Tuesday, July 31, 2012

How can you have your pudding if you don't eat your meat?!

I think Tales of Graces f is trying to tell me something. It has given me a deceptively deep combat system, full of dodging and attack attributes and enemies with multiple weaknesses and I have yet to take advantage of any of it. 'So, you haven't been paying attention?' it says, 'Fine. I am going to slowly crank up the bosses until they kick your ass for not hitting them with what they are weak against.' I ran through most of my precious item stockpile on a boss last night. The fight ended with two our of the four in my party dead. They did not get any XP and they stayed dead after the fight was done. It is teaching a tough lesson and I failed the the test.

The problem, and the reason that I have not been micro-managing my attacks, is that changing these requires venturing into several different menus. The game does you the service of allowing attacks and equipment to be changed mid battle but the procedure is arduous. First you need to target an enemy and find what it is weak to. Usually there are about four elements or attack types. You best write that shit down because all that info disappears as soon as that menu in closed. Next switch menus and browse through your extensive list of attacks, looking for a few that hit the correct weaknesses. No one attack will have all four so you end up mapping four different attacks to directions of the left analog stick. Best write that shit down, too. Are you ready? No? To bad, half your party is dead.

I feel strange complaining about a well thought out battle system in an RPG, but this one may have taken one too many steps in the general direction of Disgea. It features turn based complexity in a real time environment. I would be more annoyed is random encounters were also this difficult, but they are not. This madness is reserved for bosses and bosses only. My only choice will be to break out the spread sheet and slide rule for the next one and hope that I have enough phoenix downs (no, they are not called that here but you know exactly what I mean) to get me through.

...

Two more days to Deadlight. I know full well that I am going to be spending 1500 points on two or so hours of game. This is not the first time I have done this (Limbo, Journey) and it won't be the last. The entry fee does not really concern me, I only care about the experience and if I am going to remember it in a few months.

Monday, July 30, 2012

So I heard you like multi-core processors

A wild Durango appears!

And it is apparently the real deal. Such a leak does not surprise me. There is more than enough money in the console business to warrant industrial espionage, though in this case it might be a case of someone have a beer too many and leaving it under a bar stool. That'e never happened before, and it wasn't just for show. Nope. Who knows if Microsoft is actually that savvy. I am not interested in the marketing potential, nor am I interested in the technical specifications of an alpha box that will change three times before going into production. What I want to know if who is going to pay $10,000 for this thing and what they plan on doing with it.

The most obvious problem here is that the sale of this dev box is illegal. It is stolen property and you can't sell stolen property with getting both the seller and sell-y in trouble. The online listing quickly went away because someone with a brain finally saw it and their lawyer alarm went off, but let's pretend for a second that it didn't. Let's pretend that the device changed hands under the table instead of online and that some ecstatic hacker now has his hands on a device that might have some passing resemblance to the new Xbox. What is he going to do with it?

I suppose he could wallow in home brew development and create all sorts of games that will make him no money and no one will ever play. He could also use it to start working on cracking the new Xbox, allowing anyone and everyone to play his bad home brew games and what other pirated software they choose to steal. This is assuming that the box in his hands will look anything like the final product, which it wont, and that this person who spent $10,000 on it has the technical know how to do so, which he probably doesn't, because he doesn't exist.

The very fact that we are hearing about this at all makes me think it is either a hoax or a misguided attempt my Microsoft to drum up very early excitement. This little ploy hasn't gone main stream yet, and I do not know what percentage of the Xbox nation reads MCV or Eurogamer, but I bet it isn't much. So who are they trying to impress? Who is the target of this?

Never attribute to malice  what can be more easily explained by ignorance. Maybe it is real and some idiot took his Durango out to impress a girl and then left it behind. All silliness aside, the story is mostly factual, at least according to article I linked. I doubt anything will ever come out of this in either the 'some one needs to be charged with a crime for this' area now or the 'I can run me leet warz because of the alpha box' later. At the very least it's amusing.

Microsoft gets the first lol of the impending console battle. Sony, who has gotten almost all of the previous lols, has yet to comment.


Sunday, July 29, 2012

I've jumped off this roof top before

I have a hard time remembering much about the first Prototype. It hit around the same time as InFamous, wasn't as good, and was one of the few games that I have ever had to drop the difficulty level down to 'Easy' on to enjoy and/or finish. It was mostly unremarkable free roaming game. Now I am playing Prototype 2, and guess what? All of the previous states, save the game being too difficult for its own good, are still true.

Sequels to big games are not easy to do. Things need to change: they need to be bigger, look nicer and be more varied. They also need to be the same: they need to share characters or settings or story to help convince people to buy the game again. It is most unfortunate that Prototype has so much in common with InFamous, because while InFamous 2 could write the text book on how a sequel should be down Prototype 2 gets quite a few things wrong right from the start.

It changes main characters. Even though Alex Mercer didn't exactly have a memorable personality keeping him would at least given the games continuity. Not giving the player control over him relieves the developer of trying to explain why all of his powers are gone, something that even bug name sequels like Metroid have never bothered to explain, but the new main character has no real reason to be there. Alex chooses him to be part of his army, but you don't know if Alex can be trusted, so the new guy go off to rampage through the city, consuming biomass and becoming more powerful. This is exactly what Alex did in the first game, in case anyone has forgotten.

