Tuesday, October 22, 2013

From the vaults

So I opened a pretty old "blog draft.txt" file today (yes, I blog via Notepad) and found inside this little gem. It is, I kid you not, an unfinished blog post (written in a QA format!) about an unfinished blog post. Also, it made me laugh, so I hope it's worth sharing.


Q: You have stated repeatedly that Deus Ex is your favorite game of all time. Please confirm this for our readers (all 4 of them).
A: It is!

Q: What was that you said about Alpha Protocol?
A: Well, when I was playing Alpha Protocol I immediately noticed the influence that other games, like Deus Ex and Mass Effect, had on its design (not that I think it's a bad thing, mind you). However, the game being somewhat flawed, more than one time I was thinking "this game would have worked better if it was more like Deus Ex". That got me thinking about the legacy Deus Ex has created, and its effect on game design in the last decade. I was going to write a blog post about it, but I didn't get around to it.

Q: Please, give us a quick summary about what you were going to write.
A: Right, so it was going to be called "The Legacy of Deus Ex: the Unlearned Lesson", or something fancy like that. The point was that Deus Ex was actually perfect, but people don't see/accept that. Then some of those people, who happen to be Deus Ex fans, become game designers, and they make games based on the Deus Ex formula, but they try to improve it! And it can't really be improved, because it's already perfect, you know? So you end up with games which are not as good, and no-one realizes why.

Q: So you really think a 12-year-old game was perfect?
A: Yes.

Q: Aren't you a ridiculous fanboy?
A: *censored*



Friday, April 26, 2013

Musings of an (early) middle-age gamer

It took me a while to realize it, but my gaming habits have become somewhat peculiar lately.
I no longer care about most sequels.
If I find a game I really like, I will play it at least two times in succession.
The way I perceive the current release cycle is this: (very) long periods of terrible, terrible drag punctuated by stuff which just BLOWS MY MIND.
I find indie games to be significantly better because they innovate more, but they suffer in length even more than mainstream games.
Hey, I'm still playing! (it was probably not just a phase)
Whenever I hear about new releases (especially over-hyped ones), my cynicism flares. So far, this has appeared to be the correct response.
I tend to like games almost no one else seems to have heard about, let alone played. Things have changed - I  remember when it was 1995 and I liked Doom2.
Speaking of which, I still play Doom and Doom2 regularly. And I still like the second one better.
Deus Ex remains my favourite game of all time. I believe it's held that position for more than 10 years, but I'm  not sure (it's been out for more than 10 years, I just don't remember when I realized it was my absolute  favourite).
I still wish there was a sequel to Anachronox.
Ni No Kuni makes me think it would not be such a bad idea to own a PS3. I need to play that someday.
There is still no game in existence which makes me want to own an Xbox360.

Obligatory link: old men.


Monday, December 31, 2012

Vindicated! (more than 1 year ago, but w/e)

A reasonably long time ago in a galaxy not exactly far away, Super Meat Boy came out and I bashed it almost instantly. However, as stated before, that game turned out to be quite the hit. WHICH DOES NOT IN ANY WAY SHAPE OR FORM MEAN THAT THE GREAT CHILLER WAS WRONG!!!1one

...Ahem. And yesterday, I found this video. Its relevance starts around 1:45, if you can't stand to watch 50 extra seconds.

Take a good, hard look at that. That's everything (or almost) that's wrong with the game in a nutshell. And it is RELEVANT because the game was SUCCESSFUL and people who make retro games might actually COPY THINGS FROM IT. Oh, you young fools will see.

And no, I don't agree with the video's author's assessment that the rest of the game was fine. The core gameplay for the rest of the game is exactly the same as in that boss fight: trial and error, until you memorize the correct way to do things and manage to provide the correct input. It's just a bit more obfuscated. But for the boss fight, you get to see it in its whole naked, ugly glory.

So, muhahahahahaha, or something.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Dragon Age broke me

Shamus Young and a few other people have this Internet show which I don't like, even though I think it's objectively good. But that's besides the point. Most recently, they are playing "The Walking Dead". Shamus introduced the game thus:
"What if you took the choice and conversation wheel gameplay of (say) Dragon Age or Mass Effect, and made that into a game all by itself? No shooter combat. No classes. No equipment. You just talk and make decisions. The whole time."

