Friday, September 28, 2012

Office 2013 is OP

Office 2013 is the shit.

I say this without the hint of irony. It. Is. Awesome.

Word, Excel, hell even Outlook open in a second or less. Typing in Word and Outlook feels different. I don't know how to describe it. Letter do not simply appear the way they are now as I type in Chrome. The slide into existence on the screen. It feel natural.

My god, I am getting hype over a preview version of Office. What is wrong with me. I can tell that much of the design was built around tablets, but it still works on my laptop.

I want a surface so bad.

Demo Friday: Hulk smash tiny avatar

I think there is something good about my Demo Friday idea as I was actually excited to sit down with three games that I had no intention of buying and giving them a few minutes of  my time. There is an element of danger in this: I just might find something that I need to play more of, something capable of stealing time from Borderlands 2 or Tekken or other terrible, to be named later retail game that shows up in the mailbox. It almost happened this week with a game that I have never heard of nor fully understand. First, though, is this:

Chiropractics: The Game

Fire Pro Wrestling is a very old franchise. I have always heard that it a much finer wrestling game than anything carrying the WWE license (or WWF, for that matter) but I have never played one. Honestly, I am not sure if this is even from the same people or if a upstart developer snagged the rights to the name and then convinced Microsoft to let them use to with avatars. The premise is simple: your avatar beats up other peoples' avatars in the squared circle. There are moves to earn via experience and costumes to purchase with match winnings. All of the frilly dress up bits that have become the standard. Still, this is a wrestling game, how does it wrestle?

Much to my surprise, reasonably well. My wrestling gamer experience is limited to Wrestlemania 2000 on the N64, which was divine in nature, and this generations WWE All Stars. I like to watch sweaty men beat each other up but I fell little need to participate. Fire Pro Wrestling has light and heavy strikes along with a grapple button. Attempting a grapple starts up a guessing game with the opponent: if the defender matches your button press the move is countered, otherwise it hits. In theory this sounds reasonable, but the AI cheats like a bastard. Hold on, the AI cheats like a bastard when fighting against you. When the AI is controlling you tag partner (side note: you can't over ride this) he stands around waiting to get his ass kicked.

To someone who plays fighting games Fire Pro Wrestling appears to have depth but offers little excitement. I am not into dressing up my avatar enough to be interesting in the rest of it, though I do wish my abs were as cut as his.

But only because 'TOASTY' is cliched.

I cannot pigeon hole Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit. Is it a Metroidvania? Sort of, but instead of a large world full of backtracking there are ten separate large levels with back tracking. Is it a platformer? Sort of, but the second half of the first level had me tooling around in a giant saw blade that could fly. A shooter? Parts of it. The only thing I am sure of is that the Hell Yeah! was everything a demo should be. The entire first level is present, excluding the final boss fight, which I understand. The basic mechanics are introduced along with a few bits of the story and the main character's motivation and I get to mess around with it long enough to decide if I need more. The short answer is yes, I need more.

Hell Yeah! is insane. I am big fan of 'Splosion Man and this beats it for sheer lunacy. Innocent slap stick and meat are replaced with sadistic slap stick and, well, more meat. Defeating each mini-boss starts a unique mini-game. None of the five I saw were difficult but there were certainly amusing. All of this takes place in a 2D world that approaches Rayman Legends in animation and detail. If I weren't so busy with everything else I should be playing I would be sold. Not a need to play, but a want to play, if that makes a difference.

Hulk has had the same move set for 17 years.

I am of the opinion that most fighting games don't age well. Fighters, especially Capcom fighters, make incremental changes over their predecessors. Given enough time these changes add up and the games 'feel' completely different, but the core elements are still there. A fireball is still D,DF,F + Punch. You can still cancel some moved into specials, etc. Moving backwards in a series reverses the development process and the game feels incomplete. Add to this old low res sprites not agreeing with all them fancy new teevees and their super high resomolutions and playing an old fighting game feels like a trip to a museum: fun for a while but not a place you want to spend the night.

Marvel vs. Capcom Origins has two games: Marvel vs. Capcom and Marvel Super Heroes. I played neither of them when they originally came out as my arcade time was dominated by whatever Mortal Kombat was around at the time and/or Killer Instinct. Seeing gems implement better than they were in Street Fighter X Tekken was fun. Recognizing sprites that were clearly recycled through three or four more games was even better. There was no nostalgia factor for me, though, plus I don't like playing the newest iteration of the series, so running through arcade mode in each game once was more than enough.

That was quite refreshing and a pleasant break from everything else that I need to play. Hell Yeah! might just end up purchased the next time I have nothing else to play, which never happens. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

So full, but so hungry

I took the day off today to watch a few gentlemen do some work on my bathroom. This of course translates to me letting them in, showing them where to go and then hiding in the basement for the duration. I told them that I was working from home and if they needed anything just to yell. The sounds of midgets dying from rocket launcher blasts probably gave me away.

Between five and six hours of 'work' was done, and I have uncovered a significant problem with Borderlands 2 and how it meters out experience. Side quests are not all available at the same time. As the main story progresses a few are unlocked that are level appropriate. If you do them all before advancing the story, and why wouldn't you, your character ends up over leveled for the actual story mission. This doesn't necessarily make it less of a challenge, as enemies are still quite capable of killing you, but you no longer get as much experience for kills.

Part of the satisfaction of killing dudes comes from the little XP numbers that pop up as they fall. When that number is '1' the thrill is significantly diminished. I do not understand why the quests to not scale to the players level. It wouldn't that difficult, the game already adjusts on the fly for how many people are playing the game, it should adjust for how strong a single player is as well. Simple reducing the XP gained ruins the sense of progression. Your character is no longer growing so he or she is much less interesting.

