Monday, June 18, 2012

Musings on Hiatus

To all my loyal readers of the last year and a bit, i want to thank you for enjoying my ramblings on the games i play and some of my thoughts on the medium. Partly due to personal reasons, partly due to other project ideas, and partly due to a growing lack of enthusiasm i am afraid i must put Monday Musings on indefinite hiatus.

There might still be some quick reviews and random articles here at the blog, but at least for a little while, there will be one less gaming related column to read on Mondays i'm sorry to say.

Till next i type, happy gaming to everyone!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Musings Postponed

I'm sorry to say that this week Monday Musings will have to be postponed for some very personal reasons.

I should be back in full swing next Monday, but just as an inkling of what i'm playing, good lord is Trackmania United addictive. I mean i knew it would be as the original Trackmania held my attention for months, but throw in that online mode, especially when so many servers have original tracks, then add all that single player content... it's almost too much.

I'd recommend everyone to pick up the game on Steam, but it always sits up there price wise, and when i bought it on sale, it was still $20. Still, the game is definitely worth $20.

Till next week, i hope you all have some fun times gaming. That's what it's there for.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Monday Musings - 4th June, 2012

It's been a busy day of comics and writing, but now i have my coffee and it's time for the Monday musings (turns on Persona 4 soundtrack).

Below the Root (PC)

I've mentioned The Adventure Gamer before, and his quest to play through every notable graphic adventure game from the genre's humble beginnings to now. Well after completing Woodruff and the Schnibble of Azimuth last week i thought perhaps it might be fun to follow his campaign myself (and since i love both retro games and adventure games, it's a win win scenario for the use of my gaming time). Now i'm not going to play every title on the Wikipedia entry of notable graphic adventure games (and i have my own criteria for which ones i choose), but i am starting where he's starting and that's the 1984 adventure / platformer, Below the Root.

Based on a trilogy of books (and made as the fourth book), this is not a pure adventure game. It's not even a pure platformer, and to boot it's got elements of the RPG as well. Truly a hybrid game. You pick one of five characters that live among giant trees. You can pick up something called a shuba to allow you to glide, and this is a very good thing as the controls are hard to initially get used to (and smacking into a wall will hurt you). Pressing left or right will move you left or right, and the longer you walk, the faster you go. Pressing again will jump in that direction. A lot of the platforming is precision based so you can probably already see the issue. You have to learn to tap up or the opposite direction the instant you land in many cases (even doing so when switching screens as you might find yourself walking off a ledge). Different characters have different stamina stats (which affects your jump), and there are ways to increase that stat in game. This means that some jumps are harder than they need to be if your stamina is not right (as you will over or under shoot your jump).

You also have a spirit stat and this is basically magic. You learn spells as you progress in the game such as healing, kiniporting (teleporting items), and pensing (you can judge people's motives. There are those who will lie to you, and kidnap and capture you if given the chance). The world itself is massive, and its this sense of exploration and just all the options available to you that keep me returning to the game despite all the issues. There's just this atmosphere that immerses you, plus learning all the spells and progressing does give you that feeling of satisfaction that you've overcome a great hurdle.

Plus if you're stuck it's fun just walking and gliding around the tree tops.

God of War (PS3)

Yes the first game. It's on PS3 cause i'm playing the HD collection. It's funny cause there have been some frustrating segments in the game thus far, but the whole pacing and presentation have made me forget about them as i trudge forward. During my last play i opened up Pandora's Temple by breaking the necks of some sirens in the desert.

Perhaps it's because i've been playing Sine Mora but i have been a little disappointed about the lack of boss battles so far (because Sine Mora is all boss battles). I think it's also cause that hydra fight the game started with is such an amazing kick off that i'm waiting for the next equivalent. That i want more is a good thing though, and i imagine the game will reward that sooner or later.

