October 30, 2009

Sea of Sand

I'm going to talk about a troubling game trend today... I'm certainly not as bothered by it as SOME, but is it getting a little out of control. I am speaking of the sandbox game genre. Perhaps it's not even right to call it a genre anymore... it's a label of sorts that can be applied to anything. Then again, with all the genre bending going on (FPSRPGs, First Person Platformers, Action/Adventure/TPS...) I suppose it's as qualified to be a genre as anything. So I'll stick with calling it a genre, one that has become overpopulated.

I enjoy sandbox games a great deal. Grand Theft Auto, Prototype, Saint's Row, Spiderman 2, Red Faction Guerilla... it's a genre that can be applied to other genres, and with great effectiveness. It's a simple fact of reality that you can, in fact, wander around the world and do different things. It's a way to make games more immersive, and more interesting. It's a concept that actually been around for a long time- pretty much every RPG has a "sandbox" environment, more or less- but now it's really taking over. And you know? Maybe not as much as some people, but I think we're overdoing it. There are places where free roaming is either not fun or not in line with the story. Frequently, sandbox games will let you wander away in the middle of a task- at the end of a mission, you've cornered the bad guy, and now you need to actually fight him in the middle of his stronghold... only you don't, because you've wandered off to blow up some cars and punch random people. It impedes the experience.

Grand Theft Auto IV, even with its flaws (though they are few), is the perfect example of sandbox done right. Everything that happens, every mission, every job, is a self-contained event that adds to the overall plot. When you stop in the middle of a job, it's because you HAVE to- you're waiting for a response from a contact, or for your car to come out of the shop, or whatever. The pauses in action are always logical. Contrast this with, say, Prototype, where there is a mission where you pump toxic gas underground to draw out a monster, and fight to defend the pump... and just as the monster is about to show, the mission ends, so that you can go rip some chick in half and dropkick a tank or whatever before you choose to let the fight start. It's a very rough continuity break.

And then, of course, are games where the sandbox style has no place. If there was ever a sandbox Resident Evil, I think I would cry. Likewise, if a Mario Kart game ever had an overworld, and you had to drive to your next race, and jack a kart, I would be furious. There is a time and a place... and we're starting to go too far. Control yerselves, developers. If nothing else, mess with your game so that it fits. Don't think you can add freeroaming gameplay without changing the structure of your game.

Genres, as set as they are, are starting to blur. Developers are taking the best parts of other genres, and infusing their own games with them. This is absolutely a good thing. But we need to give this limits, or else you end up with abominations like Dirge of Cerberus.

October 29, 2009

Stop What You Are Doing

It's Thursday, so it's time for the continuation of yesterday's post, as promised. Today, we're going to do three pieces of particularly powerful music from Western games, to contrast the three Eastern pieces we did yesterday. I gotta admit... it was trickier than I'd thought. Western developers don't put nearly as much stock in original scores for games, and that makes it much harder.

Let's start with 4000 Degrees Kelvin (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=33jk7MXZJeU) from Portal. Obviously, it's not the one song from Portal that everyone freaked out about... but that song, though good, is both overdone, and not really evocative of any particular emotion. 4000 Degrees Kelvin, though, which kicks in just as you take the game "off the rails" and start actively defining GlaDoS, the psychotic AI, punches with pounding electronic beats that inspire panic and fear. It's partially the power of the moment and partially that of the music, but when it kicks in for the first time, nearly everyone I've spoken to admits that it gave them shivers. It perfectly captures the moment where you realize the slightly demented, uncaring computer that has guided you thus far is more than just uncaring... it's completely insane and trying to murder you. A very creepy part of the game, and it's represented very well in this song.

Next, we have Something Beautiful (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wp1WY2ldjxE) from Mirror's Edge. It's a much more calm song than... well, really, all the past entries from both posts. Again, though, the really impressive thing is how perfectly it symbolizes the game it was made for. The soothing, simple synthesized sounds match perfectly with the futuristic dystopic setting, where everything is clean and simple... and the emotion of the song is very fitting for Faith, the game's lead- a character who is faced with misfortune after misfortune, but is content that things will work out as long as she keeps running. A melancholic song with an underlying theme of hope. Very nice.

And to wrap it all up... I'm picking the uninventively titled Max Payne's Theme (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wGvwmZmFi0w though that one kinda cuts off abruptly) from Max Payne 2. Note, that's TWO- the song is the same in the first for the most part, but for the second, they rescored it on violin... and man was that a good call. The one from the first was just a nice film-noir style dark song, quite fitting of New York, without really saying much about the game. The violin, though... it's almost a copout. Anything played with a violin gets +5 to emotional power automatically. The once dark and, for lack of a better word, badass tones of the first give way to the bittersweet sound of the violin, singing of Max's poor luck, how he somehow always makes the wrong choices, and ends up in the worst situations. It's the weakest link on this list, I admit it, but it's still an amazing song.

Notable omissions? ANYTHING with a fake Latin choir (Final Fantasy, God of War, I'm looking at you), any game that takes an existing licensed song (almost all Western games, sadly), and... oh! Dammit! I meant to put Godot's Theme from Phoenix Wright 3: Trials and Tribulations! Dammit! Well, that's a good song too, look it up. It speaks a lot about the character, and the character's a badass anyway.

Maybe I'll do a retro one- there are some pretty amazing SNES titles that I didn't include, for instance.

October 28, 2009

Beyond the Bounds

Alright, that last post was a break from form- only discussed it because that shit was really bothering me. Back to more regular game commentary.

