Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Rise and Fall of the First Person Shooter, part one

Okay. Dupa cum cunoscatorii cunosc, acest post a fost spart in doua following some hideous problems generated by some bad characters in the post, and triggered by people commenting. (COMENTEZI ???!)
Am postat partea intai cronologic dupa cealalta pentru a aparea in ordine corecta pe blog.
All old comments have been unfortunatelly deleted, but adding new ones should not cause any more problems.

(this was added way after completion)

Really long post. Beware. (this was added upon completion)

CREATIVE SPREE !!! WOOHOO !!! Si iata cum sar eu din pat la 00:30 la doar 15 minute dupa ce m-am culcat, ca sa scriu despre first person shootere.
A pornit de la Quake 4. Intamplator ma joc Q4 nowadays, desi probabil nu mai dureaza mult pana sa-l termin (are 2.58 Gb, deci e probabil cam de 2 ori mai scurt decat Unreal :D). Si tot intamplator m-am apucat sa ma gandesc la cat de interesant este acest joc (este acel gen de intamplator care apare cand esti pe punctul de a adormi, dar de cand am uitat cu desavarsire tot reviewul la NGE pe care aveam de gand sa-l scriu in dimineata urmatoare, m-am invatat minte sa nu mai pierd ocaziile de exprimare creativa). Anyway... Q4 right ?... Well, este bine realizat. Nimic de zis, si-au dat oamenii silinta, nu doar la partea grafica, dar si gameplayul este bun, are jocul o poveste bine inchegata... si rezultatul este un mare *yawn*. Dar ca sa intelegem de ce, we'll look a bit back.

Eu sunt un mare mare MARE fan (si declarat) al genului first person. Truth be told, nu se mai fac nici pe departe asa multe jocuri FP in zilele noastre, inclusiv genul action migrand catre acea oribila follow-up camera which I hate with a passion. To make things simple, I'll keep away from stealth games (besides, I'm getting more and more convinced that there is only ONE series that does justice to the genre - and if you don't know which that is... try stealing something and see what people shout at you :D) and from RPGs (to a degree at least... anyway I'll just mention Morrowind here because that game deserves it, and since I'm at it we can't forget about Ultima Underworld). That leaves us (mostly) with the bread and butter of FP games: the SHOOTER.

It all started with Doom(1993). You might argue that it was Wolfenstein(1992) that spawned it all, but for me it was Doom (Doom 2(1994), actually). Doom was great. Surprisingly (or maybe not), it still is, unless you mind the graphics - in which case, you're probably just stupid. What made Doom great was that there was no two-ways about it - you were there to kill stuff. You knew it, the designers knew it, and eventually the mosters found that out as well (usually the hard way). Oh, and you were also saving the world in the process. Or something. If you cared to read the text-screens that popped every ten levels or so, anyway.
Doom, even more than Wolfy, spawned an entire generation of games, Heretic(1994) and Dark Forces(1995) coming to mind right now, although I've only ever played them superficially - I was too busy playing Doom, since I had also discovered Doom 1 in the meantime. At some point I even made my own Doom level, and it was great (I'm quite sorry about losing it since then... remember the secret BFG room, Skander ? :D)

Well, good thing I remembered one of the classics of that age - Duke Nukem 3D(1996). While I didn't actually play that until WAY later, I remember it as a good game with a whole bunch of original ideas (the shrink gun, and the building demolition which everyone was so excited about). I also remember it was quite hard, although I suppose I finished it eventually. Duke also had a bit more story than Doom, mainly centered around the bad-ass main character, who appeared in some really cool cutscenes and occasionally put out brilliant quotes like "I'm here to kick ass and chew bubble gum... and I'm all out of gum". (Don't ask me why that is funny. It's probably because of nostalgia. Strange, but true. Ask others if you don't believe me.)

And thus we arrive to the other mega-classic: Quake(1996). Quake spawned the third generation of shooters, which thrives to this day - the fully 3D, polygonal kind. IIRC, I didn't like much the polygonal monsters when I first played the game, but it didn't take me long to get over it. Quake had a whole lot of new and great ideas: underwater action, interactive difficulty level selection via teleporters, thunderbolt gun, rocket&grenade jumping, the lava boss... Just like Doom, it kept the story to an absolute minimum via text-screens. Unlike Doom, it didn't have masses of monsters, but fewer and tougher ones; interestingly enough, this was widely regarded as a bad move (and I concur), although the action was typically very intense. Also, while it had its fair share of pentagrames and occult thingies, I can only quote my Quake playing partner from the days of old, Meecootzoo: "[dapdv] imi place Doom mai mult decat Quake... e mai satanist" (approx).

Daca tot am ajuns la Quake, cred ca e momentul sa spun si ceva despre multiplayer. Am jucat ceva Doom multiplayer, mult, mult Quake, mult Quake 2, un pic de Q3, si TONE de Counterstrike. Dar, desi este o parte integrala si uneori foarte importanta a acestori jocuri (ba cateodata chiar tot jocul - vezi CS), multiplayerul nu este obiectul acestui post. Get over it.

