Friday, August 31, 2012

It's still a bit raw

I need to apologize for my initial dismissal of Rock Band Blitz as being little more than an exercise in makes numbers bigger. Last night I sat down with the intent of finishing up the tracks that came with them game and the getting started on Birds of Steel (another Gaijin Entertainment game, I love them!). Three hours later I hadn't moved and my left hand was completely numb. After the new tracks were finished I filtered the list by song source and started  playing games from the first Rock Band. The mixes were just a little off, but still, there were songs that I had not played through with any game for quite some time. The fact that I was doing it with two notes per track and juggling four tracks didn't matter. It was just good to hear the old songs again.

Blitz is still not as good as Rock Band proper but I do not think that it was intended to be. This is an appetizer, a way to get people back into the habit of buying DLC. I didn't realize that there were new Black Keys tracks. The opening screen was more than willing to expose the holes in my collection and encourage my filling them. The game suggestive sells better than any register monkey could ever dream of

...

I really am going to play Birds of Steel. I need to know what the company that inflicted Blades of Time on me was thinking by making a flight simulator. By all accounts it is not terrible, even good, but I have a very difficult time believing that having endured the companies other release. Once I start it I am going to have to finish it. Starting the game is taking more courage than usual.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

No audience would pay to see this

My love affair with Rock Band ended some time last year. It certainly wasn't for lack of content, as there are new tracks every week and have been new tracks every week since the first game's inception. At one point I played the game every other day, then it dwindled down to once a week when I bought the new tracks, then down to when I noticed something come out that I was interested in, and finally not at all. I consider myself a proponent of the genre, having been on board since before the first Guitar Hero came out, and even I succumbed to the same fatigue that killed one of Activision's cash cows.

It still sits there on my thinly stocked game shelf next to DJ Hero, Lego Rock Band and Beatles Rock Band. They are all that survived the last purge, based mostly of how much money I have invested in DLC. This is also why I will always own a 360: it feels silly to have around 500 songs and nothing to use to play them should the desire ever come back.

This is precisely why I initially welcomed Rock Band Blitz with open arms. It is not even close to the same game but it at least will leverage the existing library. I bought it last night without thinking, finished Lego Batman 2, then settled in with what I thought would be a new music game to enjoy.

That part about it not being much like Rock Band? It is much more important than I thought. I never played Rock Band for the score. It was all about playing pretend with plastic instruments. Rocking out all alone in the comfort and safety of my basement. Rock Band Blitz is all about the score and nothing else. It is built around replaying the same song over and over until you have figured out just what power ups to use and where. You could do the same thing with Rock Band, but you didn't have to. In Blitz, it's all there is.

This is my conundrum about Blitz. It doesn't bring the same magical feeling that holding on to a fake guitar or beating on plastic drums did, but even the 'real' thing didn't bring that magic any more. I am not sure how good of a game it is; I don't want to max out my score, I just want to go through all of the tracks I bought years ago and have played since. And since that is all I really want to do Blitz may actually be what gets me to dust off the drums, move the couch, and start playing Rock Band again.

Either Harmonix is filled with evil geniuses and this was their true intent or I am impossible to please. Either way, I can play Spoonman again, and it has been years since licencing took that away.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Stop talking, you're freaking me out!

My stamina for grinding studs has decreased with each subsequent Lego title, to the point that going through the story missions and nothing else in Lego Batman 2 will be more than enough to satisfy me. There was a great deal of work put into the hub world time. In many ways it tries to be like all the other free roaming games out there. There are two important things that they got wrong which prevents the actual wandering form being any fun, and this is discounting the problem with Superman's flight being a throwback to his 64 bits days because who wants to play as Superman anyway.

First and foremost, the world isn't very big. Yes, it is bigger than the story levels but if you hold it up against Far Cry 2 or Infamous or Just Cause 2 there just isn't a whole lot there. This forces all the bits of junk that Lego games love to hide right next to each other. This exacerbates the second problem: the map is impossible to use. Pausing the game will being up a perfectly serviceable map that allows you to place navigation points, just like every other free roaming game. Back in the actual game there is no mini-map, just a compass that gives you the general direction of your navigation point along with all sorts of other incomprehensible icons. It's a mess.

But Chamberlain, you say, this is a kids game, what were expecting?

Tsk, tsk, the old man chides. This is not a kids game, Lego games are good games that are safe to play with your kids. This does not excuse a shitty map and a superhero who flies like a brick. Normally I would waste days finding a the little bits of junk hidden in the environment. I have done so with open world games of disparate quality, everything from Mercenaries 2 to Red Dead Redemption. Lego Batman 2 makes the process of exploration and discovery so cumbersome that I am just going to skip the whole thing.