The same is true for weapons; if you are doing a level 18 quest when your character is level 23 expect to see nothing but level 18 or so weapons. Most of them wont even be worth picking up.

I want to say that this is a small complaint, but it isn't. I am being punished, more or less, for taking advantage of all the game has to offer. Borderlands 2 is big, even when played alone, and I don't think penalizing me for eating up everything on my plate is very fair.

...

Demo Friday is tomorrow and I have three games lined up. Five hours of Borderlands 2 should be enough to buy me at least an hour's worth of time to play something else.

Nah, it still is going to be difficult to not play Borderlands. It is frighteningly addictive, warts and all. It makes me afraid to purchase Torchlight 2.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Second is first loser, but still not that bad

Finally, I have interesting/embarrassing Borderlands 2 story to tell.

Last night I came across one of the staples of pseudo open world games: an arena where all you do is fight waves upon wave of enemies of increasing difficulty. The name of this one is not important; it sticks right to the cliche but diverges from the rest of the game in one important way: death matters. In every other part of the game dying costs you a little money and the time it takes to walk back to where you were killed. In the arena dying resets the entire mission. There is finally an incentive to play carefully, to look for cover, to run as fast as you can desperately waiting for your shield to recharge. I don't know if the whole game would work this way, but a single room full of bad guys suits it just fine.

After dying a few times on the first of five missions I remembered how to play a shooter and cruised through to the fifth. It must be noted that the volume of enemies killed almost guarantees good weapon drops. This was second my attempt at the fifth mission. About half way through I stumbled across an orange (!) rocket launcher. Its damage started at retarded and just got better from there. Skipping the fine print of the weapon description I equipped it and waited for the right moment for its debut. It came on what I am assuming are the last two enemies of the mission: two bad-asses with bullet proof shields and an army's worth of hit points.

Two shots from the rocket launcher took care of the first. I reloaded and went looking for the second, then died to a surprise explosion. That fine print I skipped? The weapon's spent ammo explodes like a grenade when it is discarded. To make it even better they bounce around for a bit first. When I reloaded the rocket casing I threw away bounced off of a rock and came right back at me. Killed by my own weapon after thirty minutes in a mission that I would have to restart.

Here's the genius move Gearbox made to keep temper impaired individuals from losing their shit, not that I know anyone like that: I went back into the arena room and all of the weapon drops that I hadn't picked up yet were still there. My gunzerker was completely re-equipped by the time I was done cleaning up after my failure. Yes, dying to my own weapon when there is only one enemy left to kill really sucks, but it easier to take when the consolation prize is a shotgun that hits like three trucks.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

My aching everything

I forgot one game in my short, short list of co-op attempts: Crackdown. That shit was a blast. We didn't even try to do any missions, just played catch with cars and dropped kicked one another off of tall buildings. It's a strange coincidence, because one of the people I played Crackdown with wandered into my Borderlands game last night. It was a side quest, and one that he had not done, so the twinge of lost discovery was not as bad as it could have been. I also liked that monetary pick ups were automatically shared and exchanging items was a breeze. It reminded me, just a bit, of Phantasy Star online.

Oh yeah, I forgot about that one, too.

The Dreamcast was my indoctrination into online gaming. It started with Unreal Tournament, moved on to Quake 3, and then PSO came out and no one could make a phone call from my house because I had the phone line tied up at all times. I was so loyal that I dumped my ISP in favor of Seganet, convinced that it would somehow make a difference. It probably didn't, but maybe my hard earned monies would keep the Dreamcast alive.

That didn't happen either, but my heart was in the right place.

The old PSO addiction came back with Guild Wars, a free MMO that I could play all by my self with acceptable results. I think I played with another human being once and that was to try to convince my brother that Guild Wars was better than WoW. He still plays WoW and I have yet to purchase Guild Wars 2 for fear of melting my feeble machine, not that that means anything.

My point is that cooperative multiplayer did not always make me break out in hives. This aversion began when the average age of people I was playing with dropped to more than ten years less than my own. I cannot find common ground with teenagers playing Call of Duty. We do not enjoy similar things. So I hide out in my fighting games and virtually punch people, knowing full well that I am still the old man in the room.

God, when did this happen.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The ends times

We must be nearing the end of this generation.

GameFly caps the length of your queue at 50 games.

Right now my queue is 48 games long, only 4 of which are out (with two more at home), and I cannot find any more to add.

I did it my way

Borderlands 2 is a blast to play. If you have a pulse, enjoy watching things explode and have even a passing interest in the devices that cause said explosions then the game is for you, vehicular control quibbles aside. It is a very difficult game to talk about.

So what did you do last night in Borderlands 2?

Well, I shot a whole bunch of stuff and got a few new guns.

And what did you do the night before that?

Well, I shot a while bunch of stuff and got a few new guns.

The FBI has a watch list just for people like you.

Granted, if I was playing the game the way it was intended, with other human being via the interwebs, there would be all sorts of funny thing to talk about. My desire to see and experience things at my own pace without being dragged along or encumbered by others has already been explored. I only involve other people when they are integral to the experience. In other words, when I can push buttons to punch and be punched by them.

It's the cooperative part of co-op games that I cannot stand. The closest I ever got was capture the flag in Unreal Tournament, and even then I was that bastard who camped on the flag. I made my own solo player game right inside other peoples' multiplayer game. That's some dedication right there. Or psychosis. Even when I go online in Street Fighter or more recently Tekken I find it easier to play with strangers that I will most likely never run into again. Playing with a regular crew doesn't happen often. It did with HDR and sort of with Street Fighter 4 and it was good. Before that I played Phantom Dust on the oXBOX every Thursday night with the same two people for months.

