30 June, 2009

Review: Zeno Clash

written on Monday, June 29, 2009

THIS REVIEW (or rather the picture section after the review) CONTAINS SPOILERS. DEAL WITH IT PINK BOY.

Let's get the reviewy stuff out of the way so we can get to the pictures, eh?

Zeno Clash is a decent game. The mechanics aren't so great, but once I turned down the difficulty, they worked well enough.

The nice thing is that when you don't have to listen to the lackluster (sometimes downright terrible) voice acting, the game creates a bizarre fantasy world the likes of which aren't often seen in games. It's borderline surrealist. And that's pretty awesome.

4 of 5

Now let's look at some art. (If you don't click through for the big versions you're depriving yourself.)

Here's the dream world where the guy who taught you some fighting moves takes you through the tutorial. You learn to fight by killing chickens.

Your AI companion isn't very useful, but she can't be killed either, so she makes decent window dressing as you fight off poison spitting dinosaurs with ram horns.

Fall colors or Dr. Seuss homage?

For such a small team, they certainly managed to put in a lot of detail.

I didn't capture the sense of scale. You come up to about the knee on these things. Check the outhouse strapped to the neck of the one furthest left.

Lumpy wants more rooster blood, but the bartender's cutting him(?) off.

In the dark world you fight off the metal mud men with a glowing jewel on a stick. The sky animates a bit too, to give an Aurora Borealis effect.

And finally, here's a landscape right out of The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Like I said, the fighting has rough edges. But the ideas and artwork are novel enough that I really enjoyed the game once I turned down the difficulty. Supposedly the developers are working on a longer game set in the same world, but more like an Action RPG where you can explore a bit more. I look forward to it.

29 June, 2009

Keepalive: Zeno Clash

written on Monday, June 29, 2009

This post was ten minutes late.

I'll probably finish the game in the next hour or two. But I didn't want to be late again. (Oops.) Plus I haven't been taking a lot of pictures lately, and I want to get a lot for the review because this game has a lot to look at. I'd be worried about spoilers, but if you didn't pick it up when it went on sale for $10, you probably aren't going to.

I'm reading the last of the Republic Commando books now. There's another book coming this fall, but it will be called Imperial Commando for obvious reasons. So far it feels like the books exist in a different universe. The first book starts immediately with events on Geonosis that aren't from the game. The second books makes a tiny mention of the Prosecutor mission. Basically the most important parts of the game barely get mentioned in the book and vice versa.

Part of that's the difference in the mediums. Books are about inner lives. Games are about blowing stuff up. And part of that is probably just the author not knowing or caring about the game. The author probably got some notes and had a short discussion with the game writer. I was in Boss' shoes, leading the squad. It's a thoroughly different level of investment.

28 June, 2009

Review: Dark Sector

written on Saturday, June 27, 2009

This post was an hour late.

I picked up Dark Sector for $10 on Steam at the same time I picked up Zeno Clash. And while Dark Sector is more of a mindless action game, that's what I was in the mood for. The main gimmick for the game is that you have a spiky whirly thing called a glaive (basically the thing from Krull) that you use to kill guys.

At first it feels like the game has a lot of potential to let you do fun stuff. You can huck your glaive at guys and keep shooting with your gun. You can pick up weapons and items with the glaive. And you can steer the glaive in mid air to do fancy wall bouncing attacks. You can charge the glaive with various elements to solve puzzles and kill guys in a larger variety of ways. But none of it's actually much fun.

A huge amount of it has to do with the controls. You can't cancel out of any animations, so it's easy to get stuck doing something that you didn't want to do. And the context sensitive actions sometimes flicker on and off, making it even easier to get stuck doing the wrong thing. I didn't die from it too much, but it made the game feel clunky.

The cover system also had some rough edges. The main problem was that it didn't work consistently. Some cover just didn't work, and cover that did work against normal firearms often wouldn't block shotguns very well. It didn't make much sense.

All in all Dark Sector was a mediocre action game. I see the promise of its ideas. Who wouldn't love to kill a guy with a giant blade thingy, grab his gun remotely, gun down his friends, then do it all over. But it never quite gave me the tools to make those types of scenarios feasible.

3 of 5

27 June, 2009

Keepalive: ArmA 2 Demo

written on Friday, June 26, 2009

I played a bit more of the Arma 2 demo. The server had turned down the AI so the jeep gunner couldn't kill us from a kilometer away without really trying. But while it made the game less challenging, it made for a better story.

I joined late. The was probably good for me as I probably would have joined the chopper crew otherwise. There was normally no chopper on this map, but people were learning the editor (or maybe just cheat codes) to give us one, and it was flying around, drawing a lot of fire by the time I entered the game. It took maybe two minutes for it to draw too much fire and crash.

That left me (a medic) and one other player (a sniper) alive on our team. I made rejoining the sniper, holed up in a shed overlooking the town, my priority. There was a lot of open terrain with a few scattered low walls, trees, and bushes between me and the sniper, but I caught a break. For no apparent reason, the AI thought it was more fun to stand around the crashed helicopter and pump extra rounds into it than resume their patrol. (AI bug?)

Our dead comrades became disembodied voices, black crows in the game, and told us when the enemy had finally gotten bored and were coming for us. The first wave was infantry. I watched some coming from a long way off, across the field I has just crossed. The sniper killed a couple coming up from town. The jeep tried to roll up on us from town, but I abandoned my watch to join the sniper in filling the occupants full of lead the instant they appeared. I'd been killed by that mounted machine gun too often.

There was more tension as the sniper ran down into town to secure the jeep and drive it back up. Too bad it had no ammo left from shooting the heli. :P We abandoned the shed and ran into town. The sniper found some elevation and called out the enemy IFV. It sucked, but I had to run back out to the shed under enemy fire to pick the anti-armor gun off a dead friendly that had been the sniper's previous backup. Fumbling with the inventory interface, which I had never used before, and having to do it twice because it didn't automatically grab ammo for the gun was an exercise in fear.

But I managed to make it back to the edge of town furthest from the enemy infantry without getting shot. Callooh! Callay! I loaded the weapon and looked for the IFV. According to the sniper, it had seen me and was heading toward the edge of town. I peeked around the corner of the house and almost got my head shot off. The IFV kept firing on my corner of the house, and in ArmA 2, high caliber rounds go right through walls. But the IFV's continuous fire gave me an opportunity. As it kept shooting, I booked it around the house the long way and managed to shoot it in the side faster than the turret could turn to murder me. It was scary.

The rest of the game was also scary. My sniper buddy got shot and it was just me and the ghosts. It all bleeds together: jumping fences, playing cat and mouse around houses, stealing weapons and ammo from enemy corpses, shooting guys in the streets and running up from the fields, and getting targets highlighted by the friendly black crows over their heads. In the end I probably killed a dozen bad guys.

Of course that probably only felt so exciting because my guts were freaking out as though we were on Normal difficulty when we were only on Recruit.