At least the story missions themselves are still very good, though I cannot say I approve of voice acting being added to the mix. We have a bad Mark Hamill impersonation, a bad Kevin Conroy impersonation, and Superman sounds like a douche bag (so no problems there). Only Lex Luthor's voice is done by an actor who has actually performed the character before and his performance shows it. Lex has some great straight lines, none of which involve the Joker.

It does feel odd to complain about the voice acting in a Lego game, but they put it there when it didn't need to be there, so it is subject to the same expectations as everything else.

None of this is going to stop me from playing Lego Lord of the Rings. Lego Gollum is just so precious.

What has it got in its pocketses?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Watch the linked video, I dare you

One of the reasons that Batman works as a hero is that at the end of the, under all his gadgets and piles of money, his is just a man. He isn't bullet proof. He can't leap tall buildings in a single bound (without his jet). And he certainly doesn't have heat rays eye beams or freezing breath. That combination of abilities, in conjunction with being almost totally indestructible, do not make for much drama. There certainly don't make for an interesting character to play in a game. Superman made his playable appearance in Lego Batman 2 last night, and at the very lest I must commend the game for staying true to Supes' roots. He can't die, he can fly, and he really isn't much fun to be around.

I am only being partially facetious. Dying is not really a problem in Lego games, so Superman not being able to die at all doesn't change much. He can fly anywhere, which would be good, if his flying controls were not terrible. You cannot invert the flying controls and there is no vertical control; he has to be moving forward to move up or down. This causes him to get caught on the edges of the tall building he was supposed to be leaping over. Not using him is an option, but then getting to all of the hidden goodies becomes much more difficult.

There are villains hiding all over the city and you need to activate remote Bat-computers to pinpoint them. This does not mean that you can actually get to them as a few require specific abilities that only one character can provide. Having Superman man should alleviate this, but even the man of steel is vulnerable to poorly thought out game play (and it is certainly nothing new to him). What this means is that the wandering around the hub area looking for secrets is not as much fun as in previous Lego games. In spite of there being more to do in a larger area I keep finding things that I can't do.

Now that I say that out loud, that is exactly like all the previous Lego games. The only difference is Superman. He is so lame that he has lamed up things that worked just fine without him. Playing as him creates the expectation of being able to do anything, so not being able to open a gate that is covered with goo because I don't have fucking Robin with me is infuriating. The best way to handle this would have been to not give him to the player until the main game was done. A new game plus bonus in blue tights and a cape.

...

I cannot use Windows 8 as my primary operating system at work: one of the programs that I support won't install. It runs through IIS and even though IIS is installed it just doesn't see it. So lame.

Minecraft got an upgrade, sort of



Eh. Eeeehhhhhhh.

It pains me a great deal to say this, but pass.

Monday, August 27, 2012

No, the game is not my waifu

This is the last time I am going to talk about Tales of Graces f, I promise, because I know that the number of people who actually care about JRPG's is dwindling quickly.

In case it has not been obvious, Tales of Graces f is my favorite entry in this particular sub-sub genre in years. If I had to pick the game it replaced I would probably go with Lost Odyssey, but that was played long enough ago I don't remember if I actually liked it or if I just think that I did. Tales is certainly better than anything Square has put out in a while, but that really isn't saying much. It is not the combat or the looks or anything game related that hooked me here. It's the characters, the story, and what it does with them.

Modern Final Fantasy games feature cardboard cut out characters that are the same at the end as there were at the beginning, only with more hit points and better weapons. This does not make for a memorable experience. Without going into boring details, people change in Tales of Graces f. At the end of the main game a rather drastic decision is made and the PS3 exclusive epilogue explores this and how it may or may not have been a good idea. How sad it is to be truly immortal is also brought up, but an eternity of sleeping in and watching bad television sounds like heaven to me.

I will say that by the end of 50 or so hours I was tired of the combat and just wanted things to resolve. The final, final boss was old school RPG hard, right down to whipping out an attack that kills you and there is no way to know is coming until it kills you the first time. It did let me drop the difficulty down to easy just to get to the end of things, so I can forgive the obnoxious difficulty spike.

If you like JRPGs you should play Tales of Graces f. If you don't then the game will certainly no change your mind as it is a collection of every thing is good and bad about the genre. A dying breed, I suppose, but one that I like to see come around from time to time.

...

With month and a half long project accomplished I have a lot of games to catch up on. Some good, some not so much. Lego Batman 2 is certainly qualifies as 'good.' It is the same mashy fun that all the previous ones were, minus the tower defense nonsense of the last Lego Sta Wars, I hope. After a few hours of play I was struck by how good the game looks, and I don't mean good for Lego game. The game looks really, really good. I don't mean to sound so surprised, but this is not a series known for pushing the visual envelope.

The Batmobile handles like ass which is a crime against all things Batman, but being able to punch Robin until he dies outweighs that by just a little bit.

