30 December, 2007

It's The Final Countdown

My DooM map is approaching completion, which is a good thing because the LAN party I hope to play it at starts in fifteen hours. I've restricted myself to monsters from the shareware episode, just to do it. But they go down so quickly, I'm worried my many hours of work will be played through in less than ten minutes. Oh well. There's nothing to do but finish the final battle and hope there aren't any showstopping bugs once multiple players enter the mix.

I took some time out this morning to play some Rogue Trooper on GameTap. I'm pleasantly surprised, thus far.

29 December, 2007

Mappin'

Today's gaming time was spent on mapping. My DooM co-op level is now much bigger in size. Not having people to test it with, I fear it may suck. But in the meantime it's still fun to read about new features. The DECORATE lump is frigging awesome. I still only read about it in passing, as I'm trying to keep my ambitions modest to meet my limited schedule. But every time I read about it, I keep thinking how cool it'll be when I can bring some of my ideas to fruition.

Then I think that without regular players, I'll probably lose steam and forget about it, like every other game dev project I've attempted. Meh.

27 December, 2007

Review: Lego Racers 2

Okay, so I'm basically GameTap slumming. Cope.

Gameplay
It's a kart racer where you can build the karts yourself. I don't know if it had to do with my turning off the "catch up" menu item, but the races were usually either super easy or pretty challenging. The easy races I expected, but I have to wonder if the other races would be frustrating for the game's target demographic. The races usually weren't hard because the AI of your opponents was any good. It was more because it's a weapon racer and unless you outdistance them quickly, you'll be sucking down homing rockets like nobody's business.

But just when I was annoyed to the point that I was going to shelve the game and do something else, I'd get to build a new kart for a new environment. I had my finmobile for the starting island, my rocket tank for the jungle, a spiffy hover sled for Mars, and my snow vehicle was super cool, thanks to some handrails that doubled as wings. And then, once my new kart was complete, I had to try it out. Despite the fact that the design has no real effect on the game, the fun of seeing my creations race kept me in the game until the end.

Theatrics
There's some guy you beat in the first game. Now you have to go to another planet and beat him again. It is amusing how kid friendly the game is. At one point you get an upgrade that falls off an opponents vehicle. You justify running off with it by saying you'll give it back when you're done with it. Nice one.

Aesthetics
Lego Star Wars, this ain't. Still, it does the job.

Final Score
3 of 5

Everybody dance now!
(These aren't thumbnails, so don't bother clicking on them.)

Is it a frog? Is it a bee? I don't know, but it's got fins and a stick shift, so it's awesome.

It's too bad my "rocket engines" didn't give this thing any extra speed. I thought they looked good and beefy.

Of course, that would make this vehicle unfairly fast. The more parts you put on, the more junk comes off when you get in wrecks. :)

This is my greatest creation. Those handrail wings are perfect, and the old school Lego car doors made cool fins. This thing should be flying through space. Winning.

Plus flags are the new fins.

I call this the Obsidian Peacock. I knew I wasn't going to surpass the snowmobile, so I didn't really try. Still, I like to think it has a certain quiet dignity.





































(Stupidian Peacock. :P )

Review: Jaws Unleashed

Jaws Unleashed (2006 Appaloosa Interactive) was a game made to cash in on the 30th anniversary rerelease of the movie that destroyed Hollywood. (The initial weekend receipts proved that you could make huge money on the strength of marketing and a wide release.)

Gameplay
For a game about eating stuff, the controls are surprisingly complicated. You have separate buttons for biting, tail thrashing, ramming, shark vision, targeting, target switching, and body part targeting. Oh and there's a dodge button as well. It's a little ridiculous. But then, that's par for the course as you'll often find yourself grabbing explosive barrels and spitting them dozens of meters to accomplish your goals.

The objectives are fairly varied. You'll eat some people. You'll fight people or sea creatures. You'll navigate dangerous waters (sometimes against the clock). You'll blow stuff up. None of these objectives has much depth, but the variety was appreciated. Trying to navigate the occasionally cramped spaces and wrestling with the targeting system are the most persistent challenges. I tried to target as little as possible (only when I wanted to chomp heads to kill a lot of people quickly). Sometimes it was difficult to figure out what you were supposed to do, as well. Turning on shark vision often helped with that, but I did have to consult FAQs a few times.

In an attempt to add a little more depth to the game, there's also an upgrade system to make you faster, stronger, and healthier. It felt mostly tacked on.

Theatrics
This is probably the best part of the game. It may help that I have a curved, gray, textured mouse, but the feeling of controlling a giant, speedy ocean predator is pretty cool. I would waste time knocking guys off their jet skis or flipping their catamarans just because. And don't get me started on the water skiers. The amount of sea life they put in the game just for you to chomp on between missions is really impressive, too. I ate a walrus. How awesome is that?

