Sunday, March 30, 2014

Gallows humor

Magus ended after six hours and I had only unlocked about half of the skills. This did not matter because I had made it through the entire game using the standard attack, a buff and an AOE. The only enemy that every managed to damage me was the final boss. She damn near killed me but only because I had stopped looking at the health bar several hours ago. It was terrible and it was short. It also made laugh.

It was a cruel laughter, as one would laugh at a stranger falling down on some ice, but that made it more fun than the forty five minutes I spent with Titanfall.

...

My fighting game diet has consisted of Killer Instinct and more Killer Instinct for several months. Hard earned cash money has been put down on UFGT 10 with the sensible goal of going 2-2 in pools instead of 1-2. (No Street Fighter x Tekken this time, just AE 2012 and KI) To do this I will actually need to play AE instead of just talking about it. No problem, right?

It took me about half an hour to get the Killer Instinct out of my hands. Blanka felt uncontrollable, his jump arc was unfamiliar and I was completely unable to sit on down back when appropriate. My Blanka is lame with outbursts of shenanigans but my Thunder is a bully. I need to find a way for them to coexist.

It took pain and many losses but I did remember how to play Street Fighter, reaching rank B for the first time in over two years. The highlight of the evening was taking a game off of a top 100 ranked Bison. He found me again and crushed me, but it was very nice to play three rounds of footsies, spacing, and staring at one another from across the screen.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Opinions, opinions, lol

I am not going to say much about Titanall. My opinion of it is stilted and without merit as spending forty five minutes with a multiplayer only game is the equivalent of watching the previews, leaving the theatre and then saying the movie sucked. I will contend that Titanfall's environments are amazingly detailed and it would have been nice to actually get a look at and explore them. The nature of the genre dictates that as soon as one stops to smell the roses one fucking dies. The game could look half as good and no one would notice.

There could have been a great single player game built here and I am disappointed that there wasn't.

...

Magus is an early contender for worst game of the year. I think it might actually be worse than Ride to Hell.

For example, the character model of the Magus, the main character, is so bad that I laughed out loud when he appeared on the title screen. Check this out:


What is wrong with his face?

I have only put about three hours into the game I have already seen everything there is to see. Environments are drab and repetitive. Combat consists entirely of holding L1 and circle strafing. The UI looks like it was designed to be run at a higher resolution but I do not think the game saw a PC release. And the dialogue is both terrible and pointless. This is a perfect shit storm: shovelware after the end of a generation. I must see it through to the end.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

About what I thought

I made it forty five minutes.

Then I got bored.

Titan fear

I am, out of fear, putting off Titanfall. It has been installed and ready to go for over a week. First it was South Park, then I was out of town for a few days and Titanfall doesn't work offline. Last night I 'remembered' that I had yet to play the second chapter of The Walking Dead, Season Two. When that was done I played Killer Instinct instead because there wasn't enough time left before bed to start something new. What exactly I am afraid of?

I am afraid that I will not like it. Online only shooters are just above sports games on my list of things to not bother playing. The only reason it is on my list at all is because I want to use my new shiny Xbox on new shiny things. And if I do like it, hell, if I fall in love with the damn thing, what then? The game has no end and my current backlog is seven games. Game I actually care about like Street Fighter and KI get shafted for time. Do I have space for another?

If I do like it, or at least tolerate it, I am afraid that I am going to be really, really bad at it. Getting hopelessly stomped in a game you are trying to learn is no fun. Case in point, I had three people disconnect from me last night while playing KI in a row. My Thunder is not that good but if he gets rolling and you miss a breaker half your life or more is gone in a flash. Other players have a months worth of time and perks built up in Titanfall and here comes Chamberlain, fresh out of noob school trying to figure out how to aim.

This kind of anxiety is not good for your heart and is why I usually avoid multiplayer anything outside of fighting games. I will commit to one full evening of Titanfall. This equals between two and a half and three hours. Reactions will follow.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Have gross, will travel

When I was packing up yesterday for a short trip I was not sure if it was worth bringing the 360 along or not. 'It's only one night,' I thought. Then I remembered what happened the last time I went somewhere with nothing to do (drinking, blogging, regretting, hangover-ing) and made space for the system in my suitcase. There was just enough time last night to put The Stick of Truth to bed. Aside from an extended trip through a mans rather crowded lower intestine I have but one complaint: level cap.

