Friday, July 30, 2010

Private personal confidant

Now it is time for a few more embarrassing gamer confessions.

I did not play Diablo until it came out on the PS1.

I tried to play Diablo II on several occasions, but it was so long after it release that it was incredibly dated graphically, and I couldn't stand it for very long.

What does this have to do with Puzzle Quest 2? Every action RPG (Diablo, Torchlight, Titan Quest, etc) is an exercise in enduring repetition. How long can you stand to do the same thing with limited reward. Good ones, like Titan Quest and Torchlight, meter out small rewards on a consistent basis to keep interest levels high. Even though what I am doing has essentially not changed, my equipment has, or I have a new power to kill things with. Puzzle Quest 2, on the other hand, has changed nothing for the last several hours. I have been using the same powers for over ten character levels, the same equipment for almost as long, and because it is a puzzle game the mechanics have been the same since the very beginning. Last night I was convinced I was almost done; everything, right down to the way the dungeon level was mapped out, screamed final boss time. Nope, just more stairs and new enemies that you don't actually fight. The first Puzzle Quest avoided this by giving you more to do. This time around I may actually get tired of matching gems before the game is done.

I have an unusual problem: I have no idea what I should play this weekend. Resonance of Fate still has over twenty hours left to go, I have made good on my threat to pick up DJ Hero (which is currently unopened and sitting in my car), and I made the mistake of starting Deadly Premonition last night. I have not decided if it will make the turn from terrible to terribly awesome or not. Last night's hour was not even close to making the jump and was just bad. It looked and controlled like Dreamcast refugee, and while nostalgia is fun I have no time for it. On the other hand the snippets of story I am getting are so bizarre that I want to know what happens next. The made character keeps talking to someone named Alex who no one else can see. I have a bad feeling that he is talking to his wang, but I could be wrong.

I mean, who would name their wang 'Alex'?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Where time becomes a loop

After another night of Resonance of Fate I have come to unfortunate realization that nothing has actually happened. There has been no plot development for well over sixteen hours. Every chapter has played out the same way: there is one main objective that feels like just another side mission and there are around three or four other side missions that are just as pointless as a good fetch quest should be. Each little mission has its own story, but there is nothing overarching here; no story arc to tie everything together. It makes it far to easy to walk away for long periods of time, which is really not good because I do plan on finishing the game eventually. Boss encounters are creatively staged and each requires a distinct strategy. The end of the last chapter put me up against a giant soldier with just two character. He was large enough and smart enough to sidestep into your path when you try to run past him with a hero action. After flying through the air and slamming into him in full Three Stooges fashion I realized that I had to move at right angles with him, allow him to change his focus to the other character, then finally hit him in his week spot.

If only he didn't he have a little friend who could re-spawn indefinitely, usually right on top of the character who is about to finish things off. Nope, that never happened. Several times.

DJ Hero has finally made it down to a reasonable price. I don't remember is I talked about this or not, but I do plan on picking in up before the current Game-Stop-O sale is over. My inside man informed me today that his discount would not work, so I will actually have to wander into a brick and mortar to pick it up. Enough time has past that most people I worked with are gone, so I don't feel bad about walking into one of my old stores, looking around, then confidently thinking to myself

"This place looks like shit. It was better when it was my store."

This is not arrogance. Well, it is, but it is also the truth. I spent many years working for Electronics Boutique, then EB Games, and finally GameStop. They were good years, but I do not wish to repeat them. In the real world I make more money, don't work nights, have weekends off, can browse the internet at work, have holidays off and don't have arbitrary metrics placed on what success is.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

My tin hat, please.

The only downside to spending another entire evening playing Puzzle Quest 2 is that there is nothing to talk about afterward. It is very difficult to squeeze interesting discourse out of falling gems. Perhaps if I was more creative I could craft something compelling, perhaps equating the descending skulls with the decline of western civilization or our swiftly eroding moral standard. Your character wanders through the decayed dungeons of our economy, fighting off the undead remains of slaughtered companies. Each victory is fleeting, as it does little more than prepare you for the next battle against the liberal/conservative agenda, whichever one you find more distasteful. New tools and clothes are difficult to come buy, so you are forced to scavenge whatever you can to make moderate improvements to you old and smelly affects. I could talk about these things. I could also talk about how Puzzle Quest 2 is just another in a long line of 'entertainment' items designed to squander your time, soften your physical resilience, thereby making you easy pickings for the forthcoming Popcap sponsored invasion. Any of these would make for a good rant, but I am not that full of shit.

Not quite.

I did manage to put in another day's work with Resonance of Fate, getting past the pointless blockade of colored hexes from last week. All the wandering back and forth searching for mannequin parts has left me a little over leveled. This has been fortunate, as the current chapter sees one of my party sick in bed and the other two on missions with her. These leaves an extra weapon, and one of the could dual wield, but I have attached so many doo-dads and hoo-has to the guns that they are to heavy to wield in one hand. I have made pistols so large they are held like rifles. I only wish the in game model reflected these atrocities; fusing three barrels together loses its affect when it is only apparent in a menu.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

This is really old, but...

