30 April, 2009

A Hunting We Will Go

written on Thursday, April 30, 2009

I enjoyed Just Cause. The fighting was pretty mediocre, unpleasant even. But the stunts and the island environments were awesome. There's a sequel being made, but in the meantime the developer, Avalanche Studios, has released a free to play hunting game called theHunter. If you want to pay money you can hunt different game with different guns. But it's not really my type of game.

Don't get me wrong, it's got nice weather effects.

And the PDA and deer sign highlighting made it possible to track the deer in a way I never would be able to in real life.

But I spent three and a half hours searching and this was all I saw.

In case you can't make it out, here's a zoom in and highlight on the deer.

That's as much as I saw in three and a half hours. And my understanding is that you don't shoot them if they have no antlers. Three and a half hours of looking at tracks and poop. It was a pretty walk, and it ran very well. But I'm mostly looking forward to Just Cause 2.

29 April, 2009

Quick Time Events: An Introduction

written on Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Quick Time Event was a termed coined for the Sega Dreamcast game Shenmue. At certain times, a button (or button sequence) would appear on the screen, and the player would have to hit it quickly or fail the event. While this wasn't a new idea, the 1983 arcade game Dragon's Lair was entirely built around the same mechanic, it seems to be the term that's stuck.

And even back in 1983, the concept was controversial.

No one could argue against Dragon's Lair's graphics or sound. It was an animated feature film with real music while everything else was made of little squares or glowing lines, scored with beeps and boops.

But the interaction it presented was very different than what most players were used to. As you watched the cartoon unfold, you pressed the joystick at certain times to tell your character where to move or pressed the sword button to attack. If you did these things when the game wanted you to, you moved on. If not, you died and were fast forwarded to the next scene. Here's an example of Dragon's Lair being played. You hear beeps when the user inputs a command. But the control isn't direct and pushing the same direction has different results based on context.

I was never a fan of Dragon's Lair. It was fun to watch bad players die in funny ways and good players pass every challenge, but the lack of direct control made it seem less visceral and sometimes even arbitrary. Why do I need to destroy that giant skeletal hand with a sword? Why couldn't I have just jumped out of the way like I intended when I pressed up on the joystick? I think in the original hardware, the sword button would flash to indicate when you needed to press it. But there was still something about it that seemed off. Plus it cost more tokens than the other games, and I was cheap even way back then. :)

Back to the present, there's been a lot of nerd rage on the Penny Arcade forums lately about Quick Time Events. Originally it was confined to a thread on the recent game Ninja Blade, which has a bunch of QTEs in it. But then a whole separate QTE thread got started. I didn't really want to jump into that thread. But I wanted to sort my own thoughts on QTEs. And writing is the best way I know to sort thoughts.

The first thing I think of are examples: God of War, Resident Evil 4, and No More Heroes. All of these games flash buttons (or motions) on the screen to prompt the player. They are all games that I enjoyed. But did the QTEs help?

In God of War, I'd say they did. That game is largely about ultraviolence, and having to pound a button as you struggle with a minotaur adds something visceral. By the same token, the motions for killing a medusa or ogre got tedious. I might not have minded so much if they were the same every time. At least then I could feel like I had mastered them. But the designers didn't want to make it too easy, so they changed which buttons / motions had to be entered each time even though the animation was exactly the same. It made those QTEs feel disconnected from the action.

No More Heroes was also a mixed bag. Having to crank the Wiimote to recharge my light saber or win a sword clash worked well, but the wrestling moves got old. Well, to be fair, I loved body slamming that %*#^& with the baseball bat. I put some extra oomph behind those gestures. But otherwise I was just going through the motions.

I can't speak to all the QTEs in Resident Evil 4; it's been a long time. But I will never forget meeting Krauser. In most games, that would have simply been a movie you watched. In RE4, if you didn't hit the prompts, you died: instant game over. It took what was normally passive and made it life or death. I found it awesome.

But the RE4 knife fight QTE was just like the God of War kills in that the buttons were different on subsequent plays while the animation was the same. In the knife fight it felt right because the encounter was about the unexpected. If it didn't keep me on edge, it wasn't doing its job. God of War seemed to be trying to liven up something that was nothing but routine. It felt forced. My opinions about QTEs apparently turn on fine distinctions.

28 April, 2009

Keepalive: Some Demos and A Goodbye

written on Monday, April 27, 2009

Not much gaming today. I peeked at some demos. But I really didn't care. Braid may have interesting mechanics, but it's platforming is below the standard set by Super Mario Brothers in 1986, and I'm not big on puzzle games to begin with.

Flock (by Capcom) is also kind of puzzly. You use a UFO to herd sheep back to the mother ship. I didn't like the PC controls, and the first time some sheep fell in the water (level four, I think) I was done with it.

And finally, I took a look at X-Blades. It's supposed to be a brawler in the vein of Devil May Cry, God of War, etc. The reviews were terrible, but then they were terrible for Jericho as well. In this case, I agree with the reviews, though. The combat has no feel or depth. And the female protagonist is only nominally dressed. If you're not twelve, there's no reason to play it. And if you are twelve, you probably shouldn't be allowed to play it.

In other news, Stephen Totilo left MTV Multiplayer. He and Patrick Klepek were why I read the site. I guess I'll leave it in my feed reader for a bit, but I doubt they're going to find anyone as good to replace them, and I've never been a fan of Tracey John.

