Thursday, July 31, 2014

I shouldn't like this

I have mentioned several times that I am tired of the new retro-indie games that wear their 16-bit-ness as a badge of honor. New systems are for pretty games, not new games that look like really old games. I have also confessed that I avoid games that use death and repetition as a core game play mechanic. I grow frustrated and bored far to quickly to enjoy them.

Based on those two statements would you guess that I would enjoy Rogue Legacy? Because the three and half hours that disappeared last night say that I did. Even better, I have been thinking about it all day and I want to get back to it as soon as possible.

Games like Dark Souls frustrate me because it feels like I am not making any progress. My interest thrives on progression. If a number goes up or I get new equipment I am satisfied and the next death feels like it was worth it. Rogue Legacy provides this in two ways. First, every new character is different. There are several classes (which aren't quite different enough, but better than nothing) and random bonuses or hindrances that keep each run unique. On top of that equipment and abilities purchased are carried over between generations. Even if a run lasts two minutes, which is a distinct possibility, I am never really starting over.

The game can be frustrating. The three and half hours I spent on it last night nearly ended much earlier when I made a premature attempt at the first boss. He didn't look that tough but I just didn't do enough damage. I finally beat him an hour later by spamming projectiles. It sounds simple but up until then I didn't have enough MP to spam enough projectiles to kill him. All the death had made a difference.

Even better for me is the game has an end. There are four areas, four bosses, then a final area that opens up at the end. Killed bosses carry over, too, which means that success should just be a matter of time. And time I have, there is still nothing big on the horizon. August is pretty weak, especially on the current gen front. Sacred 3 (Xbox 360) and Tales of Xillia 2 (PS3) are the only games on my list.

So the fancy new hardware is used to play a game released months ago on Steam that would probably run on my phone.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Close that closet

Monster closet.

Noun. Used in shooters to spawn enemies that did not previously exist in the map. Usually a sign of lazy level design. See also: Nazi closet, Doom, cheap jump scares.

I made it a point to kill every enemy I came across in Sniper Elite III. They had a bad habit of sneaking up behind me later if I didn't, plus my sniper was none to found of carrying around so many rounds of ammunition. He thought that the Nazis should carry them instead. In their brains. This was especially important in the second to last level: a large air strip, complete with hangers, bunkers and large open areas. I made sure to kill every last person before triggering the final part of the mission in which some allies bust through the gate and I was supposed to cover them.

The plan was for them to drive down the runway wondering where the enemies were with my sniper taking a nap on the far end, wondering what all the hubbub was about. That is not what happened. Instead driving through the gate triggered a flood of soldiers emerging from areas that I know I had cleaned out. Were they hiding under their beds? Under the floor? Literally in closets? It doesn't matter, it was annoying and pulled me out of the game more than sniping tank drivers from half a mile away.

A game being consistent to its own rules is something that I complain about in good games or recognize in bad games. It doesn't matter if the game's rules are dumb hell as long as it sticks to them or if it make sense when it breaks them. For six levels enemies in Sniper Elite III either were populated in specific logical areas or I was shown when they arrived. It made sense and I planed according. Then they reich perfected their teleportation experiments and the game because just like most other shooters.

Sniper Elite III ended one level later. It did not repeat the same mistake and it pulled in some oddball military history, the giant Ratte tank, so I might forgive it. Or I will forget about it in a few days.


Monday, July 28, 2014

Too sweet

Every shooter has a sniping level. When they are done well they are a lot of fun, providing a change of pace from all the running around that fills the other levels. The player is forced to move slowly, plan ahead, pay more attention to the world around them. So if one sniping level is good why not make an entire game of them?

By the same logic, a cake made entirely out of frosting would be the greatest thing ever.

Sniper Elite III does not do this. It is not all frosting, nor is it all cake. It has pretty close to the same mix of elements as other shooters but they are not separated like they would be in Call of Duty or Battlefield. Instead the levels are so huge and open that just about anything can happen at any time. It can go from sneaky sneaky shooty shooty right to oh fuck, there are ten Nazis and a tank chasing me without warning. Then, after you die, it will not be the same.

