Tuesday, August 30, 2016

I don't learn

And neither does Chance. We are back to buying fighting games that we will not play and spending money on Overwatch loot crates.


Chamberlain and Chance - We should know better

Friday, August 26, 2016

I don't wanna work

I have been watching KoF 15 all afternoon, getting more and more angry that I cannot play the game online. There is little hope of me actually getting good at the game, it is far to execution heavy for my feeble hands, but it is so different than any of the other fighting games that I am bad at that I want to add it to the list. I want to know just enough KoF to be bad at it. Is that so much to ask?

Not being able to play against people, online for me, is going to keep that from happening. Supposedly there is a patch coming soon but I do not trust SNK. They never fixed the last one, why should I believe that they are going to fix this one?

Of course Netherrealm just released a beta of MK XL on the PC, something that no one saw coming, so anything can happen.

...

Lego Star Wars The Force Awakens is, so far, more fun than the movie.

Sick burns.

It is just another lego game, meaning that it plays just as well as all of the older games, but there has been a tiny adjustment to the collectibles that may force me to play this one longer than I had planned. In previous games gold bricks unlocked things that I did not care about. More characters, minifigures, junk that had no impact on the way I played the game. This time around they unlock whole levels, levels not based on the movie.

Bastards. I want to see these levels. While the game makes the gold bricks more desireable it does nothing to change how annoying they are to retrieve, especially when many of them are locked behind force skills that only Luke has, and of course I will not unlock Luke until the very end of the game, thereby forcing me to do something I hate: engage in post game content.

Lego games are like little vacation for me. The Force Awakens is threatening to bleed into the work that I do on everything else I play and I am not sure how I feel about that.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Bouncing hard

I didn't really play Grand Kingdom. I mean, I tried to play it. I spent just enough time with it to realize that the game was decidedly not for me. Not bad, on the contrary it seems to be of very high quality, but much like the rest of NIS's offerings it is just not something that I can get into. My mage hitting the knight in front of her because I was not paying attention was rough enough, the healer accidentally healing an opponent with healing splash damage was just too much for me to get my head around.

A deceptively deep combat system was not enough, there is also managing several teams of allies by hiring and firing them. To be honest, I checked out before the tutorial was over. I like to see things happen when I press a button, a button fires the BFG or a button (and some other moves) throws a fireball. The reward for pressing a button in Grand Kingdom was pressing more buttons. Combat tried to keep the player involved via Super Mario RPG style timed inputs, which is nice, but that was not enough.

To be clear, I am not saying that Grand Kingdom is a bad game, just like I have never said that Dark Souls games are bad, it is just not something that I am going to enjoy.

...would it kill them to put an easy mode in Dark Souls?

...

On to things that I do play, or rather, that I would like to play. King of Fighters XIII was played for a criminally short amount of time due to terrible online play. KoF games are difficult in ways that Street Fighter has tried to remedy: their motion requirements are much stricter and there are a dizzying number of options for movement. It would have been worth it to learn the game if I could have played it online. I could not and it was deserted.

KoF XIV was supposed to have improved online play. It has to improve something as the move from animated sprites to late PS2/early PS3 era 3D models was doing it no favors, nor was the 50 man roster. Mechanically it is not as complex as XIII but still more demanding than Street Fighter 5. I was able to pick two characters that I wanted to learn and a third that would fill the space until I settled and actually had a good time working through challenges and in the training room.

Then I played it online.

In a world where Street Fighter 5, Killer Instinct, Guilty Gear and hell, even fucking Mortal Kombat have proven that good online play in a fighting game is not an oxymoron there is no excuse for the travesty that is KoF XIV. Online matches run at about one quarter speed. It deals with latency by slowing everything way, way down.

That is bullshit. No other way to describe it. I have read reports of some games running better but in about an hour of trying I had about half of one round that was on the good side of acceptable. If this not patched soon and I going to declare another KoF game as a failed investment and move on with my life.

It's a good thing that I have a Lego game to play, I need to calm the fuck down.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Think of me as William Wallace

Freedom!