For good or ill, there won't be any more ArmA 2 stories for a while. The retail version came out only a day or two after the demo, so the Penny Arcade folks have upgraded. I'll probably buy it eventually, if there are still people playing after the price comes down. That's one of the strengths and weaknesses of multiplayer games. If enough people I know are buying it and having fun with it, the desire to be a part of the experience while it's new and fresh can get me to shell out more money than I otherwise would. But if the community has dried up, I won't buy it no matter how well made it is.

In many ways, AI hasn't come very far at all. It seems like the only choices in ArmA 2 are idiots who can't shoot straight or robots with perfect aim who see through anything. They try to flank you, given the chance, but for the most part AI seems like it can now do procedurally what Half-Life 1 did with waypoints and scripts over ten years ago. We haven't come very far in the last decade.

This is why I always laugh when people talk about how we're reaching the maximum computing power we'll ever need for games. They're always thinking about graphics looking "real" in perfectly posed screen shots. During actual gameplay there are always clipping and animation glitches that break the illusion. The original Red Faction let you deform the terrain. The new one lets you knock down buildings. We're still probably a console generation or two away from one that lets you believably do both. And that's just physics.

AI that can act and creatively navigate complex environments with interactive physics will probably take more computing power to run and more effort to design and implement than we'll see applied to gaming in my lifetime.

"Prove me wrong, kids! Prove me wrong!" ;)

26 June, 2009

Keepalive: ArmA 2 Demo

written on Thursday, June 25, 2009

I dinked around with PA folks on the ArmA 2 demo some today. Co-op was basically like it was in Joint Ops. The AI sees through foliage at incredible distances and shoots with ridiculous accuracy. This would probably be tolerable if there was respawning, and maybe there's a setting for it. But as it was, having to reload the map every four minutes or so wasn't much fun. Also, everyone just died. We technically had a medic, but no one ever got wounded. What's the point of that?

After co-op, we played some team deathmatch, which was better. It was super tense, since it only took a couple shots to kill you. So there would be a lot of sneaking around, sprinting across open areas, and quick deaths. It was good. I still wouldn't pay $50 for it, but it was nice to get the taste of it so I don't feel I'm really missing out.

25 June, 2009

Keepalive: Nothing

written on Wednesday, June 24, 2009

No gaming. I kept up on the PA boards, well, just the gaming board, really. I listened to some podcasts. I read some news. Mostly I didn't care.

I probably should. id software was bought by ZeniMax (the company that owns Fallout 3 devs Bethesda). The short version appears to be that id couldn't get publishing deals they liked any more. The big three publishers (EA, Ubisoft, and Activision) all make their own FPS games. Why would they want to put time and effort into promoting a game where they'd have to share the profits with the developers? I'm assuming that since ZeniMax is a smaller publisher that's pushing hard to make a name for itself (they recently flew a bunch of enthusiast press out to London specifically to point out that they publish more than Bethesda games), they were probably willing to give id better terms than anyone else would.

It's kind of sad. I enjoyed thinking of id as fiercely independent. Back in the early days of 3D, John Carmack frequently stood up to Microsoft and 3D accelerator makers to keep them from screwing gamers over with sloppy standards and implementations. The fact that id was privately held meant they also didn't have to answer to shareholders. It seemed part of a package. Now John Carmack has a boss, at least on paper. I think they'll give him a wide berth, but it's not the same. But business is not about my feelings.

The most important thing about id at this point is that their new engine runs on consoles. There may finally be something giving the Unreal Engine a run for its money, which can only benefit the industry at large.

But UE3 has a head start measured in years, so I don't expect gamers will feel any impact for half a decade or so.

I'm halfway through the Republic Commando books. Near the end of the second book, there were a few more threads than I cared about. I found myself trying to absorb facts rather than trying to really keep the story straight. Karen Traviss' habit of saying things obliquely, making the reader put together information through inference, didn't help. You know it's bad when you read something, are certain you didn't understand it, and just don't care. I soldier on.

Zeno Clash will be on sale for half price this weekend. I expect I'll have a review up within the week.

24 June, 2009

Keepalive: TimeSplitters: Future Perfect, ArmA

written on Tuesday, June 23, 2009

TimeSplitters made it's Co-op Tuesday debut. It's okay. But I don't think either of us were particularly taken with it. It was more fun to make jokes at the expense of Lego Batman.

Some Penny Arcade forumers are getting excited about ArmA 2 coming out. The ArmA games are pretty hardcore military simulation. Think Battlefield 2 for people who like talking in acronyms, accounting for wind when they shoot stuff, and dying a lot. Reading all the militaristic stuff in the Republic Commando books, it had a certain appeal. But I downloaded the demo, which largely broke me of that. Everything feels cumbersome and boring.

I'm sure it's more accurate, but realism in gaming has never been desirable. The impression of realism and actually "being there" is cool. But when your transport gets shot up and you have to spend minutes of your life that you'll never get back just walking, or when the person running the artillery doesn't really know how to run artillery and kills you by mistake, it becomes painfully apparent that reality blows.

The only thing that could make the game fun would be having a bunch of friends to play with. We could make up lewd marching songs and otherwise be ridiculous. But even in the rarefied air of the PA crowd, it's been pretty rare that I've found people who's company I would enjoy enough to spend five minutes sitting in a transport with them.

23 June, 2009

Keepalive: Spider-Man 2, 360 waverings

written on Monday, June 22, 2009

I felt like doing a little web slinging, but the game eventually hung, saying "the disc is unreadable". I took the disk out to look at it. It's in really good shape. The Xbox is probably dying.

Oh well. Easy come, easy go. This is in stark contrast to the PS2 which I replaced when it was only threatening to break down.

This week, for only $50 more than a PS2, I could have a 360. Wal-Mart is selling arcade units for $150 this week. I'm not a fan of Wal-Mart. And I'm not a fan of a 360 without a hard drive, but it's still very tempting.

Outside of that, I'm just reading Republic Commando books. Read, read, read. It's good for me, right?

22 June, 2009

Keepalive: Father's Day

written on Monday, June 22, 2009

No games got played today. I enjoyed Father's Day with the family.

Then I bought the rest of the Republic Commando books.

Then I watched a bunch of The Angry Video Game Nerd, who rants about bad old games. It was sad to hear him rant about Fester's Quest. It was a crappy game. But it was largely the same as the on foot portions of Blaster Master. So admitting it was bad feels like a slight to an old favorite. It's fair, though. The on foot portions of Blaster Master were the weakest part of the game. Will that game ever get a proper sequel / remake?

And somewhere in there I wrote up a post about what I'm looking forward to at PAX and took the first step towards organizing a Sacramento area pre-PAX gathering.