There is also very little effort put into moving the story in a new direction. There was a plague in the first game, the bad guys tried to nuke New York and Alex stopped them. It has been X years and it is happening again. And Alex is trying to stop them, this time with your help. Action games are rarely gripping thematically, but come on guys, at least try. Move it to a new city, actually makes Alex a bad guy, make the new guy a bad guy, give me something to latch on to aside from the semi-reformed priest who is obviously patterned off of Cheech Marin from any number of movies.

The setting is also unchanged. I am sure that in the intervening years what has possible graphically has changed. Prototype 2 looks okay at best. In my hazy memory the first game looked okay as well, though I remember things on my old Atari 2600 looking okay. That's just how your memory works. The end result is a sequel that feels like a long delayed expansion. The game is still fun, but every time I toss a car at an attacking helicopter I am overwhelmed with a sense of deja vu. Throwing cars, eating people and jumping from room top to roof top should never feel familiar. Even though I barely remember the first game it feels like I have done all of this before.

 

Friday, July 27, 2012

I won't see it, but...



I never saw the first one, as I am a big pansy, but I gathered that it had very little to do with the plot of any of the games. This looks just like Silent Hill 3 to me.

Silent Hill 3 was very good. Not as good as 2, but it was a direct sequel to the original and had the most frightening moment in any game I have ever played.



Except Pyramid Head was not in Silent Hill 3. They just need to let that guy go.

Watch that clip again. The last time she turns past the mirror before running away the reflection does not move.

A helping hand

I used to be able to talk about the same game over and over for days at a time. Perhaps I have become more conscious about repeating myself. RPG's, especially linear ones, makes it very difficult to find things to talk about without giving a blow by blow summary of the plot. I am not so concerned about spoilers, but I at least want to attempt to put down words that are not boring as shit to read, and that is exactly what a rote retelling of the previous evenings happenings in Tales of Graces f would be.

Take away the story and what is left? Well, I wandered around a desert area for a while, ran out of money, slogged through quite a few random encounters to try to earn it back, then saved at the obvious pre-boss fight save point. It doesn't sound like much fun when I put it that way, does it? I assure you, it was, and that means it is going to be very difficult to stop playing tonight to start Prototype 2. A few consecutive days and it has built up some gaming momentum, both is story and the progression of my characters' abilities. Stopping that, even for a day, makes it more difficult to go back.

This is not a new problem for RPGs, especially ones that do no have any sort of in game way to track quests and side missions. Open ended games like Skyrim are easy to take extended breaks from; all it takes is a visit to a menu and your destination is clearly labeled along with an explanation of what you are supposed to do when you get there. Linear RPGs usually offer no such crutch, and Tales of Graces f follows that trend with one amazing exception. At any point I can hit the right bumper on my controller and it offers up one line of explanation regarding the next task.

I could kiss whoever came up this idea on the mouth, regardless of their gender, age, or orientation. It is brilliant and far less intrusive than an AI in a bad shooter leading me around by the nose because it leaves it up to me to decide when I need a hint. If I missed a bit of dialogue or have been away from the game for a week and have lost my notes (I actually used to do this...) a simple button press is all it takes to jog my memory. It is exactly what the middle aged guy who has limited time but needs to fill all of it with as many games as possible who also falls asleep while playing and forgets what he was doing once in a while through no fault of his own, it was just the beer needs.

Not that I know anyone like that.

...

Work notes, just because I need to bent. Employee's laptop will not install windows update. It won't install anything. Event log give a specific event ID that repeats every five seconds. All Google searchers point to the same non-Microsoft sanctioned blog that provides a solution that does not work. The decision is made to do a repair install of Windows. That cooks for about two hours, then fails at the last step and rolls everything back.

Tell me again why I do this. Oh yeah, I need money. Curses.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Meta time

Sitting at work watching a SQL database restore for the third time...

So, so exciting.

Not much to talk about today. Nothing was played last night; spent the evening scaling walls and consuming New Glarus Black Top. I heartily recommend it if you happen to live in a place where you can get it. You probably don't, which is a shame, because it is exceptional. Their Laughing Fox is also very good. It smells like the Djarum Blacks that I smoked in college to annoy people at bars.

Today on the beer blog...

...

I just made the mistake of looking at how many hits this place gets and on what pages. For the most part I am talking to myself and maybe two other people (Hi Chance! If I ever find myself in Canada, I will abuse your hospitality!). This is either a little sad or massively ego-maniacal. I prefer the second option for obvious reasons. Time to meta-blog!

The post with the most hits all time is this one, probably because the image of what's her face from Kings Bounty Armored Princess actually links back to its home site. It's not the best bit of blogging I have done, but it certainly isn't one of the drunken rambles that I have edited the following mornings to protect the innocent (in the words, me). Second most hits go to my MagnaCarta 2 review, probably for the same reasons. Those images link back to a site that I at one time wrote reviews for. Since then I have stopped abusing other's bandwidth and hosted all the images in the blog itself. Not that I drain that much bandwidth.