I still like it.

The philosophies of Sinistar.

The inverse square

Ubisoft continues to impress, having done almost nothing wrong in recent memory. Well, I don't have Beyond Good and Evil 2 is my greedy little hands, so they have one negative point against them. The Forgotten Sands was fun all the way through, if a bit on the short side for a physical console release. I did notice that as the environment got more and more out of control, culminating in a sand storm that tears the entire city to pieces, the actual skill required to get from here to there decreased. The last section was literally press A to jump, press B to attach to conveniently placed immobile sand ravens, press A to jump again. The world was ending all around, but at least I wasn't falling into any holes. This was a far cry from the calmer, more difficult puzzles from a few hours earlier.

There are two (almost) new abilities introduced in The Forgotten Sands. The first is the ability to freeze water at will and climb on it, and the second is to bring back ruined sections of the castle and its surroundings one at a time. There are of course limitations to these abilities: water can only be frozen for a short amount of time and only one piece of the castle can be brought back at a time. Put these together and you end up with a few platforming segments that forced me to put down the controller and give the TV a great big double deuce.

For example, freezing sheets of water and triangle jumping in between them is relatively simple when there are only two sheets of water. Place in a third water element, force moving between all three which requires very accurate activation and deactivation of the water power, then make the last platform one that uses the restore ability. Just for kicks make sure there is no checkpoint in the middle. This is finger mangling, but not impossible, and everything is responsive enough that once you have a good idea of what needs to be done the actual execution is not far behind. Still, the first time you fall to your death after using up all your time reversal power there are only a few words that come to mind, and not a one of them is kind.

I could get from here to there with prince all day and not get tired of it. Forgotten Sands still does not live up to the "original" Sands of Time, but it is still quite good, and well worth the two evenings it took to get through it.

And now for something completely different.

This trailer:

is the best trailer for anything. Ever. EVER.

I will buy extra tickets for opening day, just to do my manly part to keep the skirts from taking over Hollywood. A call to arms indeed.

To be fair, the movie is probably going to be terrible, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Roving bands of thieving frenchmen

Ever modern Prince of Persia has passed under my thumbs, and not a one of the has been terrible. The recent reboot was easily the weakest, with beautiful and oddly out of place cel shaded style and lack of challenge, but it was still playable. Ubisoft seems to have decided to retcon the reboot and put out The Forgotten Sand, a game that has absolutely nothing to do with with the recent movie. Really, for serious. It plays exactly the same as the first three; all the old old reflexes serve, save one. Jumping up from one wall hang to the next is no longer actually the jump button, you hold up and hit the wall run trigger. I am hesitant to admit how many times I leaped off of a secure handhold to my death when all I meant was to scramble up vertically. I don't understand why this change was made, as it fixes something that was not broken, so I am going to complain loudly about it and then get over it. IT SUCKS. There, I am done.

There is something about all of the Prince of Persia games that has always bothered me: the conspicuous placement of spinning blade traps on walls. The only way they make sense is if the designer fully expected to be invaded by an army of parkour runners. What's even funnier are the wear marks on the walls leading up to the traps, proving that there are indeed people running around in clear violation of gravity all the time. Or perhaps the Cirque de Solei is in permanent residence and are grossly underpaid. The PoP world is full of people who can almost fly, but the prince himself is the only one you see do it.

Once I noticed this strange concession I couldn't stop noticing it. I pictured maids and butlers frantically running errands, vaulting themselves from balconies and tearing gigantic banners on the way down, because hey, why not. This is what I get for attempting to apply common sense to a game filled with sand monsters and obvious plot twists. The more I think about it, the less I enjoy it, which fits since this really is a retcon game of a movie of a game that was a remake of a very old game.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

It is a real thing

I don't know what to think. On one hand, I was not terrible with Steve in Tekken 5 (didn't play six, the online was worthless) and it would be nice to play him again. On the other, they are making two versions of this, one 2D and one 3D, which strikes me as a blatant cash grab.

Damnit, I just quit SSF4 and this is getting me all excited for virtual fisticuffs again. This is not a good thing.

And boy does my ass hurt

Earlier this evening I sat down for a few quick games of Puzzle Quest 2.

It is now over three hours later.

I think I have a problem.

At the very least, my legs no longer seem to work very well.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Am I dead or just not paying attention?

I am still not done being proud of nerds banding together and mocking a group of religious nuts. Truly, a worthy target.

Limbo ended abruptly and without explanation. I was not playing it for story or deep meaningful truths, anyway, but a little but of explanation would not have hurt. It was good enough that as soon as I was done I started over, playing without dying until I killed the spider by pulling off it last leg for a second time. Its impact was not diminished by familiarity, which is something that I can say about very few games. I may play through from beginning to end one more time before I am done with it, not because I think there are hidden nuggets of exposition lurking in the shadows, only because I liked how the game looked and wish to give it the attention it deserves before it gets lost in my gaming past. There was talent and ambition here, but not a lot of experience. I look forward to their next offering.