I also tried to look up some reviews for Ghostbusters on the Wii. It's the only version of the game with local co-op. The HD versions have online co-op, but the Wii version lets you co-op through the story, whereas the HD versions have separate co-op modes which don't interest me as much. The PC version has no multiplayer of any kind (but is cheaper). What a mess, eh? Anyway, I've heard that the Wii version, even with its simplified, cartoony graphics, may have frame rate issues and annoying controls. It's definitely a wait and see at this point.

Oh, and I ordered Super Mario Strikers: Charged, the Mario soccer game I enjoyed so much at PAX 2007. I kept waiting for it to have a good sale, then forgot about it completely, but thoughts of PAX brought it to mind again. It's still $50, so I bought a used copy. Way to price fix yourself out of my money, Nintendo. :)

I don't like the idea of a download only future where used copies won't exist anymore. I would never have paid $50 for Strikers. And I wouldn't pirate it, either. In a download only future, I'd have no way to ever play the game.

I'd like to think that eventually consumers will fight for and win the right of resale on downloaded digital goods. I'd like to think that eventually people in Congress will be replaced with younger people who can understand that right of first sale shouldn't have evaporated when distribution changed from discs to downloads. And while I'm at it I'd like a billion dollars and super powers. :P

21 June, 2009

Keepalive: Misc.

written on Saturday, June 20, 2009

Not too much game playing got done today. Instead, I finished the first Republic Commando book. It was good. I'll pick up the rest tomorrow. I would have picked them up tonight, but I was asked to play some Killing Floor / Left 4 Dead by a fellow Penny Arcade forumer. I enjoyed the Killing Floor. But the PA folks like to do "pub stomps" in L4D, and that's just lame. Four good players vs. four random players is just no fun. It'll be nice when they finally get proper matchmaking into the game so teams of four can take each other on.

Honestly, I just don't get why bad players play versus mode. All they do is quit again in a couple minutes anyway. Where's the fun in that? They'd probably have more fun playing co-op and killing bots. Maybe they don't realize they're bad.

Here's a public service message. If you never spend more than five minutes on a server before deciding everyone else sucks and you should be somewhere else...

It's not them.

It's you.

20 June, 2009

Keepalive: TimeSplitters: Future Perfect, Killing Floor, Shirt Stuff

written on Saturday, June 20, 2009

I finished the single player hard difficulty run through of TS:FP. There's an escort mission near the end that was a huge pain, but for the most part, it wasn't too bad.

My brother jumped online for some more Killing Floor. When you're in the middle of a hallway holding back a wave of monsters with your chain saw, and the guy next to you whacks a guy with their fire axe and everything goes slo-mo, that's awesome. When that guy is your brother, that's an extra level of "$*#^ YEAH!"

I'm halfway through the first Republic Commando book. I like the consistent reality of books. If the author makes you really curious about something, chances are they'll explain it later. It's so much nicer than normal reality, where you often go your entire life without ever knowing why things happened as they did.

I'm wondering about the wisdom of my shirt project though. I have this idea in my head about what a Republic Commando 2 game could be, but to be honest, I haven't even watched Episode 3. Maybe Order 66 (the order for the clones to turn on the Jedi) turned Delta Squad into jerks, and I really don't want to see any more of them. Personally, I wouldn't mind a game contradicting any prequel, but I also know it would never get made, and the game I want would be not just a fever dream, but a scary, crazy fever dream. I try to draw the line at scary, crazy. I'll ask Chris to bring Episode 3 by, and I'll read the rest of the books quickly.

19 June, 2009

Keepalive: Spider-Man 2, Republic Commando, TimeSplitters: Future Perfect

written on Thursday, June 18, 2009

I finished Spider-Man 2. After as much as I'd heard about it getting super repetitive, I was expecting it to be longer. I didn't really have a problem with the repetition. As long as I could web swing around the city and occasionally stop a random crime, I was happy.

The combat never got better. It actually got somewhat worse as the game introduces guys in robot suits to fight. They suck and are no fun. I really missed Hulk: UD's ability to perch on a bad guy and yank out wires. Having Spider-Man just run in a circle to stay behind a guy while occasionally getting off a combo was unrewarding.

And the boss fights were pretty mediocre as well.

3 of 5

I say that knowing I'll probably go back to it. But, like Just Cause, I'll only go back to traverse the environment because the activities therein are less fun than getting around / admiring the scenery.

I like to play games while listening to podcasts sometimes. According to some podcasters and forum posters, I am not alone. Mostly it's something fairly simple: a puzzle game, a retro game, or something simple to keep the hands busy. Some people use knitting the same way. I've been using Republic Commando. I've got the shirt project in progress, and I finally picked up the first book in the series, so I've got it on the brain.

The way I'm playing it is oddly casual. I'm lobbing grenades and giving orders like a grade school coach of a sport no one cares about. That's partly because I've got the volume turned down to listen to the podcasts. Nothing seems as immediate with the volume turned down. But it's also a strange combination of familiarity and infatuation. I'm admiring the feel of the weapons. I'm stopping to look at the particle effects. I'm taking in bits of the battle that occur in the background. Essentially, I'm soaking in it.

It feels especially self indulgent and like I should be ashamed somehow.

I still have to finish the story on hard, but I went back and finished all the arcade mode challenge league stuff in TS:FP. I did it to unlock more of the 150 total multiplayer characters the game offers. I'll never unlock them all as some of the challenges require large amounts of luck to get gold trophies in. And even the ones that don't aren't generally fun enough to bother with.

The TimeSplitter series has never really clicked for me. Perhaps it's because when the other kids were playing Goldeneye (made by the same team), I was playing DooM.

I respect the cartoon aesthetic the games go for. But the lack of detail / saturation makes it come off rather bland.

The shooting is smooth, but the weapons lack punch. They seem like nice ideas on paper, but they don't have that pleasantly crude feel that DooM's or even Ratchet & Clank's do. It's probably the sound effects. Sometimes the reloading sounds seem louder than the report of the weapon.

And the movement seems very fast for a console shooter. I enjoy that in DooM, but without the mouse it makes close quarters fighting difficult. There's also no head bob at all. Movement feels unnaturally smooth.

I'm justifying my inability to get into TimeSplitters because when I list out everything that's in the game, it's pretty fantastic.

- three dozen weapons from various time periods
- 150 characters for use in multiplayer including crazy stuff like a bear with a fez, the gingerbread man, and a guy with a box on his head who thinks he's a robot
- more multiplayer modes than Unreal Tournament with tweakable parameters (weapon choice, time limit, lives per player, etc.)
- eight player online
- bots for co-op multiplayer
- co-op campaign
- level editor

The game is copyright 2005 and there are many games coming out this year that won't measure up. John Davison recently talked about Red Faction: Guerrilla "overdelivering". And it seems an odd thing to say. Who doesn't want more? But sometimes it's just overwhelming. TimeSplitters has so many options that I can't imagine most people would ever try them. Heck, it took me a couple years just to come back and finish some of the challenges.

But there's just something about the game that screams generic, and all the bells and whistles in the world can't really save it from that.