After twenty hours of Star Ocean not finishing it was no longer an option. I didn't like the combat, it was a tactile and visual mess. I didn't like the characters, they were all cardboard cutout stock toons, boring even by JRPG standards. I did not like the villain, an evil general that appears around the game's midpoint whose entire motivation is 'MWA HA HA I AM EVIL.'

But I could not bear to have 'wasted' those twenty hours so I soldiered on, having figured out that the only road to success was thoughtless offense backed by ground out hit points. Attrition is never fun, even when said attrition means I win.

It's done now and I have already forgotten everyone's names. On purpose. I have purged them from my age addled memory banks to make space for more important things like remembering to put on pants in the morning. Star Ocean 5 is to be struck from the JRPG lexicon, never to be referenced in pointless nerd arguments or even discussions on what not to do.

...

I am not sure why I put off starting the Batman Telltale series. It's got Batman, and I like that, and it is Telltale, and I like most of what they have done. It may have been the performance complaints that put me off and yes, they were all legitimate. While it does take cues for The Walking Dead: Michonne it still has the look of a game more comfortable on my tired Android tablet than a big boy console. Frame rate dips, low resolution, bad facial motion capture, it's all still there.

But the story and the characters kick all sorts of ass and I cannot tell you why. To spoil anything from the first episode would be a crime. All I will say is that it is not a Batman story that I have ever seen before and that it make the Alfred character more interesting, by way of an excellent cliffhanger, than he has ever been before.

The best parts of the game have nothing to do with Batman, It's just Bruce Wayne navigating parties and press conferences, fighting the urge to break everyone's elbows because that would be so much easier than smiling and nodding like the billionaire playboy he is supposed to be. I was on the edge of my seat for all of the first episode. The next one better show up soon.

...

Podcast? Who would do such a thing.


Chamberlain and Chance - Everyone hates Konami

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Offense is the best offense

Having waded through around six hours of side missions I assumed that my characters were ready to move on with the main story in Star Ocean. Random encounters were negligible and high end kill missions did not take my team down. Tentatively I advanced the story.

Battle between two spaceships relayed entirely through character conversations making it the most boring fight in space ever, check. It didn't kill me so I cannot complain. Boarding the losing ship, a ship crewed by soldiers wielding guns, with a party of people from a bronze age planet who just recently found out that they are not alone in the universe, check. This is a Star Ocean game, I knew this kind of nonsense was going to show up eventually.

Giant ass robots that one shot my characters? What the hell. Two evenings of grinding for naught.

There is a flaw in the battle system, aside from it being too busy to ever see what is going on, that is at the core of how terrible it is: the block button. It doesn't work. It doesn't interrupt other attacks so going on the offense means opening yourself up to incoming attacks. If you do decide to block enemies animations are too fast (or to obscured) to react to. And if you sit there holding block that block is broken by hard enemies attacks.

The button doesn't work the way that it is intended to but enemy attacks assume that it does. This leads to bosses that are easy because their attacks can be dodged (which works slightly more often than blocking) and random encounters that look easy but hit you with successive attacks that stun lock after the first hit.

If there is a solution it is to bulk up on hit points and go balls out from the get go. All special attacks, all the time. This fills the screen with even more combat obscuring flotsam and the cycle begins again. According to gamefaqs, yes I checked, I only have two more chapters to go. Maybe I will have something else to talk about by the time we record the next podcast episode. I really hope so otherwise my contribution will be even thinner than usual.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Lost trust

Save point placement is a lost art. Back in the days when saving anywhere was just not an option a well placed save point could clue the player in that something big was about to happen. More than just a way to not lose progress, it could be a warning. For example, save points in Silent Hill 2 were usually just a red box. Then this happened:


Oh shit. Something terrible is going to happen very soon, and this being a game in which terrible things are happening all the time, I was quite apprehensive.