Which brings up Borderlands again. First person shooting, for me, is a solo experience. Gearbox has successfully made a co-op shooter that is flexible enough to work both as intended and twisted into what I find enjoyable. The game stays balanced regardless of how many people are in it, and this could not have been easy. Many thanks to the devs for not forgetting the old, pale, basement dwelling nerds while catering to the twittering, social media driven neophytes who go crazy if they have been alone for more than thirty seconds. We all have money and are happy to give it to you.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Not this again

The Halo series is responsible for one of the biggest control travesties in all of gaming. No, I am not talking about using two thumb sticks to control a first person shooter instead of the clearly superior mouse and key board. I am only partly joking about that. I am referring to the way the player is forced to drive the warthog. Instead of one of the analog sticks acting as a surrogate steering wheel like it does in every other game in which you drive a vehicle someone decided that the warthog will always try to drive straight at that you need to point the camera in the direction you want it to end up. The player does not drive the warthog, he or she drives the camera and hopes that the vehicle can keep up.

It is awful. It is why the chase sequence at the end of at least two of the games is difficult. You can't go straight and look around at the same time. This is like driving a real car with your head bolted to the seat so you can't turn your neck. All the vehicles in Halo controlled this way, but the warthog and the tank were the worst offenders.

Why do I bring this up? It is not because I like taking pot shots at Halo. I mention it because I got a dune buggy in Borderlands 2 last night and it controls the same damn way, only worse because you need to aim at things while you are driving. The vehicle follows the targeting recital so you end up running into whatever you were trying to shoot which is especially bad when the target is a giant six armed monkey thing that isn't dead yet.

Since I am picking nits, that save system is silly. Walking past a checkpoint creates a new regen station. If you die you start over again for the last one you passed. If you save and quit, however, you start back at the nearest town. Coming back from a save also repopulates all the enemies, including bosses. There is not punishment for dying but you are screwed for saving the game and going to bed.

Or if your power happens to go out while playing like mine did last night. This would also explain why I am bitching about a game that I am going to play again tonight, and the next night, and so on.

Friday, September 21, 2012

It's so big

Two and a half hours into Borderlands 2 and I have already been through about a dozen guns. Incremental improvements arrive every few minutes. Sometimes they do more damage. Other times they do elemental damage. Every once and a while you find a shot gun that acts as a sniper rifle. The story was the same in the first Borderlands but this time around the ratio of junk to things worth picking up has improved. Every treasure chest has a potentially game changing weapon hidden away. This does lead to a lot of time sitting in menus staring at green and red arrows. I play JRPG's on purpose, so I am used to that.

The shooting is not as precise and visceral as other big budget shooters. Rage comes to mind as a 'fair' comparison. Honestly, it's a little sloppy; enemies can be difficult to pick out and they always use the same tactics to get you. Mixing up monsters with the mercenaries keeps things interesting, but I don't remember this first game being this hard. I have died more than I care to admit in the intro areas. Death has a slight monetary penalty to it but you can still use the BioShock method of killing a few things, dying, then walking over your own corpse to kill the next one. The game is clearly meant to be played by more than one person at a time so this little bit of frustration is my own fault. It is easy to forgive when I can walk back through an area that at one point game me difficulty and one shot midgets with my new weapon.

Borderlands 2 scratches all the right itches. I can scrounge for loot while doing meaningless side quests in a competent shooter. Eventually I will get a dune buggy that I can run over fools with. Let's see how long my interest holds up. Right now I am enthusiastic and want to play it again as soon as possible. Lots of games start out that way, though, and my affections are fickle, especially when I should be playing TTT 2.

...

I just spent far to long looking for a Tank Girl image that may or may no exist. So frustrating. I wanted to say the art style and mood of Borderlands 2 is a good match for the comics, but that could just be my irrational affection for the character coming through. Oh well.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Demo Friday: One day early

After an hour and a half of Tekken last night my right wrist began to ache just enough that to stop. The four button setup torques my hand just enough that playing for too long just hurts. The highlight of my evening was being called a fag by someone who did not block my telegraphed low attacks and also did not even try to tech the hit allowing my silly off the ground Bryan combo to be executed in full several times. Hate mail is a badge of honor. Opening up that message to the one word attempted rebuke made me forget, just for a moment, that my win percentage is below 20% and that anyone who knows he he or she is doing can wipe the floor with me.

Still, I had to stop and I did not want to start the new Spider-Man game because I know how good it is and Borderlands 2 should be arriving today. There were a few demos languishing on my hard drive, including at least one game raved about by a fellow blogger. I honestly feel guilty about not even giving most XBLA a try in spite of each and every one of them having a free demo. As a new feature I am going to download the trials of all new arcade games every Wednesday, play the demos for as long as I can on Thursday and bitch talk about them on Friday afternoon. These games will not be added to the yearly list because they are not being played to my definition completion and they do not generate my precious 'cheevos. All opinions will be uninformed, indefensible, and quite possibly patently incorrect.

So the same as usual, I suppose.

Here, let me get that pesky appendix for you.

The raved about game I was referring to was Mark of the Ninja. Chance had nothing but good things to say about it and since I respect the man's opinion I wanted to give it a shot. To be blunt, I don't see it. Mark of the Ninja is gorgeous to look at with animation at the same level as the developers previous games. There is almost too much animation, if that makes sense. It feels like I am only influencing the action, not actually controlling it. The game is also not really sure what genre it fits in. It is not an action game as running and slicing does not work, but it is also not really a stealth game as there is one right way and a multitude of wrong ways to get past a given encounter. Honestly, it is a puzzle game in black pajamas. Not my thing, unfortunately, but I can certainly see the allure.

