31 October, 2008

Keepalive: Jericho, Yakuza 2, Penny Arcade 2

I've put up a couple chapters of Jericho. It's not a long game, but the process of compressing and uploading the videos is very cumbersome. Also, I started to have frame rate issues, which I realized were because I was filling up the hard disk. Now that I've deleted the source movies, I'm back to a hundred gigs free, but I'm still thinking it's time to reformat.

I spent way too much time on my dumb hostess club. At least the host club experience was good for laughs. Outside of some bracelet, I've gotten nothing but wasted time to show for running a hostess club. Every menu takes too many button presses to get through. The time it takes to build up enough money to renovate the club while still paying enough bonuses to keep the hostesses happy is obscene. Now I realize that the reason there's a "dress up" game in Yakuza 3 is probably because you can trick out your hostesses. I respect the Japanese-ness of the game, but I don't want to pay money for it unless they've streamlined the process, and made it fun. When I finally got back to the game and got into a fight, it was like getting paroled.

I finished the second Penny Arcade game. I'm oddly detached from the experience. The combat system keeps me hopping what with active blocking, attacking, and putting in the many button presses required to pull off special attacks. Many things, which can scientifically be proven to be awesome happen over the course of the game. But, like the man said, "Science is not about your feelings", and my main feeling is apathy. Perhaps it's because the whole point of the first game was to beat down evil because it destroyed your house and was looking to destroy the world. The second game makes your homelessness a running gag, and I frequently lost sight of any overarching goal. Nothing felt new, and nothing mattered. 3 of 5

29 October, 2008

Keepalive: Jericho, Yakuza 2, Penny Arcade 2

For no good reason, I have started recording a playthrough of Jericho. I have not uploaded it yet. I mostly try to let the game speak for itself. I don't imagine anyone will actually want to watch it. My dialog isn't funny. The game is thoroughly profane. But the whole point of this blog is to get stuff out of my head, and doing a video playthrough of Jericho has been in my head for a very long time.

Next up will be Heart of Evil, the best Half-Life mod no one I have ever met actually played.

I haven't spent any more time on my hostess club in Yakuza 2. I started watching Justice League Unlimited and couldn't stop. But now it's over again, and I can get back to dealing with hostess squabbles, wallpaper choices, etc. I'm using the FAQ again, because I just want to burn through it, see if anything crazy and weird happens, then get back to the main game.

Episode 2 of the Penny Arcade game is out. It feels like a direct continuation of the old game, enough so that it's giving me the same deja vu as Yakuza 2, which is weird considering it was only few weeks between the Yakuzas and four months between the PA games, for me.

27 October, 2008

Keepalive: Titan Quest, Yakuza 2

I'm not playing Titan Quest single player now. I got bored again. But I'll still be around for our co-op festivals. I need to take some more video still, but here's a fun clip of us fighting a pile of rat men. Everyone glows. Everything explodes. Good deal.


There's also been some Yakuza 2. I resorted to GameFAQs to get through the host missions. It turns out they're just multiple choice quizzes where no kind of logic will get you to the right answers. Sometimes they can be figured out, but sometimes they just don't make sense. Maybe it's something lost in translation, but it's over now. On to... running a hostess club. Oy.

26 October, 2008

Game Journal: Yakuza 2

THIS POST CONSISTS ENTIRELY OF GAMEPLAY AND STORY SPOILERS FOR YAKUZA 2 (AND YAKUZA)

I'm very much enjoying Yakuza 2, although not for the love of the narrative espoused at The Brainy Gamer. That blog espouses. I blather. :) So let's blather.

My first impressions of the game were that it introduced many of the mechanics of the old game very quickly. Turning attacks. The shark based lock on system. (You have to move constantly for the lock to update.) Heat moves with QTEs. Dodges. Throws. I wonder if a newcomer wouldn't feel a tiny bit overwhelmed. Having played the original less than a month ago, I felt like I was playing almost the same game, even to the point that my cheapskate reflex was wondering why the game was worth essentially buying again. I got over it. A good experience is a good experience.

And the story does contribute. I'm not in love with it because it's not my genre. As much as the acting (voice and animation) is very good, and the story isn't a farce yet, I know the ending will be nuts. Heck, the ending of the first had the top of Tokyo's Millennium Tower exploding, and it's already exploded again in the first hour or so of the sequel. It exploded... again.

This is also Spinal Tap. :P

That said, the story does have a lot of well drawn characters. I knew from how many people figured out his "secret" in the first game that Terada was going to be an ineffectual clan leader, forcing Kazuma to return and save the Tojo. But that felt right. Kazuma didn't want to lead, and Terada was the only senior Yakuza in the story who wasn't crazy and was still alive at the end. Terada had also paid his dues in dangerous service to the Tojo, which Kazuma respected (even if it was disloyal to the Omi Clan and completely failed to fool anyone). Well, I can't really speak for Kazuma. But it's a very rare game where I would even begin to imagine that a character had a thought process that reflected their values and goals.

And as I'm catching up with so many different characters in the game, I'm appreciating what a diverse crowd they are. The homeless martial arts master. Majima's new business plan. Kage going straight (and wearing actual clothes). I'm loving how much they're underusing detective Date. He felt like the buddy cop that made the first game a buddy cop movie. But outside of a small role in the plot, and the information that his daughter is doing much better, he's barely been in the game. It's fun to anticipate him making a big entrance and having no idea what form it will take.

The new characters I'm not as attached to. There's a giant crazy guy in the Omi family who's taking the place of the giant crazy guy in the Tojo family from the first game. There's a lady cop who's also an orphan. For those keeping score, Kazuma and Haruka (the child he protects) are also both orphans. This feels like a somewhat blatant ploy to make her part of the gang, which was pretty unnecessary as she was already a badass lady cop. She spent most of the first part of the game being injured, but the one part of the game she has fought in was cool. She has some crazy leg around the throat grapple move that's fun to watch, and she can finish off bad guys on her own, which is also cool.

But it's really the insane stuff I still love. Readers may remember the first game introducing me to the concept of hostess and host clubs. Well, now they're called cabarets, apparently. And Kazuma is working as a host as part of a side mission to help out a host from Stardust (a club that helped him out in the first game) who's being scammed out of a lot of money by the club owner. This is one of the most ridiculous things I've ever done in a game, in no small part because it feels so ridiculously out of character for Kazuma. I know it gets worse in the Yakuza 3, with karaoke, dancing, and "hostess customization". But for now, between this absurdity and the "enormous police baton" fight, the game has absolutely fulfilled its stupidity quota.

That's enough blather. I've only got a few hours until Titan Quest, so I better get back to busting heads and selling the ladies overpriced drinks. ;)

25 October, 2008

Mini-LAN

We had a mini-LAN party last night. It was delightful. We played Zombie Master some more, and Nations at War, a mod for Battlefield 2 that makes the game fun. :) It is something of a pain to deal with super accurate shotgun bots, but it has so many fun toys it's really hard to complain. The silenced sniper rifle kills in one shot and can give precise targeting from a kilometer away. One class has a climbing rope that can be used to scale buildings or even mountains. The standard dune buggy comes with a minigun that can shred any vehicle lighter than a tank almost instantly. There is no limit to how long you can sprint for.

