Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Ketsui Death Label on the DS

This game is the entire reason I now own a Nintendo DS. After roughly 8 or 9 hours with the game I have no regrets at all.

If you know anything about shmups you probably know that Ketsui is one of the most highly praised games in the genre. It's also well-known that it is one of the rarest and most expensive games in the genre, because it never left the arcades. Guess what, now it is! Ok, it's not actually the full arcade game. It's a "Death Label" version of the game. This means that the game only contains bosses, of exceeding difficulty. This might seem lame to some people that a game consists entirely of 11 bosses, each of which can be beaten in a few minutes at the most. The game, however, offers much more than that. The insane brain-numbing bosses are a large part of Ketsui's popularity in the first place. It offers 9 different difficulty modes, each consisting of different sets of the bosses with different difficulties. The range of difficulty is such that one boss on Novice difficulty will be entirely different from the same boss at Very Hard difficulty, or even on Death Label difficulty.

Even though surviving every mode is difficult enough - although the game does give you progressively more starting lives so that eventually you should be able to conquer it - there is also a fun and unique scoring system in place, one that actually differs from the original arcade game. In the original game, scoring involved point-blanking enemies with the normal shot, which started a short timer and allowed you to kill enemies with the lock-on shot for large point-chips. It was fair simple compared to many Cave scoring systems, but enjoyable and not as restrictive as the chaining found in Dodonpachi or Mushihime-sama. In Death Label, some elements were retained. Namely, the risk-reward system of point-blanking enemies for more points. The closer you are to a boss while using lock-on shot, the bigger the point-chips you get, and the faster your score grows. At the same time, this increases your point multiplier. You can lower the multiplier by getting hit or by using lock-on shot to destroy enemies, so it is a careful balancing act to whittle down the health of a boss by point-blanking it with lock-on shot, and then deliver the killing blow with the regular (much weaker) shot, all without being hit at all. It's very challenging and involves changing your entire strategy on some of the bosses if you want to score well. I'm looking forward to re-learning all 11 bosses, in all 9 modes, to improve my score.

This is the first true bullet-hell shmup on a portable console, and it works surprisingly well. The fat DS is really great because of the big d-pad! The bullets are bright and colorful, which means they aren't hard to see on the small screen of the DS. If you have a DS, and you don't have Ketsui yet, do yourself a favor and go import it from japan. It's an awesome game.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Fallout 3, I-Fluid, and other odd things

Haven't posted in a while, so here's what I've been up to:

Fallout 3 is definitely awesome. It is basically oblivion with guns, from a gameplay perspective, but I don't think there's anything wrong with that because I liked Oblivion. I also have to admit that killing supermutants over and over is getting a little repetitive now, but everything else about the game is pretty great.

Another game I recently bought on a whim on Steam is a little indy gem called I-Fluid. Think of the game Gish, but in 3D. You play as a water droplet. Levels are set mostly on kitchen tables and counters littered with various fruits, breads, plates, silverware, and paper towels. Because the game is physics-based, you need to avoid the absorbent surfaces like paper towels and dry bread, because they will absorb you and kill you. There are a variety of goals, from 'go from point A to point B' to 'move all 7 tomatoes into the bowl'. Oh, that's right, you can also possess fruits and control them. The game is pretty darn creative and easily worth the $10 it is selling for on Steam right now (hint, go get it).

I also haven't posted since Left 4 Dead came out. As amazing as that game is, I haven't been playing it much, because I've finally broken down and decided to get a gaming mic. Left 4 Dead pretty much requires it for maximum enjoyment, and I could definitely use it in TF2 as well. Who knows, maybe I can finally look into joining a clan now that I'll have a mic (clans require them).

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Spike TV's Video Game Awards are a Travesty

That's right, the Spike TV Video Game Awards. They're just terrible. Today the nominees were announced for the annual award show, and it just doesn't bode well. Let's take a look, shall we?

Best Independent Game Fueled by Mountain Dew (Not a Judge Category)
World of Goo
PixelJunk Eden
Audio Surf

This category is purely a sponsored award, meaning it's basically useless. I'm all for representing more indie games, but I know Audiosurf wasn't "fueled by Mountain Dew". Next.

Best Original Score
Fallout 3
Metal Gear Solid 4

I think this is kind of funny because the music in Spore was either nonexistent or mostly ambiance.

Best PC Game
Crysis Warhead
Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning
Left 4 Dead

So I guess this is only "best PC EXCLUSIVE game"? There's no Fallout 3 on there (a nominee for Game of the Year). Oh wait, Left 4 Dead isn't PC exclusive. So I guess it's just kind of a lame category?

Best PS3 Game
Metal Gear Solid 4
Resistance 2
Grant Theft Auto IV

Best Xbox 360 Game
Fable II
Gears of War 2
Grand Theft Auto IV
Fallout 3

Note the discrepency? Once again, Fallout 3 is the odd one out, for some reason. It's a nominee on the 360 but not on the PS3? If you were listening to this stupid nominee list, you'd think Fallout 3 never even came out for PS3 or PC. I haven't even played the game (yet) and can't speak to how good it is, but this is just a weird discrepancy. Seems the 360 is being treated a bit differently, doesn't it? Any game that is a nominee for game of the year (as you'll see in a moment) should be a nominee for each platform it's actually released on, shouldn't it?

Best Graphics
Gears of War 2
Fallout 3
Metal Gear Solid 4

This category represents what is wrong with the gaming industry. This category should not exist. Graphics don't matter. Also, Crysis Warhead looks far better than any of these games, but god forbid they put a PC exclusive into a list with mixed console games.

Game of the Year
Grand Theft Auto IV
Fallout 3
Metal Gear Solid 4
Gears of War 2

No Smash Bros. Brawl? I didn't mention it but it was on the list for best Wii game. Why isn't it on the list for best overall game? Where's Spore, or Left 4 Dead? Or Crysis Warhead? Also, Far Cry 2 is on the nominee list for best shooter. Where is it compared to these other shooters on the GOTY list? It's potentially a better shooter than GoW2, but it's not GOTY material? How does that make any sense?

The whole thing is just ridiculous.

Monday, October 20, 2008

What Half-Life 2 can Teach us About Game Design

Half-Life 2, as well as its episodic sequels Episode 1 and Episode 2, are as close to perfection as any game has ever gotten. If any game deserves a 10/10 score, these games do. In designing the games, Valve made every right decision it is possible to make. Basically, I LOVE HALF-LIFE 2. What's so good about it, though? What makes Valve such a master of the art of game design? Why, if you haven't played Half-Life 2 yet, are you still reading this?! GO PLAY IT!

Half-Life 2 is so amazing because it adheres perfectly to the Golden Rules of Game Design. Let's run through them, and see examples of when they work and when they don't.

Rule 1: Never Screw the Player
This one is first because it's the foundation of a solid gaming experience. Simply put, this rule means that the player should have a way to deal with any possible situation in the game. A player should never be in a situation where they are simply trapped and must re-load the level. A player should never be in a situation where they are attacked by an enemy and have no possible way to defend themselves. Basically, the player shouldn't feel like the game is unfair.

Good Examples:
If you do this one right, the player probably won't even notice. Take, for example, the practice of giving the player a backup melee weapon or melee attack. If the player is snuck up on, or runs out of ammo, they still need to be able to defend themselves. Another example found often in HL2: often there will be enemies that require certain weapons to deal with. Hunter-choppers require rockets; turrets often require grenades or antlion minions, and so forth. Valve makes sure to place crates with infinitely replenishing ammo for those specific weapons in just the right spot. This ensures you're never screwed when you reach a hunter-chopper, because you always have the ammo to deal with it.