With Limbo out of the way I was able to return to Resonance of Fate. It was just where I left it, stubbornly punishing me for acting without thinking. After over ten hours of games I finally came across a second town, only I did not have the requisite colored hex to actually open it. The world map is, in the beginning, entirely locked off. Only by using different shaped hexes, sometimes of only a specific color, can this be opened up. Did I mention that you cannot actually buy these hexes? They are given to you sparingly at the start of some quests, and after that they are random drops from enemies and cannot be purchased in shops. This of course leads to griding on the world map to unlock more of the world map to grind in. It like pole dancing without a girl present: there's the pole, but if you want anything to happen you have to do it yourself, and no one is actually going to enjoy it.

Resonance of Fate, while a better game than Final Fantasy XIII, is going to end up being played in the same way: only when I have nothing else to play. Right now Deadly Premonition, and game so terribly campy that I had to see it for myself, and the new/old Prince of Persia are waiting. One of them will be started this weekend. Which one will be determined by how much self abuse I feel I can stand.

My people

This is why I love the extended geek community:

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Dark, darker, darkest

First things first, Limbo is not the greatest game I have ever played. It is not even the best game I have played this year. It is still very, very good; it's length is not a hindrance (though I was not able to knock it out in one night as planned), it is not frightening so much as it is moody and depressing, and it controls better in a platforming sense than Braid ever did. The puzzles are cleverly designed, organic in nature, and I have yet to run into one that took more than a few minutes of head scratching to solve. Many of them are physics based, forcing you to think about problems in a very real sense. I imagine they are the same variety of puzzles that Trine offered. There's another game that I played the demo of and should have kept going with until it was done. Limbo is definitely enjoyable, better than Braid in my opinion, and is a game that I can actually see running through again just to show someone else what it looks like. Of course I would not warn them about the big ass spider and what happens if you simply walk up to it and say hello. Parts of Limbo are the the screamer web sites that stopped being scary years ago, but they actually work.

Most of the developers time and effort, it seems, went into the visuals. Take Heart of Darkness, add in a healthy dose of Out of this World, toss in E. Elias Merhige's Begotten for the icky, creepy, nearly unwatchable factor (note: don't actually watch this movie) and this is what would come out. It is surprisingly graphic for a two toned, teen rated game, as the child protagonist meets with all sorts of unpleasant and messy ends. My favorite is being crushed by giant stone traps: as the trap resets what is left of the child is stretched out like pulled taffy, only to snap upward and ooze back down as gravity takes over. These are deaths worth seeing, and they better be because they come quite often. Limbo is definitely a learn by dying game, so it is a good thing that there are no lives to lose and the checkpoint system in generous with its resurrection placement. Sometimes getting things to all line up correctly at the right time is more luck than planning which is definitely frustrating, but that does not happen too often. The difficulty curve is slow but steady, so I know that the last quarter of the game may take just as long to get through as the first three quarters. I am prepared for this, and have a few beers to grease the attempts.

I am not going to get into the 'is this worth the money' argument. It is pointless and completely subjective. Putting a dollar amount on entertainment is equally worthless. The real test is to ask yourself two things: Did I enjoy it? and Do I feel ripped off? I have completely enjoyed what I have played so far, and I cannot imagine that the last little bit is going to change my mind, and I certainly do not feel like I have been held hostage for my liesure time. So I do recommend it as a foreboding diversion from whatever else you are playing. Take a day or two and disappear into the nightmares of a small child, it was not as easy being that age as you remember.

Even without giant spiders and bear traps big enough to take off your head.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Grinding for torsos

Resonance of Fate continues to punish my flabby RPG skills. This time I broke a very old rule and sold a whole bunch of things that I did not think were good for anything. Not five minutes later, after starting a new chapter, someone asks for the very same mannequin parts that I sold off. It was uncanny. I spent the next thirty minutes grinding for torsos and I still haven't gotten back to where I was before. The one upside to this is that I feel a little over leveled now. This covers up my poor understanding of the combat quite well, but will only last for so long. Eventually I am going to have to learn how to kill things quickly and efficiently. Just not tonight.

Tonight (and tomorrow night, most likely) are dedicated to Limbo. I plan on running through it in one or two sittings without interruption and enjoying every minute of it. The fact that it is a densly packed five to six hour is a bonus. I will never complain about a developer trimming all the fat off of a game and leaving nothing but rock hard gameplay and atmosphere it its place. This is a lesson that many, many companies should learn *cough*Squeenix*cough*: that length and quality are not codependent. On the contrary, padding a game out to ridiculous lengths actually lessens what is already there. Final Fantasy XIII would have been a very good twenty hour RPG.

While I have retired from Street Fighting, I have had a difficult time giving up theory fighting. Watching other people play offers most of the thrills without the crushing self loathing that playing poorly causes. I can loathe other people instead, which is much healthier, and no one has to listen to me lose my shit over a head set.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

It's been that long?