3 of 5

I keep thinking it's the same thing that happened to Unreal Tournament, and is why UT3 sold so poorly (at least initially).

18 June, 2009

Keepalive: Shirt Stuff, TimeSplitters: Future Perfect

written on Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Thanks to the great work of the people at Font Forge (and whoever ported it to MinGW so I didn't have to figure out why it kept asking for a Cygwin DLL I didn't have), work on the OrbitBold Republic Commando interface font has begun. By only slightly tuning the nodes it auto creates, I think I'll be able to get the font looking passable. It won't be perfect. For that, I'd want to be able to move things numerically instead of by hand. I'm a little worried the imperfect symmetry will look bad blown up. We'll see. I have a month or so before I'm planning to put the order in at Printfection.

In anticipation of future co-op, I figured I should check out TimeSplitters: Future Perfect again. It's still simple fun. It looks good. The weapons feel good. Well, the shotgun is sad and weak beyond three meters, but I just don't use it. I'm going through the game on Hard this time. It's generally not too bad except when I hit a checkpoint with low health. It does lack pointers to objectives, so I get lost once in a while. But that's part of why I'm previewing it.

17 June, 2009

Keepalive: Lego Batman, Spider-Man 2

written on Tuesday, June 16, 2009

It's a co-op Tuesday, which means Lego Batman. I'd say the first half was pretty boring, but the second half was pretty decent. I previously unlocked all the levels so we could go back in Free Play. Free Play lets you switch between characters on the fly, using all of their special abilities. It's less frustrating because anything we can see, we know we have the tools to tackle. Still, it's probably time to start looking for something else. I'm thinking TimeSplitters: Future Perfect or The Warriors, but we never finished Cookies & Cream, and Fire Pro Wrestling is always good for some mayhem.

We also spent some time swinging around in Spider-Man 2. The worst part about the combat in that game is that by the late stages, normal guys on the street fight better than you do. They block all your punches and dodge web attacks. I've unlocked a bunch of new abilities, but when I can't land a first punch, I can't do anything cool after that. Nope. It's become a game about counter-attacks again. Let them take a swing, then wallop them with a spinning counter. That and dash punches. No one seems to learn how to block those. And it's sad because there's promise even in the lame combat system. The first time I hung a baddie up to a lamp post and played piñata, it was fabulous. But the game doesn't give you too many chances to play with your food. :(

I guess the main problem is that it introduces moves the same way Hulk: Ultimate Destruction does. You buy them. So it can never rely on you having bought certain moves, so there's no feeling of progression. I buy some moves, but if I don't need them, I don't tend to use them and forget them quickly. So then when I do need them, I have to sift through the complete move list. Sifting through lists is not fun.

I'm really curious why there are so many things in this game that feel just like Hulk: UD. Did Radical (developers of Hulk: UD) get ideas from Treyarch? It seems unlikely since Spider-Man 2 came out only a year before Hulk: UD. But perhaps Marvel was partly responsible for the similarities.

Regardless, web swinging is still enough fun that I'll stick with Spider-Man 2 for another day. (When you're chasing a getaway car and stick a landing on its roof from a web swing, it's a great feeling.)

16 June, 2009

Keepalive: Killing Floor, Spider-Man 2

written on Tuesday, June 16, 2009

My bro picked up Killing Floor, so we got on voice chat and killed some undead on a public server. While it didn't make me fall in love with Killing Floor all over again, the guns, gore, and slow motion madness remain satisfying.

It was interesting watching the behavior of the players. People joined very quickly once my brother and I jumped on an empty server. When we all died and the server went to the next map, everybody left. We quickly got new people in and it was a full server again. And often, when someone would die, they'd leave. We'd almost always have a new person in before we finished the round. Are we seeing revolving ragequitters? Most people weren't too talkative, so it was hard to tell.

A lot of people playing Prototype kept comparing it to Spider-Man 2. They're both free roaming super hero games set in New York. Spider-Man 2 is considered the gold standard for being able to freely move around like a super hero. But since Hulk: Ultimate Destruction was often acknowledged as the better game, I never bothered with Spider-Man 2. All the recent reminders in Prototype threads got me to pick up a used copy, and it's pretty cool. Web swinging never quite lets me go in the direction I want to. And wall jumping is pretty hard to control. But when it really works, it's pretty insane.

Leaping off a building, shooting a web to swing just above some traffic, and letting go of the web to fling yourself through the air is awesome. From what I've heard, subsequent Spider-Man games didn't do it as well, which is a shame, because with a better looking city and some extra graphical effects to improve the sense of speed, just moving around the city would be fun enough for many people to buy the game all over again.

The combat is repetitive and simplistic. And there are arbitrary "hero point" goals that have to be met to progress the story, so I have to do a lot of it. But honestly, I don't really mind. It's easy, and I get to swing around between fights.

The only real problem I have is that it's locked up a few times. I don't know if it's the code, or the media, or my hand me down Xbox showing its age. So far it's only happened during loading, which doesn't narrow it down, but makes me lean toward the media or the system. But I'm enjoying the game enough that it hasn't felt like a chore to make up lost progress yet, and for me, that's saying something.

15 June, 2009

Keepalive: The Specialists

written on Monday, June 15, 2009

After playing Action Half-Life 2, I decided to go back to an old favorite, The Specialists for Half-Life. The Action mods are grittier. You can get injured, which means you move slowly and bleed to death unless you make yourself completely vulnerable by bandaging. And diving is pretty much the only stunt. The Specialists was more flamboyant, with wall jumping, back flipping, and lots of glass an other destructible stuff. The Specialists also has a big role-playing community for some reason, and I'll you about a strange sociology experiment I ran on them later. But today I just checked out the DeathMatch servers.

For the most part, I got killed. The couple dozen people still playing the game are crazy good at it. Plus they have key binds that automatically pull off complicated moves. And at least one of them appeared to be outright cheating to move around the map faster than anyone else.

More importantly, they're not actually fun to play with. They use the most powerful moves (back kicks) and weapons, so everyone dies in seconds. No one evinces any sense of humor. Nobody uses voice. The closest thing to camaraderie is the occasional "nice shot" in text chat. It's basically playing with bots.

Part of me wants to bring this mod to a LAN party so that I can share the simple joys of leaping through a window and sliding across a floor while shooting dual Colt semi-automatic pistols at people.

14 June, 2009

PAX 2009: Small Shirt Demo

written on Sunday, June 14, 2009


First, this is technically not about gaming and doesn't belong in this blog. Sure, the subject of the shirt is gaming, and I'm making it to wear to a gaming convention, but it's not gaming. It's an art project. Still, I'm guessing this process will be more interesting to some of you than discussion of games I'm playing right now. If it's not, skip this post.

Second, a disclaimer. This is amateur design. With as much time as I've spent around web interfaces and mucking with GIMP and Photoshop, I haven't done anything approaching serious art since freshman year of high school, and I was bad at it back then.

