Friday, January 30, 2015

The inverse assassin rule

More blank days.

The of head of my department at work (at least the department I do the most work for) either left or was fired, depending on whose story is told. He was the only one doing sales. I am not a sales person. I fix things in the background, exist as a voice over the phone or reassuring words in an email and I abhor paperwork. Interacting with people in person is not one of my favorite things nor is asking them for money.

This may or may not be the way this are going to stay. It has not been a pleasant few days.

...

Each time the Assassins Creed franchise has moved forward in time I require convincing that the formula of hooded guys jumping between rooftops is still going to work. With the exception of Desmond's foray into the modern world, I have always come around. The time of Napoleon and the Marquis de Sade (who cleared putting this guy in a game) works but only because the houses are so crammed together and there are giant cathedrals to scale. It is approaching the limits of believability.

And then game jumps into World War II era France and has Arno scale the Eiffel Tower while shooting down planes with turrets. I was stunned. It worked just as well as anything else the game had done and looked significantly better. It was a stunning sequence that was intentionally out of step with the rest of the game. Made modern Assassins will work, just not with Desmond. Or Arno, for that matter, he is a wuss in comparison to Captain Kenway and Shay Cormac, and not just because the later wore cooler hats.

Black Flag and Rogue finally realized that no one plays an Assassins Creed game for the combat. Their solution was not to fix the mechanics, just make it smooth and easy. It looks good, people die, and then the player is allowed to move on. The specific change made (that probably existed in previous game but was not as prevalent) was the ability to string multiple kills together as long as you are not hit in between them. As soon as the first deathblow is landed each hit thereafter is a one hit kill. Shay could lay out a dozen men and look cool doing it with little player instruction beyond mash A to make them die.

The combat is not good, it is flashy and easy, but that is fine because it is not why anyone is playing the game. Unity removed the kill string completely. After a fancy deathblow the player is forced to start over on the next enemy, waiting around for a counter opportunity, charging a heavy attack or more likely getting stabbed in the back for the trouble. The combat is more difficult, takes longer, and is still not why anyone is playing the game. Encounters with more than three or four enemies always end up with me dropping smoke, stabbing a few dudes, and then running away.

It may be more assassin-like but it is certainly dis-empowering for the character. Worse, it's boring and repetitive.

I have no idea how much of the game is left and I want to play Life is Strange. Maybe I will take the weekend off from 'work' and play a few things for fun instead.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Gots to pay the bills

About twenty seven days ago I came to a resolution that I needed to spend more time doing what I enjoyed and less doing things that I don't. Since then what I do not necessarily enjoy but what pays the bills has taken unfair precedence, leaving little time or energy for anything creative. This is undeniable proof that adult life sucks unless you are blissfully ignorant, obscenely wealthy or some of the chosen few who have found a way to have what they love generate enough money to feed, clothe, house and supply entertainment for all parties involved. Hats off to you boys, you are living the dream.

First an anecdote and then I will vent about Assassins Creed: Unity.

Last week Thursday and Friday I was in Minneapolis with nothing to do in the evening. This conflicted with my climbing so a quick Google search brought me to Vertical Endeavors, a large and oddly difficult to find indoor climbing gym. In terms of scale it blew my usual place way: more routes, more auto-belays, taller walls. By taller I mean at least four stories. Tall enough that I was nervous while making my first ascent. The quick descending auto-belay did not help.

There is a disadvantage to walls of that size: the routes themselves, at least the ones that I could do, were not very interesting. Climbing high is fun but it was just one big move after another, nothing subtle, nothing that required me to stop and think, just jump and grab. Granted, I was limited to the auto-belay routes and the good stuff may have been hidden inside the lead climb only area. My home gym has limited space and that apparently forces them to be more creative.

It was still a good time and I am glad I went. Certainly it was better than being bored in my hotel room.

...

Assassins Creed Unity is intentionally fucking with me and I am not enjoying it.

Collecting bits of nonsense is a significant part of Assassins Creed games. In the more recent ones, I speak specifically of Black Flag and Rogue, the collection itself is enjoyable. The items are placed in interesting spots but finding them is not very difficult because they all show up on the map. Unity is not nearly as nice, hiding both collectibles and entire missions until you happen to walk near them or spend real world money on map additions.