I checked in on my PS3 to make sure it still worked, realizing that it had been over sixty days since its last use. There were still the Heavy Rain install files taking up space, and I played that game months after everyone else. There was an update, presumably to make way for Sony's pay service. If the big black obelisk (yes, I still have my launch PS3) ever becomes my day to day machine I could see springing for it, but until then I cannot justify another $50 a year for something with questionable benefits. Even the money that I spend on Xbox Live Gold is not entirely worth it, but it is on an auto-renew system and canceling it would take effort. Microsoft reaps the fruit of my sloth.


There is a piece to the combat in Resonance of Fate that I must be missing. It has been described as far too easy with spikes of absurd difficulty, but I am having a hard time with almost every encounter. The last battle I attempted last night put me face to face with five thugs, all wielding machine guns, and offered no cover. I am not sure if it is better to start using hero actions like there is no tomorrow or squirrel them away for their healing properties. Using the same bar, in fighting game terms, for offense and defense is an excellent idea, it just makes me second guess myself at every occasion. This does keep every battle tense, but I have a feeling that I should be steam rolling some of these guys and I just haven't figured out how to do it yet. Final Fantasy made me soft, and it is up to Tri Ace to break me down completely and build me back up into the strategic minded nerd I was in my youth.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Pleasant restrictions

I do not much care for labels like 'old school' and 'new school.' They are tools of the pretentious used to avoid being exposed to new, old or possibly challenging things. Knowing this, I still must describe the look and feel of Resonance of Fate as decidedly old school. It looks like what Final Fantasy VII might have been with better hardware; the backgrounds aren't pre-rendered, but there is no freedom in them either. It is nice to not have to manage the camera along with everything else. The obscurity of the combat, along with most other game mechanics, is also a throw back. Intentional or not, it adds a layer of forced discover missing from most other modern titles. Another three or so hours in and I am still enjoying myself, though a few chinks in the combat have begun to show. It is very, very difficult to salvage a battle after being pushed to the edge of defeat. After losing all of your hero points to either wasteful hero attacks or getting hit to often your offensive capability is so weakened that even running away is no longer an option. The characters limp around the battlefield, firing off a few pathetic rounds, looking back at you and cursing you for sucking so much. There is depth here that I do not understand yet, things that will assuredly keep me from dying as often, but until then I am quite relived that any lost battle can be re-attempted for a few measly coins.

Watch this:

Now go get your money ready. Don't whine about it being too short or two expensive. Do hem and haw about it being nothing than more than the platformer that Poe would have made. Just buy the game, reward this teams creativity. They are certainly less full of themselves than those douchbags (douchbag?) who made Braid, and their game looks to be better for it.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


Step into the way back machine with me and think back to Final Fantasy XIII. I recall being baby sat through the first two thirds of the game, shown how to do everything several time whether I needed it or not, and even then the training wheels didn't come of until the game was almost done. Resonance of Fate has taken the complete opposite approach: it doesn't tell you how to do anything unless you ask, and even then the instructions are terribly obtuse. There is no map to guide you through levels, no pop ups to tell you how to survive in combat, and no safety net to keep you from being slaughtered by enemies that you don't know how to beat. I walked into the overworld, blindly searching for my first objective, only to be nearly destroyed by a random encounter because I had not idea how to attack back. Only after wandering into the arena out of frustration did I find someone to explain the basics of combat. Even with the poorly translated instruction nothing was easy, but at least it was a start.

At first I was terribly frustrated. How dare a game not tell be what to do and how to do it! Then I remembered: this is how RPG's used to be. Role playing games used to have a much steeper learning curve, an almost impenetrable barrier between the casual gamer and their juicy insides. It has been so long since I have seen one that I forgot what it looked like. Once I got re-accustomed to thinking for myself Resonance of Fate became a welcome return to the RPG's of my youth. It is too early to tell if it is actually any good, but I like what it is trying to do, and I really like that it is not taking hours of time teaching me things that I should have to figure out for myself.

I suppose I should explain yesterday's sudden one sentence desertion from fighting in the streets. For the second week in the row my performance in the ranbat was embarrassing, being beaten soundly (and even not so soundly) but people that I had beaten in the past. My game has completely stagnated; all I have been doing is teaching people how to beat me and not coming up with anything new. There is a point right in between people who are good and everyone else that I have always occupied and it is a plateau that I have never managed to escape. I lack the dedication or skill to learn a new character, and I lack the self control to keep from screaming obscenities at the TV in the middle of the night. So that's it. It's just not fun anymore. Apparently being mediocre is not good enough for me, so I am hanging up the green balls for good.

Now when is that new Mortal Kombat coming out?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Increasing entropy.

