Thursday, May 31, 2012

Now go away or I will taunt you a second time

Just when I thought Binary Domain was done poorly lampooning races the French showed up.



If only.

I had finally made it out of the second sewer level (one more than is actually required in all action games) when a buffoonish Frechman and his friendly robot showed up in a van. I really didn't want to get in, but there was no choice, as they had half the Japanese army chasing them. Following a terrible on rails shootout the Frenchman was dead and his friendly robot was now on my team. Cain is the opposite of HK-47: he is not cool, does not insult you, and does not give you dark side points for hanging out with him. He did at least have the decency to leave when the Chinese operative climbs into the angry American's lap for no good reason, and he has been the source of at least one courtesy chuckle, so I prefer him to Big Bo, if only because I would not be embarrassed for a someone to see me playing a game with him in it.

I wish I was making all of this up. It sounds like an Onion article, but I swear to you it all happened, and all of it interfered with what is turning out to be a pretty good shooter. I have changed my mind about the in game commands being a good idea because they never work, but not using them at all has not put me at any disadvantage. The one command that I have tried, 'Fire,' has been rebuked every time, even though that it what they were already doing. In spite of everything the game is doing, both on purpose and as a byproduct of laziness, is still fun. Is it excellent in any way? Of course not, but shooting things is difficult to make completely boring, and going in to a game with no expectations at all makes ignoring giant flaws much easier.

And just so I am being completely clear: no, I am not saying that Binary Domain is better than, say, Max Payne 3. What I am saying is that I was expecting total shit and got something passable, which is a win when your games played resume is as filled with clunkers as mine.

...

I think that may be the second time I have embedded that very same clip for a post, and I do not apologize.

Take my money!



Interesting.

Becoming a werewolf was a big part of the fighters guild quests and I never bothered to look into curing it. So will this make Dawnguard an Underworld style vampires vs werewolves thing?


And if so, will Kate Beckinsale be in it?


I actually have not seen any of these movies, but doing a Google image search for Kate is much more fun that doing the same for Robert Pattinson. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Real talk, or something like that

I am not easily offended. Everyone is entitled to their views, foibles and failings, and as long as they aren't lorded over me or beaten into me with sticks I am okay with everyone going about their daily business. The same is true for games. I am amused by games of poor quality, but rarely offended. Similarly, overt violence and the objectification of women usually have little effect on how much I enjoy a title. Racial stereotyping , though, for some reason always sticks in my craw. It really shouldn't, as more often than not what appears to be a negative portrayal of a given race is more ignorance about that race on the part of the people who made the game. Never attribute to malice what can be more easily ascribed to ignorance.

Binary Domain is not going to get that free pass. I have a hard time believing that anyone, in any country, thinks that anyone talks the way Big Bo (yes, that is his name) does. The closest comparison I can come up with is Barret from Final Fantasy VII. He is comic book ghetto, and it doesn't end there. The player character is a over confidant, loud, destructive, smooth but awkward with the ladies cowboy, the British characters are an uptight git and manish looking woman, and the Chinese sniper looks like she was poured into her jump suit and can't pronounce her L's. These tropes do not bother me because they are racist, because they are not. They bother me because they are profoundly lazy.

Gritty, realistic, or 'urban' characters do not need to be this shallow. Take Cole from Gears of War. Obnoxious? Sure, but that was not the extent of his character. He has a history, motivation, and is like-able, all in the limited context of a game about killing things. Characters do not need to be cardboard cutouts or national stereotypes. With a little time and effort (and actual writing ability) that can be memorable, so when they die or betray you (spoiled this for myself when browsing You Tube) it will actually mean something.

Once I get past all of that, Binary Domain is not a bad cover based third person shooter. It get points for trying to include voice commands as part of the game, a few more points for making them optional, then loses them all for the non-voice related choices not making any sense. All the NPC's have a very RPG style like/dislike meter; the more they like you the greater the chance that they will actually follow any given order. As levels progress each gets his or her own soliloquy and you need to decide how best to respond. Herein lies the problem: the responses you are given to choose from do not always make sense, usually boiling down to Yes, No, and random profanity. This makes building a rapport with any of them a guessing game at best.

Not shooting them helps, but how else I am going to get them to duck.

I do like the so far unexplained rash of robots who think they are people all showing up at the same time. It of course makes me think that one or more of the characters in my party are robots, so I am preparing for a betrayal/showdown by always lagging behind so I can shoot any one of them in the back if necessary. There was just a touch of effort put into the story here, too bad they couldn't come up with better people to put in it.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

It can't come soon enough

How can I not be excited about the next batch of hardware with videos like this floating around:



Now if Crytek could make a good game to go with their engine...

Monday, May 28, 2012

Like an excel spreadsheet with swords

I almost feel bad for writing off Dragon's Dogma after only two evenings of play, especially since Chance pointed out that I play games like Venetica on purpose and to completion. Dragon's Dogma also sits right in my wheel house of action RPG's and I was hoping it would be a good time sink like Amalur. There were a few 'issues' that I could not get over. These aren't really problems, because I can certainly see how some people might enjoy the very quirks that drove me to shut it down last night.