Third, I hate everything I have ever done, am doing, and will ever do. If I don't hate it, it's done and needs to be released before I change my mind and hate it again.

This I still hate.


The front is based on the heads up display from Republic Commando. The borders are transparent. You can see by how they get brighter where they intersect. The text does not have a back reflection like the borders. This is accurate to the game interface, but looks rather odd in this design. I'm not fixing it.

For those not familiar with the game, these are the members of Delta Squad. You play as Boss (RC-1138). Your second in command and computer expert is Fixer (RC-1140). Your explosives expert is Scorch (RC-1262). And the fourth box stands empty to indicate the absence of Sev (RC-1207). The colors used for Fixer and Scorch are taken directly from the game. The color for boss is extrapolated from screen shots that show orange markings on his armor.

It may seem odd that there's so much empty space at the top. That's because I want the design to be in the middle of the shirt and Printfection's process starts pretty high up. I have the image files for other shirts I've made with them and am using those files and the shirts made from them to position the design.


The text on the back states the imperative of the game. It uses the red color which designates Sev in the game interface, brightened and saturated slightly to better offset the blue of the game logo. When the game ends you technically have at least one mission that you'll be required to do before going after Sev. But recovering Sev will be a primary emotional focus of the second game. Every time I read those words, part of me says "#*$& yeah we are. Just give the order, and get out of our way."

The fact that the game establishes that there will be at least one mission before a rescue attempt begins, and the way Sev was established as having some serious blood lust in the first game leads me to believe he was being set up to become an antagonist in the sequel. The phrase "going after" is meant to have two meanings. We're recovering him. We're hunting him. Also, the commandos may be coming to realize that the Empire are the bad guys and may decide to join Sev, which would add a third meaning. I can almost hear Scorch in my head. "I hate to say it, Boss, but the psycho's starting to make sense."

The large number two, floating between the name of the game and the imperial symbol in the background was made using a font called Anklepants. Some nice person on the internet (Ray Larabie) took the time to make a font based on the Republic Commando title. I've done a fairly amateurish job of giving it a bevel, some texture, and some splashing / scarring to make it look like the rest of the logo. It looks okay at this resolution, but I'll probably need to take another pass at it for the final version. Their texturing looks like splashing and charring and scraping, possibly a reference to the way the game shows cracks and blood on the player's face shield. My texturing looks like scribbles. :P

Most of the text also looks terrible, even at this small size. The only resource I've found for the "OrbitBold" font LucasArts created is an Unreal texture file. Because it's a bitmap, it looks terrible at larger sizes. I've downloaded a free font editing program and will teach myself how to use it to create a true type version of the font. It'll be more work than just massaging the text I need by hand, but it will scale perfectly and give me more flexibility to move stuff around. And it will be a cool thing to put on the net for others to use when I'm done with it. Plus I haven't done anything remotely technical in a long time, so it'll be good for my self esteem. :)

The positioning on the back is subject to change. Originally I wanted the text higher, to go between the shoulder blades. But then the logo would be warped, unless I separated the two with some blank space, which seems like it would make the back of the shirt feel sparse. I'll think about it some more. It may just be that no t-shirt hangs well on me. :P

13 June, 2009

Keepalive: Free Realms, PAX Shirt

written on XXXday, June XX, 2009

Free Realms launched on April 28th. I got an email from them (just because I created an account, not because I'm on anybody's press release list) announcing that a million people had registered on May 18th, twenty days later. The two million email came out on June 5, eighteen days after that. And I just saw an announcement that it's now hit three million, only seven days after that. I wondered after the first announcement if it was going to eclipse WoW eventually. It's accessible. It's got variety. It's well made. And it's free. If it even keeps close to this pace, it'll have more players inside of a year.

So what does that mean? I'm sorry, but I don't really know.

I've said for a while that core gamers are a niche. And whereas we used to be a niche because we played video games, we are becoming a niche because of the types of games we play. So it could be argued that Free Realms and the Wii are succeeding are succeeding by playing to the broader market. But it could also be argued that Free Realms is free. :)

Microsoft and Sony have always been making attempts to be more family friendly and get to the mainstream. With Free Realms, Sony appears to have a strong franchise to leverage in that space. They've already announced that they're going to put it on the PS3 as well. If Sony's rumored price cut in August includes a Free Realms bundle, maybe they'll be able to make some headway with the thing. Then again, bundling an online only title could be difficult. But if Sony is getting retailers to stock the "PSP go", which downloads all it's games, cutting retailers out of the profitable part of the game business, they can probably pull off a Free Realms bundle.

I'm working on my shirt for PAX 2009. It has occurred to me that while my previous design might have got me punched by people who didn't get it, my current design may get me punched by people who do get it.

For reference, (and because I still enjoy it) here's the old design.

Only one person on the streets of Seattle gave me any guff about it, but let it go when he saw the back. No one but gamers will even care about my new shirt.

It's about a game. It contains a major spoiler. And it is a tragic and hurtful lie.

I should get back to it. I should have a first pass at the artwork by my next blog entry.

12 June, 2009

Keepalive: Bully, Action Half-Life 2, Radiator 1-1: Polaris

written on Friday, June 12, 2009

I finished Bully again. I found a game breaking bug. The last location you have to go has two entrances. Apparently the developers forgot, though, because the sneakier one hangs at the loading screen. I also broke it by driving really fast in the go kart. I drove faster than the game could load and fell out of the world. In the game's defense, my PS2 is half a decade old, which is pretty amazing. The PS2 was the 360 of its generation. I'm actually going to retire it early for a new PS2 slim because there are certain types of discs only the older PS2 can read, so I should save it for those games.

Back to Bully, I also forgot about one mission where the main character declares his love for a girl in the game, she tells him there's trouble, he goes to take off, and she suddenly doesn't want him to go. It feels phonier than a used car salesman's profile on an internet dating site. It's kind of sad that I've gotten so used to ridiculous character turns that blocking them from my memory has become instinctive.

Bully is a perfect game. Who says it isn't? :)

I have similar blind spots with AHL2. The respawn system is terrible. No only will it frequently spawn you in the middle of firefights, it will also spawn you inside of other characters, forcing you to kill whoever you're stuck in to get free. It's lame. But when your diving into somebody's face with a double barreled sawed-off, all is forgiven.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun gave a pointer toward Radiator 1-1: Polaris. They compared it to Dear Esther, which was basically just a walk with lots of voice overs. Polaris actually gives you something to do, solving a simple astronomy puzzle. I was never into astronomy, so it was a learning experience. The story stuff was well done, but there's not really a plot or much characterization. I guess these arty games are supposed to be simple and short but have a profound message. I never seem to get it.

I think I've just been too trained to solve the problem and ignore the story. When the story is the point, I often feel like it should have been a short film instead.

I have a lot of blind spots.