The rub is that Totilo left for Kotaku. After Brian Crecente said that Cheapy D and Cheap Ass Gamer had lost all credibility because he got caught posting a fake rumor off a member blog without so much as sending an email to verify the information's veracity, I stopped reading Kotaku. Cheapy made me realize that it's a tabloid, not a news source. I was never even tempted to read the print tabloids, and I'm not interested in reading the online ones. Totilo says he'll be writing the same type of content he wrote for Multiplayer, so maybe if there's an RSS feed with just his posts, I'll keep up with him.

I picked up The Red Star, a PS2 co-op brawler / shooter, for Tuesday night co-op. I haven't broken the shrink wrap so we can learn the mechanics at the same time. I've heard good things about it. fingers crossed

27 April, 2009

Keepalive: Bejeweled Blitz and possible hiatus

written on Monday, April 27, 2009

I was a little fried from lack of sleep and wanted a break from Chinatown Wars, so I wasted some time playing Bejeweled Blitz. I am not a fan. The game seems simultaneously mindless (if I'm just making patterns) and too much to think about (if I'm trying to find all the patterns and select the best order to do them in). Plus there's a pretty large amount of game that's simply the luck of which new blocks fall for you. Maybe it's predictable, but I'll never play enough (attentively enough) to find out.

In other news, there is no other news. Sure, something's always afoot in the world of gaming, but I already write about stuff you don't care about. If I don't care about it either, who am I writing for?

I know. That hasn't stopped me before. The second review data article I did had no content and wasn't worth writing. And reposting the post I wrote on the MTV Multiplayer Blog wasn't right. You are not audience for that sort of writing. (Well, maybe Matthew.) Related to that, if I want to write something more long form, and I don't feel like it's ready when the blog is supposed to go up, I'll tell you I'm writing it and wait until it's done. Some of the challenge articles felt like last minute blathering. That doesn't help me explore my own thoughts on gaming, and I'm sure it wasn't much fun to read for anyone who bothered.

The smartest move would probably just to take a hiatus until I'm hyped on gaming again. I may do that. But I'll still post keepalives so you know I haven't forgotten the blog. I've been posting one or more times a day since January ninth, and, for no particular reason, I feel compelled to continue. Maybe I'm just getting old and like the constancy. :P

26 April, 2009

Game Journal: GTA: Chinatown Wars

written on Sunday, April 26, 2009


I'm not going legit, but I am mostly out of the drug game. I've got over $300,000 in the bank and can't imagine I'll ever use it all up. $500 for an armor vest. $2100 for an assault rifle. And I already own all the safe houses I've seen. (Some open up as the game progresses.)

Oh, and I should mention that I did not have access to the assault rifle when I hijacked the Ammu-Nation truck. So hijacking them is not completely worthless. I'm still not sure it's worth the effort, but it's not the total waste of time I thought it was.

In other "Blain is stupid" news, my back is feeling much better. I was leaning forward to play my DS, and it was bad. Now I recline with some pillows on my chest to prop the DS up, and it is fine.

Now I'm just wishing I understood the drive-by targeting. Sometimes I end up shooting at the wrong target. I'm on a mission to shoot some guy, but when I fire, I kill some cop across the street and everything swiftly goes to crap.

25 April, 2009

Game Journal: GTA: Chinatown Wars

written on Saturday, April 25, 2009


After multiple failed attempts, I finally hijacked an Ammu-Nation truck. It had some assault rifle ammo in it. With as much money as I have, the Ammu-Nation trucks appear to be a complete waste of time.

The warehouse robberies I've just unlocked aren't much better. I can now go to the headquarters of the Spanish Lords and raid their warehouse. But so far all I've stolen from them is drugs. Not only that, but it's the same amount of drugs I'd get from simply hijacking a delivery van, which is roughly a hundred times safer. But no, I have to hack the gate, kill half a dozen guys, hot-wire the van, fight off three gang cars, four police cars, two SWAT vans, and a police helicopter, all for five bags of weed (approx. street value $50). What on earth was the game designer thinking?

Outside of giving a little extra flavor, both of the activities I took on today were useless additions to the game. They were wastes of my time to perform, and wastes of the programmers' time to implement. I just don't get it.

It's not like these things had to be failures. The Ammu-Nation truck could have just given me a respectable amount of ammo for all my existing weapons, or one weapon I'm not supposed to have yet. Robbing the warehouse could have provided some cash or guns or a greater quantity of drugs commensurate with the risk involved. That would have made these activities fun things to do when I'm feeling crazy / badass. As it is, only chumps (or people forced to by mission objectives) would ever bother. *sigh*

24 April, 2009

Game Journal: GTA: Chinatown Wars

written on Friday, April 24, 2009


My week four stats wouldn't show it, but I AM THE DRUGINATOR! I bought all kinds of drugs. I bought and bought and bought. Then in week five (which I haven't finished yet) I sold and sold and sold. I'm carrying over two hundred grand in cash, and I've bought safe houses all over the city, so I don't have to drive around carrying drugs all the time.

I haven't yet managed to take down an Ammu-Nation delivery truck. I either get killed by the shotgun toting driver, or nabbed by the cops before I can get the truck up to speed. I'll keep trying. I'm pretty sure the loot won't be worth all the trouble, but I want to be able to say I did it.

Nabbing drug vans is comparatively simple. I still have to be careful to do it a safe distance from any cops, but once I've got the van going, I have secluded safe houses all over where I can take my time carving into the dashboard to recover the delicious free drugs inside. And so I do. Actually, they aren't always delicious drugs.

Many times, when I'm buying cheap drugs, the dealer will say they've been cut with something horrible and will kill people. To my knowledge there are no game mechanics for that. There are no stats regarding the number of people who've died using drugs I've sold, no numbers for lives ruined, parents left childless, etc. But game mechanic or no, it's more than a little unsettling to be told I'm pushing literal poison in some cases.