Dragon's Dogma has no anchor, no single story line that keeps things grounded even when I am wandering through the wilderness killing rabbits for a pointless quest. Skyrim had hundreds of side quests, but no matter how many there were the primary objective was always listed first so if I ran out of other things to do I could always go back to the main story. Dragon's Dogma, after six hours of play, still had no main quest, or if it did it certainly didn't tell me. I made it to the first major town, following the standard red marker on the world map that designates where I am supposed to go, and once I finished that there was no guidance, no second quest in the main story to keep things moving. I visited a notice board to pick up side quests, and all but one were silly, 'kill a dozen of this monster' jobs, most of which were for areas that I hadn't been to yet. The one that had a set destination was an escort mission to an unexplored area of the map. Desperate for something to do, I took it.

After around thirty real time minutes of walking I got close to my destination, only to run into a goddamned dragon. The dragon killed my entire party with little effort, so I knew that I was somewhere that I was not supposed to be, but there was no clue that I wasn't supposed to be there until I had engaged in a hopeless battle. Dragon's Dogma also only has one save spot, so I was forced to try to sneak around the dragon over and over until I finally got to the end of the quest. It was another town, the person I was guarding left, but I was not allowed to enter the town. Again, I was not supposed to be there yet but the game hadn't bothered to tell me.

Then I had to walk back. No fast travel hear, and walking back was some how worse, as I was ambushed by wave after wave of bandits. It was too difficult, but worse than that it was boring. There was no story in Dragon's Dogma, nothing to anchor the wandering to. All that was left was exploring and watching numbers go up, which for me at least is not a very good time. The game's way of motivating the player was so different than its western counterparts that I could not relate to it. This is a shame, because once I figured out the pawn system trying out new pawns was fun and armor and clothing system actually made sense. Without a main quest the roll playing is removed from the action roll playing game, which also means that it just isn't much fun.

...

I need something terrible to play. Binary Domain should do the trick.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Cute excuses

Been a busy two days, and it has nothing to do with gaming. First, in a totally none game related note, I am rather tired because this showed up at my house:


She looks peaceful there, but she certainly did not like be crated last night when I went to bed. She also barked at the TV when I was trying to play Dragon's Dogma, which may not be a bad thing. This dog could be the new official 'video game bullshit detector.' More on that in a bit.

I tried to start playing Dragon's Dogma on Friday night and got all of a half an hour in. It is not often that a game overwhelms me; I like to think that I have seen just about everything in one form or another since I started out playing Adventure on my 2600. Dragon's Dogma manages to confuse me by through lack of explanation and poor translation. These pawns, are they permanent party members? Should I spend money equipping them? Why do I not have a quest most of the time? I have to equip clothing and armor (side note, I really like this, it just took be until last night to figure out why my fighter looked like the gimp, I forgot to put a shirt on him)? What is this little 'online' area where I can browse other pawns and hire them?

And why the hell is the screen so crowded?

I gave up, got another beer, and watched Immortals. Immortals was terrible and I should not have wasted my time with it.

Last night, once the new dog stopped barking at the TV, I spent a few more hours figuring things out. Even once I had filled in all the gaps in knowledge and turned off most of the party chat the game was brutally difficult. My little cadre of a fighter and two mages was thrown up against fucking alligators with spears. It turned out just as ugly as you would expect, taking a half an hour of retries to get past. This netted me enough money to cover my shame by buying a shirt. This progress lasted any hour until another encounter coupled with questionable AI path finding (and a whining puppy) forced me to call it a night.

Dragon's Dogma confuses me. It is Capcom's take on Skyrim and Amalur, but I have no idea if it is any good or not. I don't think it does, either.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Shiny and old

Watch this:



That. is. Delicious. It is several different flavors, every one of which is guaranteed to bring money leaping out of my wallet. It looks to be one part Unreal Tournament low-grav instagib capture the flag, a specific game type that I loved when I was a younger man with faster reflexes, and of course Trackmania, a game that actually improves my feelings about people in general, as most of the user created tracks are seriously awesome. There was actually quite a bit of user created content in UT, everything from skins to entire levels, so the idea of a game that makes this easier, indeed, it is the whole point, makes me want to try my hand at building a few things.

The collectors edition of UT 2004 came both with a level editor and a tutorial video on how to use it. Well shit, I thought to myself, how hard can it be? I never made it past watching the videos, but the intention was certainly there. I actually have more free time now than I did then, so if I could sum up the discipline and patience to, well...

So I am very much looking forward to what the community comes up with. Trackmania 2 just barely runs on my current dog of a machine, and since this looks like it is using the same engine I should be okay, whenever it decides to come out. Not even the internet bogie man of 'Ubisoft DRM' is enough to scare me away. The point of this game is to shoot other living people, so if an internet connection is required at all times I will not be offended. At least I won't find myself killing bots by mistake.


Look at me, I am excited for a game, a PC game at that. That makes three PC games (this, Grim Dawn and Torchlight 2) that I actually want to play. This is not good. I have a new generation of consoles to worry about in a year or two. This required the hoarding of monies as soon as possible. A new computer is simply not in the cards.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

I'm really not that mad

Time to cleanse the palate.