Friday, August 24, 2012

No need to touch

Being more or less an employee in the field of information technology I fell obliged to try new things as they come out. Server 2012 scares me because I really don't want to learn power shell, but Windows 8 is right there and ready to be played with if you happen to have a subscription to TechNet. Media and expert reactions have been at best mixed and at worst just plain mean so I decided that I needed to see it for myself.

Taking an image of my bloated Windows 7 laptop took around two hours which gave me plenty of time to second guess myself. The built in re-partitioning tool that I didn't know was there did its job so I decided that there was no turning back. The install process of 8 went relatively smoothly, the only exception being that it never asked me fore a license key and I had to dig up a command line tool to force one into place. Getting my head around the interface previously known as Metro was a bigger hurdle. I understood one of the biggest complaints: where the hell is everything?

It's all still there, only the user is given the responsibility of putting the tiles he or she wants where they need to be. The initial set of tiles is terrible, filled with all sorts of things I will never use. Right click, unpin from start. Fixed, so people need to quit their bitching. Install something new that you want on the start page? Right click, show all aps (aps as a word is an abomination. The word is programs), right click on new program, pin to start menu.

It's so easy that it seems all the people getting hits on their web sites with vitriolic complaints didn't put any time into learning how to do things. Is it different? Of course. Will it work much better on my Surface tablet when I get one later this year? Yes as well. But as a desktop OS it does work.

I will admit that having two monitors makes it much easier. The desktop application automatically opens on the secondary monitor, leaving the tiles all along on the primary. Without that I would be alt-tabbing between active programs a lot more, but it is still no deal breaker. My only real complaint so far is that I can't install SQL 2005, but I really need to stop using that anyway. Windows 8 will live as the second OS on my work laptop for at least a week. If all goes well I will be formatting the whole deal and running it as my primary operating system.

There must be something wrong with me. That whole post was positive.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Almost what I want

First, The Box.



I discovered Orbital during my cloudy college days at about 2:00 in the morning while driving home from a bar. It was so foreign and awesome that I ran out to Best Buy the very next day and used food money to buy all of it I could. This interest wandered a bit into Future Sounds of London (and MTV's Amp show. Remember that one?) but always came back to Orbital. After I got out of college and had more time to play games I always wanted a game that had a sound track similar to their music.

Yesterday as my day was winding down I hit up the PA Report and read this. Damn you, Ben, I had plans, not to mention that I avoid the PlayStation Marketplace like the plague that it is. It took me two tries to find Retro/Grade and I never even attempted to change the credit card information to my new account number. It still worked, and after adding $9.99 to my wallet and then taking it back out again I was ready.

Ben's description is both apt and completely inaccurate. It certainly looks like a shooter being played in reverse. The begins at the end and every level runs backwards, with enemies appearing from their explosions and the shots that killed them racing back towards you. Judged as a shooter, which it thankfully isn't, the game is bland and boring. If you want a good shooter go play Sine Mora on XBLA, don't play Retro/Grade.

So what is it? Retro/Grade is a music game, nothing more. It is a representative of a genre that cannibalized itself to death a few years ago, and it is a good one at that. The reverse shooting bit is just the visual framework used to force the player into jumping between tracks and catching glowing balls as they approach. Sounds familiar? It should. The game cribs so heavily from Guitar Hero that using a guitar to control the game is encouraged. There is the added wrinkle of dodging attacks coming in from the left of the screen while trying to catch the ones coming in from the right. This creates a visually busy, difficult to follow mish mash in the center of the screen. Practice makes perfect, though, and just like Frequency and Amplitude, Retro/Grade's closet peers, having success at the highest difficulty will take a lot of it.

I want to be thrilled with Retro/Grade, but there are problems. The game begins on the harder difficulties. Playing with only three tracks to worry about is much too easy. There is no problem avoiding this in the campaign, just choose hard (or extreme if you are ready for all five tracks), but the challenge mode, in which you unlock all sorts of goodies, starts off with challenges based on the easiest difficult. This is boring to the point that I am not even going to bother.

This leaves the game as mastering the same ten levels and same ten tracks at higher and higher difficulties and it would not be a problem if all ten levels and all ten tracks were good. Unfortunately only about half of the levels are well designed and fun to play with the balance suffering from incredibly difficult to avoid attacks or being so visually constipated that telling what to shoot versus what to dodge is almost impossible. It also runs out of ideas for new attacks after about three levels, recycling them in different orders and frequency in attempt to keep them fresh. All this would forgivable if the music was good; this is a music game after all. But it isn't. Much like the levels, about half of the tracks are very good and the other half are not. The middle levels are the worst, experimenting with syncopation and failing to be interesting to either play or hear.