I hit the level cap with about two hours to go in the game. Had I not looked at my character screen I would never have even noticed but once I did combat lost all meaning and become little more than an obstacle between me and the credits. Character growth, however small, is what drives role playing games. Every battle needs move you forward in some way, preferably more than monetarily. Final Fantasy X is one of the prime examples of this done right: every few battles the player was in sphere grid, improving a character. Sometimes it was big, sometimes it was more hit points, but there was always progress.

Putting an arbitrary cap on player progression is fine, just put it high enough that it will not be hit during a normal play through. Maxing out abilities is for post game shenanigans. As it happened in The Stick of Truth, the last two hours felt pointless from a combat perspective. I had the armor that I was going to use, I couldn't learn any more abilities, so why I am bothering to kill this nazi zombie underpants gnome?

If I remember correctly, and being a cranky old man I may not be, Obsidian has done this before, specifically in Knights of the old Republic. I suppose it adds more weight to which abilities you choose when you know that you cannot have all of them. It would have in The Stick of Truth had the very first ability, beating a guy over the head with a bat, not been so good. That ability, when maxed out, caused five points of the bleeding status effect. This means they would lose between one and two thousand more points per turn before I hit them again. I created the following combat flow chart:


  1. Bash nazi zombie whatever over head until bleeding profusely
  2. Light on fire
  3. Fart on profusely bleeding, immolated head
  4. Go back to 1 if enemy still alive
Non-boss enemies rarely made it past 4. This is still not an excuse for a level cap, it means that the enemies should have scaled with the player's level. Let the player feel more powerful even if all that changes is the number of zeroes at the end of a damage counter.

The Stick of Truth was still a very good RPG. It was gross, worse than the movie and I didn't think that was possible, but that was the point. And do you know who we can blame for everything we don't like?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

More than I wanted to see

South Park has been out of my viewing rotation for many, many years. The series peaked within the first few episodes, specifically with the giant satellite dish coming out of Cartman's ass and the aliens talking to the cows. Ok, the movie was good, too:



...I think that was from the movie.

This means that I am missing the vast majority of in jokes hidden inside The Stick of Truth. In the space of the first two hours the only characters I recognize are Cartman, Cartman's Mom and Timmy, though Timmy may be because his song was in one of the Guitar Hero games. I was honestly worried that the game would rely so heavily on callouts to the source material that I just wouldn't enjoy it. On the contrary, instead of nitpicking every little thing and if it is canon or not I can take a high level view of the game. What I see so far is very promising: a traditional RPG that both adheres to and lampoons what makes an RPG an RPG.

For example, during the combat tutorial Cartman chastises to new kid to wait his turn when fighting. 'You take turns!' he yells, 'just like they did in the olden days!'

'That's fuckin' lame' comes the response from your training partner. It is lame, but it is also just about perfect. Turn based combat with timed button presses and a surprising amount of depth. Think Super Mario RPG plus proganity. This is traditional combat, the game knows it, and it never stops making fun of it.

Combat is not the only trope that isn't safe. Just as I would in any RPG I spent most of my first hour wandering around town, opening doors and stealing things. Butters, the only other member of my party so far, wonders aloud when you are going to stop screwing around and get back to the game. And all those unlocked doors? So far there has been a woman doing aerobics (naked), a man masturbating furiously and another man fucking a horse. It's definately South Park.

Edit: It was Rock Band, not Guitar Hero.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Thieves do it from behind

Thief is a game about sneaking around, stealing stuff, and if you are as bad at the first part as I am am, knocking out guards from behind so I could do the stealing at my leisure. I am sure it is possible to do a clean run in which every bit of liftable loot is bagged without touching another human being but I do not have the skill or patience for it. I did try to avoid killing people and not once did I pile all the unconscious guards up in the yard and light them on fire. That only happened once in Deadly Shadows and I am still not sure if I am proud or ashamed.

