21 December, 2008

Game Journal: Persona 4


I started a new game on easy. It's still not giving me what I want. The game has an anti-grinding mechanic where you get less XP as you level. But my personas also get less XP. Which means I can only raise so many of them. And not knowing which ones have the cool skills later on, this puts me right back in the "game designed to sell strategy guides" dilemma. I just wanted to discover the cool powers on my own, then make interesting decisions about how to mix and match them. That's allegedly the draw of the game, but apparently it doesn't work that way.

I actually went to check the local Game Crazy to see if they had the guide so I could just get it over with. They didn't, so now I'm looking at gigantic tables of text on GameFAQs. Why can't everyone just learn to use MySQL and upload databases so I can run queries to get the data I want?

I'm just sayin'. It'd be easier.

For me.

20 December, 2008

Game Journal: Persona 4

Blah, blah, blah. Spoilers. Oh fine.


As is not uncommon with me, I both love and hate Persona 4.

The game itself has two parts. I love and hate both.

I mostly hate the combat. Ever since I learned that I had to max out my Slime persona to get a key ability for a bonus boss, I've been trying to compulsively level everything, lest I miss a key power. So that makes the game grindy enough that I hate it. I suppose I could get a FAQ and just cultivate what I know I'll actually need. But that, to me, is the same things as just removing the combat element from the game entirely. There's no discovery. But so far the discovery aspect of the game has been absolutely no fun, so maybe that's for the best.

All the mechanics of the game seem obfuscated, but in a way designed to sell strategy guides, not to provide the player with any joy of discovery.

The social sim part is closer to fifty fifty. It still has ridiculous genre tropes. It takes an entire afternoon to turn in certain quests and not others. It takes an entire afternoon to get a toy from a vending machine. If your courage stat hasn't been raised enough, you can't choose certain dialog choices. And on and on and on.

But when it works well, it's interesting characters who actually develop. Yukiko was being groomed to take over the family hotel. But her experiences have made her decide that she needs her own life, and she's planning to move away now. Kanji was the town bad boy, but he's really just misunderstood and surprisingly down to earth. If the kids who were into sports at the schools I went to were half as personable as Daisuke and Jou, I might actually have played, or at least gone to games. And as cliche as her story may be, I wasted many afternoons I could have spent with my friends helping Ayane practice trombone for the big recital. Even when I didn't get any more upgrades to the Sun Arcana and she stopped talking to me after practice I went. But I'm sick of it now.

I want to collect all the pokemons and mix and match them. And I want to see where all the stories go. But grinding is boring and the social part of the game plays at its own pace, which often leaves me hanging for no good reason. It's a game that doesn't want to be played. Not by me, anyway.

Keepalive: Rachet & Clank: Going Commando, Persona 4

I played it again. It still pretty much rocks. It's too easy with my uberweapons though. I'll need to start with the beginning weapons again when I inevitably play it through a fifth time.

I'm also playing Persona 4. It's an RPG, which I don't generally play anymore because they take too long. It's also something of a social sim about being a high school student in modern rural Japan. I should have played on easy, as normal is kind of a pain, but I'm a third of a way in (if the game is 100 hours as advertised) and don't really fancy starting over.

Expect a journal entry soon. Possibly as quickly as I can write it after I press the publish button on this post.

Impressions: Space Rangers 2

It's the holidays. It's a lazy time. And for the most part, I'm playing console games which provide no screen shots. Maybe someday I'll get a video capture device. But when I say maybe, I mean I have no intention. And by someday, I mean never.

I was killing a fair amount of time with one PC game, Space Rangers 2: Rise of the Dominators. But that was mostly just because it was on sale for $4 and I was bored. I'd heard it was reminiscent of Star Control, but StarCon 2 is still the best in the genre by a number of parsecs. For one thing, the combat is turn based. This could be seen as a plus as it allows for much bigger battles.

But said battles are really big piles of randomness. If three bad guys decide they don't like you, you're toast. It's more about picking off the weak ones from the edges and scavenging what the bad guys drop and watching the tide of the battle so you run away just at the right time. I can't tell you how many times I jumped out of a system with enough missiles chasing me to destroy my ship twice over. Theoretically I was earning experience and making enough money by selling wreckage to maintain my ship. But it was so slow I lost all interest in sticking with it.

The text adventures I got by running errands for the "smart" race of aliens were easily the best parts of the game. But the game was originally in Russian and it shows, with many small errors that occasionally made it difficult to choose intelligently.

Sid Meier said it before, and I will say it from now until I die. Games are about giving the player interesting choices. The combat pretty much entirely failed to do that, and the multiple choice text adventures just weren't enough to keep me wading through the combat.

Oh, and there was an RTS in there too which was so pointless and lame I would have liked the game better if it had been left out. Meh.

11 December, 2008

Review: Far Cry 2


And here's a silly video. It's me playing FC2 while listening to a bizarre Christmas song. This is the heavily annotated version. NO TAILGATERS!

So, back to the business at hand. I enjoyed Far Cry 2. There were a lot of issues with the game that tarnished it. I was warned about some of them on various podcasts.

Don't swim if you can avoid it. If you get a malaria attack in the water, you drown.

Make sure to keep a "rescue buddy" primed, so if you go down, an AI buddy will rescue you and keep you from losing progress. There are quick saves, too. But they seem to crash the game for many people. I never quick saved. I never crashed. Of course, I was also playing a cracked executable. Cracked executables are often more stable than the retail releases. I'm assuming this is because copy protection code is often a last minute addition and doesn't play well with the game proper.