Basically, it's Battlefield 2 "Xtreme". And as a lover of fast paced games and weapons grade stupidity, it's right up my alley. It was weird, though. For once, people actually listened to me instead of all doing their own thing. With only five people versus 16 bots (with the aforementioned shotgun skills), we never managed to capture their final flag. And for the first time, I felt bad about that. Because people were actually doing what I asked, I felt responsible for the outcome. Since they never listened to me before, the soundness of my strategy never really mattered.

I keep going over the scenario in my head. Was there a way I could have moved forward faster, or was I doing as much as I could without getting reckless and having our thinly spread forces fall apart? Was I right to fight them down to a single flag with vehicles, or should I have allowed them to capture a less defensible site and tried to finish them there? All of these questions that were simply academic before suddenly mattered. And why was that? Was it because when my computer crashed we started losing badly, proving that I was worth listening to? Was it just a weird mood everyone was in? I don't know, but it put the game on another level, and made it much more interesting to play.

Zombie Master was still fun. That game runs on the players, though. If the person running the zombies is a jerk, they can almost always decimate the players. It's all about the interplay. Making the players feel challenged, but not overwhelmed, is very difficult. And sometimes personalities get in the way.

One guy murdered us all with the most powerful zombies in a confined space, giggling the whole time. So when I was in control, I pretty much murdered everyone too, because I wasn't having enough fun to want to entertain. And that's really what a good ZM is doing, providing a thrill ride for the players. That's what makes it a great game, and what makes it often not work. I wonder if Left 4 Dead will supplant it for our group?

24 October, 2008

Keepalive: Titan Quest, Jericho

I looted it up some more. I still have nothing profound to say about the game.

I set up it up so I can record myself talking over video games. My old headset was USB, so it couldn't be recorded at the same time as the game sound. And my relatively nice microphone picks up keystrokes, PC fans, and chair squeaks, so it was too distracting. I could have done post game recordings, but it's never the same.

Now that I've got the setup, which I've tested with Jericho, I'm not sure what I want to record. I went on YouTube and saw that someone else recorded a complete playthrough, in the past month. Plus a complete playthrough is overkill. I just want to share what I like about the game.

23 October, 2008

Only Entertainment

Part of the reason I haven't wanted to write a game journal about Titan Quest is because I'm still not sure if I'm happy to be playing it. And it's hard to separate real life guilt (where I should be spending more time looking for a job) from my grinding vertigo and concerns about virtual addiction.

Generally, I hate grinding. All games are grinds at some level, though. They all feature repetitive tasks. But in good games new moves or weapons or skills are frequently being introduced to keep things from getting stale. When things do get stale, it becomes very apparent that I'm in one of B.F. Skinners' operant conditioning chambers, being forced to press certain buttons over and over to get poorly spaced out rewards. I'm simply occupying my time, not enjoying it.

But do better spaced rewards and more varied sounds and lights make the experience any more valuable? It depends what you view as valuable. They make it more stimulating / engaging / entertaining. To the extent they may keep the mind and hands active, they might have some therapeutic benefits. It's better than TV. But it's still only entertainment.

I'm still specifically thinking about Jonathan Blow calling out World of Warcraft as fostering addiction. The anecdote I remember from Psych 101 was about animals and levers. If an animal gets a lever that always sends food down the chute, it presses it when it's hungry. If food coming down the chute has no relation to the lever, the animal loses interest in it. If the lever randomly causes food to come down the cute, the animal pulls it all day, just so see how much food it can get. You don't have to look any further than slot machines to see that the same principle applies to humans. Random payoffs foster addiction.

But all games are random payoffs. They're explorations. Usually they're literal exploration of a space. Always they're an exploration of mechanics and strategies.

So where's the line? It is repetition? If I find a group and learn my role to kill a boss in WoW, is that okay? But then it becomes bad if I do it twenty times until he drops the loot I wanted? Or is it the slowly ratcheting up of the amount of repetition over the course of the game that's somehow underhanded? Or is the fact that I had to make ties to a social structure to progress the dangerous part?

If that's the case, every team based FPS would be dangerous because clans will beat random players almost every time. There must be something else...

I just don't get it. A game's a game. A person chooses what they want and is responsible for those choices. If I have nothing I'd rather do than laugh and clap my hands, I don't think it's the magician's fault.


So, back to me wasting my life.

I'm farming loot in Titan Quest. I've currently got four characters I'm playing. In the original game, it sucked because one character would keep getting drops another could use and would have to sell them. But the expansion added a transfer ability, so now everyone has pretty nice gear, not to mention the stuff I've given away to my co-op group.

It's nice to finally be making gear choices instead of feeling like I'm always at the mercy of the Random Number Generator. As a result, the game's a lot easier, but then it becomes more about optimizing: picking targets, spending skill points, sorting loot; seeing how fast I can burn through an enemy camp.

Right now my rogue is having trouble with undead, who are immune to poison. I've tried to increase my trap laying skills to let the traps deal with them, but that takes too long. Meanwhile my warfare and storm magic characters are virtually unstoppable, regardless of the opposition. Their damage output is so high that even the most heavily armored enemies are little more than speed bumps. Is this a design flaw that undead are immune to the rogue's poison and bleeding damage, but no common enemy type is immune to normal damage or lightning? Possibly. I'll try to find a way around it (without dual classing, which feels like a cop out).

22 October, 2008

Game Journal: Titan Quest

I keep writing Titan Quest as "keepalive" entries. That's not really fair. If the game deserves my time, it deserves my attention. But it's late, so let's just ease into it with a nice easy gameplay video. There are a lot of audio-visual elements that go into giving the game a rich feel: lighting, sound, physics. Even though the video quality is pretty terrible, I recommend watching full screen to get as much of the effect as you can.



Here's the better quality version.

20 October, 2008

Game Journal: No More Heroes

No spoiler warning. To spoil a plot, the game would have to have one. :P

Seriously, the game is supposedly about a crazy loser becoming the world's greatest assassin so he can get in some gal's pants. It doesn't improve from there. There are false identities, a ghost, completely unexplained amnesia, back story so boring the game actually fast forwards through it... None of it has anything to do with the game. And what is the game?

It's an action game where you have to do chores to get back to the action. Seriously. To fight the next highest assassin, you have to do menial jobs like mowing lawns, pumping gas, and picking up trash. You can also do combat jobs to get more cash. Those were less terrible. But either way, you'll waste large amounts of time driving around Santa Destroy on your motorcycle.

