31 January, 2009

Game Journal: Gothic 3

written on Friday, Jan. 30, 2009


Plot Summary
I finally managed to get the five (!?) temple keys together and open the temple. This unleashed a plague of undead upon the land. I hoped that by killing whatever was in the temple, I could stop the plague.

It was slow going. There are lots of undead in the temple, and killing them is a pain. Skeletons aren't too bad, since I've learned how to spam them to death. But mummies do not work that way and must be picked off with a bow. Not many merchants sell arrows in the desert, so I'm at half my normal arrow compliment (normal being 1000 arrows).

You can see the mummy at my feet to the left and the one in front of me (also to the left). You can also see copious amounts of spider webs. There were absolutely no spiders. :P And finally, you can see my problem with exploring deeper into the temple since I can't use a torch and bow at the same time. Luckily, I had a bright (hurr dee hurr) idea.

Fire arrows! They don't cast as much light, but it's better than having to lure every mummy in the temple all the way back to the entrance. There was one bad guy that this wouldn't work on, though.

Meet the undead priest. Apparently he's what the prophecies were warning me about. The first time I met him, he killed me with one hit of a fire spell. The next time, (pictured above) I just peeked out to get his attention, then ambushed him at a corner. He still got a shot off, but this time I'd equipped two fire resist rings, so it only took off most of my health instead of killing me outright.

Normally, I hate saving and loading as game design, especially when the loading takes upwards of two minutes. But Gothic 3 has conditioned me. It's like the horrible load times are part of the game's relaxed pacing. I've even been rereading the last few issues of EGM (ever) while the game loads.

I guess the main difference is the pacing, the groove of the game. In an action game, I hate having to wait just when I'm getting into it or am at my most frustrated. But Gothic 3's combat isn't frenetic enough to get me worked up and is rarely frustrating. Once you know how to pull one or two enemies out of a group, combat's always pretty straightforward. Either shoot some arrows, run back a bit, and repeat, or wait for an opening, then hack until victory.

It's an emotional experience more on par with weeding a garden than actual combat.

30 January, 2009

Keepalive: Sacred 2 Demo, Space Siege Demo, Zombie Shooter

written Tues. January 27th. 08:15-08:45

I'd downloaded the demo to consider it for our Sunday gaming group, but it's a fairly conservative group, and the female characters are pretty tarted up. Garnett Lee mentioned it on the final 1UP Yours podcast, so I thought I'd give it another trial.

It's pretty enough, and has enough skills and such to keep min maxers happy. But the camera is a bit of a pain and the combat is less visceral than Titan Quest. I'll probably buy it on sale some day, then never find the time to play through it.

I figured I should also try out Space Siege. I believe I downloaded the demo before PAX, and even meeting Chris Taylor in person didn't motivate me to bother actually playing it. It had enough variety in upgrades and play mechanics to show some promise, but again, the combat was kind of blah. Plus having to guide the character with the mouse pointer is a pain.

Titan Quest always felt like a dance. Start attack at range. Switch to melee and back as enemies are defeated and new enemies pour in. Hold shift and always be pointing towards the next target. Anticipate ranged targets' death and switch one shot early. Once the system was sussed out, it was simple and rewarding. Sticking and moving was even possible with many enemies. Both Sacred 2 and Space Siege feel clunky by comparison.

They felt so clunky, I elected to play Zombie Shooter on GameTap, knowing that it would give me the ability to shoot and move at the same time. Devotees may recall that I gave up on Alien Shooter: Vengeance because it got stupidly hard. Zombie shooter (on normal difficulty) was so easy, I assumed the final boss in the game to be the first of what would be many bosses in the game.

Like Alien Shooter, the game is sprite based. This allows for shell casings, bodies, and blood to cover the ground, often making it difficult to see. But the basic mechanic of point, click, kill worked well enough. It makes me laugh to think that most people in the enthusiast press would call this a dual stick shooter. In a sense, I suppose that's more accurate because the genre is generally traced back to Robotron, which did use two joysticks. But when these types of games came to PCs, nobody came up with a new name. Key mouse shooter doesn't sound as cool, does it?

29 January, 2009

Demo Impressions: Defense Grid

Defense Grid is a fairly snazzy looking tower defense game. Tower games got a good deal of attention starting maybe a year and a half ago, to the point that some folks in the enthusiast press are physically pained every time a new one comes out. I guess I have the luxury to simply ignore most of them.