The search key words are even more interesting. The first two are for Alice Madness Returns figures followed by the climax mountain. The idea of someone looking for information on the climax mountain and finding themselves in my little corner of the web is very amusing.

I also pull an inordinate amount of traffic from China, which I do not understand.

Thus ends my meta-blogging. The SQL database has finished restoring and an update has been running on it for about a half an hour. Time to work again.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Mash harder

Tales of Graces f continues to gleefully trot out JRPG tropes like they are going out of style. The annoying eleven year old has become an 18 year old with self confidence problems. There is a girl that he thinks is just a friend that loves him, another girl who might as well be a reskinned Rikku (same voice actor, I think), the girls who doesn't age and has no memory and the older male character who tries to keep everyone in line. Add to that demonic possession, political upheaval, family squabbles and a lot of back tracking and the game is a greatest hits collection of all the things modern RPGs have left behind.

And that is exactly why is it so much fun.

This may be my age showing, but Tales of Graces f puts me in the same state of mind that the good Final Fantasy's did. There is an over arching story that I am just a part of and my job as the player is to make sure the characters I control are leveled sufficiently to get where they need to go. No moral choices; almost no choices at all beyond what skills to improve upon next. All of the freedom present in the modern RPG brings with it a great deal of stress. When actions have consequences they require more thought. In Tales of Graces f the story is going to play itself out regardless of what I do. It even has the courtesy to put itself on hold if I need to go grind a few levels here and there. For the most part it is a very relaxing experience.

I say for the most part because it does like to throw nasty bosses at you once in a while. Item hoarding is a problem I have to battle all too often, especially now that inventory limits are the norm. There is no inventory limit in this game, but I still hold on to every potion waiting for the moment where I need to use it or die. Last night just that moment came and I had to run through far more of my inventory than I was comfortable with. The combat system really wants me to find out an enemies weaknesses and hit them all in order, over and over. Each special attack is bound to a direction on the left stick and each one has different properties. There is a lot of strategy here but I always end up wading through combat the same way I played Marvel: choose the heaviest hit I have (Hulk standing S) and hit it over and over.

The results are depressingly similar, but at least in this game I can bring dead characters back and no one is on the other end of things gloating.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

2012 so far

This list is entirely for me, just want to document where I am so far this year.

Rage
Hard Reset
Spider-Man: Edge of Time
God of War Origins Collection (Chains of Olympus and Ghost of Sparta)
House of the Dead: Overkill Extended Cut (did not finish)
Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One
Dead Island
Assassin's Creed Revelations
Batman: Arkham City
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
Final Fantasy XIII-2
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Goldeneye 007: Reloaded
Mass Effect 3
Twisted Metal (did not finish)
Journey
Sine Mora
The Darkness II
Forza Motorsports 4
Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City
Kingdom of Amalur: Reckoning
NeverDead
Syndicate
Ninja Gaiden 3
Street Fighter X Tekken
Max Payne 3
Asura's Wrath
Dragon's Dogma (did not finish)
Serious Sam 3 B.F.E (did not finish, my computer is balls)
Binary Domain
Might and Magic Clash of Heroes (did not finish)
Game of Thrones
Virtua Fighter 4 FS
The Witcher 2
Akai Katana
Skyrim: Dawnguard
Sniper Elite V2
Magic 2013
Inversion

Now Playing: Tales of Graces f

Shipped: Protoype 2

In the Queue:
Silent Hill: Downpour
Lollipop Chainsaw
Birds of Steel
LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes
Blades of Time
Spec Ops: The Line
DiRT Showdown
The Amazing Spider-Man

...

I'm just a little proud of that, in a nerdy way.



This town needs an enema!


It was a Batman weekend. I watched The Dark Knight on Saturday night for maybe the third or fourth time. It gets better each time I watch it, not because I am seeing new things in it but because I know what is coming and it makes me anxious. I know that the Joker is lying to everyone, that he is going to turn Dent into Two Face, that he is going to blow up both the boats no matter what the people do, and it still makes me uncomfortable, just like it should.

The Dark Knight Rises also had a few moments that made me squirm, but not for the same reasons. I decided to go all by myself on a whim, looking for some quiet time to spend with just a movie and an order of over priced nachos (the cheese was watery and terrible...). The first mistake I made was buying my ticket online using my phone. This prevented me from seeing exactly where I was going to sit in the all assigned seating theater. The second mistake was assuming that it would not sell out, that I would be able to quickly relocate once the previews started. No dice. I was stuck in the front row, left side, right by the emergency exit door.

I could not help glancing over at the door occasionally, the tragic events of opening night in Denver fresh in my mind. It is an irrational fear, one made worse by over zealous, fear mongering media coverage, but it was certainly there. Bane's army destroying large chunks of Gotham did not help; it was a little too real, a little too close to things that could honestly happened. Nolan has created a gritty realistic super hero and his world is separated from our own by a scant few degrees. Outside of Batman himself (and the fusion reactor turned into a bomb. HAha.) much of the evil was believable, plausible, and terrifying.

While I am not going to write up a full fledged review, and I am certainly not going to fill up the post with spoilers, I will certainly say that it is a movie you should see. I do not think it equals The Dark Knight, but it is an excellent ending to the Batman of our times.

