Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Wrong kind of porn

How many sex scenes are too many?

In a video game, in the present day, I would start with one. I have yet to see a sex scene in a game that was anything beyond titillation and an excuse for the effects guys  to see what they fancy calculations say boobs would do. Even in a genre like the first person shooter where the egregious and over the top are commonplace and to be expected there is no place for them.

Test: does its inclusion advance the story or characters in any way?
If no, leave out and spend the time on something else.
If yes, congratulations, but can the same thing be accomplished in a more subtle way?

The only game that I can think of that handled this well was Xenogears. It is important to the story, means something for the characters and is implied, not splashed out all over the screen like God of War, Darkwatch, Metro: Last Light and, most recently, Wolfenstein did. I am no prude but I do find them at the best superfluous, at worst offensive.

Wolfenstein is especially guilty, using one as a punchline.


With that out of the way, Wolfenstein does everything else better than any other shooter I have played this generation. The action is intense. The stealth is serviceable and, more importantly, optional. Perks are earned in a natural way instead of magically handed out at random intervals. Missions are laid out in a loud, quiet, loud manner that keeps things moving but never numbs the player to the violence. 

There are characters, actual, interesting characters with back stories and motivations that provide complications. BJ himself is almost tragic, a man whose war was lost while he was in a coma and is routinely handed impossible tasks. His homeland is gone, nuked by the enemy and still he fights, partly for revenge and partly because he doesn't know what else to do.

99% of Wolfenstein is almost perfect. It doesn't need pointless titillation, the guns are porn enough for me. Give me more of that and leave the unseemly bits for lesser titles. This is from some of the same guys who made The Darkness and the Riddick games. Remember how The Darkness handled romance?


That works. That builds empathy. Machine Games should know better than to have BJ nailing a girl on a table while people complain about the noise outside.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Bodied, but not in public

I will not be doing a play by play of my matches at UFGT like I did last year as I played terribly and there is not much to talk about. Casuals were okay but as soon as there was something on the line I was absolutely free. Blue light special Blanka, all day. The odd thing is that I had more fun this year. Getting crushed is never a good time but I had no one to blame but myself and my lack of preparation. Because I was sucking I played less, making more time to sit in the crowd and watch.

On Friday night Salty Bet made its first and only appearance as a "playable" entity. For the uninitiated, Salty Bet is a mugen/betting site that pits random characters from all sorts of sources against one another. Since no one ever actually plays the game it is almost always  broken and certainly never fair. Keits pulled in who knows how many favors to get a "playable" build for the final UFGT. It was a silent bidding auction and I am kicking myself for not throwing cash at it until I got to play. The single elimination bracket started as 11:00 and by 2:00 it was still not done. I had to excuse myself on account of being old and feeble but those three hours were unexplainable.

It was more hype than almost anything I had ever see. The crowd was insane. Please keep in mind that the results of the games were almost entirely random. Whoever got the more broken character won, but when that broken character was a charizard or a robot that took up most of the screen or Guts or, best of all, Dark Donald, it didn't matter. Completely unknown players became temporary heroes for being lucky.

It was a beautiful thing.

Someone needs to commission a study on why there is a group of about ten to fifteen people who will make top fifteen in just about any game they play. Is Chris G really that good at anything he touches? Does Justin Wong really have the hands of God? How does Valle have any cartilage left in his fingers? Some of it is definitely innate ability. I saw Justin make it out of his mystery game tournament without breaking a sweat. This is a tournament filled with games that are either terrible or that no one has ever heard of (and are terrible) and he was able to figure each one out in under a round.

There has to be more to it than that. I keep meaning to ask some of these guys how many hours a week they put into these games. Is it really a full time job for the sponsored players and does being sponsored pay a living wage? I have my doubts about it paying enough to live on, but if that is a case how do these guys juggle practicing, tournaments and work? Do they just not sleep?

Side note: seeing Valle and PR Balrog cradling their drinks and hovering over the shoulders of other players may have been worth the trip. Them not sleeping is a distinct possibility.

