Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Hate sympathy

I really should have skipped Street Fighter last night and finished Nier. Even a post-apocalyptic exercise in tragedy is more fun than a few of the matches I had last night. All of my problems matches come down to a total lack of patience on my part. I really want to keep the pace of the match going; if it stagnates then my shenanigans start to show. This works very well on people who don't know the Blanka matchup, and even keeps better players guessing, at least for a while. Good players adapt, though, and I have been playing the same people for many months. They know my Blanka, they know what I am trying to do, and they know that I get frustrated easily. Recently this has become an issue with two specific characters: Dhalsim and Dudley. The Dudley matchup has many of the same problems as fighting Boxer: every block ball is a hit, super or ultra. I am not scared of Boxer because I played him for a while when vanilla came out and I know the range of most of his attacks (and that a lp ball beats poorly spaced rush punches) but Dudley is a mystery. It seems that everything of his combos into everything else, and that almost everything he does is safe. I just need to play him more, but it will never be an easy match.

Now this guy:

In honor of the world cup.

Not quite that guy, but you get the idea.

Dhalsim is a pure mental block. From the very first time he sticks out a limb and pokes me from across the screen I am frustrated. It just gets worse as the match goes on, and my Blanka gets sloppier and scrubbier to the point of being embarrassing. Here is an example:

Last night it was a different Dhalsim and it was even worse, with the glaring humiliation of a perfect on his part. A perfect, from Dhalsim. I didn't even get any chip damage because I was scared to throw out any balls. The other Blanka players over at PA (who is significantly better than I am) maintains that Dhalsim is not that bad.

He lies.

It is fair to have a character nemesis. It gives a goal beyond sucking less: I need to suck less against specific things.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Digital withdrawal

Nothing good ever happens in Nier, only things that are slightly less worse for your ham fisted interference. For example, in the first act you find two siblings, the younger of which is pining for his mother (who the older one knows is dead). After some wandering around in an ancient laboratory full of angry robots, you find her corpse right next to the body of her lover that she abandoned her children to be with. I told the kids the truth; the younger one didn't believe me and the older one already knew and was protecting his kid brother. No harm done, yet. It turns out that less than a year later the older brother was crushed by an Iron Giant clone with a shade as a hat. The younger brother never really got over it, recruits you to take care of this killer robot, then go crazy when you finally do. Even the main character backs away slowly, and his first answer to confusion is to hit things with his sword. Since then I have wiped out an entire town of innocents to save the three members of the party, killed a tree that held all the memories of mankind and wrecked most of my home town in the name of saving one person who has probably been dead for five years. It's depressing, and I have a feeling that none of this is going to end well, but that is actually points in Nier's favor. Nothing here is by the numbers, which keeps it interesting in spite of its failings.

I would try to finish it tonight, but there is another Street Fighter ranbat schedule and Puzzle Quest 2 comes out tomorrow. Puzzle Quest was absolute crack in digital form, stealing hours at a time and giving nothing in return besides a growing backlog of other gamers. The less said about the space based sequel the better, but hopes are high for this one. I think shrinking the scope down to that of the first Diablo is a good thing, more suited to gameplay that is best in small doses. I just hope the music is better, there is only so much MIDI-evil music one person can take before going crazy.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Better and worse for it

Nier, much to my dismay, continues to grow on me. There aren't many characters here, and the bad guys are nebulous and generic, but the heroes are interesting and interact with one another in a fairly realistic manner. Well, realistic if you can get over the one female character running around in pajamas and a thong and sleeping outside. If TV has taught me anything, this happens all the time. Nier also throws bizarre game mechanics curve balls our with little notice. A few hours ago I ran into a boss whose attacks resembled bullet hell shooters. This has continued, and they have only gotten more insane. At least I can take more than one hit, but it is still quite unnerving to see a wall of glowing balls arranged in an undodgable pattern flying your way. Kind of like this.

Well, not really.

Just last night I found myself in a suitable tribute level to Gauntlet or Shadowgrounds. The night before that I spent around a half an hour in a text adventure, right down to choosing a direction, Zork style. I do not know what the developers were thinking, or what they were on, but the history hopping actually works. I keeps my interest up while waiting for the next plot point to be stingily metered out. Once I have gotten one of the four endings (hopefully not the one that actually deletes all of you save data) I will go read some of the back story that has come out since the games release. Apparently there are two games worth of prequel information there that will probably never be used. It's a shame, really. I am not going to call Nier a hidden gem or even a diamond in the rough, it's a piece of coal right now. Given enough time and money, though, it could turn into something better. I wasn't expecting to like anything here. Now that I do, what is bad is even worse, and the almost certain lake of further entries is disappointing.