Fireste ca succesul lui Quake a inspirat multi alti producatori. Unul din cele mai reusite jocuri, facut chiar cu engineul de Quake, a fost Hexen 2(1997). The good part of Hexen 2 was that it had 32 weapons. The bad part was that it didn't. Funny thing, actually. You see, you chose one of four classes to play: Necromancer, Paladin and... two others :D. Each class had four weapons. Each of the weapons had a (sometimes very) different effect when you picked up a certain powerup (its name is eluding me ATM). So if you played the game four times, each time with a different class, then you (might) get to see all 32 weapons (16 of them only briefly). You will obviously realize that in reality that almost never happened. Otherwise, Hexen 2 had some story about killing the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (which were cool) and then some uber-bad dude (if I remember right). It also put you through a variety of fantasy settings, had a lot of places to explore, some interesting puzzles and was overall FUN. Yes, they still made good games back in the day.
Speaking of which, there was also Dark Forces 2: Jedi Knight(1997). This is the first shooter which I can think of that had a strong story element which was central to the action and also a catchy part of the game; but then again, JK did come with the whole impressive Star Wars universe as background. This was also the first FP in which you got your own lightsaber (and the Jedi powers to go with it), and although it would be dwarfed by later productions, back then it was the coolest thing ever. That and the fact that you could choose to embrace the Dark Side (although you got a few less cutscenes to punish you for it. Sigh. Noone said that being evil is easy.)

About now we face the first real blunder of the shooter genre. Of course, even before there were some really bad games, but since most of them were clones and people hardly ever played them, they never got any attention. But this time things would be different. The game ? Quake 2(1997). Duh. Unlike the Doom series (to that point anyway), Q2 took a different approach to the concept of "sequel", and tried to change more things than it afforded to. The result was a totally uninteresting SF shooter. Fortunatelly for ID, an excellent multiplayer saved the game from disaster and kept it one of the most played shooters of those times.

But then, a long-awaited game is finally released, and it is very welcome indeed. I am of course refering to Unreal(1998). Many years in development had apparently payed off to provide us with one of the best shooters of all times. Unreal was also SF, but in a way that was miles and leagues on top of the competition. While it also continued the trend of fewer, tougher monsters, it had the interesting twist of making some of them very agile, so that they could annoy you to no end by dodging (the idea was obviously scooped up by following titles and eventually became a trend of its own). Fortunatelly, Unreal provided an excellent arsenal (which included some new and original weapons) that helped the player by favouring a slower and more careful style of fighting. The fact that the enemy projectiles' speed was just right to allow a fair amount of dodging on your part was the icing on the cake, since no other game except Doom has ever managed that, both before and after (incidentally, Doom is the shooter I've played most of, and Unreal second, singleplayer-wise).
Unreal is also the first shooter that made a point of impressing people by sheer eye-candy; in fact, I think it's a wonder that it also managed to keep the gameplay excellent while delighting us with scenery after beautiful scenery (in fact, Unreal still has the greatest sky ever made in a 3D game, and if I could make it look as good on my current video card as it did on my old Voodoo 2, I'd take a screenshot. Damn. I can't see my beautiful sky anymore. Sometimes it makes me cry.) I'd say it's also the first shooter I remember having really great music, but Doom beat it by quite a few years.
Unreal also had a story. It was totally unobtrusive, lurking in the background in the form of old logs and the ever-helpful Nali. You could ignore it if you wanted. Heck, you could even kill the Nali. But if you took the time to pay attention to it, you'd discover that it was quite well developed, with many lines of text detailing the local culture and the adventures of those that came (and invariably died) before you. In fact, because of this, the item inventory and all the castles and small villages (since half the levels were medieval and half were high-tech), Unreal had a certain RPG quality about it, at least for me.
Since I've already written so much about this game, I'd like to take a moment and use it as an example in proving the decline of the FPS genre (heck, and games in general), this time from a technical point of view. It is said that when the game was first finished, the lead programmer was not satisfied with the result, so he rewrote the whole code, in assembler. I don't know if this story is true; personally, I like to believe that it is. Anyway, the fact is that you could run Unreal on a P2/200, software, and you'd still have a good fps, and the game would look almost the same as when accelerated. Unreal is also a long game, and it takes quite a bit to get to the end even if you've finished it a few times before. And the total size of the directory is... 413 Mb. And sadly, Unreal looks just as good (or sometimes even better) than many later games which take away gigabytes of your harddisk, act sluggishly even on new video cards, and end before you get to warm up a bit. And since this is technical, I won't even comment on the relative quality of the gameplay and the other important stuff. I rest my case.

Right now is 3:12 AM and I'm going to sleep. I'll finish this in the morning.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Rise and Fall of the First Person Shooter, part two

Okay, it's morning now. Actually, it's 14:23, which is sort of late morning. So, where was I ?