As you can see, the production values are high. There's also a British AI that talks to you a bit and alludes to a larger context that may constitute a story, eventually. I don't know why, but people seem to prefer their AIs British. British and confused.

My only real complaint about the game is its feedback mechanism. Some weapons seem to do no damage to certain enemies, but there are no video or audio queues. I only noticed that my lasers weren't harming shielded enemies at all because I happened to have one highlighted at just the right moment. Some feedback along these lines could also punch up the action a bit, as most of the enemies just walk until they fall down, which isn't very visually exciting.

And as we all know from the days of NES Godzilla, visual excitement counts.

28 January, 2009

Game Journal: Gothic 3


After paying Gonzales' exorbitant price for the key, I figured all I had to was sell the keys to the lead orc and waltz into the temple behind him. No such luck. He wouldn't even talk to me.

So I drew my sword. He got mad. When he got mad enough to chase me away from the settlement. I beat the snot out of him.

Yay! Glorious victory. Hey. Why can't I open the temple door? What? I've only got four keys? What the dill? Maybe Kirk didn't give me his key, so I'll need him to come down here. Huh. Kirk seems to want to go off to see the desert raiders. Do they have the key? Oh. Kirk just wants to kill me.

Just look at him. So dashing. So commanding. So toast.

Finally, I took all five keys to the temple and opened it. There were some skeletons inside which I quickly killed. Then I heard noises coming from the orc camp. What were they so worked up about?

Oh. Undead coming from everywhere. This must be that curse Mezir was talking about. Well, at least he wasn't crazy.

After fighting alongside the orcs for a bit, I figured the best thing I could probably do was head into the temple and see if I could halt the plague at its source.

This shouldn't be so bad. Ancient evil. Undead. I think some water mage I met mentioned spell casting ghosts. I should have brought a picnic basket.

27 January, 2009

Game Journal: Gothic 3


Mezir is busy digging around in the ruins. He says he's found interesting stuff. I figure maybe he's got a fire chalice, but when I look at his wares all he's got is booze and a pickaxe. His "prophecies" are all vague nonsense I don't really care about. Something about an undead plague. Whatever. But he says he knows where Ramirez is. I remember someone wanted me to find a guy named Ramirez when I first got to the mesa.

Mezir agrees to show me, in exchange for being escorted to some oasis. All we find of Ramirez is a bloody stain. We beat feet and head to the oasis.

Oh. So the slave camp is the oasis. In talking with Gonzales' guard, it came up that he fancied the redhead. So I buy her (300 gold cheap) and take her up the hill, finally earning an audience with the big man himself.

TEN THOUSAND GOLD!? Part of me thinks I should have killed him. But he had a lot of guards. He said I could get my money back from the orcs. I assume that means I could sell them my keys, get my money back, then follow them into the temple.

I remember some publicity for one of the games that came out last fall claiming to have solved the "Han Solo problem" (making it interesting to play in the gray areas). I think Gothic 3 beat them to it by two years. Of course, there are probably games for PCs in the 70s or 80s that did it, too. (Seven Cities of Gold comes to mind.)

26 January, 2009

Game Journal: Gothic 3


The day started out with some dealings of dubious morality. I knew I'd be running the slave out to the orcs at the temple, so I figured I'd check the other slaver camp near the mesa city. Everyone had been asleep the first time I'd visited. It was more lively this time.

The merchant here had two dancing slaves for sale. The one in the foreground wanted to be wed to a successful merchant. The one with less clothes (and a run in her leg) said she wanted to be valued for more than her "dancing". It was creepy. I took off.

You know you're day is off to a weird start when delivering a slave to an orc labor camp is refuge.

Yep. Things look pretty normal here. Mean orcs with giant weapons standing over humans in collars. For Gothic 3, that's status quo. What wasn't status quo was the fact that the guy who was supposed to take the slave didn't want him. He said some guy named Mezir foretold that I was bad luck, so he didn't want anything to do with me. He said to take him to the orc leader, who also didn't want him.

Okay. Disequilibrium restored. Don't get me wrong. It was a great relief to be able to set him free and not feel all slimy, but since when do slavers ever not need slaves?

Then I got hit with the double whammy when the orc chief told me that I needed five keys to get inside the stupid temple. He had one, and some slave named Yussef had ran off with the rest. Fine. I'll track down Yussef.

Here's Yussef and his bulky friend Cruz. Well, they weren't really friends. In fact, I don't believe either acknowledged the other's presence. Maybe they were fighting.