It would be possible to run through a level with just a machine gun and an over abundance or reckless abandon but it wouldn't be any fun. The game is much better when the best laid plans either work perfectly, with the reward being a cross map shot to the melon, or when FUBAR sets in and the one enemy that you didn't take into account calls all his buddies to celebrate your foolishness.

If there is a downside it would be that levels take well over an hour each to complete and auto-saves can cost you quite a bit of progress. It is also a completionist's nightmare as it hides its collectibles a little too well. I am enjoying my save-less play through. What happens, happens, and I have to deal with it, even if that means taking on a tank with a sniper rifle.

Which shouldn't work, but it does.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Dodge this!

Two nights ago Pixeljunk Shooter turned a boss fight that could have been boring into an excellent homage to bullet hell shmups. It did not do it by simply filling the screen with bullets, as the way the ship controls if far to loose to navigate gaps just wider than the ship's own hitbox. No, the entire game changed, the controls tightened up, firing became automatic, and for about ten minutes Pixeljunk Shooter turned into Galaga - touhou edition.



Watch for the tear at the end and then hate yourself just a little bit.

The game never ceased to impress and I am indeed sad that it is finished. I do not have the patience to unlock the secret level - Sniper Elite III finally shipped and I am itching to shot mans in the kidneys - but I am in no hurry to uninstall it.

The PS4 is turning more and more into the system for small games. There are a lot of them and a great may of them are quite good. It is such a relief to have both major systems.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Privileged status revoked

ACE Team built up its credentials with me very quickly. After only three releases, Zeno Clash 1 and 2 and Rock of Ages, they went on my short list of developers whose game will be purchased and played without a second thought. None of the three were 'great' games but their quirkiness and creativity far outweighed any of their problems. In other words they were just good enough to play but much better to look at.

Abyss Odyssey sneaked out in the midst of the summer doldrums and I would not have noticed save for one of the dozens of emails that I get from Microsoft and Sony hadn't mentioned it. There was a video of it many months ago and it certainly looked like an ACE game. It attempted to take the visceral first person combat of Zeno Clash and reverse engineer in into a 2D brawler. Not being sure if this was a good idea (and feeling a little cheap) I downloaded the demo before dropping my hard earned 9.99 on the game.

I didn't even make it through the demo, thus saving the 9.99 for something more enjoyable, like throwing the money at a bum or dropping in down the sewer. Abyss Odyssey was terrible. ACE's distinct art style did not make the transition to 2D, leaving the game with an unforgivable generic look. Worse, combat was made almost impossible due to a single asinine decision.

This will be discussed in fighting game terminology as they are a clear source of inspiration for Abyss Odyssey. In a fighting game character models have hit boxes and hurt boxes (spheres in Marvel, but the concept is the same). The hurt box is the space on a character where it can be hit and the hurt box of the move is the area of the move that can do the hurting. When a hit box overlaps a hurt box a move connects. A good move has a larger hit box than its own hurt box.

Example:


Hint: that's a really, really good move. Juuuust a little broken.

One other effect is that, for the most part, opposing characters hurt boxes cannot overlap. This keeps one character from simply walking through the other to get to the opposite side of the stage. Abyss Odyssey has no such restriction. Enemies can simply walk through the player. Assuming no one is swinging a sword at the time neither side is hurt but it makes the combat feel completely disconnected. There is absolutely no weight to it which makes timing attacks much more difficult than it needs to be.

After five minutes I gave up, happy that I did not purchase the game.

...

Instead I have have been putting time into Pixeljunk Shooter, a game that continues to approve with time invested. It builds very well on concepts introduced in the previous levels, gaining both variety and difficulty at just the right rate. In the beginning I only had to contend with lava and water. Then ice was introduced. Then magnetic muck followed by intestinal acids, eggs and bubbles that make controlling the ship impossible. Even better, each of these elements interacts with the other in a specific way.

This is a real game, not some chewing gum twin stick shooter, and my only fear is that it won't be long enough.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Indefensible enjoyment

Out of fairness, and because both Soul Suspect the game and the unexpected love fest are over, there are a few problems that I need to point out. There is indeed some bitching that needs to be done. First and most unforgivable is how poorly Ronan controls. He's a ghost, he clips through the majority of objects in the world, and it was still difficult to get him pointed in the right direction or lined up with an object that he needed to interact with. To make it worse the problems were inconsistent: sometimes it was fine and other times he juddered through invisible barriers while the controller vibrated for no apparent reason. Perhaps Ronan was still getting used to his dead legs.