There is something very important that I do not understand about Asura's Wrath. It's a brawler with an occasional bit of Panzer Dragoon on rails shooting thrown in and a hefty does of Dragon's Lair style quick time events. That I get, and while it is little more than a jigsaw puzzle game the bigger picture does not offend me. What confuses me is the way the game is chopped up into five or ten minute pieces, as if the physical disc is a complication of a years worth of downloadable mini-games.

Each act is divided into chapters and each chapter has further breaks, usually right before something exciting is about to happen. It feels like the lead up to and follow up from a commercial; when the game comes back it runs through the prior five second again, only instead of making a trip to the kitchen to grab more chips I have been sitting on my couch for all of six seconds getting annoyed by this interruption. I think that Capcom is trying to create the feeling of interactive anime, but all it really does is destroy the game momentum.

This is really a shame, because if there is one thing that Asura's Wrath does well it is show that you really, really don't want to piss Asura off. Get him mad enough and he grows more arms. Beating the first, planet sized boss cost Asura the extra arms along with his original two, so he fought the next boss with his head and feet. He is an emotional steam roller without a single fuck to give whose only weakness is the framework of the game that he has been saddled with. He also bears a passing resemblance to Kratos, just without the whole 'I killed my wife and kids' baggage.

...

Thanks to Chance for entertaining my venom about Max Payne 3. This exchange was good; it is a reminder that any game, no matter the quality, can bring different reactions out of different people. A wonderful medium, these video games. I will need to make an effort to play more current titles and see if we can cross paths again.

Dragon's Dogma, perhaps?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Everybody doesn't die

The House finale was not as depressing as it could have been, but it was also not as good as it should have been, which leaves me in the perfect mood to discuss the ending sequence of Max Payne 3: slightly annoyed and full of self loathing.



Actually, I am going to take two steps back and talk about what I really liked about the game. While I do not feel that the way the game looks or plays compares favorably to the first two titles, I must say that  the story itself, one of betrayal and depravity and a fat, bald gringo killing lots and lots of people, fits Max quite nicely. It is not the same as the more personal tale of vengeance from the second game, but it does take the character in a logical direction. Max moves from an alcoholic malaise to being really, really pissed off and sober by the time it is done, and this works so well because Max is written and voiced perfectly. I will not say that the writing is good, because in places it almost intentionally bad, but it is completely appropriate. Max talks to himself like a modern, gun toting Popeye the Sailor, telling the audience what he thinks and what he is going to do with as many metaphors as he can cram into a sentence.

Spoilers incoming.

The airport sequence did not change my mind about the cover system. It actually got worse, as enemies seemed to have gotten smarter and camped out behind bullet proof luggage carriers, refusing to pop out until I did so first, then shooting me for doing so. I recall one particularly annoying section, a two tiered area full of conveyor belts. I had enemies camped out on the catwalks, just waiting for me to lean out and take a shot or grab some ammo. It was too congested to run or jump, so it turned into a waiting game. A waiting game where my choices were wait, die, or just maybe get lucky. This was not a good time.

There was one shining moment, though, right at end before one final (boring) rail shooter segment. Max had a luggage train for cover and at least a dozen or so guys surround him. After killing those a jeep arrived full of more, and the entire time someone is lobbing grenades at you. It was frantic; I had to move constantly, pick and choose when to duck behind cover, kill enemies quickly and accurately and manage my ammo and bullet time. It was easily the best set piece encounter of the whole game, and I did it on the first try. It was not easy, but it was fair. Enemies were held to same rules as I was. It was all so wonderfully cramped that shoot dodging worked exactly the way it should. I was not getting sniped by enemies that I could not see, I was not running into chest high walls, I was killing mans in slow motion, and for the first and only time everything clicked all at once.

I wish it had done this more often. I did not start our with the intention of disliking Max Payne 3, but I certainly held it to a higher standard than the usual dreck I play. Perhaps this is not fair, as Remedy has nothing to do with this game. If I think of it more as Rockstar's modern interpretation of someone elses work I am slightly less disappointed.

Slightly.

Still, fuck the cover system. If I wanted that I would play the new Ghost Recon game, whenever that comes out. Which I won't.


Monday, May 21, 2012

Liked Titan Quest?

Of course you did.

Enjoy playing single player games without a required internet connection?

Again, of course you do.

You will want this. I know I do.


 Between this and Torchlight 2, who needs Diablo 3.

The sins of Max Payne 3

It's time to pull my slacks up over my navel, hitch up my suspenders and tell the damn kids to get off my lawn.

1. The cover system - I made light of the cover system on Friday by saying that it doesn't mesh well with the main character as he has been portrayed in his past two games. This is a silly, but valid, argument. A less pithy reason to hate the cover system is that is completely changes what kind of game Max Payne 3 is. The first two games were fast paced shooters. There was cover there in the form of doors and walls to hide behind but the games lacked the conveniently placed, chest high bullet proof obstructions that are a current genre staple because no one had done it yet. Cover based shooting is not a bad thing; I really like Gears of War, but Gears was designed around cover based shooting and I expect to sit behind a wall and wait for just the right moment to stick my head out. In Max Payne 3 I want to run into the fray, guns blazing, then throw myself into the air and kill five men before I the ground. I can't, and here's why.