So, one of the things you hear said is that smell is the sense most directly connected to memory. My sense of smell has always been complete shit, I can hardly smell a damn thing, so that's never really clicked with me. Fortunately, that doesn't hinder my discussion of games, as games, obviously, have no scents, except perhaps that new manual smell. So for me, and I suspect many others, the one sense that I connect to video game memories is sound. Sure, if I see a picture of Mario or something, it makes me think fondly of the games for a moment, but when I hear the Chrono Trigger main theme, it's overwhelming. That's a game that I have a lot of history with, and hearing the song fills me with a rush of pride and sadness and so many memories of the game. Call me a wuss or whatever, but when songs that I feel particularly connected with catch me offguard, it affects me pretty powerfully.

And so I thought for this post I would discuss games that not only had particularly good musical scores in my mind, but ones that are unique and emotional enough to really get me going. I'll do five titles, with specific songs in mind for each. It's going to be mostly Japanese developed games, and this is no coincedence- Japanese game developers are more interested and comfortable with making games about emotion. But that's another post in itself, one I don't think I'll write, as I'm not really smart enough to be an authority on that. I did enough cultural analysis (and proved my incompetence at it) for a year with that last post.

First off, we have Time's Scar (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IhfvhYkrCW0), the main song of Chrono Cross. Okay. Honesty time. This song makes me tear up. Not cry, but my eyes water. It's just such a powerful song... the music rising and falling with emotion that lyrics could never match. Chrono Cross, actually, is a game I never got very far in (and will probably pick back up because of this post) due to its pedigree- I came in expecting the sequel to Chrono Trigger, and it is in fact a very different game. Not a bad game, just not what I expected. Personally, I find it easier to sense and connect with the emotion in instrumentals than in vocal tracks- music is universal, free of language and connotation. It is to my mind one of the purest forms of communication. Time's Scar speaks of beauty, of chaos, and getting lost in the flow of things. How appropriate for a game about the chaos of existence.

The second, as the title of this post would suggest, is Beyond the Bounds (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UePTTAn1FMY) from Zone of Enders 2. It brings back a lot of memories, of course, but unlike like Time's Scar, it isn't so much a concentration of the emotional theme of the game. It speaks a little of the game's theme, but mostly it's just a very beautiful song that fits the game's style perfectly. It's much less chaotic than Time's Scar, which is a constant crescendoing and dimiumendoing, but ZoE 2 is a much more static game- the main character, as opposed to being faced with the denial of his own existence, is confronting the demons of his past, and making new allies, while skirting the edge of death. Hardly a simple story... but what game that takes its story seriously IS simple?

To Zanarkand (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xdGXybo_joI) is one you had to know would be on here. This one... actually did make me cry. It's just a simple little piano song... but it speaks so powerfully of crushed hope, of despair, of loss... of sadness. I actually have made non-gamers cry with this song too. It's an incredible song... amazingly beautiful and emotional.

Actually, you know what? Change of plans. I'm posting this today, on Wednesday. Three Japanese songs with some amazing emotional power, not incidentally from amazing games. Tomorrow, Thursday, I will post three Western songs from Western games. Partially, I say this because that's the greater challenge- I already know at least one I'll use, but finding emotional Western music is a challenge. If I was just finding badass tracks, that would be easier. But for now, here are these three, which I encourage you to listen to either before or while you read about them if you haven't... or even if you had. They deserve a second listen.

October 27, 2009

Crossing a Line

Kiddies, be ye warned- in addition to my usual foulmouthedness, I'm going to talk about some adult topics here. Seriously, unless you're mature enough to argue about this stuff in an intellectual way, you won't enjoy this post. That is all.

So, there was a post over at Kotaku- a gaming news blog that I frequent, and in fact comment on quite often (user name Dangeresque over there)- featuring a piece of an interview from the executive producer of Ar Tonelico III. I played the first Ar Tonelico, and actually enjoyed it quite a bit. It's a pretty generic JRPG, and for the most part pretty unimaginative, but it has a very interesting concept- your mages don't level in the tradition sense, by gaining exp. Instead, the only way to make them stronger is by getting into their heads, and helping them overcome mental issues and weaknesses. It's pretty sloppily done, but the concept was neat enough to keep me interested. I didn't play the second, had been planning to at some point, and when the third was announced, I decided to keep a hopeful eye on it.

The first title had an annoying amount of sexual innuendo and fan service- it distracted from the game to the point of being a whole feature unto itself, a feature I didn't much care for. I figured that since it was a no-name RPG, they did it to try to get a little attention, and wouldn't need to bother with it in the future so much, once they were established. Then I read this article. In it, the man introduces a new feature for the mages in three- stripping. No, seriously. In the third title, you make your spells more powerful by taking off your clothes. They come up with some stupid excuse that it has to do with having more skin exposed to the air to absorb magic with, but we all know that is bullshit.

First off, let's establish why that is bullshit, just in case someone agrees. Point one- the characters don't get naked, they just adopt more suggestive attire. If you're about to die, and getting naked would make the spell more powerful, powerful enough to let you live... these characters would do it. It's human nature, we have a powerful will to live. Point two- they don't start off in skimpy outfits, they strip as they power the spell along. Why wouldn't you just wear something unsuggestive that reveals a fair bit of skin from the start? Like, shorts and a tank top. That's accepted attire, and by your own system, would give you a lot of power. But no, you have characters in knee-high socks and longsleeve dresses. Come on. And point three... even when they're stripping down, they're not really. The example picture they gave us, which will be used in game, has a girl taking off her skirt to display her panty and garter set beneath. First off, that's an outfit that is pretty much exclusively used to seduce, so unless your spells also get more powerful when you get raped, that's pretty impractical. And second, that actually doesn't reveal that much more skin. Just having regular panties would leave your whole legs exposed. That would be more powerful than the extra effort of stripping down to a seductive outfit in front of someone who is trying to kill you.