11 June, 2009

Keepalive: Action Half-Life 2

written on Thursday, June 11, 2009

I played some Action Quake 2 a long time ago, over a 28.8kbps modem, so when I heard that a new version was out, I figured I'd take a look. (I skipped the Half-Life version entirely.) It's amazing how little has changed. Even the lag prediction still feels messed up. And the weirdest part is, I don't mind at all.

It's just simple, fast paced action. The main thing it adds to normal DeathMatch is the ability to dive. You press a button and go flying. The down side is that it takes a moment to get up, so if you don't kill your target while you're flying in, you're a sitting duck. But some people don't care, and that's fabulous. When you get four people in a loading dock all diving around and shooting like crazy, it's pretty awesome.

It's too bad so few people are playing it. I saw two populated servers. I had a lot of fun playing on them, but this time next week, it may not be possible to find a game. I wonder if The Specialists for the original Half-Life still has people playing.

10 June, 2009

Keepalive: Bully, Lego Batman

written on Tuesday, June 9, 2009

First a small disclaimer: There are other games I forgot to mention that I would like to see at PAX (Uncharted 2, Shadow Complex; others). But my memory isn't perfect, and that post was long enough as it was. If you watched the Just Cause 2 developer walkthrough, you probably got the best out of that post. :)

I'm approaching the end of Bully again. For me, the game has thoroughly held up. The only thing I really want from the game is more: more side missions, more characters to meet, more classes to take. But unlike Republic Commando, I don't see a Bully sequel as a slam dunk.

The game has a pretty self-contained story, very centered around the concept of being a Bully and the lessons learned from that. It's not literature, but it's focused enough that a sequel would either feel like it was treading the same ground, or didn't really fit the name.

Then there's the question of a lead character. Jimmy's story seems largely complete. But I think there's an investment in the supporting cast that could be expanded on. It's almost like I want to play a new character, living in Jimmy's shadow, but he's not around any more. The idea of seeing how the supporting cast developed and changed in the wake of the events of the first game appeals to me greatly. This also applies to the setting. There were elements of the setting (church, old folks home, dam, factories) that could be developed more, or could at least factor into the lives of fellow students enough that you'd have to go inside them. Plus there was a beach, and it seemed odd that very little happened there. No barbecue? No bonfire?

Okay, so now I can imagine an interesting sequel to a game I loved that I'll never see.


I made myself sad.


Tuesday night co-op was in effect again. Our MST3K-ing of Lego Batman continues. The level design is just so terrible. We've played games for decades, and we're just wandering around, trying to figure out if we're supposed to be going the way we're going, or if it leads to a special area only accessible in Free Play. Sometimes blasting some random trash can in the corner of the map is the only way to build something we need to progress. It would be maddening if we couldn't point and laugh and commiserate over how bad the Lego games have gotten.

See? Misery does love company.

09 June, 2009

PAX 2009: E3's Leftovers

written on Monday, June 8, 2009

It's not very glamorous, but much of what we see at PAX is simply the E3 demo, only a few months later. I don't mind. I'd rather developers worked on the games than cranking out a bunch of demos. Plus I can now look at the E3 coverage and pick what I want to see.

Bayonetta is a must. It's the creator of the original Devil May Cry making a new action game with a transforming protagonist, who happens to be female. The concept and early trailers seemed exploitative enough that I might pass on the whole thing. But subsequent gameplay trailers and enthusiast press comments make it seem not any worse than God Hand. We'll see.

What I've seen of God of War 3 is pushing different boundaries. There's disemboweling and slowly ripping a man's head from his shoulders. I've heard the combat's improved to the point where the game may finally step out of the shadow of DMC, but when I was watching the head ripping my impulse was to stop pushing the button and fail the event. Kratos, you've got huge knives chained to your wrists. If you need his head for something, just cut it off and be done with it. It used to be cartoon violence. Now it looks like real violence, and I suddenly find myself looking at Kratos with disgust.

That may sound weird considering I was recently enjoying the gore in Killing Floor, but those are monsters, and they don't suffer. The guy getting his head slowly ripped off suffers. Maybe he was really bad. Maybe I'll find out first hand.

Other games I'm interested in getting a look at:

Red Steel 2 - It's the only Wii Motion Plus game I'm interested in playing.

Lost Planet 2 - The original was a fun, if slightly cumbersome, action game. The sequel apparently features co-op giant monster hunting. Monster Hunter is a super huge franchise in Japan. If Capcom makes this a more action based take on that concept, (No grinding please.) it could be fun.

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories - It's a very different Wii take on the original Silent Hill, which was the only Silent Hill game I really enjoyed. They're trying a lot of changes to the formula. There is no combat, which on paper is great because Silent Hill combat sucks. But I'm not sure they can make a game out of running away. Also, the way the player answers some questions at the start determines what their monsters look like. I'm curious.

Scribblenauts - It's a game where you type in the name of an object, and it appears. Then you use the object to solve puzzles. I'm actually a little leery of the concept, but people have been going nuts about it at E3.

Finally, there are some games that may not make it to PAX that I would love to see.

Borderlands - It wasn't playable at E3, and it's supposed to be out in October. Gearbox is a small developer. I don't think they'll have time to polish a demo and still ship a good game when they're supposed to.

Brütal Legend - It's been playable, but it is also due in October, is from a fairly small dev, and is being tied up in court by Activision. I'll wait to hear more details about the legal battle before making a final judgment, but my gut says Activision is evil and must be destroyed... possibly by Kratos.

Heavy Rain - I don't know why, but I don't think Heavy Rain will be at PAX. But a lot of gamers are skeptical that an entire game based around Quick Time Events can work, so the game definitely has something to prove.

Just Cause 2 - You remember that video I posted of Just Cause 2? Well it's good that you don't because this one is so much better. It's ten minutes long, and it's worth watching the whole thing. But it's not out until 2010, so it won't be at PAX. I just wanted an excuse to post a link to that video. It makes it look like you get to be Spider-Man with a rocket launcher. Now it just needs co-op. :)

08 June, 2009

Review: New Super Mario Bros.

written on Sunday, June 7, 2009


New Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo, 2006) is a throwback. Sure, the graphics are 3D, but the gameplay is all 2D. Part of me says I should start discussing the game's merits and flaws, but all I can think of is how it's not as good as Super Mario 3 or Super Mario World. Of course those are flagship titles, system sellers. NSMB is portable. And it feels more like an homage to than a continuation of the 2D Mario games.

The main changes to the formula are added collectibles. Every level has three special coins to find. Some are easy to get to. Some are a huge pain. I can use them to unlock bonus levels and toad homes with power ups and extra lives. It also has the hidden worlds and levels of the older games, so there are plenty of secrets. And to me there's nothing more satisfying than clearing an especially difficult level and saving my game with a sense of accomplishment.