My point is that Thief is about Garrett, a person, against guards, who are also people. When I grew frustrated with sneaking I could always force the issue with sharp arrows through eye holes. Then the freaks showed up, monsters who could not be back attacked and would shrug off anything short of Rambo style explosive munitions. There is precedent for non-human enemies in Thief games but that doesn't mean I have to like it. The freaks only show up twice but they suck what little fun is present out of their levels both times.

It was clear that I had given up on the game when the penultimate boss fight gave me the option of killing him or stealing all his stuff and then sneaking past him. Ordinarily I would opt to embarrass him, thus dragging out his suffering and increasing my schadenfreude. I tried once then resigned myself to the kill (which was still difficult thanks to his ability to shoot crossbow bolts around corners). The desire to play Garrett according to his code was gone; I was willing to hack and slash my way to the end.

And then the end came and it didn't make any sense. Spoiling it is pointless, it's that dumb. Not dumb like the ending of Outlast was dumb, dumb because there was no thought put into it whatsoever. I am very much looking forward to the South Park game in which the dumbness is intentional and amusing instead of depressing.


Monday, March 17, 2014

No more mincing words

I am not sure why I have been so hesitant to say this, but Thief is just a bad game. It isn't a less than stellar sequel, it doesn't just not live up to the previous games, it would be bad if there were no other games named Thief and this was the first one. Taken in context and compared it its older siblings Thief is less of a Thief game than Dishonored was. Hell, playing as Rogue in Skyrim was more fun than what this game has to offer.

Complaints are numerous so I will focus on the worst offender: the bug world (The City) is terrible in almost every way. It is simultaneously too small and difficult to navigate. Sections of the city are broken apart in illogical ways. For example, getting from the northern section to the southern section requires climbing through a window instead of using the street or a goddamn door. I can think of no reason for it to be done this way apart from technical limitations and that does not make it any better. The game doesn't look that good, there is no good reason that the developers couldn't have either hidden the loading screens more creatively or eliminated them altogether.

Having to mash X to open a window when I know full well it is just there is disguise loading is infuriating. We are talking about elevator rides in Mass Effect levels of bull shit here. At least Mass Effect used conversations to break up the silence. All Thief offers is the sound of my controller being beaten to death.

There is more. Some effort was made to have the city run the same way as the levels do: filled with guards. I really don't agree with this choice. This is not a free roaming sandbox, it is a series of linear levels tied together by a single hub. Making the hub just as if not more difficult to traverse as the levels themselves does little more than pad game length. The side quests are hard enough without having to deal with a dozen guards who can communicate with one another telepathically. It breaks up the flow of the game just as much as window portals between streets and killer load times.

There, it's off my chest. Thief is not good. Now it needs to be finished so I can play South Park and get around to being bad at Titanfall.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Stole my time

I played Thief for three hours last night and got nothing done. This was not a good getting nothing done like an Elder Scrolls game where each side track led to three more, all of which were worth seeing and doing. No, this was a bad nothing done in which I spent no less than an hour wandering around one section of a level because I could not figure out what to do. When I finally gave up and killed myself to revert to an auto-save it pushed me back so far I don't remember what I looted and what I didn't on the way to where I was stuck.

It was no fun at all.

Add to Thief's sins a very forced and uncomfortable brothel section. You are forced to peek into private rooms in which there are unspeakable things occurring, the worst of which being a rather loud S&M session. And it gets worse - even after you walk away you can still here what is going on, and it loops, and it loops, and it loops. I never want to hear 'HARDER!' again. Ever.

Again I must confess to not having played either of the first Thief games, but this Thief is an unpleasant departure from Deadly Shadows, which was itself much maligned by fans of the originals. Imagine if they had gone ahead with naming the game Thi4f, or whatever ridiculous number name they almost used.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Don't look at me, look at what I am playing!

Streaming update!