23 April, 2009

Game Journal: GTA: Chinatown Wars

written on Wednesday, April 22, 2009



Cash earned: 23,194
Cash spent: 1,075

Cash earned: 70,920
Cash spent: 40,473

Cash earned: 136,264
Cash spent: 71,928

Value of drugs lost when busted: 0

Value of drugs lost to mission buy-ins: 0

Total income: 230,378
Total outgoings: 113,476

Profit: 116,902

I think it's safe to say business is in full swing. Actually, it's in a lull right now because no one selling cheap, just buying high, and I've got way more money than I need, so I'm finally getting back to the story missions.

It's a typical GTA, which means it's a typical crime drama. The main character's father has been killed, the family sword (which the father won playing cards) stolen, and the main character almost killed by some mooks. The road to revenge is long and boring and will assuredly feature double crosses and shifting alliances. At the end of the day, it's just a bunch of missions.

The missions have opened up a few interesting things, though. Ammu-Nation is the name of the main arms seller in the GTA games. Ammu-Nation trucks now wander the city and can be attacked. I've never attacked one as it seems fairly suicidal, but it still makes the environment seem a little more target rich. Also I just unlocked drug vans that wander around, waiting to be stolen, driven back to a safe house, and slashed open for free drugs.

And a lot of other places have said it already, but it bears repeating that the new police chase mechanic is pretty awesome. You can reduce your wanted level by (among other things) making the police cars chasing you crash into walls. It's a lot more fun than running like a coward, which was the main mechanic in all prior GTA games.

So so far the grinding hasn't been terrible, and the game continues to add new elements. I'm still in the honeymoon phase.

22 April, 2009

Keepalive: GTA: Chinatown Wars, MK: Shaolin Monks

written on Tuesday, April 21, 2009

My drug empire continues to grow very slowly (mostly because I only played for an hour or two today). I tried to drive a taxi for a while. I finally figured out that when the game wants me to repair my taxi, all I have to do is steal a new one instead. Yay. Basically, I was driving taxis to kill time. I already sold all the drugs that were selling for a high price and bought as much of the low priced stuff as I could. All I could do after that was wait for the sales to expire so new ones would come up. So I drove around for a while. Then I got so bored I started taking on campaign missions again. Bleh.

"Dawn's in trouble. Must be Tuesday."

We didn't beat Shaolin Monks. The final boss is actually three boss fights in a row with no rest in between. I've beaten it many times by myself, but it's a fair amount harder when you've got a partner and have to share one health bar. For us, the game is over. Next week? Maybe Lego Batman. Maybe Guitar Hero 2 or Rock Band. We'll see.

In a strange side note, I was told that my name will be in the secret credits to a Wii game. One of the PAX IRC guys is putting the names of a bunch of folks into the WiiWare title he's working on. He's a sweet guy; I hope his game sells. As I've never bothered to buy a wireless router to allow my Wii to go online, I may never see it on my own console. :O

Just in case you were waiting, you should know that I am making no moves to buy a backup device to stash all my files on so I can reformat my PC and start my Blood walkthrough. It took years to get my Heart of Evil walkthrough started. It may take just as long to start the next one.

21 April, 2009

Game Journal: GTA: Chinatown Wars

written on Tuesday, April 21, 2009


I've finally started "the drug game". (shout out to my n#%*&a Gangstalicious) I'm learning the basics. The first step is getting capital. Early missions pay nothing. I couldn't even buy a single bag of... I forget. It was the middle drug on the left column. But that was what I needed because I got an email from a dealer who was willing to pay top dollar for it. He didn't say what top dollar constituted, but I think it means double the normal price.

Getting the money was a pain. I actually made some money with scratch and win cards, but not enough. So I drove a cab for a while. That actually cost me money at first because it cost more to get it repaired between jobs than I was making in fares. On the plus side, it's the best way to get to know the city, so it'll pay off in more than just money eventually.

Once I finally got the money, it was too late. The email had a deadline on it which had expired. Email seems to be the fundamental system for drug trading. I seem to always have one email from a buyer and one from a seller. If I just want to make money, I'll keep driving taxis and making cash, buying out whatever sellers offer me good deals until a buyer offers a high price on something I actually have. There are six types of drugs and by the end of today's session I was only carrying four of them and $400 in cash. My boss wants me to raise $5,000 to buy a piece of property.

I feel like I'm grinding already. This is not good.

20 April, 2009

Keepalive: Dawn of War II Demo, GTA: Chinatown Wars

written on Sunday, April 19, 2009

I tried to pick up the pace in DoW2. It helped some. But it's the same thing as StarCraft. In WarCraft 2, things felt simpler, like I could keep a handle on them. But when we got to StarCraft, it was more multitasking than I wanted to do. It was like my brain was always overheating and it still wasn't enough. I liked an FPS where all I had to keep in mind were my weapons, movement, and adversaries. Eventually, when it gets cheap enough, I'll pick up DoW2 and try to stretch myself.

In the meantime, I've started GTA: Chinatown Wars on the DS. I still hate playing games on those tiny screens, but the game's promising so far. I haven't been involved in any of the much lauded drug trading yet. They apparently use real drug names, which is pretty bizarre since even Fallout 3 (a game on the 360, PS3, and PC where you blow guys into chunks) was forced to use made up names of drugs or get an Adults Only (a.k.a. unpublishable on any console) rating. And yet I'll be trading all sorts of illegal substances on the Nintendo DS. To quote Alexei Sayle, "It's a funny old world."