This is bad and it gets worse. I am sure you have already heard about the blue treasure chests that are locked until the player logs into and wastes time with an online app. That is just not happening so I have already written them off. Red chests are locked and require the locking picking skill to open. There are three levels of the lock picking skill and three levels of chests but you cannot tell which level a chest is until you walk up to it. Trying to open a chest above your skill level is impossible and a waste of time.

Of course all of these show up on the map so I am compelled to try and open them. Between one and two thirds of the attempts are wasted. And then there are unlocked chests that show up on the map and are hidden behind locked doors, doors that require the same lock picking skill as chests whose only purpose is to fuck with players who like to collect everything in one area before moving on to the next.

While I'm on a roll, removing the crafting system was a mistake. I cannot believe that I just put those words down. The crafting system created a natural progression for equipment. Better items could not be crafted until you had killed the appropriate animals, animals who do not exist until the appropriate time. In Unity the player can pluck better items from the ether, either with in game funds or real world dollars. What you are wielding and wearing has nothing to do with anything else that is going on. It is literally pay to win.

Unity is several steps back from Black Flag and Rogue. I do not think it will recover in a year which means the next Assassins Creed will still not be as good as the last of the previous generation. Maybe AAA development really is broken.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Acceptable losses

I can understand with much of the disdain that Assassin's Creed Unity garnered. It is certainly a step backward for the franchise, and not just because there are no pirate ships. There are fewer side distractions and where I have found so far have been very generic. Locking out some of them to force the player into the companion app doesn't help and locking out even more until you spend points on lock picking is even worse. The co-op missions are optional and can be tackled solo but are little more than guided tours through already traveled areas.

The series crested with Black Flag and Rogue, of that there is no doubt. But is Unity bad? No, it just suffers from being the first of the new generation, forced to focus its efforts on the big wows of giant crowds of people and tremendous draw distances at the expense of acceptable frame rate and general stability (the former possible caused by me playing it on the Xbox One...). Black Flag was just an up port, Unity tries to reinvent the wheel.

This wheel is certainly shiny but it isn't very round.

No hard crashes yet but a lot of little annoyances. The sound is particularly bad: ambient noises will stop for no reason as you climb higher. Plus there have been more than one occurrence of textures bouncing back and forth between low and high rez versions. I will forgive them because I remember how well the first Assassin's Creed ran. This is the first game all over again, just bigger.

I will still enjoy the game because I want to enjoy it. It will not receive the thorough cleaning out that Rogue and Black Flag did. I will do just enough to get by, attempt the co-op missions on my own, and then move on the rest of my leftovers from last year.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

I am probably wrong about most of this, but when has then ever stopped me

My Siskel to his Ebert.

My frame of reference for The Dark Knight Returns is a little different than Chance's. I have not read the graphic novel but I have read Watchmen cover to cover. Then again, who hasn't read Watchmen, and I will explain why this is important later. My Batman knowledge comes exclusively from the animated series from the 90s and the movies, both good and bad. This means that Kevin Conroy is my Batman, followed closely by Christian Bale, and Mark Hamill is my Joker, follow not quite so closely by Heath Ledger.

Jack Nicholson wasn't actually acting in Burton's Batman. That doesn't count.

I came into The Dark Knight Returns completely raw, expecting nothing more than Frank Milller preachy-ness. That was there, but everything else was confusing. All of the characters, save two or three, just felt off, and the villains were not given any time to breath. This Batman is vicious, barely in control, and far to trusting of random street urchins who stow away in the bat-tank. He makes an example of an enemy by breaking both his arms and all his legs, and thinks nothing of crippling dozens of police officers. He wasn't Batman at all, just a thug in a cape and cowl.

Two Face and Joker were likewise off model. Two Face had all of a scene and a half and did nothing other than have his suicide by Bats plot foiled. Joker was far too random in his violence. He did one Joker-like thing, kill a room full of talk show guests, but his shoot out at an amusement park was just wanton and pointless. This is not how the Joker works - he does things because he wants Batman to stop him and to have a few laughs in the process. Sometimes this means killing lots of people but it is never random. Maybe this Joker was different, but again, not enough time is allotted to him to find out.

The only villain who does get adequate screen time in the leader of the mutant gang and he is worthless as a character, serving as nothing more than an obstacle for the un-retired but still quite cranky Batman. He gets all the time in the world to do nothing. There are characters that are 'correct,' specifically Gordon and Alfred. Gordon has the appropriate reaction to Batman's new found pension for violence - he stops talking to him, and Alfred does was Alfred does and dies for it, but that's it.