Not this Batman:


Not this Batman:


Certainly not this Batman:


...and Bane was pretty good too. He even did this:



Saturday, July 21, 2012

The inverse problem

Now I remember! I was going to complain about the incredible spike in difficulty during the second half on Inversion. This was not due to smarter or more numerous enemies but was instead caused by more frequent use of zero gravity areas. Zero gravity areas are not unique here (just like nothing else is unique here) but they do have the distinction of being a little more realistic. You cannot actual choose which direction to move. Aside from the occasional dodge all you can do is point yourself at the next platform and push off towards it. Done at the wrong time this makes you a very slow moving target. Even when it is timed right it isn't what I would call an enjoyable or compelling mechanic. Take one more step towards actual physics by having the character rocket backwards when he fires a gun and I will be impressed.

There is some credit to give to Inversion, and though I am loathe to do so I must admit that the story managed to move from pointless to interesting in the final act. It even managed to answer almost all of the questions I listed a few days ago. The lutadors were indeed from another planet, but the human planet and the lutador planet were nothing more than giant environmental domes on an even bigger ship. As the two main characters fought deeper into the lutador base they actually noted how the technology there were seeing could not have been built by the same monsters that they were fighting, and they were right. Bother species are part of a interstellar zoo and the lutadors broke out of their cage.

Gravity being inconsistent was an ongoing theme and being on a giant space ship explains this as well. Gravity was being artificially created and was not perfect; you run into sections of the ship where the gravity generators are visible and also damaged. This damage to gravity is what drove the lutadors out of their habitat. Something went wrong there that turned their world from something very similar to the human dome to hell on earth. The lutadors survived there for as long as they could, then went looking for resources (which included children, because they were almost all sterile) and eventually found the other domes.

It is an excellent premise wasted on a mediocre game. I would like to see it explored by a developer whose resume is more than four games long, two of which I played and have no memory of.  It would be an excellent setting for a Metroid style exploration or an action/horror Dead Space combo. Inversion has too much story for its own good. It had a good idea and had no idea what to do with it, so it skipped all the difficult, interesting bits and when back to corridor shooting in gritty environments with recycled bosses.

...

Damnit, after a little more thought the bio-domes in space with ignorant occupants idea is not as original as I thought. It's just The Matrix without the 'woah.'



There is also an old science fiction movie whose name I cannot come up with at the moment with a very similar premise. To the internet!

It was Silent Running.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Limited space

Missed a day because of, well, work, and the reason why I don't like playing more than one game at a time has come to a head. There are things that I wanted to talk about regarding Inversion but I have forgotten them all because much more interesting things happened in Tales of Graces f last night. It is a below average shooter going up against an, up to this point, above average JRPG so it is no surprise that my limited mental faculties push out the former to make room for the latter. I have played the vast majority of games that have the player shooting something or someone else; Inversion is just another game on the pile.

Tales of Graces f, though? What started out as light hearted romp through a young boys fantasy has turned into a series of gut punches from the all the mistakes he has made in the past coming back to haunt him. Spoilers coming up, in case anyone cares.

Asbel is the eldest son of two sons and heir to the lordship of his little town. Through a series of poor decisions and general recklessness he gets a girl with amnesia killed and the prince of the kingdom severely injured. When he finally recovers his father says in passing that they have shipped his brother off to another kingdom and that he wouldn't be coming back. Asbel throws a hissy fit and runs away to join the knights.

Time passes.

Seven years later Asbel is on the cusp of becoming a full fledged knight. He gets a letter from home stating that his father has been killed defending his town from invaders and that he needs to come back home. Asbel returns, assumes the lordship, makes a few tactical blunders and ends up with the invading force rampaging through a defenseless town. At that moment his younger brother shows up with an army, defends the town, establishes a garrison, challenges and defeats him a dual, then kicks him out of his home.

Asbel does not take this well.

It is exactly the kind of intrigue I was looking for, mixed with just the right kind of emotional weight that is usually absent from the first act of long RPGs. Of course Asbel is going to redeem himself, defeat his brother, then reconcile with him, then go on to bigger adventures. The fun part will be getting there while not being overwhelmed by the constantly changing combat system. I can appreciate a linear game as long as the path it forces me down has a story worth telling. So far Tales of Graces f is up to the task.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

It reminds me of grade school

Tales of Graces f made two important jumps last night. First, the douchbag kid got someone killed, realized he was a douchbag and ran off to join the military. He had become annoying even by JRPG standards and it was good to see him get his comeuppance. Secondly the number of things to do literally doubled following the a gap of seven years. Combat opened up with an entirely new second set of moves, there is this magical pressure cooker that I can drop random food items into have have them come back out again at just the right time, I can now embed weapons and armor with shards (then wait for the equipment to become tempered and pull the shards out again to use as items, the combine the gems into better gems, the put new shards into the same items) and there are finally a few side quests in the local tavern.

It is enough to make me wish I had an instruction book. Of the new mechanics only one does not perform as hoped: the side quests. There is no way to track them, and they are all fetch quests, so you either need to write down what you are supposed to bring back or be lucky enough to already have it. Neither of these is much fun, so finishing off these quests has been moved to the 'if it happens it happens' list. There is enough back tracking built into the main missions that stopping by the inn to see if my pile of junk matches up to what some else is looking for is all the effort they are going to get.