Bad Examples:
Any time you died or got stuck in a game and felt it was just unfair, that's probably an example of a game that didn't follow this rule. Here's one off the top of my head: Killer 7. As you walk through the game on a predefined rail path, if an enemy appears, you need to switch to your gun and then shoot it in a weak spot. You can only move forward or turn around and walk in straight lines. You have no control over when you reload your gun, and enemies also tend to pop out at you in close proximity. If this happens, and you need to reload, you're simply screwed. You have no way to defend yourself properly. Another recent example is a fan-made expansion for Portal called Portal: Prelude. The opening level starts you in a small room, similar to the opening of the full game. When the portal automatically opens, allowing you to leave, you are greeted on the other side of that portal with several turrets shooting at you directly behind you. There's really not much you can do about it, and it's almost a certainty you'll die the first time you play that level. That's unfair, and it breaks the first Golden Rule.

Rule 2: Generally Follow the Pacing Steps
This rule is a little different, but it's just as fundamental as rule 1. Every good game follows this (along with all the Golden Rules) as a very general guideline to game pacing. First, most games are split into different sections. Sometimes they are split by setting, sometimes by gameplay, and sometimes they are only split by the Pacing Steps, but they all have to be split or they become repetitive. For a given section, the Pacing Steps are as follows:

A: The Establishment Step - Present the new setting, gameplay element (item, enemy, obstacle, etc.), or in some cases the game world itself, in a safe and clear way so the player sees what they'll be in for in this section of the game. Example: When you receive the gravity gun in HL2, you are presented with a small area full of objects to play around with, and Alyx gives you a small tutorial. Another example: In Episode 1, when you first see a Zombine (Combine Zombie), it is safely behind a window. You observe it grab a grenade and run at you, exploding itself. This reveals the new enemy safely, without explicitly telling you how to deal with it.

B: Basic Application Step - Here is where you have to actually deal with what was "established" in step A. You need to apply the new gameplay element, or deal with the new obstacle, or use the new item in a real situation, usually involving some element of danger (but nothing too hard yet). Example: After you get the gravity gun and play around with it, you're forced to detour into the zombie-infested village of Ravenholm. In this village, you're encouraged (not forced) to use the gravity gun to take down zombies in creative ways, including launching buzz saws to cut them in half. (bonus example! the buzz saw is introduced according to these steps too; you first see it stuck into the dismembered body of a dead zombie, hinting at its purpose - Establishment Step!)

C: Advanced Application Step - Now that you've dealt with the basic application of the new gameplay element or setting, it's time to get more complex. This step will usually demand that you use what you've just learned in concert with previous skills. This is where the game should get challenging. Some games follow the first 2 steps but fail at this one. Such games are commonly known as "not very deep." Example: When you're introduced to the buggy in HL2, you're forced to utilize the gravity gun to flip it over in order to progress. This step often lasts for an entire game, or overlaps later sections of the game. The gravity gun has new uses throughout the game, such as when you encounter turrets and must use the gravity gun to take them out. That's technically a new section, the turret section, but it includes a new advanced use of the gravity gun in dealing with the turrets.

After step C, a new section will begin for the next new gameplay element, unless of course you've reached the end of the game, or the entire game is made up of one large section. Many times these Pacing Steps aren't followed in a really cut-and-dry way, but any good game does follow them in some degree. If a game is based on only one major gameplay element (for example, Katamari Damacy), the entire game often serves as a section, but the 3 steps are still followed. When a game properly follows these steps, the pacing ought to feel good. The game will feel fresh at each section, and you'll constantly be challenged with new gameplay elements and settings.

Rule 3: Everything Should Feel Natural
This is a big one, and it deals with the little details in a game. In this case, "natural" might mean "consistent," or it might mean "realistic," but things shouldn't feel disjointed. It's hard to describe examples of this, because it really is the sum of details that make up the natural feel of a game. There are, however, examples of games that don't follow this rule. Some RPGs or adventure games, in which you encounter invisible walls, or small steps that you can't jump onto, take you out of the game. They remind you that it is, in fact, just a game, and it doesn't feel "natural." In HL2, every boundary in the game is defined by walls that clearly make sense in the context of the game world. If you reach a spot where Valve doesn't want you backtracking, you'll be forced to jump down a small cliff which will be impossible to jump back up. That feels natural and plausible. The environment is forcing you to keep moving forward, not anything arbitrary.

If a game follows these rules, it will be GOOD. If you can think of a bad game, chances are it breaks one or more of these rules, in some way.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


Don't listen to what the reviewers are saying, or the idiots on the internet. Spore is amazing. Every part of it is awesome. Evolving your creatures and society is incredible. Everything is great.

Without further ado, here are some animated GIFs that the game AUTOMATICALLY made (I didn't even know they existed until I was looking around my spore directory). These animations show some of the creation process that went into the different stages of my creature.

First, here's me, creating a Sandworm from scratch:

And here is the creation of my space ship, the Arturan Mega-Platypus, from scratch:

And now, a selection of important evolutions of my creature (there were more, this is just a small selection):

Here you can see how radically my creature changes through its evolution. You can watch as I add legs to my small creature. After that you can see me add arms. Then I add another set of arms, which eventually turns into a set of weapons. The mouth and overall bodily structure also changes quite a bit. I made most of those changes in order to give my creature better stats and help it survive better. When something didn't work right, I removed it. When something worked well, I did more of it. The player of the game is playing the role of Natural Selection. It's awesome and educational!

Also, I want to mention that there are some people who actually think Spore is "evil" because it "promotes evolution." I have one response. Spore "promotes evolution" the same way Super Mario "promotes gravity." Thank you, that is all.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Genres and Innovation

This is probably going to be a cynical rant, but I'm just getting fed up. The emergence of "game genres" and formulaic game structures within those genres is seriously hurting innovation in the industry. This has been building for a long time, and it isn't a new problem, but I feel the situation has been thrown into sharper focus lately. To an extent, the very same thing is happening in Hollywood with the film industry, so this is not endemic to the game industry. First, I'll start at the beginning - chronologically - with the original of the game industry as it pertains to this discussion. I will then move on to the state of the gaming industry today, and the causes that have led to the stifling of innovation and "newness." Finally I will discuss what I predict for the future.

Back in the 90s, games as a medium was still new. It was evolving. Developers tried different concepts and ideas. Production costs were low so there was little risk involved. Many games were distributed as "shareware," free versions of the games which could be unlocked to the full version with payment. Think of it as an extended demo. Individuals decided to program games because they wanted to make something fun to play, and then decided to distribute it for others to enjoy. New ideas were toyed with and manipulated, and some went on to success. Among these, the concept of first-person shooters that began with Doom, and was copied so extensively that a genre of games - which had before been termed "Doom Clones" - came about called "First Person Shooters" (FPS). There was enough variation between games like Quake, Half-Life, Deus Ex, and even outlying titles in the genre like Descent, that the genre came to be known based on the one similarity all these games shared: namely, the first-person viewpoint and shooting elements made them more similar than different. This "Doom Cloning" has set a precedent that continues today, but I'll get to that in a moment.

On consoles, this trend of game "cloning" was especially prevalent. "Mario Clones" became "Platformers," for example. More recently, games that copied Chrono Trigger and the Final Fantasy games came to be known more generally as "Japense RPGs" (JRPG) and all share similar characteristics. This is basically how genres came about. During this time period, however, each genre had a first game which was later copied ad nauseum. There were many more genres at that period of time that have since become much less popular. Among these: adventure games, puzzle games, vehicle simulation games and flight combat games have all become scarce. Consoles experienced a major upheaval of established traditions by the advent of 3D technology with the Playstation, Saturn, and N64, but many attempted to simply "port" 2D genres to a 3D environment. This achieved limited success, as well as spurned needed innovation, but at the end of the day developers went right back to "cloning."

We see, today, the culmination of this philosophy of "cloning" successful games to the point that it stifles real innovation. Out of the innovation of the age of shareware and genre-defining games, we've shifted into an age where every game must follow some established genre rules.

Let's first look at FPSes. FPSes until around 2001 had mostly copied Quake or Half-Life with regards to many major gameplay mechanics. Health pickups or health stations were used and games had puzzles to solve. As soon as Halo came out, it stood out as the best console FPSes of its time. It featured a regenerating shield system combined with the standard health pickups, little to no puzzle solving, and a focus on extreme linearity and combat itself. It wasn't a bad game, and it did things refreshingly differently for its time. It featured drivable vehicles which was rare for FPSes, and especially the multiplayer component. I enjoyed playing the game on PC quite a bit. Things went downhill with the sequel, Halo 2.