At first I was into it. It's trying to establish a mood and a setting. Travis (the protagonist) is into anime and luchadors and super awkward around women. He's a joke. I'd go waste some time buying clothes he didn't need and doing odd jobs to pay for them. That's Travis. Of course he'd blow all his winnings on new pants then have to mow lots of lawns to get to the next fight. But it was too boring.

It's funny how feelings pivot. The open world stuff went from being charming to being a pointless grind, just like that. I guess that's partly because it was so irrelevant. A feeling is all it can give.

The combat was fine. Fighting the standard cannon fodder wasn't very involved, but if you like quick time events, you're in for a treat. I say that tongue in cheek as I know lots of gamers hate QTEs, but I don't mind them if they're done well. My favorite in NMH was running towards an opponent who was running at me and attacking just as he attacked, causing a clash event where I had to spin the Wiimote like I was turning a crank to win and behead the guy. Regardless, every finishing move in the game requires a quick flick of the control, and the wrestling moves require moving both the Wiimote and nunchuck, to vaguely approximate what Travis is doing.

And the variety in bosses was impressive. And there was only one of them that wasn't any fun to fight. This puts No More Heroes well ahead of most action games.

Overall, it was a fun experience, but I would never grind through the chores a second time.

Three out of five.

19 October, 2008

Keepalive: Titan Quest

Four player Titan Quest is deliciously insane. Tiberius will charge in with his sparkle trail and get the baddies riled up. Ozone will fight them as chase Tiberius back to us in a line. Once Ozone has built up a mob and has a giant glowing ring around him from his Onslaught ability, Justinius will fire off a giant wave of dream magic to hit them all. Usually a couple baddies break off for him, which he chain sleeps, and Tiberius picks off the casters so that Ozone doesn't take so much damage that I can't keep him standing. I will have to take some video recordings of our next outing.

We have a couple more people who are downloading the game to join us next time. Anyone who can make it to level twelve or thirteen (six hours or so of play) should be good to go. This is gonna be nuts.

Keepalive: Titan Quest, No More Heroes

Yay! It's Titan Quest Day!

I am furiously collecting more loot to share with my compatriots. Loot, loot, loot!

I'm having fun using my rogue, Knifey. He sucks against undead, but everything else dies like crazy from Xtreme Poison Damage. Often times he'll come up against four or five enemies and they'll all die from poison arrows before they can reach him. It's just so gratifying to see that last satyr wind up to strike you and collapse at your feet with a defeated grunt and clatter of falling loot. Will Diablo 3 be as fun?

I'm almost done with No More Heroes. The second to last boss sucked, as she was mostly a waiting game. It was back in Batman for the Genesis (which I imported for no apparent reason) that I identified bosses where you get so few openings to attack them and they're so easy to dodge that the main enemy is boredom. The next to last boss in NMH is such a boss.

I've been happy with the variety in the game so far, but I would have rather repeated an old boss than fight that one. Plus one of the boss' attacks instantly kills you, no matter how much health you've got, not matter how far into the fight you are, the very definition of bull#*$&. It's easy to avoid after that, but for a boss that takes so long, it's an arbitrary punishment to die to it even once.

18 October, 2008

Game Journal: Condemned

THIS POST CONSISTS ENTIRELY OF GAMEPLAY AND STORY SPOILERS FOR CONDEMNED: CRIMINAL ORIGINS

I love that giant disclaimer. Reviews are so much easier without worrying about spoilers. They make the review useless for anyone who's actually thinking of playing the game, but that's not you! Life is grand, for you and me.

Life's not so grand in Condemned, or "Bum Fight 2000", at it's otherwise known. I beat up bums in an abandoned tenement. I beat up bums in an abandoned office building. I beat up bums in abandoned subway tunnels. I beat up bums in an abandoned department store. I beat up bums in an abandoned library. I beat up bums in an abandoned school. I beat up bums in an abandoned country house. It was a bad time for bums in abandoned places all around.

But they weren't all bums. By the end, they were mostly monsters. I guess some people hated the game for going all otherworldly, but the player has visions of the killer before the first bum fight, so it's not like they didn't foreshadow it well enough. As a fan of The Suffering, this made Condemned feel derivative, but derivative of something I liked better, which improved my enjoyment of it.

I am fully cognizant of how insane that is. But it's how I felt. Imagining that Condemned was some sort of prequel or side story that would eventually tie into The Suffering made the "crazy government experiments gone wrong" storyline and monstrous adversaries completely bearable.

And having given up on the combat, I was free to enjoy myself. There were still some annoying fights. But I could usually cheese my way through them with the tazer. The endgame forced me to get good with the light weapons, so I was a blocking fool. I still couldn't say if blocking was more effective than the contingency plan, but when it worked just right, and I took out three guys without a scratch, it felt good.

And actually, while the endgame did force me to use light weapons for a while, I actually decided to get good at them during the school section of the game, where I had frequent access to 2x4s with nails in them. Imagining every enemy using the voice of Harry Shearer to fearfully exclaim "He's got a board, with a nail in it" made me all warm inside.

I also enjoyed being attacked by mobs. Half the time, I only had to hit the one in front and watch as his wild counter attack turned everyone against each other while I just pointed and laughed. In some cases it was just ridiculous as one counter attack would start another counter and so on, making a maelstrom of idiocy. I wish they'd found a way to make the credits roll over an endless bum fight.

I'd give it a three. Out of five. I had a four's worth of fun, but only because I refused to take the game at all seriously. Careful readers will note that I gave Jericho a four and didn't take it at all seriously. But I enjoyed playing Jericho and didn't mind the ridiculous bits. In Condemned I had to invent ridiculous bits, or choose to find the bugs amusing to make my own fun.

Here's my favorite clipping bug in the game. This guy was on all fours, getting to his feet when I paddled his bum with my board with a nail in it.

So there's his body, head stuck in a door, with an unpleasant stain where I whacked him with the magic wand of tetanus.

"I have no problem spanking men."

17 October, 2008

Game Journal: Condemned

THIS POST CONSISTS ENTIRELY OF GAMEPLAY AND STORY SPOILERS

I had heard that the blocking was borked going in. Now I know it first hand. The problem is that every weapon has basically the same block animation, but different blocking stats. So sometimes a block with a fire axe works, but mostly it doesn't, and it doesn't seem to have much, if anything, to do with my actions. It's more like there's just a percentage chance a block will work, and with a big weapon like a sledgehammer or fire axe, it's about 20%. It might be that the block on the big weapons only works at the very end of the animation, but that means the lead time is so long you'll already be hit by the time the block is up. But this is all moot because the whole point of blocking is to get your opponent off balance for a follow up hit, but the big weapons are so slow that the enemy has recovered by the time it's possible to follow up.

So stick to the lighter weapons, you say. What, and take more damage? Half the time, when you hit a guy, he does a counter attack. About half the time, this is an instant counter which, even with the lightest weapon I've used (the board with bolts in it), isn't blockable. Add in the somewhat unpredictable timing of enemy attacks, and how much longer it takes to make a guy go down with a weaker weapon, I generally take less damage just wading in with an axe, soaking up the hits.