The camera is an interesting beast to be sure. I like 3d games that take control of the camera for you. It allows a greater direction of action and scope, as you can guide the player's eye. It also makes for some seamless flow (a good example is a simple one. Descending the spiral staircase to the Athens Sewer. The way the camera zooms in as you move down is exquisite). The downside is that if you want to backtrack you cannot see where you are travelling, but i've not had a problem with this use of the camera in combat... and seeing that's the core mechanic of the game, i'm pretty happy with it.

Nightsky (PC)

I gave this one a quick go this week. It's a side scrolling marble madness with power-ups that reverse gravity or give you speed up bonuses. I played for fifteen minutes or so. Not enough to hold my interest i'm afraid (or to write about it seems).

But i did play it and i wanted to mention it. Yay!

Terranigma (SNES)

I visited Suncoast. I took pictures! I also got some meat and fed it to a gourmet over in Freedom. Apparently the best way to get your town noticed by the world at large is to feet local cuisine to an American gourmet. Who knew?

I fought my way through Nirlake (cause it's near a lake), and had a boss battle against some starfish while a water dragon turtle thing spewed fire in my direction. Quoting Charlie the Unicorn episode 3 could not save me. Starfish most definitely does not love you. I did get the ability to hold my breath underwater though which allows you to travel where bubbles are.

Then i travelled to NeoTokyo. You can find a ghost in a trashcan, and if you defeat it, you can visit the Quintet headquarters (the company that developed Terranigma). All the different departments are there, and they all seem overworked yet optimistic. Hooray for breaking the fourth wall.

More as the journey continues...

Rayman Origins (PC)

I tweeted last week that if you have the ability to play co-op, buy this game and invite a friend over. I have not had so much fun playing a game in a long time. I went over to my buddy Kenneth's place, though was definitely not in the mood to continue our game of X-men Destiny. Luckily he loaded up Rayman Origins on Steam and we spent the next couple of hours laughing our asses off and being blown away by the beauty of the artwork, the great music, and just the ingenious level design.

Most of the humor was derived by Rayman's big blue mentally challenged buddy. Almost everything he does from hanging on ledges to flying through the air is hilariously stupid, and we started to create a narrative that this game is actually about Rayman unable to get out of an abusive friendship with Bluey.

As platformers go, the jumping is a bit loose (especially with the run), but seeing that there's no lives, and co-op uses the 'second try' bubble system from New Super Mario Bros. Wii, everything is fluid and fun. That's not to say there's no challenge however. Man, to get everything available in each level takes some masterful platforming, and the game really shows off its abundance of secrets and medals.

I am greatly looking forward to our next Rayman game session.

Final Thoughts

Playing not only Below the Root and needing a walkthrough, but also needing one for a puzzle in God of War makes me question my patience for videogames and the challenges they pose. My favourite genres are adventure games, platformers, and RPGs, and out of them, platformers are the only ones i don't require assistence for. For an adventure game or RPG, a walkthrough is a must. In RPGs i don't want to be underlevelled or spend points in the wrong areas, and in adventure games, i hate being stuck, dragging the game to a halt.

I wonder if it's my changing tastes as a gamer, or the lack of time i now have. I used to love exploring every inch of adventure games and RPGs, and there's a great story i have about how the solution to a puzzle in Loom (one of my favourite games) came to me in a morning dream, so i instantly woke up, turned on my PC and lo and behold it worked. My brain had solved the problem for me. I think i was 13 or 14 when that happened.

Perhaps it's the ease of information on the Internet that has changed the way my brain works, so instead of holding information and making connections, it's learned that anything it needs can be looked up. This would account not only for the lack of patience, but the lack of being able to work through these solutions.

It's not to say i don't enjoy puzzles anymore. I loved playing through Limbo (although i would leave and return later when stumped), and i always come back and finish off sudoku and crossword puzzles. Perhaps it's pride that makes me think that i should still be able to tackle this problems alone, and of course there's still that stigma in gaming that if you require codes or walkthroughs, you're somehow less of a gamer (i wrote an article on that a couple years back).

Does anyone else wrestle with this? I'd love to hear some thoughts on the subject.