Retro/Grade lands right at the intersection of several guilty pleasures: music games, shmups and underfunded indy projects with more ideas than they have skill to implement. After running though all ten levels twice I wanted to turn on my computer and play Audiosurf so I could do almost the same thing with better music.

Like this:

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

What happened matters?

Tales of Graces f has done the impossible. After around a week layoff I have gone back to it and am playing through the optional epilogue. This would be new for any game not in the Elder Scrolls series, but for a JRPG it is unheard of. Yes, there have been a few additions to the already complicated combat system that require thought and practice but that is not at all what is going to keep be coming back for another ten or so hours. The game actually gives the player the benefit of the doubt: it assumes that you remember what just happened at the end of the main game and begins to explore the consequences.

Let me say that again: this linear game has decided that the heroes' actions have effects past the end credits and is going to expand upon them. Asbel absorbed the big bad guy at the end of the main game instead of killing him. Surprise, he isn't thrilled with being stuck inside of a 19 year old wishy washy bastard and is beginning to make noise about getting out again. Then there is the immortal 13 year old who comes to the realization that she is going to see everyone she cares about die and there is nothing she can do about it. King Richard is dealing with all the destruction he caused while possessed. Cheria is wondering if she will ever get Asbel's attention and if he is gay or just oblivious.

I may have made that last part up.

My point is that the new content is not just more. It is not just another quest or another area, it is actually an epilogue exploring what happened after the main story ended. Most of the time we have to wait for a whole new game to get this, and even then (I am looking at your Final Fantasy XIII-2) they don't always make any sense. Tales of Graces f doesn't have the deepest characters. On the contrary, they fit into the JRPG tropes a little too comfortably, but getting to see the character's whole arc, from childhood to adolescence to the unfortunately responsibilities of adulthood, is worth sticking around for.

Best of all, it was free. A bonus to those who played the game on the PS3 at a reasonable resolution on a controller instead of a motion sensing rectangle with buttons.

...

Speaking of bad controllers, Nintendo is announcing the release date of the WiiU in early September. My crystal ball says the first week in December, $300. Unless there is something absolutely stunning coming out at launch it will not even be considered for purchase. If some time between now and then I begin to grow weak please remind me that I did not own a Wii and that almost everything worth playing came out on something else. As soon as Xenoblade Chronicles comes out for a real system I will have nothing to be jealous of.

...I am so, so disappointed.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Mash 'em if you've got 'em

Me in the practice room of Persona 4 Arena:

B, 2AB (ch4), 6B, 2A, 2B (ch2), 8C, B, 2AB (ch4), 6A, 256256C, 256256C - in the corner, approx 4000 damage

Fuck yeah.

Me in an actual match of Persona 4 Arena:

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

I am such a scrub.

That combo up there, in spite of the inscrutable number pad notation, is not that hard. Getting the 2A after the first 6B feels like a two frame link that can be teched out of if it is missed and the second 256256C has pretty tight timing. Other that those, no problems. Out of the corner there are similar combos that do not end in super cancels (and do 2000 less damage), but they are also not very difficult.

Getting into the correct position to make the attempt is where the problems start. There are numerous ways to get out of the corner: super jump, DP, invincible forward dash and burst, and there are probably more. This means that getting someone into the corner once isn't enough. Mitsuru's big mid-screen combos all start with her 5D. Think Scorpion's 'get over here' but with an ice whip. This is also space dependent and can be dropped. The safest bet is almost always the auto-combo. It is seldom the best choice, but it is the one that i know is going to work.

But it makes me feel so dirty.

On the bright side I did get someone to rage quit on me. I was amused enough to taunt him a bit after.

Me - umad?

Him - ugay?

Me - uasking?

Then I ran into him again and he beat me doing the exact same thing that he quit on me for: using the same combo over and over because the other guy didn't know to block it. Losing didn't bother me; I have had plenty of practice. What was infuriating was how lost the irony was on this guy, and that pointing it out would have done him no good.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Go back to your legumes

I am fascinated by the process of a game being made. The move from idea to interactive media is equal parts writing, art, programming voodoo and back office business shenanigans. The final step, in which someone (or someones) look at a game, see what has been put together and declare it finished, is the most illusive. 'There,' they say, 'this is what I want to put into a box. This is what I want to attach my company's name to.' It is a wonder that some games ever make it out of beta.

There are companies that avoid this by never actually finishing a game. Blizzard patched Diablo 2 for somewhere around ten years. Valve just doesn't release games anymore because they are never finished. In spite of the difficulty new games come out every week, green stamped by a person who almost assuredly had nothing to do with their creation, a person whose soul job it is to make sure that the red numbers turn black when the game hits shelves. Again, it is a wonder that so many game come out. There are bean counters in charge of these things. Bean counters don't play games, they count beans.