19 April, 2009


written on Saturday, April 18, 2009

Stephen Totilo asked the question on the MTV Multiplayer blog whether it was premature to call Activision "evil". I don't necessarily see them as evil (although I do resent a couple of their recent legal and business shenanigans), but I do seem them as a sign of where the industry is going, long term. Hopefully I'm wrong, but here is how I posed it to Stephen.

Personally, I became aware of a shift when, after the merger with Vivendi / Blizzard, Activision dropped Brütal Legend and Ghostbusters from their lineup. Brütal Legend was kind of understandable. Psychonauts was a great game, but didn't do great business. But the whole reason Ghostbusters started development was because of a brand study Sierra did that said it had huge market potential. And the press that had gotten to play the game said it was coming along nicely. Why would Activision walk away from that kind of money?

Then the quote came out that Activision wasn't pursuing anything they couldn't turn into an annual franchise. I could understand it from a business perspective, but my mind went to Tony Hawk, Madden, and Splinter Cell, all franchises that were once exciting, but had long since grown stale.

This was at the same time that the enthusiast press was getting excited over Dead Space and Mirror's Edge. EA was supporting new IP and talking about trying to get quality up, while Activision was talking about releasing the same games year after year.

Then I heard rumors that Activision was trying to block Brütal Legend from finding a publisher, rumors that I tend to believe given that when it finally did find a publisher (and EA of all publishers), Activision threatened legal action. Now we're hearing that Activision may be trying to buy out the competition with all of this Scratch DJ stuff.

If Activision wants to stick with stuff like Guitar Hero where innovation in mechanics isn't nearly as important as new content, that's fine. More power to them. But when they want to use the legal system and business moves to block games I care about and stifle competition, that's bad.

If you want to say that I'm a minority, that's fine. Core gamers are a minority. People (including Garnett Lee at the PAX 07 1UP panel) have told me that the broadening of the market is good for core gamers. But I see EA trying to appeal to core gamers with new IPs and more rigorous quality standards and losing to Activision which doesn't care so much about those things. It's frustrating.

18 April, 2009

Keepalive: Dawn of War II Demo

written on Saturday, April 18, 2009

I fired it up. I shot some orks. I didn't enjoy it.

I'm just too much of an action gamer. Arranging my little guys in a perfect cover formation doesn't satisfy my itch at all. Because the second I have given the orders, I have nothing to do but watch. Once in a while I'd have to pull a unit back or distract an enemy to let another unit drop in a grenade. But that never fires my happy neurons. It never makes me feel smart.

But at the same time, I keep wondering if I'm playing it wrong. Maybe there's some way I could be making this go faster, and that would challenge me enough to make it fun. I'll keep trying for at least one more session.

17 April, 2009

Keepalive: Keep (Hope) Alive

written on Friday, April 17, 2009

no gaming today

I read the news, wandered the forums a bit, and listened to some podcasts, but no games were played. (Yes. I played Jam Sessions, but that doesn't really count. This blog should be for gaming, not application software.)

I'm still waiting for GTA: Chinatown Wars to arrive. In the meantime, the NPDs are out and the sales for the game in its release month (March) were frighteningly low. Hopefully it will sell well over time, but it's pretty freaky. It's Grand Theft Auto. It has the highest average review score of any DS game ever. How could it not sell?

And what are other publishers going to think? It makes it look like high quality mature titles are not welcome on the DS.

Hopefully it will sell well over time. (Please?)

I downloaded the single player demo for Dawn of War II. In my fantasy, it would be like Titan Quest with robots. In reality, I think I'll be clicking like crazy, managing the camera and constantly repositioning my squads. I wanna feel like a hero, not a waitress during the lunch rush. We'll see.

Finally, one game I've been tracking for a long time, Borderlands (by Gearbox), announced their new art style. The responses I've read on forums seem generally favorable. A lot of people were worried that the game would feel painfully generic, what with its randomly generated guns and apparent similarities to Rage (by id). I considered the inclusion of up to 4 person co-op what made it distinctive, but the new art style will set it apart instantly to a much broader audience. With all the personnel cuts at Gearbox, I was happy just to hear that the game was still probably coming out.

I hope it's good.

16 April, 2009

Keepalive: Half-Life 2: Episode 2

written on Thursday, April 16, 2009

I finished playing through HL2: E2. It's still a high mark in acting, pacing, etc. But I didn't want to listen to the story anymore, so I turned it down and listened to gaming shows over it. If it's audio, is it a show? Are they tells?

I don't want to touch Call of Juarez. I probably will at some point. But I need to get a little time for the first impression to fade.

I finally picked up Elite Beat Agents for the DS. But when I'm backstage, I'm supposed to be paying attention to the play, so I don't know if I'm ever going to play it.

GTA Chinatown Wars is on order. I anticipate playing the crap out of it once I finally get it. We'll see.

I have a bad history with DS games. New Super Mario Bros. was just too eyestrain inducing. The World Ends With You challenged the crap out of me, but the cheesy storyline made me feel like a chump for wanting to work so hard.

15 April, 2009

Keepalive: Dino Game, Call of Juarez

written on Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I spent a little time with a silly flash game linked on Rock, Paper, Shotgun. There's not much to the game, but hearing the silly "dinosaur roars" in the intro (and at the end of the credits) is childishly amusing.

I installed Call of Juarez, a western game.

It looks awful.

(Seriously, zoom in on that picture and look how terrible the textures on the sheriff look. I thought this was a 360 game.)

It's got some serious bugs.