Till next week, happy gaming all!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Monday Musings - 28th May, 2012

Another week, another musings. Let's get to it!

Diablo 2 (PC)

To fill the void of Diablo 3, i went back to Diablo 2. Here's the thing though... i've played this game pretty much every year since its release, sometimes for months at a time. The thought of levelling a character up to the point of amazing loot acquisition was not a pleasant one. Then i got an idea. A hero editor! I can test out builds, and create stupidly high level characters and give them a go, starting out at the point where i search for the good loot.

It's been fun. I've created a Whirlwind Barbarian at level 75. To get used to the character, i've been running through Nightmare mode. I love being a whirling dervish of death. I haven't played too much further than smacking down Andariel because i think while a new spin on things, and despite how good the game is after all these years still, Diablo 2 is not Diablo 3. I had a taste with the guest pass, and i want more dammit!

Sine Mora (360)

When i last talked about this game, i was having troubles with Papa Carlo and the mechanical spider that came in the section before it. Like most skill/reflex based games however, the more i play, the better i get, and when i sat down to play this on Wednesday, i not only completed this section but the next two stages in their entirety as well. Part of my success is due to in these stages, the minimum firepower being at level three instead of level one (it goes up to level nine, and when hit, all the power-ups fly out of you). That added ability to chew through many of the small planes on screen in a very quick manner was invaluable.

Funnily enough, aside from the giant beam cannon boss, i can't remember too much else about my game session (well there was getting hit by an oncoming train that happened more than a few times). The giant airship was a pushover but alas i am stuck on yet another crazy boss. This one is some sort of rotating mobile fortress. You have to enter its maze of girders, and then navigate through it, avoiding and destroying not only the guns and laser beams that can fry you, but the power cells that open up new areas of the maze. All the while it's slowly rotating around and around.

The first few attempts were a challenge of time, as it is quite scarce. Once you fry the first power cell however, as long as you don't take a load of hits, time is no longer a concern. This is where use of your secondary weapon can be a godsend. Where i left it, i was getting bombarded by laser beams (as there is not much room to manoeuvre) and searching to see what pathways each destroyed power cell granted me. Every step forward and victory in this game has been quite satisfying, so i look forward to sitting down again this week and besting this foe.

Terranigma (SNES)

A short game section this week. I explored not only North America, but South America as well, enjoying the chilled grooves of the town of Liotto. I travelled by ship to Mermaid Tower, and cleared it of evil piranha fish. The mermaids returned and i got a boat out of the whole ordeal (cue Lonely Island track here).

I started to travel the seas, acquiring magirocks and special armour in Antarctica, New Zealand, and Scandinavia. When i saved, i was headed to Suncoast (Australia), and it will be interesting to see how the game interprets my home.

Oh yeah, i also helped invent the telephone. A man named Bell. I have no idea who they could be alluding to (wink).

Torchlight (PC)

So with Diablo 2 not fully filling that desire to play Diablo 3, i decided to finally try Torchlight. Almost immediately i was wondering why i didn't play this game sooner. The ease of play and the interface combine to make a fully enjoyable experience (so much so i played four to five hours the first day). The pet is an amazing addition (that keeps you adventuring despite a full inventory), and the skills i was acquiring on my ranged character were enjoyably powerful.

Then the next day the sheen started to wear off. I was down to about floor twenty of the dungeon and was getting bored. The frequency of decent loot is pretty lopsided (for example my first play i got a pair of amazing gold gloves... and have not found another useful gold item since), and there's no challenge at all. Groups of enemies attack me, i explosive shot till they die in clumps. For the past four to five floors, i'd been using that skills exclusively.

Still, even though i don't see myself returning to the game anytime soon, i'm happy i played what i did, and this makes me more excited for the release of Torchlight 2 sometime in the coming months.

Final Thoughts

I've plugged the articles i write for the retro page over at indie gaming mag here before, and i will continue to do so. You may have noticed that the games i cover i don't talk about in this column. That's so when i write about them, everything is new and fresh, and i can milk the game for all its worth upon the page.