UFGT was a good time and I hope its replacement is worthy (and not in Minnesota). My closest brushes with the big guys were getting bodied 5-0 by Alucard in Ultra Street Fighter 4 (he was quite gracious and helped me understand the Hugo matchup) and losing to OMG Its Andre 2-1 in KI (he was less gracious but he at least shook my hand). If these is a next time I will do better.

...no I won't, but I will still go.

...

Tune in tomorrow to hear about Wolfenstein: The New Order, an excellent shooter with far to many sex scenes.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Itchy

I have dropped three ranks in Killer Instinct and about 500 BP in Street Fighter over the last few days. This means that I am getting all of the bad play out of my system, right? Right?

...

To stop the bleeding I played about an hour and a half of Outlast: Whistleblower last night. My reaction to Outlast was a bit more tempered than most - it had a some good moments, some terrible chase sequences and a bull shit ending. Whistleblower gets right to the bull shit ending, gets it out of the way, then works backwards through the areas that were actually frightening from the main game. It works because I know that the worst of the game is behind me.

Outlast was best in its quiet moments when the player thought something was going to happen and nothing did. It built the suspense better than it delivered on it because the delivery was always the same - jump scare or chase sequence. Whistleblower has yet to take any time building anything, it is just one chase followed by another. The first was a new character, one wielding a bone saw and screaming 'FEED ME FEED ME FEED ME' as he chases you, and he was creepy the first time. Then he came back.

Then he came back again.

After that the naked knife murdering twins made an appearance. They don't chase you, they just talk about chasing you. The last thing I saw before I quit for the night was the giant dude with no lips. Whistleblower is more of the same from a slightly different point of view and even less frightening due to it familiarity. It is so busy pushing the player from one contrived scare to the next that it never builds any tension.

Correction: the itch guy was creepy. I cannot find a video of him without any narration. Suffice to say, he has an itch, and he has a secret to tell you.

Are you his friend? He has an itch.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

She's all growed up now

How did the next episode of The Walking Dead sneak out without me noticing? I'll tell you how: I have stopped paying attention because I don't care as much as I probably should.

Season 1 was played in five days straight after Microsoft gave away the first episode for free. I was hooked and I need it all as soon as possible. Season 2 I am playing along with everyone else. The separation between the episodes is not of an unreasonable length but it is more than long enough for me to start forgetting events, characters, and why I should care that Kenny is still alive. Slowly but surely it is losing me.

This last chapter was a bit more impactful than the last two but I do not like what is happening. Much of the first season revolved around Lee trying to protect Clementine, trying to preserve her innocence, her childhood, and still teach her how to stay alive. It came to an abrupt end when Clem had to shoot Lee in the face, but still, she was a child and behaved in a childish way. Season 2 sees Clem behaving as a tiny adult, tougher and meaner than most of the other survivors she meets. It just doesn't work for me.

At the very least the game is aware of this change and puts the spotlight on it with a conversation between Clem and Carver, the main bad guy of the section. It makes sense but I don't enjoy it - the character is suddenly less likable. She certainly no longer needs the players protection as she did in the first season. She's turning into a little Nathan Drake before out eyes, only more sullen and apt to watch Kenny literally bash someone's head in because, hey, why the hell not, he deserved it.

I know the game's tricks, having seen them all before. Without a character or two to latch on to all the zombies and personal tragedies in the world are not enough to keep me invested.


Monday, May 19, 2014

Feelings. Nothing more than...

After Chance's review of Second Son I was prepared to be underwhelmed. InFamous 2 is one of the only games that managed to make me regret a decision I had made. My Cole was the electric Palpatine, murdering street musicians by the hundreds just because he liked the sound it made when the fried. There was a painful twist at the end of the second game, in which good and evil side kicks switched and I had to kill Zeke, that I did not enjoy. Nothing after that mattered. It was as impressive as it was depressing.