Halo 2 was average at best and boring at worst. The game removed the health system and pickups in favor of relying entirely on a regenerating shield model. If you could avoid being hit for several seconds, your health would regenerate itself completely. If you got hit without a shield, unlike the first game, you had no "HP" to account for. You would just die in a couple of sustained hits. The game added use of a few new weapons, and the ability to "dual-wield" certain guns, but beyond that the gameplay became far more repetitive and linear. The lack of quality in the single player mode is most likely a result of the focus on multiplayer. Regardless, the massive success of Halo 2 led to the new trend of console FPSes copying many aspects of it, which in my opinion is a step backward for the genre. Let me elaborate.

Regenerative health, the ability to only carry a small number of weapons at any given time (usually 2 to 4), a dedicated button to use a melee attack, and a dedicated button to throw grenades, are all frequently copied features. You can notice many of these in the following games: The Call of Duty series; Gears of War; Portal; Mass Effect; Assassin's Creed; Timeshift; Resistance Fall of Man; Project Origin; Mirror's Edge. This is a trend that will not go away.

Another example is the "gritty" or "grey" or "colorless" appearance that I'd like to say started with Gears of War, but carries through on most games that use the Unreal 3 engine since then. Guilty games include: Gears of War (duh); Call of Duty 4; Timeshift; Mass Effect; Resistance Fall of Man; Killzone 2; Project Origin; Unreal Tournament 3; Rainbow 6 Vegas series; Army of Two; Frontlines Fuel of War; Turok (latest); Fallout 3. For some reason, making a game look grey and dirty makes it feel more "realistic." I personally think it just makes the game more "ugly."

These individual problems are just symptoms, though. Games have massive budgets these days. Making a huge game that ends up flopping can put a developer out of business. Gamers also continue to demand better graphics and physics, which increases the cost of many large game releases. For this reason, risk taking is discouraged. Developers strive to follow certain formulas that they hope will lead them to success. Modern FPSes follow the formulas I just mentioned, with very few exceptions (the most notable lately being Bioshock). JRPGs today try to follow the standard for the genre set by Square Enix's games. Even original concepts like the upcoming game Mirror's Edge, which tries to simulate the experience of a rooftop-free-running courier, will have guns you can take from enemies and then shoot, from a first-person perspective. Essentially, it will be an FPS, but with the option of carrying a gun or not, in addition to the free-running gameplay. The fact that the developers felt the need to do this saddens me.

It's simply inconceivable in this age to think of a major game release in which you don't engage in combat with something. Portal, for all its puzzle solving and fun, had enemies in the form of turrets and the final boss. This is one game convention that has not been shed lately nor will be any time soon. Think of how much more unique Mirror's Edge would be, if the game had no enemies, only platforming and free-running puzzles, perhaps time trials or hidden areas, with incentive to keep a running "flow" going to build momentum. The developers had to pigeon-hole the game into the "FPS" genre in order to appeal to the widest audiences. Genre-defining innovation has been reduced to a unique FPS title. To take the Portal example, I had my dad try the game because of the puzzles. He enjoyed the spatial thinking a lot, until he got to the turrets, where it became an action game. At this point he lost interest. Why did Portal have to move from portal-based switch puzzles and platforming to turret puzzles? Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed those levels immensely, but I can't help but feel that the game could have been more unique and innovative if it had shed the common conventions of games needing to have combat in some form. The market for peaceful games, however, is just not going to appeal to the kids who crave action. In part, this can be blamed on Halo taking the focus off of tactical gameplay or puzzle solving and onto pure action. It's a step backward in game design. All the copied features I mentioned earlier, all feed into this philosophy of "more action." Mass Effect, a supposed "RPG" by the makers of the amazing Knights of the Old Republic, is literally a shooting game similar to Gears of War, with stat building, special abilities and an inventory screen. The game was praised by critics for having so much action. The most enjoyment I got out of the game was interacting with NPCs and completing side quests which each seemed to involve short self-contained stories. They offered more unique, often non-combative gameplay.

So, I guess I'll generalize and say that the current trend is copying rigidly defined genre formulas, increasing the action and decreasing the complexity. This is due in large part to Halo and the rise of the console FPS, as well as many console FPSes going multiplatform and causing PC FPSes to copy them as well. No one wants to take risks, and profit lies in doing what is known to succeed. Innovation is stifled, and new concepts are pigeonholed into known classes to appeal more. You can see this happening in the film industry, too. Hollywood has run out of new ideas, so they continue to make big-budget movies based on older movies, or TV shows, or comic books, and count on familiarity for the movies to succeed. To a large extent this does work, in both the gaming industry and film industry. This "safe blockbuster" approach generates a lot of money. We've shifted from the days of the 90s where small developers published their own shareware games, to massive megacorporations working to make the most money off the latest trends.

The most obvious counter-argument to this is indie games. They seem to embody the ideal of cheap, innovative games that defy genre conventions. The problem here, though, is they are not large commercial games. They are only experienced by small numbers of people, they're viewed as inferior games entirely because they are "independent," and often they are indeed unpolished or small games built onto interesting concepts. I sincerely hope that Valve will improve things. Audiosurf, one of the most unique and awesome indie games of last year, achieved incredible success by releasing on the Steam platform. Portal also came about because Valve saw the indie game Narbacular Drop, made by a group of Digipen graduates, and decided to turn it into a full game, employing the developers to do so. Valve has also hired developers of major mods of Half-Life, including the teams for Counterstrike, Team Fortress, and Day of Defeat, turning these mods into full-fledged games that have achieved massive success.

Another possibility is Xbox Live Arcade, Playstation Network, and Wiiware. These give more indie gamers outlets to display new games. The problem here is that the developers have to contend with the console publishers to be featured on these services.

To summarize: I'm getting sick of grey FPSes with regenerating health. JRPGs annoy me with too many cliches. Every game feels the need to fit into a certain "genre" and is developers are afraid to leave that comfort zone. Indie games need more support from larger developers like Valve. Question the formulaic designs of almost every major game that will come out in the next year or two. This is the idea of "Clone games" taken to such an extreme that genres themselves are far too restrictive of a concept. Go play games that innovate and challenge assumptions of game design!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven

Who doesn't want to be a ninja? Infiltrating fortresses, sneaking past guards, slitting throats, hiding in the shadows; pretty darn cool, right? Tenchu has the unique distinction of being probably the only ninja game around where you play an actual, stealthy ninja assassin. Games like Ninja Gaiden and Shinobi are really hack-and-slash games, not stealth games, they only happen to feature ninjas doing very un-ninja-like things. Metal Gear Solid is more of a ninja game than Ninja Gaiden is; Snake does in the modern day exactly what a ninja did back in feudal japan, albeit with more modern tools. That's not to say Tenchu is a hyper-realistic depiction of ninja life, however. It's a japanese game, and as such, inevitably falls into the hole of demons and robots and magical ninja powers. It's not so bad, though, as the game uses these fantastical elements as an excuse to test your skill in sneaking, or sometimes fighting, rather than changing the gameplay into something else.

So what do you do in Tenchu? You play DEATH PERSONIFIED - ahem, excuse me, ninjas Rikimaru or Ayame - as they sneak through castles and villages and caves and cemeteries, slitting the throats of enemies. Just look in the eyes of this guard: I'm pretty sure he's wetting himself right now.

The levels vary between linearity and openness, which is awesome for pacing. Most of the levels offer multiple branching paths and maze-like layouts, but are still designed to let you get the drop on every guard. The challenge comes from the guard layout and movement patterns, as well as the actual combat. More on that in a moment. As you sneak through the level, you'll routinely be checking corners and backing along walls, waiting for a guard to turn his back so you can pounce.

