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Old 11-15-2007, 09:55 PM
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Default REVIEW: Rabbit Wars, an EXCELLENT, multiplayer-enabled game!

Itís pretty hard NOT to like AIM Productionsí games. In the Bible of Pocket PC GamesĖ Part I, (use Ctrl-F to search for ďAIM ProductionsĒ) Iíve reviewed most of their titles and was very happy with most of them. For example, despite its being at least five years old, it was me that, as the Nominations Manager, nominated both their Toki Tori and TMax both last and this year for the Smartphone & Pocket PC Mag Best Software Awards. I really recommend giving their titles a try Ė youíll find most of them VERY good. Donít be afraid of some of them being pretty old - as Iíve stated, even their aged games are definitely worth a try.

(Note that in addition to Part I of the Games Bible, you will also want to check out THIS review of their Gyroid and THIS review of their Frosty Factory.)

Their latest title is Rabbit Wars, a turn-based, multiplayer-enabled (!) strategy title. Yes, itís multiplayer-enabled, which is great news for all Windows Mobile players not really having many games to play against other Windows Mobile users. In addition, it also supports MS Smartphones (not only Pocket PCís).

1. Availability, price; free desktop Windows version!

Itís available for purchase / demo download HERE. The restrictions of the (mobile) trial is the complete lack of multiplayer and being restricted to one map only (also meaning you wonít be able to test the advanced units like the Medicopter). The full version costs $19.95.

Note that, thanks to leading Windows Mobile gaming site PocketGamer.org, you can download the desktop Windows version for free (as opposed to the mobile versions). See THIS thread for more information on this. I really recommend this Ė the desktop version, while itís pretty much low-resolution (being pretty much a mobile port), is still fun to play, particularly in multiplayer mode, which it fully supports.

2. Solo mode; whatís the game is all about?

As a generic overview, I heartily recommend THIS review by Solsie (it has a French translation HERE and HERE). In here, I only discuss questions not present in that review.

Also note that the game has a very good help (accessible right from the main menu; the in-game help is pretty much useless Ė for example, it doesnít contain any information on the different capabilities, range etc. of the units, which is essential information on coming up with a decent strategy) you WILL want to read. An example screenshot:

2.1. A quick overview Ė what itís like?

Despaired of the fact that PDAMillís excellent Snails is no longer playable in multiplayer mode (as its central server / lounge has long been stopped)? Donít like the fact that the otherwise excellent Atomic Cannon doesnít support multiplayer? Looking for a lighter, multiplayer version of X-COM UFO Defense (a.k.a. Enemy Unknown)? While thereís a free (!) and pretty decent port of UFO by Russian developer SMK, you may still want a, by gameplay, pretty similar, but much easier-to-master and multiplayer-supporting game.

This game an optimal mixture of these games: Snails (and other Worms clones), Atomic Cannon and X-COM UFO Defense. And, again, it has (as opposed to Snails) working multiplayer support!

Also note that the homepage of the game has a decent animation. As itís Flash (and not a, say, animated GIF), I canít directly link it in here (Object tags are refused / ignored by the engine).

3. Multiplayer support

Itís mostly multiplayer that can make a game a kick-butt one. For example, I didnít particularly like the Pocket PC port of Call of Duty 2 because it just canít reproduce the atmosphere of the original game on the desktop. Not with the (LAN) multiplayer version, which I loved. The same stands for several other, multiplayer-enabled titles.

This is particularly true of non-action games (that is, games where connection lag isnít a problem) playable over the Internet, even through slow and/or lagging connections like GPRS. Examples of these games include probably the best Pocket PC game today, Orions: Legend of Wizards (and its expansion pack, Orions: The Second Age) reviewed HERE, which is, being also a turn-based strategy title, is also playable over lagging connections.

Fortunately, the title supports all the three kinds of most important multiplayer technologies: lounge-based Internet play, local LAN-based multiplayer with multicast discovery (no direct IP entering necessary, which is great news) and, finally, the (currently, not really working) native Bluetooth.

Please refer to the Multiplayer Bible for more information on all these modes, shouldnít you know what this all means. Also, itís from there that Iíve linked in tutorials on setting up for example Wi-Fi or Bluetooth PAN peer-to-peer networks.