Who knew Gollum had so many cousins?

Game two was one of this week's releases: RAW, or Realms of Ancient War, or some shit like that. It should be subtitled 'another action RPG in the vein of Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance.' This is not a bad thing when done correctly, though the apex of this kind of game on the console, Champions of Norrath, has ever been equaled. RAW doesn't approach either, but at least it got the general mechanics of killing things to get more stuff right. Enemies do not spontaneously drop suits of armor, which makes sense, but some of them do drop hides that can be sold. The demo was not nearly long enough to plumb the depths of its skill upgrade system but what little I saw points to it being competent at least. Visually it was a but busy and dark, making the black wolves quite difficult to discern from the black woods they were hiding in, but that may have been my contacts failing me.

I really enjoy these kind of games but RAW was not purchased. At 1400 points, or $17.50 in real money, it is $2.50 shy of a much better game that just came out: Torchlight 2. Every second I spent playing the demo of WAR made me wonder why I was not playing Torchlight 2, and I did not buy Torchlight 2 because I want to focus on Borderlands 2. Poor timing on their part. I will keep an eye out for a deal of the week on this one.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Just a little self congratulation

I have no one else to brag to, so please forgive me a little self patting on the back.

As a few of my previous posts has alluded to, I work, at least tangentially, in the world of information technology. After I graduated college with a degree that I did not want to use I fell into retail. Specifically, I managed video game stores for Electronics Boutique, EB Games and then Gamestop after the buy out. There was a brief sojourn into Best Buy territory in the middle. Please take my advice: never work for them. Gamestop is not the same company that EB was, so it was time to go. It was also time to make some money, so I went back to school and got a few Microsoft Certifications.

First IT job was very, very good. It was with a company that did over the phone mortgage modifications. Great job for learning... but I started about two months before the housing market crashed and the company ceased to exist about ten months later. Next was the network/systems admin for a law firm. Another good job, but I was not ready for it. After three months of not being myself due to stress and never sleeping I left for the job I have now. My current employer is a rather small company which means I can get my hands into all sorts of things. There is no dedicated internal IT person; instead I support a few different pieces of software, mostly in the time and attendance world. This includes quite a few antiquated ethernet clocks, and so the story begins.

A customer had a remote clock (and by clock I mean a device that employees use to punch in and out) that they moved to a new location on their own. They had their own cables pulled, mounted the clock, tried to set  everything up, then called me because they could not ping the clock internally. Please note that this is much further than most customers get. I arrived on site to find everything set up exactly right and yes, the clock could not be pinged internally. I tried several different static IP's with no luck. I plugged my laptop into the same line that the clock was using, which worked, then put the clock back and it didn't work. The final straw was setting the clock to use DHCP instead of static addressing. The clock gave me a meaningful error: cannot find DHCP server.

Reasonable conclusion: the network card in the clock is dead. I took the clock back to my office and to check my conclusion plugged it into my network. Of course it worked. Not only could I ping it, it made it all the way back to the customer's server and started uploading information.

At this point I remembered a different customer with a similar problem that I solved by forcing the clock to connect at 100 Mbps. It was a another very long cable run and for some reason the clock and the switch would not negotiate. Back on site this afternoon, tried setting the clock up and nope, still nothing. I checked the connection on my laptop when connected to the same line and I was getting a 1000 Mbps connection. Pretty good for as long of a run as it was.

Aha.

Perhaps, and I do not know if this is the case, they had some sort of ethernet booster on the line. No one was around for me to ask, but I did have a login and password for the router. Maybe I could force a specific port to run at a slower speed. (Did this once at the law firm with a device used to lock out a copy machine). Nope, it's not really a managed switch, just some all in one Asus device that was missing all sorts of options. I had to slow it down, but how?

Answer: the cheapest 10/100 switch that Best Buy had in stock. Network drop at 1000 Mbps to cheap 10/100 switch to clock set at 100 Mbps full duplex. Tadaaaa.

It is nice to get to do real IT work once in a while. Earlier this week I had to re-crimp two ends of a cable that someone had set up as straight instead of crossover. And I had to do it with about a half dozen union guys standing around 'supervising'. When it worked on the first try I couldn't help but raise my hands and give them a little attitude. Just a little.

That's how you network shit, bitches.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

In one of those moods

I have not been kind to DiRT: Showdown because it does not deserve kindness. It is not recommendable in any way because everything it does has been done better before. The racing as a party idea hit its peak with Motorstorm thanks to it post-apocalyptic setting. Off road racing was better in the older DiRT games. Racing around and bumping into stuff, scattering bit a debris on the track was better in Flat Out. The game also has far to much dubstep in its sound track, it recycles levels whole sale from the last game and it pulls the same shit in the last part of career mode that almost all other racers do: race the same tracks but with three races per event.

The game should have been cast aside the day after it was started, but it hasn't been. I wasn't sure why until I realized what I was doing during the demolition levels. The intelligent side of my brain was wondering why the game was still in the disk drive and I wasn't making good on my threat to replace Steve with Nina in TTT2, but the side of me that likes to watch things crash into other things was leaving forward, putting body english into every collision and recoiling when I would miss and hit the wall instead. In the same way that I can play just about any game with cross hairs and heads to pop I was enjoying this bad racing game in spite of myself.

This puts a different spin on my little rant about Spec Ops: The Line and its high brow, masturbatory interpretation. I said that it is a game's primary function to be fun. This means that if I am having fun with  Showdown, even if I don't want to admit it, the game is doing its job. There is certainly no higher cause being served. Wrecking a car with a viscous t-bone hit is not an allegory for post traumatic stress syndrome or a sideways swipe and how racing is portrayed in games. This is entertainment in its basest form: things bumping into other things.