The guards in this game are pretty much robots. They move along mostly straight-line patrol routes, walking one direction before turning around and walking the other way. It's not very hard to anticipate their movements. The challenge comes when there is more than one guard in a room, because you will then need to take each one out without alerting the others. If you come up to a guard before he sees you, you are awarded a stealth kill which kills him instantly, and looks awesome. If you get a certain number of stealth kills in a single mission, you're awarded a new ability, such as combat moves or wall clinging or a zoom-in camera mode. There is lots of incentive to beat each mission without being seen once. The stealth kills themselves are very rewarding. The camera will change angles to show a cinematic assassination, the animation itself depending on the angle which you approach the enemy. Each character is different, too. For Rikimaru: directly from behind results in a throat slash (and occasionally decapitation); approaching from the side results in multiple torso slices; approaching from above features a fierce stab through the top of the head, and approaching from the front results in a stab through the stomach. There are even contextual kills, such as when you jump down onto an unsuspecting enemy and stealth-kill in mid-air. The system is a lot of fun, and each character has different assassination animations.

To help you get the drop on enemies, you have a variety of tools at your disposal. The grappling hook is by far the most useful, and the most fun. It lets you quickly escape to rooftops or ledges, where you can better stalk your prey. It's also a real thrill in the middle of a battle to throw down a smoke bomb and then grapple to a nearby roof, leaving the enemy puzzled as to how you disappeared completely. There are also multiple ninja weapons and traps. Poison rice will paralyze whoever eats it, letting you kill them with ease. There are bear traps, mines, and caltrops as well, to damage anyone unwitting enough to walk over them. And, of course, there are shurikens and blow-darts to attack opponents from a distance. These won't work very well in the middle of a fight because you have to take the time to aim each one, but for dogs and other assorted enemies, these can be invaluable.

If you do get spotted, you'll have to choose between fighting it out and running away to hide. Fortunately the game sports a decent combat system which includes combos, special moves, and dodges. It's entirely possible, especially if you suck at sneaking, to beat each level dueling every enemy instead of stealth killing them, although it isn't nearly as fun. One problem I have with the fighting system, though, is that it can be unfair at times. If you take a hit, you have a hit-stun animation that is far longer than I would like. Many times opponents can rack up large, deadly combos on you after the initial hit, and you can't do anything at all. The worst offense is the demons in the cemetery who breath fire. If they catch you in the initial flame, you'll be paralyzed losing 30%-50% HP as the flame keeps hitting you, not to mention any other enemies nearby who want a piece of you. The boss battles in the game necessitate combat as well, which is unfortunate. Metal Gear bosses often let you utilize stealth as a means to help you beat them, drawing on the core gameplay for boss designs. Tenchu, however, throws out stealth as soon as a boss fight begins, and challenges you to simply win with your combat.

As I said earlier, the enemies in this game are completely stupid. They do not behave like real people whatsoever. If an enemy spots you and tries to fight you, it is possible to run around a corner and hide, and after only a few seconds the guard will look around, shrug, and resume his straight-line patrol route as if you never existed. If an enemy spots a body, he will, without fail or variation, walk in a straight line to examine the body. If there are multiple bodies in his line of sight, he will do the same to each in sequence. Furthermore, guards have very limited ranges of vision. If you are on a ledge 5 feet higher than the guard, you are effectively invisible. If you are 90 degrees to the side of an enemy, he cannot see you. In fact, it's often possible for you to move even closer toward the front of his vision without being seen. You make no sounds while running, unless you're moving through water or on a hardwood floor, making approaching guards very easy. Metal Gear Solid for the PSX came out a full five years before Wrath of Heaven for the PS2, and it still wipes the floor of Tenchu in terms of the AI as it applies to stealth gameplay.

This last paragraph may sound like I'm being critical of Tenchu. I do think the game would benefit from smarter AI, but at the same time, the stupidity of the AI and simplicity of the stealth elements give the game its personality. Unlike Metal Gear Solid, the challenge is not avoiding being seen, but rather perfecting each level. At the end of each level you are awarded based on how often you were seen and how many stealth kills you made, and this gives the game an arcade feel. It's easy in Tenchu to hide and avoid being seen when you don't want to be. It's harder to stealth kill every single enemy in the game without being spotted once. Much harder. Where Metal Gear Solid rewards you for sneaking past guards unnoticed, Tenchu rewards you for killing them in the most stylish way possible. The robotic patrol paths of guards and the layout of the levels are all designed to facilitate this. If you aren't a fan of stealth games, you still should consider trying Tenchu, because the stealth isn't all that hard, on its own. Stealth is only a tool to help you achieve the stealth kill. This is why the game succeeds so well. It's a different take on the stealth genre. It's a game about silent assassination. It's an actual ninja game.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


To complete my "horror FPS" theme - the two-post theme I started one post ago with my Doom 3 post - here's the seriously awesome game F.E.A.R. (hereafter known as FEAR because I hate those stupid periods). I beat this a few years back, but I had a hankering for it again so I'm playing through it on the hardest difficulty (which the game helpfully describes as "for masochists"). Now, I play tons of crazy hard 2D games like shmups and occasionally Contra and Metal Slug, so maybe I am a gaming masochist, but FEAR's hardest difficulty level isn't exactly all that hard as long as you abuse the time slow ability for all its worth. In fact, getting into a firefight without slowing time is usually a death wish because in hard mode your health drops FAST. Firefights devolve into leaping out of cover with time slowed down, killing as many enemies as you can, and ducking behind cover to let the ability recharge. The enemies aren't stupid enough to come round the corner single file while you blast each one with a shotgun at point-blank range, so as long as they can't flank you (and they will try) they just hang back and wait for you. The way they should have made the game harder is to slow down the recharge rate for time slow, or speed up the rate at which it is depleted while in use.

Ok, enough about the difficulty level. This game is really awesome for a variety of reasons. First, it's scary as hell. Not in the way Doom 3 is, however. This game won't make enemies pop out at you from behind while running through dark corridors. Instead, this game will make creepy little girls and sometimes ghosts or cannibalistic psychic military experiments run at you from around a corner and then disappear without hurting you, leaving you feeling freaked out. The scares are very well designed. In some parts you'll be ascending a ladder, and upon reaching the top find the girl, Alma, standing there in front of you, before she dissolves into nothing. Other times you'll come around a corner and see, in a dark corner of the room, the girl creeping along like a spider, disappearing into the shadows. And still other times, you'll approach an open door, to have it slam in your face, the lights to go off all around you, and then the hallway starts bleeding. In contrast to the cheap dumb scares of Doom 3, these are harmless, freaky scares that leave you creeped out. This culminates in the final cutscene of the game before the end credits. I won't say what it is, but if you've played the game you know exactly what I'm talking about. And if you haven't, this has to be the craziest ending in all of videogame history (with the possible exception of the ending to the game Bad Dudes: "Hey dudes thanks, for rescuing me. Let's go for a burger... Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha")

As for the enemies themselves, they will sneak up behind you, but only during a firefight and because they're really smart. This game has the best AI in existence, no joke. You'll almost always know there are enemies ahead or around a corner by the sounds of radio chatter or just seeing them in front of you, but once a fight has started you just cannot predict them. The AI will take cover intelligently, will flip bookshelves or desks or chairs over to hide behind them, will lob grenades to flush you out of a hiding spot, and will take alternate routes to get behind you whenever possible. When I say they're smart, I mean they could almost pass for online opponents in a multiplayer game. On one occasion, I was concentrating on the enemies right in front of me on a scaffold, only to be surprised and killed by a soldier who had jumped off the scaffold down to my level and ran around behind a large tank in order to flank me while I was distracted. Another time, I approached a patrol, and took out one guy ahead of me without being seen. The enemy squad leader yelled "recon" and one guy ran around the corner to find me. I took him out with a shotgun. Now, in most FPSes, the rest of the AI would dutifully follow the first guy, each getting shot one after another as they rounded the corner. Not so in FEAR. They immediately stopped coming (I waited half a minute for any more to round the corner), and fanned out behind cover waiting for me. One moved to get a good angle of attack at me by taking a longer path around boxes and cover so he would remain safe. Others hid around corners of their own so that when I eventually left my hiding spot I was suddenly under attack by three guys simultaneously. I died more times than I care to remember trying to get past this part. It's not often in a game you can be outsmarted by AI, but in FEAR it's a common occurrence, and it still never feels cheap. It just feels fun. I laugh when I get killed by a soldier who had moved around behind me and shot me from behind. I laugh because I know I left that window open for him to use that tactic against me, and the next time I would try to fix that mistake. This is called immersion, folks! I don't know if I've ever seen an FPS since FEAR with even an equal level of AI. Crysis sometimes comes close, but the AI in that game is way too inconsistent. Basically, good AI like this ought to be standard in FPSes right now, but too many game studios focus on multiplayer these days to put any real effort into crafting an amazing single player experience.

