Friday, August 29, 2014

Looking ahead

I have finally, finally arrived at the fifth act of Diablo 3. It is why I started playing the game again in the first place. My demon hunter more than a little over powered for the normal difficulty at this point, Diablo himself going down with little effort was the last straw, but I am not going to bump it up now. It is time to finish what I have started.

Guess what? The fifth act is significantly better than the others. There are more people to talk to in the hub area, more side events in the levels themselves, more interesting enemies, etc. You name it, it has been improved, proof that Blizzard is never really satisfied, especially when it comes to their flag ship (debatable, I suppose) product.

The intro is also further proof that nobody, but nobody does CG cut scenes like Blizzard.

Angel of death, indeed. I know that he won't look that cool when I finally fight him and that the battle itself will be anticlimactic because I am still playing the game on normal. Picture this: take that version of death and put him in the third Darksiders game that we are never going to get.

Yeah. That is what I want out of this generation. And I do not think that it is unreasonable. Go all the way back to the beginning of the Xbox 360 or PS3 and play either Kameo or Lair again. Yuck, right? The same hardware, many years later, powered Gears of War: Judgement and The Last of Us. From this:

to this:

Assuming that retro indie titles don't completely take over, which they may just do, imagine where will be in five years? 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

He'll be stone dead in a moment

Two things have conspired to reduce my creative feeling to a minimum. First, and this sounds like a cop out, work has been terrible, leaving me drained of all energy and/or writing juices. I also happen to usually post from work around lunch time and lunch time disappears when there is too much to do. When anything and everything clamors for my attention very little time is left for slacking.

Secondly, and this may be an offshoot of the first thing, I just haven't had much to talk about. Diablo 3 is Diablo 3, somehow better this time but still more of the same. There is little news to speak of, at least not that I have had time to ingest. I continue to play games every day but am almost not thinking about it. I really want to spend some time on why Diablo 3 is so addictive but have not been able to put it down long enough to examine my feelings. Looking forward to playing it got me through the day. No matter what happens, I thought, later tonight I will kill demons for fat loots.

It worked.

Not writing does leave me with a lazy feeling. Suddenly I am nothing more than a consumer, not offering up even the stilted, poorly informed opinion that I can usually muster. A consumer consumes, but if I write I am experiencing something and then sharing that experience. The one thing I miss about gaming retail was being able to talk to people about games and writing is meant to replace that.

So, no more being lazy, I can type whilst I chew, assuming there is time to do that. Diablo 3 deserves examination. It always was crack, but this is refined to almost a weaponized state. This game is aggressively habit forming. I think I know how they did it, and it was as simple as increasing the rate at which a player levels and catering loot drops to the character. The first time I played the game (on normal, as I am not sadist) it felt like a preview. My monk was level 31 when I was done, leaving almost half of his abilities unlocked. This time I hit that at the end of the second act.

The higher difficulties are of course still there. Normal just feels like it is worth the effort. It even killed me, twice, because I was not paying attention to enemy ranged attacks and wandered directly into the line of fire. This little bit of balance has made the game a totally new experience and choosing a new character was the best (or worst, because I am not playing Tales of Xillia 2) thing I could have done. 

Blizzard is truly an evil company. And I mean that as a compliment. Perhaps they had help.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

It's like heroin

Originally I had no plans to play Diablo III again on the Xbox One. I had assumed that I would not be able to import my character and did not want to start over. Playing the original acts again just to get to the expansion seemed like a terrible bore. But behold! It is possible to export from one generation to another so I obtained a copy of the XB360 version and salvaged my monk.

Last night I installed the ultimate evil edition, downloaded my character, got all excited, and then found out that I could not skip right to the expansion. Suddenly I didn't want to play with my monk anymore.

Here's the problem: this is Diablo. Simply looking at it is enough to start the kill things for phat loots itch. I shouldn't have started over. I should have turned it off and started the new Tales game. But I wanted to know if it really was that much smoother on the new hardware and if the demon hunter class was any good and oh damnit where did the last three hours go.