Then again, they made a second 99 Nights and about a million Dynasty Warriors, so there is always hope.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

So that's why I stayed

After a few more solid solid hours with Nier I have realized why I am still playing it, and it is for none of reasons normally associated with things that make a game good. The first companion that the main character comes across is a talking book (the Grimoir Weiss, and lord help you if you abbreviate his name). Weiss is incredibly powerful, but he cannot remember how to do anything with this power, so he follows you around on your quest thinking that he can probably save the world, but is not really sure how. He is also a cynical bastard who complains about all the do gooding quests you take up. This interaction between the meat headed protagonist and his snarky hard bound sidekick is hilarious. Nier is a buddy cop movie, complete with female accomplice that one guy likes and the other one hates. I don't know if this was intentional or not, but either way it has yet to get old. For example:

Weiss - Killing sheep again? Really, no task is below you, is it?


Hero - Maybe you can save the world. And to think, I was going to use you as kindling.

Weiss - I should be furious, but that would be admitting you said something clever.

No, I did not also star in Culdcept Saga.

Okay, so maybe they aren't that funny, but they are the best that the game has to offer at this point. It doesn't feel like it is very long, which is good, but I have been wrong about game length before. The worst example of this was the first Magna Carta: at forty hours I decided to tough it out and finish the game off, saying to myself 'how much longer could it be?' Turns out there were twenty more hours to go, and none of them were enjoyable.

Apparently I lied to myself about quiting when I had to start tending a garden. A few of the quests require wheat to finish and I have been unable to find a place to buy it. Without even thinking about what I was getting into I planted a few rows next to my house and since then every time I walk past it to save I check in on them, cursing the elements for their poor performance. It's insidious.

Friday, June 25, 2010

More entertaining than my own

A few choice matches from last night, none of which I was involved in:

followed by

Good stuff, glad I got to see it 'live.'

One more quick note about Nier: as soon as the Harvest Moon farming bullshit kicks in I am out.

Yes, I am lazy.

I could not find a McDonald's while on the road yesterday from which to post from (ate at a dirty Mexican restaurant instead, and my insides regret it) and by the time I got home it was time for the Thursday night ranbat. I will not be posting any videos of my matches because they were all terrible, but I will be putting up the winners, losers and grand finals as I have time.

And now, back to Nier.

I was looking really hard for a nice thing or two to say about the game and the best I could come up with is that the main character runs really fast. Wandering around with him feels more like offroading in an inexpensive ATV than anything person could actually do, complete with skidding to a stop when you change directions. This is before you tame giant boars and ride them. The boar has a drift button. Nothing I can say will make this any clearer: you can ride a giant hairy pig and drift it around corners while running over tiny monsters. Of course this is old news, the game is months old and not worthy of continued attention, but this little bit of bat shit insanity should have spawned a meme and never did. It would help if the game around it was actually any good, but still.

Playing Nier is not necessarily unpleasant, it is just unremarkable. Everything looks, feels and plays old and worn out and has been done better both before and after. I did run across a city built into two sides of a bottomless ravine with massive, swaying bridges linking things together. This would have been really impressive if the residents were actually out walking around, not hiding in their huts cowering from the extra programming skill it would have taken to make it look like a living town. Maybe they will emerge later, after I slay the giant monster with a dozen boobs on its chin (I am not joking, and it is not good), but I don't really care. Nier is just filling the hours before I go to sleep now, its bleakness fitting in just fine with playing a game for the sake of playing a game. Thank goodness Puzzle Quest 2 comes out next week, at least then I can waste hours of my time and have fun doing so.

We will cut off your johnson!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Hold old is this?

After starting Nier I had to take a second look at how long it had been in my queue. The game sure looks like a launch title, had it been slipping through the cracks for over three years? It isn't that bad, but after wandering around in the world of Red Dead Redemption wishing I could buy a horse and some chaps and live there the barren plains of Nier as difficult to deal with. The world is not just empty, either, it is filled with ugly things. The protagonist, whom you get to name in a nod to the old school, has got to be one of the ugliest good guys ever to disgrace a game. Remember the cavemen from the insurance commercials that got their own sitcom?

Hi there. Buy insurance.

Shave him and you have the main character. He is seriously that hideous. He also doesn't seem to mind talking to a book that sounds an awful lot like Stewie from Family Guy, which may be a positive or a negative, I haven't made up my mind yet. By all that is reasonable I should drop Nier right back into the envelope from which it came and send it on its nihilistic way, but that probably isn't going to happen. There is just enough here to keep me interested, plus I want to know how the hero and his daughter jumped a thousand years forward in time and didn't notice.

Speaking of things that at are old, watch this:


It does not appear to take place in a 3D arena, which is good, but the combat itself looks much more like Ultimate MK3 instead of MK2, which is not good. It is also as brutal as fuck, which is definitely good (and the return of the Immortals MORTAL KOMBAT!!! song is also good). Mortal Kombat was never the deepest of fighting games, descending to pure button mashing by the latter 3D entries, but MK2 will always be remembered fondly as being the height of my arcade hustling prowess. I was damn good at MK2, knew every character, could play Shang Tsung effectively, and could juggle you for retarded damages with Kitana. I had people walk away from the machine after a round and a half, never bothering to get the full time from their fifty cents.