Ok, uitandu-ma in urma mi se pare ca m-am intins cam mult cu unele jocuri, asa ca voi schimba un pic stilul de prezentare si ma voi concentra asupra seriilor, ceea ce e de fapt si scopul acestui post (desigur, mai raman si titlurile individuale care nu au inca sequeluri). De fapt, voi incepe cu doua sub-genuri:

Shooterul "realist": acesta este genul a carui actiune se petrece aproximativ in zilele noastre, cu arme uzuale: pistoale, automate, grenade etc, si inamici in general umani. Singura problema este ca fie acesti inamici beneficiaza de o rezistenta iesita din comun, fie gloantele au o viteza foarte mica, cert este ca de obicei nici macar o lovitura in cap nu este suficienta pentru a ucide pe cineva, chiar si in acele jocuri, mai noi, care fac distinctia intre cap si... well, restul corpului de obicei. This is formally known as the Law of Ballistic Impotence. Ce sa mai vorbim de conceptul de stopping power, care este o gluma, singurul efect notabil care mai apare din cand in cand fiind scaderea vitezei de miscare atunci cand esti lovit de o rafala o_O. To make matters worse, this kind of game usually takes a sadistic pleasure in annoying you to death by using the worst idea ever: SPAWNING. Look, I didn't mind monster teleporting all around me when I was playing Doom, but that was a FREAKIN SF/FANTASY GAME FOR CRYIN OUT LOUD ! And there was a nice green flash and specific sound to go with it ! But when soldiers start pouring out from a house you've just swept clean, you have to admit that things are very very wrong. The oldest title I can remember that belongs to this genre is probably Soldier of Fortune(2000), although I never played it. But I played the sequel(2002), and it had the worst spawning ever *shudder*. De altminteri, dupa acel joc am ramas cu sechele, acesta fiind si motivul pentru care nu am jucat prea multe titluri de genul asta, cu toate ca au fost destule. Dintre cele pe care le-am incercat, la aceasta categorie intra Return to Castle Wolfenstein(2001), Medal of Honor Allied Assault(2002), Counterstrike(2000 - multiplayer only - no spawning - duh), Project IGI(2000) and the fascinating Sniper: Path of Vengeance(2002), the game in which you were anything but a sniper. Call of Duty(2003) va intra tot aici, dar este totusi un joc bun, desi cam scurt (si nu am jucat addon-ul pentru ca am citit pe IGN ca au pus (mai mult) SPAWNING in el *shudder*). Cel mai bun titlu din aceasta categorie ramane probabil Far Cry(2004), despre care am scris suficient in alt post, mai ramanand sa mentionez ca NU are spawning.

Shooterul militar: same setting as above, dar nu respecta (prea mult) LBI. Apparently, in aceste conditii spatiile deschise sunt mai potrivite decat indoor environments, si solutia adoptata cel mai adesea este de a adopta un setting militar, hence the name. Delta Force(1998) este probabil jocul de la care a pornit totul, dar din pacate a iesit cam plictisitor si cu multe buguri (cu toate ca avea un multiplayer foarte bun), si am renuntat sa ma mai joc undeva dupa Delta Force 2(1999). Fortunatelly, the genre will be brought to its peak by a somewhat unknown title: Operation Flashpoint(2002). OFP was the first game that made me feel like I was holding an M16 and not a peashooter, although the enemies would push that point on you a bit too often for my liking. While in the beginning you're just a private and part of a squad, later on you'll get to drive tanks, fly choppers, infiltrate the enemy base at night, or command your own men into battle, all on the background of a well-written and interesting story. Other titles that fall under this category are the Battlefield series(2002;2005) (although the bullet damage is still pretty low) and Hidden and Dangerous(1999;2003) (same here; I never played the second part of the series, though).

Okay, so now that we're done with the bigger categories, let's take a look at some series:

Splinter Cell(2003;2004;2005): I'm putting this up front because it would probably fall under the first of the above categories if not for special considerations. Mind you, I've only played Pandora Tomorrow(the second game), so the following might not apply to the other two titles. SCPT was supposed to be a stealth game, and it would have failed miserably if not for the hell-spawned idea of the producers to artificially impose the stealth part onto the players. So what happens is that on the average, for the first half of each mission, you can't kill. Period. No matter how stealthy you are. (Amazingly, you are still allowed to render enemies unconscious, and noone cares one bit.) But then, after one objective or two, ta-daa ! you may actually give a use to the lump of metal you've been carrying around (commonly refered to as a "rifle"), and quite frankly, it's a relief. Although it makes you wonder if your commanders are on crack or something. To make things worse, SCPT was so short that I never got a chance to use any of the cool moves Sam Fisher can pull out more than once or twice. The story was also pretty silly, but that's just me not being too excited about Tom Clancy :D. To sum it up, SCPT was one of most disapointing games I've ever played and finished.

Aliens vs Predator(2000;2003): although inspired by a couple of movies, when this game came out it was surprisingly original. Each of the three playable races appealed to a different category of players (and I don't suppose you have to ask which was my personal favourite :D), and the engine was well-suited for a dark, gloomy atmosphere that made the game unlike any other up to that point. AvP also featured a lot of unlockable content which gave it quite a bit of replay value. About the sequel, sadly, I can only say that although I've played it, I don't remember squat. So it might be safe to assume that is wasn't too good.

Red Faction(2001;2003): what this shooter does best is prove that putting a bunch of good ideas together doesn't make a good game, not by a longshot. It was still moderately fun to play, but really, my biggest disapointment was that noone used that beautiful engine for a better game. The sequel, RF2... it's the same situation as with AvP2.