Yussef gave up a temple key and informed me that the last key unaccounted for was with Gonzales, the ruler of the mesa.

Cruz said he'd had some valuable gear swallowed by a Sandcrawler in the north. So I went north.

Then I saw the boatload of lions and went back south to get Cruz.

He agreed to take me to the Sandcrawler in question... and ran west. Dufus. It was a good thing he fought better than he gave directions as the Sandcrawler had five friends.

We kicked their butts, and I got another fire chalice. The fire chalices are apparently some major story point. I've got seven of them so far. I think once I have twelve of them, I'll be able to go into the frozen north and give them to the fire mages. That's probably important.

But in the meantime, somebody has been spreading rumors about me. Better go see what this Mezir guy knows.

25 January, 2009

Game Journal: Gothic 3


First thing being first, I scouted out the merchant's guards to see if they could be reasoned with. They couldn't.

Not pictured: the two other guards I lured out of the camp with promises of delicious candy.

After claiming my reward from the merchant, I decided it was time to trudge up the hill and enter the mesa city proper.

Lotta slaves, lotta merchants; lotta guards. Seriously there are something like a half dozen merchants in the town. Most towns in Myrtana (the green lands to the north) would have one or two. But chatting with them would have to wait. My first stop in a new town is invariably...

the arena. Arena's are handy for multiple reasons. They give good XP (experience points). They give renown, which can be good for getting in to see city rulers. And they often give unique loot for winning the final round. In the case of this arena, it gave me a sword called the Moon Blade. With my reputation shored up a bit, it was time to explore the city.

Okay. The tents at the entrance may not have looked like much, but the streets behind the palace look great. Now this feels like a prosperous merchant city.

Speaking of merchants, or rather to them, I found out that many of them are obsessed with some nearby temple, probably in the giant stretch of ruins outside. One of them even has one of the two temple keys, which he trades to me for a promise. The fool! BWAAAHAHAhahaaa!


I get the other key from Kirk. A mercenary in a local pub who will take me to the temple. I was planning to search the entire collection of ruins anyway, but I'll keep his offer in mind. I'm also supposed to deliver a slave from one of the merchants to the orcs in the ruins. They also want to get into the temple, so I may have to sneak past them to begin my looting in earnest. But it's late. We'll see about all that tomorrow.

24 January, 2009

Game Journal: Gothic 3


I continue combing the desert. And there's a lot to comb.

The worst part about the scrub area is the lack of monsters. It was nothing but a long boring herb hunt. But it ended. Then I went in search of a back way into the forbidden city of Ishtar.

I have the acrobatics skill and could probably find a way to slide down into the city, possibly onto the wall, then down the dome, and so on. But the guards would hate me, so that's not really worthwhile. I was hoping more for a secret cave or a disguise or something. The guys who live here are arguably more evil than the orcs, so I don't really want to bother getting into their good graces. I'll probably end up doing it anyway, just in the course of normal hunting.

I remember the days when a single wolf was dangerous. Now I take them down six or seven at a time, chasing large packs across the desert and picking them off when they stop. After dispatching something like forty wolves and poking around the smaller settlements near Ishtar, night began to fall. It was time to find a place to rest.

See those towers to the left? That's a city, with the largest ruins I've ever seen between me and it. It would still be a while until bedtime.

That did not, however, stop me from exploring a cave along the way. Since it's always dark in caves, exploring them at night is "free". (Yes. I am certifiable.)

Eventually I made it to the outskirts of a city and found a merchant who wasn't using his bed. Apparently the men he hired to guard his possessions robbed him and took off. I took advantage of his frustrated insomnia and caught some winks in his bed. I'll probably pay him back tomorrow by hunting down his former employees.

Ah. Another rich, full day.

23 January, 2009

Demo Impressions: FEAR 2

The demo for FEAR 2 was released today (yesterday by the time this posts). I played it. It didn't do much for me. For one thing, it's got so many soft lighting, film grain, motion blur, and particle effects, that just seeing what's going on is often problematic. Seriously, I haven't had visual effect issues this bad since Conflict: Denied Ops, which I had to put down because everything was shifting in and out of focus, making my eyes hurt.

Nothing's even going on in this shot, and stuff's blurry and out of focus. When the firefights start, it gets worse.

And when you climb into a suit of power armor, there are added video effects which basically make the world look like a YouTube video.