Of course, this is in comparison to the very, very limited arcade scene from my youth. For all I know, I sucked, and everyone else just sucked more.

Damn it. So much for that.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Block and punish, block and punish

I joined a Street Fighter lobby last night with an old friend who knows just enough to to do special moves but not nearly enough about when not to use them. Third space in the lobby was filled with the flow-chartiest Ken that ever flowed a chart. If I pulled out my main, or my second (or my third) no one would have had any fun, but it was great opportunity to practice blocking random wake up ultras and other silliness. I stuck with random the entire time, landed on a few people I had literally never used before (Juri is easy mode against people who don't block), and everyone still had fun. I never profess to be an expert, but I know what punishes what, and I tried to help the other guys out. I hope they took it well...

Either I need to play games more quickly or I should go through my GameFly queue and start deleting random titles. At the rate I am going I will never catch up, but there is really nothing that I want to miss. The list right now, in no particular order:

Dead to Rights: Retribution
Splinter Cell Conviction
Resonance of Fate
Alan Wake
Deadly Premonition
Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands
3D Dot Game Heroes
Just Cause 2
Green Day: Rock Band

The only duds on there are Dead to Rights and Deadly Premonition, but they are both things that I still want to play, and this doesn't include the Summer of Arcade that usually has a few gems in it.

Of course, as someone who likes to play games, complaining about there being too many games to play is still. I would just like to play something current once in a while.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The downward spiral

Metro 2033 never managed to recover from being a ton of fun to look at and walk through but very little fun to play. This decent culminated in an escort mission in which you and your commanding officer are attacked from all sides by amoebas that ooze out of the walls and ceiling at random intervals. One hallway of this was bad enough, but when the first is done a second is thrown in for good measure. I am not sure what I did differently the two times that I succeeded, but it was not worth the thirty minutes of retries to achieve it. It's funny how just one section like this will sour an entire game. When I think back to Metro 2033 I wont remember the dank corridors and moody lighting, the excellent voice acting and story that makes just enough sense to warrant a cliffhanger ending. What I will remember are these damn hallways teeming with jelly filled death that I was forced to wade through to advance. This was not a failure is the art or development areas, this one falls squarely on the pale and underdeveloped shoulders of the testing department.

As much as they might want to believe it, artists, writer and programmers don't necessarily know what the average player is going to find enjoyable. They have their own visions of what is a good time, and I really doubt they match up with their own target audience. This is where good play testers come in. A good testing department should (or should be allowed to) give feedback beyond bugs. Is it fun? Should it be harder, easier, longer, more colorful, gorier, etc? For example, one of the reasons the Halo games play so well is that they test the ever loving shit out of them. The crazy bastards at Bungie make graphs and charts about how long people linger in areas, how long between kills, how often they stop to take a drink of Dew; you name it, they chart it, and they make adjustments accordingly. The end result is a polished game that almost anyone can enjoy. That clearly didn't happen with Metro 2033. I have a hard time believing that no one at any point of the process ever stood up and said 'yeah, these little round enemies that appear from behind you and kill you in one hit? They suck. The rest of the enemies kind of suck, too.' If they did, they certainly weren't listened to.

I have ventured a little further in the seedy den of youtube:

Not one day after the channel was up did I get my first comment: olol, you suck at SFIV, go back to Barbie Horse Adventures.

God, I hate the Internet.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy me day

I claim Father's Day immunity on having to write anything today.

I wish I could claim that same immunity and not do anything today, but alas the lawn did not spring from my loins and does not listen when I tell it not to grow.

Not that what did spring from my loins listens, but at least they got me some squirt guns as a present.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Over excited

I may have been a little to quick with my blanket positive assessment of Metro 2033. I love how it looks, I love how it sounds, but I really do not like how it plays. It's like they spent all their time and effort on making in nice and immersive but forgot that people were actually going to play the thing. Monsters come at you in droves, but their animations are incredibly sloppy and it is very difficult to tell if shots are actually hitting them. Damage form weapons is inconsistent; sometime a mutant goes down in one shotgun blast, sometimes it takes three. Fighting people is worse, as they can kill you from a distance with impossible accuracy and don't follow the games own rules of stealth. Metro 2033 has no standard HUD. All information is displayed on your person via a watch or on the weapons themselves. This usually works very well; there is even an 'am I hidden' gauge right out of Splinter Cell, except that it doesn't work. I was sitting in a corner waiting for about a dozen Nazis (yes, there are Nazis in this game) to pass so I could sneak out behind them. Every single time I tried this, and it was a lot of times, one of them would walk past the door, turn around, and fire blindly into the darkened room for no reason. The ensuing fire fight never ended up in my favor. I think that I had somehow alerted them to my presence right before the checkpoint, so every resurrection had me already in the cross hairs, but even knowing what happened doesn't make losing twenty minutes to reloads feel any better.

The STALKER comparison is becoming more and more apt. It had very similar execution problems, only Metro 2033 is not going to receive the bevy of fan made mods that made a very good game even better.