Aesthetics
Appaloosa Interactive made the Ecco the Dolphin games, and they obviously leveraged some of that expertise here. The only problem is that the game has a distinct lowest common denominator feel (read "It was coded with the PS2's limitations in mind."), so the draw distance is pretty short, and the models and textures don't always look that great. The sea creatures are generally good, but everything else feels half assed.

Final Score
3 of 5

Ride the walrus!



To victory!

Review: Infernal

Infernal (2007 Metropolis Software) is a bad game. Let's skip the formalities and commence with the hack and slash, shall we?

Gameplay
It's a third person shooter where none of the elements satisfy. Shooting things is not very fun. Even on low settings, the frame rate gets bad in a hurry, so aiming is a chore. Also, because it's third person, I frequently got shot by enemies my character could see, but I couldn't because of the offset of the camera. The sniper rifle was the only weapon with a first person option, so there was no workaround.

The cover mechanics were useless as the perfect AI targeting meant they generally hit you just as much behind cover as not. Their use of cover and blind firing was decent, though. There were occasionally grenades provided to flush them out, but for the most part I just waited from them to pop back out, or shot them in the back of the calf, which they often left exposed. Morons. Of course, they do have the super power of being able to see through any gratings or foliage that doesn't block bullets as though it weren't even there, so it all balances out. >:P

There's stealth, but it's generally just a bad guy who's facing away when you enter a room. Once an enemy sees you, you can do a little cat and mouse by sneaking around behind them, but since you're usually fighting four guys at a time, one of them will see you and ruin it. Regardless, I did like the one or two times stealth worked. And I always like the feeling I get making my avatar crouch walk everywhere, checking the corners and "staying frosty". :)

There are powers in the game, but they're generally only used to solve the same locked door puzzles over and over. That and the visual effects that accompany them are disorienting enough to be a pain in the butt.

Also, it should be mentioned that I played through on easy because the uneven difficulty provided annoying sticking points. Even when I played on easy, a couple sections near the end of the game ran so poorly I couldn't perform any of my evasive maneuvers, making them unnecessarily difficult.

Oh and the checkpoints are way too far apart, necessitating manual quick saving after every encounter lest you have to play the same last lackluster thirty minutes over again.

Theatrics
Oy. The irrelevance of Infernal's story is eclipsed only by its ridiculousness. Every millennium, the planets line up in such a way that GOD CANNOT SEE EARTH. Apparently he lives somewhere specific in the universe and just has a really good telescope. The good guys decide to take advantage of this time to make mind control satellites to make everyone good and do away with that pesky free will stuff. Um. What did they think would happen WHEN THE PLANETS MOVED AGAIN? God wouldn't notice? They'd invoke finders keepers <Zoidberg>or maybe naval salvage rights?</Zoidberg> I reiterate, oy.

The voice actors actually do a good job, but with no direction, lousy translations (The game was developed in Poland.), and no attempt to give any of the characters a personality, it's a wasted effort.

Aesthetics
Before I had to turn the settings down, the game looked really good. The sound effects are good. The music is okay. Like the characters, it tries too hard to be bad ass. And there are generally only two songs in a level (one for sneaking and one for fighting), they can get pretty repetitive. In an interesting quirk, I enjoyed anticipating where the musical phrase would end as Infernal uses canned transitions instead of just fading from one song to the other.

Final Score
2 of 5

26 December, 2007

No Gaming

There was no gaming today (or yesterday, if you want to get technical) on account of holiday. Gaming should resume tomorrow (or today, blah, blah, blah).

It does bear mentioning that I received a Mario & Luigi 08 shirt and a copy of Masters of DooM, which I had been meaning to pick up for a number of years. Yes. I am that lazy.

24 December, 2007

Review: Bully

Bully (2006, Rockstar) is the story of enlightenment through pugilation, AKA The American Dream. Seriously, though, it's about a kid who's dumped in a boarding school for troublesome children while his mother and her new husband (Number five? Six? It's hard to keep count.) go on a year long honeymoon.

Gameplay
Rockstar, for those of you who don't know, made the Grand Theft Auto games, Manhunt, and The Warriors. Bully definitely has aspects that are similar. The large environment, the large variety of activities, and the okay but not great combat are all intact. It should be mentioned that the hand to hand is decidedly better than all of those games. Even when I had a full inventory of weapons, I much preferred mixing it up.

The thing that sets Bully apart, is how many other things there are to do. Sure, GTA has a lot of side errands, but Bully has a bit more. There are classes to take, games to play at the boardwalk, money to be made mowing lawns and delivering papers, people who will randomly come to you with problems they need help with or dares you can accept or decline, and there's lots more. They're mostly just diversions, not full games unto themselves, but they're a nice change of pace and learning the one or two tricks to them provides a brief, Wario Ware type rush.