There is only so much randomness that I can stand. If I enjoyed luck take precedence over skill I would play the slots at casinos instead of blackjack (which I don't actually do either, because I have no money). The same is true for games. I appreciate the randomness of games like Puzzle Quest; the way the gems drop is unpredictable and part of the game that you must be ready for. It is possible to be prepared for a bad drop and it will not destroy the match. Split/Second, on its final evening of play before being dropped bank in the mail in disgrace, took this chaos about three steps too far. Driving skill was no longer the determining factor of winning. Everything was subject to the whims of what heavy object dropped on who, and if it happened to bounce your way or not. Side note: it really seems that explosive barrels always push you towards the next thing that will kill you , regardless of how they were hit. If so, fuck them. It is possible to balance skill and random drops successfully. Mario kart games, Double Dash being the best, managed it. This is in spite of the damn blue shell always hitting the person in first place at the worst possible time. Imagine a game that is nothing but blue shells, only the computer gets them, and they only use them on you, and you have Split/Second. As soon as I lost sight of the opposing cars they stopped fighting one another, waiting for me to inch in front before dropping a damn dump truck on my hood.

Looks aren't everything, there has to be some brains there too, and Split/Second just doesn't cut it.

I got an interesting call yesterday from an old friend who is trying to put together a team to develop I phone games. He knows that I am not a programmer, not an artist, nor a very good planner or manger, but that I do play a shit load of games and have at least some idea about what is good and what is not. He wants to create an MMO for the I phone use, a hipster WoW, or something like that. Such a game may already exist, and I am quite sure that he does not understand the scope of what he is planning, but if I can pair him down to something a little closer to Guild Wars is scope and execution I think he may be on to something. The game must be playable in small groups for short amounts of time, but it should also reward marathon play. it is going to require a very minimal hud (the only thing that Split/Second got right), and it must be playable on a touch screen. Add all this together, pull the camera back to a isometric third person perspective, and you have multiplayer Torchlight, something that I would play no matter what I had to look at to do so. Throw in a dash of micro-transactions to allow those with money and no time to keep up, and it could work.

Now all we need are a producer, a few more artists, several modelers, a dozen computers, and someone with a great deal of money they don't need to fund us.

No problem.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Urge to kill rising

A good game, regardless of the setting, is consistent with itself and its own rules. Even totally fictional worlds where death can be cheated on a regular basis become believable when what happens the first time an action is taken works again the second time. What does this have to do with an arcade racing title like Split/Second? Even in a game where the laws of physics are given the finger in favor of over the top silliness that would make Newton (or your local insurance adjuster) blush the same rules should apply to everyone on the road. Moving at a too high a speed and taking a corner in a rear wheel drive car creates under steer, I understand this and adjust for it. It also slows you down significantly; again, this it to be expected. What drives me crazy is when I see an AI controlled car careening around a corner in an impossible line with no hit to speed or control. To put it more bluntly, the computer cheats. It cheats often, is blatant about it, and it do so because it has no other option. A race must be competitive to be enjoyable, but allowing the other cars to perform as if they had glue on their tires is not the way to do it.

After around thirty minutes on one race, a race that I eventually settled with a second place finish in, I realized that this is going to be even more short lived that I thought. While that have very little in common past cars going down a track, I have been irrevocably spoiled by Forza 3. In my mind no racing game, arcade or simulation, can compare to that experience. I know full well that when the new Gran Turismo comes out, parading around 3D visuals as its big improvement, nothing will actually have changed. Forza will still be the best racing game I ever played.

This does not bode well for the other racing game currently in my queue, Blur. As long as a few weeks pass between now and when I actually get to play it things will be fine, otherwise it could end up being a single evening event.

For the first time since I started paying in the PA ranbats I did not make the top eight and move on to the elimination round. There was a massive turn out, which caused my usual 2 and 2 record to put me just to far down the list to continue. It is frustrating, but at least I had a few good matches against a new Rose player. When Rose air throw Blanka out of an EX up ball there is nothing you can but cheer.

Not in my house, she says, I don't care how big your balls are and what you do with them.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A very quick diversion

One more Resonance of Fate has been postponed, this time by the unexpected arrival of Split/Second. This game reeks of the old Burnouts, which is much better than smelling of Burnout Paradise because it at least understands that it should not attempt to be more than it is. Split/Second is just a racing game; it doesn't try create a giant world to free roam through, it doesn't shove too much of a story at you (there is something about a Running Man style game show here, but it is easily ignored), but it does let me go really fast and blow a lot of stuff up. I really like the idea of earning the ability to use the environment against opponents, especially when that includes dropping buildings and airliners on them, but the way you earn these 'power plays' actually makes leading the race a severe handicap. Drifting nets the greatest bonus, but it also slows you down significantly, and the magic rubber band keeps the top two or three cars right behind you no matter how fast you are going. All of this put together leads to heart breaking last second losses. If it wasn't such a joy to see a giant boat slide off its dry dock, crushing six cars at the same time, I would not put up with it.