Do the bonus missions. When you get a job, a fellow mercenary will offer you a longer chain of missions. Some people hate these because they make the game take longer. But the more interesting objectives were the only thing that gave the game any amount of character and variety.

I also had my expectations kept low in the area of immersion. Everyone in Africa wants you dead. There are no civilians, outside of safe buildings. No matter which side you're helping, their foot soldiers shoot you on sight. No retreat. No surrender.

I was not prepared for the ridiculous ability of the AIs to shoot through foliage (and occasionally solid rock) with perfect accuracy. Luckily the game is pretty forgiving on normal difficulty, but it was still annoying.

I was also not prepared for all AIs to go on alert even if I kill someone silently and completely out of view. Stealth (even with the upgraded camo outfit) is largely broken because of this.

Yeah, there are a lot of annoyances. But the simple fun of shooting guys basically works. Getting the high ground and cleaning out an outpost with a sniper rifle and running in with a machine gun and mowing everyone down both have their merits. And the game is pretty scenic.

I also found the moral issues the game raised at least somewhat interesting. The basic plot (Remember the spoiler warning?) is that you're a CIA agent sent to kill another rogue agent by infiltrating mercenary groups.

Immediately, you're taking on horrible missions. One side is making malaria medicine. The other side is afraid this will earn them money and good will, so you're tasked with taking out the facility. You're killing good people just because they helped "the wrong side".

In one of the key points in the story, you learn that you've been doublecrossed and you have to choose to save some civilians or your fellow mercs. I figured the mercs knew the risks, so I helped the civies. Later on, those mercs showed up to try and kill me. I played that section of the game twice.

The first time, I fought. I didn't want to, but they opened fire. The last one to go down was the guy I'd spent most of the second half of the game with. He was a crazy SOB. I didn't like him at first. But the situation had gotten so screwed up, I came to see his recklessness and general craziness as a reasonable response to an insane situation. We did piles of stupid stuff together. When the other mercs showed up, he told them we didn't need to fight. So there he is on the ground writhing.

That's a common animation for the AI buddies. If you leave them, they die. If you have spare medical supplies, you can save them. For a moment, I had a glimmer of hope. Sure, I had to kill all these morons, but if I saved him, maybe he might not come back as hostile. Maybe. So I went through the standard animation where I check for serious injuries before pulling out the needle. But no needle came up. Then the pistol came up. $%(@. I had no choice. The camera moves to look away as you pull the trigger.

It would have been pretty emotional if it had made any sense.

Then I reloaded the game and took a different tack. I just grabbed the suitcase full of diamonds they wanted and ran off. They never caught me. And they all lived.

Of course then the final mission forces the main character to kill himself, which makes not the slightest bit of sense, especially in my case, as I had remote bombs (called IEDs for maximum moral ambiguity) which I used to detonate the dynamite I was supposed to kill myself with. Of course, they failed to do anything because the dynamite was scripted to only explode when triggered by the suicide animation. Yet again, the game had the opportunity to provide a way out and a way for the player to feel they had choices that mattered. But no. They thought the message that the only way to deal with violent people is to kill them all was more important.

Maybe I'm talking myself out of the impression that I liked the game. :P

3 of 5

04 December, 2008

Keepalive: Ratchet & Clank

I played a little co-op Ratchet: Deadlocked, recently. It's hard to see with screens that small, so I figured I'd play some proper Ratchet & Clank. The first game is still good. Outstanding, really. The music rocks. The weapons are fun. The art is great. But the old fashioned controls, while very responsive, feel a little clunky. And the inability to access all of the weapons without diving into multiple menus limits the variety of fun. I barely touched the bomb glove, decoys, and half a dozen other weapons. And context sensitive gadget use was also a big improvement in the subsequent games.

It still felt better than the time I spent with the PS3 version at PAX. And that fact is still an unpleasant source of cognitive dissonance for me. Some day (not soon) I'll get a PS3 and play through that game.

02 December, 2008

General Disinterest

Yeah. I finished GTA: San Andreas, again. I'm still playing Titan Quest. I played an AI skirmish in Company of Heroes to see if that caught my interest. I'm in a slump.

Also, I haven't talked about the state of the industry in forever, mostly because I don't really care. Wii still sells. The 360 got a price cut and is supposedly destroying the PS3. The 360 started with a one year advantage and continues to increase the gap because the PS3 is too expensive for most people. I also heard (from Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter on the latest Bonus Round) that there are ten million people buying stuff online on the 360 with only one million buying stuff on the PlayStation Network.

Essentially, it's a non-competitive environment. Sure, Sony is denying 360 users the ability to stream Sony movies over Netflix, so there's still some kicking and screaming, but who cares?

People have been speculating about the next generation of consoles publicly for months. Wii HD is being posited for 2010. But I don't care. My Wii is collecting dust. Mad World, No More Heroes 2, and House of the Dead: Overkill are the only announced games I'm interested in. I might pick up Mario Strikers for some co-op if I could find it for $20 or less.

Four freaking games. I have already bought that many 360 games without even having the console. (One of them got canceled because Target promised more than they could deliver, but still.)

I have Far Cry 2 on order for PC. Amazon had a great deal. But I'm bored with it, and I haven't even played it yet. I've heard so much about how it does many things poorly and a few interesting things. It's like I'm playing it for school. Sigh.