This all brings me to Blades of Time, a game that has no right to exist. Gaijin Entertainment has put out a few games in a few different genres, but the only one close to this is X-Blades. As loath as I am to use metacritic as a way to measure a game, when the aggregate review is a 50 it has to mean something. It is also a game that I started and as so terrible that I didn't finish it, and this almost never happens anymore. Nevertheless, someone with money, this time Konami, gave Gaijin Entertainment a second chance. The odds of a studio making a game that bad twice in a row are not good. They have no where to go but up, right?

52 is up, I suppose.

Gaijin Entertainment continues to exist but Bizarre Creations is gone. Radical Entertainment is gone, as are RedOctane, Luxoflux, most of Neversoft and almost all of Raven (Activision really is the new EA). I do not understand how these decisions are made.

And judging by my handy new list to the right of the games that I have played this year, Blades of Time is easily the worst of the lot. Congratulations, I suppose.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Can I go now?

Blades of Time disappoints in all the right ways.

Yes, I am aware that the preceding statement make very little sense. It is a bad game, and not bad funny, just bad bad. I have noted in the past that motion blur is the new lens flare and Blades of Time uses about three games worth of an effect that be applied sparingly at best. Things don't even need to be moving quickly to blur. It's as if the whole world is made of watercolor paints that haven't dried yet and the slightest movement causes everything to run into whatever is next to it. This makes navigating an overly busy world even more difficult and would make combat impossible if it consisted of any beyond mashing X and dodging.

There is a time rewind mechanic that someone put in and then didn't bother to tell anyone else how to use or what to do with. If anyone else besides me played The Misadventures of PB Winterbottom you will recognize the idea of leaving copies or yourself behind. The game tries to be creative tossing enemies out that you need to be attacking from multiple angles an once. This can only be accomplished attacking, rewinding, then attacking again so you can attack while you attack.


But it never really works. Things don't always play back the same way they recorded, so your other self can miss the enemy entirely and you have to start over. There are also enemies that you can't kill and the only way past them is to run in the opposite direction of where you are trying to go, rewind, then run the other way and hope the monster chases the other one.

Then there is the main character's 'design.'


What is that? She looks like Lara Croft if she had a guest spot subbing for Ivy in the new Soul Calibur, minus any class and a reasonable voice actor. The game is a disaster from top to bottom. It is the spiritual successor to X-Blades, a game so bad that I played it for ten minutes and shut off, so I would expect no different. The even screwed up the way health works.

Health regenerate out of combat - meh
You can stock up to three full health meters by maxing out the magic meter - good!
Using one of the stocked health meters requires pushing right on the d-pad. If you don't manually trigger this running out of health will kill you. And there are enemies that do more than 50% damage in one hit.

That's bad.
They may also contain sodium benzoate.



I know we are all tired of this song

But trust me, one more time won't kill you.



...that was beautiful.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Young grasshopper indeed

I seem to recall complaining about Nintendo buying up part of the Fatal Frame series, saying that they could barely be trusted with their own properties much less anyone else's. This is of course old news, and I am still not happy, but I finally read this old article and what they say makes sense. The WiiU would be the perfect console for a Fatal Frame revival.

God damnit. I will not buy a console for one game. I won't do it. Especially a Nintendo console.

...

There were some dark times playing Persona 4 Arena last night. Stylistically it is very different from anything I have put much effort into before. Translation: Mitsuru has corner combos that do almost 3000 damage that work just fine in the practice room but are hell to pull off in a real match, with out without random lag spikes. Thankfully my reaction was much different than it has been in the past. I took a few breaths, stared at the match making menu for a while, took into account that this was the second evening of playing, and jumped back in.

It worked. That was some Kung Fu shit right there.

'Look, look away, look back.' Rest in peace David Carradine.

By 'it worked' I mean that I did no damage to by brand new Qanba and I figured out how to beat one specific character when he is played in a specific way. From my limited exposure it seems that the characters are all significantly different. This really hurts because a good chunk of my game is match up knowledge. In Street Fighter I know exactly who can punish a blocked ball and who can't. I know what moves I can hit back when I block them, etc. I even know that I can ultra between blocked hits of a fierce cannon drill. This is from watching a lot of streams and playing a lot of matches, two things that are completely missing from P4A right now.

I do know if it will ever get there. My stamina for fighting games has decreased as of late and my new stick was an effort to rekindle. I cannot tell if it worked yet, but at least there are no new dents in my wall.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

It's trying so hard

A little too hard, actually.



Watch closely for Kuma putting Mokijin through a table.


And in this corner

I thought I was done. Tales of Graces f had pulled the standard three hours without a save point in the final dungeon bit that most JRPG's do, but I stayed with it. The final boss only killed me once before figured out the super secret tactic (run away when he flashes red). I even watched most of the credits before skipping to the end and saving my game. Not being one for new game + I was ready to delete the whole deal and send the game on its way, moderately satisfied with its predictable conclusion. But wait, what's this? A new menu option?