There is a simple explanation for so many well worn personalities doing things so markedly out of character: this is not a Batman story. The Dark Knight Returns is Frank Miller's Watchmen. I am not saying that one copied the other but they are both products of the same bizarre, cold war paranoia filled years, so much so that the characters fill almost exactly the same rolls.

Batman is Nite Owl, right down to the overweight laziness, drinking, and quickly regaining his former physical glory, but thankfully without the womanizing because the new Robin is the Silk Spectre and that would be just icky. Superman is Doctor Manhattan, invincible, fighting wars for the military and then forcing other heroes to stay quiet (only Superman is even less palatable because he spends all his time kissing the president's ass). The comparison breaks down a bit after that with no one other than President Reagan filling the Ozymandias role, and the ending is different in that Nite Owl somehow fights and then defeats Doctor Manhattan, but I stand by it. They feel the same.

At least Superman has the decency to wear pants.

The version of The Dark Knight Returns that I watched had parts 1 and 2 edited together and it felt like it should have been longer. Maybe with more time the admittedly different and terrifying take on the Joker would have made sense and Two Face would have been more than just another thug with a cool name. Maybe I would have bought into this version of old man Bruce and let go of what Batman Beyond gave us. As it stands it was an okay movie but not a very convincing Batman story.

Mask of the Phantasm is safe at the top of my list.



I used to own  that movie on laserdisc. Take that.


Friday, January 16, 2015

Excuses

In the past two days I have impaled by left finger with a screwdriver and sliced my right finger just below the nail while stripping cat 5 cable. The screwdriver hurt more but the slice is bled and bled and bled.

What do my injuries have to do with anything? They are a convenient excuse as to why I have been so bad at Guilty Gear during my last several attempts. I am avoiding Assassin's Creed for reason that this should make clear. Once I start it I will finish it which well bring to a quick end my time for little free games like D4 or fighting games.

Anyway, I was terrible at Xrd last night but it follows my pattern with new fighting games, or at least games that people I play with are new to. I catch on quickly, find abuse-able/cheap shit, and then abuse it until people figure it out. For example, May has a very ambiguous air to ground attack that makes for a good front/back mixup. In the beginning of a fighting game no one knows what works as an anti-air so I used to move all the time for big damage.

People know their anti-airs now and I have no found another avenue of attack. On top of that I don't know my anti-airs so I eat jump ins like they are going out of style. My learning curve is a little front loaded, hampered by how upset I get when I fall behind.

The game is good, I will learn it. Eventually.

...

I don't think D4 fits my definition of 'game'. Yes, I control some of what is happening on the screen via a controller, but it feels more like a hidden object game than anything else. I spend all my time pushing and pulling on things, trying to find the next clue, and when I find them all I don't actually have to do any deducing, it is all done for me.

It's not much fun, I don't like the characters and the fake Boston accent. If it isn't done tonight I will walk away from it in favor of *sigh* a game that has no pirate ships in it and really should.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

I don't get it

I finished Advanced Warfare last night.

*yawn*

Then I installed Assassin's Creed Unity and downloaded the 6.5 gig patch. You read that right. The patch is larger that most games. Playing it several months after release looks to have been the right call but I know full well that it will have the exact same things to offer as Advanced Warfare.

So instead of starting Unity I started Dark Dreams Don't Die. It was free this month and I was slightly curious about it when the game first came out. After about an hour my only reaction is 'I don't get it.' Part Kinect vehicle, part David Lynch film. So far I have a main character who has no memory of his wife being murdered and has devoted his life to finding the culprit, a woman who speaks only in cat sounds and actually eats mice, an ex-partner who enables he main characters alcoholic lifestyle by cleaning up his messes, all sorts of disconnected game play elements and useless  motion controls.

I have avoided waving my arms about and opted for the thumb sticks which means I move around less but does not mean that I understand any more. There is just not much game here but there is certainly a lot to take in. If nothing else, it makes me uncomfortable and I want to see how it turns out.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The more I expect the less I get

I an almost willing to admit that I dismissed Advanced Warfare too quickly. There was particularly impressive sequence last night that saw the Golden Gate bridge taken out by suicide drones that I think I will remember for more than a few days. Then I tried to think of the same kind of moments from previous games and realized that yes, they do exist, but I have no idea which game they are from and the names of any of the characters who were in them.

