Block Story Preview

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Block Story
Developer
: MindBlocks Studio, LLC
Publisher: MindBlocks Studio, LLC
Platform: Windows

Block Story is a voxel based adventure game. Originally released for iPhone and Android, the game has been ported to Windows and is now part of Steam’s Early Access program. The game merges sandbox styled voxel exploration with RPG gameplay. It features cross platform compatibility, allowing players to play on their mobile device on the road, then come home and pick right up from their computer.

The game offers Story, Creative, or Hardcore worlds that are randomly generated based on a wold seed. Similar to many other games in the genre, Story mode will allow players to roam around the world, complete quests, and craft items. Hardcore is similar to Story mode, but death is permanent in this mode.

Creative mode will give players access to every block in the game to build whatever they can dream up. The mode is pretty standard fare. Block Story does not do anything special with the mode to differentiate itself.

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Story and Hardcore modes are the major focus in Block Story, as its RPG features differentiates it from the other legions of similar games on the market. As part of the tutorial, players are immediately assigned quests to help them get acquainted to the game. The idea has a lot of potential to help provide some direction for those turned off by the open ended nature of voxel exploration games. So far, the quests are a rather droll kill x number of enemies or bring me y number of items sort of deal. The quest text’s writing is also pretty weak, but since the game is currently in Early Access, there is plenty of time for improvement.

The game’s controls are a bit clumsy. Currently, it is brutally obvious that Block Story is a port from touch screen based mobile devices. There are several on screen buttons for menu, flight, quest logs, etc that can be clicked on or accessed by hot key. These buttons can be pressed with a cursor if escape is pressed, which brings up the mouse cursor.  These big chunky buttons are not worked into the UI in a clean manner, instead just sitting on the right hand of the screen. Since they cannot be interacted with until escape is pressed, it would be a much better idea to make them more subtle or hide them completely until escape is pressed.

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The library of items is pretty vast. Players are able to craft a wide variety of weapons, armours, and even vehicles. Some item recipes are locked from the beginning of the game, requiring players to complete certain quests for access. Instead of having a traditional durability system, usable items like pick-axes and swords are manufactured in stacks. Each use destroys one item from the stack. The system is workable, but needs some serious balancing. Overall, the recipe costs for items are a bit on the expensive side. It would be nice to see the developers increase the initial stack size of usable items on creation. More importantly, the price of lighting needs to be dropped significantly. Considering players will spend a lot of time underground digging, the cost of lighting is rather high. The weakest level of lighting requires an entire 1/3 of a wood block from a tree, a piece of wax harvested from a bees nest from certain trees, and a fire block, which costs 1/8th of a piece of coal after the initial fire is made from a stick, a piece of coal, and three pieces of stone for just two candles. The much brighter torch requires an oppressive nine fires and eight pieces of sand.

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I really enjoy how player progression is implemented in the game. Even basic actions like digging will provide player with a steady stream of experience. Every level will provide extra points that can be spent on improving a wide range of stats, from weapon proficiencies to digging speed. The system provides some permanent progression missing from many games in the voxel sandbox genre.

The world controls could use some improvement. Though the overall controls work fine. Currently, it is impossible to interact with blocks like the tool box when a block that can be placed in the world is equipped. Even more frustrating, NPCs can only be spoken to if the player is empty handed or carrying a tool. A weapon will attack the NPC and turn them hostile. Considering there are only four quick access slots available, it can make interacting with tool boxes a real chore. The automatic jump ability makes scaling a single block a lot easier, but it seems to be a bit fussy. When underground, especially with low ceilings, the auto-jump does not always kick in, leaving hte player to jump up each block manually. I do like the fly ability, which allows players to fly short duration by using up their mana pool. It makes exploring caves and getting out of deep chasms a lot easier.

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Switching between mobile devices/storing worlds and characters in the cloud is achieved with DropBox. I like the idea that the player is in possession of their uploaded content. However, the characters and worlds must be separately uploaded to DropBox and is not done automatically. Switching between mobile and desktop is definitely not seamless with these two extra steps.

One of Block Story’s biggest strength is its graphics. Considering the game is in Early Access, the game runs very smoothly, without any hiccups, FPS issues, or sudden dips in frame rate. The game supports different skin packs, but the default one itself is already nice to begin with. Ores give a very distinct coloured glow, making it easier to spot from a distance. I would like to see some tweaks to the candle and lantern’s glow colour as it gives off a very unnatural banana yellow glow. All blocks give off the same destruction animation, no matter the block type. It is a little strange to see blocks that display items smaller than the voxel size being destroyed as the original voxel size becomes painfully apparent.

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The music is a bit slim right now. There are short spurts of music here or there. The sounds effects are good, though slightly lacking at times. For example, when hacking away at a block with a pick axe, there is silence until the block is actually broken. It seems a little disjointed, but I expect things to be added, now that the developers have a lot more memory and storage space to work with compared to the mobile platforms.

Block Story is pretty rough around the edges right now. The content is what you would expect from a mobile game and the developers have some ways to go to bring it up to desktop standards. The idea of merging voxel exploration with RPG mechanics has some serious potential, and the developers are just beginning to dig in. The game is in an absolutely playable state, but some gameplay tweaks are needed. For those who are a huge fan of the mobile game, Block Story is a definite must buy, even this early in development, just for the ability to continue an existing game on the desktop. The developers have a great idea in Block Story, but some further development is required.

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