As promised, here is video of the painful Blanka mirror from Thursday. It was about as much fun to play as it is to watch.

Friday, June 18, 2010

I need more hours

Missed another day. I blame two scheduled ranbats per week and me finding myself clinging desperately to forth place and a first round by at the end of the season. Blanka Blanka mirrors continue to be no fun at all. I am going to try to get one up on YouTube just so everyone else can see why

Update 1: Alpha Protocol did indeed pick up steam as it moved towards its wiz-bang ending. It was very interesting to see all of the choices I made throughout the whole game come back and get me. There are a few things that I would like to have done differently, and a few boss fights that I missed by being to cozy with Russian mobsters and middle eastern terrorist organizations, but I don't care enough to play the game again. I was able to overlook the technical issues once, but subjecting myself to them a second time is not worth it when I have other terrible games to play.

I have seen fan blowback saying that comparing Alpha Protocol to Mass Effect is not fair as that was not its aim. You know what? Too bad. The RPG elements were a little more important in Alpha Protocol, but it was still a third person shooter with dialogue trees. One of them looked good and controlled well, the other did not. One of them was polished to the point of falling through the screen into another world, the other didn't bother to load all the textures until the middle the level, if ever. If I cannot compare them because they are both examples of games in the same genre, then I will simply call it like it is: Alpha Protocol was not good. Mass Effect was. Fair enough?

Update 2: Metro 2033. Holy shit! Where has this game been hiding and why aren't more people talking about it? (I suppose it is over a month old) A little research reveals middling reviews and I cannot understand why. Here's the comparison game again, only this time it will be used for good instead of evil. STALKER, bugs and all, is one of my favorite games of all time. No other PC shooter sucked me in as much, created atmosphere as deep and oppressive, and disappointed me more with a even buggier, terrible sequel. STALKER was an amazing open world shooter that was punctuated by terrifying linear areas full of shadows, monsters, and vodka soaked death. Metro 2033 is a string of the latter, one level after another of tense shooting action with dilapidated weapons, and I mean this as a compliment. Remember what you wanted Doom 3 to be? Metro 2033 is almost that. It's not perfect, but neither was STALKER, and I plan to enjoy it anyway.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Hastily bottled venom

I suppose that I should explain my incredibly juvenile and hostile reaction to Kinect. I could also drop my pants and moon Microsoft from the relative safety of the great Midwest, but no one wants to see that, least of all me.

Microsoft (and Sony, for that matter) has been in an incredible rush to copy Nintendo's money making machine, and who can blame them. Nintendo opened up a whole new market to soak for dollars: people who don't actually play video games and have no desire to learn how. Nintendo can have them; it keeps them all in one place so they are easily avoided. Now Microsoft has come along with Kinect, a non-accessory accessory the relieves the "player" from the burden of using a controller to do things. Everything from navigating the dash board to giving virtual treats to a virtual pet (god damn tamagotchi) can be accomplished with a wave of the arms, a jump to the left, a step to the right and putting your hands on your hips.

Transvestite not included. Yet.

In my mind an innovation to an existing product must accomplish two things to be valid: do something better and actually improve the product. It may seem at first look that Kinect manages both of these, but if you take the full body controller and try to apply to it anything beyond minigames and fitness trainers it falls apart. For example, Kinect Star Wars.

Wow. Let's take these in reverse order. Lucasarts has finally given people a lightsaber simulator in the vain of Dark Forces 2 or The Force Unleashed, but in doing so they have stripped out the rest of game. Notice how the character never moves forward or to the side, only deals with things being thrown at him and lunging forward when they are all gone. This isn't a game, it's a laser shooting gallery. Take away the motion controls and no one would give it a second look. How does waving your arms around make it instantly better? Which bring me back to the first point, it doing something better than before. There is no way for Kinect, or any other current motion controller, to deliver the same kind of complex control required for actual games. Imagine relying on it for a game as fast paced as previous Star Wars games, or as complex as Mass Effect, or any other game that requires you to do more than one thing at a time. If an innovation requires the core product to be rolled back to its infancy, it really isn't an innovation, is it?

I'll tell you what it is: a marketing tool. It is nothing more than a way for Microsoft to try to steal away some of the non-gaming crowd from Nintendo, and it is an excellent idea from a business perspective. Wii owners (and here comes the insulting generalization) buy the consoles in droves, only first party games, and don't bitch when there are months and months between releases. They are the best kind of consumer: the one who doesn't complain.

All I have done here is yell and scream about how Kinect is not the right product for me. Thankfully, I am not the target, and even better still, Microsoft has not forgotten the likes of me. The first thirty minutes of their E3 presentation was filled with games that have no place for limb flailing due to their violence and complexity. I was sated just enough to endure the last two thirds of their presentation. It's still bullshit, but I don't have to buy it, and I really do wonder if even Microsoft believes that this is the way all games are going to eventually be.

Monday, June 14, 2010

I have not yet begun to crank

I just watched the Microsoft E3 presentation.

Kinect is one of the stupidest things I have ever seen in my entire life. There was not a single god damn compelling thing shown.