Why do I care about the graphics so much? I don't really. But when the gameplay is unsatisfying, I look to the graphics to compensate. When I did that with the FEAR 2 demo, it made me realize that the graphics were part of the problem.

But what is it about the gameplay that fails to get me going?

For one thing, any time I shoot someone in the head three times with an assault rifle (not an SMG, an assault rifle) and he keeps coming, he better be a boss. I know the game makers want to show off their AI and special effects, and that to do that, the bad guys have to live long enough to do interesting stuff and shoot a lot. But it's not fun.

It feels like a bunch of guys wearing pillows and couch cushions, throwing bean bags at each other. Actually that sounds hilarious, and way more awesome than this game.

I'll probably still play it when it gets under $20, as even a mediocre FPS scratches that itch. But some people regard the FEAR series highly and wouldn't much care to have it lumped in with the likes of BlackSite and TimeShift.

If the combat boot fits. :P

22 January, 2009

Game Journal: Gothic 3


I'm combing the desert. It's laborious work as the desert is large and well populated. But I'm carrying over one thousand arrows. So I'm at least set for ammo. I guess I shouldn't be so upset about fighting ogres and trolls and such. Sometimes I avoid them because they take too many arrows. I mean, look at this.

Zoom in. Look at it close. That's three in the forehead, one in the mouth, and one in the neck (or maybe a little down and to the right of the neck). That's a lot of arrows for one guy. It's also a lot of kiting.

(Kiting is an MMO term for when you run around with a guy chasing you, like a kite, kind of.)

In the grasslands, I was big on saving content for later, leaving trolls and ogres behind. But in the desert, I'm thinking not so much. I just want to cleanse it. We'll see how that works out.

21 January, 2009

Game Journal: Gothic 3


Whoops. Sorry for the late post. I've grown fond of the standard 6AM updates. In keeping with the theme of Gothic 3 as comfort food, I am reminded that quantity can be more reassuring than quality.

So here's you're quantity of me for the day.

As you might expect, it includes dinosaur punching.

I had just gotten to Trelis, a small castle near the southern border. I'd been doing the usual: exploring ruins, helping villagers; running errands for the orcs to get them to trust me. I'd just done a questionable deed of telling the orcs that it was a human druid who had killed a bunch of villagers and decided it was time to do some more exploring.

After wandering a while, I heard sounds of conflict. I rushed forward to see to slaves being attacked by Snappers. I waded in and helped them out. After the Snappers were dead, the slaves just kept walking. They didn't have special names (like "frightened slave" or "escaping slave"), so it was very odd to see them out and about unsupervised.

As they came upon more Snappers and Ripperbeasts, they would throw caution to the wind and attack. It made no freaking sense. I kept them alive through ten Snappers and two Ripperbeasts, all the while wondering, where could we possibly be going? What scripted event could this possibly be for? Eventually they managed to provoke an entire bandit camp and I couldn't save them. But it was entertainingly surreal while it lasted. The two slaves with no fear apparently found what they were looking for.

On the plus side, they led me to the desert, a welcome change of scenery.

Cue Lawrence of Arabia music. :)

20 January, 2009

Game Journal: Gothic 3


Yay! It's Oblivion by Germans!

But wait, Oblivion ended up stinking.

Apparently the Germans do it better.

Technically it's still got some major issues. Loading the game takes three minutes. There are frequent pauses in the game for no apparent reason (resource caching?). And my entire system runs slowly after I've played it, suggesting that it consumes disgusting quantities of memory. And this is a game made in 2006, so probably no machine could run it when it came out.

But the gameplay is functional, or at least broken in tolerable ways. And there's no encumbrance, so it's a pack rat's delight. The skill system and leveling up isn't a travesty like Oblivion. There's cool stuff to find all over. When you kill / collect it, it stays gone, which is a mixed blessing as it makes traversing some areas a little redundant. But it also helps with navigation as a barren area means you've been there before.

It's also pretty.

They used an out of focus effect on distant terrain to speed up draw time and give the game a some what more ethereal vibe. (You'll have to click through to the larger image to really see the effect.) This also goes well with the music. Which gives the game a nice feeling of adventure, but with a very relaxed pace. In fact, I haven't felt this way playing a game since Outcast, a Belgian action adventure game from 1999.

Here's a little night time exploring.