It's too bad the game doesn't let me do that. It's a portable game and it only lets me save when I clear a castle, and even then only the first time. This is seriously annoying and makes all the time between when I wanted to quit and when I can quit without losing all my progress annoying. There are probably dozens of perfectly good levels that I just wanted to end because of this design error. Plus I think now that I've beaten the main game, the only way to clear some of the bonus levels I skipped and save that progress would be to complete them, then finish the final castle again.

$*(# that.

The main mechanics also don't feel quite right. Sometimes I'll lose speed in the middle of a jump. Infrequently, I'll fail to jump entirely. Of course, the DS directional pad is worse than the NES one from 20 years ago, and the buttons aren't the best either so maybe it's the hardware. Regardless, it still feels good, but not great. But sometimes the difference is life and death, and that's frustrating.

For some reason the game has weird difficulty spikes. Some levels are super easy. I just breeze through and get all the secret coins, barely going out of my way. Some are a huge pain in the butt and it takes me a long time and many deaths to get all the secrets. I noticed no pattern to where these more difficult levels would occur, either. Sure, there were more of them as the game progressed, but even on the final world, there were some super easy levels and the worst level for me was back in world four. It just doesn't feel like the polish was fully applied.

Because of its faults and possibly because I'm just not that interested in the genre any more it gets a three

out of five.

I gotta go back and play the old Mario games again to see if I just don't like them any more.

Oh, and I almost forgot the spoilers. People who played the original SMB know that you beat Bowser at the end of every world. They put a bizarre and macabre spin on it in this game. You beat Bowser in the first world by dropping him into lava, just like in the original game. But instead of just disappearing he flails and screams and turns into a skeleton. When you meet him again his child revives his bones with dark magic. You fight skeletal Bowser and drop him from a great height so that he breaks in pieces. For the finale, the child throws the broken bones into a cauldron to resurrect a giant Bowser. For a world where death usually means disappearing or making a face and falling off of the screen, it feels pretty creepy and out of place. I think Nintendo got tired of Mario a long time ago.

07 June, 2009

Keepalive: Bully, New Super Mario Bros., PAX

written on Sunday, June 7, 2009

Mmmm. Seven hours late. Lazy Sunday.

The Bullying continues. I took boxing lessons. I now hit very hard. This is good because I'm fighting a lot of preppies lately, and they also know how to box. Luckily boxing skills don't help them against my leg sweep, kick to the groin combo. :P

I've been wandering around, running errands for people. The gym coach just sent me on a laundry run to the girls' dorm (a.k.a. panty raid). It's not as exciting as it sounds. Outside of one girl who wears pajamas (which are decidedly unsexy), all the girls in the dorm wear their street clothes at all times. The only main difference is that they freak out because I'm not supposed to be there. But sometimes there's a moment where they just act normally, and in that window I managed to get a nice long kiss in the middle of the hallway in full view of everybody. Plus the scary old hall monitor lady came down the hallway just as it was ending and chased me outside. It was perfect. :)

Sometimes I'm finding the way the game paces out content frustrating. There are some go kart races at the carnival and around town. But some of them are locked until I progress the story, so I can't finish them all and get my go kart, which would drastically reduce my travel time, and just generally be awesome because nobody else has a go kart. Neener neener neener, etc.

I checked the "stats" page for additional stuff to do. Long before there were achievements on Xbox Live, Rockstar Games (or rather DMA Design) had implemented stats pages which gave you a rundown of all the things you had and hadn't done in the game. I'd totally forgotten I could stuff kids into lockers until I saw "Kids Stuffed Into Lockers: 0" on my stats page. Yay! A new mission! Must stuff preppy in locker! Too bad they never go to class. :P

I never go to class either, which is another frustration. I would love to finish photography class to earn a color camera, but it's locked away behind story missions. Phooey.

I'm almost done with New Super Mario Bros. World 8 is a pain. In the other worlds I (mostly) enjoyed collecting all the hidden coins in a level, but in World 8, I'll be happy just to blow through the levels and call it done.

I bought my plane tickets for PAX. I suppose it's time to revisit my button designs and make whatever other preparations are needed. I suppose a new t-shirt is in order, as well. Hmmm. And I probably should have been paying more attention to what games were playable on the E3 show floor as many of those demos will be shipped to Seattle for PAX. I'll start working up a list.

06 June, 2009

Keepalive: Bully, Backup, Penumbra Steam Sale

written on Friday, June 5, 2009

I am playing Bully so slowly. I didn't even realize it before, but if I can completely forego the missions and just go to class and screw around. And that is pretty wonderful. In fact, I completed all the classes I could so that I could focus more on just messing around.

I discovered that I could get girls to like me well before their missions came up. And I finally gave someone a swirly, so I'm experiencing much more of the hooliganism than I did when I was just focused on missions.

Truthfully, I'm not much of a hooligan. I bully the bullies, mostly. If you try to pick on a wimp or a girl in my presence, your life is going to get very unpleasant very fast. And if you try to pick on Jimmy (the main character), you need your head examined.

I'm beginning to think the designers understood that some players would want to take their time. They added missions where a kid will run up and ask for help with something. I'm hoping those missions are just random and will help me extend my school life as long as I want.

The story's great, but so's school life. One of the nerds saw me being a jerk to someone and yelled out, "Is charisma your dump stat!?" That's priceless.

I've got a camera now and I can take pictures of everyone for the yearbook. It's weird how many people who'd otherwise hate me stop and wave if I'm pointing a camera at them. I need to remember to take pictures of the faculty and see what they do.

In other news, I finally got an external HDD to start backing up my system so I can reformat. That'll take a while, but it'll be nice when it's done.

Also, also, the Penumbra games are on sale on Steam this weekend. If you like horror that's more about the puzzles and atmosphere and less about combat, I highly recommend them. And at $5 for both games, it's really hard to go wrong.

05 June, 2009

Keepalive: Majora's Mask, Bully

written on Thursday, June 4, 2009

Yeah. This is no fun. The game gives me a bunch of clues to some tasks that I absolutely cannot do. I was trying to help this young couple who want to get married. But I can't actually do it without opening up an area I haven't been to, learning the warp ability, and obtaining a mask I've never even heard of. But it lets me go through the first nine steps of the event before it strands me with no clue about how to proceed. I may not know exactly where the line between offering me an environment to explore and wasting my time is, but I know which side this game is on.

I forgot how great the music in Bully is. It immediately gives a sense of subversiveness without being too serious.

I've already taken some classes so that I can make firecrackers and stink bombs in my room. I've robbed lockers like crazy to get some new clothes. A bully tried to push me around and I stuffed him in a trash can. It's great to be back.

04 June, 2009

Keepalive: Republic Commando, New Super Mario Bros., Majora's Mask

written on Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Republic Commando is still a great game. For some reason I'm playing the campaigns in reverse order, and it doesn't make much difference. It's amazing how much the fiction still works for me. I still want to know what their next mission was. I still want to know the fate of the character something happens to. (Vague enough?) I don't think Karen Traviss' Republic Commando books directly deal with the characters from the game, but I'm almost tempted to pick them up just to read something vaguely related. Is it sadder that the game won't get a sequel, or that I won't shut up about how badly it needs one? :P

Some day I'm going to do a video playthrough, just to make all of you as attached to the fiction and characters as I am. Misery loves company.