And so far all I do is run away from people using a pretty lame stealth mechanic. Oh, and my primary cause of death so far is falling. And I don't think I'm 30 minutes into the game. :(

So far this looks like another Ubisoft standard horrible PC port. Assassin's Creed was decent. It crashed a few times, but it mostly worked. Apparently that's the kind of attention Ubisoft only gives to their own IPs.

14 April, 2009

Keepalive: Jam Sessions, Half-Life 2: Episode 2

written on Tuesday, April 14, 2009

This post was forty minutes late. I've been writing emails and posting to Facebook and MySpace to let people know that the play I'm in is just about to start its run.

I actually haven't gamed all day, unless playing my toy guitar (Jam Sessions for the DS) counts. I've got about 30 minutes worth of songs built up now and I enjoy practicing them almost every day. It's not gaming, but it's entertaining (to me) and probably good for me on some level.

In real gaming I started playing through Half-Life 2: Episode 2 again. I can nitpick the game. There are definitely flaws. But for the most part, it holds together. The one thing that doesn't hold up is Alyx. She feels like a total kiss ass. Maybe I didn't feel that way before because I was going along with the premise that she was becoming Gordon's love interest. Or maybe it's because I think of Gordon as a mute jackass now that her praise seems so forced. Anybody with any sense would take the hint that he doesn't care about the praise and shut up.

Intellectually, I know it's a design flaw. Valve wasn't able to find a way around making the protagonist mute. Intellectually I know that, but she still comes off as oblivious and even a little needy, which is completely counter to the strong female character I think she was supposed to be.

Episode 2 still has great pacing and variety. But all the work on the characters that was so impressive to me the first time through now detracts almost as much as it used to add.

I don't think of this game as a five anymore.

13 April, 2009

Game Journal: Dark Messiah of Might and Magic

written on Sunday, April 12, 2009


I finished Dark Messiah. I didn't take pictures of the endgame. That still feels a little too spoilery.

Here I am in the jerk wizard's fortress, playing puppet master. The guys with the white glowing icons over their heads are my thralls. The orange glowing icon on the floor is a fire trap so that if my charm wears off and the baddies try to swarm me, I'll have a little breathing room. The main problem with this strategy is that it is dull.

After clearing the fortress, I return to the city. Things have gone poorly here.

And here are some of the jerks responsible. But I have a new spell. (Note my icy blue fists.)

Jerks fall.

Everyone dies.

But while it's effective, it's not much fun. Slap down ice patch. Perform coup de grâce on prone foe. Repeat.

Honestly, the mage path was far less interesting than the mix of melee and archery I took last time. I often felt like I was giving in to the dark side by kicking or bashing guys instead of zapping them. But zapping just didn't work very well / wasn't much fun.

12 April, 2009

More Review Roundup Thoughts

written on Sunday, April 12, 2009

Yay! More charts!

This chart shows that while I play more third person action games than first person shooters, I tend to score them slightly lower. That's probably a fair statement, but trying to cut the data twice makes the slices small enough that extracting meaningful conclusions from them is risky business.

This next chart, for example, says absolutely nothing.

Well, it says I play PC games mostly, but we already knew that. And I guess it is interesting that I have proportionally way too many 4s for platforms that are not PC combined.

Looking at it more closely, the PC fours are a fairly homogeneous group compared to the console fours.

PC Fours
- Bioshock
- Dark Messiah of Might and Magic
- Jericho
- King Kong
- Rogue Trooper
- VtM: Bloodlines

They're all action games, and almost all first person. Only two are PC exclusives, but when you factor in that I don't have a 360 or PS3, Rogue Trooper is the only one I could have played on anything but PC.

Other Fours
- Rocket Slime
- Pikmin
- Crimson Sea 2
- Yakuza
- Mario Galaxy
- The Suffering

The genres are a bit more varied in the non-PC space, and they are all third person. The Suffering is the only one I could have played on PC instead.

One idea that strikes me is that all but one of the non-PC games aren't just unavailable on PC. They're also only available on a single console. Perhaps being able to play to the strengths of specific controls and hardware also makes a difference big enough to improve a score.

I didn't really mean to get into the discussion of the high rated games so soon, but it's where the data's taken me, and now that I'm looking at them, one commonality is really striking.

These are all weird games. There's something that makes all of them feel like nothing else I've played. Sometimes it's the setting. Sometimes it's the mechanics of play. Sometimes it's both. But I definitely get a charge out of the unusual.

Actually, now that I look at the whole list, you could probably say that of most of the games I play. Sure, I've got a few bog standard ones in there (Quake 4, anyone?), but I'd say my tastes run pretty eclectic, especially considering I play almost exclusively action games.

The breadth of experience in games has always been something I've had trouble expressing to people. But let's do a quick run down of where (and who) I've been.

I've been to prison. I've been to other planets. I've been to castles and fortresses. I've been on battlefields and uncharted islands. I've been through caves and climbed mountains. (They had stairs.) I've been to an underwater utopia (dystopia, really). And I've been to Tokyo (which was arguably the strangest of all).

Who I've been hasn't been as diverse (in these games, at any rate). I've mostly been criminals, soldiers, and monsters of varying temperaments. You could argue I was a gardener in Pikmin, I suppose. But I defy anyone to argue that Mario is a plumber. :) The man is the defender of the Mushroom Kingdom. Period. Has the man even held a wrench?

All right. That's enough navel gazing. Tomorrow I'll post some more pictures from Dark Messiah.

11 April, 2009

Game Journal: Dark Messiah of Might and Magic

written on Friday, April 10, 2009


Okay. So we'll get into stats later. In the meantime, I decided to play some more Dark Messiah.