Sometimes i wonder if i shouldn't talk about these games here though. For instance a lot of this last week i have been playing 'Woodruff and the Schnibble of Azimuth'. Yes, the game is as bizarre and enjoyable as it sounds.


I just started writing about it and then deleted the sentences to write this instead. I was beginning to write what would normally flow out of me when approaching the column. It's probably a testament to the game that i really want to talk about it on this open forum i bring to you each week. Well seeing i link my work, perhaps it isn't too much of a loss that i skip out on games i'm playing on this column from time to time (well, purposely. There have been many times sadly where i've plum forgot about including something i've played in this column. That almost happened with Diablo 2 today). If anything, putting these queries out on the page helps me work through them better than if i just pondered it in my noggin (the same principle applies to my cartooning and webcomic content).

So be on the lookout for a write-up of 'Woodruff and the Schnibble of Azimuth' sometime in the future, and till next week, happy gaming all!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Monday Musings - 21st May, 2012

Hello all. I'm gathering most people's game playing week has consisted of a good dose of Diablo 3. Mine did too... kinda. Read on and find out. Let us muse.

Limbo (360)

Since my quick review went up late last week i don't feel i have too much more to say about the game. I will say that the final puzzle took quite a bit of trial and error, and like many of the later tough puzzles, i felt a sense of jubilation when i finally bested it. That was immediately shattered with an, "Aw, is that it?". This is especially interesting considering i felt like the game had been dragging in the last hour or two, and overstaying its welcome. I guess that overall i was sorry to see the experience end. It's the sign of a good game when you end up wanting more when it ends. That happens so rarely with me because i don't finish many games. Most i do end up finishing, there's this final slog to the end, and i will admit that on the way to the finish line, Limbo did invoke that reaction...but overall, i do have a pleasant memory of the experience, so there's that.

The ending however.. hmm, i dunno.

Diablo 3 (PC)

So the entire household where i live bought their collector's editions, and here i am a poor destitute gamer who to feel part of the release, re-downloded his copy of Diablo 2. Then i got the great idea to use one of the many guest passes available to try the game out. The problem here is evident. When the guest pass ended after i defeated the skeleton king, i was even more depressed that i couldn't afford and play this game. The art style is so beautiful and the gameplay is so straight-forward and stream-lined. Some may not like it, but the customisation in the attacks in each class make for many choices of play style, and the best part is it can be changed on the fly. Yeah sure I haven't played enough to really see the fruits of this system for good or ill, but my short time with it was quite positive. The crafting system also seems interesting. It's like instead of gambling your money away trying to grab good gear, you gamble crafting your gear, and thus you have another use for all the weapons and armour you pick up and are going to sell anyway. I guess the grey area comes between scraping your spoils for components, and getting enough money to cover training your crafting skill (and I don't even have any idea how runes or gems or all that work).

Needless to say, I wish I could afford Diablo 3. I think once I get stable again, it's one of the first things i'll save for.

Terranigma (SNES)

I've not played as much Terranigma this week because of everything else, but I have bested the Spain portion of the game, so I would like to take this opportunity to talk about Bloody Mary. My housemate Pierce had talked up this boss as the only boss that magic is useful on in the game, mainly because she is a boss encounter that is very difficult, and that you will remember. Now magic in Terranigma is an interesting beast. You obtain special rocks called Magirocks throughout the game. With a little bit of gold, you can craft these rocks into rings that will unleash spells (that once used will give you the rocks back). I mainly use the rocks to craft grass pins, which will give you full health (it's useful when you run out of healing items), as I found hitting things to work better (I usually favour melee over magic in most RPGs).