So, this game is pretty much a long series of firefights in different environments and against different enemy layouts. The enemies are, for the most part, identical soldiers. There's one super-soldier enemy with a penetration gun that is hard to take down, and there's one robot thing that can be annoying to fight, but overall the enemies don't vary much. Honestly this just isn't a problem though. I don't care. The standard enemies are fun enough to fight as it is. I'll quickly touch on the time slow ability because it's an integral part of gameplay. It slows down your perception of time, allowing you to react faster. It doesn't let you actually move faster, or shoot faster, it only symbolizes fast reflexes. I love that. It's not a super-power like in some other games (Timeshift). It's also very necessary, because you can see the matrix-like trails of bullets and this can help you successfully avoid damage.

Time gets really slow, much slower than the time slow ability in Timeshift, and far slower than the abilities in Max Payne, so you can really see how it helps you deal with enemies. It also recharges pretty quickly, so you rarely feel pressured by being out of "mana". This leads to a bit of imbalance but it's not a huge deal.

So, the final element that makes this game stand out is the effects. I know, I always say I don't care about graphics, but this goes beyond graphics. When you shoot at anything at all, there are TONS of effects going on. There's dust, debris, sparks, explosions, changes in lighting, all sorts of things going on. If there's books around, shooting will result in little pieces of torn up paper floating around in the air. Shooting a wall will create 3D chunks torn into it. In the aftermath of a firefight, all that debris lingers and fills the room and looks awesome. This has nothing to do with how nice the game looks and everything to do with how visceral and fun the firefights feel. Believe me, if you play it, you'll know what I'm talking about.

The next game, Project Origin, is looking pretty good so far. It won't be out for a while, but it already promises excellent AI, good effects, the ability to knock over desks and objects to make cover for yourself, and even a pilotable mech suit. My one problem with the game so far is the regenerative health, but let's hope it doesn't detract too much from the experience.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Doom 3

This image sums up Doom 3 pretty well.

This is your basic corridor-shooter. You walk down dark (like, pitch black) hallways, and enemies pop out at you from ceilings and hidden wall compartments and floor panels, and usually right behind you. You shoot them, they die, you keep moving. In my opinion it's the worst breed of horror: the jump out and surprise you style. It's not smart, it's not actually creepy, it's just designed to surprise you from behind a lot. I can't stand movies like this and it's annoying in a game.

The enemies aren't much fun to fight either. There's zombies that walk slowly toward you and take about 5 head shots to kill. There's demons that throw fireballs at you from a distance, and you just dodge the fireballs and shoot them. If they are too close, they'll scratch you in the face like some sort of feral cat, which makes your view shake wildly and thus makes it difficult to shoot them at all, even with a shotgun at point-blank range. If you get caught against a wall, it's entirely possible that you'll be stuck taking massive damage every few seconds from a claw-swipe, until you just get lucky and pop off a shot in the right direction. The zombies do this too when they get close. There's also marines, who shoot you with guns. As far as I've seen they have perfect aim and will always hit you if they can see you. You can't dodge their shots. I've tried bunnyhopping and strafing wildly while sprinting, but I continue to take bullets. They start shooting the moment I leave cover too, so I can't pop out for a few shots before hiding again and expect to avoid damage. And any game where you cannot avoid being damaged no matter how skilled you are is not fair, in my opinion. Ok, so there's also a few faster moving dog-demons. They run at you and scratch and bit at you. If you backpedal while sprinting, and shoot at them, you'll be fine. It's not all that exciting. There are probably more enemies, but I haven't beaten the game yet. I'm not too optimistic though.

Another major problem, which is probably the most common cited about this game, is the fact that you can't turn on a flashlight while you have a gun out. You need to put away the gun and get out the flashlight to see in the dark, i.e. the entire game. Yes, you can do a flashlight bash attack in case you get surprised, but it's completely useless. I've never even noticed the attack doing damage. There are mods that fix this problem, but that doesn't change the fact that the original game has a seriously annoying flaw that could be potentially game breaking.

The old Doom style of hunting down colored key cards to progress has actually been kept, in some form. You have to find PDAs that belong to certain people in order to have access to locked doors. Unlike the original Doom games, though, getting each key card does not involve any puzzle solving. It involves finding a locked door, being told which PDA you need, and then backtracking (while having even more demons jump out at you in areas you had already cleaned of demons) long enough to see a scripted event like a demon busting down a previously closed door to scare you. And the PDA is usually somewhere back there, past even more hordes of demons that you don't see until you get hit from behind.

It sounds like I hate this game, but that's not entirely true. It's incredibly simple, it relies on the cheapest scare tactics around to keep the game exciting, and it features some really annoying or boring enemies. Sometimes, though, I just feel like playing a mindless FPS where you shoot demons in dark corridors. It hearkens back to a simpler time, where you had Quake and Doom and maybe even Serious Sam, games that just required you to shoot, shoot, shoot. Doom 3 won't keep your mind engaged or keep you interested in anything about it, but mindless fun is a nice change of pace from FPSes that challenge you to think tactically to survive, games like Crysis, Team Fortress 2, FEAR or Half-Life. There's a time for each type of game.

Monday, July 28, 2008


When the game came out back in October, I tried the demo. It was pretty fun, but after I read some pretty unfavorable reviews I decided not to bother with the full game. Something lately compelled me to download it and try it out. Maybe boredom. In any case, here's my impressions.

To start with, it's clearly a console-based FPS. The game is set by default with (I think) an FOV of 80 degrees, which is substandard for PC games. I switched it to 90 as soon as I noticed. It carries the annoying trend of only allowing you to carry a couple weapons at a time, three in this case. Developers and console gamers will say this makes the game "more tactical" or something but really it's just compensating for a controller's lack of buttons. Having fewer options doesn't make a game "more tactical," it makes it "simpler." Furthermore, the design of levels and overall gameplay is definitely based on the assumption that the player cannot turn quickly, another console symptom. The flow of gameplay is such that you'll enter each area/corridor and see the enemies in front of you. They won't pop up behind you or flank you. Everything you need to deal with will be in front of you. That's not to say the design is bad, per-say, as it does offer tactical challenges, it's just that it is simpler and less frantic than it could otherwise be (see Crysis). Finally, of course, the game has regenerative health. Ugh. Given the context of the game, it would have been SIMPLE for them to implement a sort of health pickup system or even health station system like Half-Life, but no, they decided that was too complicated for the console gamers.

With that basic complaint out of the way, I'll talk about the game on its own terms. First, I just have to mention that the story is laughably bad. It tries to be edgy by having those flash to white screen with a sound effect and go into a cutscene/flashback things that many games tend to do nowadays, but the game just fails completely. The cutscenes are rare, convey basically no information, and frankly seem shallow. I found myself skipping most of them. After I watched the beginning of the game I learned that someone stole a time-trsvel suit, and then your character conveniently has another one to hunt down the first one through time (an actually cool premise). After that, you travel to this dystopian future that is, of course, a muddy grey Gears of War look-alike with a tiny bit of steampunk thrown in. I actually like some of the elements of the world the game creates. The oppressive big-brother figure on televisions everywhere, the sparse scenes of resistance fighters, it all reminded me a lot of Equilibrium, especially how the rebels all look up to you as a super-soldier after they learn about you in the beginning. It's a good feeling.