And I imediately thought "that sounds absolutely awful and terrible". (To add a disclaimer: I have not played the game. I have not watched videos of the game. I have not read coverage of the game. I have no idea whatsoever if this description is indeed accurate. Also, I hate zombies. Have I mentioned that recently?)

...and a few days later, I have begun to wonder WHY exactly I had this reaction.

...and a few days later, I was beginning to think the answer is Dragon Age.

...and after writing all of the above, I am sure the answer is Dragon Age.

That is for two reasons:

1) I did not consciously recall that Shamus mentioned Dragon Age in the description until I had to copy and paste that paragraph into this post. I only recalled Mass Effect; and in fact, one of the reasons I started thinking my reaction was unwarranted was that the dialogue in Mass Effect was not particularly aggravating.
2) Shamus later mentions that the game is made by Telltale and not Bioware. But I did not remember that. So I was working on an implicit connnection: Mass Effect => Bioware.

And what's so bad about Bioware dialogue systems? Dragon Age. (YMMV). So let's talk Dragon Age.

(Second disclaimer: my experience with Dragon Age is limited to Origins. I did not play the sequel, because I disliked the original.)

In my opinion, Dragon Age had three major issues:
1) The inventory management.
2) The combat.
3) The dialogue side-effects.

And a minor but incredibly annoying one: the inconsistent dialogue skipping (which they hadn't fixed by the time they released the next Mass Effect, which might have been 2; was it fixed in 3?)

[Sidenote: were there problems with the story too? FUCK YEAH. But I am biased towards gameplay; I believe that good gameplay will carry a bad story anywhere - hey, see Mass Effect 3! ZING! -, but good storytelling will only carry bad gameplay so far. So I tend to judge games based on gameplay.]

With regards to the inventory management, I think it was objectively bad. But then again, nowadays I tend to believe that about all inventory systems which have constraints without VERY VERY good reasons (Risen broke me, but in a good way).

With regards to combat, I know some people liked it, so it's purely subjective. It felt to me like they just took all aspects of MMO combat which I loathed and mashed them together. YMMV.

So - to get back on track - what was so bad about the dialogue?

To me, the dialoue was THE MOST TERRIFYING PART OF THE GAME. And that is simply because, in my experience with Dragon Age: Origins, a lot more could go wrong during dialogue than during any other part of the gameplay.

And it was (mostly) because of the companions and the fucking approval system.

Ugh, I am rewriting this paragraph for the third time. Apparently I find it hard to put into words how much i hated THE FUCKING APPROVAL SYSTEM. So I'll just have to say that it was a decent idea with a very flawed execution. And now I'll explain how it tied into dialogue: dialogue choices could affect the approval rating of certain companions. Without you knowing in advance. And often with the same choice prompting opposite reactions from different companions (which you may have happened to have both with you at the time).

The dialogue side-effects turned me into a WHORE. I did not care about properly playing my character; I only cared that I did not hurt the oh-so-precious feelings of my easily-insulted minions. AND I FUCKING HATED IT.

So... yeah. That's it in a nutshell. Phew. Glad to have that off my chest.

So I guess I could give The Walking Dead a try; I mean, not all dialogue is necessarily bad dialogue. Oh, wait. Fucking zombies. Nevermind.


Sunday, September 30, 2012

Eurogamer Expo 2012 - I was there and I don't even have a stupid t-shirt

So, I was at the Eurogamer Expo. My first videogame convention, amazingly enough. I figured out I should share some thoughts.

After a surprisingly short time (about 1h) in the longest queue I've ever seen (it was surprising because it was the longest queue I've ever seen, not because I was actually expecting to spend more time in it), I made it into the exposition hall at Earl's Court, London. It is pretty damn big. That was my first thought upon entering. My second thought was something along the lines of "wow, there are a whole lot of games I don't really care about".

About 90% of games were either shooters or sequels. Occasionally, in an unsurprising turn of events, they were sequels of shooters.