The story has yet to define a bad guy, or even a goal. Five or so hours in and it still feels like the opening credits are about to roll. Long RPG's need something to focus on to keep players coming back. Final Fantasy has usually managed this, with Sephiroth and Kefka being prime example, but it has also completely blown it (Final Fantasy IX - the final boss is fate. meh.) At least the main character's estranged father has just died, so something has happened that will lead to bigger things happening, but I am going to need some political intrigue soon or I may get bored.

...

I keep looking at the name and thinking that it is a typo. Why is the f lower case and what does it mean? Lost in translation, probably. 

Also, look, it's me on a rock again. I'm in the middle, not the guy on the far right.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Reverse reprieve

A quick look at the Wikipedia article on Tales of Graces f revealed two very important things. First, there is a time jump which ages all of the characters by seven years. Not that 18 is that much less annoying than 11, but it is less creepy. Secondly, the main quest clocks in around sixty to seventy hours. That's not that much less time than I have put into Skyrim and is certainly an eternity when there are many other games that I have not played yet, not to mention the Summer of Arcade is not that far off. As much as I hate the idea, it is time to split my time between two games, alternating on a nightly basis. No JRPG last night, it was time for Gears of War rip off number 542.

Or Inversion, whatever the case may be.

Putting a game in the same general area as Gears of War is not a good idea. Gears does what it does, third person stop and pop shooting, better than anyone else. Inversion not only apes this, but is deathly serious in tone, takes place in a recently destroyed city and features bulky looking enemies that you can't understand who burrow up from underground. It couldn't be more Gears-y if it tried. The characters are different, and by that I mean that they aren't very interesting, and the game doesn't look as good, and by that I mean the textures take forever to load, which makes it the same but worse.

Picking on the game itself is far too easy, so I am going to take a closer look at the plot. A major city is overrun by soldiers of limited intelligence, some of whom wield some sort of gravity manipulating device. They aren't particularly powerful, there doesn't seem to be that many of them, but it thirty days they manage to wipe out almost everyone, kidnap all the children (because killing children is still taboo in the video game world, and rightly so) and destroy the bulk of the infrastructure.

Here is a list of things that have not been explained yet:

  • Who are these guys, where did they come from, and how did they manage to sneak up on the city
  • Where did they get their gravity weapons
  • Why did they steal all the children
  • If it has been over a month since the initial attack where is the army
I am sure there will be more, but after four gigantic unexplained plot holes I stopped looking. This is why I never got into Lost. Yes, it's a game about shooting people, this time with magic devices that alter gravity, but I would like the story framework to at least make some sense. Instead I have a cross between Red Dawn and old, discarded science fiction ideas.

 I miss my brightly colored, happy JRPG.

Monday, July 16, 2012

I am on a list somewhere

As a result of this weekends (to not be blogged about) excitement I have neglected to report in the ending of Sniper Elite V2. The lack of updates fits the game's gentle slide into the credits just fine. Not much happens. you are given the last mission to kill someone who you know nothing about. In a game where blowing up tanks and missiles by shooting at their gas caps from 200 yards away is common place hitting a runaway Nazi scientist in a moving car is rather underwhelming. Worse, the ending monologue in which the sniper declares himself the first soldier of the cold war was nauseating.

Sniper Elite V2 ended just in time. Any longer and I might have started to actively dislike it instead of passive aggressively taking shots at it while it wasn't looking.

...

Confession time. I enjoy JRPG's, the more cliched the better. They have been a little harder to come by as of late, with Final Fantasy XII-2 being the last example I can think of, so I am about ready to spend 40+ hours filling the shoes of a spikey haired purveyor of daring do. Tales of Graces f takes it one step further and has characters who are all in their early teens, each of which has a single emotional reaction, zero depth, and can still kick any grown ups' ass. It is so saccharine that my teeth hurt after more then an hour or so of play, and I say without shame that it makes me happy.

These were the only kind of games that I played during the late PS and early PS2 days. Money was more of an issue at that time so any game purchased better damn well keep me occupied for quite a while. Doe eyed characters making sudden personal realizations manage to pull at my emotionally repressed heart strings and I cannot explain why. If the combat is good enough, which doesn't happen very often any more, I can even stand the random battles. Tales of Graces f is all of these things so far. After only three hours of play there is an 11 jack ass of a kid who does the opposite of whatever his father says, his sickly future love interest, another girl with amnesia who is obviously the stories maguffin, his younger brilliant brother and the sheltered prince who finds the main characters lack of respect for his elders irresistible.

The game is a checklist of ideas that western RPG's have long since deserted. It is also brightly colored, fairly linear, has a crafting system that is easy to use and optional, and I would never let anyone see my playing it.

Not quite as embarrassing as Final Fantasy X-2, but close.

Hello ladies

Friday, July 13, 2012

I might do it to if I were famous and talented

I honestly thought that this was a joke when I first heard about it. After watching the intro video on the kickstarter page I am still not convinced it isn't.