A rock and a hard place, indeed. Showdown is not good. In spite of that, Showdown, every once in a while, it is fun. Is that enough?

This is far to deep a conversation for a racing game.

Monday, September 17, 2012

If it quacks like a duck

This struck me as funny:


For all its accolades, Braid ends up in the clearance bin along with everything else. Deconstruct that, Jonathan Blow.

Priority loot

Every once in a while the randomness of GameFly throws me a bone. A new release ships on the day before it comes out, allowing me to play and talk about something at the same time everyone else is.

Borderlands 2 shipped today. This is terrible timing as Torchlight 2 comes out in three days and both games are about killing things to get phat loot to kill bigger things. I can't platoon those.

Sorry Torchlight, you just got bumped.

...

Nothing new to say about DiRT: Showdown. It isn't very good and I do not know how much longer I am going to play it. I got about an hours worth of work done on it before I needed to play Tekken. Someone who has historically kicked my ass in Virtua Fighter 5 and P4A was around for a few matches. Things were more even, which is good, but I am questioning my allegiance to Steve. Bryan is staying as he can take off massive chunks of life in three hits. But Steve?

On a whim I played a little bit of Nina as she was the only other character I could remember any moves for. She is so good. Low attacks that lead to launchers or that can be feinted into more low attacks. Multi-part throws to catch people who are napping.

Her move list is somewhere around 150. It is a frightening thing to behold. She may be my pocket character. Or desperation character.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

First to last place

DiRT started out as the superior follow up to the Colin McRea series. It had a relatively tight focus for a racing game. This narrow idea of what it was and what it was trying to do made it better; it wasn't everyone's racing game but it was the best rally racing game ever. As the series went on this focus was lost, spreading out into gymkhana, the X-Games, and all sorts of other things that may or may not be real events. It was still good, but it was diluted. Not all of the content was worth playing. Actually, most of it wasn't, but the hill climbs and rally's were still of such quality that I could stomach everything else to get to the next one.

Along comes DiRT Showdown and the game has gone completely off the rails. It shouldn't even be called 'DiRT,' it should be called 'another failed attempt to recapture the glory that was Destruction Derby 2, oh, and here is some racing just in case you still want that.' I can't think of a single dedicated demo-derby game that lives up to Destruction Derby 2, and that game came out in 1996. I think there were a few more in the series, perhaps even on modern consoles, but they never got it right again. Showdown decides to give it one more try, throwing in several (not fun) permutations to hitting other cars as hard and as often as you can. It's not fun. The crashes have no impact, the car damage is unimpressive, the way the cars handles is poor both in a derby and during races.

What happened?

It's hard to tell. I honestly wonder if Showdown actually started out as a DiRT game. This could be the Doki Doki Panic of racing games, only Doki Doki Panic was good and this is not. What bothers me most are the randomness of the derby levels. I have been leading all the way up to the end and then some computer controlled car scored an impossible number of points from somewhere else on the map. At least when I get rubber banded out of a racing victory I can see the guy who passed me. How can I prevent the CPU from wrecking itself for points?

Such a let down. I will play it for another day or two, splitting the time between it and Tekken, and not feel bad about not seeing everything the have has to offer.

Friday, September 14, 2012

I do not think that means what you think it means

I have been working my way through the archives of Extra Credits because I enjoy their intellectual approach to gaming more than I dislike the annoying voice filter that the narrator uses. A few weeks ago they did a two piece entry on Spec Ops: The Line. Hey, I thought, I played that (in two days), what do they think about it?

Without typing out the entire twenty minutes of video, they are of the opinion that it is lampooning the modern shooter genre by starting out looking like one but slowly changing into something else, ending up as a commentary on how ridiculous the portrayal of warfare is in gaming and a bit about post traumatic stress disorder. I think, on the other hand, that they have read far too much into an average shooter with a plot twist or two used to make up for lackluster mechanics and a smaller budget. Extra Credits even went as far as to say that the game is not fun, which it really isn't, but that this was okay because it has an important message to deliver.

Isn't it a games function to be entertaining? As a form of media games have a hard time being informative, educational, or enlightening. On the other hand they can be very entertaining, challenging and emotionally engaging. A documentary about the atrocities of war can get away with being very difficult to consume and still worth the effort. A game? No. I will put games up against most other forms of entertainment, but as a venue for exploring deep, dark issues, there are better ways. Spec Ops: The Line may very well be an adaptation to Heart of Darkness. I must confess to having never read it so any allusions to the source are lost on me. All I see is a shooter that is trying very hard to keep up with the games that actually make money all the while pointing at its heavy, 'shocking' plot and screaming 'I am different! Take me seriously!'

The big games beat them to it, it's called No Russian. It's called seeing a nuclear blast from a first person perspective and dying.

Please don't take this as an endorsement of Call of Duty and Battlefield. To me those games are little more than two or three day roller coaster rides. The Line is the same ride but without the loops. Later levels devolve to memorizing enemy placements as it is impossible to react to them, killing any momentum towards the twist ending. It has no hills, either. All that is left is a boring ride with a message that it thinks is unique but is instead preachy and bit hard to follow.

If I wanted a boring documentary I would tune into PBS. I love boring documentaries, they are perfect trivia fuel for my eventual (disastrous) appearance on Jeopardy. This is not a space that games should attempt to fill. I am not convinced that Spec Ops: The Line was actually aiming trying to do this. If it was, nice try, have a better game to back it up next time. If it wasn't? Then Extra Credits spent an awful long time getting excited making academic excuses for a mediocre shooter by someone who read a book once.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

My wallet's creaky hindges

Okay, WiiU launch, wow me.