Off the top of my head and in no particular order, here are the biggest titles I've spotted: Crysis 3, Halo 4, COD: Black Ops 2, Far Cry 3, Assassin's Creed 3, Hitman: Absolution, yet another Medal of Honor game, God of War: Ascension, Devil May Cry 5 (not a shooter, but it had guns), Company of Heroes 2 (apparently a really good WW2 RTS), Dishonored (not a sequel and not quite a shooter!!!), Warface (not a sequel, but rather bland), Sim City (look, guys, you're not fooling anyone by not adding a number. IT'S A SEQUEL.), Aliens: Colonial Marines (think AvP without Predators), Metal Gear Solid: [subtitle], Dust 514, Battlefield 3 Platinum Edition, Lost Planet 3, Tomb Raider: [long subtitle], Tekken Tag Tournament 2 (fighting game). And a bunch more.

My reaction can be summarized as follows:

1) This year sucks if you don't like shooters.
2) The game industry sure isn't going anywhere.

I'll get back to point 2 in a bit.

There were a bunch of games dedicated to nonstandard controllers. They ranged from the established (dancing games and a new guitar game, Rocksmith), which seemed to be good and enjoyed by the audience, to the... really sad, like Kinect games which seemed to have been built on the general principle of "who needs good design, we have arm-waving". There was at least one overly pretentious artsy game (The Unfinished Swan on the Ps3). There were quite a few driving games too, but I don't remember the titles, other than F1 2012 (hasn't that been released already?).

WAY TOO MANY of the (multi-platform) shooters did not bring a PC version. This seemed like a REALLY bad idea to me, but maybe I'm just too old and the intended audience can play first-person games on a controller without any problems. I tried Dishonored, found it unenjoyable on the Xbox controller, and gave up on the idea (would have liked to have tried out Hitman too, at least).

WAY TOO MANY of the shooters had a ridiculously (in my opinion) small fov of around 70, I'd say. I know this was popularized by the more successful games of the last decade (Modern Warfare, I think), but for all gods's sake, you don't ALL have to follow suit. Hopefully the PC versions of these games will allow some way to change this, as they (thankfully) often do. I find my enjoyment of shooters skyrocketing when I don't feel like I'm wearing horse blinders.

Fun fact: I spotted Kratos fighting an elephant man in the new God of War game and, given the guy's history, for a moment I was convinced he had moved on to the Eastern pantheon and was taking on Ganesh. Well, it was just an elephant man. Still: elephant man!

By far the most interesting game on a console was Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (conclusive proof that game writers do indeed get bonuses for alliterations) on the Ps3, a rather charming JRPG with pretty traditional mechanics (but real-time-ish combat) and a very distinctive art style reminiscent of Miyazaki movies (a visit to the game's homepage did reveal Studio Ghibli as being indeed responsible!), as well as interesting characters&story and funny dialogue.

Hitman: Absolution looked really good (no surprise, the series never disappointed).

Dishonored looked good, but I think it will be rather different from what I expected. From what I had read, I thought it would be a blend between the core gameplay of Thief and the powers of Bioshock. It's not quite as stealthy as that. For one, you have to press a button to go to stealth mode, which is already a pretty telling sign. I also was not quite able to avoid being spotted, although it was probably due to my clumsiness with the controller. I will definitely play it, but I think it's better to go in without any expectations.

I ALMOST missed Firaxis's XCOM remake. Managed to get some play time at the end of day two (many thanks to the people with the XCOM bags, which tipped me off). The version which was showcased is, however, just the demo which you can get online (here, apparently, rather than from the game's site), so you can try it out for yourself if you're so inclined! Oh, and it's very good.

Let's talk innovation.

Normally, when I want to showcase innovation in games, I point to indies. Well, there were indie games at the venue. However, I did not see anything stellar this year. In fact, if there was one thing both mainstream and indie games at the Expo had in common, it was that they all seemed to be slightly improved rehashes of stuff which had been done before.

There were a few nice indie games which I feel I should point out:

The #1 prize must go to DRM: Death Ray Manta, for (either ironically or straight, I couldn't tell) including the phrase "Hail Satan" on the screen before each mission. It's also the only game that gave me a headache. STAY WAY CLEAR if you suffer from epilepsy.

Sokobond is a chemical-based puzzler which comes about one year too late to bank of the success of SpaceChem, I'd say. Still, pretty good.