Aside from that, however, the story offers absolutely no reason behind anything you do in the game. I've played it for hours now and still have no idea who stole the other time suit and why I should care. I assume he's the reason I'm in a dystopian future right now instead of someplace awesome like the Cretaceous period, but I still just have no motivation to find him. And speaking of motivation, why the hell am I running around this grey world shooting enemies in slow motion? The game just plunks you down into the world, hands you a gun, and says "shoot those guys for 15 hours." I'm guessing about the length of the game because I did not finish it (you'll see why in a moment). Anyway, the rebels just sort of make you run errands for them even though you have no idea who they are. At one point you hop onto a dirigible and man turrets to shoot down enemy planes. Why? I have absolutely no idea. They don't give me any reason why I should. Now, normally I don't care that much for a story in FPS games, but in this case the fact that they tried to insert a story into the game, and failed so miserably, stands out a lot to me.

So, since the story obviously isn't really there, how's the gameplay? It basically comes down to shootouts, in varying environments against varying enemies. Very occasionally there's time puzzles, which I felt were vastly underutilized. The game is entirely based on the "timeshifting" abilities, of which there are three - in chronological order...or reverse chronological order...actually I have no idea: time slow, time stop, and time reverse. Two of these, the latter two, are pretty much unique to this game, but as any long-time gamer knows slow motion has been used to death pretty much since the Matrix came out in 1999. The most notable bullet-time games have been the Max Payne games, FEAR, Gun, all the Matrix games (duh), and Star Wars: Jedi Outcast (also known as the best multiplayer game in existance). Of all of these, FEAR is the only straight FPS to utilize it, but the fact of the matter is Timeshift is not treading new ground here. Where it does tread new ground, however, is the other two powers.

Time stop freezes everything around you except what you physically touch, apparently. You can freeze time, and then pick up a gun and shoot it at regular speed. The temporal mechanics of that make my head hurt, but I can forgive it. It's darn useful. It's a shame this is the shortest-lasting of the three powers. Because of the regenerative health, using time stop refills your health bar much faster. This is good because your health will drop RAPIDLY when you're being shot at. Also, you can use time stop to run up and grab an enemy's weapon from their hands. When time resumes, they stand there with a stupified look on their face for a moment before running away. It's a fun feature but I wish there was more to it; as it stands, that's about all you can do with time stop aside from the odd puzzles. It works as a more effective, but shorter, version of bullet time.

Time reverse is almost entirely useless except for a single scenario: a grenade sticks to you. This is the single time you will use this power, aside from the odd time-reverse puzzles (some of which are very creative). You can't actually interact with anything during time-reverse, you can only reverse things which have already happened, and then change them when time resumes in the (near) past. This feature seems to have so much wasted potential, it's a shame they didn't do anything more with it.

I want to talk briefly about the time puzzles before moving on. They're a mixed bag but I see a lot of potential here. Here's a list of all the puzzles I can recall from my several hours of playtime:

-reverse time to move through a hallway before it explodes and collapses.
-freeze time to walk over electrocuted water safely.
-freeze or reverse time to walk up a ramp without the other end falling down from your weight.
-freeze time to walk through fire safely.
-freeze time to get through a gate that will close immediately after being opened.
reverse time to ride an elevator that can only be raised by manually turning a crank that is outside the elevator; thus you have to turn the crank to raise the elevator, let it fall back down, then reverse time, get into the elevator, and ride it up. This one was my favorite.
-freeze time so you can climb onto a platform that can only be raised by a button located elsewhere, and ride the platform up as time resumes. This is used to get height to jump over a nearby fence.

That's it. Many of these puzzles are repeated, too. Most of them are simplistic and obvious, while a couple are actually pretty ingenious and took me a few minutes of trial and error before solving. The good puzzles reminded me of the gravity-gun puzzles of Half-Life 2 and that's no small feat. If we could see a better balance between really tricky time puzzles and combat, this could have been a much better game overall.

The shootouts themselves are also a mixed bag. Some of them are pretty well-designed, with open areas and opportunities to show off the sometimes awesome AI. It's hard to tell in Timeshift when the AI does something that's scripted and when it does something on its own, and I think that's a great thing. It's not as fun to fight as FEAR, but it occasionally does surprise. It's too bad most of the game isn't really designed for the AI to stand out. Often you'll be moving through an area and see, at the far end of the area, the enemies come streaming through doors and run for you or for some nearby cover while shooting at you. The enemy knows where you are. It does not feel pity, or remorse, or fear. It will find you. Stealth is completely impossible in the game. If you can see the enemies, they can see you, and this often comes off as just too scripted. When you're moving through the levels with the enemies, though, they do show surprisingly good tactics most of the time. Expect to be grenaded, expect - rarely - to get flanked, and expect turrets to be occupied by a second enemy after you've gunned down the first. Unfortunately, with only the three time powers (one of which is almost useless and the other two delivering almost the same gameplay quirks), and pretty repetitive enemies and environments, the game gets old. It took a while before it did, but it did, and that's always the sign of poor design implementation. A truly good game does not get old. That's why it's still fun to play Super Mario.

Finally, does the protagonist of this game look at all familiar?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

N64 Games to get on the Wii Virtual Console

F-Zero X

If you like fast-paced racing games you probably already love the F-Zero series. I'd played the SNES one but that was it. Well X definitely blows that out of the water. Insane tracks with loops and jumps and tunnels, along with 30 racers in each race, and insane speed, add up to one intense experience. It has a really smooth framerate too which never stutters once. I wish more games focused on that nowadays (and even other Nintendo games of that time period didn't, see the next game for details).

Star Fox 64

The classic rail shoot-em-up from Nintendo. This, to me, is the natural 3D version of the 2D scrolling shmup. I don't want to say "evolution" because it's just different, not necessarily better or more advanced. Regardless, Star Fox 64 is an awesome arcade-style game with branching level paths, a (simple) scoring system, and a set number of lives. The major problem with the game is that it's plagued with slowdown. Like, all the time. I've tried the game with Project64, and it's a major difference compared to playing it on the Virtual Console. Now, it's not gamebreaking by any means, and during gameplay you probably won't notice it, but during cutscenes and particularly busy sections of the game when the screen is filled with explosions, you'll definitely see it. Still a great game though.

Sin & Punishment

This is another rail shooter, in the same genre of Star Fox, but also entirely different. It's more like a scrolling 3rd person shooter/platformer, with a melee weapon on top of it. This is made by Treasure, so it features many of their signature bosses and styles. I know some people might not be into that style, but for those of you who love Radiant Silvergun and Ikaruga, you'll definitely love S&P. It feels more like a shoot-em-up than perhaps even Star Fox, with actual bullet patterns and attacks to dodge, as well as memorization necessary for scoring the bonus items and amassing a large hit count. I'm still trying to 1cc this game, and it's really difficult to do. I heartily recommend this game to absolutely anyone who enjoys action games.

Oh yeah, I also own Mario 64, but I think everyone on earth knows the reasons that game is great. (although Galaxy is better)

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Big E3 Post

E3 is finally over. There have been tons of announcements and closer looks at upcoming games this past week, as well as press conferences from the big companies in the industry - most of them comically bad. If you've been following coverage, you probably know the main stuff, but there's lots of information that you might have missed. Let's get to it! I'll organize everything by Platform, and be forewarned that I'm mostly focusing on Wii/PC games, since that's what I was interested in and that's what I took notes about.

Microsoft - Xbox 360
Microsoft's press conference was one of the strongest this year. They announced ripoffs of both Home and the Mii. They announced a bunch of multiplatform games that they don't have much right to brag about. They showed off Gears of War 2 along with other muddy, grey shooters. They showed off a new Netflix deal for streaming movies which seems like it'll be very good for business. And, oh yeah, they forgot to mention, Square decided to release Final Fantasy XIII on the 360, instead of JUST the PS3. This move hurt some Sony fans as they've lost yet another big, system-selling exclusive. They're down to just a couple now: Metal Gear Solid 4, and God of War 3. Not that the 360 has any except the upcoming Ketsui port. Every big Xbox release comes out for the PC (see: Gears of War, Halo, Mass Effect, Bioshock, Geometry Wars...).