Stop the revolution, I want to get off.

Budgeting spy time

I have a new feature for games that I would like to put out there for consideration: the countdown timer. The countdown timer would let the player know approximately how much time was left until the game was completed, allowing him to work around things like having to go to bed or being away from his Xbox because he is at a casino in the middle of absolutely nowhere for the evening. There is, as far as I can tell, only one mission left in Alpha Protocol. I got to it literally right as I was about to close up for the evening and go to bed, but I was tempted to push through so that I could knock the game off and start clean tomorrow when I get back. The problem is that I have no idea how long the last level is, if it really is the last level, and if I am going to be afforded any save points between here and the point of no return. So there it is, the game countdown timer, keeping things easy for gamers who have to work in the morning.

I may have been a little to hard on Alpha Protocol. I am not going to say that it is good, but I will admit that the few things that it does that are different are actually very effective. I have gotten a real sense that choices I have made along the way have made a difference. I have made friends with and betrayed secret organizations a dozen times over, but alliances from the past help in the future, and vice versa. It is obvious, story wise, that things are happening when I am not around, that my singular douche bag agent is not the center of the world, on one person acting in one area. This is the one thing, the one and only thing, that Alpha Protocol has down better than the game it is obviously copying. Mass Effect 2 was better in every way that matters, but everything that happened plot wise centered around Shepherd; there was no universe past what I could see. Alpha Protocol creates a sense of political scale that I was not expecting, if only shooting people was as much as fun as double crossing triple secret organizations who put the stone cutters to shame.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Late night vengence

I don't know if Alpha Protocol has actually improved or if I have acquiesced to playing it the way that it wants to be played. Sneaking around levels and choking people out is not as effective as I would have liked, so peeking around corners and shooting people in the head will have to suffice. As long as a full blown firefight doesn't break out I am fine; as soon as one does things fall apart. A few levels ago I had to defend someone from an onslaught of about twelve guys. It would have been easier if the person I was guarding had the common sense to move when a grenade landed beside him instead of looking at it and wondering if is actually going to explode. Then again, he was ex-KGB, so I should not be surprised by his incompetence and stubbornness.

At least the game has made good on it threats of choices actually making a difference. So far I have shot a man in cold blood because he didn't give the correct code back which gave my identity away to the whole city, sent all sorts of classified information to a red head that I met on a plane (and who is undoubtedly a counter-agent) which will probably bite me in the ass and chosen to save over a hundred innocents instead the of one person who tipped me off to the whole thing. That last one was a little surprising as I didn't expect them to go all the way with it. Generic evil villain henchman number 33 taunted me by saying that I could either disarm the bomb or save the girl; I went for the bomb. Just as I expected the bad guys showed up with the girl in tow, let her think she was going to get away, and then shot her in the back right in front of me. It would have been nice if the main character reacted in some way, but you have to hire actual voice actors for that to work. What should of been rage or frustration sounded more like he was calling the QVC hotline because his hummel collection arrived with a few cracked figures.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

I am part of the problem

A few revelations about this years forthcoming music releases.

Rock Band 3 is going to feature a new key-tar accessory, perfect for anyone who really, really wishes they were a member of Flock of Seagulls. Hair spray not included.

Guitar Hero 6 will feature characters who turn into animals. These manimals will still be able to play the guitar, in spite of their now cloven hooves.

Rock Band 3 sports a brand new pro-mode that changes the falling blocks of color into actual guitar tabs or drum notation. It will also interface with real guitar via midi. Rock Band 3 will actually make the jump to being able to teach someone the basics of non-plastic instruments.

Guitar Hero 6 also has a new guitar specifically designed for shredding (their words) and has Gene Simmons narrating the story mode. Tongue extension accessory forthcoming.

One of these games actually knows how to evolve, and the other will still sell more copies.

What the hell is wrong with you people? At least buy both.


Friday, June 11, 2010

If Dr. Phil was a gamer

I suppose I should be more clear about what is wrong with Alpha Protocol. Aside from the obvious issues of bad voice acting, ugly or absent textures and buggy collision detection, this game has already been made. Think about it: Alpha Protocol is a third person shooter with stripped down RPG elements and branching dialogue paths. We just had one of those, and it was Mass Effect 2, and it was excellent. Alpha Protocol is like going to Ponderosa for dinner a few days after dining at Bern's Steak House. It just doesn't work, and no matter what your stomach hurts a few hours later. This is an Obsidian game, so I went in assuming that there would be technical difficulties and that the story would pull me past them. So far we have an amnesiac kidnapped who was pulled in to work for a covert government agency being sent of to the middle east to kill people who are shooting down jet liners with stolen missiles.

Somehow they have made terrorism trite and boring.

Maybe this will pick up, maybe it wont, but so far it has been the victim of inflated expectations. I really wanted a James Bond game, minus the Bond, and that is not what I got. The main character, whose name I have already forgotten, is closer to Nathan Drake than anything else, and Nathan Drake trying to woo women is more tragic than can be comfortably viewed.