Twitch streaming on the Xbox One is superior to doing so on the PS4 because you can remove the chat sidebar and view your own game full screen. I turned off the picture in picture of my ugly mug because no one wants to see that and somehow ended up with around eight people watching me play thief last night. If anyone happens to wander over here, thank you! And if anyone here is curious, click on the 'Now Playing' picture to go directly to my Twitch page. The stream should be up just about every night, assuming I am on the Xbox One or PS4.

It's a pity I wont be able to stream South Park.

Thief is, to be blunt, tedious. The hub city is difficult to find your way around in as there are always guards around every corner and the map isn't very useful. Actual missions are very linear, especially if you haven't purchased the extra tools yet. One path in, one path out, and don't bother trying to fight anything. I am not a Thief veteran, my only previous experience is with Deadly Shadows, but even when compared to that this reboot is just not very good.

The character models are especially troubling: they're ugly. This is not the case with other cross gen titles like Assassin's Creed or Call of Duty so I am not sure what happened here. Too much time was spent filling the air with bit of dust and not enough was spent making the people look like people. I keep reminding myself we will be in this awkward stage for at least another year, with the only real examples of next gen titles being exclusives like Titanfall and inFamous.

Speaking of Titanfall, it actually shipped and I am honestly afraid to play it. Online only plus me equals about an hour until I put it away and I am pretty sure that it will be a huge loss on my part.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

So tired

Still here, just been quite busy.

Going to try to stream some Thief tonight: http://www.twitch.tv/infinitebacklog

Monday, March 10, 2014

Impossible mission

Last week I sent Chance a Mission Impossible email: convince me to give Dark Souls 2 a shot even though I hated Demons' Souls and intentionally skipped Dark Souls. He took a few days to get back to me, presumably because he was having too much fun with The Stick of Truth to set aside time for my pretty blatant trolling. It really was not a winnable contest. My mind had long ago been made up about the series. Much to his credit, Chance recognized this, but instead of punting or calling me an ass he laid out plainly why he loved it so much and could not wait for the sequel.

My opinion has not changed but I better understand why the very same things that caused me to drop the game in disgust have so enthralled others. I have a very knee jerk reaction to repeating parts of a game. This extends out to almost never playing a game through more than once: I just don't have time for it and even if I did, why bother, I have already played it. The second (or third, or fourth) viewings do nothing for me. Demons' Souls was built entirely around this concept. Every scenario begins with the player dying, losing all his stuff, and being sent back to the beginning. All progress is lost. It felt like I was going in circles and it drove me mad. 

Chance points out that this trial by failure is not the point and that not all progress is lost. The player retains whatever was learned even if his character does not. Demons' Souls taught the player via torment and death which fostered greater ownership of success when it finally came. The monster was slain not because of the bigger, better sword but because the player learned what needed to be done while walking past a mountain of his own corpses.

I never got to the success part. There was no difficulty curve, it was a brick wall, and I did not have enough patience to build a ladder out of severed limbs. Demons' Souls was lumped into the same category as insanely difficult retro-PC games and I never looked back.

Consequently I never got to experience any of the other reason Chance gave for loving Dark Souls, its unique and pure version of boring fantasy tropes. It sounds like it painted a beautiful picture, I just couldn't force myself to wait in the long line to see it.

'It's not about fun,' said Chance, 'but it is about pleasure.' Looking back at my own criteria for a good action game I understand what he means. I have said before that if you are not having fun right now in an action game start the clock. If it five minutes you are still not having fun there is a problem. Coming from someone who plays terrible games on purpose this sounds a little hypocritical, but it does explain how I can make time for Ride to Hell: Retribution but turn my nose up at Dark Souls 2. Ride to Hell was funny or terrible at regular intervals. Demons' Souls frustrated me by killing me at regular intervals. The decision was a simple one.

What is good and what is not good is not the issue. I am well aware that Dark Souls was an excellent game and that, for example, Earth Defense Force 2025 is not. Put them next to each other and I will choose shooting giant ants with big guns because that provides more regular positive feedback and because, on top of hating to repeat myself, I don't like to loose. I can't see what Chance sees, that the death was just a way of teaching. I see it as poor design and a way to pad game length because there are ways to teach the player without taking away their precious progress.