I was a good boy, saving my skill points. I used charm to distract zombies instead of fighting them. It helped some. But eventually I reached a boss that charm didn't work on. Fighting a boss with flame darts is less than wonderful. Oh well. I persevered, and that segment of the game is behind me now.

Now I have fireballs! (No. That is not a social disease.)

Sure, you look big and scary. But I have fireballs!

Trying to eat me doesn't seem like such a brilliant idea now, does it?

I also have the most powerful spell in the game, which lets me set stuff on fire.

Lots of stuff.

It just makes it a little hard to see when firing.

I hope this is killing... something. What the heck was I even shooting at? It's hard to think with all this fire.

I overbought.

10 April, 2009

Review Roundup

written on Thursday, April 9, 2009

Since this blog isn't a proper gaming web site (with the nice data mining tools that would entail), I thought I'd go through my old reviews (the ones I gave scores to, anyway) and compile them by hand.

Here's the spreadsheet.

The first thing that caught my eye is that I don't review games anymore. I've reviewed one game this year. I've only reviewed eleven games in the last eleven months, compared to forty reviews in the ten months prior to that.

Why is that?
- I went through the GameTap games I cared about in late 2007 and early 2008. GameTap hasn't been adding interesting games for a while, and I really should cancel my subscription.
- I got a new PC in early 2008 and had a backlog of games built up.
- I was given an original Xbox in April 2008 and immediately yoinked a bunch of games out of the bargain bin.
- I've been replaying a lot of games lately. GTA San Andreas and Heart of Evil probably each consumed well over a month of my playing time. Plus I played through BioShock. I'm currently playing through Dark Messiah of Might and Magic. The list goes on.
- I feel like I've done the review thing. Sure, I could have given Lost Planet a score, but I feel like I've written that review many times already.

Also of note is how much of a PC gamer I am. I've reviewed thirty three PC games, and eighteen other games over all other platforms combined. I like to think of myself as platform agnostic, but that's obviously not true.

Why is that?
- I haven't kept up with current consoles.
- Games are generally cheaper on PC.
- My favorite genre (first person shooter) I prefer on PC.

Oh, and FPS isn't my favorite genre. I only played eighteen FPS games (and that's using a pretty loose definition that includes games like Condemned (which has very little shooting) and Brothers in Arms (which is more strategic)). I played twenty four third person action games.

Why is that?

- They don't make enough first person shooters.

That's mostly a joke. People often complain that there are too many FPS games on the market. But like most jokes, there is a kernel of truth there, the kernel being that third person games are more plentiful than first person games.

Looking at Giant Bomb's list for releases this month, I see three first person games (Riddick, Cryostasis, and Zeno Clash) and ten third person games (Godfather 2, Ninja Blade, Velvet Assassin, Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 2, Dynasty Warriors: Strike Force, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Bionic Commando, Damnation, Secret Agent Clank, Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood). When you also consider that Riddick is half rerelease and the other two first person games are indie efforts from relatively tiny developers, FPS does not seem like the saturated genre. I think it just feels that way because people who play them multiplayer will play one game for months or even years, so they don't need more than two good ones a year.

Or maybe it's just because they're all the same game. :)

Last, but not least, most of my reviews are threes (29), with a fair amount of fours (12), some twos (9), and a couple fives (2. Yes I wrote the number anyway). And of course there are no ones.

Why is that?
- If I truly hate it, I drop it early.
- I like action games, which are largely good, but not frequently great. They're shooting low to begin with, generally only incrementally improving over past action games.

And there you have it, me making an attempt to rationalize an irrational process. Data mining is fun. It kind of makes me wish I kept other types of data. But I didn't. Tomorrow I'll start slicing and dicing the data a bit. There's definitely more to learn here.

09 April, 2009

Game Journal: Dark Messiah of Might and Magic

written on Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Are you ready to catch it?

Zombie Fever!

No. It's not a disease that raises your temperature and turns you into a zombie. It's Zombie Fever: the need to burn, hack, impale, and otherwise destroy the shambling dead! If so then the chapter of Dark Messiah of Might and Magic that I'm playing is right up your alley!

Seriously, look at all these jerks. And that glowing red fire staff does basically nothing to them (unless they've been covered in oil to make them extra flammable). So it's mostly back to kicking. Yes, you too can kick zombies into traps (fire or spike) or off of cliffs.

This is me attempting to use the fire trap spell (a prerequisite for the hopefully super awesome fireball spell). Well, I shouldn't say "attempting". I'm successfully using the fire trap spell. But despite the fact that this looks like the perfect position to use it from (a bunch of slow moving baddies bunched together) it takes four traps to kill a guy and the spell has a really long cooldown. Maybe it works better as a trap that sets off other traps, like if I put a fire trap on top of an oil slick or next to a support beam so that somethng falls on whoever triggers it, but for direct damage it sucks, as do all my spell casting abilities.

Maybe I should have waited on the mana regeneration ability and used those skill points to buy better spells. Maybe I'm just doing it wrong by bothering to kill all these schmoes. Maybe I should charm one so that all his buddies attack him while I go about my business. Regardless, I'm not finding this part of the game very satisfying as a pure mage.

08 April, 2009

Keepalive: Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks, Dark Messiah of Might and Magic

written on Wednesday, April 8, 2009

More Shaolin Monks Ko-op was played. We didn't get too lost (apart from one section of climbing wall in The Wastelands that it took us five passes to see). But outside of the occasional navigation difficulty, Shaolin Monks is a simple game about beating up everything you see. In this session we beat up Baraka, Sub-Zero, Goro, and Scorpion (who takes forever to beat). I think we're just about done with it.