So yeah, it's pretty obvious to all I think that this is purely fan service. In fact, this goes beyond fan service... I don't really know the terms, but it's basically a clumsily done cocktease. It's bordering on porn, but in the creepiest, most roundabout way. I've studied Japanese language and culture for years now and it still manages to surprise me how messed up they can be. I have the utmost respect for some of the creativity they bring to the world, but whether it's a result of that creativity, or something else, the creepy extremes that they accept in their media and culture are deeply disturbing. I won't cite any examples, I think we all know the kind of stuff I'm talking about.

So to my mind, there is first the unfortunate fact that a series I was interested in is now pretty much irredeemable. It's too far gone. I'll be avoiding the third, and now I don't intend to play the second either, knowing the direction that the creators are headed in. But beyond that, there is the weirdness of how they are trying to subtly/not-so-subtly sexualize an ordinary game. In America, our video game ladies often have big boobs, and sometimes flirt a fair bit, or have some suggestive animations... but we don't have extended sequences of them naked in the bath, or of them eating a banana in a particularly intense way (of COURSE it's not suggesting anything!). We have porn, we have regular content, and we have content that has mature themes and nothing more. Not to overgeneralize, though I'm sure I am, but Japanese game developers seem content to run the whole gauntlet. They have porn, regular content, and content with mature themes as well, but they also seem to enjoy getting as close to showing porn as they can without getting the rating that would entail, and that creeps me out.

I know this post is pretty overgeneralizing, and I apologize for the crudeness of my argument. I am making my point badly, and making some very unfair assumptions. But can't we agree, at least, that this feature is wrong, and that it suggests a deeper problem with Japanese culture that they think it's totally fine?

EDIT: Oh bullshit! I posted this Monday! Eff you, Blogger.

October 25, 2009

Onward, Toward Oblivion

Okay. So me and the Elder Scrolls series have a nasty history. I picked up Morrowind when they released the pack that had it and its two expansions, after rave reviews and heaps of praise from the masses. That game makes my list of Top Five Most Hated Games (that I've played- obviously, there are some titles where the very concept disgusted me, so I didn't try em). I hated the muddly, brown swamp look of the world, hated the enemies that would ambush you while you slept, hated the awkward combat and the boring landscape and the crappy navigation, hate hate hate hate. There was much rage. It wasn't pretty.

And when I first picked up Oblivion... well, I liked it for a while, but that like pretty quickly turned to a rather intense dislike. Let's get this straight- Oblivion is an amazing game. A really stunning creation. And for the most part, it's a gem. But there are two design decisions that were made- seperately, they're okay, if not wonderful, but when they work in tandem, when they are both in the same game... they inspire utter, utter hatred in my heart. Enemies that level with you- I don't much like this in games, but eh, I can get over that. Not a big deal. But when you can level by raising noncombat skills, and thus level without gaining combat ability, this autoscaling of enemies becomes unforgivable.

When I first played, I didn't know that enemies scaled. And I had a BLAST. I went into the Imperial City, the huge, capital city, and bartered, negotiated, investigated, did all manner of delightful noncombat activities, and leveled, leveled, leveled. And when I finally stepped out of the big city, now level 18, and ready to explore the rest of the vast world... there were bandits in magical armor with flaming longswords waiting to greet me. I had leveled all that way without using any combat abilities- well, not very many, a few. And now I was faced with fighting enemies that would have been challenging at my level if I HAD levelled with combat skills. It literally took me ten minutes of fireball throwing kiting to take down ONE of these bandits. I just didn't stand a CHANCE.

And so I scorned and cursed the game, and cast it from my DVD drive, never to return again. But that's not where the story ends... not by a long shot. I got a new hard drive this weekend, and so I was looked through my current hard drive, seeing what I could transfer to this new, second one. And what do you know... Oblivion was still installed. I had nothing better to do, so I booted it up, started a new character. And this time, I chose to be a combat focused character. Stealth, swords, and destructive magic my specialties. And now I've played around five hours into this character, and I am LOVING it.

I remember, when I picked up Final Fantasy VII for the first time, and I really wasn't digging it. I was still in Midgar- of course things get better once you get out of there, and even near the end. It IS an amazing game, but it hadn't really started to impress yet. And I was bitching to a friend about how it wasn't what I'd hoped. He told me to keep going, but he also told me that I had to approach it with a certain attitude, that I had to have a certain point of view, and that would make the game amazing. At the time, I remember thinking (not saying, I respected him too much for that) that I thought that was a load of crap. In my mind, if you had to approach a game a certain way for it to be good... it wasn't a good game. Its quality should shine through. I didn't use that approach, and I ended up finding out that it was an amazing game all the same.

I think, though, that my attitude there was a bit immature. If you play Ocarina of Time from a graphics whore's perspective, you WON'T appreciate the marvel of the game that it is. If you approach the Metal Gear Solid series looking for concise, logical plot structure, you won't appreciate that to the proper degree either. I still don't agree with my friend fully, but there ARE wrong ways to play a game. Oblivion, I still think, is a deeply flawed game. But if you're willing to work with it, you'll discover it's also a remarkable, wonderful title as well. And this goes for quite a few titles in our medium.

You don't have to play a game the way it tells you to, and you shouldn't have to. But I have yet to see a game that is fully realized in every element- gameplay, characters, story, graphics, art design, level design, stablity, and more. If you can't be open minded, you're... well, a Madden gamer.