The entire 'kickstarter' fad has taken me be surprise. Spending money on the promise of something you might be able to put your hands on later feels about two steps away from buying lottery tickets. The argument could be made that at least these lottery tickets are supporting a cause, product or company that the purchaser believes in rather than the government, but it is still spending dollars on something that is far from guaranteed.

The Penny Arcade kickstarter is a different beast entirely. This is product that already exists, is of reasonable quality and is free. The creators of the product are asking for people to pony up cash so that they can change the way that they do things, remove ads from the main page, and this will somehow free up time for the creative team to put out work that the they have been holding hostage. I really am not sure how to take this, because I enjoy the product, but it feels like a step backwards as a business.

The kickstarter video shows Jerry (in a very scripted moment) lamenting the days when they did not know how much money was going to come in on a monthly basis and they had to rely on theirs fans to eat and pay the rent. These were the days before Khoo. Khoo is the financial brains of the operation, and I doubt the boys would argue that. He has allowed the creative people to be creative and built it up from two nerds to a business. Why take the step backwards to relying more directly on the fans for financial support? Advertisers buy space on the main page because Penny Arcade pulls in exactly the right demographic. All the fans have to do is show up and the money rolls in. Asking the fans to actually do something more than just be there is a risk.

Or is it? Remember, Khoo is the financial brains here. This would not have even been let out of the room if he didn't think it would work. Setting the bar as low as they did ($250,000) guarantees success. There is no way this mark will not be hit. Penny Arcade, the business, had almost no chance of losing anything, but gains nothing either. I do not understand how being free of ads on the front page magically creates more time for Lookouts comics. The people who draw and write the jpegs are not the same people who preview the ads. These same jpegs are being used as carrots to pull in money with the promise of their return.

So there is nothing to lose here and nothing to gain. Why do it? Perhaps it is Khoo humoring the boys, letting them stroke their egos just enough to keep the three weekly comics coming in. Maybe Jerry feels like he has sold out to the man by making a pretty good living off of ads and wants to re-sell out to the public. Maybe Mike really likes to yell at ducks.

I don't understand it, but I do worry that they may be squandering the good will and disposable income of the faithful when they don't need to. Save that shit for a rainy day.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Now that's precise

Sniper Elite V2 is a game that must be played according to its own rules to succeed, but it does not bother to tell the player what the rules are and they change from section to section. Pure stealth may seem like a good idea until you run into an enemy that will sound the alarm on you every time and you realize that you probably should have killed the dozen or so bad guys that you passed. Other times killing the wrong person at the wrong time opens up the closet of infinite Nazis and the level is filled with more goose stepping than is physically possible. Both of the scenarios move the game play very quickly from 'sneaky sneaky snipey snipey' to 'oh shit runny runny' which isn't nearly as much fun as it sounds.

There are sweet spots where scouting an area, marking target, the popping their head from 200 yards all click and the game is very, very good. Timing shots with noise in the environment is interesting if a bit abused and makes you wonder if anyone pays attention to what happens in their peripheral vision.

'So Hanz, I am not going to look at you, but how are the wife and kids?

'Oh, they are fine. Hey, did you hear the joke about the bratwurst and the...'

*thunder followed by Hanz' head being reduced to a fine red mist*

'Hanz? Hanz? Finish the joke!'

I haven't seen modeling of grievous injury this detailed since Soldier of Fortune. Scoped shots that hit are often rewarded with an internal view of the grotesque proceedings, a la the x-ray moves from Mortal Kombat. Other times I have been treated to really icky looking exit wounds form the back of the head or neck. It's visceral at first, repetitive later, but never something that I will get used to.



This game is a one trick pony, comprised entirely of the one off levels from Call of Duty games. There is a reason that there are never two sniping levels in a row in main steam shooters. If I wanted to have a good time laying prone I wouldn't be doing it alone in the dirt while people are shooting at me.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Finger sports

I meant to start the sneaky sneaky shooty shooty game last night but was interrupted by post EVO hype induced AE. This usually lasts about a day and is ended by remembering that I have neither the time nor the talent to replicate the wonders I have witnessed. This malady struck several of us and we formed a lobby of people with approximately the same ability, as long as I didn't play Blanka and one of the other guys avoided his damn Rose. Take away my main and I am left with a few bullshit characters and an incredibly scrubby Ryu, but it was still a good time.

The grand finals started much too late on Sunday for me to see live and I have yet to go back and watch them. Everyone I have spoken to has said that they were an extreme let down after the King of Fighters and Marvel finals. The Marvel top eight was easily some of the best matches I have ever seen. It would have been better if Filipino Champ lost, but seeing his earnest emotional reaction to winning a very close series of matching was almost enough for me to look past how much of a douche bag he is.

An attendee noted that the fighting game community resembles wrestling: on stream or in front of a camera people are one way, but once the audience at large is gone and it is just one guy looking for advice or an autograph they become much more friendly. Kayfabe breaks quickly, just not for everyone, and certainly not during an important fight. The live audience knows this but plays along because it is more fun to go along for the ride than bitch about the color of the car. The internet audience trolls them both, because we can.

Fighting games are an excellent spectator sport. I mean every word of that sentence, up to and including 'sport.'