Theatrics
So technically I'm going to keep talking about the gameplay here for a bit because some of the most significant mechanics are about making you feel like a kid.

Many missions in the game are designed to tell the story and show, rather than tell, who these kids are.

***SPOILERS***
(highlight to read by pressing CTRL+A or just dragging the mouse cursor over them)

I'll always remember the mission objective "beat the gate code out of the nerd". I was expecting to beat him down and take a piece of paper off of him, or watch a cut scene after a standard fight. He folds after the first punch saying, "It's 1138" and it's over. That was awesome, and gave me a sense of character more than any dialog would. And the game is full of stuff like that. Jocks like to tackle. The preppies use "fisticuffs" (so sweep the leg, Johnny). And the greasers are often fought on bikes ('cause they're too young for motorcycles).

***SPOILERS***

Almost everything you do in Bully is on the clock. When you wake up, you've got about a minute and a half to get to class before you're considered truant and have to dodge school prefects (or cops if your ditching in town). Then you've got another minute and a half for lunch. Then your last class. Then you can roam free until curfew. Then you can roam unfree until 2AM, at which point you collapse and wake up with a minute and a half to get to class again. It certainly evoked the rigid structure of childhood for me. In fact, when I completed all my classwork and didn't have to go to classes anymore, I was weirded out.

Another gameplay addition was the social system. When locking on to a character, a little menu gives social options, like greet, insult, flirt, push, bribe; apologize. It could have been implemented a little better as you're often talking over who you're supposed to be conversing with, but just the concept of being able to talk your way out of trouble or provoke a fight (generally near an authority figure who would cream the other kid for you) added a lot to the feel of the game.

On the more traditional front, the acting and directing in the game is pretty good. The characters are fairly stereotypical, in the Rockstar tradition. The plot generally a collection of clich├ęs as well. But it mostly works. From the intro cinematic, I felt for Jimmy. And when the time came, I was ready to lay some smack down. Eventually, I got a little sick of the way the game took him, though. While the violence in Bully is very subdued compared to Rockstar's other games, it's still used to solve too many problems. I really would have liked it if the end of the game had involved more brains and less brawns, not that certain people didn't have it coming, mind you, but it would have been more fulfilling if Jimmy had figured out a better way to overcome at least some of the final obstacles. Plus his bragging over defeated foes made him seem like a big jerk and only served to highlight how ridiculous his exploits had become. Maybe I'm thinking wrong to want a hero in a Rockstar game, though. They only give you the lesser evil, as a rule.

Aesthetics
The game has the functional look of a PS2 title using RenderWare (the graphics engine Rockstar licensed for most of its PS2 releases). Special note needs to be given to the fact that the campus and town go through seasons as you play, and seeing the skeletons hanging in the quad or the Xmas lights in the city are worth wandering around just to see.

Final Score
A five.

Out of five.

The only things I wanted from Bully were more content and more refinements. And to that end...

Suggestions
There was some stuff about Bully that bugged me. I'm assuming the upcoming 360 and Wii ports won't improve these things either, but I just wanted to air them semi-publicly and didn't feel like padding my post count by making them a separate article. :)

First off, the combat had some annoyances that didn't need to be there.

Fighting multiple opponents didn't have to be so awkward. Often times I found myself getting attacked by someone who was obviously in my field of view, but because I was locked on to someone else, I would take the hits, instead of, you know, moving my hands a little to block a punch from someone else. I know I'm not playing Dante here, but with as much time as I spent in the boxing ring, it seems like I should have been able to block those blows.

Speaking of which, when I was boxing, I could duck and counter. What happened to that? Shouldn't the uppercut I learned work for that?

Second, I think the immersion provided by the school atmosphere, as great as it was could have been even better.

It seemed bizarre that you could show up to class with five minutes to go and still learn everything. What if it worked like this? If you show up before class or in the first half hour, you get the full time, lives, whatever, to complete your task. Then you reduce that for each half hour late until, if you show up in the last half hour, you basically get nothing. Of course, the classes never gave homework, either, but that's probably too far to go for realism.

For the overachievers who finish all their classes, the aftermath just seemed weird. Bullworth Academy was supposed to be oppressive, not the kind of place where you could skip class just because you'd "done enough work". Why not be able to exchange classes after level five for a job in town (close to one of my save spots so I can get there in the morning)? It could be the same mini-games, but it'd feel a little less strange for the boss of a half ass work study program not to care where I was than the administration at the academy. Plus I'd feel like I had beaten the system, which is always good.