This lingering regret led me to play Second Son as the good guy, the newly forged conduit intent on making things right and not taking the low road of revenge. It was not a difficult choice, the game really leads the player in that direction. Delsin is a pretty likable guy and him murdering civilians the same way Cole did just didn't feel right. Murderous rampages by skinny jean wearing hipsters just don't happen, even if the hipster has smoke powers and can fly.

Second Son is not a large of game as either of the previous games. This sounds like a bad thing but I was able to find and do everything the game had to offer in a reasonable amount of time. I found all the blast shards, did all the side missions, basically gutted the game, all before the credit rolled. There wasn't much fluff and I will take that over a bloated experience full of things that I will never do or see. This does meant that New Game+ is nonexistent and that you never get to play with the concrete powers earned from the final boss, but said powers are pretty lame.

Correction, two of the four powers were pretty lame, the other miss being video. Smoke and neon were used exclusively, neon for moving and sniping and smoke when I had bosses to fight.

Misses aside I looked forward to playing Second Son for the duration of the game. Every evening I would sit down and map out which sections of Seattle I was going to liberate. These side missions were just as much fun as the main ones because the city sections were open enough for random things to happen. Example: I was chasing an enemy agent who led me out of a relatively safe area into a DUP stronghold. My merry chase tuned into running for my life, pursued by three helicopters and a bunch of drug dealers I pissed off at the same time. It was excellent and completely unplanned.

The one thing that I would have liked would have been some kind of tie to the previous two games. There was no mention of Cole or the beast of the fact that the entire east coast was wiped out. Second Son felt more like a reboot that a sequel. Zeke was mentioned in the credits, meaning that the good ending of inFamous 2 was the canon ending, but I never saw or heard him. I was too busy being the goody two shoes smoke hero to worry about the east coast, anyway.

...to be fair I just watched the evil ending and it was fucking stupid. Just like the powers the game hits on 50% of what it tries. I got lucky and picked the better side of things.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Powers I will never use

Awwwww shit...



Blanka's got combos now.

Just sent in my $10 for the Ultra Street Fighter IV pre-release tournament at UFGT. I will consider it a success if I land crouching medium - crouching medium - fierce ball. That ultra combo is juuuust a little past what I can do.

...

I am still going to the climbing gym once a week in spite of two of the people that I climbed with moving to Colorado and the other two people disappearing. Just me and an auto-belay. This keeps me off of the hardest routes, which is fine because the trade off is climbing slightly easier routes more often. I actually get more climbing done in an hour and a half this way.

There is a downside to this - my hands are useless by the time I am done. On the bad days I can't even extend my fingers fully. Good for the pinchy holds, bad for playing video games when I get home. Translation: no fighting games. inFamous Second Son is almost done so I soldier through the pain last night to get my third power.

Not particularly worried about spoiler since the game is not new anymore, but just in case, you have been warned.

The powers were given to the player in the wrong order. Video is third and it is lame, doing nothing better than the previous two other than kill enemies on one fewer melee hit. It should have been first so it could be quickly discarded. Neon is okay for a middle power as it allows the player to generate either good or evil karma by just shooting dudes in different places. It also makes moving around the city much quicker than either of the other two.

Smoke looks the coolest, does the most damage at a distance, and did I mention that it looks significantly better than the other two? I should be able to finish the game off tonight, if I play it, and I am dreading being forced to use the video powers. Being catapulted out of satellite dishes just isn't as cool as running around like The Flash or drifting through tubes as a waft of smoke.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Killer drops

Fair warning, there is going to be a lot of fighting game talk in the next week and a half as I cram for UFGT. Work on other games will come in spurts. I really shouldn't have purchased the Outlast expansion, hopefully it will be short.

At low to middle player tiers the execution requirements of Killer Instinct are almost nonexistent. Every engagement becomes a little game of rock, paper, scissors. Predicting your opponent and not being predictable is the whole game. Better players throw in manuals, the equivalent of one frame links, and those are very difficult to break. The risk/reward issue disappears when the player has godlike hands. I am not nor will I ever be there, but more importantly neither are most of the people online.