3.1 Initiating / joining multiplayer games

In the main menu, go to New / Duel, and, depending on the type of the game, select Internet (for central server / lounge, typically long-distance games), LAN (for local games when you have a direct, even peer-to-peer, network between the two devices) or Bluetooth. (Note that the latter is, at the time of writing, may not work on all / most devices).

After this, the game will search for available games. After a while, it lists them all (in native Bluetooth mode, it lists all the Bluetooth-enabled devices in the vicinity) and also enables the ďCreate serverĒ button at the bottom right. If you plan to start a server, tap it, select a map (screenshot HERE) and press Go (again at the bottom right). The server will start waiting for incoming connections.

Now, the client handsets can go to New / Duel, select the appropriate game type (Internet lounge / LAN / native Bluetooth) and, after some searching, the server will be listed. Just click the name and the game starts.

In the three subsections that follow, I elaborate on the three multiplayer modes.

3.2 Lounge (central server)-based multiplayer

In addition to (Internet-less, peer-to-peer) LAN games, this is the most important form of multiplayer gaming, making it possible to play anyone else from anywhere. The lounge- (central server-) based approach makes it possible to avoid directly entering remote IP addresses (unlike with Internet-based games lacking the lounge model like that of Orions or a great Stratego clone, Napoleonix, reviewed HERE) and also help for running into strangers wanting to play others, should you just want to look around for an opponent.

In the following screenshot, you can see the Internet lounge showing two games waiting for opponents:

There, you only need to click one of them and the game starts.

3.3 LAN (local) play

Fortunately, the other most versatile and important multiplayer mode, that of LAN play, also works and, what is more, supports multicast discovery, which means you wonít need to enter IP addresses anywhere, unlike with, say, the excellent Doom port DoomPPC / DoomGLES, which is very hard to configure, particularly if thereíre more than two players in a game.

LAN play also includes Wi-Fi peer-to-peer gaming (this is supported by the vast majority of todayís handsets Ė only the lowest-end Windows Mobile phones come without Wi-Fi). Bluetooth PAN is also supported (as one would guess Ė after all, the networking architecture is totally transparent to multiplayer games Ė all they see is a local network where they can discover others / the server using multicast discovery protocols).

This is the game type that you will want to play if you donít want to use your PDAís phone (and/or itís not a phone / you donít have a data plan) and your opponents are nearby Ė say, in the same room, during a boring meeting. Of course, you can still use Internet play in this case too if both of you have Internet access.

3.4 Native Bluetooth support

If you have played games with native BT support, you know well enough their compatibility issues can be a real pain in the back. For example, it took me a lot of work for me and the HeroCraft Hitech folks (see THIS and THIS) to make Battle Cakes and Infinite Dreams multiplayer titles work with some Widcomm BT stack-based models.

Unfortunately, as of this writing (15/11/2007), the native Bluetooth gaming (which only supports the MS BT stack Ė thereís absolutely no Widcomm BT stack support) is pretty much useless. Iíve done some VERY serious and long compliance testing with all my MS BT stack-based Pocket PCís and Smartphones (testing them against each other in both (client & server) modes). I could only find one combination (the HTC Wizard acted as a server and the Dell Axim x51v (A12, official WM5 ROM) and the HTC s710/Vox (WM6, official, original ROM) as the client. However, this setup only worked once; upon subsequent gaming attempts, it no longer worked. All the other combinations (in addition to the above-listed three models, Iíve also tested the HTC s310 (Oxygen) Smartphone and the HTC Universal Pocket PC) refused to work.

Note that the AIM folks have reported native Bluetooth gaming (generally) works between the Samsung Blackjack i320 and the HTC Kaiser (TyTN II).

As the AIM folks are pretty capable programmers, Iím pretty much confident they will release a version with working native BT support. For the time being, however, donít assume itíll work. You can, of course, safely give it a try. Just donít worry if the client doesnít start Ė it displays the Loading splash screen for about half a minute and, then, just exits to the operating system.

3.5 Hotseat mode

Finally, the game supports hotseat (non-inter-device) multiplayer mode up to four players. It, unlike with real inter-device multiplayer games (which need to be started from Play / Duel), must be started by Play / New.