What is the best way to force the player to use all the chest high obstructions? Make the enemies do too much damage, have better aim than the player and begin their attack from so far away that by the time Max gets into the more intimate fighting space he is familiar with he is missing both his arms and all his legs. The game forces you to hide or die. It doesn't feel like Max Payne, it feels like another third person shooter, albeit a very good looking one. Unfortunately, when judged as just a third person shooter there are still problems.

2. The slow motion dive doesn't work - Think back to Max Payne 2. Pick out one specific moment of game play that you remember, and I guarantee it has Max diving around a corner in slow motion, hand guns wielded akimbo, shooting people in the face. Max Payne 3's dive gets you killed far mare often then it creates memorable moments. The dive animation is animated much better now, allowing Max to interact with objects in the world as he falls, but bumping into these objects pulls him out of the dive and ends bullet time. There are also a lot more things to bump into the cover system that shouldn't be there in the first place. Diving from cover to cover also doesn't work, as Max take forever to stand from a dive and if he didn't happen to land behind something then he will be dead before he gets back to his feet, and if you do manage to land behind cover Max wont go from laying on the ground to in cover, he has to stand up and get shot first.

3. Aiming through the scope of sniper rifles reverses the thumb sticks - Let's assume that I can forgive the cover system and broken dive and just play the game like I would any other pretty looking but otherwise mediocre shooter. Since enemies appear at the very edge of where I can see them so often using a weapon that I can hit them with at that distance sounds like a good idea. And it would, but for some reason when aiming through a scope the stick that used to move Max now moves the aiming reticle. Years of gaming have programmed my thumbs: left thumb = move player, right thumb = aim. Changing this is just pointless. Changing it for just two weapons is asinine. I had better luck with my handgun at long range that the sniper rifle.

4. Cut scenes change which weapon you are wielding - Max can only old three weapons: two one handed and one two handed. In a very nice touch switching from the two handed to one handed load out does not make your shotgun or rifle disappear: Max continues to hold it in his off hand. I prefer the two handed weapons and almost always have that selected, but every time there is a cut scene he switches back to a hand gun. I think I know why they did it: to force the cut scenes to be consistent with what weapons Max has at the time, but at the very least they should put it back the way it was when the cut scene is done. Changing weapons takes time, time that I then have to spend hiding behind cover or getting killed.

Cut scenes will also pull you out of cover and put you in harms way. With the wrong weapon.

5. Enemies take an obnoxious amount of damage to kill - A head shot should kill. Not two or three. Not five. Unless of course you are in a rail shooting segment. Then they die from grazes to the arm.

A harsh and petty list? Of course, but I went in expecting one thing and got something else entirely. The name on the box make a difference. Taking an established, well liked game and character and slapping a large number on the end is a big responsibility. Rockstar has not pulled it off.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Where are my painkillers?

Hey look, I am playing a current game! A game that came out this week even, and it's a game that I actually wanted to play and did not end up on the list because it had an interesting name or because I saw a picture of it in a magazine once! Cool!

So why am I in such a bad mood?

Max Payne 2 is, to put it mildly, a masterpiece. The first game was good, of course, but the second hit at the intersection of traditional shooter design and new technology, creating a game that looked better than anything else available and played just as well if not better. This was also right near the height of my affair with PC gaming, and I had the time and the discretionary funds to build a worthy rig, so I was able to play Max Payne 2 the way God intended: on a small monitor at high resolution, with head phones, controlled with a mouse and keyboard.


You heard me. Max Payne 2 is a PC title, born and bred, designed for the finest of all ways to control virtual violence: WASD on the left and a mouse on the right. The control scheme allowed Max to fly through the air in glorious slow motion, killing five or six other men before he even hit the ground. There was no cover system, Max laughs at cover. He takes a few painkillers and throws himself into harms way because the player controlling him could draw a bead on the bad guys quickly and accurately.

Mona Sax doesn't hurt, either.

Max gets his
I was excited last night while watching the first disc install. Max Payne, again, after so many years! The same intro music played, a melancholy series of chords followed by images of Max drinking heavily, and it was 2003 again. The comic scenes were gone, but the story cut scenes were just as overly dramatic and angsty as ever.

Then I had to shoot things.

Max Payne 3 is a PC game, and I respect Rockstar for keeping it that way. I am not playing it on a PC, and my tried and true mouse and keyboard have been replaced by clumsy thumbs on a chunky controller. A controller makes aiming with accuracy while moving next to impossible, and Rockstar knew this, so they have included a very forgiving auto aim feature: pull the left trigger while in bullet time and Max automatically aims at the chest of the closest guy. Pull it again and he moves to the next. This works for a while, though it isn't at all satisfying, and later you run into guys wearing a tanks worth of body armor that you need to shoot in the head. Good luck with that, especially when most encounters take place at a much greater distance than they used to.