Save points should not take you back over two unskippable cut scenes and one boss fight. That is not how they work. I am looking at you, Star Ocean, fuck you for wasting an hour of my time, most of which was spent not watching a cutscene that I had already gotten past. Now I am scared to advance the story as I was totally unprepared for the boss fight and there was no way to get out of this save point - death loop. I could not leave to grind levels, I could not go shopping for items, I had to try and try again until the gods of random numbers let me through.

It happened eventually and last night instead of moving the story forward I spent three hours doing side quests. The same will happen again tonight  and most likely tomorrow night as well. I will do these until I run out because I no longer trust the game to not fuck me.

This supposedly short JRPG is starting to feel much longer than it needs to be.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Roshambo?

I had forgotten how difficult it is to come with something interesting to say about a JRPG every day. It does not have the organic, random adventures that open ended, Western styles games do. There is no wandering into a cave in an Elder Scrolls game and then running for your life from a den of bears that just happened to be there. Instead there is a series of story beats, some big, many small, that are difficult to explain without retelling the entire story.

Last night 'aliens' showed up, complete with laser rifles, and jumped right into the middle of a war. They didn't really choose sides so much as shoot everything up while trying to find the 'innocent child trope' representative. The child of course has amnesia, is in your party and is immensely powerful at irregular intervals. Instead of fighting off the invaders she teleports the entire party to a nearby snow covered mountaintop.

She's just a child, but come on, they had lasers, knock a building down on them.

I can tell the the combat is going to grate on me as time passes. The optional boss that ate up all of by resurrection items because no one but my character would block or dodge was proof of that. I will soldier on, because that is what I do, and the game has yet to jump out of the television and kick me in the nuts.


Thursday, August 11, 2016

Intruder!

There have been rumblings that the new Star Ocean game was not of the highest quality. It was rumoured to be short, not an issue for me because I have more than enough other things to play, and it was rumoured to be so JRPG that it is almost a cliche. This is also true, but again, it does not bother me because I came to this party with that expectation. If there was too much western RPG in my linear JRPG I would be disappointed.

Those complaints were not entirely accurate for me, but there is a problem, and it is a big one: combat is a god damn mess. Switching between your character and three AI companions is the norm for Star Ocean games but I do not remember them ever being quite as useless as there are now. They just do not do a very good job of keeping themselves alive. When controlling one on your own normal attacks are mapped to two different buttons with block on the third. Not bad, but both light and heavy attack buttons result in two moves per press and it is not possible to interrupt the animation of these moves with the block button.

Enemies of course don't have this problem and punish you handily for daring to attack.

As long as the game doesn't get too hard this will not keep me from playing. I have a sickness. You see, I like to see numbers get bigger. There are plenty of numbers in Star Ocean. Numbers on combat skills and numbers on out of combat specialties and numbers on equipment. Not so many that I am overwhelmed (see any Disgaea game for that) but enough that I need to be constantly paying attention to what I dump points into.

It's good, it's bad, it is every JRPG that has come out in the past several years, just at a higher resolution. It also has the singularly worst costume I have ever seen:


What the hell is that. She belongs in those Vita games that Chance plays, not something I play.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Better times

Contrary to what Chance goaded me into saying, I do not think that Hyper Light Drifter was better than Quantum Break. Yes, the arbitrary number I assigned to it was higher but that does not mean that they were measured to the same scale. They were very different experiences, both with problems, but enjoyable, just not in the same way.

Trust me, if something sucks, I will not mince words. Hiding secrets behind trees when the camera doesn't move sucks. When it comes to quality I tend to be a bit more diplomatic.

Chamberlain and Chance - A much better week

Monday, August 8, 2016

Intelligent loops

I need to amend the statement that Quantum Break defines all of our actions are pre-destined. It is not quite that draconian in that the future can be changed because it hasn't happened yet. The past cannot because that die is already cast, even if that means something from the future went back to affect it.

Does your head hurt yet?

For example, I had Honey Nut Cheerios for breakfast. If I find out later that there is an emergency recall on the product and that I have ingested a fatal dose of rat poison I would like very much to use my time machine to go back and prevent myself from eating the Honey Nut Cheerios in the first place.