Also, no Santa outfit? Sure, there's a piece of Xmas attire in the game, but I wanted the Santa outfit and the sack of "presents" (doorknobs) to deal with anyone who laughed at it. >:)

Search Concluded

My search for a fun world to explore ended today. I remembered I had a greatest hits edition of Bully I'd been saving for a rainy day. Sure, I'll probably go back to Steambot (and maybe Dark Cloud 2). But Bully delivers what I'd been looking for. A place that's fun to explore, with lots of stuff to do. I'll save the rest for the review, but between playing Bully and watching Arrested Development (for the third time, I think), I'm having a luxuriously useless winter break.

22 December, 2007

DooM

WARNING: This post assumes you know a metric butt ton of DooM editing information that, unless you're Chris, you don't know. Just nod and smile.

I'm not going to go into my long and storied history with DooM in this post. That's a time commitment. I'll just say happy 14th birthday and talk about what I'm doing with DooM right now. First, I'm playing it. Call it research. Call it procrastinating. I decided that if I was going to be working on a co-op wad for the new years LAN party, I should regain my feel for the game. I played through chief.wad, an old co-op favorite. I forgot how simple those levels were. They were also generally hub based, which meant that wherever you spawned, the action wasn't too far away. Good design. They were super basic, architecture wise, and sometimes painfully linear and cramped. I don't enjoy co-op when it's basically a conga line of marines each waiting for the guy in front of them to die so they can start shooting.

I've also been playing b2b.wad (Back to Basics) by Espi. It's a replacement for Episode 2, but generally feels too light and happy, not like a descent into hell like the original. Also, the levels are so huge I frequently found myself checking the map to figure out where this key I just got was supposed to go, but then I sometimes did that in the original DooM as well. The main thing I get out of it is the occasional deja vu of seeing structures that resemble ones from the original DooM, and since I'm using those textures, it's good to have a refresher.

How am I using DooM textures in DooM 2 you may ask? I'm taking advantage of the awesomeness of the Skulltag source port. It's crazy sweet. I just add DOOM.WAD to the command line and instantly have access to all the old textures and flats. In fact, there's no longer even a distinction. If I want to put a wall texture on a floor or ceiling (or vice versa), it's no problem! I can't tell you how convenient that is compared to how editing used to be.

I'm also using "Hexen" format, which has good and bad elements. It gives me access to all the funky fresh features like poly objects and lines that trigger scripts, but it removes a bunch of the old line types that I really liked. I can tell you right now, I'm never making a deathmatch level in this format. I love OpenCloseFast doors way too much. In the meantime, I've put a fair amount of thought into ACS and the DECORATION lump (the replacement for old DeHackEd patches). I would really like to try a class based co-op experiment. I'd also like to try some new monsters. I won't have that ready for the LAN party, though. For that, I just want a playable, decent looking level with lots of baddies to kill.

Oh yeah. And OpenGL is cool.

Explorations

I seem to be playing (or trying to play) a lot of games about exploration lately.

I started playing Dark Cloud 2, a moderately cutesy Japanese action RPG with a heavy collect and craft element. It's too slow, and too hard. I say it's got exploration because it's got random mazes and you have to explore new recipes and upgrade paths. Also, there's a whole town building game to learn about as well. There's also fishing to try your hand at, and I'm only about five hours (out of a minimum of 30) in, so there may well be other new games to learn. The problem is, none of these games is very rewarding. If you win in combat, it's generally because you were careful, not because you were powered up, or pulled off a cool move (thanks to the clunky controls). Sure, you can go back to the easy levels and feel powerful, but you also feel like you're wasting your time when you're one shotting trash mobs that drop crappy loot. Leveling your weapons and other crafting requires better loot, but the drops are so varied and random, you have no idea if a trip through a level is going to be worth your time at all. Also the way you invent things by randomly combining photographs you take is entirely unfun. Even going to GameFAQs and cheating was worthless as the one recipe I could make requires ten of a rare item. (I've seen one drop the whole game.) Sick of that collection of boring, obscure mini games, I decided to pop in another collection of mini games in much the same vein.

Steambot Chronicles is a less cutesy Japanese action RPG with a strong crafting focus. Plus you can play in a band a do lots of other stuff. I'm barely an hour in, and outside of a completely unfair fight in the freaking tutorial, it's looking better than Dark Cloud 2, faint praise, but as both games are generally lauded by the same folks, I'm not holding out too much hope.

I took a look at some indie games. (I still need to check out this list, but one (One!?) thing at a time.) Most of them sucked out loud, but two of them were great. Knytt Stories is the closest thing I've found to Seiklus. High praise indeed. It's not quite as big or varied, but it brought back the simple joy that had been sorely lacking in my gaming of late. There are also additional scenarios for Knytt Stories I haven't dug into yet, so it may end up being just as long. I tried the author's other game (where you're a bouncing ball), but it wasn't very fun. The main game mechanic is being careful as the ball can be very difficult to control (or very boring as you have to stop and build up height again). Not as good.