All of this means that good days vs bad days is almost entirely mental. Are you making better decisions that the other guy? If yes, then you will win. If no, then too bad for you. I played an hour last night (because that was as long as I could resist inFamous' sirens call) and was playing completely past my ability. These are matches that I will post not just because they were me but because they were damn fine matches.

To top it off I was dropping combos all over the place and still winning. The American Reset in action. If I could bottle that, condense it, then whip it out in a week there would be hope for a more than an embarrassing performance at UFGT. I might even win two games.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

This is what we came for

Six or seven months into the new generation and I had yet to have a true next generation moment. Plenty of things had been pretty, Killzone, Killer Instinct and Forza come to mind, but nothing was as jarring as the jump from 2D to 3D or the move from Xbox to Xbox 360. No generational leap, more of a gentle passing of the torch, only the person who passed the torch is still running right along side the recipient.

Last night in inFamous Second Son I was hiding on a rooftop, waiting for the crazy neon bio-terrorist to show up so I could steal her powers. Time passed in what I thought was a cut scene, moving from day to night in spectacular fashion. It didn't look 'real' but it looked really, really good.

And I was wrong, it wasn't a cut scene. The camera swung around and I was in control. I cannot tell you one specific thing that made this transition look so good, probably because it was about a million little things all done correctly that made it work. This is exactly what I was looking for, something for the graphics whore who has had his fill of retro-indie throwbacks. I needed eye candy and inFamous delivers.

The game is pretty good, too, especially after Spider-Man.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The danger of a quiet evening

Some thoughts that I have no where else to put. And unlike other ramblings, I happen to be sober.

Stop and think for a moment: what of any importance have you ever done?

Every Sunday for the past several months I have been watching Cosmos. It is a callback to my childhood when I watched some of the original, only now I understand more of what is being shown. The science information if excellent but what I find more impactful and incredibly humbling are the stories of the people behind the science. Each episode picks an important person or two and traces their contributions. Tonight it was Farraday, the man who invented the electric motor, the generator, and in the closing years of his life, suffering from a failing memory and deep depression, proposed invisible lines of force as the explanation for magnetic fields.

This motherfucker grew up in a slum, ended up the director of the premier science organization of its time, and knew, literally knew, how magnets work, all with no formal schooling. And what did you do today?

I grilled brats, had a few beers, watched the dog play, then sat on my ass for several hours, and I have a formal education, did not grow up in a slum, and don't have a failing memory. What's my excuse? How can I derive joy from watching a show about someone who has accomplished so much when I have done so little?

About six years ago I had a similar crisis of worth. Many, many years of retail management had left me feeling empty. I wanted more something, so I went back to school, got a real job and have since more than doubled my income. I have a nice house in a safe neighborhood, have a basement filled with electronic novelties and a motorcycle that is as overpriced as it is a cheap way to get attention and pretend that I don't care about it. To say that I live a charmed life would be generous.

And tomorrow if I were squashed flat by a dump truck I would be missed by a few and quickly forgotten.I tease about my advanced age but I will indeed be forty in two years. Forty. Slightly less than twenty years of adult life and what have I contributed? I have a man crush on Neil deGrasse Tyson but that isn't going to get any stars named after me.

Is it selfish to want to matter on a larger scale, to tire of being anonymous and unimportant?

Cosmos is not what depresses me. The show is a gateway drug to science and I hope it hooks many people. What saddens me is that I am simultaneously jealous of these men and woman and their contributions and either unable or unwilling to put forth the effort to emulate them. Tomorrow I will go to work, take some phone calls, fix some things, probably save the day for some HR manager, because that it was I do on Mondays. Then I will come home, eventually play video games, and go to bed.

And the world will turn. The world in the solar system in the galaxy in the universe. It will all still be there tomorrow and it doesn't care that I saved the day for some user. Stars are living and dying in unimaginable numbers, entire worlds and being created and destroyed, all while I sit on the couch, listening to the dish washer, drinking a Coke, wondering what my place in it is and if it really matters.