But I can't. Because if I do that and am successful that means that I already would not have had that breakfast. If I did have that breakfast, which I did, it means that any future attempts to go back and change that will fail because that past has already happened.

Quantum Break does a very good job sticking to its own logic. The game is peppered with clues that something else is going on that are not explained until the end game when you go back in time and do them yourself. From the past you's point of view nothing ever changes, the present you is just making good on things that already happened.

It is the most logical, effective use of time travel as a plot device that I have seen in a long, long time. No paradoxes, no get out of jail free cards, no having to break the time machine to settle on a time line. There is only one timeline - the present and the past are set, only the future is malleable, but even it has no power over things that have already occurred, not matter when they occurred.

How this manifests itself in the hero's ability to stop time and shoot people in the head is not explained, nor is it important, because it looks really fucking cool.

Now if only the game could have managed to have an ending instead of a silly reveal that points to either DLC that I will never play or a sequel that is years off. Oh, and it needs to look better and either ditch the live action bits or, even better, render them in engine. The story told in the live action cutscenes was well done, it fleshed out non-central characters, making several of them much more relatable, but the jumping back and forth between real life and rendered life was jarring.

For example, Lance Reddick as Martin Hatch was quite intimidating in the flesh:


Rendered, not so much:


Be better, videogames! Be better!

Friday, August 5, 2016

Going back for more

I think I have decided that Quantum Break is good. It has the slow motion, chaotic action that I expect from Remedy and it tries something new by excising all of the boring, non-essential parts from the gameplay and presenting that as fairly well done live action vignettes. The only consequence is an unwelcome trip to the uncanny valley - seeing the person that a 3D model is based on seconds before playing as said 3D model never ends well.

So that Max Payne 2 piece I talked about two days ago? Yeah, the slow mo dive roll is totally here, only this time as a speed dash slow mo move that knocks weaker enemies back. At higher levels you can add a melee attack on to the end of it for extra crunchy goodness. Dodging bullets, punching one guy as the next guy is frozen in mid air and then filling him full of holes will never get old.

Quantum Break also attempts to take the idea of time travel a little deeper than 'just go back in time and fix what was broken.' As a rule I despise time travel as a plot device. It is a crutch, a modern deus ex machina. Nothing is ever for sure because the hero can always go back and try again. Not so in Quantum Break. Everything has already happened, even was is going to happen in the future has already happened, so trying to change something is pointless. Everything is predestined and everyone is just playing out their assigned parts.

A bit depressing, to be sure, and I suspect that the player character is going to be the one person who can upset things, but it at least attempts a new spin on time travel. The idea of the time machine having broken time itself and that this fracture will eventually lead to a zero state in which time itself stops, forever, and no one will know is also scary.

Impossible, of course, but unnerving.


Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The payoff

I want to talk about Quantum Break but I have not played enough of it to fully have an opinion. The ratio of game play to rather well done live action movie bits is a tad off, but that was just in the first two hours. There is also a specific ability that very much trips the Max Payne 2 parts of my brain and that feels fucking great.

Instead of that I will talk about the Xbox One S, a piece of hardware that very few people should purchase that has managed to become one my favorite things over the course of one night, minus its janky controller.

But first, a story.

I have already chronicled, either here or on the podcast, my purchase of a new, reasonably sized and priced, 4K HDR television. It is a good TV but nothing I owned took advantage of its bells and whistles. Its purchase was, to be honest, part of a larger plan to justify the upgrade from my day one Xbox One to the Xbox One S. Together they would represent a true upgrade over what I had before and pave the way for the real 4K systems that are coming out next year.

Monday night, with some trepidation because I do not fully trust that all of my saves were backed up to Microsoft's servers, I removed all of the accounts from my Xbox One and packed it up for the trip to Gamestop. I did not actually default the console, something that would come back to bite me the next day when I tried to trade it in. I had turned all of the video settings up as high as possible, even ones that I did not understand, because my TV supported it.

