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.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Day of Defeat: Source

Last weekend, Valve hosted a free trial weekend for Day of Defeat: Source. It was free to download and play all weekend, and the normal price of $9.99 was cut to $4.99. I've been meaning to try the game out, but never got around to it, and I can say that I'm sorry I've been missing out for so long. I might just like this one better than Counterstrike: Source! I bought it after a very enjoyable weekend.

Ok, so if you're not familiar with the game, I'll explain a little. It's an online-only multiplayer team-based FPS set in World War II. The original Day of Defeat was a Half-Life mod, just like Team Fortress and Counterstrike, and Valve decided to buy out the mod developer and create an official version for the Source engine. Although many players of the original games continue to decry the Source-based updates of the classic mods, often for "simpler" or "dumbed-down" gameplay, I happen to think Valve has done an amazing job with these games. But then, Valve hasn't made anything I don't like yet. I digress. The gameplay of Day of Defeat: Source is, at first glance, not very unique. It has class-based team gameplay similar to Team Fortress 2, you have to capture flag points or plant explosives just as in Counterstrike: Source or TF2, and the weapons kill quickly with no health or ammo pickups, just as in Counterstrike. These similarities are really superficial, though, when you look at the actual flow of the gameplay and the key differences that set DoD:S apart.

Firstly, DoD:S features two important gameplay additions. Up first is sprinting.

This seems similar to the sprinting found in the Call of Duty series, and I don't know which came first. Regardless, it lets you run much faster than normal, with the downside that you can't shoot while sprinting. Sprinting also quickly decreases your stamina meter, so you can only sprint for a few seconds before you become tired, and need to walk normally, or stay still, for a few additional seconds to bring your meter back up. This definitely helps balance the game, because the sprinting really makes you move fast and helps a lot dodging enemy fire or escaping from grenades. If you know that a sniper is waiting for you or a machine-gunner could open up on your position as soon as you leave cover, sprinting erratically might be the only way to progress. This greatly speeds up gameplay that might otherwise be the same slow, methodical pace as Counterstrike.

The second gameplay difference is the prone position. Again, I think this is in Call of Duty, but that's not important. When standing normally, your gun has a lot of recoil. I mean, if you think the AK in CS has recoil, just try out the support rifle in DoD and you'll know what I mean. It's possible to counter the recoil when spraying, but it's difficult. This only really works well with the assault rifle because of its fast rate of fire and decreased recoil. Anyway, laying prone will greatly reduce this recoil, which can be crucial to scoring more kills. It also greatly lowers your profile, and in dark areas of the map or around corners it can help you stay a little more hidden from a distance while you pick off noobs. Lying prone also allows machine-gunners to mount their weapon when there's nothing else (like a sandbag pile or windowsill) to mount it on. Of course, the downsides of lying Prone are that you don't move very fast at all; the transition from standing to prone takes some time during which you are totally vulnerable and cannot fire; you can only fire while not moving while prone, so that if you try to move around a corner you need to stop moving to actually fire, and at close range you'll have a much harder time killing someone because you have to look all the way up to their upper body for the killing shot while they have your entire upper body lying right in front of their sights, not to mention the decreased mobility. All in all, a balanced proposition.

So what about the classes? They're actually pretty unique to this game as well.

First up is the Rifleman class. The rifle is a slow rate of fire, high damage weapon. Think of a sniper rifle without the scope. It's deadly at medium to long ranges, and includes an iron sight, although aiming is sometimes more effective without it. These guns also have high recoil, making them hard to use at close range firefights. Definitely a strong support and defensive weapon, but you won't be mowing down dozens of enemies with one of these guys. It's a pretty cool and unique weapon for an online FPS, and works well to bridge the gap between the other classes.