Everything I do feels transient. If I didn't go to work someone else would. If the company went under the customers would find identical services elsewhere. If the whole goddamn state fell into the Earth people would just get their cheese and beer from someplace else. Taken to the absurd, the universe has many ways that it could destroy our entire planet tomorrow. In the face of this cosmic uncertainty many choose to help their fellow man, contribute to the whole, or work toward understand how everything works.

Knowing that the end of life as we know it could happen tomorrow I have chosen to sit on my couch, drink a Coke, listen to the dish washer and perform uncomfortable self analysis, not necessarily in that order. The futility of my daily routine is astounding.

The dishwasher just stopped and the quiet is unnerving. The ringing in my ears reminds me that I have listened to music at too high a volume for most of my days. The fan in my laptop cycles on and off, cooling a device whose operation I vaguely understand but on whose operation my livelihood relies. The dog stretches, breaths, dreams simple dreams about her day. She doesn't care that her existence is pointless, her ball and her food are enough to sustain her.

The smartest thing in the room, the culmination of eons of evolution or the master work of a divine being, depending on your point of view, realizes that he has to pee. There are others of his kind living, dying, killing, breeding, discovering, learning, improving, and all he knows is that he has to pee. Others of his kind are sussing out the secrets of the universe and he is mustering the effort to walk across the room and down the hall.

Then he realizes the he switched from first to third person and is to lazy to go back and fix it. Screw keeping my tense consistent, there could be a meteor or a dump truck with my name on it.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Preperations

I am (probably) going to make an effort to be more prepared for UFGT this year. This preparation should have begun around twelve months ago. It did not, and here I am, about two weeks out, confronted with how bad I really am at two of the three games I will be playing. The third is the mystery game tournament, in which everyone is terrible and the name of the game is find one move and abuse the shit out of it, and I can do that.

To that effect I sat down and ground out almost three hours of Killer Instinct last night. I started at a nine rank out of forty, worked up to ten, dropped back to nine, and bounced back to ten. KI handles rank very well - the majority of ranked matches end up against someone within a rank or two. Every once in a while I was tossed a cupcake or was the cupcake tossed to someone else, both making it very clear that the division between player tiers in both absolute and vicious.

The better player usually wins. What more could you ask for in a fighting game?

I really, really want KI to survive and for that to happen season two needs to start sooner than later. Ranked play brings mostly Jago's and Fulgore's, with the occasional Glacius and almost never another Thunder. I secretly believe that Thunder may be on the bottom of the heap but I have put in too much time and am not good enough to switch characters now. Throw shenanigans all day, ever day.

Street Fighter should get my undivided attention tonight. inFamous is right there, already installed, begging for play time, so that is not going to be easy.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Cram in more bosses!

The vast, vast majority of movie games are not good. Explaining this is simple: unfair restrictions based on release window and faithfulness to the property it is being tied to. It is a miracle that the Ultimate Spider-Man games have been playable at all, much less enjoyable. USM2 (an odd abbreviation) ran out of time before all of the requisite bad guys were fought. Someone panicked and stuffed Kingpin, Shocker, Green Goblin and Carnage all into the last hour of the game.

Why? Because they were in the movie.

The story, such as it was, only required Kingpin and Carnage. They at least made sense. The other two were blatant one shot tie ins. Even worse, the Green Goblin fight was pretty good. There was just no reason for it to happen.

It's a flawed game, one that I enjoyed because I wanted to enjoy it, not because of any intrinsic worth. With the proper blinders, or enough mental fatigue, anything that is not work related can be enjoyable.

...

I played about thirty minutes of Stick it to the Man after Spider-Man 2 was done. It was free, so why not. I would proffer an opinion, if I had one, but as it sits I have no idea what I played and if it was any good or not. Part rudimentary platformer, part adventure game, all bizarre. It warrants a second look, and it will get it, but I really should be practicing for UFGT. The KI scene is not very large and with my luck I will be up against Maximillian in the first round.