Jedi Knight(1997;2002;2003): I've already covered the first game of the series. Since then, LucasArts have dropped the Dark Forces label from the title, a good move IMO. Jedi Knight 2:Jedi Outcast appeared years after its predecessor, used the Q3 engine, and was a huge step forward (although it dropped the FMVs in favour of in-game cutscenes, like so many games were starting to do). JK2 continues the story of the ex-mercenary, now Jedi, Kyle Katarn, whose lightsaber color apparently changed between games and noone noticed. The fun part of the game was that the lightsaber and new powers were so good that they were all that you ever used really, which made you feel like a true Jedi. Add to that a number of classic SW settings like Yavin 4 and the Cloud City of Bespin and things couldn't get much better. About the bad side of things, the game did have a "stealth part" that was very artificially imposed on you (much like in SCPT later), but at least it was pretty short and not very hard. The last game of the series, JK3: Jedi Academy, was maybe a bit better, although not much. It added the posibility of using two lightsabers or a dual-bladed lightstaff on top of the usual one-saber style, and you got a number of new moves to go with your choice. But the story was somewhat weaker, and I think the game was shorter, too. And they locked the camera to third-person while using a lightsaber ! The truth is that it's best this way for melee combat, but at some times I really wanted to duel in first person... And since you stick to the saber 90% of the time, the game doesn't feel FP anymore.

Half-Life(1998;2004): of course, I couldn't forget about one of the most important shooters of all time. I still remember that when it first came out, we were actually waiting for three games: Half-Life itself, SIN and... one more. Of them, only HL managed to impose itself as a top shooter. Valve impressed by using the Quake 2 engine to create a game that looked and ran better than Q2 itself ! HL had an amazingly good gameplay, but IMO its strong point remains the story, which used the interesting idea of "contemporary SF". The fact that the setting was a top-secret US military research base loaded with high-tech gadgets played right into the overall feeling of the game. Half-Life also had a couple of add-ons, which I have played, but they are of course not nearly as good as the original. But the most important legacy of HL was that it spawned a whole generation of mods, the most notable being obviously Counterstrike.
Eventually, HL's long-awaited sequel also came out. About Half-Life 2, the truth is that I have mixed feelings. I cannot but acknowledge it is a really good game, but IMO it would have been better without the whole Half-Life baggage it came with. It really is a wholly different experience from its prequel, being set quite a few years in the future and all that, and for those (like me) who liked the original because of those things that made it unique, it will always be shadowed by its great predecessor.

Unreal(1998;2003): a game as good as Unreal was bound to have a sequel or three. Actually, first came an add-on named Return to Na Pali(1999), which continued and ended the original game's story. RNP was ok, but not really as good as Unreal. Next came Unreal Tournament(2000), an entirely multiplayer experience if you don't count the bots. Eventually, UT would evolve into a series of its own, being followed by UT 2003 and 2004. The actual sequel to the original, Unreal 2: The Awakening, actually came out just a couple of years back. Unfortunatelly, it's the Half-Life 2 story all over again (although chronologically incorrect :D), except that this game didn't impress me so much to try and finish it even once. Bummer.

Max Payne(2001;2003): not a FP game, but a shooter nonetheless. And a damn good one at that, which is why I'm writing about it right now... heck, who am I kidding; Max Payne was very good, but what I really want to do right now is complain that it wasn't first person. Why oh why... this is really my only problem with this very good game (and its equally good sequel The Fall of Max Payne).

Deus Ex(2000;2003): with Max Payne I've sidestepped out of the FP area; this time I'm getting out of the shooter zone, at least to a degree. Actually, there are two reasons why Deus Ex, although an RPG (and one of the best) warrants inclusion here. First is the fact that you can finish Deus Ex without killing anyone or anything... but I've never tested this, because the shooter action was too good to miss :p. The second is that the sequel, Invisible War, felt a lot more like a shooter than like an RPG. Surprize-surprize !... Inca o dezamagire, si daca o sa am un post despre RPG-uri (hint ! hint !) o sa scriu mai pe larg despre asta. Ah si la categoria chestii interesante, Deus Ex este singurul joc in afara de Jedi Knight in care ai lightsaber (sort of :D).

Ahh, only four titles to go. I'm getting tired.

Hitman(2000;2002;2004): ce mi-a placut la Hitman a fost in primul rand faptul ca desi camera default este 3rd person follow, modul first person nu a fost neglijat, si de altminteri este preferabil, cel putin din punctul meu de vedere. Cand m-am jucat intaia oara primul joc din serie, Hitman: Codename 47, ma asteptam la un stealth-game, dar nu a fost chiar asa, jocul fiind mai degraba un shooter cu elemente de stealth (exista inclusiv o serie de misiuni in care vanezi oameni prin jungla cu M16 in mana). Sequelul, Hitman 2: Silent Assassin, avea partea de stealth mai buna, oferindu-ti posibilitatea de a termina orice misiune cu minimum de victime. Din pacate, erai atat de usor deconspirat incat adesea un masacru general era preferabil. Aceste probleme vor fi insa rezolvate in a treia parte a seriei, Hitman: Contracts, in care in sfarsit optiunea stealth este atat accesibila, cat si foarte interesanta, jucatorul fiind de altminteri rasplatit cu cate o arma noua in fiecare misiune terminata fara a fi detectat. Bineinteles, posibilitatea de a lua arma in mana din prima secunda a misiunii exista, si chiar daca il jucati ca pe un shooter ramane un joc foarte interesant, cu gameplay excelent. Since this is one of the few series to actually become better with each new title, I'm looking forward to the next Hitman game, Blood Money.