Yesterday I marveled at how the game made at least some effort to disguise walls used to guide the player with story based reasoning. Right after Ronan is killed he is greeted by a creepy little girls who serves as the tutorial. Ronan asks the following intelligent question: why I can walk through some walls and not others? The girl explains that any house that is consecrated is effectively sealed and that he will have to wait for a door or window to open before he can go in. It's a little silly but it is for the most part consistent.

Until it isn't and the game blocks off areas for no reason at all. If the player stumbles upon the gate to a later level and tries to go in Ronan simply turns around and says 'Nope, not going in there.' Instead of making use of the very fiction they used earlier to explain why he can't go into random houses the game just says 'No. You will go where I tell you when I tell you to go there.'

That's about all the vitriol I can muster. Either I am getting soft in my old age or I actually enjoyed the game. If it is the second and I have staved off dementia for another year there is a simple reason for it: the end of game twist was both unexpected and satisfying. When was the last time that happened? The person who was obviously the bell killer dies about an hour from the end, thus proving him innocent. Only he is the bell killer.

And so are several other people.

This is Salem, remember. There is possession involved, and that is about as far as I will take the spoiler.

I am loath to recommend the game because nearly combatless colectathons are not something I would call main stream. Or even niche. No, it somehow fits into a few oddly shaped pleasure centers in my head, and being about ghosts certainly doesn't hurt. If you happen to find a copy of Soul Suspect laying on the street or on your lawn and the disc is in working order by all means, give it a shot. You will know within the first ten minutes if what is there is good enough to get past the obvious flaws.

...that is some terrible box art though. God damn.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Dead and loving it

I was fully prepared to not like Murdered: Soul Suspect once I figured out exactly what it was. A mostly combat free puzzle-ish game with a dead protagonist trying to figure out who killed him? Sounds like Shadow of Destiny, one of those little PS2 games that nobody played but should have, only Shadow of Destiny killed you at the beginning of each chapter and you could prevent your own murder, Soul Suspect only does it once.

Then I actually played the game. In spite of the main character looking like he was removed from L.A. Noire due to a budget shortfall, what little combat there is being terrible and most of the actual game play consisting of collecting lots and lots of bits of junk, I am very much enjoying the game. This is not oh my god, this is the coolest thing evar, more of a chin stroking, well isn't that interesting, monocle adjusting thing.

Ronan, yes that is his name, is killed by the bell killer. No one knows who the killer is and Ronan cannot cross over until he figures it out. Boilerplate ghost story, check. Plus the story takes place in Salem, so witchcraft with be involved and the Devil himself will probably make a cameo. The interesting bit that has caught my attention is the way that the living world and the ghost world intersect. Ronan will turn a corner and the street will change from what the living see to the events of a previous tragedy. The city itself has a memory that he must contend with.

I fully understand that part of the reason to throw up 'ghost walls' that the player cannot walk through is to keep the experience focused but in the context of the story they make sense. It is consistent to itself and that is what really matters. The shine will soon wear off and I will complain about the combat, inscrutable puzzles the way the game keeps the player out of areas, but for now Soul Suspect is a thought provoking little game that provides a welcome respite from the crushing vacancy of summer releases.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

EVO 2014

I spent most of this weekend watching EVO. Correction - I spent all of this weekend watching EVO. Friday night was Street Fighters pool down to top 8, in which the crowd was amazed by the dominance of an American Zangief player and the audacity of a Japanese man at the helm of a giant indian with a gun. Saturday was Marvel, and I admit to falling asleep before top eight was done. Marvel before top eight is almost all one sided blow outs. Sunday was finals day, and it was amazing.

There was a story line this year, it which the faithful look to one of the old gods to redeem their game, a game now filled with Zero, Dr. Doom and Virgil. Marvel was approaching a homogeneous that made it less interesting to watch. Yes, there were standouts like KaneBlueRiver and team big body or Angelic and his Shuma Gorath or Kinderparty (a PA favorite who didn't make to evo) and his Arthur teams. The standouts were fun but when the field was boiled down to the last three or four it was almost always some variant of Doom, Virgil and Zero.