The big exploration recently was Dwarf Fortress. I even created a mini blog for it. The short version? It's harder and more impenetrable than any of these other games I'm playing. But there's so much to the simulation, that's it's actually interesting. I just don't have the time to devote to screwing around with it.

There was also the big exploration of DooM editing, but I'll save that for another post. I've still got Gamma 256 to talk about, a game dev competition that restricted the authors to incredibly low resolutions. I didn't try all of them, but Bloody Zombies was the only one I tried that was amusing. I need to finish the list.

It doesn't really fit the theme, but I also checked out Infernal on GameTap. I recommend playing on easy, as the graphics and game setting are fun to experience (so far), but the gameplay is lacking.

Geeze. I guess I should update more when it's vacation and I'm playing games all day. :P

18 December, 2007

State of the Industry

The NPD sales figures for November are out (well discussed on the 1UP Yours podcast and disected on Next Gen). Since all the big games have already been released or pushed to next year because they couldn't make the holiday window, it's a good time to talk about what happened this year.

Nintendo
Nintendo mostly rules, except where they completely fail. The DS outsold the PS3, PS2, and PSP combined in November, moving 1.53 million units. Part of that had to do with them bundling either Zelda (kind of for gamers) or a pet sim (for normal people). In fact, no DS game sold in the top ten. When you consider that the DS installed base in the US alone is probably around 18 million, over double the Xbox 360 installed base, that's an epic fail.

The Wii's kind of the same story except they can't even put the hardware out there. GameSpot is selling IOUs (for the full price of the system, no less) to give desperate parents something to put under the tree. I heard a gal in the cafeteria at work talking about the supplies the big box retailers hoarded for sales last Sunday lasting for two whole hours. Again, these are stories of epic fail. But Nintendo's a conservative Japanese company, and there are Wii's sitting on store shelves in Japan, so they may have a fear that they're on the brink of bursting the bubble and having the Wii market implode. I really don't know. The truth is that gamers only have Wii's because of Zelda, Metroid, and Mario. Now that those games are out, Nintendo has one more game (Smash Brothers) the gamers are looking forward to.

Once there's nothing left but the alpha moms and mini-game lovers buying these things, who's to say whether they'll move on to some talking stuffed animal next year, forgetting all about the Wii? I thought the people calling the Wii a fad were idiots. Well, in fairness to myself, many of them aboslutely were idiots. But maybe a couple of them were ahead of me on this. Maybe they realized that the people Nintendo's marketing to now are fickle. Last year the novelty of the system and the family fun of Wii Sports sold it. This year Mario sold it. Wii Fit (a game which lets you stand on a fancy scale to control exercise games by shifting your weight) is out in Japan this holiday season. Are they going to hold it all year in the states so that they have something to generate holiday buzz next season?

Microsoft
Technically the 360 still has the installed base over the Wii, I think. But the truth is, they're not really in the same markets... at all. The 360 lovers are basically crack whores. They will let you do anything to them as long as they can see their next fix on the horizon. The thing still eats disks. The optical drives still fail. There are still folks waiting many weeks to get their refurbished, fail prone replacement in the mail. And it's kinda sorta working for them. By taking the repair bill as a huge hit in one quarter and releasing Halo 3 the next, they showed their first profitable quarter ever. They say they expect to be profitable in 2008 as a year overall. Doesn't sound like winning, does it?

Then you look at software. Four of the top ten games for November are on 360. Two of them are on PS3, but they're just PS3 versions of the far better selling 360 games. Call of Duty 360 outsold Call of Duty PS3 3.5 to 1. Assassin's Creed 360 outsold Assassin's Creed PS3 2.6 to 1. I'm guessing that's partly because Call of Duty is online, and the 360 is where gamers know their friends are, so they're less likely to want the PS3 version. Beyond that, the numbers seem to reflect the installed base, which is around 3 to 1.

Sony
As has been mentioned before, Sony's losing money like crazy. Any time one of their executives opens their mouth, only the most ignorant doublespeak falls out of their mouths (which I assume are surrounded by clown make-up). If gamers aren't so awestricken by Metal Gear Solid 4 that they're willing to drop $400 on a non-backwards compatible PS3 to play it, what has Sony got? Seriously, the best games on the system aren't selling for crap. Uncharted and Rachet aren't in the top ten at all. Next Gen said Rachet sold less than 150k copies. That's A) criminal and B) freaking bleak.