Thereíre no different gaming modes in hotseat mode (assuming more than two players); the game is free-for-all (FFA). However, of course, if you team up with your friend to beat one or two AI enemies, you can effectively get rid of this problem. As your soldiers and machines wonít shoot anything in their range (as opposed to real-time strategy games), the lack of teaming capabilities arenít a problem at all.

3.6 Multiplayer limitations
  1. Unfortunately, in-game chat or even game lounge usernames (so that you know who you play) arenít supported. In the game lounge, as has already been shown in THIS screenshot, only the map is displayed, and not the creator itself. This will definitely become an issue if many people start to play the game through the lounge.
  2. As opposed to the hotseat mode (and games capable of running even four-person games Ė examples are like CoD2, Battle Cake, DoomPPC/GLES and the Great Gold Rush), inter-device multiplayer can only be played between two opponents.
  3. Thereís considerable lag (about five seconds) even on no-lagging LAN games. I donít know whether this is absolutely necessary Ė most other multiplayer titles are almost lag-free, even non-realtime ones (that is, games where quick response isnít a must.)

The AIM folks have stated they would implement at least the lounge name and/or the in-game chatting if and only if the game sells well. This means I really-really recommend you go and buy the game (Iíd recommend doing this otherwise too Ė itís a very nice title!).

4. Smartphones; resolution issues

When Blizzardís Starcraft (which is, in my opinion, still the best RTS for Windows and Mac computers) was released, Blizzard explained it being locked to the VGA (640*480) resolution only was not to give an advantage to users having higher-resolution screens and, therefore, gaining a view of a bigger area of the map, avoiding the need for scrolling.

Letís see how the resolution difference affects players on 176*220 MS Smartphone devices. First, two 176*220 screenshots:


(a map)

As can clearly be seen, compared to the QVGA version HERE, itís pretty much usable and 176*220 users wonít be handicapped, not even when playing a QVGA user. (Note that the game doesnít make use of (W)VGA resolution on Pocket PCís equipped with high-resolution screens.)

4.1 Control

Controlling the units on a Smartphone, because of the lack of the touchscreen, is a bit harder (you need to rely on the D-pad Ė note that the dialpad buttons (2/4/6/8) arenít supported at all). As thereís no pathfinding algorithm at all on the Pocket PC (that is, you must explicitly tell the unit where to move all the way), this isnít that big a handicap when playing a Pocket PC user either.

In addition to the D-pad and the multi-function (changing between the overview / move / fire mode) Action button, you can access the menu with the Back button and the map with the right softkey.

4.2 Make sure your phone is application unlocked!

As of this writing, the game doesnít check for the Smartphoneís being app locked. If itís app locked, then the game installs and starts, but the phone will inevitably freeze while showing the initial splash screen to a point of having to remove the battery. This problem (that is, the game doesnít explicitly check for the phoneís lock state) will surely be fixed in later game builds.

See for example THIS article for more links on application unlocking. Note that itís absolutely legal.

5. Verdict

This title continues the best traditions of AIM Productions and delivers the same quality as that of their previous, quality games.

If you like (at least in Windows-based systems Ė unfortunately, as opposed to Infinite Dreamsí excellent multiplayer-enabled multiplatform titles like Super Miners and Explode Arena, thereíre no Java / Symbian / Palm versions) multiplatform, multiplayer gaming with VERY flexible, both lounge-based and local multiplayer support, you should definitely give it a try. Itís one of the best multiplayer-enabled game released this year and a must for Snails / Worms, Atomic Cannon- and UFO-fans looking for a multiplayer-enabled mixture of these titles.

Also, if you donít care for multiplayer, you might still want to give it a try Ė but, remember, games like this are the best when played in multiplayer mode.
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Old 11-28-2007, 09:47 PM
5000+ Posts? I Should OWN This Site!
Join Date: Jun 2007
Posts: 5,067

UPDATE (11/28/2007): AIM Productions has released a fix for the native Bluetooth issues. I've thoroughly tested the new version between all my MS BT stack-based WM5 and WM6 Pocket PC's and Smartphones (Universal, Wizard, Vox, Oxygen). It works flawlessly. Just remember to make the server device discoverable so that it's found by the client.

All in all, now, you can safely rely on the native Bluetooth multiplayer mode as well - as long as you have the MS BT stack (and not that of Widcomm / Broadcom). Thumbs up for the quick & excellent fix, AIM Productions!
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