That same sentence could also be applied to watching my Blanka lose to a Hakan last night. It was sloppy, oily, and embarrassing, and not something that I want to experience for a second time.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Quick hits

Went back to Super Street Fighter 4. Dee Jay is improving. Still falling back on Blanka when things get tough. Came in fourth in tonight's ranbat. Am disappointed.

Alpha Protocol is not that good so far. I planned as playing as James Bond, and not the new crazy James Bond, the Connery Bond who got all the ladies. Apparently Obsidian's take on suave is being a giant douchebag.

Oh, and the combat is not very good, but I am not surprised.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Holding pattern

I haven't actually started Alpha Protocol yet, but it is in the drive and has been installed, so that must count for something. Metro 2033 also arrived while I was enraptured by Red Dead Redemption; I hold out the same hope for it that I held for the first STALKER sequel. Let's hope that they are not completely dashed in the same way. STALKER Clear Sky was so buggy that I actually gave up on it, and coming from someone who finished a pre-patch build of Temple of Elemental Evil, that's saying something. I wanted to look past all the problems and find the same kernel of excellence that the first STALKER had, but I simply could not bare restarting a large section after a crash again. It sits there in my Steam queue along with The Witcher, both of them mocking me for not playing them to their conclusion. I have no excuse for The Witcher. I don't remember why I stopped playing it, but it was at least one if not two installs of Windows ago. My saves are long gone and I have no desire to play through the beginning for a third time, even with all the more 'European' bits restored to their nipply glory.

I have gotten so out of touch with release dates that I found out there was a new Rock Band yesterday from a commercial on the radio. It was exciting until they said that it was Green Day Rock Band, and I remembered why I didn't care. There are so many bands that could support their own Rock Band (The Who, The Rolling Stones, Led Zepplin, hell even Bon Jovi or Def Lepperd) that I am baffled by this choice. Green Day? Seriously? I am not going to lie, I will play it, but I will be more embarrassed by that than I was by Band Hero.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Redemption by spoiler

I am now going to spoil the shit out of Red Dead Redemption’s ending. If you don’t want to know what happens, stop reading now. But you know you do.

I knew that John Marsten was going to die even before accidentally spoiling it for myself while checking something out on gamefaqs. There was a theme of a person’s past never really letting them go that went through the whole game, and John was sympathetic enough (at least the way I played him) for his death to still mean something even though he was nothing more than a semi-reformed outlaw. When the government rode over the hill and John started killing them by the dozens, buying time for his wife and son to ride off into the sunset it was tense but not surprising. This is the kind of tragic hero ending I was expecting (the kinds Kratos should have had). In his last moments, after his family had escaped, John opens the doors of a barn he had been hiding in, boldly strolls out into the sites of around twenty agents, and draws his gun. Frantically I searched for the two government workers who had kidnapped my family, but they weren’t there, so I took off six heads with six bullets before I was done. Their task completed, the agents and soldiers leave, and Jack and his mother return to bury John.

Fade to black.

But wait, there is still revenge to be had. Three years later John’s wife passes away. His now nineteen year old son dons his father’s hat, takes up his guns, and heads out. Once you take control of Jack there is no clear goal, but he looked pissed off enough that I decided it was time to leave the reformed part out of reformed outlaw and ride into Blackwater, guns blazing. On the way there I shot two federal marshals who were chasing a suspect just because they were in the way. This outburst of violence was refreshing after having stifled all those urges with John. I did not know exactly what my plans for Blackwater were, but it was not going to end well for anyone. Just as I was about to begin my unfortunate target practice a new quest marker appeared. It was another agent, and Jack asked him about Ross, the man who had betrayed and killed his father.

One last mission. I was thrilled. I followed the trail to his wife’s house, shooting some bum who challenged me to a duel in the head along the way. She directed me to a river in Mexico where he and his brother were hunting. It was a long ride, but along the way I just became more and more angry; angry and intent on finishing my task. Ross’s brother told me he was further downstream, so I got off my horse and skulked through the reeds until I found him, back to me, shooting at ducks he had flushed out from the opposite shore. Ross turned around, recognized me, and was not afraid. I wanted to shoot him there, in cold blood, first in the knees and then work my way up. Instead I was forced into a duel, but the end result was the same: Ross was dead and my last task was done.

Changing characters right as the game moved from mission based to truly free form was brilliant. I wanted to travel the countryside as Jack, rediscover things that his father had done, and build a new reputation for myself. I returned home and wandered through the house, looking for memories that Jack surely had but were not shared with me. Finding nothing, I went outside and looked for Jack’s parents’ graves. I could not locate them, but the realization that this was all Jack’s now slowly took over. It was his adventure, and he had the whole world to play in.

It was all I could do to turn in off and send the games on its way. Congratulations Rockstar, Red Dead Revolver is more than a brilliant game, it is an excellent Western.