'Lineage and Legacies'

Hmmm.

An optional ten hour epilogue. Those bastards, I thought I was done. How dare they give me more content that may or may nor be interesting enough to play. A bit of digging reveals that it is a PS3 exclusive and that the game is a Wii port to begin with. I had no idea, but it does explain the simple look of things. I thought it was a stylistic choice. Nope, hamstrung by wimpy hardware. I will play this bonus, but not right now. Right now I need to put more time into P4A before I forget what little I learned over the weekend. Plus a worst of the year contender has arrived going by the name Blades of Time. Critic had a field day with this one, highlighted by the UK Official Xbox Magazine saying it was slightly more pleasant than a nuclear explosion.

I have done a fair amount of making fun of games but I don't think I have ever compared one to a weapon of mass destruction. No game can be that bad, can it? Is it wrong that I am looking forward to seeing just how bad the game is?



Oh man. I take back a few of the bad things I said about Lollipop Chainsaw. At least she wasn't trying to be Lara Croft.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Hit CD. Profit.

Having looked over my previous post about Persona 4 Arena I may have been a little over enthusiastic, but not much. It is a very fighting game, but not having played anything that Arc System Works has put out in the past puts me at a bit of a disadvantage. While the combos are not quite as big as Marvel wringing every little bit out of each opportunity is still a must. Many combos are very screen position specific and I don't know which work where. This of course doesn't matter, because I don't know how to do any of them yet.

Where Marvel frustrated me P4A intrigues me. Some success can be had with good defense and mashing the auto-combos. You like like a scrub, something not at all new to me, and they are not at all satisfying. My chosen character has incredible combos that I cannot get close to yet but I can still win matches. This will work until people are wise to a 2 frame uppercut that you can mash the shit out of and start blocking. Seriously, the uppercut isn't even a DP motion, you just hit two buttons at the same time and do damage.



I want to take the game seriously. I want to not have invested in a stick for no reason. I want to be able to do things like this:



There is a combo that starts at 4:05 and ends at 4:25. To trot out an over used term: swag.

...

Tales of Graces f appears to be in the final dungeon. This would be a good thing if I didn't feel terribly under leveled. I have this fear of getting the final boss and not being able to bet him, making the previous forty or so hours a waste of time. This has happened before, but it was several generations ago and I went actually started over and finished them (Final Fantasy Tactics and Xenogears). I don't have that kind of time anymore.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

A day of awesome

So, my new Qanba stick arrived and it is drop dead sexy (pics tomorrow). Even the box is awesome. It will take some time to get used to, though, as I am not used to a stick of this size. On my old SE I had the terrible habit or hooking my left pinky over the side for leverage. I can't do that now. This thing takes up my whole lap. ON the plus side it is going to force me to improve my execution. I can already tell that I need to stop riding the gate; there is much less throw on this stick compared to my old one so I really don't need to move very far to get where I want to go. All in all it was X dollars well spent, even if I will never really be good enough to deserve a controller of such quality.

As soon as I had the delivery confirmation I ducked out of work and purchased Persona 4 Arena. This is not out of loyalty to any of the RPGs (because I never finished one). No, it was based souly on the reports of other players. I had not heard a single bad thing about the game aside from the 360 net code and that lone issue was fixed in a patch a few days after release. So I sat down last night, new stick, new game, ready to work.

God damn is the game good.

It certainly isn't Street Fighter. It does not have the same slow pace that I so enjoy, but it certainly isn't as frenetic as Marvel. Each lovingly hand drawn character has just enough moves to be manageable and combos that range from bread and butter east to oh my God I will never be able to do that. This is just the way it should be. I like the effective low hanging fruit that keeps me sated while looking at the shit that my hands will not do.

Even the matchmaking works. I found a character I like (the one charge character, of course) and hit ranked with one punish combo and a fist full of mashing A into super and was matched with someone in exactly the same place. Yes, I was bodied a few times, but I did not loose every match either.

If I must find a complaint, the roster is a little small and there are not that many stages, but it is still worth the price of entry. This is the first non-Street Fighter game that I actually want to put time into and get better at. King of Fighters XIII is a excellent game but the online play is ass. Street Fighter X Tekken's online play is just find but the game is ass. Persona 4 Arena is just right.

I was dreaming about combos last night. This is not normal. I feel sorry for all the other games that I should be playing.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Go cheer somewhere else

I'm back, and Lollipop Chainsaw has done little to improve my mood.

I am going to look at this game's mechanics and only it mechanics. Looking at it in any other way makes me feel a little skeevy. Also, getting into a debate about how annoying (not if, but how) Juliet is would take much more time than the game deserves. Valley girl bimbo speak stopped being funny... Well, it was never funny, and that is all that Juliet is capable of.