I generally only use torches indoors, where it's required. It's kind of a pain though, because I can't use torches and my bow at the same time, and the bow is the safest way to kill most enemies. Seriously, if a wolf starts attacking, it won't stop until you are dead. There's no blocking. There's no running. There's no counter. You just die. Did I mention that loading takes three minutes?

At first, I mostly took pot shots and ran away. Eventually I leveled up enough so that I can one shot normal wolves. One shotting is the equivalent of a stealth kill, so now I can wipe out a whole pack in relative safety. So even though I'd say the combat is fundamentally broken, it's basically worked out in the long run.

It feels a little wrong, though, hating on the indie games and liking something as glitchy and formulaic as Gothic 3. But it's like comfort food. Comfort food that will kick your ass if you're not careful, but still. There's always plants to pick, bad guys to fight, quests to run, skills to buy. And it's possible to level up and kick butt. Even playing with the Oscuro mod, Oblivion always felt like it was buffing up the monsters every time I leveled, making the game a pain at all times.

I wanted the experience I'm getting in Gothic 3. Some places I can just sweep through. And some places (generally with ogres or trolls or golems) I stay the heck out of, knowing that once I've leveled and geared up, I'll be back to beat them until candy comes out. It's as nature intended. :P

19 January, 2009

Indie Impressions: Shift 3

Shift 3 is a puzzle platformer where you can shift through floors, reversing gravity. It's a decent idea, and decently implemented. But the ending penalizes me for not seeking out every single secret in the game. In Seiklus and Knytt Stories, I didn't mind this because it gave me an excuse to go explore more. Shift 3 wasn't as good as either of those games. And the solutions to puzzles like the one pictured below seemed more tedious than intriguing.

So in the end the author made me feel penalized for not boring myself by wasting a lot of time hunting down clues. So even if I win, I end up with an unpleasant experience. Oh well.

18 January, 2009

Indie Impressions: The Fancy Pants Adventure: World 2

This may be a repeat for those of you using feed readers. I tried to delete the old post because it published immediately when it was supposed to be on schedule for today. Oh well. :P

The Fancy Pants Adventure is an ongoing platforming adventure. The platforming is kind of physics based, which I usually hate. But the level design and enemy placement aren't too demanding, so Fancy Pants makes it work. And the animation system is pretty impressive too. I'm including a screen shot, but you really have to see the thing in motion to get the full effect. And I'm not including a link to a YouTube video because the frame rate on them is too low to see what I'm talking about.

17 January, 2009

Indie Impressions: Seven Minutes

First off, I will completely spoil the game, so if you don't want it spoiled just go play it.

Seven Minutes is an exercise in nonsense. If you follow the instructions, nothing happens. If you disobey the instructions, you lose. If you disobey the first instruction, then don't play the game for seven minutes, you win.

The platforming was decent. The graphics were fine. The artsy "message" wasn't even self-consistent. It was just being arbitrary because the author was in love with the idea of being arbitrary.

Many indie games are labors of love.

Self love.

16 January, 2009

Indie Impressions: Spelunky

Spelunky is a platformer with randomly generated content. Nethack is a cited inspiration, and much like Nethack, the game is a pain. Randomly laid out dungeons with one hit kill spike traps and fidgety controls are not my cup of tea. Especially as you only get one life to complete the game. Plus actually "winning" the game requires some ridiculously unguessable actions.

But it does have nice graphics (if you're into old pixel art). It's fun to use ropes and bombs to find different ways through the levels. And the idea that "maybe I'll make it through this time" is interesting, if not compelling. If not for the one hit kill spike traps, I probably would have stuck with it.

I guess that's the recurring theme throughout indie games. They're for fairly specific audiences, most of which do not include me anymore (if they ever did).

I am accustomed to a smooth ride.
Or maybe I'm a dog who lost its bite.
I don't expect to be treated like a fool no more.
I don't expect to sleep through the night.
- Paul Simon

15 January, 2009

Indie Impressions: Iji

I finished Iji. It bore out my early impressions. The gameplay is serviceable, but never really fun. The characters and dialog made it impossible for me to care about the story. And this stinks because it's easy to see that a huge amount of thought and effort went into it.

I'm honestly not sure if I'm sad because of the lost potential of the game, or at how jaded I am that I can't simply overlook the flaws.

14 January, 2009

Indie Impressions: Iji

Iji is a 2D action game, with art in the style of Out of This World.