Gamestop's PS3 era testing station did not support these settings, the color depth to be specific, so they could not verify that it worked and I could not trade it in. The person I dealt with was quite apologetic but there was nothing he could do. He quietly suggested that I take it home and default it, to which I replied that if I left without trading it in I would not be coming back.

A hollow threat. I walked out with two consoles, returned to my office, connected the old one to a monitor so I could see what I was doing, and was back at the same Gamestop within two hours.

Unboxing a new console is always a good time even when it is only a marginal improvement over its predecessor. I pulled it out of the box, immediately disliked the white color, but set it up anyway. The controller is not quite the same as the one I already had. It feels slightly smaller and much more cheaply made, to the point where the back of the controller pops in and out if it is squeezed too hard. Backup controller it is.

Forty five minutes of updates later the console actually came up, noticed that it was connected to a 4K television, and asked if I wanted to run at that resolution. It begins. Menu, menu, menu - where are those video settings - there they are. Advanced 4K settings? Sure, why not. Hey, what's with all of these evil red marks stating that my television doesn't support 10 bit color at 60hz?

What the hell does that even mean?

It took about an hour of frantic googling, some panicked digging for receipts while I got more and more pissed off that I would have to return the television, and a lot of trial and error until I found the option on my television that enabled all of the cool things that I spent a fair amount of money on. Both the television and XBox required a reboot. After a few minutes of suspense, all green check marks, it was time to actually test something.

Mad Max: Fury Road in 4K HDR game me goosebumps. This is not hyperbole, it is a thing that happened. Hours of frustration melted away. I forgave the shitty controller and milquetoast color. This was a deserving piece of hardware that I was happy to have in my house.

The Xbox One S is a hard pass if you do not have a 4K TV. Even if you do, no games support HDR yet and the upscaling to 4K of existing games is not impressive. But if you happen to want a 4K Bluray player you could do much, much worse. No when can I buy Blade Runner again.

Thrown back

There is much to discuss. I will divide it into multiple posts, for your convenience.

First, I approached my podcast partner with a question: Hyper Light Drifter or I Am Setsuna? He told me, in no uncertain terms, to purchase Hyper Light Drifter and then to fuck Square Enix right in the ear. Slight against my manhood aside, I took his advice and went with the kickstarted indie game.

It's, well, it's okay. I was not blown away, I did not fall in love. If anything, it reminded me how much better games are (in general) now than there were in the NES days because Hyper Light Drifter is little more than an NES game on steroids with a much better sound track.

Comparing it to the games of my childhood does not mean that it plays poorly. On the contrary, many NES games has crisp, clean, responsive controls and, in that manner, HLD does not disappoint. Movement, combat, dashing, shooting - everything is incredibly precise. The drifter does what he is told to do when he is told to do it. A side effect of this is that, for most encounters, all of his unlockable powers are unnecessary. The player, with enough skill, can survive most enemies with just the dash and the sword.

But for God's sake, unlock the multi-dash first.

The difficulty ramps up in the fourth and final area and the big bad expects you to have and have mastered most of the skills, which is fine. There is a reason that the first three areas can be assaulted in any order but the fourth is locked. The requirements of both player ability and unlocked skills made sense and had a reasonable curve and the penalty for death was minimal.

So why my lukewarm reaction? HLD takes more than just how in controls from its gaming heritage. It also looks like an NES game on steroids. Over and over I could see that, visually, it had something to say, but that message was lost in its pixel art and bland backgrounds. Hiding shortcuts and items behind shrubbery that you cannot see through was lame when it was invented and the game does it constantly.

And then there's the story, if you can call it that. There is a difference between mysterious and obtuse and HLD opts to explain nothing about the setting and events that lead up to the drifter's appearance. There was some sort of cataclysm, there were giants right out of Attack on Titan, something exploded, the drifter bleeds black monsters. It's nonsensical and frustrating. With just a little bit of effort, via, oh I don't know, text, the game would have made sense.

For better or for worse, HLD is a throwback to the days when blowing into the cartridge was part of getting your game to work. Things are better now, more is expected. The game plays exceptionally, too bad it doesn't have much else to offer.