Back in the day (Batman for the NES) we use to call this "the contingency plan". Just take the hit and get on with it. When the contingency plan becomes the safest plan, the risk / reward balance is upside down and the game design has failed. You could argue that the idea behind Condemned was that the player is always supposed to be taking hits to make the combat seem more vicious, but that's a failure as well, because I know there's always a med kit close by. There has to be if you're going to get injured in every fight. The design betrays itself.

It's still fun to taser guys and do the finishing moves. But outside of those cheap thrills and some cheap scares, the game doesn't offer much. The story falls squarely into the poorly written hard-boiled noir category along with Dead to Rights and Max Payne. At least Max Payne's writing was so deliberately awful it was campy. Condemned is just dull. And the environments are already beginning to feel painfully repetitive two hours into the game. And on top of all that, they added a collectathon where you're supposed to collect dead birds and license plates for some unspecified reward. Even that part of the game discourages the player. I collected five out of six birds in a level and got a bronze medal.

As much as this game discourages player participation, I'm kind of interested to see how it plays out. Could it possibly improve? That would be nice. Could it possibly have any more horrible game design choices to reveal? That would be impressive.

Keepalive: King Kong, Lego Batman Demo, Condemned

I did try a little King Kong after yesterday's post. It had some very nice moments, but now it's locking up. I don't understand it. After I installed the AMD Dual Core optimizer, the game ran great, even without setting it to run on only one core. What have I installed since Sept. 14 which would make it start locking up? Skype? MS Security fixes? That's the downside of PC gaming. Save early. Save often.

Heck the Lego Batman demo didn't even install, which I am personally grateful for. I played enough of it at PAX to know I didn't want to play any more. But I figured I should at least give it a shot. Now I've made the effort and don't have to touch a lego game ever again.

The first Lego Star Wars was great. It took the unbearable films and made them fun. The second Lego Star Wars was decent. It wasn't as good as the films, but there was still some nostalgia glow, and the gameplay wasn't broken. Lego Indy's was, and I'm guessing Lego Batman's is too. All the comments one of the developers made about "games for kids can still be good games" ring completely hollow to me.

It all comes down to defense. The Star Wars games allowed you to defend yourself. If you were a Jedi, you blocked with your saber, feeling clever if you could block at just the right time to send the shots back at your attackers. If you were a blaster character, you jammed on the button to dodge and return a little fire. It felt like you were working harder than the Jedi to get the same results, but that made sense. Jedis are awesome. If you were a non-combatant, you were either ignored or expected to dodge like crazy and still probably take hits because you were playing the wrong character.

Lego Indy and Batman don't have these things. Every character has to dodge like crazy and still takes hits. Other people don't seem to care because it's for kids and the penalty for death isn't too big. But for me, the simple but fair combat was the only thing the games had going for them. The platformer bits were often difficult to judge, and the puzzles were, at best, a nice animation to watch between fights. Take away the decent combat system, and there's really nothing to like about these games aside from watching Legos move about. They're exactly the kind of pretty nonsense that gave children's games a bad reputation in the first place.

Unfortunately, Condemned is looking like it's pretty nonsense for adults. But I'll save that for another post.

16 October, 2008

Keepalive: Jericho

So I was thinking about needing to do a video playthrough of Jericho and decided to fire the game up. I finished it again. I forgot it was that short. :) Of course it helped that I knew how to beat all the bosses already. And playing through on hard wasn't that hard, just annoying because when I got injured it took forever to heal which meant flashing red screen and panic breath looping for days. I also started playing King Kong again when it was maligned on some other blog, but it's a bit longer and far less diverse, setting-wise, so I got about halfway through and put it down again.

I always wonder about my opinions. I know some change with time. So when people whose opinions I respect (or am supposed to respect) have opposite impressions of a game, I tend to double check. Playing through Jericho again, I can still see all the cheesiness. But it's still camp, to me. I can still see how haters of quick time events would be up in arms over the half dozen or so over the course of the game. But they don't penalize you and are cool to watch.

If anything I actually enjoyed the game more. On hard some of the encounters are long enough to feel like battles rather than checkpoints. I also experimented more with different characters. After using Jones for nothing but the situations that require him my first playthrough, it turns out he kicks $*@. Legionaries used to be a hassle. With Jones, they're so easy I feel a little guilty when I kill them.

15 October, 2008

Keepalive: No More Heroes, Titan Quest, Condemned, Jericho

I'm pushing on in No More Heroes. It is a bit of a grind, but tolerable.

I keep spending time with Titan Quest, toying with builds and storing gift gear for the rest of the group. Sunday can't come fast enough.

I also spent a little time with the PC demo for Condemned. I don't get the feeling the game has much more to it than what's in the demo, but I got a used copy off of half.com just so I'd have something scary to play this October. I'm thinking about doing a video playthrough of Jericho, for it's one year anniversary. People hated that game, and while I can understand that it wasn't what they expected, it was fun. Maybe the controls were horrible on the consoles.

13 October, 2008

Keepalive: GTA San Andreas, TGS, Titan Quest, No More Heroes

I think I've got enough GTA in me to last a while now. I was bored enough with the regular game that I started taking trucker missions. That's bored, people.

It's also the double edged sword of being a completist. The drive to see everything sometimes keeps me playing (sometimes too much), but it also burns me out sometimes. I guess that makes it a triple edged sword?

The Tokyo Game Show was last week. From my vantage point, nothing happened. Yeah, technically Microsoft announced a new Halo game, but I stopped caring at Halo 2, and the Japanese audience they showed it to never cared about Halo to begin with.

They like Monster Hunter, so much so that there were hour long lines to demo the new version, on press only days. I can only imagine how long the line got when they let the public in.

For my part, there's been lots of monster hunting... in Titan Quest. I didn't realize you were supposed to play the expansion from the beginning. I'd been missing out on many graphical and game mechanic updates, not the least of which is a storage container to let me hold items for others without cluttering up my own inventory. It's very nice.

Our first group outing was last night. There were four of us. We killed lots of stuff. Well, they killed lots of stuff. I healed and occasionally shot a few shots from my staff (which steals enemy energy to give me more healsauce). The monsters have a lot more hit points in multiplayer, so if you're not built for doing damage, it takes forever to kill something. But that's not a bad thing.

Everyone gets their moment to shine. I managed to save group members with heals many times, including one time when we basically fought an entire enemy camp at once. It was a good thing I poured virtually every skill point I had into decreasing the cooldown of the healing spell. And the dream mage, who also does a bit less damage, has auras which reduce the damage we take and add fire damage to our attacks. He also saved me with some well timed crowd control, putting some bad guys to sleep who were about to clobber me. It was fun.

Last but not least, I've been playing No More Heroes. It's a deliberately kooky action game for the Wii. I bought it a long time ago, but it took buying a nicer battery charger for me to actually want to mess with the rechargeable batteries to play the thing. I don't like wireless controllers. The lack of cord is not worth the hassle of batteries. Then again, I don't have pets and children around to trip over them, injuring themselves and breaking things.