Doom(1993;1994;2004): fireste, am scris deja despre primele doua, deci mai ramane doar Doom 3 (daca uitam de Ultimate Doom). Doom 3, desi un joc bun, sufera si el din cauza comparatiei cu predecesorii, cel putin in opinia mea. Desigur, arata mult mai bine, dar nu asta este de fapt important nu ?... Povestea este acum mult mai vizibila decat inainte, cu dialoguri, mesaje, jurnale, obiective(!!!) etc, si cred ca multi nu se asteptau la asta (eu cel putin nu). Gameplayul sufera din cauze vitezei mari a proiectilelor care nu iti mai permite sa faci strafe ca inainte, si din cauza atacurilor de apropiere care te naucesc complet, facand lupta de la distanta mult mai preferabila. De asemenea jocul este scurt, dar deja nu mai am pretentii in aceasta privinta. Dintre punctele bune ale jocului voi mentiona faptul ca este destul de infricosator (desi partial se datoreaza faptului ca armele nu lumineaza deloc cand tragi si jocul este foarte intunecat), precum si partea care se desfasoara in iad, foarte bine realizata.
A aparut intre timp si un add-on, Resurrection ef Evil(2005), care putea la fel de bine sa se numeasca Doom 4, fiind fata de Doom 3 ca Doom 2 fata de Doom (phew, a lot of doom around). Daca din asta ati inteles ca e mai bun decat originalul, well... asta era intentia. There's a double barelled shotgun in it, anyway.

Painkiller(2004): aparut cam in acelasi timp cu jocul anterior, Painkiller este in general privit ca ceea ce Doom 3 ar fi trebuit sa fie (desi mi se pare ca seamana mai mult cu Quake, mai ales cand am ajus la partea cu zombii care arunca halci de carne in tine). Actiune, actiune si ceva actiune in plus este cuvantul de ordine in acest shooter foarte dinamic care nu te lasa sa treci mai departe inainte de a fi lichidat tot ce misca in zona curenta. Armele sunt excelent realizate (stake gun anyone ?), settingurile se schimba in continuu si la sfarsitul fiecarui capitol exista un boss, de obicei GIGANTIC. Povestea este mentinuta la strictul necesar sub forma unor FMV-uri intre capitole. Exista si unlockabile (powerupuri si cateva nivele), singura problema fiind ca unele din cerinte sunt extraordinar de ridicate, fiind in mod evident facute pentru old-time gameri care pot executa cele mai absurde acrobatii aeriene fara eforturi prea mari (saritura "dupa colt" e doar inceputul... noroc cu unele powerupuri care iti permit sa o iei "pe scurtatura" :D). De asemenea, Painkiller are de departe cel mai superb nivel final facut vreodata intr-un shooter. Trust me, it's worth playing to the end just to see it.
Painkiller are si el un add-on, Battle out of Hell(2004), in care amazingly... you don't battle out of hell. (IIRC, you actually try to get back IN - strange, but true). Addon-ul consta dintr-un nou capitol cu 10 misiuni, dintre care una este unlockabila (sau erau doua ?...), doua noi arme (adica patru, fiindca in Painkiller toate armele au si foc secundar complet diferit de cel principal), and overall a lot of new fun (dar din pacate mi s-a miscat mult mai prost decat originalul, desi arata cam la fel; I can only guess a higher poly count).

And finally...
Oh, wait.

Pentru ca in ultimul moment mi-am adus aminte de inca doua shootere pe care le-am jucat la viata mea, o sa scriu cateva cuvinte si despre ele (cu toate ca probabil mai sunt altele despre care am uitat complet). Primul este HALO: Combat Evolved(2003). Man was that game boring. Singurul lucru interesant era settingul, un mic ringworld care pluteste undeva in spatiu. Apparently a avut si un sequel, pe care nu m-am obosit sa il incerc. Daca vreti mai multe informatii despre acest joc, ask Vomex, he liked it.
Celalalt este The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay(2004). In acest joc, amazingly, incerci din rasputeri sa scapi din Butcher Bay. Si incerci. Si incerci. De vreo 5 ori. I was actually so relieved when I finally managed to escape that I danced a little happy dance. Altminteri, jocul e destul de bun, are parti de adventure care sunt interesante, precum si parti unde stealth is the only option, fiinca nu ai arme. And besides, Riddick is very cool. Okay, I'm done here.

So, we end with...