It also doesn't help that several of the best players in the world, Chris G and Filipino Champ, are not exactly crowd favorites, in spite of FChamp's Dormammu team being amazing to watch.


Justin Wong used to be hated, too. During the heyday of Marvel 2, long before I paid any attention, he was almost unbeatable and therefore despised. In the years since he has matured, turning into the peoples champion. The people wanted Justin to save Marvel.

Winners Finals - Justin vs Filipino Champ



That's already a classic. That match would be the best there was to see in any normal tournament, but this is EVO and Justin is on a mission. He was going to become the Marvel 3 champ with a Marvel 2 team.

Filipino Champ falls to Chris G in a nail biter. Chris G betrays his human side with a smile, which means that he can be beaten.


It's not as good of a match as the winners finals was but Justin's reaction is so genuine that it will make me smile every time I see it. The crowd is going insane, they have their savior, and it the midst of the celebration Justin stops, finds Chris G and embraces him. The notoriously salty Chris smiles - he can't help it.


I don't know if Justin actually saved Marvel or not. Capcom has deserted the game due to licensing issues so the broken mess that it is now is the broken mess that it will always be. As a spectator, a person who will happily watch but cannot play the game, he has renewed my interest. There was a story here, one with a hero and villains, of a king returning to his thrown, saving his kingdom, and just maybe redeeming one of the bad guys he crushed on the way there.

...

Ultra was not near as filled with drama. I will admit to losing much of my interest after Snake Eyez and Ricky Ortiz were eliminated. Zangief winning EVO would have been amazing, but I also really wanted to see Ricky pick up where Justin left off and take the whole deal with Rufus again. It was not to be, the international competition was too strong. In the end a Rose player from France won, something that I never thought I would see. Rose is for real now and apparently Sagat is not.

Street Fighter keeps growing - this was the largest tournament ever, consisting of around 2000 entrants. It keeps growing because the game is not static and has more international players. But Marvel (and Smash) had more viewers because they brought the human element. Nobody rolled on the floor after winning in Ultra, and many of the big names were eliminated much earlier. There was no fist pumping or yelling from me, from the friendly confines of my dark basement.

There was little hype. Mahvel brings the hype.

...

I expect the post EVO afterglow to last a week or two. There are players coming out of the woodwork over at PA of a wide range of abilities and I am making second, futile attempt at learning Decapre. This is what sets fighting games apart from other spectator sports. As exciting as I could ever be about football, baseball, basketball or an other main stream sport there is a gulf between me and the players that cannot be crossed. We live in different worlds. Watching EVO made me excited for the games again and I could go to a tournament, sit next to one of these guys and have him body the shit out of me. There is no separation, they are just better than I am, but it is within my or anyone else's power to get better.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Little to play, little to say

The summer doldrums have hit my posting as well as my leisure time. There is nothing that I am interested in playing and, not surprisingly, nothing that I feel compelled to talk about. That and I have had precious little time to waste at work for the past two weeks. The call volume is almost comical.

Anyway, a recap of the past week and a half.

Grid Autosport made it about a day past my last post about it. I don't think I was being fair to the game, but it's my leisure time, so nyeh. I didn't forgive the last Gran Turismo, as good as it was, for being a chore to play so I am not going to give Grid a pass, either. Qualifying on a track, racing on that track from the from row and then racing on the same track again from the back because you had the audacity to win is just too much of the same thing. My limited attention span is probably showing, but I could not stay awake, much less interested.

I am off of racing games until Forza Horizon 2 and Driveclub.

...

Desperation set in after I sent Grid Autosport back. I spent another hour trying to reach Chance's insane score in Resogun Heroes and when I didn't even get half way there I played around with the free games that I have accumulated. Towerfall Ascension is a big no, I am tired of new games that look like SNES games, regardless of how they play. Pixeljunk Shooter is not bad, it puts an interesting spin on twin stick shooters. I will play it in pieces but it is not something that I can devote hours at a time to.

Transistor or Valiant Hearts? I already had my PS4 on, so...