But I said that I wasn't going to do that. I am going to look at Lollipop Chainsaw through the same lens that I used to filter the terribleness out of Bayonetta. As a game, separated from all the gratuitousness, Bayonetta is very, very good. Remove the two piece cheerleader uniforms and forced dick jokes from Lollipop Chainsaw and it does not fare nearly as well, and that is being rather generous. When compared to other action titles the game is just bad.

Combat break down to one of two idioms: what is efficient and what generates the most sparkles. Moves that stun enemies are useful only for generating more sparkles which generate more money to purchase 'better' moves. None of the new moves are more efficient than mashing the chainsaw button. This means that the upgrade system, aside form extra health and damage, can be safely ignored. Even if a player is obsessed enough to power through the game using only the stilted, poorly animated moves that kill more than one zombie at a time there is no way to generate enough money to unlock everything in single play through. It's not even close, so the completionist or achievement hunter needs to run through the whole thing more than once.

Style and function do no need to be divorced. Once again I point to Bayonetta: her moves looked cool and killed things, assuming you could get over anatomically impossible leg length. Juliet's moves that look cool are worthless for anything beyond making more money to unlock more useless moves. It's like the game wants you to masturbate to something other than the obvious.

I really wanted to give the game a chance. It has been a while since I have played a good brawler and I am really not sold on Devil May Cry's new look. This is not it. Lollipop Chainsaw continues Suda 51's record of so so games that desperately point to his quirkiness to hide the fact that he really doesn't make very good games anymore.

Monday, August 6, 2012

I'm on vacation

Well, stay-cation.

Well, am just not going in to work for two days. Close enough.

I am also going to take a break from the blog for a few days. My contributions have been a bit inconsistent as of late. Ripping on Deadlight felt good, but going over (and over) a long JRPG and a sandbox action game that I am not particularly enjoying is no fun to produce or consume.

Prototype 2 is done. It did me the final service of end boss checkpoints, which I love, but all in all it is an experience that will soon be forgotten. Neither good enough to brag about nor bad enough to be disappointed in, this will be the game that I look back at when summing up the year and saying,

'Wait, I played that?'

Be back in a day or two, hopefully this


will cheer me up.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Old habits

I think that Prototype 2 will be ending in a day or two. The last island has degenerated to achievement farming, complicated by tall buildings and a constant onslaught of infected. Heller is fast enough now to run away from anything that he doesn't want to fight, can kill tanks and helicopters in one hit and regenerates health faster than most enemies can take it away. This nigh-invulnerability has made things boring, and it takes a lot to make karate kicking a helicopter out of the air boring.

Tales of Graces f has also hit an unfortunate slump at around the 24 hour mark. I have been walking everywhere instead of using the fast travel shortcuts in an attempt to grind out a few more levels. No matter what I do, though, the boss fights continue to get more difficult. I have spoken about thee hidden but required depth to the combat, and I have made effort to poke around in there and queue up the correct attacks to line up with what things are weak to, but when an enemy has a continue 360 attack with no gaps large enough to mount a counter attack I just don't know what to do. There are are few magic based characters, only if they explained how to change which character you are actively controller it was done twenty hours ago and I forgotten it.

This is precisely why I am loathe to play more than one game at a time. My brain is just not big enough to retain all the pertinent information. One of these two games is worthy of my full attention and the other at least deserves to be finished, and Lollipop Chainsaw is still sitting there, waiting to be played.

First world problems? First world problems.




I ordered by Qanba, but I don't know exactly when it will ship, and they only had the red and white ones.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Swing and a miss

I am having a hard time condensing my thoughts about Deadlight into words. I am not pleased with it, but that is not what upsets me. Terrible games are my bread and butter. I live on them in both good times and bad.  What does upset me is how clear the path from meh to holy shit is and the only obstacle was most likely money.

First of all, fire all the voice actors. All of them. Not a single person who lent their voice to the game deserved to get paid for their work. Spend the money and get a few professionals. There are only three or four speaking parts in the game, one of which delivers ninety percent of the lines. Lines that should have had gravitas were delivered with all the enthusiasm or weight of a Taco Bell order. There are people out there who do exactly this sort of thing for a living. Hire them.

On that note, fire the people who came up with the comic book style cut scenes. They all looked terrible and  could have been done better in engine. Almost every area was chock full of detail that would benefit from a closer look, some of which are seen only once and then for just a few seconds. Use what you have, pay some animators (who must have already been there because the in game animation is very good) and run the scene in game.