$349.99 for the version with a reasonable amount of memory, Nintendoland which will quickly go the way of Playstation Home, a discount on future online purchases and one of the fancy new controllers. No Wii controllers or other accessories, but the fact that the old controllers can be used at all is actual very good news. The price feels a bit high for a console that is only slightly superior technology wise to its cheaper, existing competitors, but I paid $600 for a launch PS3 that I almost never use, so I can't complain too much about that. I have no interest in the TiVo functionality or online Nintendoland silliness. All I care about are exclusive games that I cannot play on my primary console. So:

Super Mario Bros. New U - more of the same but at a higher resolution. While this is true for a great deal of this generation, I have come to expect more. Mario properties have done nothing for me since puberty, and I already played a game in this genre better than anything Nintendo has put out in years. Surprise, Rayman Legends is making it out near the launch as well.

Pikmin 3 - I doubt it will make it out near launch, but I don't care anyway. Pikmin's psuedo real time strategy  was not much fun on the GameCube. I expect nothing different here besides it being spread across two screens.

ZombiU - This I am interested in. I am not sure to what effect the controller will be used, but it is a third party exclusive on a Nintendo console. A rare thing indeed.

Scribblenauts Unlimited  - Isn't this a hand held game? That everyone played already?

I don't count fitness or singing games as 'games,' so those are all missing from the list on purpose.

Tank! Tank! Tank! - seriously? What is this, a refugee from New Grounds?

This is not an impressive launch line up. Ports, and they are several of the, all boast some added controller functionality or extra levels. That does not change the fact that most early adopters will have already played a good chunk of the games available when the system drops, assuming that they are not Nintendo loyalists, a sub group of a sub group that may have finally gone extinct after the 3DS dropped in price shortly after launch.

I do not understand what Nintendo's plan is here. This is hardware that will be surpassed in a year's time, hardware that is a minimal improvement over what is already sitting under my television. All it has to offer are games and a brick of a controller, and the games...

...Nintendo is publishing Bayonetta 2? What the hell.



I have said it before: don't care for the character but the game is fantastic. I need to see about six more exclusives of this magnitude before my wallet will open. None of them can have Mario or Zelda or Metroid in the title.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

I'll tell you what I think



...I think that ZombieU and Trine 2 Directors cut actually look pretty good, but buying a Nintendo product for third party support is a fool's errand.

Block high! No, higher!

Last night proved a few things. First of all, I have forgotten how to play Tekken. This is not a surprise as the last Tekken I even tried to play was 5 and that was several years ago. That also wasn't a tag based game so I only had to know one character. Steve is still around and I remember just a little bit of him; picking a second out of the 50 or so others on the roster proved difficult. I took the cowards way out and chose Bryan for the sole reason that he hits really hard. I could have chosen Paul for the same reason but did not for fear of Street Fighter X Tekken Paul creeping into a different game.

I was right about habits from other games interfering. For the first hour I was holding down buttons while being juggled waiting to tech out a la Persna 4 Arena. Then I was blocking everything while crouching like I do in Street Fighter only to find that there are many, many more mid moves that hit low blocks than low moves that do any damage. In other words, I did everything wrong for several hours. Here's the crazy part: it was still fun.

It is obvious that the people involved with making this game love the source material. They love Tekken, its characters, the way they look, they way it plays. Every inch of the game, from the kumite based arcade mode to training your combot to the mini practice mode that serves as the waiting screen for ranked matches, oozes polish. Even if the fighting game proper wasn't better than Street Fighter X Tekken (and it is) Tekken Tag 2 is just a better game. It is the complete package.

And the netcode is amazing. It's right up there with P4A or HD Remix. It has to be, Tekken is fast. I would dare to say that it is almost Marvel fast. With the the way fighters tag in and out, sometimes all four ending up on the screen at the same time, it can be just as frantic as well. The skill gap between scrubs (...me) and people who know what they are doing is equally huge. A single missed block can lead to a 50% wall carry combo (this is not an exaggeration) so you really have to pay attention.

Re-learning a game that I either once knew or thought I knew is frustrating. I know I said a lot of nice things about P4A, and I meant every one of them, but I have no barometer for success there. I am bad at that game because I have not taken the time practice it. Maybe recovering lost skill will be easier that building new skill.

Heh. Probably not. I need to finish Spec Ops: Look at me I am trying to be edgy tonight anyway.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Why did Drake just torch that woman and child?

Spec Ops: The Line is not subtle. It is not subtle with what it is trying to do with its characters. It's action is not subtle, featuring a Rambo movie style over exaggeration of how the human body reacts when it is shot with hand gun. It is certainly not subtle about giving the player impossible, yet meaningless choices. Case in point, or heroes, still reeling from fire bombing a group of civilians who were hiding in a corner, are confronted with the following problem. There are two people hanging from a bridge, one is just some loser who stole water and the other is the soldier sent out to get him who killed the loser's entire family in the process. Both crimes are punishable by death and the 'good guys' have to choose.

Oh, and there are snipers ready to kill them or you depending on your decision.

The situation reads out like a management personality test. I chose the third, unlisted option: shoot neither and kill the snipers. It would have worked if the two innocent victims hadn't been killed in the crossfire. The Line tries several times to drop these weighty issues on the player, but each time all I can do is wonder why Nathan Drake is so pissed off and why he isn't climbing the nearest tower looking for loot. Using Nolan North, who I am actually getting a bit tired of, was a mistake. His voice is too recognizable and his other characters are so much lighter that it is very difficult to take his character in The Line seriously.