At least I would get a dood out of it.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Unsubstantiated rumours

Hmmm..

Dualshockers has some rumours. Never heard of them but will read anyway.

(put's on cynical hat)

...Ninja Theory working on PS4 exclusive, possible Heavenly Sword sequel...

(takes off cynical hat)




*sniff*sniff*

In case anyone wonders why I still like wrestling.



True, it could have been any sport, but for this kid it was wrestling.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Swing, swing, splat

There comes a time in the day when, after fighting with servers and software and, worst of all, other vendors, that my brain ceases to function. It will no longer process any information more difficult that how to get my helmet on and just maybe to check my blind spot after turning out of the parking lot. Days like this are exactly what games like Amazing Spider-Man 2 are for. The game isn't that good, but it isn't that bad either. it just is, and that is about all I can handle at the moment.

Confession: I have not seen either of the Amazing Spider-Man movies. I didn't see the third of the last series, either, and I have no intention to. I am not a fan of Spider-Man; too much teen drama, too many 'witty' comebacks, and generally a weak cast of villains. The game, though, have always been pretty good: psuedo open world chewing gum with a host of side objectives that I will never do. Playable, enjoyable, disposable.

This is the first game to truly get the swinging right since Spider-Man 2 back on the oXbox and PS2, and they did it with a very simple innovation. The left trigger swings with the left hand and the right trigger swing with the right. It feels much more organic and manageable, and because of this the game actually requires webs to have something to attach to for swinging to work. No more swinging from the moon or the clouds. No building, no swing. Just traveling through the city is fun again.

One step forward, yes!

Side missions are randomly generated, not forced, but required. If you skip too many of them they expire, Spider-Man's reputation suffers, and eventually the flying cops start shooting at him.

Two steps back.

It's still fun and it is the first disc based game I have played on my PS4 since Knack. I need to justify owning the system some how.

Friday, May 2, 2014

And you thought I wasn't cultured

Let's talk about poetry for a second.

Why does this work?

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore -
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door -
"Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door-
           Only this and nothing more."
                                                         -Poe, The Raven

Is it because it rhymes? No, at least not just because of that. There is a rhythm to it, a meter, a flow that makes it comfortable to read, especially when read aloud. No syllables stick out, no lines feel truncated. I am not saying that all poetry needs rhymes and rhythm but when it is in that genre please read the damn thing out loud a few times to see if it works.

Now, why are we talking about this?

'And so Aurora wandered
The Twilight forest, far from home
Starlight only to guide her
Except for a firefly, alone.

Anxious for the comforts
Of family who could not trace her,
Searching for the sun and moon
A father to embrace her.'

I am no more a poet than I am a writer, but come on. Read it aloud. Do it. Now...

'And so Aurora wandered
The Twilight forest, far from home
Starlight all there was to guide her
But for a firefly, alone.

Anxious for the comforts lost,
A family who could not trace her,
Searching for the sun and moon
Strong Father's arms there to embrace her.'

That just feels better (trace her - embrace her is still pretty weak...). The game? Oh, right, Child of Light is a game first, poem second. Simplistic take on JRPG combat running on the same engine as Rayman Legends. For the most part, no problems, but I am not a fan of the player's party being limited to two active characters in combat. So far I have accumulated several of the standard RPG tropes: the main hero who is a jack of all trades, a melee healer (cleric), a magic user and a character that inflicts status effects. Having only two at a time always leaves a role unfilled, kind of like the missing syllables it the poetry. I can do physical and magic damage but have no way to heal or I can do only physical damage but have no status effects, etc.

There is a reason many RPGs have the party set at three: it covers all the bases and is still manageable. Child of Light seems to know its own limitation and allows party members to be swapped out in combat at no cost but that is no replacement for having a third active character.

Child of Light is a very good small role playing game, so far. It comes up one beat short in several areas but looks good enough to make up for it.