The Quake series(1996;1997;1999;2005). Of course, this probably comes as no surprise considering the way I started. Actually, there are only two games left. Since Quake 3 is multiplayer only (+bots), it's pretty much out of the picture. That leaves us with the newest title, Quake 4. The story in Q4 apparently picks of where Q2 ended, although I was never aware that Q2 actually had a story. Anyway, apparently there's these bad guys called the Stragg or something, and for some reason humans are at war with them. You're a marine (of course) and you go around killing them while attempting to complete whatever objectives are at hand.
Q4 has some nice ideas. First, you choose a rank at the beginning of the game, which sets the difficulty level and which you also carry around with you the whole game (so far I've only played as a Corporal, but I plan to investigate the effect of your rank on the course of the game). Then, there's these nifty vehicles you can pilot, like a hover tank or a mech. You also get some weapon upgrades every once in a while, such as extra firepower for your nailgun or a scope. And the coolest thing so far... at some point in the game, you're captured and partially turned into a Stragg... it's a really bloody and brutal process :D Afterwards, you can move faster, you have more life and armor, and you can read the Stragg language. Pretty nice.
Still, the game doesn't really shine in any way. The gameplay is ok overall, but so far the only exciting moments were when I played the hover tank. As a foot soldier, you'll try to kill the enemies as quickly as possible and move on; the smartest trick you can try in combat is probably hiding around a corner to avoid damage. The enemies are as unexciting as everything else except the giant spider robots which you can only really damage when inside a battle machine. And the story, while not exactly bad, it's simply not something you'd really care about; mainly, you get your orders, and you try to carry them out. Sometimes you'll get some background information on why you are doing that, but it's all straightforward - you are trying to win the war. That's that.
So, the game is not bad. It's simply not something I'm looking forward to playing when I get home. It's that kind of game which I keep around in case I get bored, and if I'm ever going to hit a hard spot in Q4 I'm probably going to either use cheats, or if necessary, uninstall it, with no regrets ("hard" typically means "horribly annoying" in my book). And hey, I haven't finished it yet, so there might still be some goodness lurking about.

So I guess that sums it up. If you like first person shooters, and if you're still lucky enough to not have played some of the titles I recommended here, maybe you should try them out. Otherwise, if you find a good shooter that I haven't written of, let me know, I'll want to play it (just remember that story and gameplay are what matters to me). I plan to play F.E.A.R. next since it was just released, and as I'm hopelessly optimistic, I have quite high expectations for it (in anything but game length that is, since that is a long-lost cause).

Phew, am terminat. Observati ora la care am postat. Yes, it took me a whole day to write this post. THIS is what evilness is all about. Or something.


Tuesday, October 11, 2005

My creation... is complete

Nu am mare lucru sa va zic, decat ca m-am alaturat in sfarsit genialei echipe de la Anime Reviews (cu mult mai geniala acum, bineinteles) cu primul meu review, RahXephon.
So go ahead and read it, because it's cool !
We'll crack the champagne later.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

The History of Anime, dupa Chiller.

WARNING: this post is mainly about me. But that's okay, because I'm so cool.

Primul meu contact cu forma de entertainment/addiction cunoscuta sub numele de "anime" a avut loc pe la inceputul anilor '90, in scoala primara. Vinovata era o mica si fascinanta serie numita "Pasarea de foc spatiala" (nu cunosc titlul original). Dupa cum bine a spus Gabi, habar n-aveam noi la ce ne uitam pe vremea aia... oricum nu imi amintesc mare lucru, mainly inceputul si sfarsitul. Btw, de curand am realizat ca factorul decisiv in a decide daca imi place sau nu un anime este finalul... si "Pasarea de foc" avea final marfa :D

Fast-forward pana intr-un moment nedeterminat, desi tot cam in aceeasi perioada: Saber Rider. Surprinzator cat de mult imi pot aminti din acest serial, cu precadere faptul ca pana la urma nu am aflat cum se termina... deci nu va pot spune exact cat de bun este. Of course, it must be great, because of nostalgia.

Somewhere in the same timeframe I vaguely remember watching a few episodes of Voltron (desi mi-am amintit cum se cheama doar de curand, citind un articol de MtG care facea referire la "efectul Voltron" - construirea unei chestii puternice din bucati mici). Nu va pot spune mare lucru despre el deoarece am vazut foarte putin din acest anime clasic.

And then came cable...

The first notable thing about cable TV was Cartoon Network, and with it the opportunity to learn English quickly and efficiently just by watching your favourite cartoon channel (ahh... the good old days... there was no such thing as "Curaj, catelul las". Sigh.) The second was a little gem called Italia Uno (I don't think it survived to this day), which constantly bombarded us with quality anime (pe atunci eram inca in faza in care nu stiam cu ce ne drogam). Bineinteles ca nu ne putem gandi la acea perioada fara sa ne sara in minte in primul rand Testoasele Ninja. Leonardo, Donatello, Rafaello si Michelangelo, impreuna cu maestrul lor, sobolanul (don't really remember his name), provided me with hours upon hours of pizza-eating and butt-kicking fun, while opposing the robotic forces of the dreaded ninja master Shredder. Acesta este al doilea anime al carui final nu l-am vazut si imi pare rau.

Desigur, Testoasele Ninja au fost difuzate practic pe orice canal existent, dar dintre multele animeuri pe care le-am vazut doar pe Italia Uno imi vin in minte in primul rand Lupin (inca astept sa il iau de la Gabi), si apoi Nadia.

