27 May, 2012

Pretty Brainless

written by Blain Newport on Thursday, 24 May, 2012

Last week we had the simulated pretties with Assassin's Creed 2. This week we have imaginary pretties with Avatar.

Even on my older computer, the foliage looks pretty good. And if I was playing the game in 3D, that plant on the right would probably stick out and give the scene a lot of depth. But that's a double edged sword because while other games would make that tree transparent so that I could still see my character, enemies, etc. Avatar will let you block the camera with it, even if you're in 2D mode. :P

But there's more to Avatar than just pretty graphics. There's also weighty moral choice.

If you shoot the guy on the left, you're friends with the guy on the right, and vice versa. That's weighty, isn't it?

I suppose this would make the game replayable at least once so that you could see the different outcomes. But the tasks in the game are so repetitive that even a single playthrough was more than I was interested in. Meh. It was pretty and as part of my expiring GameTap subscription I feel like I didn't pay anything for it, per se.

20 May, 2012

Brick Killed A Guy

written by Blain Newport on Saturday, 19 May, 2012

I'd heard that Assassin's Creed 2 fixed many of the initial game's problems, so I gave it a whirl this week. For me the game was an improvement, but still felt very repetitive.

Maybe I'm just burned out, but the traversal and combat felt even duller than I remember them. I would let out a groan every time my next mission objective was halfway across the map because that meant another few minutes of my life wasted. Supposedly you need to stay on your toes so the guards don't attack you and so you can spot hidden treasure, but the guards are never a serious problem and I had over a quarter million excess florins by the end of the game.

The charms of the story were similarly lost on me. The characters felt lifeless enough that I didn't care what they were going through or want to piece together any of the silly sci-fi conspiracy surrounding them.

For me the star of the game was the setting. I was fortunate enough to get to visit some of the game's locations some years ago. Here are a couple comparison shots.

This is the Duomo of Florence, the city's largest cathedral. There's a tower next to the cathedral, which is where this picture was taken from.

Here's a similar picture from higher up inside the game's version of the tower. They didn't model the interior all the way down. The cathedral looks similar enough to give the right impression, I think.

Here's the game's ground level view of the tower and the cathedral. The bench the player is sitting on isn't actually there in real life. In fact, I think he'd be sitting in the middle of the street in real life.

As you can see, if the player is sitting basically in front of the tower, where he's sitting should be empty space. There are a lot of reasons you can't have that in a video game. For one thing, that much open space is uninteresting from a gameplay perspective. If the guards are chasing you, there's not much to do with a big open space except run. Also, big open spaces mean drawing a lot of buildings at once, which can be a performance problem.

That said, I missed the Baptistery, the smaller building that sits in front of the cathedral in real life. It predates the cathedral by two hundred years and has amazing bronze doors by Lorenzo Ghiberti that Michelangelo said were suitable to be the gates of paradise. I was told that Michelangelo wept when he saw them for the first time. I suppose the developers had their reasons for not including the Baptistery. But I remembered those doors from my trip and was looking forward to seeing them. I mean, they're pretty awesome.

13 May, 2012

A Tumbleweed Rolls By

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 13 May, 2012

Real Life has been taking precedence over gaming. I still game a bit socially. But that's hanging out with friends time, not thinking about games time. But even though I don't have first hand experiences to tell you about, I can point you towards an experience worth sharing.

Arma 2 is a military simulation more than a game. So when users modified it to make a zombie simulation, it became something strange and wonderful. I recommend checking out part two of this video series. The whole thing is pretty great, really. My favorite line is probably "He's Russian, but he's not that Russian." :D

07 May, 2012

Still With the Crickets Mostly

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 6 May, 2012

I played some Phantom Dust. It's still good. And replaying old missions lets me experiment with different decks and buy new cards at the same time.

I played through the entire first chapter of They Hunger. I recorded it. But it wasn't good, which is probably equal parts me and the mod. Neither of us have aged well. :)

They Hunger spends a lot of time forcing you to kill zombies with what is effectively the Half-Life 1 crowbar. It's tedious. But once you get a gun, it's mostly trivial. Then they add zombie police with pistols which are difficult to kill without taking damage unless you encounter them at range and have ammo for your sniper rifle, in which case they're trivial. There are a few decent set pieces, but nothing that leaves much of an impression. I have no idea how I'll make this not suck, but I can't put it off any longer.