Next is the assault class. After playing last weekend, I checked the Steam forums, and it seems this class has gotten a big buff in the latest update, which some claim to make it unbalanced. I can see their point but I think the balance is fine. Basically, this class sports two types of grenades (smoke and frag) as well as an automatic gun for short to mid-ranged use. It has high rate of fire and moderate recoil, but weak damage per shot. Secondary fire is a strong punch for really close-quarters combat. I love playing this class, and it's true that this class is versatile and lets you rack up the kills, much like the soldier in TF2. Mainly, the assault class is used for breaking through defensive lines and capturing flag points. As an offensive class, though, it falls short at defending, and is weak to long range support classes like the sniper, rifle, or machine-gunner. Because the recoil is weaker, I've found it easy to spray at an enemy while controlling the recoil for more effectiveness. The smoke grenades are great for busting machine-gunner and sniper nests too, and play a crucial role in winning a lot of games.

The support class sports an automatic rifle similar to the assault class. It has better power per shot but a lot more recoil, though. With secondary fire, it can double as a weak rifle by switching to a more accurate semi-automatic mode with a much lower rate of fire. I'm not a big fan of this class, because it just seems like a cross between the rifle and assault classes but with the worst of both worlds. Weaker than the rifle, and less accurate than the assault. This is used for medium-range firefights and covering the assault players as they rush forward. This is the one class that is seems redundant.

Next is the Sniper. Every FPS needs a sniper, right? Well, this is the same old story. You have a sniper rifle. Most of the time it seems like a 1-hit kill to me. The sniper also has a pistol for close range encounters, and it's not a bad gun. Not much else to say; the sniper is clearly a useful part of any defending force.

The machine-gunner. I'll admit I haven't gotten a chance to play this class yet. This is because there are only 2 machine-gunners allowed on a team at any one time, which is the main balance to this class. This class comes with a heavy machine-gun turret that you can set up on the ground or on a piece of scenery like a window-sill or pile of sandbags. It has great rate of fire and big clips, and will tear apart anyone unlucky enough to enter the field of vision of the gunner. Since it can only be fired accurately when mounted, though, machine-gunners are immobile and only face one general direction, making them very vulnerable to flanking maneuvers. A lot of people in-game (noobies like myself) were crying that this class was unfair "like the heavy in TF2" because it can sit there and rack up kills, but that seems ridiculous to me. Classes serve particular roles. It's a defensive class. It has weaknesses just like the heavy. Learn to deal with it. If I get killed by a machine-gunner, I don't think "crap that was cheap", I think "crap, I need to find a way past that machine-gunner position" and then I might switch to assault and toss down a smoke grenade, or switch to sniper and take him out from long range. Or find an alternate rout and come at him from behind. All in all, a very useful and balanced class for those who like to sit in one place and rack up kills.

Finally, we have the rocket trooper. He's equipped with a rocket launcher, but plays very differently from the soldier in TF2. For one, he has to shoulder the launcher before firing, which takes a moment and makes his movement very slow. This means no rocket jumps, no spamming loads of rockets, and also means lots of vulnerability. This class is mainly used for cracking defensive positions or getting people behind cover. I don't play it that much because it's just not as hectic and fun as assault, but it has a purpose and it's very balanced.

This is getting a little long-winded, so I'll make the next part brief. The flow of gameplay and map design. This is what makes DoD:S really stand out. On a 32-player server, this can be an amazingly fun game. Each map has several flag points you need to capture, and holding each one simultaneously results in a win. Capturing most points only requires one guy to stand near it for a second or two. It's very fast. Only one or two points on each map usually require two members of a team to be near it for several seconds before a capture takes place, and these are strategically located in heavily contested center areas. Each map contains many different routes to each flag point. If the enemy has set up a strong defense in the central area, you can bet there's some sort of back path that will let you flank them. This is what makes the game so darn fun. It feels like each individual player has the capacity to alter the entire game by a clever strategic flank, or through superior positioning. With good teamwork, a superior team could completely dominate any random group of players because of how important class counters and map positioning is in this game. This is one game where tactics and strategy can clearly trump superior accuracy and reflexes, much like TF2, but with the difference that accuracy and reflexes do help a lot more in DoD:S than TF2.

Alright, I'm done. Go give the game a try, it's super-cheap and really awesome!