I've been half using a walkthrough while playing Terranigma. The guide i'm using suggested that before entering Bloody Mary's dungeon, to use your Magirocks on forging Elec Rings (as it's a screen covering attack... kinda like a summon spell). I kind of gloated to Pierce after using the first ring when fighting this boss. “This is supposed to be a hard boss?” Yeah, I was kind of a dick. I guess I couldn't resist. Each Elec Ring hit her fairly hard, but soon I had used all the rings I had crafted, and she was still alive.

This is where my gloating came back to bite me in the ass. Pierce laughed as Bloody Mary's magic gems obliterated me, causing much loading of save states (I don't know how i'd play this game without the aid of the emulator. Save points are so far apart and not in dungeons at all). He was amused as he headed to bed, leaving me to continue my uphill climb against this boss that I had suddenly come to respect. Part of my problem was over-reliance on the jumping dash attack. It would cause me to hit the gems on my way through attacking. The standard dash attack however would hit Mary twice and I would be immune to the gems as I travelled through. Now Pierce had told me to use the dash attack over the jumping dash many times, but I keep reverting back to it as I find situations where it does a significant amount of increased damage. I guess the temporary invulnerability always trumps damage output. After a little more fighting, I had bested Mary, and I felt like I had overcome a great challenge. I now too tell tales of Bloody Mary. This was it. Heed it well.

I have left things as I travelled across the sea to the new world (called 'Freedom'), and this is where we leave Terranigma for this week.

Sine Mora (360)

So what happens when Grasshopper Manufacture make a shoot em up game? Sine Mora, that's what. A game with an incredible sense of style, memorable boss fights, and mechanics that revolve entirely around time. It's also hard as balls, at least to a player like me who is not well versed in the playing of crazy shmups. I've played for a couple hours and am up to level three (the levels usually consist of a couple different sections of game, such as a big boss fight with a Victorian house train or a giant mechanical logging machine named Papa Carlo).

The way the game works is that killing enemies add to the level timer, and getting hit takes away from the level timer. You have a bar of bullet time which when triggered allows you to dodge the crazy bullet spray with ease. Over-reliance on this will of course dry it up and then you're left to your own reflexes (which always astonishes me on how sharp I can dodge stuff when I have to in this game). Couple this with collecting weapon upgrades (which fly out when hit) and you have a lot of fun, if not frustrating gameplay. It's one of those challenges though that I find myself playing to rise to. If just that I want to see every boss fight the game has to offer. I shudder to think of what the final boss is like. They are one of the more exciting and memorable portions of the game.

One thing is that there seems to be a rather detailed story accompanying the game, but as it is told in blocks of text dubbed in a fake language, I have had no interest in following it, and I find myself fast forwarding the cut-scenes to get to the gameplay. A shame, because I want to know why i'm playing a grizzled old Bull or a Cat lady interchangeably. Perhaps i'll look into it in condensed form online when I finish with the game.s

Final Thoughts

To start with on the final thoughts section this week, I want to plug my new retrospective on Goblins 3. Boom!

There has been a discussion amongst the writing staff which I would love to open up to my readers as I find it quite interesting. Basically it's what constitutes a retro game in your opinion? I won't tell you what we settled on, but I will lay out my thought process on things.

Possibly the greatest jump in videogaming was in the mid 90s with the shift from 2d to 3d. It might make an ideal point to classify everything before that point as retro (and I must admit that when I think of retro, I think of the eight or sixteen bit eras). Then again, a lot of those early 3d games could easily be seen as retro, especially by today's standards. Hell, with how quickly technology progresses, games from ten years ago could be considered a little retro. This is where the discrepancy lies. And also, who's to say in ten years the advances won't be such that make today's games look just as dated as those early 3d titles?

I do think of retro as around 1978 – 1997, but the constant shift forward of our game technology, and the ever changing landscape means that we will have to constantly re-evaluate our definitions, especially as gaming gains more and more history as the years go by (by changing landscape, I mean did anyone see the explosion of motion gaming, and then the explosion of tablets and the app store? Who knows what the next ten years holds).

As always, i'm interested to hear your thoughts. Let me know in the comments and till next week, happy gaming all!