Thanks to Chance for taking up the gauntlet. I am not going to play it but I understand why you, and anyone else, will.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Bigish fun

I refuse to consider playing Earth Defense Force 2025 as slumming it. It's ugly, repetitive, filled with silly difficulty spikes and comically stingy with achievements, but you are shooting giant bugs and giant-er robots with machine guns and rocket launchers. Things blow up really good. It is also the same exact game as the last one, plus a few more classes that I will never use. It's soldier all the way for me. Two weapons and a ton of hit points.

The simple act of back peddling in the face of hundreds of giant ants, lobbing rockets into the center of their swarming mass, then being showered with limbs and viscera, cannot be beat. There are of course problems, most notably with how the game handles corpses. Giant bugs leave giant bodies, giant bodies that stick around long enough to create unscalable piles or, even worse, bounce directly in front of my rocket launcher just as I am firing. That hurts. It's part of the charm, I suppose: on the normal difficulty I die most often from my own friendly fire.

There is also the small matter of the games length. For what it has to offer it is about twice as long as it needs to be. There are six significantly different classes and the game encourages you to play through will all of them. Playing through means getting through around ninety levels, many of which are recycled from previous ones with more and/or larger enemies. I may end up platooning the game with Thief as the inhabit opposite ends the game gaming spectrum.

Seriously, if a giant ant shows up in Thief I am fucking out.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Some of a good idea

Everybody wants Shadow Complex 2. Why? Two reasons. First of all it was a damn fine game. Secondly, Konami still has not gotten around to a proper 1080p sequel to Symphony of the Night. The only explanation I can come up with is that they are allergic to big stacks of money. Or I am an old man and afraid of change.

We aren't going to get a new Symphony of the Night or Shadow Complex 2 because the world in an unfair place. But wait, a Strider reboot? A non-linear, Metroid-vania Strider reboot? Almost. It looks like it is open until you actually try to explore. Quickly you will run into a door you can't open or gap you can't jump. The same is true for all games of this type but the roadblocks show up much more quickly in Strider. On top of that it goes out of its way to tell you where to go next. Don't wander too far, and by the way, this is the way you are supposed to go. It is a linear non-linear game.

All is not lost - the game is still very satisfying. Strider starts out powerful and just gets more powerful as the game progresses. New sword attacks, more options, more daggers, all of which are required as enemies become more numerous and harder to kill. Backtracking is kept interesting by swapping out enemies and giving access to other hidden areas. It's still not open. A better description would be that the game is wide. The path is wide, and more importantly, it's fun.

...

I started this post yesterday, got busy, finished Strider, and am now too sick to record creative thought. My brain is done for the day. Earth Defense Force will be about all that I can handle.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Stream time

SCR kept me from actually playing anything this weekend, it spite of the terrible stream quality. Twitch barely works at all on the Xbox One so I was forced to watch at my computer like a technical luddite. Supposedly this will be overhauled when streaming is turned on in March. There will plenty of time to test as my queue is pleasantly full again. Having a few games stacked up next to my television is comforting, though playing them in the order in which they were received will remain a challenge. I want to play Thief but I need to finish Strider and Earth Defense Force, first. At least I know where I will be spending my evenings.

There was an announcement at SCR regarding Ultra Street Fighter 4. It wasn't the one everyone was hoping for but it made a lot of people happy anyway.



An interesting idea. One that I do not know enough about the game to truly appreciate, but it made many of the pro's wet themselves with anticipation. They can play the 'what if' game all they want, and I will watch and try to understand, but at the end of the day I will just play Ultra and be happy with it. I only play one character with any semblance of skill and he hasn't changed all that much. Way back in Vanilla Blanka's horizontal balls were safe on hit. They got worse in AE and 2012 but in Ultra it is (more or less) fixed: hard ball knocks down at any distance. Why would I not play that version.

People can wistfully remember vanilla Sagat or Honda if they want, I will be happy with the new stuff.

...

Registration for UFGT 10 is open. Should I?