I was surprised at how many RTSes were shown off on the show floor for the 360. Why the heck do developers suddenly think that RTSes will work on a console without a mouse and keyboard? It never has in the past. It never will in the future. Even so, we got multiplatform Supreme Commander, Command & Conquer 3, Battle for Middle Earth, and Universe at War. And upcoming, shown off at E3, we have Halo Wars, EndWar, and Stormrise, all console RTSes that are doomed to failure. Well, Halo Wars will inevitably sell well and probably get praised by idiot press who've never played an RTS on a PC and have absolutely no concept of micro. The only interesting looking of these RTSes is EndWar because it seems to be entirely voice controlled. We'll see how that works out, but I have a hard time believing it will turn out that good. The games will inevitably be a lot slower than if you used a mouse because microing by saying "group 1 attack enemy tanks" is a helluva lot slower than clicking 1 and right clicking the tanks.

Among the (limited) PC gaming news was a KOTOR MMO. I'll pause so you can read that again and finish wiping the drool from your mouth. Done? Ok. There isn't anything else known at this time, but it has to be better than Star Wars Galaxies, right? It will be hard convincing myself to put down the monthly payment to play this, but I just might force myself to try. I just don't know though.

Another announcement is that the new WoW expansion, which believe me I do not care about, is getting achievements. Can I just ask, as I did after Valve introduced them to Steam, WHY?!?! Achievements are the most useless things I have ever heard of. Unless you actually get something for "unlocking" an achievement, what's the point? Some sort of goal to keep the game replayable? Well if your game isn't replayable without some sort of artificial achievements, then I think you have some problems with the game design. Then we have games like CoD4 and TF2 where prolonged play, or better play, or in the case of TF2 very strange play involving posing for freezecam shots (Autopsy Report) or killing spies after healing them (Hypocritical Oath), will result in getting better weapons or abilities. I HATE unlocking things in multiplayer games. Everyone ought to be on equal footing, right from the get-go, with only skill to separate players in the leaderboards. Giving any player an advantage over another, for any reason, seems unfair to me. What if I don't want to sit there grinding for achievements for an hour to get the Backburner? This isn't World of Warcraft! Oh wait...

Next on the PC we have Mirror's Edge. Holy Spaghetti does this one look amazing. It's a first-person free-running simulator. It also has some wicked cool krav-maga style gun disarms, but the game is really about running fluidly and keeping up momentum. It looks like a far more detailed version of Assassin's Creed's free running, along with a modern setting. Being first-person, they of course just had to add weapons to turn it into an FPS at times, but I know that I personally am never going to fire a shot. Gun disarm, melee, drop gun, keep running. It looks like the game will be entirely playable, and possibly more challenging, this way. I just can't wait. I sort of wish they had chosen to keep first-person shooting out of this game, though. It feels like they're pandering to an established genre/market when they could have something more unique on their hands. Portal, for instance, had no shooting whatsoever, and I feel it was the better for it. Maybe I'm just getting sick of all the generic grey FPSes coming out every week.

There was also a showing of Postal 3, which will come out for virtually every platform under the sun (including Linux!). This series has always been extremely offensive, but often in a wacky way. My favorite feature of the upcoming game is the weapon called "badger on a harness." It's literally a badger, with a harness, that you aim at stuff which will subsequently be destroyed by a badger. Pretty awesome.

Left 4 Dead and Spore were shown off on the show floor and at EA's press conference. Both continue to look amazing. Spore now has more species than exist in real life. The characters for Left 4 Dead have been changed, too. Now you can play as a gay biker! Look at the comparison shots and decide if you like the new characters better, or the old ones:
OLD - Beards aplenty, these guys are guaranteed to be tough lumberjacks or something; I think even the woman has a beard:

NEW - no beards, one gay biker with a droopy mustache and a woman that looks like Mila Kunis from That 70's Show:

I wonder if the Director AI is programmed to follow the script of every horror movie ever and kill the black guy first while letting the woman be the sole survivor - provided her shirt gets ripped at the midriff? Only time will tell. I predict everybody will be playing as the vietnam vet since he logically has the best chance to survive a zombie apocalypse.

Finally, on the PC side of things, we have Fallout 3. It definitely looks to be a good game, but I can't help but feel bad for fans of the original RPGs. Bethesda took a series of purely D&D style RPGs for the PC, and turned it into a gray console FPS with some sort of freeze-camera so you can get automatic headshots. I like FPSes, although I'm starting to get sick of the market being flooded by Halo and Gears of War ripoffs with regenerating health and only a couple weapons that can be carried at any given time, all coming to consoles - where FPSes have absolutely no place (Goldeneye, Perfect Dark and the Metroid Prime series notwithstanding; they had the good sense to focus on autoaiming completely). The Fallout series is known for dark postapocalyptic humor and a wide open world full of side quests and possibilities, so I can definitely say I'm looking forward to this.

Sony - PS3
Sony actually had a solid showing. They showed off their sales numbers and announcements using a custom LittleBigPlanet level, which was really awesome. That is one game that really makes me want a PS3. Sony also showed off a concept trailer for M.A.G., or Massive Action Game. Yes, that's apparently the title. It's a (surprise surprise) FPS featuring 256 players on a single server, somehow. I don't know how they'll pull this off without lag, but if they do it'll be pretty unique. Finally, Sony officially announced God of War 3, but who didn't see that coming?

They talked about the Lost Planet movie. That was the entire press conference. I kid you not, a movie about a crappy game was the entire focus of their conference.

They showed off the new Prince of Persia which looks very sweet. I especially like the "throw woman into the enemy like a projectile" attack. The art style is fantastic too, it looks like a watercolor painting.

I have to mention this press conference. Konami is coming out with a game called Rock Revolution which is obviously trying to compete with Rock Band (and doomed to failure). They had a Ramones cover band on-stage, who played a song presumably from the Ramones. I don't know music. Then, Konami had the band play the same song in Rock Revolution. The band failed the song after like 15 seconds. The entire audience laughed at them. Konami immediately said "the press conference is over now" and made everyone leave. Wow.

Nintendo - Wii

*Sigh* There's a lot to talk about in relation to the Wii. Not all of it good.

I guess I'll start with Nintendo's press conference. This was quite possibly the worst press conference in the history of E3. First a little background info: in the weeks leading up to E3, Nintendo had promised that they had announcements for the "core gamer" so that we wouldn't feel left out. They want to assure us that they do, in fact, care about hardcore gamers with a Wii, and not just grandmothers and 10 year olds. Everyone thought Nintendo would announce a new Kid Icarus, Pikmin, Star Fox, or Zelda. I'll go ahead and categorize the announcements made during Nintendo's press conference according to demographic.

The casual audience:
Wii Motion+
Wii Music
Animal Crossing
Shaun White Snowboarding

The hardcore audience:
Wii Speak
Animal Crossing
Shaun White Snowboarding
GTA on the DS

I'm being really liberal with the "hardcore audience" category because I have no interest in anything Nintendo announced except for Wii Motion+. Even disregarding that, Nintendo just had seriously weak announcements all around. I'll go into each one in more detail.

Wii Motion+ - the most exciting part of Nintendo's press conference. It's an attachment that increases the range of motion detection that the Wiimote is capable of. It supposedly allows for true 1:1 motion; that is to say, motion in-game that fully mimics the motion you do to the Wiimote in 3D space, down to the last detail. The current Wiimote is incapable of this even though many people thought it was possible from day one. It certainly should have been. Regardless, I'm really glad this functionality is finally here so we can get rid of the "gesture-based" button replacements and get down to the really innovative gameplay. Coming with this attachment is Wii Sports Resort, a sequel of sorts to Wii Sports. Reggie says this is "literally a day at the beach" and if you can't figure out what's wrong with that sentence, shame on you. Assuming you're NOT playing the Wii on an actual beach somewhere, but instead in your living room or something, the game offers more great minigames. Things like jet skiing and throwing a frisbee to a dog are nice, but what really has me excited is the swordfighting game. Yes, this game has Kendo, and it works with true 1:1 motion. From the hands-on impressions I've read, including one from an actual fencer, it works really well. Lightsaber game, here we come!