October 24, 2009

Shun Goku Satsu

Hey! I can post! Blogger started freaking out yesterday, gave me all sorts of error messages, wouldn't let me post. Glad that's resolved. Anyway, as I kinda hinted earlier, I wanna talk about Marvel vs. Capcom 2, and why it is the best fighting game ever.

Or, at least, the best fighting game for people who don't enjoy memorizing intriquite move lists... that isn't Super Smash brothers. Let me start again. In my mind, there are three kinds of fighting games. 2D fighters, 3D fighters, and the... let's call them brawlers- Super Smash Brothers, Power Stone, and its ilk. I think the majority of people think brawlers are boss. Super Smash Bros is certainly popular enough... they're simple, they're fun, easy to learn, hard to master kinda deals. Regular fighters, 2D or 3D, are quite different from that. They are difficult to learn, and difficult to master. They are a pain in the ass, frankly. I'm not a big fan- I enjoy watching skilled players duke it out, but I don't really find it fun to play. And so generally, I avoid them. I own Street Fighter Alpha 3 for PSP because I felt like I should own a Street Fighter game, Tekken for PSP because it was really cheap, and Soul Calibur 3 because I do like Soul Calibur a decent amount. And now, I own Marvel vs. Capcom 2. A pretty decent number of games for being a genre that I don't like. I respect it, though. That's the main reason. Anyway.

So of those games, I haven't played any of them for at least six months, except of course MvC2 which I just got. The thing is, though? I DON'T suck at MvC2. I'm terrible at Tekken, suck at Street Fighter, shitty at Soul Calibur, but somehow I'm actually ok at Marvel vs. Capcom. Not great, not even good, really. Just alright. But that's way more than I am at any other fighter, and I've only owned the game for two days, so odds are I will get better still.

What is different about MvC2? Well, for starters, each character's move list is maybe a sixth the size of a character's in most fighting games. This helps tremendously. They're also pretty similar to each other, so the end result is that you can learn one character's basics pretty quickly... and then adapt to a new character even quicker. It's also, I think, relevant that there is just an overwhelming number of cool characters to choose from- a factor that makes it more encouraging to try and learn to play skillfully.

The only discouraging factor is the terrible character balance. Cable, Storm, Sentinel... these characters just tower over the rest. There is really no question... and just as unquestionably, Servbot and Roll are a joke. The game has been out in one form or another for... what, nine years? And there has been no work at rebalancing it. I appreciate the deference to tradition, but seriously, it NEEDS it. The game is not balanced. The best characters (the so-called "God Tier") are known. There is no debate. So why not fix it? Ah well. My team {Akuma, Wolverine, Gambit) may not be top tier, but I have fun, and I'm no pushover. Well, unless you're really, really good, heheh.

October 22, 2009

Excuses, Excuses

Sorry about the lack of posting so far this week- I'll get something up today at a reasonable hour (4 am now). One of the reasons I haven't given a post? My hand hurts like hell. Not carpal tunnel... you know when you're playing a fighting game with a d-pad, and you need to do a quarter circle, so you kinda run the middle of your thumb from buttom to forward, or whatever? The old QCF/QCB business? Well, I'm not used to fighting games. I usually hate them, but I finally downloaded Marvel vs. Capcom 2, and it's a special case, because come on. And yeah, now the skin on my thumb is completely freaking raw. PAIN. On the plus side, if I keep this up, I'll get a callous, and be BULLETPROOF.

October 16, 2009

Prototype Spoiler Time

So, I finished Prototype today. A day after I started playing it. I would have liked it to be longer, but I played quiiite a lot, so I'm not mad about its length. Anyway. That's not the concern here. Let's talk about what it did and didn't do right.

Now, I think my record speaks for itself- I'm no graphics whore. But Prototype was UGLY, I'm sorry. Turns out I do have my limits... a PS3 title should not look like this. I still played in, I still enjoyed it, and it didn't really get in the way of that, but from time to time I caught myself stopping, and saying "...Really?" I would call them original Xbox level graphics, but given the number of NPCs on screen and the action flying around, it is better than Xbox, if only through sheer numbers. Fun is fun, though, so let's not worry about graphics too much.

The story, the plot, was piss-poor. It was really, really bad. Okay, the basic plotline was not that awful, and I'll be honest, I'm impressed that they had the stones to do what they did with the main character. It's a classic (I.E. annoyingly cliche) character wakes up with amnesia and mysterious powers scenario, but when you learn the truth about yourself... it's far more harsh than you would expect. 1) You are not Alex Mercer, as you had thought. You're actually a biologically engineered virus that replicates and consumes DNA. You're not even close to human. So that takes some guts to bust that one on you. 2) Alex Mercer, your original host... was actually something of a piece of shit. He infected all of New York with a bioweapon just as a "if I go down you're coming down with me." So it's impressive that they actually didn't try to make you like the character. You're supposed to think that Alex/ZEUS (his military designation)/Blacklight (the name of the project that made him) is a distasteful individual.

Which makes it all the more bizarre that the people you meet and take missions from take your consuming people and ripping them in half in perfect stride. You help a doctor with some research, and transform and then impale people on spikes right in front of him, and he doesn't seem bothered by that at all. Perhaps the developers thought it would be too much trouble, but I would have liked to have had the characters actually be disturbed by it, storyline-wise. You'd have to deal with less nice people, but... well, when you're a flesh-consuming bioweapon, it seems kinda bizarre to be getting help from your host's sister.