I finally got over the screen being too small and picked up New Super Mario Bros. again. Now I'm annoyed at the save system. It's a portable game, but it only saves when I clear the two castles at the middle and end of a "world". It's unpleasant.

The game itself is Mario. It's got some differences from Mario 3 and Mario World, but I would say it's definitely a lesser game thus far. That still makes it good, but I'm old and crusty and need to complain about how much worse things are today than they were in my day. :)

Majora's Mask was the second Zelda game on the N64. It recently came out on the Virtual Console for the Wii, reminding me I hadn't played it. I honestly didn't care for Ocarina of Time very much, but I'm finding Majora's Mask a little more interesting. It's kind of like Zelda combined with Groundhog Day. I keep living the same three days over and over. Every time my bombs, arrows, and other items get reset to zero. There's a magical bank I can stash my money in so I don't lose it, but it's still strange. Also, I can fix people's problems for them, but everything's broken again when I start over.

Some folks have found that discouraging. So far I don't mind. I don't ever imagine I'll try to plan out the "perfect" three days where I run all over and fix everyone's problems. I'm not even sure the game supports that.

The only problem I have is that it's sometimes pretty difficult to figure out what I'm supposed to be doing. There's a book where I write down who needs help, but it doesn't seem to give me enough to go on. I've already resorted to a FAQ once to figure out how to deal with an obstructing boulder. I'll try and stay away from it if I can. It's more interesting to discover things myself. But if there's one thing worse than grinding, it's aimless wandering.

03 June, 2009

E3 2009: Nintendo and Sony Press Conferences

written on Tuesday, June 2, 2009

I heard in the PA chat that the Nintendo press conference was a horrible failure. But they announced New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Super Mario Galaxy 2, and a 2D / 3D Metroid sequel from Team Ninja (formerly the Dead or Alive and Ninja Gaiden developers). Sure, only the first one will actually be out this year... :P

Sony's press conference was also called a horrible failure, but I'm not so sure. They announced that Final Fantasy 14 (13 isn't even out yet) will be an MMO exclusive to the PS3. Also Rockstar North will be developing some game called Agent exclusively for the PS3. Plus there's the Team Ico game, God of War 3, and Uncharted 2. Only Uncharted 2 will be out this year, but it seems like Sony finally realized that exclusive games matter. I wonder how much they spent.

Everyone has motion controls / upgrades now. Nintendo has Motion Plus coming out this summer. Microsoft and Sony have both announced their competing solutions. Microsoft has stereo cameras with voice recognition so you don't need a controller. Sony has a prototype wand controller that's basically a Wiimote. Both look like they've got a ways to go before becoming commercial products. Plus no price cut was announced for the PS3, so even if their solution was perfect and shipped yesterday, who would care?

Moreover, I have no faith that developers will use these devices well. They've had years to develop anything interesting using the Wiimote and largely failed. I think they're too set in their ways.

That's it for the press conferences. Now it's an avalanche of individual press outlets getting their hands on every game at the show in no particular order. I'll mostly just wait for the podcasts to start listening to what people thought really stood out. By and large, I was pretty amazed at how little everyone had to show that was actually coming out this year. 2010 sounds far more interesting than 2009.

02 June, 2009

E3 2009: Just Cause 2, Left 4 Dead 2, Microsoft Conference

written on Monday, May 1, 2009

A lot of trailers came out just before E3, trying to be heard above the din of the actual event. But apparently they waited for the day of to release the Just Cause 2 trailer. While not as completely insane as Neo Contra, the game is delightfully absurd. There's plenty of vehicle hijacking, parachuting, and stuff blowing up. It brought a smile to my face.

Valve announced a sequel to Left 4 Dead, due out this year. That seems awfully quick, especially for Valve. Also, the Rock Paper Shotgun preview has some interesting tidbits. I'm most interested in the pacing changes.

The old game had Crescendo events where you had to hunker down and survive an onslaught. L4D2 (R2D2's brother?) now has Gauntlet events where zombies only come from one direction, but it's exactly where you need to go. (Insert salmon analogy here.) And the director can now change the layout of certain parts of the level. That could be nice. Although historically, randomly generated levels have always felt randomly generated. :P

Microsoft made their standard play for the Wii demographic. They've got a motion sensing camera now. They're adding internet radio, improving their Netflix capabilities a bit, and adding Facebook and Twitter support, allowing people to post screen shots from new games that bother to support it. I've seen Microsoft make this play so many times, part of me wants them to succeed just so they'll give it a bit of a rest. They wouldn't of course. E3 is the only gaming event mainstream media even knows about, so it's where announcements for broader audiences get made.

It's probably also worth mentioning that they're planning to have digital distribution of full games starting in August. All the initial titles are over a year old, so retailers shouldn't instantly revolt. It looks like the next logical step.

Oh, and Red Steel 2 looks promising. I am tentatively pleased. :)

01 June, 2009

Keepalive: Neo Contra, Aliens vs Predator 2, Republic Commando, E3

written on Monday, June 1, 2009

This entry was an hour and fifteen minutes late.

After playing The Red Star, I wanted to confirm my preference for Neo Contra. And yes, it is far superior. What's more, I'd forgotten how deliciously insane the game is. The cut scenes involve impossible acrobatics. And the game involves ridiculous situations, like fighting from on top of the spinning blades of a helicopter. I think the style of the game was originally a send up of 80s action movies, but somehow became so much more ridiculous they became send ups of themselves.

I still haven't managed to do well enough to get the best ending yet, but so far the first bad ending is the best one anyway. The bad guy destroys the planet. How awesome is that?

Okay. It's kind of horrifying out of context. But in the context of the completely over the top nature of the game, I found it highly awesome.

Aliens vs Predator 2 is a classic that hasn't aged well. It's mostly that the enemy AI is super simple and the environments are super plain. It all feels a little empty. There was a story about a sequel, being worked on by the same team that did the original that's fairly exciting. I don't know why that game and Gearbox's Colonial Marines game were being worked on side by side. With no Aliens movie in the works, that seems pretty strange. I just hope both games eventually come out and are good.

I'm a gamer. I'm greedy that way.

Republic Commando doesn't show its age quite as badly (which makes sense because it's not as old). But it always makes me sad the game has no co-op / sequel with co-op when I play it. Unfortunately, LucasArts fired their entire development staff. Maybe the former employees will get together as freelancers and be allowed to do the sequel as a contracting firm.

Yeah. And maybe I'm a Chinese jet pilot.

E3 is underway. Supposedly the major publishers have held on to some big announcements, so it shouldn't be the non-event it was last year. Plus they're letting in more people to raise the spectacle quotient again. I think I may actually care this year. We'll see.