For my own part I'm playing through Dark Messiah of Might and Magic again, this time as a magic user. It's not as satisfying as the melee build I used last time, but it's enough different to keep me interested. Whereas kicking was interspersed with blocking and bashing mostly before, it is now interspersed with shooting jerks with flame arrows and using charm spells on their friends to turn them against each other. Charm can also be used as a stealth spell, I think. But I generally prefer to leave nothing but rotting corpses behind me. Maybe I'll play out the evil ending this time.

Also, Cheap Ass Gamer introduced a feature that will send me an email if a given game drops below a price I set. If this works, it could be very useful, both to me and to CAG, as they could tell publishers how many people are waiting to buy their game at what price point.

07 April, 2009

Keepalive: My Media Diet and General Lack of Enthusiasm

written on Monday, April 6, 2009

The RSS reader is the greatest thing ever. I can scream through a day's worth of news and video uploads in about fifteen minutes. Some days there are articles worth reading, so I'll spend maybe twenty to thirty minutes reading articles. And that's pretty much it for the day. If I'm bored I'll peruse a couple gaming forums to see what the locals are up to. And then there are audio shows.

Honestly, I've overloaded myself on audio shows. It's gotten to the point where I play them because the sound of people talking helps me sleep. :P

Over the last week, there have been some more interesting shows thanks to the Game Developer Conference. Game developers tend to be smart people with lots of opinions on games and gaming. But it just seems to wash over me. Maybe I shouldn't have been playing Assassin's Creed and listening at the same time. But just listening seems so wasteful, timewise.

I guess it has a lot to do with there not being interesting games coming out. Mad World is apparently super repetitive, even by brawler standards. Resident Evil 5 is Resident Evil 4 with co-op, which is good but not interesting. Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars has gotten crazy good reviews, so I'll keep my eyes open for a sale on that.

But for the time being I mostly just start playing an old game I like, then getting bored immediately and putting it down again. I really need to buy some backup media and reformat already, but I'm afraid my Blood walkthrough will turn out to be another old game I'm not into enough to finish.

When gaming, do not force it.

While It's Fun

06 April, 2009

Keepalive: Watchmen, The Maw, Monsters vs. Aliens, Thief: Deadly Shadows

written on Sunday, April 5, 2009

A while back I played some demos and didn't write them up because I was busy with Heart of Evil stuff.

The Watchmen brawler seemed competently done. I didn't really care, though.

The Maw was surprisingly dull. The movie at the end of the demo made it look like there could be fun stuff to do later on, but without anything fun in the demo, I'm skeptical. And the morality of feeding every animal in sight to your gluttonous alien friend / pet was dubious at best.

Monsters vs. Aliens was also competently made and features brawling, shooting, puzzles, and obstacle course segments (pictured). But it's definitely targeted at a younger demographic. My assumption is that it would rock the socks off of elementary school kids.

After wasting some more time killing Templars in Assassin's Creed, I decided to go back to my favorite stealth game, Thief: Deadly Shadows. My understanding is most people prefer the earlier Thief games, but I tried them and didn't enjoy them.

So far I'm not having as much fun as I remember with Thief 3. But the early missions are pretty basic. Maybe I'll remember where the fun is when I've unlocked some abilities.

I'm at least able to say that the graphics tech in the game is just as nice as I remember it. They put a lot of work into making the textures appear to have a lot of detail and depth (using bump mapping, I think). When a guard walks around with a torch, stuff looks good.

(The following images are brightened about 70% for people with darker monitors.)

The way the torchlight hits the stone gives a sense of depth and detail where there aren't many polygons at all. And the mottled light coming in through the fancy windows provides some extra texture.

The effects on the guard with the torch work well. You can see the details on his armor and the folds of his clothes. You can also see the shine of the torchlight reflecting off of his armor. And he casts shadows on himself. You can see where his chest casts a shadow on his free arm, and most of his back leg is totally dark. Modern characters may have higher resolution textures and procedural animation that makes their movements more believable, but for a game that came out before the current generation of consoles, Thief 3's visuals hold up surprisingly well.

05 April, 2009

Postmortem: Heart of Evil Playthrough

written on Saturday, April 04, 2009

That playthrough seems like a long time ago. I suppose it was. I recorded so many sessions at once then uploaded them over days, then trickled them out as one a day blog posts over weeks. But despite the iron being cold, I'll strike anyway.

What Went Well
I finished it. For me, that's a rare thing.

Somebody cared. Ditto.

The technical stuff worked with a minimum of futzing. I probably spent the most time doing recording tests to set volume levels.

What Went Poorly
Rerecording meant I often thought I had talked about things I hadn't actually talked about.

Improvements For Next Time
If I have to end a take prematurely, I should make sure and write down the main things I covered so that I can make sure to say it all again next time.

I will write more posts as I record, possibly even lumping together movies I record on the same day. I'll get fewer "free" posts out of it, but that's probably a good thing. I feel like I've been neglecting the blog by simply scheduling a bunch of posts in advance.

04 April, 2009

Mandatory Assclownery (Assassin's Creed)

written on Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I spent some more time just messing around with Assassin's Creed. Much like Burnout, I appreciate the effort, even if I think the final product has significant problems. So I wanted to give the game more attention.

It was fun. This was surprising to me. In story mode, it always felt like I could never quite do what I wanted. I couldn't assassinate a target by throwing a knife from within a crowd. I couldn't always target who I wanted because the game was designed for analog sticks and not keyboard controls, et cetera.