Split/Second also taps the same anal retentive vein of the old Burnouts in another way: I find it never difficult to move on to the next race before getting first on the last one. Tracks to reward memorization and harshly punish mistakes, so restarting a race three of four times before finding the right way to do it is not unusual. Even then, the evil randomness factor can crop up and you find yourself in last place for no discernible reason. This goes double with the other modes; I have decided that the events where a helicopter is firing missiles at you and the goal is to dodge them long enough to build up a multiplier and incredibly dumb, and are therefore exempt from the 'must be in first place' rule.

Yeah, that will work, I'll just keep telling myself that.

I do not expect to stay interested to make it through the entire 'season' of events, but it is fun for now. There really is only so much GO FAST DODGE STUFF that I can take, but at least Split/Second gets that right and looks good while doing it.

And it lets me restart a race when I screw up. Take that, Burnout Paradise!

Yes, I know DLC fixed this, but it was too little, too late.

Monday, July 12, 2010

(Non)surprise ending

Think back to when you saw Return of the Jedi for the first time. If it wasn't in the theatre, get off of my lawn, but keep reading. Remember how amazing the final duel between Vader and Luke was? Remember the moment right after Luke cuts off his father's arm and he is standing over him, mere inches away from ending his life, and you weren't sure what was going to happen next? Imagine that the projector exploded right at that point, the film goes dark for several minutes, and when you come back you find out that Vader won and Luke got gutted like a bitch.

Without the gory embellishment, this is almost what happened last night during the stream of the EVO finals between Daigo and Ricky Ortiz. Daigo, playing the part of sir lord Darth Vader, was looking good but not dominant over the rather effeminate sister kissing Ortiz. Just as things were getting interesting the stream cuts off and 30,000+ people sat at their computers going

Goodness, this is moderatly unpleasent.

only to find out that Daigo won anyway. This was not a surprise, but it would have been nice to see. All of my hopes dies when Gamerbee, an Adon player who no one outside of Korea and Japan had every heard of, lost to Mike Ross, and then Ross lost to the creepily pretty Ortiz. Either one would have had a better chance and at the very least would have been more interesting to watch. There was very little hype for the last match because most everyone knew how it was going to go. Now the Gamerbee vs Justin Wong match from Saturday was amazing. No one saw it coming, least of all Wong. I really hope Gamerbee has more staying power than Inthul (padlong) who didn't even make it out of the pools.

All of this streaming goodness has put back my starting Resonance of Fate by several days. Watching the top 32 on Saturday made skipping the finals impossible. It was worth it, though I feel sorry for the Eastern time zone who had to make it to after 1:30 am for a lackluster ending. Most of the EVO competitors are on a completely different level, one that I will never attain, but playing theory fighter in an IRC chatroom with dozens of people I have never met is almost as fun. It would have been nice to pass the time wasted by Tekken 6 with slot machines and booze, but I least I got some puzzle questing done in the mean time and I still have all the money that I started the day with.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

This shit writes itself

Best Chun Li gets a thigh master.
Best Ryu gets reminded that Daigo is still better.
Best Sagat gets beaten with a nerf bat.
Best Dhalsim gets put on a rack.
Best Vega and Zangief hook up in secret.
Best Dee Jay just doesn't care, 'cause 420 erredy.

Ok, that was pretty lame.

I gave up on watching the pools after around an hour last night. The stream was laggy and good matches were few and far between. One of the announcers described Evo as the Wrestlemania of gaming, and that would be true if he were only talking about Sunday night's finals. Friday and Saturday are like the weeks and weeks of Raws leading up to it: required viewing if you want to know whats going on, but really not very good.

I may be wrong about this, but I do not think anyone, even the top players, got passes out of the pools. Imagine sitting down at your first Evo, nervous as hell, and realizing that your very fist match was against Justin Wong or Daigo or Sanford. That would be like showing up at a public golf course for a drunken scramble and Tiger Woods was there, and he was on the other team. And then he started talking to your wife.

At first it would be an honor, and then you realize the you just got fucked, and you may not be the only one.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Not enough blood

Pardon me while I contradict most of yesterday's second paragraph.

I have heard my attention span described as completely unfocused and very fragile. This may be giving it too much credit; that fact that I have stuck to this for as long as I have is nothing short of a miracle. I thought that playing through the Deniable Ops missions would be just as enjoyable as the rest of the game. It was for a while, but there was a definate point where I went from serious as interested to no longer giving a shit. The only surprise was how quickly it happened; from one area to a next I completely gave up on it, running through levels without regard for stealth. Everything I said yesterday about the wonders of simulated violence is still true, but without some sort of narative to pull things along even killing people gets old. So I was wrong yesterday.

But I was right, too.