Monday, July 9, 2012

Old learnings

This is a great article:

http://penny-arcade.com/report/editorial-article/cash-arcade-games-and-gleeful-griefing-the-education-of-seth-killian

I love the picture of baby Seth Killian trolling the shit out of dudes twice his size at the local arcade, then grabbing the cash and running for his life.

His comments about the very early days of Street Fighter remind me of one of my first epiphany moments with the game. Being young and without transportation it was difficult for me to learn anything in the arcade. My early interest peaked with the Super Nintendo release of Street Fighter 2. Once that game made it into my house my brother and I would log in several hour long sessions, always with him playing Guile and me playing Blanka because DP motions are a bitch on a pad. It is amazing that we didn't kill each other for real; perhaps Street Fighter was the perfect outlet for our tense relationship.

(It stopped being tense right about the time he got bigger than I am and I learned to shut my mouth)

This was long before I knew anything about canceling normals into specials. Hell, I barely knew what a combo was. We also didn't know that jumping attacks needed to be blocked standing. I remember the very moment that I figured this out: we were sitting in the living room and the idea to block high finally dawned on me. He was baffled.

'I am doing the exact same thing and now it isn't working!'

My father who cared nothing for video games glanced up from the couch. At first I thought he was going to tell my brother to shut up, but instead he watched for a few seconds, realized that I had just learned something, adapted, gave me a nod and let my brother suffer. I was being rewarded for critical thinking with both wins and by being allowed to torture my younger brother.

He figured it out on his own eventually, but not before a lot of gloating on my part.

...

It was very difficult for me to figure out where the downloadable content of Skyrim ended and where all the unfinished quests from my first play through began, so I had to put an artificial end date and time on it to keep the backlog list from getting any longer. On the last day, after finishing off a thieves guild quest that had me wipe out an opposing guild and leave their corpses to rot in their little cave of a hideout, I decided to check up on the vampire queen who had moved in with the Dawnguard.

The macguffin of the Dawnguard main quest was Auriel's bow. Stat wise it was not as good as my enchanted crossbow, but it did an extra 200% damage to vampires with special arrows and there was a prophecy about how it could blot out the sun if corrupted with *dun dun dunnnn* the blood of a pure vampire. I sauntered up to the vampiress and and casually asked her to bleed on a few arrows. She agreed, but only because she had seen how quickly I killed her father and all his servants.

Curious as to what would actually happen, I quick traveled into the middle of nowhere and waited until noon, then fired a tainted arrow at the sun. At first there was nothing. I was disappointed.

Then the sun turned a dark red and the remainder of the skies glowed. The wind kicked up and there was what sounded like moaning in the air. This may not have been a good idea. Save. Quit. A problem to be dealt with during the next bit of DLC.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Can't blog

...watching EVO at work and it is taking all my concentration to not get caught.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

To hell, you say?

Up until last night the Dawnguard expansion hadn't offered any new environments. There were a few new places, but they were of the same 'this would have looked really cool a few hundred years ago' ruins design. The vampire's castle fit this description to an absolute t, though I suppose being immortal does tend to reduce the importance of dusting and cleaning up cobwebs. On the second trip there, led by the freshly disgruntled vampire princess, I got a tour of its basement. It was about as exciting as you would expect. More cobwebs. More skeletons. Then, surprise, a gargoyle! I don't remember gargoyles before the expansion, and those jerks hit hard, so I ended up greeting every statue with a shot to the head from my over powered crossbow.

As we moved out of the basement and into the upper reaches of the castle things began to look more lived in. Finally we reached a laboratory, a necromancy laboratory, as if a forgotten lab in a vampire castle's attic wasn't creepy enough. The person we were looking for had opened a gateway to the soul cairn, a suburb of Oblivion where souls used in soul gems are kept. It is also home to the beings that give all necromancers their power, offering them abilities in exchange for more souls.

It's basically hell in the truest sense, and I had to offer up a portion of my strength to get there because I am standing by my no vampirism decision.

I wouldn't call it frightening, but it was certainly uncomfortable. Purple lightning was constantly raining down, sometimes much too close for comfort. Skeletons would ooze up out of the ground with no warning. It was also a very large area, complete with a quest or two that I had no interest in grinding out. You want me to found all ten pages of your manuscript in a giant dark area? At least I know why you were sent here in the first place.

...

Games are once again stacking up behind Skyrim. I still have Tales of Graces F on deck, Sniper Elite V2 just shipped, I have yet to download the third Penny Arcade game, and I am going to loose most of this weekend to the EVO 2012 stream.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

What I want

This is not at all surprising:

http://www.mcvuk.com/news/read/ps4-production-almost-two-years-down-the-line

There are a few bits of news that can be inferred from this. Microsoft has said very little about their plans, but I doubt they will pull the next gen trigger before Sony tips their hand, so 2014 for both sounds reasonable. Secondly, it means that neither of the big two take Nintendo seriously anymore. The WiiU may actually come out this year and they don't care because it will be old technology before the first child rips it open of Christmas day, plays it once, and then ignores it.