Tower of the Gorillion (link is playable) is a pretty great platform puzzler. You control two characters which can each interact which a different subset of the level (a light side and a shadow side - correctly called "front side" and "back side" according to the game's site) and must help each other to advance. Think Lost Vikings with a twist. The only demo I've played to the end on day one.

There was also a game where you fly around in a ship on a 2D map, shoot things, collect keys and try to find the exit. I found it unremarkable in every way and I'm actually only including it here because I played it. The graphic style was very minimalistic and somewhat charming. It was apparently called Genix.

Don't Starve is probably good. But I didn't play it.

There were some more ambitious indie titles with larger budgets, and I had pretty much heard of all of them before: Prison Architect, Air Buccanneers, Strike Suit Zero, Natural Selection 2 (a shooter sequel to a successful indie mod, no less!), Carrier Command, Hotline Miami. The latter deserves a special mention because: 1) I've played it and 2) it's brilliant. Hotline Miami was, in fact, way more entertaining than I expected. It's the full package: solid, challenging gameplay, unique art style and an intriguing story. Highly recommended.

Right, innovation. The thing about innovation is - well, it's good. There's no denying it. Some of the best fun I've had was with games which brought something new to the table. But at the same time, look at all the praise Black Mesa got (which I'm playing for the second time now). Halo 4 and CODBlops 2 had HUGE audiences at the Expo. I think that we like it when our favourite games are brought up to speed. We need sequels (although I'd say that in most cases yearly sequels are a bad idea). Doom 2 is a sequel. The Hitman series is great. And so on.

While I have and probably will continue to complain about the lack of innovation in the industry, I enjoy sequels very much - as long as they are good (as we all know, many aren't, and most of the time it's because they are rushed). Some of the stuff at the Expo looked pretty good, actually. God of War: Ascension, Far Cry 3, Hitman: Absolution looked like they will be spectacular, and some other games from series I'm unfamiliar with seemed pretty solid as well (e.g. Metal Gear Solid, Devil May Cry). Some others, of course, seemed rather crappy, and the majority were rather unremarkable - technically sound, but not standing out in any way. I imagine they will be enjoyed by fans of the series and few others (e.g. Assassin's Creed 3, Tomb Raider, Halo 4).

While I'm actually very happy that the game industry is producing such well-polished content right now, a word of caution is in order: these were pretty much all one-level demos. They might not be entirely representative of the final product.

So I'd say we might get some decent sequels this year, but probably little else.


Wednesday, December 07, 2011

A lesson in, er, trailer-ing

I don't know why, but THIS TRAILER has impressed me so much I decided to post about it.

Oh wait. I think I do.

It's a lesson in what a good trailer should contain:

1. Actual gameplay footage. IT MUST CONTAIN GAMEPLAY FOOTAGE. Sigh.
2. Showcasing of the more interesting bits without horrible spoilers.
3. Catchy, retro-spy-movie themed music (ok, just catchy music that fits in well with the overall theme will do)
4. Quirky, funny, well-flowing presentation.

PLEASE NOTE that I am passing NO JUDGMENT WHATSOEVER on how good or bad the game appears to be. This is not about the quality of the game itself, just the trailer.

That's it, really. LINK AGAIN just in case.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Random Thoughts On Some Games Or Somesuch

The Binding of Isaac seems to be quite a success. I don't really like it. I am tired of it already without having finished it once. I think this game is popular simply because it's so hard to begin with that it takes a lot of time to make any progress (so essentially you'll keep on playing just to see if you can get anywhere). As far as I can tell, there are two ways to win:

1) The random item generator gives you some overpowered stuff
2) You get really, really good through a LOT of repetition

I don't find the first mechanic pleasurable (or, FINE, if you want me to put it another way, I find it outright DESPICABLE. There!), and I don't find the controls and combat to be tight enough to provide an enjoyable experience so that I can keep playing and to get better. This game fails for me. However, the art direction and music are very good!

Also, I can't BEGIN to understand the current trend of sprite-based games to run really sluggishly on modern machines. All three of the games I've played recently (The Binding of Isaac, UnEpic and Stealth Bastard: Tactical Espionage Arsehole) had this problem, in some cases to a ridiculous degree. People must be building these games on top of REALLY shabby platforms. You know, devs, even if you (understandably) don't want to program your own engine, there's better stuff out there. Nifflas's games come to mind for some reason.

Rant over.