I'm not done with it yet. But it didn't take long to get fairly bored. The plot might be interesting but the dialog and characterization is flat, so who cares? The gameplay, well, maybe I picked the wrong path by upgrading melee and hacking instead of gun skills. But so far the combat is also not very exciting. Kick and shoot and duck and jump. It's not laggy, but it's not satisfying.

The game could use a personality.

13 January, 2009

Indie Impressions: 10800 Zombies

10800 Zombies is an action platformer. Much like Shotgun Ninja, it's got a simple graphical style.

Unlike Shotgun Ninja, it's not much fun to play. The raw movement and shooting is good. It's aesthetically pleasing. But the main obstacles in the game are visibility and often unavoidable cheap hits (generally from the shotgun zombies). I gave it a few tries, then got sick of it.

12 January, 2009

Indie Impressions: Alien Assault

Alien Assault is an old school shooter. How old school?

This old school.

Unfortunately, the gameplay is dull and punishing. You only have four men to beat the entire game, and you lose all power ups every time you die. Go play MinishoterRS instead.

11 January, 2009

Indie Impressions: Shotgun Ninja

With a name like Shotgun Ninja, you really can't go wrong. And while the controls are pretty fidgety. The game is easy and short enough that it didn't overstay its welcome.

The graphics are also super retro. But I'm old and like that sort of thing.

I'm the blob of pixels at the top of the screen. No. The yellow blob, not the red spurty blob. That's a couple guys I just shotgunned. If you hold jump, you can hang from the ceiling and shoot guys below you. It's pretty much the sweetest move in the game. :)

Also, here's a quick shout out to the creator of JoyToKey, Ryo Ohkubo. JoyToKey is a handy utility that lets you map keyboard input to a joystick (or in my case, a PS1
controller), which makes playing PC games that don't support joysticks much more fun. Thanks Ryo!

10 January, 2009

I Dreamed A Game Again

I don't generally remember dreams. This is probably good, as most people don't like to hear about other people's dreams. But I remembered enough of a recent one to be able to provide a solid example of how many of my dreams contain game elements.

Being Shot At
There was a sniper in a bush in a forest. He was angry with me for some reason.

Non-Realistic Behavior
Because he had decided to yell at me before shooting, I was able to take cover behind a tree. As long as I didn't pop out for too long, he could never kill me.

Stupid Buddy AI
I had a friend (face unseen, felt like a bit player) with me who the sniper was also shooting at. Despite the fact we needed the sniper alive (for no reason he suddenly had launch codes or defusing codes or some kind of codes that we needed), my friend shot him in the chin.

Functional Terrain
We grabbed the wounded sniper and headed towards wherever we needed to get him patched up. The second we left the forest, we entered a flat gray section of terrain, obviously not real ground. Behind us, the forest curved away on either side, like an island in a sea of undefined terrain. Ahead, like a much larger island, was a large flat area of vaguely purple terrain with a river running through it. The river was flat and not running. It started to our right. Instinctively, we moved towards it, knowing we could run along it to close some distance to our base because nothing would spawn in it and many creatures wouldn't even enter it.

The completely barren nature of the purple terrain was ominous. We hoped to be able to clear it quickly enough to avoid any inhabitants. We were boned. After crossing maybe ten meters of terrain (just enough to make it to the river) creatures and plants started spawning in on a grid, every two meters. They just faded into existence in a wave from behind us to in front of us.

Impossible Knowledge
A giant yellow orange polygonal blob spawned just in front and to the left of us. Somehow, I knew it was a giant slime and represented trouble. It had no sense of us, so we got out of its way, and watched as it crossed the river behind us and went "south".

The dream ended shortly after that, with our sniper's conditioning worsening, and my AI buddy laying him in the empty terrain the slime left behind to attempt emergency surgery.

The dream probably says a lot about me and why I play games. They create worlds where I'm at the center of action, safe, and understand what's going on. I can't even remember having a truly horrifying nightmare since I was a young child (pre Atari 2600).

Indie Impressions: Night of the Cephalopods

Night of the Cephalopods looks like a cute SNES style horror game. But it's really more of listening to a guy tell a story. Every time you do something (even stand still) there's some piece of color commentary for the narrator to make. As a proof of concept, it's interesting. As a game, there's not really a game there. Everything moves really slowly, presumably so the dialog can aspire to Lovecraftian wordiness. It's also really easy, which undercuts the tension. But it's not done yet and shows potential to be something special.

As you can see, I'm doing the indie games as a trickle instead of a torrent. :) It's nice having content in the blog bank, and it gives each game it's own space. Considering how much work goes into each of them (and how mean I am to them), it's only fair.