I am watching the EVO stream right now and the play from the pools is not that impressive. Most of the matches are one sided beatdowns with veterans beating up on new comers and hoping to not run into that one nobody who will embarass them. The Ken promotion, giving a cowboy hat to the highest placing Ken, is brilliant. There should be something like that for every charcter. Think about it:

Best Cammy gets a leotard.
Best Blanka gets some bananas.
Best Dictator gets a small country.
Best Guile gets told to go home and be a family man,

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Grotesque fantasy

The story of Splinter Cell Conviction has come to an end, Sam killed just about everyone, and I still have not had be fill of hiding in shadows and shooting people from behind. I also have no interest in delving into the co-op mode, as relying on strangers to behave in a civilized manner is never a good idea. There was one unexplained area in the menu called Deniable Ops that I opened up just before deleting my save. It is a very good thing I did, because it is filled with around six more areas, completely separate from the main game, all nicely furnished with enemies but free of political intrigue. There are all more of exactly what I am looking for, and are a little more difficult than what I have already done. Each area has ten thugs. If you can kill them without being seen, boffo for you, but if they catch you the number doubles and they are all on alert. Enemy placement is also varied, so dying on the last guy is not a free pass the next time. This is plotless fun, and it will not engage me for more than one night, but that is all I am looking for.

As much I like to puff my chest out and say that a good story trumps all in a game the simple joy of killing people cannot be denied. This is going to sound awful, and it probably is, but this little bit of grotesque fantasy is present in even the most innocuous of titles. Apart from most puzzle games and a handful of racing games, everything is about ending something elses existence. Video games have never gotten past that awkward middle school stage of playing guns in the backyard, they have just gotten less shy about showing its atrocities in great detail. Someday we may see the game equivalent of a romantic comedy, all dripping with useless social commentary and gratuitous kissing, but I really hope not. The last thing I want is to have another thing reminding me that I am goddamn old and that there are many more things that I can't or should not do than I can. So bring on the guns, violence, and social ineptness, I welcome the relief from the daily real life grind.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The government lies?

One day after I get done praising Splinter Cell Conviction for being more open and forgiving than I expected it to be it decides to devolve back to it roots with a linear 'be seen once and you fail' level. It was thirty minutes of trial and error, being spotted by guards who I didn't know were there, then jumping back a checkpoint and doing it all again. As a reward for surviving this half hour of bull shit I was finally given Sam's trademark goggles, only to be informed that everyone else had them too and that they knew how to use them better. Sure, they may be able to see through walls, but they have terrible aim and no peripheral vision, so killing them three at a time never really got any harder. I just didn't feel nearly as cool doing it.

This series of unpleasant turns also took it upon itself to punish me for not knowing who any of the characters are by referencing previous games plot points so fast that nothing made sense anymore. This is what I got: Sam's best friend, who was also his handler and commanding officer, learned of a threat to Sam's daughter from inside the agency so he fakes her death and hides her away, telling her Sam is actually the one who is dead. He never figures out who the mole was, never tells Sam the truth, and Sam actually ends up killing him for some reason. Oh, and there are massive, hidden organizations that want to kill the president and cover it up with EMP bombs that take out all the electronics in DC. This is how I imagine the plot outlines for the later seasons fo 24 look.

This is also why I don't watch 24.

I am slightly pleased with myself with last nights ranbat. That Ryu player from last week? I beat him in pools it an incredibly close match. He had his revenge later and knocked me out of the losers bracket by (in his words) 'burying me in salt' but it was still a move in the right direction. There was another Blanka mirror, and it ended the same exact same way as last time, but once again no one had any fun getting there.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Live, die and learn

Missed another day, and there is much to talk about.

Being new to Splinter Cell in general has insulated me from a lot of any plot silliness left over from the previous three entries. All I have gotten is that Sam Fisher is a bad ass and that you do not want to fuck with him, lest he choke you out and leave your broken body to rot as an example. It also is not really a stealth game, at least not compared to what the originals were. The first Splinter Cell had at least a few 'be seen once and the mission is over' sections which are what kept me away. That kind of draconian 'my way or game over' design does not appeal to me anymore. The best comparison I can come up with for Conviction is to the most recent Hitman, and I mean this as a compliment. The player is presented with situations that have multiple solutions, failure being one of them. If things go poorly the level does not end (most of them, anyway) and you have to deal with the results. Reloading from the last checkpoint is always still an option, but not required, so at least it is up to me to decide. I will say that if you manage to alert everyone in the area to your presense Sam is going to die. Even with the execute ability that automates several head shots at a time there are just too many dudes with guns to take care of. As awesome as Sam his, he does not take well to multiple bullet wounds from assault weapons. Then again, who does.

It is an incredibly disjointing transition, but platooning time between Conviction and Puzzle Quest 2 works well. After around two hours of tense sneaking around moving colored blocks back and forth is a welcome relief. I am still waiting for Puzzle Quest 2 to get difficult; in the mean time I am enjoying steamrolling goblins for minimal gain. Plus after five or six fights I am falling asleep anyway. I am sure there will be a fight or two that will require more retries and luck than anything else, but the random element is part of the charm. Getting killed in one round by some over powered giant is amusing in its absurdity; getting killed after fighting for thirty minutes sucks. I am sure both will come.