And that brings up another weird point... after all the time throughout the story of people not even blinking in the face of your bizarre powers, at one point you make an offhand reference about having killed people in front of your sister, and she flips the fuck out. I don't mind that as a stand alone event, but in contrast to the other people that don't care, and the fact that in an earlier cutscene with your sister, you punch through a dude's chest. It's not like she doesn't know what you do. It strikes me as trying to have your cake and eat it too. It's awkward and clumsy. And when you have such a gutsy premise for a protagonist, you could have at least given him an interesting story to play through. It's a waste, and a shame, especially given that the game is singleplayer only.

Inconsistency is a trademark of Prototype, though. In the interviews before the game came out, the developers talked about how Mercer assimilates the intelligence of those he consumes, and by the end of the game, he's just brilliant, superhumanly smart. I can understand not representing that properly- as a writer and a roleplayer, I know that perhaps the hardest thing is trying to portrait a character that is smarter than you are. But they could have at least TRIED. Mercer learns some things from people he consumes. This is true. But the things he learns are weapons/vehicle skills and memories relevant to his situation. Mass consumption of random civilians heals you, but nets you nothing. That is disappointing. Imagine if you could learn some civilian skills- to drive one of the many compacts going down the road in Prototype's New York, for instance. Or if you had some representation of your IQ going up- maybe an ability to judge the path of aircraft or missiles, or something. I'm trying to think of things that would be gameplay viable, but the options are impressive, and I really wish they were explored.

Another complaint. Mercer generally uses the former of... Mercer, his first host. It's sort of his default, for whenever he's not particularly disguised. So why do the military not have a kill on sight for his face? He's pretty distinct looking, and they certainly have a lot of "Wanted" posters of him in cutscenes. So how come you can walk up to a military officer and he just tells you to push off? And how come, in turn, you can then spin around, still in view of that officer, and run up the side of a building and they merely comment on how weird that is? You have to actually either transform or rip someone in half in plain sight of a soldier for them to go to alert. Except for a few special situations, once they get scanners that identify your genetic signature. That part I quite liked.

Hell, maybe I'll do another one of these posts later. It's a fun game, but I'm not really convinced it's a good game. Well, okay. It's a good game, not a great game.

Invasion, Not Incursion

So, this is not Friday's post. I still owe you guys another post today. This is just corrections and updates on my MAG post yesterday, because I played some more, and also did some reading. And yes, I got the quote wrong- it's "any cowboy invasion" not "any cowboy incursion." I kinda like incursion better, actually.

So first off, it seems that between the developer diaries and the beta, the concept for Sver (their logo has it as an acronym, but all the dev posts just have it as "Sver", so I'll follow suit) has changed. They did refer to it several times as a gang back when it was pre-alpha and alpha. Now, apparently, it's a coalition of veterans of third-world armies. This is muuuuch better. A bunch of guys with lousy gear who have basically spent their whole lives on the battlefield... yeah, I can see why they are standing even with the other two. I can respect that. The degree to which their AKs and SVDs are rusted is a little ridiculous, but artistic license is a valid excuse. Exaggeration to make it stand out. Fine.

I have now unlocked all three assault rifles... and man am I disappointed. They all feel exactly the same! They have unique models and firing sounds, but they all seem to hit with the same power, nearly the same accuracy, and no recoil to speak of. They even all have the same magazine size- including the G3, which does NOT have a 30 round magazine IRL. Okay, two 5.56mm rifles performing about the same, fine. But when a BATTLE RIFLE has exactly the same feel (comparison- a 5.56x39mm round vs. a 7.62x51mm round) as the assault rifles, that's just bad design. I imagine it's an attempt to keep their performance identical to their opposite faction counterparts, but seriously, that's just boring. Dull weapons are inexcusable in an FPS.

Now that I'm paying attention, it would appear that the maps are in four sections, not three. The players are divided into squads of eight, and four squads make up a platoon. Each platoon is assigned an area. So yeah, simple math tells you 128 divided by 32 is 4. The more you know, I guess. The maps are big enough that they're hard to keep track of. The feel of it... is very strange. I didn't know that there were four sections of the map because you have no sense of the other platoons. It's like there are 192 other people on the server just to slow down your ping- you never see them, you never feel the effects of their actions. Maybe they are currently capping it at 64 for the beta or something, but seriously, I never feel like anything happens outside of the little area I'm in. It's very strange. Whenever we lose, it's due to something that happens in my sector.

Level design still seems spotty, my gun still seems too good. Most of my problems are still there. I'll keep updating from time to time- frankly, the only other shooters I have to play are CoD4, which I think everyone is tired of, and TF2, which... it's good, but I hate playing games on the computer. Mostly because my computer is a mess, software wise, but oh well.

Besides, every time I hear that line about fending off cowboy invasions, I still smile.

October 15, 2009

Massively Generic Title

Yarr. I owe you guys a post or two. Let's see what I can do about that, shall we? Cause I've been playing the Massive Action Game (MAG) Beta on PS3, and it is quite interesting indeed. I likes it, but it's a very strange beast.

First off, the game allows you to pick from three factions- Valor, Raven, and S.V.E.R. (pronounced "Sever"). Each faction has a different feel to it, and I don't have any census numbers or anything, but it seems like Raven and Valor severely outnumber S.V.E.R. This is probably due to their core concepts. Valor is meant to seem like the US military (even though they're all mercenary groups)- skilled, experienced, and packing hardware that is tried and true, but still fresh and modern. Like the M4. Not cutting edge, but by the same token, weapons that have already proven themselves. The group itself has the same kind of feel. Unity, strength, honor. Valor.