Rockstar has leveraged some significant technology here, and just like Remedy did with the second game Max Payne 3 looks really, really good when compared to other games in its generation. But in their rush to use what is new and shiny they have lost the feel of the old games. In Max Payne 2 encounters were close up an brutal, partly because they were more fun that way and partly because (I assume) that is what the game engine would let them do. These restrictions are gone now, and Rockstar is free to create gigantic areas that look amazing but have enemies that start so far away that they are difficult to see much less take aim at and kill. The balance between technology and the game itself is gone; Max Payne 3 feels like a tech demo.

And don't even get me started about there being a cover system. Max doesn't use cover, he kills people. Max isn't that skinny douchebag from Uncharted or that beefy douchebag from Gears of War, he's mother fucking Max Payne. He slows done time itself at will using only whiskey and his limitless ennui for power.

I am beside myself with disappointment. It also pains me to say that running out and spending $Texas on a new computer would not fix all if it. Yes, I would be able to control Max the way the a game without auto-refilling health demands (Rockstar got that right, that God), but it still would not 'feel' right. Too much time has passed, too many other games have used bullet time, and too many tropes of current shooters have been included to appease people who may not even know who Max Payne is or why he is so depressed.

Max Payne 2 was the right game at the right time. It may have been the first 'modern' shooter. Max Payne 3 is none of that.

PS: Fuck you, Microsoft, for not letting developers include mouse and keyboard controls on your console.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A ninja by any other name

I will admit that after a third day of play Ninja Gaiden 3 has started to grow on me. In spite of a limited cast of goons to kill, boring environments, using the same weapons the same way from beginning to end and a terribly inconsistent difficulty curve, the last level or two have been fun. There are one or two very abusable moves (dodge and juggle into izuna drop) that will get me out of most situations. Death can still come quickly if poor Ryu Hayabusa gets surrounded, juggled, the abused in carnal ways by guys that appears out of nowhere, but I must have caught on at least a little bit to what the game is doing, because that doesn't happen nearly as often as it used to.

I stopped at what must be the penultimate save point last night because I know exactly how the final boss is going to go. There is going to some trick to not getting killed in one hit, a trick that will not become obvious until I have died a dozen or so times, and once that trick is discovered and that boss dealt with he will change forms and all hell will break loose. Ninja Gaiden 3 insists on taking itself seriously even when Ryu is plummeting through shadow dimensions or leaping from jet to jet in a clear violation of anything that makes sense. It would be a much better game if it let go of this pretense and embraced the fact that most of what is happening is not only bull shit but hilarious bull shit. 

Does anyone else remember Ninja Blade?



(I had to go through my full achievement list to come up with the name. Apparently 2009 was a million years ago. Also, no one played it.)

Ninja Blade is the exact opposite, theme wise, of Ninja Gaiden. It wasn't terribly difficult, certainly wasn't innovative, but god damn it was a good time. Ninja Gaiden 3 would be much less terrible if could pull its thumb out of its ass and put its tongue in its cheek instead.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

My hesitance has been validated

There is certainly much humor to be had at the expense of Blizzard and Diablo 3, mostly because it is a problem entirely of their own creation. Blizzard decided to require an online connection at all times, both to prevent piracy and because significant portions of the game do not actually exist on the user's computer. As a way to keep people from duping items and ruining the 'economy' it will work very well, as long as their servers are up to the task.

Oh yeah, about that, their server were not up to the task and quite a few people could not actually play yesterday. These were angry, internet people who have taken their revenge the best way they know how: intentionally sabotaging Diablo 3's metacritic ranking. Right now it is at a 3.6, but I got a screen shot of it at a 3.3. These are of course meaningless numbers, but there are no more or less meaningless than any other form of internet rage. When people pay their money to play a game and can't, what do you expect to happen?

I have seen opinions defending Blizzard as having done nothing wrong and others that swear they will never buy another Blizzard game again (until the next expansion). The truth is of course somewhere in between. Blizzard has not made a single player game, they have made a multi-player game that you can play by yourself if you want to. Think Guild Wars, but with a fixed isometric camera. This is of course their option, but is also brings with it the responsibility to have all their shit in order for the day that boxes actually hit store shelves. Clearly they did not, but since there is not a subscription fee players are technically not owed anything because they have lost nothing of monetary value.

Yes, I am saying internet rage has no value.

It is nice to be looking at this from the outside, from the safer confines of my console games that can be played from a bomb shelter with a gas generator if need be, but it is only a matter of time before Microsoft and Sony begin to levy similar online requirements. The idea is sound and I am not offended by it (because I don't steal games), but they need to have the infrastructure ready before rolling it out for the public to hate and cut to pieces. No company, not even Blizzard, has an unlimited ban of positive public opinion. They certainly spent a lot of it yesterday, I just hope that the game behind it is actually good.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Trollin' trollin' trollin'

I swore that I would not purchase Super Street Fighter 4 AE for a third time. Even as the casual (read that as people close to my skill level) players migrated over to the new PC version I resisted. It took dipping my toes back into Xbox live to find that the only people left are people who feast upon scrubs like me to finally convince me to migrate platforms. That, and I already had to buy a new headset for my computer, what was thirty more dollars for a game to use them with.