Monday, June 7, 2010

That little bit at the end

Most funny videos of people falling down or crashing into things end about thirty seconds too soon. Yes, it is quite funny to see some hipster careening down a rail on a heavily stickered skateboard, but I want that extra snippet of time documenting the extent of his injuries and pain. This is not because I like watching people get hurt (much) but more that I think it is even funnier in context. Games are just as guilty of skipping past the epilogues, relegating them to cut scenes that run behind the credits. Even if they take a half an hour to get through them (I am looking at you FFIV) they are just not very effective. Red Dead Revolver has found one more way to distance itself from the pack by letting me play the happy ending. After I killed, or more accurately drove to suicide, the last bad guy I expected some credits and a quick turnaround into the open world. Instead, I got a new mission: ‘Go home and find your family,’ accompanied by appropriately cheesy music.

So I went home, found my wife, son and drunken uncle, and received more missions. There were things to do around the farm, herding cattle, roping wild horses and killing crows by the dozens, and they all made use of skills that I had learned over the past hours of mercenary killing. John’s relationship with his son is explored, and like any good sixteen year old he does the exact opposite of what his father says and nearly gets eaten by a bear. The message I got, and I do not know if this is what Rockstar intended, was that John’s life of crime and his subsequent retreat from it had prepared him for living with and taking care of his family. It is the kind of happy but realistic ending that one does not usually find in a game.

Being an impatience bastard, I peeked ahead a bit to find out how much more there is left and spoiled the ending for myself. Things do not stay happy forever, and as much as John tries to escape his past it never really will let him go. Justice will be served, regardless of the heart break caused. I look forward to the ending, and will be sad when it comes, as Mr. John Marston was a well written, sympathetic, bad ass character who would kill you as soon as help you, but wasn’t really proud of how ruthless he could be. This is the best open world-ish game I have yet played, mostly because the main character is more than a conduit for the player’s violent urges. It may not have all the freedom, but it has more depth of story and character and will stick with me longer than any explosive fueled mayhem in a stolen car.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Strange obligations

I don't know anyone (in person) who spends as much time with a controller in his as I do. Then again, I don't know that many people in person anymore. I am sure that many, many of the people I interact with virtually spend many more hours with videogames than I do, but most of them are ten plus years younger and don't have the same responsibilities. It's not just limited to how much time is dedicated to it, either. Most people I run into who admit to playing videogames have a Wii that they bought for their kids and use it once every month or two; none of them dedicate several hours a day to it. I am not saying this to brag as it is not something that I am very proud of. In truth, being the only person my age that plays games on a daily basis is pretty lonely. I have never played Super Street Fighter IV with a person in the same room, and if I did manage to con someone I knew into going a few rounds it would be a massacre. The closest thing to true communal gaming I ever had was Rock Band, and even then the skill gap was astounding. Again, this is not because I am any good at these games, it is just that I actually play them more than once a year.

Far be it from me to blame videogames on my general antisocial behavior. I would be a hermit with or without them, but they do certainly make it easier. It has actually gotten worse since I left the hideous world of gaming retail. When I ran those stores I was surrounded by people who liked the same things I did, had many shared experiences, and who I could get into real discussions with about which the best Final Fantasy is. Yes, the nerds were running, working in and shopping at my game store. Now, in the real world, no one would know what they hell I was talking about so it is best to not even try. So every day I retreat from everyone and everything, shed the days stress and disappear for a while into things that almost no one I know would care to hear about.

Up to this point nothing really seems amiss. Everyone has something they do to get over themselves. These things only become problems when they become difficult to give up. I cannot imagine what I would do without my nightly dose of electronic stimulation. A few years ago there was a power outage that lasted a few days. I was in an absolute panic; everything I do for fun requires a plug. Now when I find out that I am going to be gone for an evening the worry is not about falling behind on real life things, it is the lost night of work on whatever game I am playing. This can't be healthy, but then again, what else would I do?

I usually make these entries at work as to not take up night gaming time; even now these few minutes of lost work are weighing on my mind.

Enough complaining, there are corrupt Mexican officials to shoot.

Friday, June 4, 2010

In memory of William Wallace

I was standing on the outskirts of the Mexican desert last night marvelling about how wide open the world was when then urge to break a quest struck me. Sure, I can wander around the vast, dry and deadly wilderness, but can I kill a quest giver out of spite (or just for shits)? I was tasked with routing rebels and burning their village to the ground, something that neither I nor Mr. Marston seemed too happy about, when I decided enough was enough and that I was going to kill all the soldiers that I had done the raiding with. Only I couldn't. At any other time I can shoot just about anyone, but because I was in a quest with a specific objective I could not kill the people I came with. The open world ends when the story begins. This is not specific to Red Dead Revolver, it is in fact inherited directly from its Grand Theft Auto forebearers. Rockstar does open world mayhem very well. They do not unfortunately offer actual freedom to the player in the same way that other free form RPG's have, and in my mind that is a significant chink in its western style armor.