09 January, 2009

PAX 2009: Dates

I don't know exactly where or when, but the dates for PAX 2009 (Sept. 4th - 6th) were announced. I'm already posting button designs, making reservations, and wondering when tickets will be available for preorder.

Jump the gun much?

You don't know the half of it. I also spent part of the evening in the IRC channel, just to see what the PAX folk are up to. They're mostly killing time on the internet. :)

You know it's bad when the best thing going on in a chat room is people posting links to an archive of funny exchanges from other chat rooms (and some from the same chat room). Still, it was nice to see familiar handles and hear familiar discussions.

I got a smaller camera, so I may actually start taking pictures again this year. Aren't you excited? Okay fine. I'll just be excited for both of us. I've definitely got some to spare. :)

The Indiegames Torrent Begins (Rose and Camellia)

Indiegames.com has a "best of" section that's sort of like indie gaming awards. Quality indie games don't come out as often as commercial games for obvious reasons (no money), so a lot of the games on the list are from last year, or possibly earlier. Regardless, there's enough new and interesting stuff that I'll have plenty to write about for a while.

Let's start with an older one I finally decided to bother playing.

Rose and Camellia is basically a slap fight. Zip your mouse across the opposing cheek to slap. Zip it across the bottom of the screen in the opposite direction to dodge. Mice are pretty crappy for drawing with, of course, so the interface is the main obstacle. I suspect this game is best played with a tablet.

Also, you don't heal or save between fights which makes the game an exercise in repetition. But the concept is refreshingly bizarre and the art's nice.

Game Journal: Persona 4


I'm still plowing through P4. I've managed to get my abilities together so that I can dungeon crawl indefinitely. I'm collecting all the Personas. I'm getting all the rare items that a guy in town will turn into better gear. I'm getting the money to buy said gear and summon specific personas for fusions (which is how I prefer to make new personas so I can give them certain skills).

I'm thorough. I have a system. It's working. So why can't I have Wayne do it? He likes applying boring formulas. I don't. I like deriving them, proving they work; then doing something else.

Plus the game harshly penalizes for small mistakes. I forgot to register some personas I'd leveled up before fusing, basically destroying hours of work in an instant. It's like usability and the mass market completely passed Japanese game designers by.

I suppose some people enjoy that frontier feeling, the opportunity to fail. I'm not saying that's right or wrong. I'm just asking if the saving and registering part of the game the place where this opportunity should lie? Shouldn't it be in an activity that's actually fun? Ah well. This is probably why I don't play RPGs.

At least I can break it up with some indie games. And it'll end eventually.

It has to.

07 January, 2009

This Cheered Me Up A Little

I listened to a sad piano ballad version of a 1UP show song last night. Then I found this related item on YouTube. For me, it was an affirmation, a gaming anthem, and a welcome pick me up.

Games take me places and let me do stuff.

Plus the drums are big and thumpy. Rock on!

06 January, 2009

A Sad Day

Well. By the time you read this, it was a sad yesterday (or last week, or last year...). I'd heard that 1UP was sold to UGO, and that EGM, the only gaming mag I subscribe to, was being shut down. I was tentatively hopeful that this meant most of the online operations would go on with roughly the same sadness that accompanied the closing of GFW Magazine. But from what I've just read, the cuts are going even deeper this time. Or maybe it's more appropriate to say their just happening all at once. When GFW Magazine shut down, the public losses were staggered.

Of the announced cutbacks, Ryan O'Donnell and Matt Chandronait are the one's that meant the most to me. They did the leg work to get the 1UP Show made. Matt has also been a frequent and welcome presence on 1UP FM. And Ryan expressed a love for Blaster Master on the 1UP show at the same time I was making my Blaster Master buttons for PAX. He couldn't attend (because of a wrist injury, if I recall correctly). So I gave one of each design to David Ellis to pass on. I hope Ryan got them.

Anyway, there are a lot of people looking for work these days, but in a small way, these were people that I knew. They seemed like good people and they did good work. I hope they find employers who appreciate them.

04 January, 2009

Keepalive: Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal, LAN Party

I zipped through Ratchet & Clank 3 again. Still wonderful. Still beautiful. Flaming vampire ducks and black holes and lots of electricity and stuff blowing up really never gets old.