Then there's Raven- the one I'm in. They're the high tech European guys. I would imagine they're supposed to remind you of the SAS or GIGN- their gear is slick as SHIT. I'm currently wielding a FN F2000 with reflex sight, verticle handgrip and suppresser. I can't do suppressive or wild fire because my gun is too accurate even on full auto. It's terrifying and awesome. Blastin' people in the head with a five round burst from a hundred yards was never so satisfying. Anyway. So they are arrogant, superior, and super high tech. Lots of blues, greys, and blacks. One of my favorite mission briefings from the beta is for when Raven is defending itself from a Valor attack- the briefer makes a very snide remark about being able to defend itself from "any cowboy incursion". It's awesome. Stereotyped European elitist- fun for the whole family.

Then there's S.V.E.R. At first, looking at their weapons- AKs and the like- I figured it would a Spetnaz-alike group- out of date weapons, but rugged, vicious, and with such incredible battle experience that they stood toe-to-toe with the others. Instead, they're pitched as being "like a gang." They graffiti, they vandalize, they improvise. ...Seriously? Why would ANYONE hire these retards? If you have a choice between the SAS and some bangers with AKs, how nuts would you have to be to pick the gang members? Gangs work for what they are- barely organized crime. They do not stand a chance against a professional military organization. It's illogical and frankly pretty insulting to the other two groups. I like AKs, I'm glad they're in the game. But can we get a less lametarded faction for them?

Speaking of weapons, we need to talk about weapon balance. I'm fairly certain the faction weapons have the same stats comparitively, there's no question there. Especially because my state of the art Raven light machine gun (not the F2000, a different gun I've played around with a little) is astonishingly inaccurate. My concern is more about the customizable weapon loadouts. Take my aforementioned weapon- my FN F2000 with reflex sight, suppressor, and verticle handgrip. The reflex sight gives me incredible accuracy and line of sight, the suppressor makes me not show up on radar when I fire, and the handgrip controls recoil. The gun itself is already extremely accurate, fully automatic, and has a 30 round clip. I've also upgraded my character's skill with reloading and stablizing assault rifles. So basically, this gun is like a point and click adventure- point and click, and you solved the puzzle, baddy is dead.

It's ridiculous. I'm not even that skilled of a player, but I'm kicking ass with this terrifying weapon. But, of course, I must have made major sacrifices to have this loadout, right? My other equipment must be suffering? Not in the least. I still have a pistol sidearm, a welding torch for repairing mission objectives, medium body armor, and a freaking ROCKET LAUNCHER. Oh, and I'm about to unlock an underbarrel grenade launcher, and will probably switch my handgrip for that. I may have to get rid of the welding torch for that, I'm not sure. But does that sound even REMOTELY like a logical sacrifice? The weapon loadouts BEG to be exploited and broken. I just want a sexy looking gun. I'm as surprised as anyone about what a terror it turned out to be.

The level design, too, seems pretty spotty. There are two maps in the beta- they are so huge, though, and you deploy in different areas each time, so it took me quite a while to figure that out. Considering this, I suppose they've done a pretty excellent job. However, the brown map (there's a more brown one and a more grey one) has some questionable areas, and one of the deployments (there's left, middle, and right, I'm not sure which this is) is just plain pisspoor. The attackers are expected to rush down a gigantic boardwalk killzone to reach their objective, covered by no less than four bunkers with top-mounted gatling guns and rocket launchers. They do this with no vehicle support, and the whole front line is MADE of chokepoints. It's a defender's dream come true, it's a bloody shooting gallery. Perhaps in the final version they can add a minefield just to add insult to injury. The second time I played that part of the map, I nearly walked away from my console when the match started, and as it turned out, that wouldn't have changed the outcome of the match. It's insane.

And speaking of affecting the outcome of the map... this isn't a design flaw, per say, just a problem inherent with the game. These matches are 256 people- two teams of 128. That's a terrifying, staggering, mind-blowing number. It is a technical marvel that it works, and when you're caught in the thick of a final assault or last stand, the rush is incredible. The problem is... when your teammates don't work with you, don't work together, or if you just get stranded, you count for NOTHING. There are isolated instances where you feel like you made a major difference in the battle, but many firefights will come and go, and you will wonder if you are making any kind of a difference at all. After all, if you were to just quit, it would then be 127 on 128- hardly overwhelming odds. On the one hand, I think it helps people get some perspective on how they really aren't as important as they think they are... but when you can pull off a thirteen kill streak, plant three charges at strategic locations, and jack an enemy APC, and the battle does not change at ALL because of that... it's incredibly discouraging.

I've clocked maybe five hours in the game, and I'm enjoying myself quite a bit. The beta is only up at set times every day- a strange setup- so I'll have to wait until tomorrow to play again, but I am looking forward to doing so. It's a very rough game... its potential is vast, I suppose, but in the short term, that just means it has more problems to work out.

October 12, 2009

Premium is a Good Word

It's been a few posts since I talked about WoW... but guess what! I actually don't have anything to talk about there. I haven't played much recently (comparatively), and though there's some cool stuff going down with Tier 10 on the PTR, there's just not enough information out there for me to make an intelligent assessment. So far, I like it. That's really all I can say.

So instead, I'm going to talk about downloadable content. Believe it or not, I only this weekend bought my first piece of premium downloadable content. The Fortune Pack, for Far Cry 2, if you're interested. That's setting aside digitally distributed games, by the way- I've bought plenty of those. No, I'm talking specifically about addons to games. Oh wait! Map packs for Halo and Call of Duty. I am an idiot, nevermind. That's not the point anyway.

There is a discussion to be had- or rather, that has been had within the community, and will continue for quite some time, about whether developers are omitting content so that they can sell it later. I think I can safely say that at least in some situations, Capcom is. And that's bullshit. We should indeed be angry about that. But you know? That's a very hot topic, the lines are drawn, and frankly no one will give a shit what I have to say. Everyone has made up their minds on the subject, and there's no progress being made. So let's leave that alone, and talk about something a little less scary- how DLC actually works, should be implemented, and whatnot.

