rewarding game which becomes deeper the more you play it, and proves surprisingly difficult to master.

Build Madness
Quite a lot of strategy games on the market today have incorporated a form of levelling hero characters, with upgradeable skills and items, but in most games, this doesn’t really alter the feel of the game. Not so in Demigod. The way in which a round progresses asks the player to make very specific choices on how he wants to develop his demigod. There is a wide variety of possible builds, many of which require radically different item setups. Not all items are available from the start, but should be unlocked by investing favor points which are earned for various achievements during earlier matches. If you randomly spend some skill points you will end up with a character that is proficient mainly in dying. All-in-all, the combination of skills and items to form specific builds feels more like the character-build-madness surrounding games such as Diablo II, than an ordinary strategy game with some rpg ornaments slapped on. This is both a good and a bad thing: good because nothing involves players more than testing out new builds, combining new items and skills. On the other hand this relatively wide array of choices made it well-nigh impossible for the developers to balance the game from its initial release in may 2009. It took Blizzard almost a decade and more than fifteen patches to (more or less) balance Diablo II, and similar problems of over- and underpowered skills and characters plagued the first months of Demigod.

demigod-screen-02Many of the initial flaws of the game have since been addressed through patches, but these require you to install Impulse, an online content system like Steam or Games for Windows Live. Since you can only update the game through Impulse, installation is required for both online play and the addition of new content (such as the expanded 10-character roster). While one can understand the reason for publishers to use these systems, they never fail to be seriously uncool.

The (demi)god is in the details
The first thing you notice about Demigod is how well-polished its interface looks. Even the windows component for starting up the game (an area in which a lot of other developers just can’t seem te be bothered) looks gorgeous, and this sleek interface carries over to in-game menus and the online tournament.

Things only get better when you fire up a match. The demigods themselves are all beautifully designed, each with its own distinct style and animations. The Rook moves slowly and heavily, while a born predator like Unclean Beast leaps across the battlefield exploding with rage. Especially the death sequences stand out: it would be rather unfitting for a slain demigod to keel over like the hordes it is commanding. Instead one can find the demis exploding in clouds of acid, crumpling to the ground in a million pieces, or leaving their body and taking flight. The animations for attacking and respawning are no less grand.

The arenas are another high point of the game: all of them are absolute masterpieces. But there is a reason they are called arenas and not maps: even the biggest environments are still tiny when compared to some other strategy games. This is not a major issue though, as the size of the maps works well with the game. A more serious flaw is the absence of buildings, trees or other environmental props that litter and diversify the battleground. While the areas outside the arena show some of the most beautiful level design I have seen in a long time, the inside is just flat floor strategically interrupted by impassable parts. While it isn’t really required for the game, some graphical variety would have been nice. Both the small size and the relatively monotonous layout of the arenas seem to be a deliberate design choice by the developers.

demigod-screen-01You can tell a lot about the graphic quality of a game by looking at the way it represents fire, and by that yardstick demigod rules supreme: flames have never looked more real, and you can see the hot air around anything exposed to fire. The other elements are represented equally beautiful, the lighting is superb, the fog of war actually looks like fog and destroyed buildings collapse in a cloud of dust.
It’s quite a shame that most of the time you won’t even notice the graphic quality of the game, because only during very crowded fights will you zoom in enough to actually see a lot of the details on the smaller units. If you compare this with a game like Dawn of War II, which also has you zoomed out most of the time, Demigod’s environments and overall graphic experience just seem somewhat less overwhelming.

The Sound of Nothingness
The musical score consists of classical pieces. The developers opted for a ‘less is more’ approach, and the music sits in the background with a quiet dignity. You could even go several minutes without hearing any music. Until suddenly, at exactly the right time, an inciting battle march kicks in. It’s saying a lot that after playing the game for dozens of hours, the background music has not been disabled yet. Sound effects for fighting mobs, explosions and teleporting are just right, while the death wails of the demigods remain impressive no matter how many times you’ve heard them. Both the background music and the sound effects do their job extremely well: they enhance the gaming experiences without drawing too much attention to themselves. The only thing that does draw the gamer’s attention is the unreal tournament-style announcer voice. It hits the right tone, without being too over the top. And face it, if you crush your opponents, you want a bass voice shouting “Godlike!” to reward you for it.

Apples and Oranges
As a multiplayer-oriented game, Demigod’s long-time prospects depend on its player base. And this could likely be the game’s biggest weakness. Because of connection issues with the game servers right after the launch of this game, and the relatively slow issuing of bugfixes or new DLC, Demigod’s loyal player base is much smaller than what it could have been.

demigod-screen-04Two other games that have become serious rivals for Demigod in this respect are League of Legends (freely downloadable and developed by the creators of the original DOTA), and Heroes of Newerth (which is still in beta-phase). Both of these games have a much larger player base than Demigod, though it’s hardly fair to compare a commercial title with a free game and a beta. On the other hand, Demigod has some different gameplay mechanics and just trashes aforementioned games in the graphics department.

Demigod is a hardcore game. This can be seen in a lot of the design choices made by the developers, among which the absence of a real singleplayer campaign and the bare bones leveldesign. This game is all about the match: human player vs human player. Provided you are willing to invest some time in it, Demigod delivers a deep and rewarding experience. If you’re just looking for some casual fun, this game is still a viable option, but you’re likely to lose interest before you get to the good parts.



  • A true blend of rts and rpg offering an addictive variety of character builds
  • Beautiful character and arena design
  • Divine soundtrack


  • Lack of tutorial and info on how to play the game
  • Requires installation of impulse to update the game (which is required for online play and expanded character roster)

Read on : Gamespot