But when I had no goals any more besides wandering around and messing with guards, I actually enjoyed myself. Sure, I'd still occasionally get stuck on stuff or encounter other little frustrations, but when there was no goal to fail, no progress to lose, and I just didn't care. I still say playing the campaign proper is a three. But fooling around and being a dork is a four.

So again, as with Burnout, I have made video contrition.

While leading the guards on merry chases around the city, I was reminded of the sped up chases on The Benny Hill Show. I looked up Assassin's Creed clips using the theme song from that show (Yakety Sax) and was profoundly disappointed. None of them captured the feel of the Benny Hill chases. So I killed two birds (my contrition and the lack of a proper Benny Hill style Assassin's Creed video on YouTube) with one stone by recording and uploading the following.

MediaFire Upload

You may remember that I initially said it was easier to just slaughter twenty guys than run away. That is obviously no longer the case. I've spent enough time messing around that I can toy with a rampaging herd of guards indefinitely. I retract my earlier statement about running away being broken. (I called it stealth, but it's really running away.)

It can be unreliable, and since I was using it when a fight was going poorly, it was unreliable enough to get me killed. But it's going too far to say it's flat out broken.

03 April, 2009

Game Journal / Review: Assassin's Creed

written on Sunday, March 29, 2009


Okay, so here's the main problem with the combat in Assassin's Creed. It's dull. You wait for someone to attack. You perform a counter. Repeat until victorious. Sure, you could attack, but the timing to break their defenses is a pain. Plus, they might counter, which you have no defense for. It's sad, really. In theory, I like the kind of close quarters dance of death combat they were shooting for. And once in a while I would get so bored I'd go on the offensive, get lucky with the timing, and the combat would actually seem cool. But then I'd fail the timing, get beat on, and be reminded that the game didn't want me to have fun.

The same thing would generally happen if I tried to evade pursuers. I'd get hung up on some tiny impediment or try to climb a wall only to stuck under an overhang I couldn't see from the ground. Those things wouldn't happen all the time, but they happened just enough to kill the mood. This was all the more sad because it was a good mood. Barreling down alleyways, knocking people over is cool. Hopping a low wall, zipping through a garden, then leaping up a pile of boxes to get onto a rooftop is cool. Jumping from rooftop to rooftop is cool. But then I fail to grab that ledge because I wasn't facing it exactly and can't change facing in the air, and all the progress I just made is wiped out by a glitch.

It happens a lot in games where the designer wants the player to have fun; the player wants to have fun, but they can't quite meet in the middle and just end up driving each other nuts.

And that's basically Assassin's Creed. It's a three out of five and a good deal at ten bucks. It sold crazy well for some reason, so hopefully the sequel will work the kinks out and streamline the rotten controls.

Case in Point: The Space Bar

Based on what you are doing, here are the functions of the space bar.
not moving or walking
Bow your head and pretend to be a monk. Guards are less likely to notice you. This is also how you sheathe your weapon.
Tap to do a long jump. Hold to sprint, run up walls, and jump off of ledges.
combat (offensive stance)
Take a quick step towards your opponent. In armed combat, the step can be followed with an attack that will push an opponents sword away if they are blocking.
combat (defensive stance)
If someone is attacking, you'll jump back. Otherwise you'll just stand there. And in unarmed combat you'll always just stand there because it doesn't work in unarmed combat. Why not? Who knows?
climbing If you're holding the run key, you'll jump off of what you're climbing. Otherwise you'll do nothing.
standing still and holding the run button
Hold to duck. Release to jump straight up.

Yeah. These controls aren't overly complicated at all. Don't even get me started on the shift key. :P

02 April, 2009

Game Journal: Assassin's Creed

written on Saturday, March 28, 2009


So stealth games always suck. They are always twitchy and buggy and ridiculous.

Case in Point: The Curb of Madness

If you step over this wall, everyone around you will gasp at your reckless disregard for your own safety. Seriously. They'll call you mad for stepping over a wall that doesn't even come up to your waist.

That in itself is not usually a problem. But if you do it in front of an enemy, the act of going over a tiny wall will make them flip out and attack you. Making people behave naturally is just plain hard. The Hitman series tried, failed, then sold enough units that they just left it broke. If you're near a body, even if a guard has no reason to suspect you, they'll flip out and attack you. If you're climbing a wall, they flip out. But if you're climbing a ladder, they don't. But if you're on a rooftop, they do. So why is it okay to be on a ladder when it's never okay to be on a roof top? Are there ladders that don't lead to rooftops? Where do they go? There are lots of little things like that which simply defy logic.

The controls are also a funky mess. I really should have remapped them early on. They just don't feel right. They map too many buttons to multiple functions (which vary based on context) and yet still require too many combinations of buttons to do certain actions. And the fact that they show up in a console button configuration in the UI doesn't help, either. You're showing me four buttons in a diamond configuration. Two of them are actually on my mouse. One of them is the shift key. And the other is the E key. This helpful UI is actually a hindrance to me getting my bearings, which especially sucks in a pinch.

And these are all my excuses for why I am one of the world's worst assassins.

An assassin should be surgical. This is not surgical. This is at least a dozen bodies strewn across the street. And if that's too scary to look at, just put your hand over the screen to block out this next one.

That's twenty bodies with more off screen. I'm in the last half of the game and there are so many patrols that every time I get in a fight, it seems like ten different guys jump in. I've tried to run away more, but it's generally proven easier to fight it out. When it's easier to kill 20 guys than run and hide, the stealth has failed. Especially when the combat isn't even that good.

More on that tomorrow.

01 April, 2009

Game Journal: Heart of Evil

written on Wednesday, March 25, 2009


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