Enough has been added to even the starting acts that it does feel like a new game. There are bonuses for kill streaks, gangs of glowing powered up versions of monsters that hunt you, better loot drops and I swear that you level up faster. My monk finished off the game at level 31 and my brand new demon hunter is level 10 before the end of the first act.

I don't know what to think of my new ranged character yet. His default attack does very little damage but I can drop an area effect that slows down enemies significantly, giving me time to backpedal and fire more arrows. It is certainly different enough from the monk to keep me interested.

Stupid addicting game.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Pointless weekends

Lots of Street Fighter this weekend. Progress was made on Decapre. I continue to have difficulty landing true punishes outside of the practice room. Not much to talk about there.

Last week I found out that it was possible to export a Diablo III save from the XB360 to be used on the Xbox One. Much to Blizzard's credit, it is also possible to cross the line between Sony and Microsoft. I am not sure how that one works but it being a Diablo game some sort of human sacrifice is likely involved.

I enjoyed Diablo III but did not want to start over with a new character for the expansion. This would be even better news if I still had a copy of Diablo III around. GameFly and a somewhat empty queue to the rescue.

That's about all I can come up with for today. Here, have some great news for fans of Star Wars movies that don't suck:

Friday, August 15, 2014

Das oldschoolen

Everyone once in a while I have a craving for ridiculous damage, unforgiving inputs, difficult to escape throw loops and counter picking shenanigans. There is only one cure for this: Super Street Fighter 2 (HD Remix).

I was never very good at the game when it originally came out but have fallen more in love with it as time goes by. It is so much simpler and more viscous than anything modern. Simple combos do obscene damage, but the same simple jump in X upper cut combo that you can do in your sleep in Street Fighter 4 is difficult enough that you have to always pay attention.

There are things some characters can do that just aren't fair. Balrog, Dhalsim and to a lesser extent Ken have throw loops that can very difficult to escape from. Old Sagat can lock most other characters down with properly spaced fireballs. Vega is bullshit.

But that is why it is fun. I played a two hour set with someone much better than me last night. The last thirty minutes turned into a poker match before the games even began. He had a very, very good Balrog but I could counter it with my Dhalsim. Noogie loops beat headbutt loops, apparently. To counter that he had a Vega that was infuriating. I countered that with Sagat, though in retrospect Blanka may have been a better choice. To round out the insanity his Balrog could beat my Sagat once I was cornered.

It went around and around this way until one of us would pick a random other character to break the stalemate. On one occasion he picked Zangief while I was still using Sagat and the results were just gross. It hurt me to do it but stopping was not an option. I had to take the wins where I could get them.

Eventually I had to stop because my wrist started to hurt. Playing command characters is not my specialty so hours of uppercuts with no shortcuts puts a bit of strain on the old wrist bones.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Pending telephone?

Contrary to the Now Playing picture I am not playing Strike Suit Zero. I can't think if a polite way to say this: the game was balls. It was obvious that it started out its live as a kickstarter. Ship controls were implemented poorly, unless you were in mech from (which is pointless is the weightless vacuum of space, but that is besides the point) and then they worked. But the mech moved much too slowly to be of much use. Missions were all the same, capital ships were too powerful, there was a distinct lack of Mark Hamill getting drunk and over acting.

Call me when someone reboots Wing Commander. But do it quick, Mark isn't getting any younger and he could probably use the work after giving up his Joker gig.

I am also not playing Rogue Legacy. New Game + cranked the difficulty up to a ridiculous level. This is the point of a new game +, to give the game artificial legs, but I think I have seen all of the game that I need to see. Once you have played a midget lich queen with irritable bowel syndrome there is little reason to go back for more.

So what did I play last night? Just like everyone else who owned a PS4, I played P.T., got stuck in the very last room and was denied the revelation that it was a wonderful teaser for a new Silent Hill until this morning. Without that knowledge, that it is a game in one of my favorite and most beleaguered franchises, it was a terrifying little morsel. I haven't had involuntary shivers like that since Fatal Frame 2, and this wasn't even a game. It was a barely interactive, inscrutable piece of a game that packed more horror into two hall ways, two rooms and a bloody refrigerator suspended from the ceiling than Outlast managed in its entirety.