Aside from this casting misstep the game itself plays like every other cover based third person shooter. I do like the sand effects and the way environmental kills is handled much better that the usual glowing red barrels that explode when being shot. Ammunition is scarce which keeps the player from camping in the best hiding spots. The bad guys are a bit dumb, opting for the 'bum rush the machine gun encampment' instead of trying to flank you and there is just a little ally management that I never use, but I shoot things and they fall down, looking good in the process. What more can I ask for?

I am unmoved by its choices and unimpressed by its story. It's a very shiny (and sandy) game, though, and one that I will not feel guilty about enjoying. Low sugar candy, or something like that.

...

Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is sitting in my car. It has literally been years since I have played Tekken against another human being. I predict strife. At least there are fifty characters so I should be able to find someone that no one else plays.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Surprise!

Hey look, a final boss that appears to have nothing to do with the rest of the game but that will be ultimately explained in the pre-credits sequence, the quality of said explanation varying greatly based on which ending is achieved. I am just going to sleep through this segment, get my 'cheevos and...

Wait a minute. This is interesting. Murphy was no the only person this version of Silent Hill was punishing. The female cop whose name I forgotten was also being tested, with each person being the other's 'boogeyman.' In the final sequence the player get to control pyramid head the big guy who wields a staff with a cinder block on the end of it and chase her down, then decide if she should be spared. It's surprisingly straight forwards as far as Silent Hill endings go and the only change for the better when compared to all the old games. I do like the idea of the player character waffling between protagonist and antagonist in spite of the player's best intentions. It doesn't make up for about three hours of pointless wandering or the lack of even a single scary moment, but it was at the very least interesting.

Downpour also has one of the best joke endings yet:



After cutting the cake pyramid head did awful things to it.

...

I am weak, which should no be news to anyone who read this. A new, fancy arcade stick was purchased around around a month ago along with Persona 4 Arena. P4A saw heavy play for about a week and has since been deserted, to be replaced with Tekken Tag 2, a game I have no hope of being good at.

It is only a matter of time until I run home to the comfort of Street Fighter. It will welcome be back with open arms, arms that will crush the life from me eventually. Until then I will re-learn Steve Fox and jab people to death.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Stumbling into the good stuff

I have always enjoyed finding a moment of excellence in an otherwise bad or disappointing game. Silent Hill Downpour isn't bad, but it certainly isn't what I was looking for. Far too  much time is spent wandering around doing pointless side quests and not enough time is spent actually bringing the scary. Finally last night all the open ended nonsense was put aside for a level as good as anything the series has ever done. There was an extended section in an orphanage/chapel that had excellent puzzles, little combat, atmosphere, good sound effects, and actually a tingle or two to the spine. I would put it on the level of the Shalebridge Cradle from Thief 3 or the haunted hotel from Vampire The Masquerade: Redemption. Those pretty heady company, but it also an indictment of Downpour missing the mark again. Those were to very good 'scary' areas in non-scary games and it is the best the Downpour has come up with.

While it is difficult to pin down what is scary and what is not I have a pretty good idea of what Downpour is doing wrong: the other world areas are handled terribly. Forget how ugly the first Silent Hill is and think back to the first time the world changed. If I remember correctly it was in the school. You come up from a tunnel into the same area you left from, only now the whole place is trying to kill you. There was malice there and I don't know how they did it, but it worked. Now, take this place that is uncomfortable to look at and fill it with puzzles that require critical thinking. This same formula was used in the next two games and it worked every time. The puzzles actually intensified the fear.

Well, pyramid head raping mannequins helped.

Downpour's other world sections are almost all chase scenes. There is not enough time spent in any of them to develop any mood. Instead you spend the whole time running from a glowing ball, usually in circles, until you stumble across the correct turn and move to the next area and do it all again. They aren't mentally challenging because they are frightening or because they require thought. The level I mentioned above finally got back to what works, if only briefly: there is an interesting puzzle in which Murphy needs to go through the behind the scenes motions of putting on a play. He turns off the lights, starts a record, makes the sound effects, etc. When he gets it right the entire theater turns into the play and he has to run through the woods while being chased by monsters. When Murphy finally gets to the house there a puzzle of reasonable difficulty he has to solve while the monsters bang on the door. Horror plus puzzles equals more intense horror.

It worked. Briefly. Then Downpour gave up and went back to aping Silent Hill 2's plot twist, but more on that once I finish the game.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

It fails to bring the goods

My Xbox is dying. This would be the fourth one I have killed. At least this time it is for a new reason. All of the previous deaths were to the red ring of death. The hard drive appears to be expiring on this one. Installed games actually take longer to load than ones running off of the disk. Last night the first time I booted up Silent Hill Downpour it couldn't even find the saved game. It's not good, and knowing that hard drives to not spontaneously get better, it needs to be replaced. Getting a new hard drive is an option but I would still need to rustle up a transfer cable. There is no way I am going to re-download 20 gig of Rock Band tracks. I really need them now that I caught on to Rock Band Blitz and Harmonix redid how coins are handed out.

Oh yeah, Silent Hill. It's not scary. At all. There has been one moment of brief spine tingling that I knew was coming and it still got me. Apart from that it is just a game with a lot of wandering and obtuse puzzles. The wandering is what is killing it for me. Downpour is not quite open world but it doesn't bother to tell you where to go when you finally arrive in the city proper. This was done to accommodate side quests, something new to the series and something that was absent for a reason. The good Silent Hills, and by that I mean the first three, were very linear. If you found something to do or a puzzle to solve then you could be sure that it was important. I spent half an hour last night on a pointless puzzle that had nothing to do with the main quest and whose reward was three health packs, of which I had twenty, and five gamerscore points, of which I have over one hundred and thirty thousand.