When the industry moved from the Playstation 2/Xbox era to PS3/XB360 all I wanted was more of the same with better graphics. For the most part that is exactly what we have gotten, and it keeps getting better as we near the end of the current generation. All signs point to the next jump not being as big in the visual department, but that's okay. My desires for my next hardware investment have matured and gotten more specific as I myself have gotten older and more cranky (please note that I, myself, have not matured).

There is only one thing that I want: the end of load times. The world would be a better place if I didn't waste a non-zero amount of my time playing a game waiting to play the game. Skyrim is the perfect example of this. Quick travel to a new area - load time. Enter a building in the area - load time. Exit the building - load time. How much more believable would their world be if opening a door did not lead to 30+ seconds of a black screen? I want to open and be able to look inside, or better yet leave a building and have the outside actually there waiting for me instead of being hastily build behind the virtual scenes.


It is no small irony that this very request was a reality during the early days on console gaming, and I do understand that pushing around a few meg of information is much easier than pushing around a few gig, but I think it is time for the technology to start serving the game play instead of the game play being slave to the new hotness of the next graphics engine. What good is a photo realistic world if that world is broken up into small chunks? Realism is about more than vertical lines of resolution and texture depth, it is about losing yourself in the game and the abolishment of loading screens will do more to advance this goal than all the new features of the Unreal 4 engine combined.

That's not too much to ask, is it?

Monday, July 2, 2012

That old damp feeling

Fast travel to new area to move the Dawnguard main quest along.

Hey look, a cave that I haven't been into yet! I'll just take a peek inside and

(three hours pass)

...what the hell was I doing?

...

Skyrim is at its best when diverging from the task at hand. Being able to fast travel from one side of the continent to the other removes the distraction of discovery. All that is left is combat that I have long since broken with stealth and arrow sneak attacks. Dawngaurd is forcing me off into corners of the map that I did not explore very well. I am walking past content than may or mat not be new, so the old compulsion to spelunk every cave and kill every forsworn I encounter is back. Just in time, too, as realizing that I may never level up again was something I was having trouble getting past.

My character is just the way I like him and I don't deviate from his MO very often. He has no use for two handed weapons or heavy armor or any magic so all of those skills are of very low level. The ones he does use are capped out at 99. The result is a character who is very good at what he does (sneak up and shoot people with arrows) but has relatively few hit points and therefore is crushed in melee combat. The poor bastard is only level 43. I assume the level cap was raised, as I have seen people online above the old one of 50, but unless I start wearing heavy armor and slinging spells I am never going to get there.

The same thing happened in Oblivion: I was actually roll playing a character. It wasn't just about maximizing damage while minimizing risk, I attempted to look at things through the eyes of my avatar, deciding what needed to happen based on what he would do, not what I would do. This is why I refused the vampires invitation to join them: Leven did not necessarily like the companions, but they did take him in, and losing the ability to turn into a werewolf would be a betrayal.

As a player I would be much happier if playing as the werewolf was fun and worked (because it does not, at all) but sacrifices must be made.

At this point I have no idea if the Dawnguard expansion is any good or if I am pleased to be playing Skyrim again. As soon as I get around to playing the new content I will let you know.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

You can never go back

Starting up Skyrim after over six months of not playing Skyrim has been much more difficult than I thought it would be. For most of November and December it was all I played; I could navigate through most towns without the aid of a map, had my strictly bow based combat down to a science, and had the most bad ass level 43 thief you have ever seen. When I loaded it up again yesterday it took me several minutes to find my way from my hideout to the edge town, longer than that to remember how to run, and I had managed to inadvertently kill several guards via accidental Fus Roh Dah.

My hands will remember how to play eventually, but the immersion is gone. Instead of building a character from the ground up I am jumping back into the shoes of one that I no longer know. Starting a new one is not an option, as Dawnguard is designed for levels ten and above, but that also means one shotting most enemies with the new crossbow is pretty much the norm. I will admit that being handed a weapon on the first five minutes of the quest that was better than my best bow before I enchanted it was annoying, but it matters little since I have yet to find someone who sells crossbow bolts and it seems to be more difficult to salvage used ones of dead enemies.

There are perks for both vampires and werewolves, so already having a night time affliction is not going to be as much of a disadvantage as I thought. Getting werewolf perks requires devouring fresh (and not undead) corpses but you cannot turn off werewolf form at will, so I have never used it before. I am assuming that most of the enemies I kill are going to be vampires, so I may need to go trolling through low level bandit encampments to level up my werewolf form (if I decide to use it).

Hopefully I will warm up to my return to the cold of Skyrim. After an hour and a half my feelings are much more subdued than I was hoping for, but that may be leftover ennui from the end of Witcher 2.

...

A few words about Akai Katana. Unless you are a shooter die hard it is not worth the price of retail admission. It is short, as most shooters are, but the length and number of levels is not the attraction. Scoring as many points as possible in each is the goal. It's scoring and power up system was completely beyond me; sometimes I would use a special attack and net tens of millions of points and other times nothing would happen. Since I never figure out what I was doing right or wrong then game was done after three play throughs to the end.

I felt like an old man trying to figure out the new iPhone. Cool things happened by chance, I could never duplicate them, and in the end I just wanted to slide back into what is comfortable.