The skill difference between PC and Xbox players is astounding. There are of course killers out there, but in the three hours I played on Saturday night I ran into one or two of them and player after player who just did not know how to block or what to do if I blocked their attacks. I will never say that I am good at this game, but I have figured out that eight times out of ten the best thing to do on wake up is nothing. One of those other times the right thing to do is mash crouch tech (not really) and and two thirds of the last time are to back dash or fadc back dash. That last little quarter of a time is the right time to do something, and that is only if the other player as committed to something that you know you can punish.

I fought a Ken who would try to cross me up every time he knocked me down. Ken might have a safe jump for this, but if he does then this guy was not using it, because I caught him with EX electricity every single time. Another person kept trying to jump in on me with Ryu, but at the wrong distance, so I was able to either trade or anti-air him cleanly every time, and he kept doing it. Then there was a Ryu whose first reaction on seeing Blanka holding down back was to spam crouching jabs. This is Street Fighter X Tekken, son, jabs are good but not that good. I got my spacing right and traded crouching fierce punches with his jabs for nearly half his life before he did something else.

Then I tagged him with a random horizontal ball just to be a dick.

To be fair, the few people that were good were really, really good and completely destroyed me, but it felt good to control the flow of a match with a mid tier character again. The game does not run as well as I would like, cementing the idea that my rig is just not up to challenge Diablo 3 (that's my excuse and I am sticking to it), but it runs will enough. I just hope people don't quit on this now that SFxT has come out for PC.

(they won't, SFxT is just not as good as anyone hoped.)

...

Ninja Gaiden 3 is not good, but not for the same reasons that I disliked the previous two. I have never enjoyed Ninja Gaiden's brand of difficulty, but 3 has taken that difficulty and tempered it with an incredibly cushy health gaining mechanic. As you fight you build your magic bar. At the end of a fight any unused magic fills your life back up, but using your magic also fills your life, so hoarding it is pointless. The combat itself isn't any easier, so I end up fighting to fill my magic bar instead if fighting to stay alive. Add to that a total lack of skills progression and about three weapons and Ninja Gaiden 3 is a throw back to the kind of action games that no one wants to play anymore. It's boring and frantic at the same time.

I wonder if Tecmo misses Itagaki yet.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Dedication

I would like to highlight a blog that I just stumbled across while killing time on Xbox360Achiements.org. I don't normally look things up there, as in spite of what my somewhat large gamerscore would indicate I do not whore out for the 'cheevos. I was just curious as to how I would have gone about unlocking a few of the more poorly explained ones from NeverDead. Then I stumbled across the leader board and I just had to look. I had to see how my epeen stacked up against people who, instead of being naturally blessed, whip out the epeen peen-pumpers. You know, games that even I wouldn't play like The Price is Right Decades or anything exclusively for Kinect.

My number would put me at 312 out of a lot. Not bad, but nothing to write a blog post about. Now for number 1, and I will just put a link to his gamercard instead of typing out the number, because even I am not sure I believe it:

...and it's not loading. Okay, here is a link to his blog: http://www.1milliongamerscore.com/. I would post his score, but it keeps going up every time I refresh the page. Right now it is 716,400, but his is online right now playing some bullshit game I have never heard of. This man is dedicated, playing games out to their full 1000 points regardless or quality. Going through his list I can find a few here and there and that were so terrible that he didn't make it all the way, but those are more than made up for by the shear quantity of games he has played. This guy gets a full 1000 out of sports games, something that I have not managed since I milked NBA 2K6 for all it was worth for a contest (and have not done since).

Stallion83 doesn't play games, he plays and has won the meta-game, and I am a little jealous. There is a genuine possibility that he doesn't even enjoy games, but that the little popping noise an unlocked achievement generates gives him an endorphinal rush equivalent to a user's first time sampling heroin and he just never got around to stopping because really, who is he hurting. I am, at the very least, impressed by what he does. The next closest person is 16,000 points behind, and the third place gamer is over 100,000 away. Stallion83 is in the Guinness Book of Gamer Records (and yes, there is such a thing).

It almost makes me want to go back and play Syndicate a little more.

Almost.

Ha! comparing my list to his, I got more points out of NeverDead, way more out of Rayman Origins, and a ton more for Skyrim. On the other hand, he got 1000 points out of DreamWorks Kartz, a game that is used for enhanced interrogation.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

It is everything else

I must preface my reactions to Syndicate by saying that my contacts have been giving me a great many problems as of late. My eyes get tired very quickly, the lenses dry out, and everything looks like I have had that one extra beer after 'really drunk' that you know was a bad idea half way through but finished anyway. This is especially bad at night, and even worse when driving, as every street light or head light or any other kind of light is surrounded by huge amounts of light bloom. My whole world is an over used graphical effect.