First off, we need to note a difference between multiplayer and singleplayer DLC. Multiplayer DLC is veeeery restrictive. Not everyone is going to get this DLC, and you don't wanna just eff it up for everyone who doesn't, cause then you get lots of pissed customers. The tradition is map packs, and given how well that works I imagine it will remain the tradition for quite some time. I'll be honest, maps are not a huge deal for me. I love good maps, I hate bad ones, but the map doesn't really invade my experience that much for me. Personally, I like to see additions to my arsenal or to the game world. And this is difficult.

Obviously, adding new weapons, moves, etc. without giving them to non-DLC players is just plain unbalanced. You really can't put the two in the same room, it's not fair. So then you end up in the bizzare situation of keeping them from playing together, and it all just becomes a mess. I love new weapons, but there's really no good way to do them in a multiplayer situation unless you give them to everyone. Expanding the world, though, is an option I feel like hasn't been properly explored. For example, imagine if you were to add a new mode of gameplay as DLC that only people who'd downloaded it could play. You could have it be in a different matchmaking queue than the regular modes, and there would be no problem! It seems like a good way to expand the scope of your game without compromising the owners that aren't interested.

...This post is pretty long already, actually. Well, I'm getting this up fairly early in the day, so I'll do an extra post today or tomorrow about single player DLC, where your options are far more varied.

October 9, 2009

Angel May Cry

So, I'm a fan of Hideki Kamiya's work. Devil May Cry, Viewtiful Joe, Okami, I loved it all. Thus, when I heard that the Japanese PSN had a Bayonetta demo up on it... I promptly registered a Japanese PSN account just to snag the demo. I've played through the demo... seven times now? So obviously, I liked it. But I wanted to discuss... oh, what I liked and didn't like, and what Bayonetta seems to owe to the more recent entries in the stylish action genre... if that is a genre. Whatever.

So, first off... if you think about it? It's actually been a long time since we've gotten an entry in the stylish action genre from Mr. Kamiya. I mean, all he's actually ever done is the first Devil May Cry, and Viewtiful Joe. Since then, we've had Ninja Gaiden, God of War, further entries in the Devil May Cry series... I could name others, but those are the real innovators. And it's pretty clear that Kamiya respects the innovation they've brought to the table... because boy does Bayonetta show signs of their influence. Beyond the obvious context sensitive moves from God of War, because really, EVERYONE uses those now, there are more subtle signs. The quick swap of Devil May Cry 3- sure, a fair few games have quick swap, but look at the implementation- even the UI- and tell me that's not the obvious inspiration. The boss battle at the end of the demo, too, feels very distinctly Devil May Cry, bringing back memories of the Virgil fights in 3 or the Dante fights in 4 (which, it could be argued, were inspired by the Nero Angelo fight in the first, but I think their feel is quite different).

I can't pull up a quote for this one, but I seem to recall Kamiya saying that he made Bayonetta because he couldn't make another DMC, because he didn't have the rights... and in many ways, Bayonetta feels like a response to Devil May Cry, the good and the bad. Devil May Cry had you going to Hell to fight demons, Bayonetta has you going to Paradise to fight angels. DMC's Dante had a distinct cockiness and arrogance as well as a flair for style... and Bayonetta feels quite similar, just... well, sexier, frankly (as in, trying to BE sexier. And succeeding, but that's not the point.). DMC was notable for its on the fly mix of gunplay and swordplay... Bayonetta, you can actually shoot WHILE you slash, thanks to ankle weaponry. And of course, there are even some move mappings that are identical... a taunt button, or R1+Back+Slash (a rising slash in both games) and R1+Forward+Slash (a charging stab in both... Dante's famous Stinger). Bayonetta does a lot better, but it owes more to Devil May Cry 3 than I've seen Kamiya admit.

What's the point of all this? Not much, I suppose... just... well, okay. So I saw a brief interview with Kamiya the other day. It was an enjoyable interview, in no small part due to the man's personality. He's got a playful cockiness to himself as well, but he still is polite and respectful. It's an interesting contrast with (former) genre rival Tomonobu Itagaki, who was cocky to the point of being a total asshole and dickhead. Really, his arrogance did him and his games no favor. Any time a rival was brought up, he had nothing but scorn for them. And frankly... what I would like? I would like Kamiya to acknowledge DMC3 as a source of inspiration for Bayonetta, and a solid game. Even when the game first came out, and got rave reviews, it languished in Kamiya's shadow. In the shadow of the series's brilliant creator. As good as it was, a vocal minority declared that it would have been way better if Kamiya had been onboard, that his absence made it less of a game.

And this leads to a larger point... the problem of changing teams for a sequel. No matter how good of a job the new team does, if the original was beloved, the new team can NEVER please the original fans. They will always scorn it out of some twisted loyalty. And I sympathize with that. I think, groundbreaking and amazing as it was, DMC1 was NOT as good as DMC3. And I'd like to hear a creator, for once, show respect for the work of his successors.

And give them a little shit over 4 while you're at it- that was an embarassment.

October 6, 2009

Aztec Gold

Another one of my "I finally got around to"s, here... this time, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. I'd known it was supposed to be quite good, but a game with no real innovations, no multiplayer, and an eight hour campaign with little reason to replay I will NOT pay fifty or sixty bucks for. Sorry, you gotta have more than that. So I finally picked it up now that it's a Greatest Hit, and the sequel looks like something I am willing to pay fifty to sixty bucks for. And though it doesn't melt my face with awesome... I am extremely pleased with the game thus far.