As the latest example of ignorant doublespeak, a Sony exec said they felt Sony was on a good course for their projected ten year life cycle. Do you think you can lose the better part of a billion dollars a quarter and have a ten year life cycle?

The Rest of the World
Shane Bettenhausen brought up something scary on the last 1UP Yours. These figures we look at are for North America, mostly. In Japan, it's very different. Japan's moving away from consoles to mobile platforms. There are Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy games you'll probably never see because they run only on Japanese phones (which blow ours away). And in Europe, apparently the PS3 is actually doing well enough that it might be the winner there. When a hit driven market becomes that fragmented, what does that mean? Even more first person shooters for the 360? Even more soccer and rally racing games for the PS3? Even more crap I don't care about for Nintendo systems? Blegh.

15 December, 2007

Flotsam and Jetsam

I don't really write up half of what's going on, gamewise, on this blog. I like articles. I like theses. I like cohesion. I like there to be a point. But I don't really do a good job of communicating the texture of my gaming life. It just seems so disparate and random sometimes.

I've been on a buying spree, picking up clearanced and used games online. Tis the season, after all. Of course, my backlog is so enormous that a sane man would declare a moratorium. I am not that man. And the simple fact is, there are a lot of games on my backlog I really don't want to play. Manhunt isn't fun. Hunter: The Reckoning: Wayward isn't fun. Headhunter: Redemption isn't fun. I think it's time to move on. Anything on my backlog that isn't fun is officially kaput.

If you were waiting for reviews of:

  • Burnout 3

  • Headhunter: Redemption

  • Hunter: The Reckoning: Wayward

  • Manhunt

  • New Super Mario Bros.

  • Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass

  • Sam & Max: Season One

  • Zack & Wiki



You can stop. They didn't hold my interest. That isn't to say they're bad games. But after getting the gist of them, I didn't see anything that lead me to believe that continuing the experience was worthwhile.

Part of that has to do with being old. Being old means I've seen a lot of games, so I can see where things are going and decide when to bail out earlier than some people. Being old means I have some money, so I can afford to cut my losses. (It also helps that I am cheap and bought most of these games for under $20.) Being old also means I have big hands and don't see as well, so the experience of most portable games is pretty awful for me. If I could play on a screen I could actually see, with a controller that didn't cramp my hand, I'd probably have finished New Super Mario Bros. months ago. As it is, the experience just isn't appealing.


That was cleansing. What else is going on?

I'm playing stuff I haven't been talking about, mostly on GameTap. They supposedly lost 70 games off of their service because EA didn't feel like renewing a contract. It kind of sucks because part of me liked knowing I could check out the old Ultima games for research purposes. But I probably wasn't going to. :) As to the stuff I'm actually playing, well, it's embarrassing. Well, not all of it. I smoked Gunstar Heroes the other night. It was good to know it's still fun and that I can beat it on Normal with only a few deaths, validating my opinion of the overly difficult GBA version. In a Genesis mood, I decided to check out Beyond Oasis. I'd heard it was the Genesis' Zelda, and I can already tell why I never heard of it. It's pretty low rent. Add it to the list of games I probably won't bother to finish. Also, I've downloaded PlaneScape: Torment. I hear a lot of love for it in the PA forums (for the theatrics, not the gameplay), so I figured I should give it a look. The same goes for Baldur's Gate 2.

Did you forget about the embarrassing part yet? Whew. Wait, what? I brought it up again? Phooey! Okay. But there were extenuating circumstances! I had a bad day at work last week and decided to take it out on some swimmers by playing Jaws: Unleashed and am having enough fun that I'm well on my way to finishing it. Unfortunately GameTap seems to prevent taking screen shots as I spent a few minutes yesterday trying to photograph the sea of legs and torsos I created by using the body part targeting to rip the shore patrol jerks attacking me in half. Take that! Shore patrol jerks!

Mmmm. Shore patrol jerks.

Also, I'm making a new gamer friend. (Hi!) We started playing System Shock 2 co-op, and it got me in a mood, a good mood. I've been thinking about making some co-op DooM levels for the new years weekend network party he'll be holding. Turn out's been low lately, but that's great for co-op. I'm planning to use the Skulltag engine, as it supports all of ZDooM's fun wackiness but with joining and leaving the server at any time. Still, I've got a lot of work to do if I want to have enough co-op to be worth playing in only two weeks.

There's more I could talk about, mostly about the state of the industry, articles that have interested / annoyed me lately, etc. But who really cares. Life's too short to spend time not gaming. :)

Review: Super Mario Galaxy

Hmm. Writing an introduction for a flagship Mario game. Hmm. For those who might not be aware, Miyamoto dosen't design them anymore. Yoshiaki Koizumi was the director on Galaxy. But I haven't memorized that name yet, so I certainly don't expect you to. :) Back to business.