On that note, play Syndicate and you will get an excellent idea of what looking through my tired eyes will get you. Every light in every room is liberally 'enhanced' with light bloom. This is only cool the first time, then I realized that enemies were hiding in that light bloom just like Han Solo coming in out of the sun. They could see me before I could see them, and you can't take a whole lot of damage in Syndicate. It's no simulation, but the main character is no Master Chief, either. I end up using bullet time (that's what it is, no matter what the game calls it) every time I walk into a new room just so I don't get murdered before my eyes can adjust.

This one complaint aside, Syndicate is a pretty good shooter. I have no idea if it stays true to its namesake as I never played it, but I will say that it looks and feels like Blade Runner, the action game, minus all the depth and existential crises. Okay, maybe more like The Fifth Element, the shooter, without Lee Loo.



Ok, not that either, but it gets the sci-fi look down. Oh, it's Deus Ex, the shooter! Wait. Damnit.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

What not to do

It took a good half an hour to get over the end of Monday's House (read: stop being all depressed and sulky). Playing through to the end of Neverdead did not help, as it stays true to most other Japanese action games and thrusts a last boss at you that is, at first blush anyway, so difficult that I almost wanted to stop playing. Then it decides that no, that wasn't the final boss, but this is. Psyche! That was just his first form, now fight him again with more hit points and faster attacks.

This is not meant as a indictment of all Japanese developers, but these are things that we, the gaming populace, should have left behind years ago. Being difficult is fine, but suddenly making jumping an integral part of staying in one piece when it has never been before (and you the character's jump sucks) does not equal a good time. I feel that Neverdead validates my action game formula:

Are you having fun right now?

No, then wait two minutes. Are you having fun now?

No, then turn it off.

Please note that having fun does not necessarily mean that the world is exploding and you are killing a zillion bad guys, but it does mean that the moments between the action-y bits need to be just as enjoyable as the action-y ones. It also means that boss fights should never drab on because you either can figure out what the hell to do or because you have figured out to do and just need to do it until your hands hurt. By this 'are you having fun right now' metric Neverdead fails almost constantly. The action is good, sometimes, but then the not action parts are hampered by unlikable characters and the boss parts are either too hard to long. When the stars align and it is it enjoyable it just doesn't last long enough.

This is not an impossible standard. God of War managed it five times if  you count the hand held versions. Devil May Cry got there almost every time. So did Bayonetta. Honestly, so do the Call of Duty games.

For some people, Demons' Souls does, but those people are crazy.

And in case anyone in the gaming production world is reading this (they aren't) here is how to fix it. When the game is mostly bug free but not quite finished hire a bunch of fresh testers. Pay them minimum wage and drop them in front of your game surround by one way glass. Then watch them. No exit interviews, no questionnaires, just watch. If most of them are leaning forward, blinking less, are visually anxious and excited, then you have a finished product. If not, start the stop watch. If they still look board after two minutes, it's time to start over.

...this is why I don't actually make games. I have no idea how it really works.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Don't over think it

I had all sorts of interesting things to say, then I sat for an extra hour in Chicago waiting for a plane. Honestly, anything nice and creative was sucked out just getting to Chicago, spending two nights in hotel room just sealed the deal.

Let's if I can remember any of them...

Nope, and now House is on.

...

Commercial. I played Rock Band at appropriate volume for the first time in quite a while on Sunday. It started as just a little way to pay homage to the untimely passage of MCA by screaming Sabotage as loud as I could, but after that I couldn't stop. I pulled out the guitar and played for over an hour, smiling like an idiot the entire time. My affection for this genre has already been espoused ad naseum, as has my disappointment in its being milked to death. But the truth is it never went anywhere. Harmonix has put out new downloadable songs every week since the first game came out. My math may be out, but that is over two years. There are still massive holes that will never be filled by Jimmy Page is an ass hat who hates money, but if wanted to press buttons in time to music I could have at any time. Instead I have played terrible game and complained about them, then beat my head and hands against fighting games that I will never be not terrible at.

I have asked this before: why do I play games? There is the achievement meta-game, but even with an gamerscore of over 130,000 I have still have at least one person on my friends list that has me beat. I do enjoy playing things that no one else plays, but that so often leads to subjecting myself to games like Neverdead that I am beginning to question if that is worth it. Yes, almost everything gets played eventually, but does the bad really make the good that much better?

Apparently spending this much time alone, sober, and watching one of the last episodes of House makes me more introspective. Feh, as soon as this episode is over it is back to Neverdead, which has managed to turn itself around from terrible terrible to terrible reasonable. Better than nothing, I suppose.

...

Oh, and on a completely unrelated note my rental car is a Chevy Malibu. It is a terrible vehicle full of blind spots and I am not looking forward to driving it again tomorrow.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Take my head, please

I knew that Neverdead was bad, being an avid consumer of Zero Punctuation's brand of snark, but even Yahtzee's venom could not prepare me for what I played last night. They had one good idea: the main character is immortal but not invincible, meaning that he can be torn limb from limb and put himself back together to finish the fight. This is a good idea. I like this idea, especially when taken as an avenue for humor instead of badassary as Neverdead has tried to do. It all goes horribly wrong, though, when the game decides that since the main character an separate have both his arms and all his legs removed from his torso it should happen as often as possible. Nearly every hit breaks the hero down into a pile of quivering limbs, and just to keep things 'interesting' there a little monsters whose entire job is to eat your head as it rolls around looking for the rest of its body. They don't kill you, but you are trapped in the stomachs forever.