I don't mean to be greedy (actually, yes I do) but what is then sense if giving me a giant playground to romp around in, but then locking things down when I try to climb on the monkey bars? It is much easier for the developers, that is for sure, as it prevents them from having to think of alternative outcomes for a given situation. Every scripted event in Red Dead will always end one of two ways: either the way they wanted it to or with a game over screen. That is not choice, that is the exact opposite of choice. Really, it's cake or death, and that cake is pretty good in spite of having no choice about it.

So I am bitching about not having enough freedom in one of the better games I have played this year? Why yes, yes I am, but only because it is so close to perfect that these little things stick way, way out. What I really want is Deus Ex: The Western, and no one will ever make it, because JC Denton in a cowboy hat would be to much cool in one place at one time and the world would end right then and there.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

One hour only, please

Okay, I only have one hour to play tonight. I'll just do a story mission and pick up this bounty...

Attempt #1: Damn, this is a long ride. Found you! Get on my horse, muchacho. Wow, there certainly are a lot of mounted bad guys around.


Attempt #2: Hey look, wolves! I need to kill five of those with my knife! There's only a few here, so let do it. Hey look, they have a whole bunch of friends.

*chewed on*


Attempt #3: Hey look, a bunch of corrupt marshals are going to shoot that guy! I'll just watch. What, you're telling me to leave? And what if I don't?

*shot in head several times*


Attempt #4: Success! Shit, I should have gone to bed almost an hour ago.

*at work the next day*


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Wait, I care?

So Sam Elliot does nothing but westerns. Even when the movie he is in is not a western he still plays a cowboy, mostly because no one is more believable in the role and he is a tremendous bad ass. Why do I bring this up? Because a character that look, acts and sounds just like Sam Elliot from Tombstone (or The Big Lebowski) just showed up in Red Dead Redemption; the first thing he did was chastise me for killing a bunch of Mexicans. Not because killing people is wrong, mind you, just because the way I handled my pistol was sloppy. It is about time that John has been out bad assed by someone. The first third of the game saw the main character as the coolest person on the screen at all times. Seeing him back slide from action hero to pistoleer apprentice will be a good change.

This man is cooler than you.

The middle section, which takes place entirely in Mexico during one of several revolutions, supposedly drags on a bit. After only a few hours there I can see how it might, with destinations that are quite far apart and side missions that are exactly the same as the ones from the first section, complete with barely understandable broken english. One thing it does have, and what I was not prepared for, is a story that is actually interesting enough to keep things moving along. It takes a while for John and the Sam Elliot character to even trust each other enough to use their real names, which makes a lot of sense when you take two gun fighters and throw them together in another country. He is interesting enough that I assume he is going to die at some point, possibly in a heroic manner. None of the first act's gallery of rouges was as interesting and I wont miss a single one (at least one I would like to shoot myself) so it is nice to have a character around worth losing.

Alpha Protocol has gotten very little hype. I just checked a few reviews and it looks likes Obsidian has turned out another game that misses the mark in every way that doesn't involve the story and writing. I remember a similar situation with Knights of the Old Republic 2, where we only got about two thirds of the game that Obsidian wanted to make. It is difficult to believe that they suffered from the same kind of source material interference this time, and they are quite capable of making very good games, so this may just be an unfortunate clunker. It will still of course be played, though a bit of genre whiplash will probably be caused by jumping forward from the old west to the near future.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

On the precipice

I may have dismissed Fairytale Fights as total crap a little too quickly. Yes, it still is a terrible game that was designed by a boardroom full of people who never play what they make, and yes all of the development was outsourced to the lowest bidder, but the latter levels veer dangerously close to entertaining. The combat and controls never even approach an acceptable level, topping out just below Little Big Planet (and we all know how much I liked that game) but the levels themselves go from bland to interesting very quickly. One of the final levels sees your character running around a giant's house, dodging falling books and giant rat traps, and jumping from jar to jar as the mother giant makes dinner. I hate to admit it, but it looked pretty cool. It wasn't much fun to play, mind you, but I was visually stimulated. Take Fairytale Fights, make it about one third as long, release it as an XBLA game, and, well, it still wouldn't be any good, but it would make more sense the the retail product that was actually put on the shelves.

It was time to practice more Dee Jay after that, and it went about as well as I expected. Dee Jay is a tremendous character in practice mode, with corner combos that will peel the paint off the walls. Getting any of those combos to work against a thinking opponent is an entirely different affair; everything degenerates to jab-jab-jab medium kick. I gave up losing with him just long enough to start losign with Blanka, then had someone start stalking my ranked matches and beating me with a different character each time. By the time he beat me in a Blanka mirror I was furious and almost out of control. I banged out some hate mail (I get it, you are better than me with every character you use. Happy? Now fuck off. By the way, good games), yanked my arcade stick out of the machine and bought Metal Slug XX to ease my pain. This is exactly how my last stick fell victim to an embarrassing scissor wielding tantrum, so it is time to stop for a while. I shouldn't get as angry as I do, and it's not even losing that makes me angry, it is playing so far below what I know I can do. Instead I will wander the old west, waiting for Alpha Protocol to arrive.