Pe numele complet Nadia: The Secret Of Blue Water (am aflat titlul de curand... in italiana era tradus complet altfel), acest anime a fost realizat de aceeasi producatori care vor scoate mai tarziu genialul Neon Genesis Evangelion. Culmea este ca de fiecare data cand a fost difuzat la TV, nu l-am considerat suficient de interesant pentru a ma uita in mod consistent (desi acum mi-ar placea sa fac rost de el). In schimb, ceea ce mi s-a parut absolut mind-blowing este finalul. Practic, la fiecare rerun al serialului, am facut cumva sa vad de fiecare data ultimele episoade (with a current count of at least three times). Nu stiu daca l-a vazut cineva din cei care vor citi acest post; in orice caz, desi poate nu este cel mai bun final facut vreodata, va ocupa intotdeauna un loc aparte in inima mea.

Undeva tot in aceasta perioada (poate chiar mai inainte) a fost si... do you remember ?... Sandy Belle ! Nu imi amintesc mai nimic din acest serial (cu exceptia unei scene neimportante de prin ultimele episoade), desi stiu cu siguranta ca m-am uitat de la inceput pana la sfarsit. Probabil nu a avut final marfa si de-aia :D

Cumva aici intervine o oarecare pauza, anume primii ani de gimnaziu, pe care nu ii pot asocia cu exactitate cu un anumit anime, desi este posibil (ba chiar probabil) ca in perioada aia sa ma fi uitat la oricare din cele prezentate pana acum.
(Update: after reviewing the old and dusty logs, it has become apparent that this was actually the time when I was abducted by aliens, and after escaping I completed my training in the evil arts at the Temple of Bad Monks somewhere in the Himalayas. This should clear things up.)

Ajungem astfel la un foarte important si clasic serial. Nu ati ghicit inca ? Este vorba desigur de Sailor Moon. I can see eyebrows starting to raise. Thus, I shall answer the unspoken question: yes, Sailor Moon is for girls. Funny how that didn't seem to stop me from watching each and every episode with a religiosity that would make the Pope cower in shame. Din punctul meu de vedere, Sailor Moon avea un mare avantaj: lots and lots of endings :D. No, I am not kidding. You see, the show was actually split into seasons, and each season had its own bad guys (with their own agendas, may I add), introduced new powers, new characters and had, of course, a nice dramatic ending. While the regular episodes were typically very very veeeeeery repetitive, the endings were almost always really good. In the later seasons, there was also an element of sexual ambiguity about some characters, which I found utterly fascinating, but that's just me. Funny thing is that I actually missed the very last five or so episodes (you may breathe now, mr. Pope). But eventually, I did get a pretty good idea of how the show ended. All in all, Sailor Moon is the anime I have the most fond memories of.

Nu pot incadra exact Sailor Moon intr-o perioada, adica nu stiu sigur daca eram deja la liceu cand s-a terminat. In orice caz, in liceu am facut cunostinta cu cealalata megaserie, Dragonball. Dragonball is probably the most popular anime series of all time, so you should be familiar with it. There is nothing I can really say except that it's great, and you should watch it, for its educational value at least. Dragonball a fost continuat cu Dragonball Z si apoi cu Dragonball GT. Din DBZ am vazut mai putin de 40%, desi cunosc povestea aproape pe dinafara thanks to my DBZ research, iar DBGT nu l-am vazut inca pe tot. Overall, as spune ca prima serie este favorita mea, iar GT este cea mai putin originala dintre ele (desi este scuzabil... I mean, there were only so many ways the series could go after a point).

Cam in acest moment am facut cunostinta cu termenul de "anime" in mod oficial ("manga" fusese definit ceva mai inainte). Nu i-am dat prea multa importanta :D

...Iarasi pauza. Stiu ca m-am uitat MULT la Dragonball in liceu, dar la nimic altceva ?... Apoi a venit prima experienta (traumatizanta) cu Politehnica, then one year (2002) when I didn't really do anything much. Then the Army. Funny how while I was in the army they actually started showing Dragonball Z on TVR so I had to use my whole arsenal of trickery to be able to watch it every day at one of the TVs around. Then my masochism took control of my brain, and here I was in the Politehnica again, this time to stay (to this day, at least).

Ultimii ani sunt mult mai bine ancorati in memorie, but that is to be expected. In acesti ani am vazut un numar mare de animeuri, de obicei bune sau foarte bune (because I'm so picky... :p). The first standout is probably Ninja Scroll (the movie... I still haven't finished watching the TV series yet). With solid graphics, story and... erm... coolness :D, the adventures of Kibagami Jubei are a good place to start your anime experience.

Nu mai stiu exact unde am vazut Spirited Away (someone refresh my memory please), dar a fost inainte de Princess Mononoke. I didn't really mind the weirdness of Princess M., but I found it overall boring; besides, I didn't like the ending much. Spirited Away, however, was pretty much okay, and I suppose I wouldn't mind watching it again some day, although it will probably be many years from now. (Note that there are people out there -they know who they are :p- who think these two anime are great or even the best stuff ever made, so don't be put off by my lack of excitement - they are just not for everyone).