Last but not least, hire a writer. This is the inaugural effort from Tequila Works and it shows. The game itself is good, even great, but the way the game is delivered is not. The levels are in the wrong order and move further and further away from what the game actually does well: treating zombies as an environmental hazard instead of something the player needs to kill. Act I is excellent; it is lonely, dreary, and the zombies that do show up act as a motivator to get the platforming done more quickly and accurately. Act II leaves the zombies behind and is a direct rip of the old Prince of Persia. It's not bad, but it is not the game I paid the play. At least Jordan Mechner got a thank you note in the credits in at attempt to keep his lawyers at bay.

Act III was terrible. I will not spoil it, as the game came out of Wednesday, but it is a let down and the climax is both poorly written and acted.

I can't tell which came first, the story or the game. Both were bent in odd directions for the benefit of the other leaving the pair worse off than they should be. I do not care how much the game cost or how long it took to finish. Games like Flower and to a lesser extent Journey have proven that a short experience, properly paced, is just as effective as one that takes weeks to complete. Deadlight is not too short or too expensive, but it is too sloppy and cliched in execution to be recommended.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

I don't care about badminton

But I love me some Sirlin.

http://www.sirlin.net/blog/2012/8/1/playing-to-win-in-badminton.html

What do you want on your tombstone?

I did not get to spend as much time with Deadlight last  night as I would have liked. This means that I wanted to play through the game from beginning to end in one sitting and couldn't, but that has more to do with me being tired and old than anything else. What I did see of it is a game of two extremes. On one hand I love the  how the game looks. Deadlight is very easy to compare to Limbo, but the extra details in the environment and dash of color sets it apart from the almost monotone game about a child being killed by a giant spider. On the other had the cut scenes and voice acting are so bad that they significantly detract from the experience.

Limbo was very minimal in every regard. It did just enough to make its point and let the player fill in the rest. Deadlight tries to do a little more. When it goes into greater detail visually it works very well, but any time someone talks it is just embarrassing. Every character so far, and there aren't many of them, are terribly written and just as badly voiced. As a total package it is the exact opposite of War of the Worlds. That game was impossible to play but a joy to listen to thanks to the velvet tones of Patrick Stewart. Deadlight makes me want to turn off the sound.

Puzzles in the first hour or so do not match up to the complexity of Limbo. Most consist of jumping at the right time and not landing n spikes; it is very Prince of Persia (the old 2D one). Just because they are simple does not make them easy, as long jumps require very precise timing and the stark visuals do not always make it easy to see where the floor ends or discern a platform that you can stand on from one that is part of the background. Continues are unlimited and check points are reasonably placed, so difficulty spikes can be weathered with a little patience.

It is too early to form a complete opinion about Deadlight, but there isn't much of the game left to change my mind. I will certainly finish it tonight and then never play it again. All that matters is how I will remember it: will it be the interesting, stylish zombie game that summoned up enough of the old Mechner magic to overcome some atrocious non-gameplay elements or will it get added to the list of games with humorously bad one liners right along side 'the master of unlocking'?



Classic for the right reasons



or the wrong ones?


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

You killed my Father, prepare to die

As Prototype 2 moved through its second act it became more and more clear that Heller was a worthless human being before Mercer changed infected him and that the transformation has done little to improve him. Moral ambiguity was a staple of the last game, but Heller is a little to enthusiastic about hunting down scientists and eating their brains. His initial motivation of revenge for his murdered family is cast aside as he grows more powerful. The moral center of the game (if there is one) was the pastor who was feeding Heller information. He recognizes Heller's retreat from humanity and warns him. This is an opportunity for character development!

Wait, Mercer, who was a 'good' guy is the bad guy again and he kills the pastor? And the pastor's contact is Mercer's sister, which is important because?

Plot is not the game's strong point. But what is? It does not feature as large or detailed an area for free roaming as Assassin's Creed. The combat is not as deep or interesting as Infamous 2. It still isn't a new Hulk Ultimate Destruction, and anyone how says they aren't desperate to where two cars and boxing gloves whiles surfing on a bus is a liar. I almost feel bad about being so down on a game that technically isn't doing anything wrong, but it isn't doing much right, either. It is doing just about everything just well enough to get a passing grade. That prompted Activsion to close Radical Entertainment, something that neither surprising nor tragic.

...

The weight of multiple games is starting to get heavier. Prototype 2 and Tales of Graces f are in progress right now, Lollipop Chainsaw is sitting on my entertainment center flirting with me, Deadlight comes out tonight, and of course I have gotten the itch to buy a new arcade stick and play Street Fighter again. It is in times of stress that an addict's resolve breaks down. I found myself looking up shipping times on a new Qanba last night, closing my browser just before hitting the 'send that shit to me now as soon as you can' button. Do I really want to do this again? I have no interest in the Persona fighting game, but Tekken Tag 2 looks really good...

I could also start up a heroin habit. That might be less destructive.