11 October, 2008

Game Journal: GTA San Andreas


This is CJ, after he bought some gang colors. There's a picture of him on the right which shows how he appears at the start of the game. This is his mother's house. The game begins when he comes home after his mom has died.


This is CJ's neighborhood. You can see the freeway to the north. There's an empty aqueduct to the east. Rockstar North did a good job of making the area feel a little run down.


But it doesn't take long to steal a vehicle and head for the Hollywood hills. Technically the game calls it Vinewood.


In the interest of fairness, I should point out that it isn't all beauty or destroyed beauty. There are a lot of graphical glitches in the game, as well. This is a poorly placed exit camera, showing me carrying a stolen TV out of someone's home. Robbery is a decent way to make money in the early game. Spend ten minutes of your life, get $40k of in game money. You can even rob your own safe house(?). Abusing the save system to make money gambling might be faster, though.


Take a good last look. It's time for a change of scenery.


I consider this the Green Acres phase of the game, between Los Angeles and San Francisco. It sucks, mostly, but it's supposed to.


Farm livin' is obviously not the life for CJ. The game has a lot of RPG elements, including the ability to beef up CJ. He could be trimmer and still be as strong, but when I was working on his stamina, I was worried that if he ran out of fat, he'd start losing muscle. I like him this way. In my first playthrough I basically made him look like Wesley Snipes in Blade. It's not a bad look, but I felt a little bad for not giving CJ room to be CJ.

Plus I'm too lazy to punch the run button on the treadmill for five minutes. :P

09 October, 2008

Keepalive: Titan Quest, Wario Land 4, GTA: San Andreas

I'm leading a strangely charmed life in Titan Quest. I wanted to check out the Storm skill tree and have been getting high powered item drops like crazy. Of course the one blue she could actually use rolled into the sea and was unrecoverable, but once we start multiplayer, she'll be Santa Claus to all the other players.

Also the storm tree is rocking pretty hard so far. One or two shots from a staff is enough to take down most opponents. And she's just flying through areas that I remember being slogs previously. I do have some +12% movement leg gear for when I pull six baddies at once, though. Cloth armor doesn't soak much damage.

I also got a used GBA player for the Gamecube and am playing Wario Land 4 on a big screen TV. It's not platform bliss, but I'm enjoying it, and both converter and game were less than Wario Shake

And I'm still futzing with GTA once in a while. Sometimes I get a little tired of the in game radio (this is my second time through game, after all), so I'm enjoying having my entire collection of audio on shuffle throughout the game. Bad Relgion. Talking Heads. Nat King Cole. Freezepop. Wipeout 3. MC Frontalot. Radio Orangevale. Craig Chaquico. Brother Nolan. Weird Al. ilovebees. Eclectic might be an understatement.

Game Journal: Odin Sphere (Errata)

THIS POST CONSISTS ENTIRELY OF GAMEPLAY AND STORY SPOILERS FOR ODIN SPHERE

I didn't want to, but I went back to look at the manual for the game. I don't like manuals because they often contain spoilers, and Odin Sphere was no exception.

But in addition to spoilers, it explained elements of the combat that maybe would have helped a bit. There are low piercing attacks for knocking people down. I knew about these, but they took up so much "Pow" that I used them sparingly. Perhaps I could have made hit and run attacks more reliable, but I swear I still took retaliatory hits when using piercing attacks.

There are overhead attacks for knocking down fliers. I rarely had much trouble with fliers but I always felt like a dork jumping up and using air attacks just to pick apples. :P

And finally, it bears putting down in writing that this game is not woman friendly. Gwendolyn just swings from one man to another, and many of the female characters are comically attired and / or endowed. The final boss in the first campaign (Death) is a huge skeletal woman. The only apparent skin on her entire body is on her face and her giant, mostly exposed, breasts. You have to work pretty hard to be that sleazy.

Game Journal: Odin Sphere (Story)

THIS POST CONSISTS ENTIRELY OF STORY SPOILERS FOR ODIN SPHERE

Story
Odin Sphere is an opera with no singing. Everything's melodrama. Circumstances keep everyone knowing just enough to make tragically wrong decisions. There's even a dragon named Wagner.

The game doesn't follow the plot of Wagner's classic opera. There is a ring that serves as the MacGuffin, but it isn't thrown into the Rhine at the end. Br├╝nnhilde and Sigfried (Gwendolyn and Oswald) live happily ever after. Odin also lives (though less happily, the big baby). I guess you could say this is an opera even more childish than "What's Opera Doc".

While I recognized a lot of classic elements of drama, I never cared about any of the characters in the game. Gwendolyn started as a devoted daughter, betraying her husband (by an arranged marriage) to give her father the ring. Then she falls in love with her husband, fighting to recover the ring as a symbol of love and then he himself from the underworld.

Story Summary
It all works on paper, but I never bought any of it. Gwendolyn felt like a suicidal whiner with daddy issues who became an unstoppable love driven killing machine. The transition between the two, when her loyalties were divided, was mildly interesting. But she remained a boring blank slate, always tying her identity to daddy or hubby. If the characters aren't interesting, who cares what happens to them?

And more importantly, now that I've seen the time line of all the campaigns side by side, I know that her story ends last. The idea that all the other stories are just filling in the background for this one doesn't make me very interested in seeing them. Plus I'm tired of the grinding and mediocre combat. I think I'll let Odin Sphere sit for a while.

Game Journal: Odin Sphere (Combat)

THIS POST CONSISTS ENTIRELY OF GAMEPLAY SPOILERS FOR ODIN SPHERE

Combat
Combat was not the game's strong point.

This was partly a trade off for having large, beautiful graphics. But getting attacked from off screen was such a pain that I found myself spending as much or more time watching the "radar" in the top right than I did watching the main screen.

This was also because the game rewards taking no damage by showering the player with loot if they win quickly and take almost no damage and giving them a solitary item if they take too long or take too much damage. Considering certain opponents have special attacks that will instantly knock you down three loot grades, the game is largely about avoidance. Good luck with that.

Enemies often attack in waves with many ground and air attackers vying for a piece of you. Blocking only halves the damage you take, so you still lose grades for doing it. Plus you lose "Pow", your stamina, so you still have to run away to recharge. If your pow runs out, you just stand there dizzy and take hits.

The only strategy I found to be somewhat successful was "charging" strikes. Gwendolyn (the character in the first campaign), can't technically charge an attack. And most enemies will just beat on you if you only hit them with the first three blows of her four hit combo. So I'd watch on the radar as they approached and start swinging at air. They'd usually arrive in time for the third and fourth hits, knocking them on their butts. Even this wasn't foolproof, and sometimes they'd still be standing and hitting me. But it was the closest thing to a successful strategy I found.