The New Year's LAN party went fairly well. Playing versus Left 4 Dead with complete newbies was painful. There's too much to know in that game to play it well with no prep, and one lousy player can wreck your team. Of course, the random tank spawns make it so the game could never actually be played competitively in the first place. I wish there was a way to turn off scoring in versus completely.

We also played the Nations @ War mod for Battlefield 2. Outside of being built on the the BF2 engine (occasional crashes), it was wonderful. This time next year, the Crysis based version should be available. Hopefully that will be better. The way we play Nations @ War is somewhat analogous to Left 4 Dead. Except the regular zombies are played by piles of dumb bots, and the boss zombies are played by dumb bots in tanks and planes and stuff.

There was one game of Rise of Nations which had to be played competitively, as there were too many people to team up against the AI. It was okay. Our team won, but only because a member of the opposition had to leave. Meh. It's an RTS. Why look over a battle when you can be in it?

We also played through all the maps in Quake Wars. It's too bad that game isn't easier to mod / more popular. Playing through the same campaigns forever is pretty dull.

We also tried some Call of Duty: World at War co-op when the numbers thinned out a bit. I actually liked the scoring in that, because I didn't have to guess when I killed a guy. But getting kicked back to the menu after every single map got pretty tedious. Plus it wasn't entirely stable.

We played a little Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory. It mostly sucked, as it always does. Map knowledge is key, and I don't have it. Plus we have a lot of cowboys who run off on their lonesomes then cry medic when they get shot. :P

Overall it was fun. And the idea to have everyone bring whatever leftover holiday snacks they had definitely worked out. There wasn't enough room on the snack table to hold it all.

03 January, 2009

Game Journal: Persona 4


The death march continues. I will finish the game, simply to say I did. But Persona 4 is not my style.

Persona 4 gives you a huge possibility space. Every persona you carry has certain resistances, weaknesses, offenses, buffs, and debuffs. In any given fight, the right combination means certain victory while the wrong combination means speedy defeat (even on Easy). But since you never know what you'll be up against, you just get screwed randomly. Or you cheat and go to GameFAQs to read ahead and know what you'll be fighting. Either way it's not fun, just memorization.

The social link system is also not fun. At first it was cool to spend time with certain people. But the game is on a clock, and most contacts are only available three days out of the week. Plus if you don't have a persona of that person's arcana, you'll have to waste days chatting that you could have spent doing something useful. I know my OCD is my problem, but this game rewards it heavily. It nurtures OCD. It's basically the point of the experience.

Social links are for combat. They power up any personas you create, saving lots of tedious leveling. In the case of combat characters, they add special abilities which make combat significantly easier. And there are special non-combat characters who get support ability upgrades. But to get the most upgrade points, you have to have a persona of their arcana with you and say precisely the right things. Fail to say the right things and you'll have to waste days hanging out to get invisible "friendship points" towards your next level up. And while guessing what the right thing to say is can be rewarding, it's nonsensical just often enough to make it no fun. Saving and reloading to try other responses takes way too long. So it's back to the FAQ. Again, the game discourages exploration and experimentation by offering a hidden best path.

This is a design meant to sell strategy guides, not to be played. There are special events that improve social relations, so it's best to wait for those instead of spending days chatting certain people up. It's best to adventure in the other world when Nanako and / or Dojima are home, or there's a courage building piece of rotten food in the fridge. Otherwise you lose the ability to do anything useful in the evening. There are just so many opportunities that are completely lost if you don't know the future and do exactly the right things.

It kills any illusion of social interaction. Originally I liked Chie. But her social interaction has right and wrong answers and right and wrong timing. So she's not real anymore. She's a test. So's everyone else.

The only reason I am finishing Persona 4 is to be able to say I did, and as an excuse to procrastinate. The experience itself is terrible. I'm finding that collecting all the personas, consulting all the tables in the FAQ to figure out which fusions I can make, is more fun than the game itself. Let me break that down in a way that makes it more understandable.

Doing simple math and cross referencing tables is more fun than playing Persona 4.

At least I can always do that and it works. Playing the game makes me feel like I'm always missing something. I could somehow wring more points out of the system if I was just willing to completely deconstruct it, to break down the entire game calendar, map out all my social links and rescues, plan all my attribute increases, know what the best use of all my rainy days would be, etc. The way it is, though, I never feel like I have enough information to make solid choices. And I rarely get enough feedback to know if the choices I did make were really good ones.

Why did I want to finish this vacant exercise in point mongering again?