Knowing that it is a teaser for Silent Hill(s), that Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro are involved, fills me with hope and apprehension. This could finally be the game that tops Silent Hill 2, that literally keeps me up at night after turning things off for the evening. I want this. I have wanted it for a long time.

But when is it going to come out? And how do we know that Kojima isn't going to, well, go Kojima all over it? Silent Hill was best when it didn't bother explaining why terrifying things were happening. Why was pyramid head raping four legged mannequins? Because it was terrifying, that's why. Later Silent Hill games spent too much time on history and the details. The more the player knows the less frightening things become, even if when he or she knows doesn't make much sense. Let the player come up with his own insane explanations, don't provide thirty minute cut scenes that do the job.

It better fucking be good.

Monday, August 11, 2014

A weekend's worth of work

I need to start posting over the weekends to avoid Monday info dumps.


Sacred 3 was exactly what I feared it would be and yet was somehow entertaining all the way through. It is not a Diablo clone. There is no loot beyond gold and potions. New items are given to the player after story milestones but there is little reason to stop using the first weapon once a few upgrades have been applied. Likewise, I never stopped using the first two skills even though many others were available. Instead I spent all my money upgrading them and hand a grand time carving through repetitive waves of enemies while spinning a wheel eight times and listening to painfully unfunny dialogue.

How is this possible? The core mechanics - attack, charge attack, dodge, area attack and other big attack - were downright golden and combined in interesting ways. For example, larger enemies require a charge attack to break their guard (or you can hit them with several big attacks, but what fun is that). They sometimes come at you three and four at a time so placing the charge attack is crucial. When it works and stuns them all I would roll backwards, drop an area attack bomb that would freeze them, then back peddle while filling them with arrows. This never got old.

It is a very minimalist game.  Instead of a dozen player characters there are four. Instead of large open levels it is nothing but linear ones. Attacks are simple, enemies are numerous and the action doesn't stop. Sacred 3 works because it is more like the old school Gauntlet than any of the reboots have been. You know, this Gauntlet, without the crushing difficulty.

Had I purchased the game I would not have been happy but as a rental, a weekend's diversion, there was nothing wrong with it.


Much to my surprise I 'finished' Rogue Legacy last night, as much as one can finish a rogue-like, anyway. I killed all of the bosses and got the ending for the first time. In my book that counts. The game's difficulty peaked at the midpoint and through a combination of level grinding and figuring out how to play it correctly I was able to knock out the final area and last two bosses with relative ease. Relative meaning that I died every five minutes instead of every thirty seconds.

I sent over 130 heroes to their deaths, my favorite class being the hokage. For the small sacrifice of some of his life and most of his magic points he receives a 175% damage bonus over the generic hero. He doesn't get critical hits but that doesn't matter when most enemies die in one attack from the sword. That was the swing in difficulty for me: I had to be able to kill enemies in one hit, maybe two, to keep it manageable.  As soon as anything bounced around the screen for more than that it got to busy and I died, usually to something silly like spikes. Not resource management but enemy management.

Rogue Legacy also introduces its new game + in a wonderfully sneaky way. The pattern of play goes as follows: make your dungeon run, die, then start a new hero and spend the loot. When it is time to quit for the evening I would usually just pick a lame hero and kill him off in the first room. After beating the final boss and picking up around 17,000 gold I was sent back to the start screen.

'Oh shit, gotta spend that loot.'

Press start, spend loot, start new game +.

Oh my, the enemies are more numerous and do more damage. Look at that, they killed me in the second room, just like they did when I started the first time.

I will not make a promise to come back and make a run at new game + but I have not uninstalled the game, if that means anything.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Things that suck today

I have the day off, went and did a little shopping, and inadvertently purchased day old sushi.