Bosses were a different matter. I've always been pretty good about picking up the cues designers use to tell players how to tackle a boss. One on one, most bosses in Odin Sphere were pretty easy. Wait for them to make a move. Avoid. Get off a combo. Repeat. To keep things challenging, they'd often add a couple weak enemies to harass the player. That was fine. But fighting two bosses at once was a recipe for boredom and frustration as waiting for both enemies to be in a state that made it safe to attack them was a pain. Plus, if I was in the middle of a combo and the second boss started to charge from way off screen, there seemed to be no way to cancel out and dodge (maybe ducking?).

Combat Summary
The combat in the game never let me feel like I was in control of a fight, like I had solid choices. Even the best choice would randomly fail. Luckily I enjoyed farming so much that I was overpowered. But I prefer to win with skill rather than force.

08 October, 2008

Game Journal: Odin Sphere (Economy)

THIS POST CONSISTS ENTIRELY OF GAMEPLAY SPOILERS FOR ODIN SPHERE

To recap for anyone who didn't listen to the audio of my first hour and a half with the game Odin Sphere is a beautiful 2D action RPG.

It's also pretty grind intensive. Usually I hate that, but there are so many choices and ways to be clever about it that I completed the first campaign in the game (on which I spent over 24 hours) before tiring of it.


Economy
Phozons
Phozons are experience points which level up your attacks and replenish your magic if absorbed. They also grow fruit. You get seeds in the game and when you plant them they absorb phozons to produce fruit (or in the strange case of one seed, a plant that makes sheep). You eat the fruit (or kill the sheep and eat the meat) to gain food XP, which raises your health. Later on you open up restaurants. If you don't mind cluttering your inventory with eggs and veggies and making sure to not to spend the types of coins they use, you can reap some massive food XP.

There are five types of coins in the game. Restaurants include specific coins in the recipe for a dish. If you have a coin (even one you know they'll take from another recipe) that's worth more, they won't even make change. It's stupid.

But if you've got enough health already, you can also sell food to raise cash. Many areas in the game will hurt you constantly if you don't have protection. Protection charms cost 100, so there's a lot of literal farming to do, if you don't want to be taking constant damage.

Alchemy
There are "material bottles". They have numbers on them. If you combine two materials, those numbers multiply. If you add a potion to a material, the number doubles. If you add pretty much anything else, it will add a fixed point value. Edible food items add five points (even if you've already taken a bite or two). Bones from meat add three points. And most other items (eggs, seeds, and food remains like apple cores and grape stems) add one. Numbers go to 99 and then start over at 0.

So what's the big deal about the numbers? Well, the ones digit determines what types of potions can be made from the materials. Besides the fruits and meats you grow, there are native vegetable creatures in each zone that live in the ground. They squeak if you run over them and pop out and run away if you jump on them. You acquire potion recipes that use them to make poison antidotes, potions to protect from the elements (in case you didn't want to farm for charms), and weapon potions like napalm and poison.

The tens digit determines how many phozons will be released as a side effect of the potion. Higher is better. This leads to a lot of hasty math, trying to figure out what items can be combined to make the right number in the 90s to make the desired potion. I eventually just broke down and used the back of an envelope as keeping everything in my head was untenable.

Economy Summary
With so many ways to go and multi-purpose resources (I didn't even mention using seeds to raise chickens.), there are still ways I could almost certainly do things more efficiently. Trying to calculate the relative gold and phozon values of every transaction in the game was further than I wanted to go. But it was apparent that a good amount of thought had gone into them. And trying to work out the smaller problems I had in front of me kept me feeling taxed and clever without burning me out (like Final Fantasy Tactics), which is what games ideally do.

Next up: Combat

Game Journal: Titan Quest

Matthew's been playing a melee build. I'm playing a hunter. The problem is, I wanted to play a ranted hunter, but the game is geared towards the hunter being a melee / ranged hybrid. Every level the game gives me some strength points I don't need, except for the fact that later bows will require a certain level of strength. Those all feel like wasted points to me. Worse than that. I'd also like to cast spells, which means I'll be splitting my attributes three ways. I should probably just give up and double up on another strength / dexterity hybrid like a rogue. But idohwanna. :P I wanna shoot guys with bows and freeze them with ice magic to keep them away from me. Is that so wrong?

At least later in the game I'll be able to reset myself so I can switch builds if I find Hunter / Storm too ineffective. It may be a cheap way to balance a game, but the developer went out of business anyway, so the worst you could say is that it wasn't cheap enough. :P

The game still looks good, better than in any screen shot you'll see because there's enough detail in the trees and grass that JPG image compression always makes them look muddy.

Anyway, I liked Titan Quest before, it was just too much of a slog for me to bother finishing it. But as a casual multiplayer game, I don't think I know a better one. I tried the demo of Sacred 2, and if you thought the women in Titan Quest were tarted up, you got another thing coming. (And no, I will not post pics. :P )

If you want to be a part of our casual destruction and jaw session, the gold edition (which includes the game and its expansion) is $20. You can download it on Steam or pick it up at Amazon or Best Buy for that price. The system requirements are very low by modern standards (WinXP, 1.8Ghz CPU, 0.5GB RAM, GeForce 3 level graphics card).

We use Hamachi (a free program that simulates local play over the internet). The game has internet play, but advertising a server on a Windows machine means advertising security vulnerabilities, so I don't blame Matthew for wanting to use Hamachi to keep the server unlisted.

We used Steam for voice chat last Sunday, but we might switch to TeamSpeak once we get a group going.

Right now there's a call for interest and voting on whether we want to play Thursday or Sunday nights. If you have an interest, just let me know. (My email's in my blogger profile.)

Back to my own experiments, I finally tried a Spirit (necromancer) character. Life drain is on enough of a cooldown (time between castings) that it can't be used to keep a wimpy caster standing while a gang of baddies or boss baddie beat on him, but it's still a moral victory to damage an enemy while healing myself. Also, the spirit tree has a really nice aura that weakens undead, which should be pretty valuable in a party.

My hunter's aura which weakens beasts and beastmen is really his main contribution to partying at the moment. I could add a snare ability, but since Matthew is playing a melee class, it doesn't seem like that would really be much help. One attacker, more or less, doesn't seem likely to make much difference.

I'll keep experimenting, as long as it's fun.

Keepalive: Odin Sphere, Titan Quest

It's saying a lot for Odin Sphere that I've played as much as I have. It's got a lot of grinding. It's got so many attacks from off screen that I find myself watching the mini radar more than the pretty graphics. But I'll leave all that for a proper game journal entry.

Sunday was Titan Quest night. Matthew's playing a heavy melee build. I'm playing a hunter. This was mostly a preview run to see if the game worked well enough on the network to be fun for group co-op.

Our test worked pretty well, with only one network glitch when I thought Matthew had stopped, but was actually up ahead fighting. It only took a few seconds to correct itself. If others are interested, we'll get to test how many people the game can handle gracefully in the near future. I'm looking forward to it. Much like WoW, I see the game more as a chat room with fighting, but it's simpler, faster, more fun, and costs only $5 more than a single month of WoW, after which it's free forever (and that's including the expansion).