Transistor, just like Bastion, is a very smooth experience. The presentation and visual aesthetics are very similar: large chunks of the world are missing, it gets worse as you play, and there is a narrator guiding the player through the game. This time around the narrator is a sword so large that Red, the literally voiceless protagonist, drags it on the ground behind her. She also rarely wields it as a sword, instead setting off different skills and abilities with it. Had it been used in a real time action game like Bastion it would have felt slow and unwieldy. Supergiant had the sense to make Transistor pseudo turn based and it made all the difference in the world.

When the appropriate gauge is full Red can pause time and map out her next set of actions, each action eating up some of her next turn. Bigger attacks take up more turn time, moving takes up a lot. When her turn actually begins there is no guarantee that her attacks will hit because the enemies can move again. Good turns require prediction, turning every encounter into a little puzzle. Eventually I found an almost broken combination of skills but getting into position was never easy and using the environment for both cover and to create bottlenecks became more and more important.

And then the final boss stops time to plan out his moves and my mind was blown.

Transistor is a complete package, up to and including the kind of bittersweet ending that I am always clamoring for. It is a heck of an exclusive for the PS4, assuming it stays that way, but it was also not very long, and the summer months are barren.

...

Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark was not by Full Moon Studios. It would be easy to dismiss the game based just on that information, but it still looks like a (last gen) Transformers game and it plays well enough. Honestly my only real complaint is that the main bad guy is a poor Megatron replacement. Instead of a gleefully evil despot who abuses his subordinates as much as his enemies the game features a mercenary with no personality who is going to bring the Decepticons back from the past, not for evil purposes, but to make a profit from selling them weapons.

'I was well paid once, I will be will paid again!'

Really? This is the bad guy? That's more of an accountant than a warlord.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Nothing is as good as you remember

Go and watch the new Sequelitis. Who am I kidding, with a half million view in less than a day, you already have. I am not going to spend any time defending or attacking Arin's opinion. That kind of nonsense it reserved for YouTube comment (which you should never, ever read) and I have not played a Zelda game since Wind Waker, intentionally skipping Ocarina of Time. He could be full of shit or he could be spot on and it doesn't matter. The video was entertaining, if a bit rooted in the Egoraptor way.

Which is part of his point regarding Zelda games, so he may indeed be full of shit.

If this video makes you angry then you, too, are full of shit. No game, regardless of its own quality or that of its predecessors, is immune to criticism. It is impossible for an interactive medium to please all of the people all of the time, or even all of the people some of time. The best it can hope for is some of the people some of time and the people it leaves out will undoubtedly be the ones who make the most noise.

Video games also have the disadvantage of aging very poorly. Music written hundreds of years ago actually sounds better now due to improvements in instrument design. Classic books and movies are equally timeless. Video games went through a very ugly period during the jump from 2D to 3D, rendering huge chunks of the library unplayable now. Seriously, go back and try to play the first Tomb Raider, you will hate your life in short order. We'll call this gaming adolescence, not cute and hand drawn anymore, filled to the brim with low poly models and half baked mechanics.

Here's the problem, and the one thing that Arin does not address: no one is the same person that they were when they first played a game. Part of the sense of wonder that he says is missing from current Zelda games was born of him being a child when he played them. It is not one way activity - both the game and the player bring something to the table. What the game brings never changes. Tomb Raider is still the same it was 1996, so why was it amazing then and unbearable now? The players expectations have changed, either because he has aged or because his expectations have changed. Looking back through rose colored glasses and comparing very old game to very new games is masturbatory, at best.

I don't know if there are any truly timeless games and even if I picked one it would be meaningless because I would not have played it in twenty or more years. If forced at gun point the easy answer is Super Mario Bros 3, but which version, the original NES or the Mario All Stars SNES edition? Again, it is pointless. Games must be judged based only on their own merits, not how they compare to what the player remembers an old game looking like when they were younger and everything ran at slower frame rates and lower resolutions.

Sequelitis is entertaining, which is what matters, but most of Arin's points are an old mad yelling at kids to get off his lawn. I know because I do the exact same thing, both literally and figuratively, but I don't let my crotchetyness get in the way of enjoying something just because I had fun with a game in the same series when I was ten.