Animal Crossing - this is apparently a "hardcore" Nintendo game. Really? I thought you wandered around talking to animals and doing activities with no real goal or way to lose.

Wii Speak - finally, voice chat on the Wii! Actually I really don't care that much, I doubt I'd make a lot of use out of it, and Brawl will probably never support it. This is definitely useful for the hardcore gamers though, and the Conduit is already planning to use it.

Shaun White Snowboarding - I really don't care. It requires the Balance Board which I'll probably never get, and I don't like snowboarding. Seems kind of neat for people who are completely the opposite of me in both those aspects, though.

GTA DS - meh.

Wii Music - Oh boy, here we go. This game is without a doubt an absolute travesty that makes me almost lose all faith in Nintendo. This is a music game, obviously. Nintendo felt that it would be too difficult or complex to have players match on-screen note prompts, though. The result is that you have to move the wiimote as if you're pretending to play an instrument, and you can control the tempo and pitch of the on-screen music, but other than that the song will play itself. There is no way to hit a wrong note because the game always hits the right note. There is no way to lose. The only decent looking instrument might be the drums, but judging by the flailing awkward performance by Ravi Drums (that was his actual name), those will be really inaccurate and probably fail too.

This colorful display resulted in random beating of the drums on-screen with no rhythm or semblance of anything musical.

When asked if it was more of a "toy" than a "game", Shigeru Miyamoto could only say that, yes . . . it is more like a toy. That’s why it’s more fun than a video game. I guess Nintendo makes toys now and prefers that to video games. Ugh.

After the conference, Miyamoto offered a ray of sunshine in the developer roundtable by stating that the Mario and Zelda teams are working on projects. He also said "We are making Pikmin." So there will definitely be a new Pikmin!

However, he quickly dashed those hopes later at E3 by saying this:

"Frankly, some of the so-called 'franchise games' are quite difficult for nongamers to play, so making accessible games for these players is key. With Zelda, we have to consider how to make it accessible for new gamers to pick up and play and enjoy just as hardcore gamers have. For example, we’ve got the Touch Generations series. Now, we’re not necessarily going to make our 'franchise' games in that style, but we’ll take what we know and have learned — the philosophy behind those games — and incorporate it into franchise games. That’s a philosophy that’s very strong at Nintendo."

If that sounds good to you, you must be someone who's 70 years old, can't handle all the buttons of these newfangled video game machines, and yells at the "darn kids" to "get off the lawn."

At least the 3rd party showing for the Wii was irregularly strong. The Conduit looked really awesome for a pure Halo ripoff. It had a few cool and unique weapons and some of the best graphics I've seen on the Wii. It looks at least as good as Metroid Prime 3 or Mario Galaxy. I hope it has the gameplay to match.

Another big announcement this week was Gradius Rebirth for Wiiware. It's unknown whether this will be a remake or a new game, but it will feature 2D sprites and have Maoi Heads. I think that's enough to have me sold.

Madworld was also on display. This black and white game seems to focus exclusively on over the top violence and gore. The blood is the only bit of color in the whole game. I'm reserving judgment on this one, because blood, gore and violence don't make a good game. So far it seems like it's shaping up to be similar to No More Heroes, which wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing.

Oh yeah, guess what? Dead Rising is coming to the Wii. I can't wait! This zombie-killing simulator was one game I really wanted to play on the Xbox, and now I'll be able to!

Finally, we have the announcement of Onechanbara for the Wii. This was a Japanese PS2 game that's being localized and enhanced for U.S. Wiis and it should be all sorts of awesome. I think the subtitle, "Bikini Zombie Slayers" is enough to warrant interest, don't you?

Ok, that's pretty much all I have. There was lots more but this was all the stuff that interested me as a Wii owner and PC gamer. I think most of those PC games are coming to the Xbox too. Anyway that's it for me.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Classic PC Games

Yeah, E3 is going on right now, but I'll wait for it to finish before talking about it so I don't miss anything. For the record, Nintendo's press conference was seriously depressing. Nothing was announced that appeals to hardcore gamers or hardcore Nintendo fans. Hopefully they have something hidden for later this week.

Anyway, PC gaming. Pretty awesome? I would assert that it is pretty awesome!

Recently I've been going through some real classics for the first time in many years (or, in some cases, ever).

Descent Ultimate

Ultimate is essentially the "essential collection" of Descent I and II. It includes both games, in an updates engine. It's also based on the open source community upgrades of each game. Look around for it, it's a spectacular package. And as much as I love Descent III (which is now available on GameTap), the original two are better gameplay-wise. Much more corridor-crawling and key-card-fetching than the plot-oriented mission objectives of D3, and while that might make D3 sound more appealing, it just doesn't seem to flow as well. Maybe it's just me.

So who enjoys getting motion-sickness? Play Descent for a few hours. It's an FPS, in zero gravity, with full 360 degree movement in any direction and rotation on any axis. You go around exploring and finding key cards to open new doors and eventually unlock the door to the boss, all the while fighting enemy bots. Basically the same structure as Doom, but a lot cooler and more vomit-inducing. Seriously, at least go "find" the first Descent, somehow. It's probably not that hard to find and it's really awesome.

Deus Ex

I know I've written about this before, but I never got around to beating it last time and I'm just now getting back to it, starting over from the beginning. I have to say it's definitely growing on me. The aiming and control is still an issue, but it's mitigated if I just use stealth more, take about 20 seconds to wait for my crosshair to shrink enough that I won't miss my headshot on the guard walking slowly like a zombie on his 10 ft patrol route, and make sure to pick up every item I can lay my mechanical hands on, I'm having more fun with it. Exploration is actually rewarded with awesome new weapons, too! I went into a (completely optional) Hotel area to rescue some hostages from terrorists, and happened to find a bad-ass Flamethrower in there. I had to dump half my inventory to make room for it (RE4, anyone?) and I haven't actually needed to use it yet (I haven't been close enough to an enemy who wasn't already a corpse to hit them with the jet of searing hot flame), but anyway it's a Flamethrower, so that's cool. I also entered this terrorist warehouse a different route this time through that level, and managed to find a sweet assault rifle on one of the guards that made that level about fourteen times easier.

Also the AI is pretty friggin' dumb in Deus Ex, I'm sorry, but it's true. If you shoot them and fail to kill them, they just start flailing their arms like kermit the frog and running in circles or bumping into walls.

Alright, maybe it's more like this:

You know, same thing.

Diablo 2


In anticipation of Diablo 3, I'm playing Diablo 2 for the first time ever. It's pretty good, I guess. From what I've seen, all the issues I have with the game will be fixed in D3, so that's good news.

Basically, this is a game where you click on things and your character attacks them. Or you click on loot to pick it up. Or you click on NPCs to talk to them. Or you click to move around. Basically what I'm saying is I have carpal tunnel?

Descent: Freespace

Despite the name, the only thing Freespace has in common with Descent is the developer and the fact that it features spaceships. Not the same spaceships, though. Also it has some kick-ass box art, even if it's unreleated to Descent's kick-ass box art.

Freespace takes place in . . . wait for it . . . space. "Free" space, actually. You fly around in space inhabited by deadly alien spaceships and questionable physics (but really, what space game has realistic physics outside of Space Shuttle sims?). You shoot lasers and missiles at enemies and try to kill them. It's really fun, but still not as good as Freespace 2. Freespace 2 hits GameTap this thursday, and I will be promptly replacing Freespace on my hard drive with #2 because it is superior in every way.

Although I should really just download the upgraded, open source version of FS2 which looks twenty-seven times better:

Seriously, if you like space combat, download FS2: Open. It's free and legal and looks amazing. It's also the greatest space combat game ever created, unless you count Dodonpachi which I don't because that's a totally different genre. If I did count it, though, it would totally win.