I was not impressed.

Downpour is not as far off course as Silent Hill 4 was, but Silent Hill 4 didn't even start out as a Silent Hill game. The Room was at least scary (in places) and Downpour has yet to deliver. My scariness callouses are probably a bit thick thanks to Amnesia, but still, it's not even trying.

Maybe I should try this:



No face cam for you, though.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The only thing we have to fear...

I keep playing Silent Hill games because I hope to someday re-live the terror or the first two, and to a much lesser extent the third game. Every game since has been frightening not because of what was happening but because I remembered what had happened before and was worried it could get to that point again. I was scared of the new games because they just might live up to the earlier titles. Anyone who has played the series can attest to the fact that they never did.

Silent Hill was the first frightening game I had ever played, having missed out on System Shock 2 because I did not know that PC's could be used for more than anatomical 'research.' I played that game in the wee hour of the morning when I should have been sleeping and then couldn't sleep because I had been playing the game. Silent Hill 2 game me nightmares, specifically the sound of pyramid head's blade dragging against the ground is what did it. It woke me up screaming at least once.

Ever since I have played the games with the lights on and in short spurts just in case they moved from 'this is mildly uncomfortable' to 'oh my ever loving god I need a new pair of fucking pants.' They have also been surpassed by Fatal Frame 2 as the most frightening thing I have even put myself through, but still, I have hope.

Had hope, anyway.

Silent Hill Downpour reminds me more of The Suffering than its predecessors, and not just because it stars a grizzled prisoner who may or may not be guilty of what he was imprisoned for. The Suffering was never very frighting, just gross and unsettling. Downpour opens with the protagonist (?) dreaming about beating a fat man to death in the shower. That definitely qualifies as 'icky,' but it is not going to give me nightmares. The dark world, in spite of being augmented with a very cool fish eye lens effect, is too mechanized to be frightening. It feels like the game has given up on being scary and left that to the likes of Amnesia, opting to look cool and a little disturbing instead. Cool and a little disturbing is a crowded space (read that as most games that use the Unreal engine...) and Downpour has done nothing in its first hour or so to separate itself from the pack.

I quit about half an hour before I went to bed. I wasn't scared, I just wanted to play Rock Band Blitz. Still, after I had wandered up two flights of stairs in the dark and taken out my contacts I heard something from outside. It was far away, and I think it was coyotes yelling at each other. I think.

Fucking Silent Hill games...

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Getting a bit ahead of myself

It looks like I was a bit early on the Torchlight 2 bandwagon. That doesn't come out until the 20th. I also thought Borderlands 2 came out last week, but that was just wishful thinking. When I was in the brick and mortar business of pre-selling games I knew when every game came out and what the bullet points were to sell it. My gaming habits were different, as well. I played one game at a time, bought everything I wanted to play and traded them back in when I as done. I had the reputation as having played most everything and owning nothing.

That at least has not changed. I play a lot. Not everything, mind you, but in volume I run through more games than your average middle ahead gamer. And I still own very little; pretty much just fighting games, Rock Band 3 and a whole pile of down loaded games that I can't get rid of.

Anyway, a quick glance at the list shows that I am getting close to caught up.

Darksiders II
Risen 2: Dark Waters
Spec Ops: The Line
DiRT Showdown
Transformers: Fall of Cybertron
Sleeping Dogs
The Amazing Spider-Man

...actually that worse than I thought.

This is also assuming that I pass on Tekken Tag Tournament 2 and Dead or Alive 5. Is it bad that I actually hope their netcode is unplayably terrible?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Just plain lazy

I am not going to repent of my previous condemnation of Gaijin Entertainment. There a blight on the gaming industry and should be sold off, piece by piece, to fund a company that deserves the money. I will admit that I mad a few factual errors. First of all, I was completely mistaken about their country of origin and their size. According to their limited Wikipedia article they are the largest independent game developer in Russia and they have ties with everyone from Sony to Apple. This makes them a greater blight instead of a lesser one, but it certainly does not remove their blight status. Secondly, Birds of Steel is not their first flight combat game. They all did IL2-Strumovik, a game that I played and just might have enjoyed before this blog was started.

2009 is so long ago that I can barely remember the game. It is on my achievement list, so I know I played it, but I don't remember what I thought of it. The thought of it doesn't me nauseous, so it probably wasn't of the same quality as Blades of Time. Birds of Steel will likewise be forgotten in a few days. It commits the one of the worst possible sins in gaming: it's boring. I can see what it was aiming at: the hard core simulation crown who enjoy taking off, flying a boring mission in which two planes are shot down, then landing the plane in the same place. There is probably a market for this (somewhere), but it certainly is not on a console.

The game is only playable on casual for anyone without a flight stick (which I don't think exists as an accessory for the 360) or a pilot's license (in which case they certainly have better things to do). This whittles the audience down to, well, people who have nothing else to do. Read that as me and only me. Missions are boring are repetitive. The planes look okay but everything else looks terrible. Side missions are limited to 'land on the carries that you took off from.' Birds of Steel is not aggressively bad like Blades of Time was, but passive aggressively bad. It doesn't care enough to be good or to make an attempt at something interesting and fail,which in my mind makes it just a little bit worse.

If you must fail, fail boldly. This is also the excuse I use for buying a Qanba and Persona 4 Arena and not practicing enough to stop being terrible.

...

The shit parade continues with Silent Hill Downpour. Unless I purchase Torchlight 2, in which case the shit parade will be replaced by the click parade, followed shortly by the carpal tunnel shamble.