An immortal protagonist should never have to deal with a game over screen, and they screwed it up. Oh, and there are escort missions, and if you charge is killed them game ends. Sounds a little like Knights Contract, doesn't it? I actually think this is worse, because in Knights Contract the person you had to guard could actually take care of herself. In Neverdead she is both worthless and annoying, so even though I really want to let her get eaten my each and every demon that shows up I can't. Apparently the death of annoying female eye candy is just to much for our hero, forcing him to give up his immortality out of guilt.

...

I just looked up the game on GameFaqs to see how much more of this I am going to have to deal with. No only can I not find a good answer but there are no FAQs written and nothing it the question/answer section. I don't think I have ever seen that before.

Friday, May 4, 2012

It is finished

Amalur came to a mostly satisfying end late last night in a hotel in St. Paul. I have found that spending just a little bit more and planning ahead not only nets nicer hotel rooms but nicer hotel rooms that have modern televisions with HDMI inputs. I hit the level cap a good five hours before the final quests and was skipping things left and right, so I am sure there are several hours worth of content that I did not see. That is what the developers get for placing an artificial cap on how powerful a character can be. Yes, I could have visited a fateweaver and any time and reallocated all of my ability points, but why keep a person who has the time to burn from creating an obnoxiously powerful character? Maxing out a character and finding way to break the game are half the fun on an action RPG; a level cap this low kills any post-main quest play.

To be fair, Skyrim has a level cap as well, but I played that for about fifteen more hours than Amalur and didn't hit it. This summers expansion will hopefully see this cap raised, but even if it doesn't the content in Skyrim is good enough to carry the game past increasing imaginary numbers. Amalur never gets that far.

Back on topic, there aren't many boss battles in Amalur, so when a dragon shows up for the last one I was excited. Then it turned into a gimmick battle where I never actually fought the dragon, only the monsters it summoned, and the shine quickly wore off. I will archive my save, just in case there is another game in this series, but I will certainly not hold my breath for it.

...

Rumor: Harmonix working on new kind of rhythm game.

Yes.


Explanation: Harmonix seems to be working on a motion controlled music game for next generation consoles, with combat, explorable environment, and a strong narrative element.

No. No.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Powerful consistency

It feels like Amalur is coming to an end. I am all of two levels away from the level cap and have unlocked every useful thief/assassin skill. There is only one corner of the map left undiscovered, and since it is the home base of the immortal bad guys I doubt it is going to be filled with random people offering fetch quests like every other square inch of the world. The only thing not wrapping up nicely is the story. Oh it might be, but I lost track of it thirty or so hours ago. The main quest was no more interesting than the multitude of side quests. It was not fleshed out with more than two or three characters and nothing much every really happens.

  • Our hero dies and is resurrected, thus separating him from his fate
  • Our hero meets a fate weaver who recognizes his potential and decides he should help in the fight against the evil, immortal fae
  • ?
  • Profit!
The ? is about forty hours of fun but inconsequential shenanigans. Amalur is an incredibly long short game, or maybe about five short games all stuck together. Still, it would be hypocritical of me to poke too much fun, as I have played it almost every day since I started almost a month ago. I am a sucker for the setting and mechanics and will fill in the blanks of story myself if what is offered does not excite. If the stealth and combat in Skyrim were handled this well it would have been the perfect game.

...

Traveling again over the next few days, today to Minnesota and next week back Kentucky (neither of which are my home state, and no, I am not telling). My Xbox has quite a few miles put on it, let's hope that the hotel rooms are up to the task. My new Windows phone is just not up to the task of keeping me amused.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Old games that never came out

Yesterday's picture post was a direct result of having nothing to talk about. Microsoft is an easy target and I will take just about any opportunity to remind people that Blinx was a real thing that actually happened. The Sony Smash Brothers game is also a real thing and only slightly less amusing than my fiction, though it has more to do with broken game play than a dearth of characters. Smash Brothers is not very complicated, but it worked very well as a part game. Playstation All Stars has left behind the stock and percentage system, opting to only allow a KO via super move. Getting knocked off the edge of the stage and beat to death is not enough, you are only eliminated by eating a super. This is not the first time health in a fighting game has been replaced by a race to power up an (more) over the top final attack. Remember this:



I played this shortly after it didn't come out and it was a mess. The actual fighting was bad enough, but watch how everyone runs away when someone builds up their finishing move. The game changes from fighting to running for your life, and the person doing the chasing has an unfair advantage. People who have gotten an early look at Playstation All Stars have also noted a disparity between how good character's supers are, which means that if you actually want to win there will only be a few viable choices.

So it is a blatant rip off of Smash, but doesn't actually rip off enough to be any good. To trot out a very old meme: lolSony.