It's an extremely derative title, mixing a Prince of Persia-style gameplay of acrobatics and puzzles with a Gears of War inspired combat system and the backdrop of an Indiana Jones move. All of this is good, but it's not one of those titles that you know is going to rock just from the concept. If the team that made it weren't established already, I imagine they would have had a rough time getting the game off the ground. The concept is solid, but it's not very special. It's the execution that makes it so great.

First off, Naughty Dog tells a good story here, though the story is fairly light and typical. It's not the plot that is appealing, it's the well-acted, well-written characters, particularly Drake. He's one of my favorite protagonists I've played in quite some time... certainly in this generation of consoles. He's fun and charming without actually being suave- women hardly fall at his feet; he's very expressive, letting out whoops of success and managing some very delightful "oh no"s- he comes across as a character that is able to make light of any situation while still seeming realistic. As things are happening to him, he's always taking it seriously, but he doesn't stress about what is done. When it's all over, he wants to have a good laugh about it all. It's a great integration of a coping mechanism, and it makes Drake seem very, very human, and all the more likable for it.

Another point worth noting... I very, very rarely note graphics. Really, pretty graphics are nice, but that is not at all a priority to me. But Uncharted... it really astonished me. The first time I came out of a lake, and realized that not only were Drake's clothes actually wet, but they were actually wrinkling in response to his actions... I was just blown away. It's not poly count here, though the poly count is really something... it's cleverly applied physics and, not exaggerating, perhaps the best animations I have ever seen. Any action you do, there are multiple animations for. For some very basic actions, there are seemingly a dozen or more. It's staggering, and it really makes the game feel like a movie, feel great to watch.

The gunplay is simple but fun, the puzzles are challenging enough to make you think, but not hard enough to break the follow and momentum, and the acrobatics are delightful. Cutscenes, too, are wonderful, if only to experience more of Nolan North's awesome Nathan Drake. Seriously, if anyone but this man lands the role for Drake in the Uncharted movie (unless it's Nathan Fillion, that would rock too) I really don't think I'll see it, despite what a natural fit Uncharted and a movie are. There are no amazing new ideas for the industry, no moments of mind-blowing art design- the level designers set up some very beautiful vistas over and over, but they are not going to change the industry (no offense, they really are very gorgeous!). It's not a game that is going (or did, I suppose) to really advance game design. What it succeeds at is being a technically excellent, fun to watch, delightful to play, relentless single player game with excellent mechanics and characters, and some truly remarkable animation.

I was watching a Gametrailers.com review of the second, actually, and they summed it up quite nicely- the Uncharted games are a perfect condensation of the best ideas to come out of gaming in recent years, basically. And you know... that's not a bad way to spend sixty bucks. I suppose I would have paid full price for this game after all.

October 5, 2009

Troublesome Tidings

So, over the past few weeks, I've written and scrapped several posts about how Modern Warfare 2 looks a lot better than I gave it credit for, about how the multiplayer looks like a significant evolution of the first, and all around, looks like a stellar product. As it turns out, I'm happy I never posted any of those. Because Infinity Ward just posted a new trailer for the single player, and oh ye gawds.

Okay. Multiplayer still looks effing amazing. I'm sure the mechanics of the game are going to be rock solid, and it is absolutely a first day buy for me. I really doubt anything's gonna change that. But that trailer... was painful. Okay. Well produced, well shot, well acted. I ain't arguing that. But set aside the flash and awe, and look at the part that has military enthusiasts groaning and rolling their eyes. Washington DC being occupied.

Foreign army, terrorists, military coup? We don't know. They haven't told us. But, I'm sorry, that is just retarded. The first had a good action movie feel, while still feeling believable. But the idea of a military force occupying Washington is just stupid. Okay. So first off... they would not MAKE it to DC. Our intelligence network has its flaws, but any major military gathering on any part of the globe, we know about. Period. You could not get the numbers together without us knowing before you left your county, let alone crossed the Atlantic. We have satelites. A lot of them. We have the CIA, the NSA, the DHS, intelligence within the Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marines, and we have Israel, the United Kingdom, and a dozen other foreign agencies watching our backs. I literally do not think it is possible to militarily catch us with our pants down. A few guys with AKs is one thing. An actual military deployment is QUITE another.

And let's say, by some godly planning, intelligence failure, and incredible freaking luck, you landed a military force on our shore. ...Washington DC is not undefended. It's probably the most defended city in the world. I don't know that for a FACT, obviously, but we have a lot of military and security there. And you know what? We have the best military in the world. We have some of the best trained, if not the best trained (give Spetnaz and SAS their due), we absolutely have the best equipped, and we have a significantly manned, military. On our size, yes, China outnumbers us. But that's why we created the Mark 19 automatic grenade launcher. I'm being quite literal, by the way- the Chinese are seriously why we created that weapon. As a wave tactics counter.

And the final bit is the footage of some military force holed up in the White House, gunning down American troops with a turret. Not to be rude... but as well as the White House is designed, our SEALs could take it back like THAT. Or Rangers, or Green Beret, or whatever. Our special forces are GOOD. They can take one building. I promise you that.

It's being pushed by Infinity Ward as this big shocker plot reveal, and it certainly is shocking, if only to learn they would be that stupid. I'll wait til I've actually played the game to dismiss the whole single player plot as dumb, but... they better have some serious aces up their sleeves. There is not a single scenario (that isn't completely ridiculous and absurd, like all of Europe declaring war on us or something) where a military force that actually exists on this earth could take DC from us.