They are quite late, but I have most of my videos from last Thursday's ranbat uploaded to this channel: The most I learned was in this loss to Ryu:

To sum things up: I jump too much. I rely on jump ins for combos, which is why I eat not one, but two lp SRK into ultras. The Chun Li match is similar, only add to it forgetting how to do my ultra at the right time. Still, the loses were not blow outs, and that is a step in the right direction.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

It's raining gems, hallelujah, it's...

Going back through the last few hours of Nier was very much not worth it in any way beyond whoring out a few more achievement points. It humanized the shades a little more by translating their grunts and groans into angsty complaints like 'Why us?' and 'What did we do to deserve this?' Things were bleak enough without this little bit of insight. The second ending goes out of it way to try to give a happy ending to everyone, even the shadowlord, which again misses the point. There is nothing wrong with an action RPG being only twenty hours. This kind of time (and emotional) padding just lessens what was already presented.

Right after Nier I started up Puzzle Quest 2, and while I love the it to no end for scratching two very specific nerd itches at the same time (puzzle games and tweaking equipment ad nauseum), there are two odd problems with it:

#1. Every time I close my eyes I see skulls and falling gems. This is not a joke. The only other game that I remember doing this was Turok 2, and that was after around eight straight hours of corridor running. Eventually it goes away, but it is a little unnerving.

#2. The pace and music are so relaxed that it puts me to sleep. Quickly. I am going to try streaming some of my own tunes from my PC to mix things up, but playing this for more than an hour at a time just isn't going to happen. Puzzle Quest 2 is like a very good, very high proof beer: after two our three it's still fun, but passing out becomes more and more likely.

Splinter Cell Conviction is next on the list. This will be the first Splinter Cell I have ever played, so I will undoubtedly play in wrong. The only stealth game I have ever really enjoyed was Thief III, and that was only because I could create a rather large stack of unconscious guards and light them on fire. I did this whenever possible as a warning to remaining guards.

They never learned.

Which was fine with me.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Zero discipline

Thankfully the ranbat took quite a while last night, it put off trying to avoid going back to Nier for a few hours. When it was over jumping back into it was almost instinctual, before I knew what was happening the arcade stick was unplugged and the discs had been switched. Things really are moving quickly and I should be able to get the second ending tonight and be done with it. It better be worth it, or I'll, I'll... do nothing and move on to the next game, as usual.

Pool play last night found me sitting at 4-0 after four games, which was a first, and also somewhat misleading. One of my opponents stuck his secondary character (Juri) only to move back to his main to knock me into the losers bracket, the second was a Ryu who was still learning which end is up. The third and forth both switched characters after a loss when they should have stuck it out and kept going. Switching from Cammy to Juri was a mistake, as was moving from Dictator to Guile. They have no way of knowing what matches I am more comfortable with, but it did work out in my favor.

Once the double elimination section began it was all downhill. I was knocked out in two matches, which is sadly not unusual. I will say this about my two loses: I fell for less stupid shit than I usually do. Only once did I get caught by a focus anti-air, opting for an empty jump and throw instead. I also learned that against a good Ryu there is pretty much nothing Blanka can do to get out of a corner if he has no EX. It was ugly, but I will post the matches over the weekend anyway.

Apparently Ryu has a thing for hairy green guys. It doesn't surprise me.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The dreaded new game +

I have probably complained before about developers hiding things after the end of the game to artificiality extend play time *cough*FINAL FANTASY XIII*cough* so I won't go back in to it to far. Suffice it to say that Nier is quite guilty of this, offering up additional cut scenes and story about a specific character only if you play through the second half of the game a second time. The worst part of it is that I almost want to. I have been told that re-running through the end game will only take two hours if you skip all the side quests, which I pretty much did the first time anyway, but sitting in front of my TV are the new Splinter Cell and Resonance of Fate, both better games that I will not have to ignore significant parts of to enjoy, to say nothing of Puzzle Quest 2 which I have already downloaded and paid for. If they had only put this extra content into the game proper as opposed to hiding it behind the end credits it would be an easy decision. Retreading through the same areas again, after having seen them all twice in the main game already, is a tall task indeed.

Maybe I am getting more OCD as I get older and just want to see the rest of the story. Heck, I cleaned up the empty beer bottles and soda cans next to my gaming chair without being asked, surly that is a sign of something.

Nier's ending was strangely positive on the surface, something the game had not managed to be in any way up to that point. Look a bit deeper and you realize that the main character and his bizarre crew are actually evil in the eyes of the world, and that saving his daughter may have doomed all of humanity. It is very difficult to explain, and I am not even sure that I understand, but the 'human' characters are not human. They are just vessels built to hold human souls until whatever killed the people off goes away. The actual humans are the shades you have been killing for twenty odd hours, and your daughter is actually the shadowlords daughter. Oh, and the shadowlord? He is kind of you, but not really.

This convolution is worthy of Square. If only the production values were as well.

Thanks to the PA crew for Blanka advice. It is much appreciated, especially since I will be using what you have suggested against you.