Gameplay
At it's core, it's still Mario 64 for the N64, which is a good thing. There are platformers I enjoy more than Mario (Rachet & Clank), but nothing exceeds Mario at actual platforming. This was why people didn't like Mario Sunshine, as the game was largely about shooting water, not pure acrobatics. Galaxy also has some gimmicks (collecting star bits, playing with gravity, various special suits) but the game is always about the movement, reaching your goal while avoiding harm.

There are still problems with the game. Even Nintendo still can't get the camera right. It occasionally gets stuck behind the scenery and there are jumps where the camera changes angle just as you approach them. But then, there apparently isn't anyone smart enough in this entire industry to make a camera that doesn't kill you sometimes. :P I sometimes wonder if stereoscopic 3D will ever become economically viable, and whether that won't alleviate some of these problems... probably not in my lifetime. And even if it did, neither of the problems I just mentioned would be fixed by it. :P

The bonus levels that open up after you beat the game are more tedious than fun. Well, the ones I played were. Then I got bored and decided to write this review. Still, this is the Mario game I've come closest to 100%ing. Sunshine's sliding levels where awful, and Mario 64 had many challenges that were more frustrating (read cheap).

Theatrics
Bowser kidnaps the princess. Mario goes on a quest to rescue her. Next.

Aesthetics
Galaxy is a poster child for smart design and coding over raw processing power as the graphics look great on what is essentially six year old hardware. In some cases that's because it uses an overhead perspective, rendering far less than an over the shoulder view. Sometimes that's because the view is mostly skybox, which doesn't take much power to render at all. There's also some LoD stuff being done (with just enough pop in that I could tell it was happening, but most people probably won't notice).

The sound is true to the Mario formula. I enjoyed the references to music from the older games, and some of the newer orchestral stuff really sold the majesty of the setting. Also the sounds coming out of the Wiimote were kinda cool, too.

Final Score
4 of 5

Yeah. I know. Scandal. But I'm just not sad it's over or eager to play through it again. Blame the crappy bonus levels for souring the aftertaste. Say I'm an American violence junkie who doesn't like any game I don't get to cause harm in. Argue I'm too jaded to appreciate simple pleasures. Discuss how I also gave Portal a 4 and don't properly value "mindbendingness". At the end of the day, I find Galaxy solid fun, but not amazing.

10 December, 2007

Review: Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime

Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime (Square Enix, 2006) is a pretty odd concept for a game. Let's take a minor, generic villain from our premiere RPG franchise and make it the main character in an action RPG / tank battle game.

Gameplay
It's an action RPG / tank battle game. That's pretty self explanatory, right? Okay. Maybe not.

Essentially, the game has two parts. In one, you run around as a slime (in my case, a slime named Blain), trying to free your fellow slimes who have been captured by evil platypuses. (Duh.) This part of the game is mediocre. Combat is generally slow and annoying as you end up picking up people your trying to beat up and have to drop them so you can hit them again. There's a little puzzle solving, some of which is engaging, but most of which feels like padding for a zelda veteran like myself. The real point of this part of the game is the addictive aspect of collecting everything you see and shipping it back to town on carts for use as ammo, crew, and crafting materials (for better ammo) for the more engaging part of the game, tank battles.

These aren't strategically detached, hexy, turn based affairs. Oh no. These are frantic, no holds barred, super tank versus super tank slug fests. Your tank has multiple ammo chutes, each randomly delivering ammo you have to scoop up and hurl into two main cannons, one that shoots straight across, and another that shoots in a high arc. So while you're scrambling around on the lower screen, trying to grab a load of ammo and not run over your own tank crew who are also grabbing ammo, you're also watching the top screen, seeing what enemy ammo is incoming to see whether the kinds of ammo you're picking up would be best used to block or clear a path for better ammo or actually do some damage. Oh yeah, and enemies have infiltrated your tank and are trying to kill you and wreck up your ammo chutes. GO! GO! GO!

As daunting as this may sound, I think I lost one tank battle over the course of the entire game, so as long as you're collecting stuff and saving all the slimes in the on foot sections you should always have enough decent quality ammo to cause lots of trouble. And experimenting with strategies, crew members, and ammo loadouts was rewarding, as well. Although, the farming requirements to gather the ammo for some strategies made them prohibitively expensive, timewise. I would have enjoyed a tank test mode that let me experiment with whatever ammo types I had unlocked thus far against the enemies I had already beaten.