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Not looking good

Rogue Legacy got a loud, quite sincere well fuck this game last night. Three hours making runs at a the same boss will do that. I meant it, too, but I will not mean it tonight when the damn game sucks me back in. It has its tiny little claws in my head and it will not let go until I force my way through to the end. This does not mean that it will see many nights of contiguous play. It's good, but it still pisses me off, and PS4 controllers are much too expensive to send flying around the room.

A few days ago I expressed a desire for the new Sacred. I assumed that it was just like Sacred 2, which was just like the first Sacred, being semi-open ended action RPGs. You know, Diablo clones. That is not at all what it is. Sacred 3 is a linear brawler with minimal customization, minimal loot, and according to almost all the reviews, terrible writing, terrible voice acting, and juvenile, unfunny humor.

I must be fair, because I haven't actually played it yet, but why would anyone do this. It will still get played, albeit under protest, and skipping the Diablo III expansion because I would not be able to bring over my monk is looking it was not the right choice.

Where am I going to go to kill things for phat loot now? Oh yeah, Rogue Legacy.


Monday, August 4, 2014

Bad dragon, bad!

I had to take a break from Rogue Legacy over the weekend. I had to. There was a plateau that I couldn't get my head around, one that running headlong into the new area would not surpass. Grinding was in order and grinding was not what I was in the mood at all to do. Grinding in randomly generated areas is not terribly boring but I was craving progress. Level progress or progress towards end game and that was just not happening.

Free games to the rescue! Games with gold updated on the first of the month with two games that I previously passed on, Crimson Dragon and some other space game whose name I cannot remember right now. Yep, big games.

Crimson Dragon is just bad and that is without being able to compare it to any of the Panzer Dragoon games. I don't think I have ever played any of them, having never owned a Saturn, so I came at it with an open mind, expecting some sort of throw back arcade game. Even against that metric it isn't very good. One stick controls the dragon's movement and the other controls its aim. But the player never really has control over where the dragon is going, on rails shooter and all that, so movement is just dodging, and this can be handled better with the shoulder buttons or leaning back and forth on your couch if you are quite sure no one is looking back at you through the Kinect.

I understand that the on rails element is by design. On rails means that the game controls what the player sees which is not necessarily a bad thing, assuming there is something to show. Crimson Dragon's guided tour is either so fast that you can't see anything or so bland that there is nothing to see. It is a guided tour of nothing.

There is a Pokemon-esque bit with buying, training and evolving dragons. It would be more interesting if the game was longer and there was benefit to using different dragons. I almost finished the game in one sitting, stopping only because there was an issue with the download and the final level just wasn't there yet. I am not sure it will be worth the trouble to fix.

Sacred 3 cannot get here soon enough.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Always a little bit more

There was definitely some black magic and/or higher mathematics put into the pacing of Rogue Legacy. Just as the game begins to get too hard or when progress grinds to a halt something happens to pull the player back in. Last night's time was almost exactly the same as the first, and I mean that in a good way. I played for quite a while, began to get bored, found the boss of the next level, got crushed, but the beating kept me coming back for more. I beat the flaming skull and went to bed and spending all of my loot will get me to come back tonight.

Bigger, better looking games could learn a thing or two from this. The lack of any real death penalty teamed up with high difficulty, randomly generated areas and the ability to stumble onto things that you are clearly not prepared for is quite compelling. Exploration is fun. Being punished for doing so isn't. The worst that Rogue Legacy will do to the player is kill them, which is does all the time anyway, and it isn't that bad at all.

I am never satisfied, and I am a graphics whore, so my one wish would be to take this game and drop into a nice clean, new engine. See Shadow Complex or the Strider reboot for example. I understand that part of Rogue Legacy looking the way it does is financially driven. Not having to pay for the Unreal Engine probably save a few dollars. Nostalgia does nothing for me. It can actually be a turn off. The way this game plays is so new and unique that it deserves better.

Even better, have Vanillaware do up the art and animation.

I've got your attention now, don't I.