I am a little concerned that the conservative christian crowd he plays with may object to some of the female characters in the game, but since the game is best played from a zoomed out perspective, maybe it won't be an issue.


Zoomed in shot of water spirit quest giver.


Normal view.

05 October, 2008

Sausage, Being Made (Odin Sphere)

"I say stupid things." You're darn tootin' I do, slogan! In most of my posts, I try to communicate fairly well (even though I know I use too much jargon). I try to keep things organized. As a result, these pieces don't really sound much like me. And they don't communicate the experience of playing games very well. To that end, and to test out a microphone, I recorded the first hour and a half of myself playing Odin Sphere (100MB). Be warned, it contains swearing and blasphemy, with some mild racism and sexism for flavor. If you want to jump around, here are the various sections.

00:00 preamble
00:40 intro music
01:05 PS1 controller's start button doesn't work
01:25 more music and attract mode dialog as I get a PS2 controller
06:05 new PS2 controller opened (and old controller eulogy)
06:55 list of old busted consoles


08:15 getting started
09:00 the weird starting menu
10:40 starting the game
11:15 opening cut scene


15:15 tutorial
15:30 basics (move, attack, jump, glide)
16:10 downward attack
16:20 guarding
16:55 power gauge
17:40 phozons
18:55 mistake about how phozons level stuff up
19:25 learning how to actually use phozons for magic
20:00 phozon help text and menu list
20:35 cypher help text
20:50 food and food help text
21:30 racist comments
21:45 seed stuff
22:55 tutorial grade (A) and loot
23:25 nonsensical treasure help text
23:40 additional mistake about how phozons level stuff up
24:25 cut scene
26:10 save game


26:40 talking to everyone before first battle
30:05 buying stuff from vendor
33:20 travel to battle (world map)
34:00 cut scene
35:25 insensitive comments
35:50 first fight
36:10 grade (A)
37:00 small worlds
37:40 second fight (first seed planting)
38:55 grading
39:10 area map
40:40 third fight (first butterfly)
42:45 grade (A)
42:50 butterfly help text
43:50 shopping (EXP stone)
45:00 more coin babbling
45:55 selling back is fail
46:40 talking to friendlies
47:55 fourth fight
49:10 grade (B)
50:20 fifth fight
51:40 grade (?)
52:55 figured out how food levels work
53:40 planting shenanigans
56:00 save
57:20 mini-boss one
1:04:00 grade (D)
1:05:35 shopping
1:08:40 can't repeat boss fight (wasted seed)
1:10:10 sixth fight
1:11:45 grade (C)
1:12:10 how to fight help text
1:13:00 can't fight old stages again
1:13:40 shopping
1:14:50 mini-boss two
1:17:10 grade (B?)
1:18:25 seventh fight
1:20:00 fairy fight
1:21:00 grade (C)


1:25:00 final boss cut scene
1:27:00 final boss
1:33:00 post boss cut scene
1:36:00 more talking to NPCs
1:41:20 all done

Mechanics: Yakuza (Combat)

THIS POST CONSISTS ENTIRELY OF GAMEPLAY SPOILERS FOR YAKUZA

Yeah, I'm probably never going to get that last Neuropsych article done. Consider the final point that games can put the brain through its paces, for whatever that's worth.

I didn't think I was going to get back to Yakuza's fighting system either. But after I wrote my final journal / review about reversals not working against certain opponents, I felt like I'd already started this article there and just needed to put in the work to finish it.



Firstly, it's important to note the additional abilities the game added and what I learned about existing abilities since the first mechanics article.

The "strafe" button R1 actually does turn you to face your opponent, but only if you're already largely facing them, and only while you're moving. You don't turn in place. From an aesthetic point of view it's kind of nice as both fighters look like they're maneuvering for position, but it's a pretty ridiculous requirement from a gameplay standpoint. You can change facing without moving in real life. And it couldn't have been an engine limitation. And it hurt the aesthetics as much as it helped them by removing the option of letting the player stand their ground. Letting the opponent make the first move lets the player express fatigue, boredom; contempt. It's aesthetically valuable.

Dodges became long enough to be useful for positioning. They also got an optional attack added to the end, so a quick shift and punch was possible. I still didn't use them very much as I seemed to still take a fair amount of hits using them. This was inconsistent with how I learned them. When you are taught dodges, the teacher throws rocks (or baseballs, I forget) at you. Often times, I would see the cloud of smoke that indicated I'd been hit. But I'd keep dodging and get credit. I don't believe I took any damage from those hits. But I did still take hits while dodging in fights, so I would occasionally use dodges because they looked kind of cool, but they didn't seem worth mastering.



I'm seeing a theme here. Targeting with throws was a pain, often resulting in me getting crushed under a giant jerk because I grabbed him instead of the little guy next to him. So I would use a grab then a knockdown punch instead of a throw. Dodging was inconsistently effective. So I'd generally only use it as an aesthetic choice or occasionally for positioning. Long combos would often be dodged by faster opponents who would then attack from the side. So I learned to stick to short ones against anything but the lowliest of street trash. Punch and throw counters didn't work very well (or at all against certain enemies). So I would only try them to show off or against otherwise unblockable attacks. There were back facing attacks that would allow me to attack opponents behind me, but they had no auto aim at all and would miss if the opponent was precisely behind me and left me facing away from a still standing opponent. So I learned not to use them much.

There are two ways to view these "flaws". On one hand, you never want a dominant strategy. If throws always work, players will simply throw everyone forever. On the other hand, if throws are a useful tool for clearing space, but their targeting makes them unable to accomplish that task reliably, they serve no purpose.



Fighting mechanics can be described as a language. Verbs include things like jab, smash, charge, grab, throw, block, dodge, counter, special. Those verbs imply properties of the attack. A jab does less damage than a smash, but has less windup and recovery time.

As a game is played, players learn how these verbs interact. A block beats a jab, or a smash, but not a grab or throw. Players also learn which opponents use which verbs. Guys who attack flat footed never dodge, but guys who dance like featherweight boxers generally do. Players then learn which verbs to use with which opponents. Featherweights tend to jab a lot, making them vulnerable to counters. Bruisers tend to smash a lot, meaning they can easily be dodged and attacked from the side. Flatfoots can be easily thrown, making them useful for crowd control. Guys with weapons can't be blocked.

As the game goes on, players learn now to take advantage of situations. Enemies become tools. And as new modifiers are introduced (Blocks don't work against weapons.), players learn to adapt and use verbs they didn't have to before. I beat one of the later bosses in Yakuza using mostly punch counters because he had a weapon and attacked frequently. A tool that was of marginal use suddenly became the only way to survive.



