23 September, 2011

Setting the Bar

written by Blain Newport on Friday, 23 September, 2011

We judge things based on expectations. If we're set up to expect great things and only get good things, we're let down. If we expect utter garbage and get something only sub standard, we're pleasantly surprised.

I was pleasantly surprised by Duke Nukem Forever.

Here is Duke in his own casino. There are statues of naked women in high heels all over. Aliens are attacking. Yeah. That's about right.

And that was enough. I'd heard such awful things about the game that the fact that it was mostly just a mediocre shooter made it seem like a wonderful experience. Sure, Duke's an idiot. Sure the game wastes way more effort on objectifying women than the original. But I shot an alien and he ragdolled nicely, which was more than I was expecting.

Shellshock 2: Blood Ties

There's a lot of trash on GameTap. Shellshock 2 is part of it. But knowing that going in, I was pleasantly surprised to discover a fairly playable Vietnam zombie shooter. Sure you couldn't hear any of the voice over. Sure the tiny maps and lack of variety made it feel like a PS2 era shooter. But I shot some guys with guns and blew some pieces off of some zombies, so it was okay.

Also this one guy had a killer moustache.

Dead Island

Speaking of taking parts off of zombies, I also spent some time in Dead Island multiplayer. It's always nicer having someone to watch your back and to chat with. In some ways, this defeats the mood the game is going for, but that's why I played through by myself first. Also, it turns out that the character I used for my first playthrough is

pretty popular.

18 September, 2011


written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 17 September, 2011

Dead Island

I've played some more Dead Island this week. But, much like Dead Rising 2 last year, it's devolved into a filler activity. When there's not much else I want to play, I murder more zombies. Also, I finally got stung by one of the game's many bugs. You expect a certain amount of odd behavior in open world games. It's just par for the course. But throwing weapons from outside a house at a monster inside a house made my weapons disappear. In a game where finding good weapons is a major, time consuming activity, that's unacceptable. And I crafted an explosive throwing weapon that never showed up in my inventory.

Given that I already beat the game on the up and up, I decided to just start duplicating weapons. If you throw a weapon and drop it at the same time, you get two copies. So whatever my best weapon is, I just make copies and never have to stress about losing weapons again. So I'm using a bug to rescue my experience from other bugs. Weird.

The Conduit 2

I really liked using the Wiimote in Metroid Prime 3. Unfortunately, The Conduit 2 only used it for shooting, and not as well, if my memory of MP3 is accurate. MP3 had a more aggressive lock on mechanic, used motion controls for more than shooting, and kept the environments simple. Those may be workarounds, crutches that adulterate the FPS experience, but they worked.

Also The Conduit 2 locked my favorite weapon from the demo I played at PAX 2010 (the shield gun which catches and accumulates bullets so you can throw them back all at once) behind a bunch of searching for secrets. I was hoping the game would have more interesting weapons like that, but it didn't, at least not that I found.

10 September, 2011

Dead Island

written by Blain Newport on Saturday, 10 September, 2011

Dead Island has pretty much taken over my gaming this week. It's first person melee against zombies. First person melee is never perfect, but Dead Island has taken the crown (from Zeno Clash or Dark Messiah of Might and Magic. I can't remember who had it last).

A major reason it works so much better here is because Dead Island is a horror game with zombies. This means the effects of your attacks are much more varied and surprising than in other melee games. There is blood spray. There are decapitations. You can break or sever limbs, which beyond crippling your opponent, nets you bonus experience so you level faster. I often found myself breaking a zombie's arm and knocking him over. They change how they get up based on which arm is broken, and waiting to see which arm a zombie puts its weight on so you can break both its arms for maximum XP is morbidly fascinating and makes these zombies feel so much more weighty and real than the paper mache hordes of Left 4 Dead.

But you often don't have the luxury of taking an enemy apart as it's easy to aggro additional zombies and suddenly need to switch from fight to flight, keeping the tension high. Tom Chick describes this dynamic better than I.

There is also a loot progression that will have you move from broom handles and kitchen knives to sledge hammers and katanas. There are guns in the game, but their primary virtue (aside from being helpful against the odd group of armed humans you have to fight) is that they can be sold for a good chuck of change to let you upgrade your melee weapons.

Dead Island definitely has flaws. The story and characters are as throwaway as most games and action movies. The PC version released on Steam was a funky developer build. It's taken multiple patches to get the networking functional. And there are occasional other glitches. One time stomping on a zombie's head bounced me so far into the air that I died when I hit the ground. Still, when this goes on sale, I will push everyone I want to play co-op with to pick up a copy so I can join them in co-op and murder all the zombies all over again.

(I thought about taking some screen shots, but it's zombies. If you play games, you've seen zombies.)

06 September, 2011

Post PAX Blahs

written by Blain Newport on Tuesday, 06 September, 2011

After PAX normal human gaming loses a bit of its luster for a week or two.

Saints Row 2

Ah PC gaming. I spent the better part of an hour troubleshooting why I couldn't join Morkath for some co-op. I opened a bunch of ports and nothing. I tried starting a new character. Nothing. He tried some fiddling on his end. Nothing. Eventually it turned out that I could never connect if his game required a password. To clarify, GameSpy is so terrible that it makes it so you can't connect to a game with a password, ever.

One of my favorite bits of the Borderlands 2 panel was during the Q&A. Gearbox CEO and co-founder Randy Pitchford was asked whether it would use GameSpy. He responded "What's GameSpy?" After the applause he was asked to elaborate. "We're past that." Gearbox is even retroactively patching GameSpy out of Borderlands. That's what a pain it is.

But enough whining. Morkath was playing without the crazy appearance slider part of the Gentlement of the Row mod. This made Hellboy go from this...

to this


Path of Exile

I finally tried the Path of Exile beta.

For the most part, it's Titan Quest. They've got a nice health mechanic where your health flasks store four or five charges which automatically replenish as you kill enemies. Unless you're wearing gear that heals you, flasks are the only way to recover health, so you have to manage it a bit (unless you're a pack rat like me and keep all your flasks topped off all the time). But I'd rather have to remember to heal once in a while than manage stacks of potions.

This is PoE's skill system. Keep in mind this is still beta. What you're seeing is a tiny part of the overall tree. I'd say it's probably sixteen screens (four by four) of this kind of graph. And since it mostly reuses icons, the player has to read each and every one to find out which abilities are which. Since some of the icons just say "temp" at this point, this will be improved.

What won't likely be improved (to my way of thinking) is accuracy as a stat. You can miss in PoE. To paraphrase Randy Pitchford, I'm past that. There's more than enough math to do in comparing loot and deciding which skills to get. You get one skill point a level, so having to spend even one point on accuracy is galling.

Maybe that's just me. The Diablo 3 beta that was at PAX 2009 worked the same way. But in my world only comic relief heroes should whiff this much.