There was a crazy battle on a train that was being fired at by an orbital platform, an escape from a sinking freighter, the airport massacre and several slow motion nuclear explosions that I think are from Call of Duty games. There is no context to the memories, no emotion behind them, no lump in my throat when the images surface because there are no names or faces to go with the explosions.

The Call of Duty series has the same weight as the Roger Moore Bond movies. Cool things happened but no one remembers when.

Mechanically there have been additions, all of which feel cribbed from the last Crysis game. Of course it looks good, it has a budget that rivals the GDP of several small countries. But there's no feeling, no suspense. Of course the Kevin Spacey character turns out to be Kaiser Soze, why else would he be there? Of course the good guys end up being the bad guys and the bad guys turn out to be either not so bad or right all along. There has to be at least a little plot to pull the player from stage piece to stage piece. Parts of the game feel like waiting in line for a ride at Disney World: they do everything they can to distract you from the fact that you aren't doing anything.

This isn't enough anymore. I feel bad that for a long time it was. I want more little games with heart like last year's Brothers. Heaven help me I want more indy games.

And more fighting games. Guilty Gear Xrd is excellent. Mortal Kombat X should be excellent. The new Dead or Alive will be skipped because I have at least some self respect.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Late night ramblings

A rare weekend post. I promise nothing of substance.

...and I just deleted about a paragraph of shit.

At this very moment I am half watching top 16 Marvel at Kumite in Tennessee instead of playing Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. I stopped playing Call of Duty on purpose to do so and I don't really care about Marvel. I would not have stopped playing Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris for this.

It is appears that I have lost my enthusiasm for spectacle for the sack of itself as that is all Call of Duty has to offer. Past generation transitions, and we really are still in such a transition over a year later, have satisfied me with more of the same but shinier. Call of Duty is exactly that. More of what we know at a higher resolution, more action on screen and a solid frame rate. There is nothing to complain about. There is also nothing to be excited for.

Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris was excellent at around one tenth of the budget. Who am I kidding, it was probably produced in its entirety for the equivalent of Kevin Spacey's voice acting bill. It was also more of the same but its path is much less traveled.

And I am still watching Marvel, a game that I do not play, instead of getting work done on Call of Duty. If you must ask, yes, I am sober, but I almost wish I wasn't.

...Hulk, Hagger, Shuma-Gorath? What the hell?

Why am I watching this game. It makes little sense and I barely understand it. Everything is broken so nothing is broken. Then someone pulls a crazy team and I have to cheer for them.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Is it that time already?

ZZZzz.... mmm.. wha? New year? Well, would you look at that. Feels the same as last year. In fact, Canada has once again blessed is most of the 48 contiguous states with her frigid, unwanted air, just like last year. It is 1 degree outside. That is without the wind chill. And it is snowing. This makes it the perfect time to try to put a dent into the remains of last year's list. It will be slow going, as there were good free games from both Microsoft and Sony this month, and there are still big retail releases to be played.

Maybe, just maybe, Assassins Creed will be patched into submission by the time I get to it.

...

If you have played either of the previous Borderlands games and have had your fill of them there is no reason whatsoever to play the pre-sequel. It is exactly the same and what few changes were made are to the games detriment. I am speaking specifically about placing the whole game in a low gravity environment. Being able to leap tall craters in a single bound would be fun if it was the exception. When it is the norm and the level designers take that into account by making large, poorly laid out vertical levels it becomes decidedly less fun. I abandoned several quests just because I could not figure out where to go.

The shooting and loot collecting still work just as well as before if that is all you are looking for. My lawbringer seemed to lag behind, damage wise, until I unlocked a level twenty five skill that cloned whatever handgun I had in one hand into the other. Suddenly she dealt a ton of damage at the expensive of all of her ammo. I probably screwed up the build but it felt like a long time to wait for some payback on leveling. When that skill finally unlocked the opposite was true: I combined it with here action skill which automatically aimed at the nearest enemy and increased the reload speed and I was unstoppable. Her balance just felt off from beginning to end.

It was not terrible, I played it through to end, and I will soon forget it. On a slightly sad side note this is probably the last new game that will be played on my 360. I cannot see getting rid of the hardware, at least not until Street Fighter 5 comes out, but this marks the bitter sweet end of the seventh generation for me. I burned through three or four Xbox 360s (and one fat launch PS3 that will run forever) and I don't regret a dollar or hour spent.

Not even the hours spent on Ride to Hell.