But that's the ideal situation. A normal verb won't work, for a specific reason. Another verb will. When punch and throw counters don't work on medium sized enemies, there's no reason. When the targeting isn't good enough to use throws properly, that's a bad reason. When the camera isn't good enough to see charges coming (and there's no obvious sound cue or other way to anticipate them), the game feels arbitrary, like success and failure aren't within the player's control.

Yakuza basically compensates for issues like these by being easy. You can carry health items and weapons to get you through fights. You have boatloads of health. You can wear armor. I'd say they made the right choice. The combat is tight enough to make you feel like you're responsible for your success and easy enough that even when you experience breakdowns in the system, they don't cost you the game.

Hmm. I'm sorry I said I'd only give the game a three for gameplay now. Looking back on it in more detail, it has more depth and gave me more choices than God of War ever did. :P

04 October, 2008

One More Thing on the New DS

So the new DS information was made official. It turns out the thing only plays AAC files, not MP3s, making that "feature" pretty useless, from my point of view. And the camera only takes 0.3 megapixel shots, so it's definitely just a toy. So what are the real changes?

1) No Game Boy Advance slot. Backwards compatibility is going away.

2) New SD slot for downloadable games.

Most people look at this and see themselves being charged to buy their GBA games again.

I see something far more valuable: permanent rerelease of out of print games. The main problem with the cartridge format is that games often go out of print and never come back. When I was thinking of getting a friend a DS last Christmas, there were no new copies of Advance Wars DS available. It's the third highest rated DS game of all time, and you can't buy it anymore. The same goes for the first Phoenix Wright game, and probably many other DS classics. To me, that's the potential of the new DS. It will not be fully met as legal issues will make it impossible to rerelease certain games, but it will help.

03 October, 2008

Game Journal / Review: Yakuza

THIS POST CONSISTS ENTIRELY OF GAMEPLAY AND STORY SPOILERS FOR YAKUZA

Mechanics
Whew. I'm beat. Twenty five and a half hours of virtual brawling gets pretty repetitive. The game added some new moves, but many of them weren't really that new. Countering with blocks gave way to countering with punches, gave way to countering with throws. Same move, different buttons. Yawn.

In the end, Yakuza's fighting was more about the fun of clobbering a guy with a milk crate than precision. The game did have precision moves, but they worked inconsistently. I specifically remember trying to practice countering against a medium sized enemy. Block counters worked fine, but punch and throw counters never worked once. Considering I could pull them off with some regularity against other foes, I came to the conclusion that the mechanic was simply broken. Little things like this, combined with the awkwardness of the facing mechanic that often saw the hero punching air, caused me to stop taking the fighting very seriously.

I don't hold the occasional wonkiness of the fighting against the game. I think that was the right way for them to go. It looked cool when you clobbered a guy with a milk crate. Once in a while people on gaming sites will lament how games are too easy these days and how it used to be a real challenge to finish a game. But tuning a game that well's a huge effort and just doesn't pay. Most people don't read challenging books, and most people don't play hard games.

I always make games hard on myself, regardless, trying to take no hits or setting little bonus achievements for myself. Can I do special moves with all the weapons? What happens if I do a special move next to the flaming barrel? How much can I make these three thugs in an alleyway resemble pinballs by bouncing them off the walls? (not actual pinballs, but remarkable facsimiles) How many can I take down without using any healing items? Some might say that the game doesn't deserve the credit when the player makes the fun. There's some truth to that. But the game provides the sandbox that lets players play. Grand Theft Auto gives you traffic and a rocket launcher. Yakuza gives you thugs and umbrellas. Hilarity ensues.

Atmosphere
As I mentioned before, Chapter Four was the highlight. I ran all over and did everything. There were still plenty of crazy things that happened in the game. The girl that came on to me and turned out to be a guy was definitely a weird one. And my self-appointed sidekick definitely made more trouble. At one point he got in trouble with a Yakuza over a woman and some money, I think. I didn't really care. The Yakuza seemed very reasonable, so when sidekick asked me to clobber the guy, I said, "Nah. This is none of my business" and walked away. Situations and choices like that are so rare in games. I continue to be grateful to the designers of Yakuza for providing them.

The overall story of the game was crime melodrama. I try to take the ridiculousness of the genre conventions in stride, but sometimes they gets the better of me. You see, for all the pretensions to being hard boiled, nobody ever gets hurt or killed unless it's to serve the story (or to keep them on the sidelines while you do all the work). This is supposed to give those moments where people are hurt or killed added importance, but it feels so contrived. Plus it makes everything outside of cut scenes a joke. Everybody threatens death, but after you beat them up they give you loot and apologize. It's less hard boiled and more Bugsy Malone.

The characterization and voice work were pretty standard for a dubbed game. The culture gap makes some of the characters' reactions and decisions confusing. And to match the mouths, they screw up the rhythm of half the lines, making it impossible for the characters to seem anything but wooden. I know some of the voice actors on the game (Eliza Dushku, John DiMaggio, and Mark Hamill) can do good work in better environs. But I'll be glad to play Yakuza 2 in Japanese with subtitles.

Final Score
All that said, I'm a little torn about what to score the game. As a fighting game it was a three out five, diverting but too much loading to be a true joy. Actually, the load times are interesting. There was a loading screen before every fight. In another game, that might have been enough to get me to stop playing as I hate waiting for the fun I paid for. But the loading screens in Yakuza are accompanied by the name and family symbol of who was being fought along with uptempo rock or funk to set the mood. It made the loading screen like when a wrestler walks in and their theme song plays. It gave me a target and psyched me up, making the many many loading screens much more bearable.

As an experience the game was a four. Virtual Tokyo was cool. The many characters, situations, behaviors, and choices presented impressed the heck out of me. It might even be a five, but I'm not going to forgive how many times I had to hobble my way around Tokyo with Haruka in tow. I wouldn't play those parts again unless you paid me. Handsomely.

Overall I'll say the game was a four because it's something special that shouldn't be missed. Turn it down to easy and enjoy hitting people with milk crates in a strange land. :)

02 October, 2008

Keepalive: GTA:VC, AvP2, Mercs2, Yakuza


I spent a little time tooling around Vice City. San Andreas controls better. And some parts of Vice City look kind of horrible. (Check out that pavement.) But It's still interesting to explore how different the game looks and feels on PC. It's like a place I know, but it's the version from a parallel universe.


Speaking of science fiction, some people in the real world disappointed me. So I played through the alien campaign in AvP2 and chomped some heads.

Observe the carnage. Before you feel too sorry for them, remember they were trying to kill me, and they are using my kind for research.


See? That's not right. So... back to work.


*CHOMP*


Also I realized that I had told you about the Mercs 2, but not posted any pictures of stuff blowing up. So here's me using a bunker buster on an office building.

Take that!


Finally, I've been playing more Yakuza. Some more cool stuff has happened, but I've hit a wall. I'm supposed to cheer up a little girl. The mechanic for this sucks so hard. It's a pain and a grind, and I hate her now. :P