At some point, am remarcat cu stupoare ca eu am si niste colegi la noua mea facultate. Ce chestie... Soon I started tapping into the anime resources of the Gabi and the Danutsu, and results would show up right away.

Prima chestie gasita: Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust. OMG !!! Sunt un mare fan al oricarei chestii cu vampiri, atata vreme cat e cool (a se citi: swords & L337 skillz) si nu boring-introspective (a se citi: Anne Rice :p). Movies (perhaps I might make you watch "John Carpenter's VAMPIRES" ?...), books, anime, games... Anyway, Vampire Hunter D pretty much had it all, although you have to give due credit to the amazing team of "ordinary" humans (the spirit dude being my favourite by far). The ending was nice too :))

Daca tot e vorba de vampiri, desigur ca trebuie sa mentionez si Hellsing. Acesta de fapt a ajuns la mine pe filiera Ahriman. Hellsing had it all and more (if you've seen it to the end you know what I mean). Anyway, suficient spus ca IMO the review doesn't really do it justice. Hellsing este de asemenea unul din animeurile cu muzica foarte buna, imi amintesc cel putin trei melodii care mi-au placut.

Next came Chrno Crusade (thanks to Danutz for this one). This time it's all about demons. Complete with wings, sword-arms and most importantly, horns. The fascinating story of the hero Chrno and his nemesis Aion is easily one of the best ever written. The music was also awesome. More on this anime later.

Another anime I've seen courtesy of Danutsu-san is Shadow Skill. This is a more classic, martial arts anime in a fantasy setting. It's okay overall, but nothing to write home about. Oh, there is that one little thing about the coolest battle scene in recent memory (episode 21), and it's pretty much worth watching, even on its own.

"Like an angel without a sense of mercy", along came Evangelion and blew me away. If you're in a dire need to say "wow" every two minutes or so, I strongly recommend you watch Neon Genesis Evangelion. Okay, I might be exagerating, but there was probably no anime that had a greater impact on me, even if it was because my expectations were initially not that high... I was not considering myself a mecha person. But it turned out that Evangelion had much more important (and deep) parts than simple mecha action. Speaking of which, there was also...

RahXephon. De parca un super mecha-anime nu era suficient pentru un an. Pe Wikipedia(!) scrie: "Many fans compare RahXephon to Neon Genesis Evangelion (NGE), usually favorably". Mie personal mi-e greu sa aleg intre cele doua. In orice caz, voi scrie despre ambele in detaliu, pe...

Anime Reviews. That's right, I got clearance to start posting my reviews on that great blog ! You may expect the RahXephon review to pop up in the next few days, with NGE soon following; my next project will probably be Chrno Crusade. So now you know why I've written so little about these three anime, which btw, in case you didn't realise it yet, I consider to be absolutely fabulous. So go on and see them ! You'll probably enjoy the reviews more afterwards (that's how it works for me anyway).

So, here we are - at the end. Sper ca v-a facut placere aceasta mica plimbare prin memoria unui old-time (not to mention EVIL :D) anime-watcher. So until next time, may you watch many, many great anime !


Monday, October 03, 2005

Acts Of Random Evil

Si mergeam eu astazi cu RATB-ul...
Da, cu RATB-ul in sine ca entitate, nu cu tramvaiul, autobuzul sau troleul.
You're actually believing that, right ?...
So anyway, eram in autobuz aka Sardina Transport Bucale Inc.
And then I started to notice things.
...besides the UFOs.

1) Pe fereastra scria mare "IESIRE DE SIGURANTA"

Now I don't know about you, but exiting through a bus window doesn't seem that safe to me.

2) Uneori, era scris si in sens invers, ca sa se poata citi din afara.

"Trapped in the monotony of everyday life ? No problem ! You can escape right now by using our original Safety Exit (TM) ! Just a quick jump and roll through this window will take you to a new and marvelous place where you can meet lots of new people (usually about 50 too many), get your bones crushed quicker than in an anaconda's grip, and have your pockets picked - for free ! Try it out NOW !!! (gas mask/lack of smell required)"

3) Exista pe geam si un semn rosu cu un ciocan care sparge ceva

No, there was no "In case of emergency" or anything (you know, the way they write on those 'H' windows - I suppose they are little hospitals of sorts). In fact, to the uninitiated eye, that sign seemed to simply say: "USE HAMMER HERE". I'm thinking about actually carrying a hammer around, just in case I feel like having fun.

4) Uitandu-ma pe fereastra, am vazut oameni lucrand (!!!) la reabilitarea drumului

Ok, this is the moment to panic. Start screaming and run around in circles. Now, for non-Romanians, let me explain: while it might look like a good thing, this kind of sight is rarer than literate speeches from George Dubya Bush. So it's only safe to assume that something spooky is going on. My best bet so far is that the government is planning to sell the country and run away with the money. I dare you all to prove me wrong.

Oh, and if you were wondering about the acts of random evil, they didn't actually take place after all. But my craving for them has not been satisfied yet. So, let's hope that tomorrow will be a better day for evil than today.