Theatrics
Rocket Slime is short on story. The characters in it are, at best, there for a laugh. It's lighthearted and endearing. To get an idea of how goofy the game gets, one of the enemy mechs you fight is a tree themed behemoth called Chrono Twigger (after Squares' classic SNES game Chrono Trigger) with the subtitle "Its bark is worse than its bite". Ouch. Also, almost every category in the credits has been renamed something to do with slimes. My favorite credit? Asquishtant Progoocer. :D

Aesthetics
I like simple, cartoony, SNES era graphics, and that's what Rocket Slime delivers. The music is decent, if a bit repetitive.

Final Score
4 of 5

I almost feel guilty for liking a cute little collectathon so much. But I do. And the next time I'm burned out on whatever big budget action game I'm playing, I'll be right back in there, finishing the tank arena challenges, being congratulated by the slimes I saved, picking up those last few crafting recipes I missed, recruiting the last few monsters I don't have to my tank crew, and farming mats to try new ammo loadouts.

06 December, 2007

Review: Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines

Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines (2004), an action RPG using Valve's Source (Half-Life 2) engine, was the last game developed by Troika (which was founded by former Fallout devs according to MobyGames).

Gameplay

First off, the game is somewhat buggy. I played it as Steam delivered it to me, so some of the unofficial patches out there may have fixed some of the bugs I encountered. (Actually, reading them, they seem like they may improve the game a lot, but I'm only reviewing what I played.) The worst was getting stuck in the terrain a couple times, forcing me to reload. (If you're a power user, you can also start the game with the -console option and turn off clipping when you get stuck.) And loading and saving take a long time in this game, not long enough to kill the game for me, but enough to be annoying. Then again, I hate load times more than most people.

The action aspect of the game gives you options. Go unarmed. Go close combat weapons. Go firearms. Go stealth. Some of the later missions are entirely combat, which may render stealth impossible. I can't say as I went through as a Brujah (one of the six vampire clans you can play), mostly unarmed, then close combat weapons towards the end. I found this pretty satisfying, although there were only a couple baddies where my strategy was more complicated than "run up and make them stop living with my fists". Also the close combat collision detection is sometimes sketchy, which is par for the course in any game that isn't entirely hand to hand.

You also have Vampire Super Powers (called disciplines) to use. As a Brujah, I could magically slow time, boost my strength (although this became useless once my strength was maxed out, which is pretty lame), and produce a field that reduces the combat effectiveness of enemies in a small radius. Other clans can turn into animals, turn completely invisible, drive people insane, and other creature of the night type stuff.

Outside of combat, there's still a lot of options. The game is something of a big choose your own adventure book. There are multiple factions and individuals you can ally with and do side quests for. The game has five endings to reflect this. And there are multiple ways to accomplish many objectives. A hacker could shut down cameras whereas I had to kill all the guards. Some people can be smooth talked, seduced, or intimidated whereas my options were murder or bribery. It's a simple life. :) Fair warning though, many sections of the game, including the endgame, are strictly combat, so smooth talking will only get you so far.

Theatrics

Bloodlines has many memorable, well defined characters. The acting and directing are also well done. The facial animation system the Source engine provides could have been leveraged a bit more effectively, but overall, the major characters (and there are loads of them) are among the most fully realized gaming has to offer.

And you're one of them. The options the game gives you don't cover everything you might want to do in real life, but for a game, they're pretty wide ranging. I wanted to play the brute with a conscience, and the game pretty much let me. It was fun. I'm looking forward to the options I'll have as a master manipulator.

As for the overarching story, it's okay. I have a low tolerance for speculation, so the main plot didn't much intrigue me. People have been complaining that BioShock's endgame sort of betrays the principles the game establishes in the early phases. I feel the same way about Bloodlines. This game lets you make a lot of choices early on, many with moral ramifications. At the end of the game, you really have no choices at all. After a peek at GameFaqs, I can see that there are five endings, none of which change the endgame much at all. They probably ran out of money.

Aesthetics

The sound's fine (although one of my pet peeves, ambient sounds that come from only one ear, is present).

The visuals are uneven. Some of the city streets look great. But some of the places you fight are the same textures over and over. The characters you talk to look great, but the characters you fight can appear downright robotic. Again, it gives one the impression that the developers didn't have the time or money to give the game its last layer of polish. Considering it was a November release, that's pretty par for the course.

Final Score
4 of 5

It probably bears repeating that my scores are based on enjoyment and replayability, and Bloodlines has replayability in spades.

1 = so bad I couldn't finish
2 = regret finishing it
3 = was worth finishing
4 = was good fun; may play through again
5 = sad it's over (probably already playing through again)

I'd like to try a female character. I'd like to try a manipulator. I'd like to see how difficult it is to play the clan that can't show its face above street level. Turning into animals could be pretty cool. And people on the boards say you have to play through at least once as the crazy clan. Yeah. I've got a lot to experiment with. Fun.