Sunday, March 27, 2011

Monday Musings - 28 March 2011

It's Monday and i got introduced to some new games this week. Let's get ready to muse!

Final Fantasy XIII

I'm on Gran Pulse now. The game completely opened up. Most everything can kill me and there are missions. I completed a couple but pretty much made a b-line to continue the story. Crystarium points have risen substantially. It takes a lot of them to buy anything, but luckily i'm gaining a good amount from my battles.

The story seems to have broken down a little (or at least i need to check the datalog for extra info), but i am interested to see how the whole thing is going to end. Perhaps i'll complete it this week (though most likely not)

GTA IV - The Lost and Damned

I finally had enough. I looked up some codes, and with the help of guns, armour, and the police leaving me alone being a phonecall away, i plowed through the rest of the game.

There was some fun to be had. The final mission for Elizabeth where you're shooting cops while an NPC drives the motorbike all around town was quite exhilarating. Most of the missions were your general 'kill lots of people and escape' affair.

So now with the game saved after the story, i have all of Liberty City as a playground. Last night i loaded up the game and just had fun acting like a brutal psychopath (don't knock it till you've tried it... ingame). I'll get to The Ballard of Gay Tony sooner or later, but just having that world open to run around in is great.

Risk Factions

I spent Friday evening at my friend James' house. We played NES games on my Dreamcast and he showed me a couple PC games he'd been playing. The first was Risk Factions. Now i have never played Risk before (i have played a couple videogame versions so knew the basics), but i was very impressed by this title.

It's the basic game surrounded by bonuses, a pretty decent ui system (although the slider to add troops is a little maddening), and a lot of charm and humour conveyed by a great cartoon art style (and some hilarious animated shorts before each campaign map). I'm sure multiplayer is a blast, but probably will wait a while to buy it (i bought 2 other games this past weekend... which i will now discuss).

Atom Zombie Smasher

This was the 2nd game James showed me (as he wanted to try out the local co-op). It's a realtime strategy game based in procedurally generated cities, where you have to rescue as many survivors by evac helicopter as possible while killing zombie hordes with the troop types you're given. If you can wipe out all the zombies, you capture that section of the overworld map and gain more points each round towards winning (games are based off a point total, and if you reach the total before the zombies, you win). You can also rescue scientists to aid in research, you gain different troop types over time, and your troop types level up after missions. Finally, everything is visually represented by coloured pixels over the backdrop of surf rock, and the game is easily modable.

I thought this was a lot of fun. Co-op is basically 2 - 4 people playing the single player, so in 2 player, i controlled the evac helicopter, barricades, explosives, and marines, while James took care of artillery and snipers. Single player is made easy by a pause button to enact orders (well it doesn't pause, but game speed drops to 10% so it's just as good really). I played a short game by myself, but i must say, after seeing what the game has to offer, even with all the options, things can get a little dull. I might have to search the modding community for ways to spice things up, cause i really like what's on offer here (plus i payed for the game, i don't want to get just one playthrough for it).

Lead and Gold: Gangs of the Wild West

It was $2.50 this weekend on steam. It boasted teamplay in the wild west. I thought, "What the hell?". It has a lot of good ideas. There are 4 class types each with their own weapons, and special talent. Each class also has a synergy so while they're around team members, everyone gets a boost (as well as healing). As you play the game and complete objectives, you gain experience and level up. Each level boosts the power of your synergy. All up, it's an interesting take on multiplayer.

It's a pity though that the game is a bit laggy and buggy. Compound this with that online people tend to be lone wolves, and not team players, and the game can lose its shine. Also, the combat doesn't have the right feeling. You're just aiming, moving and shooting, and there's no real viscerality there (yes, viscerality). When you die, you don't die. You fall to the ground and until more bullets are put in you, you can shoot with your pistol at others. This sounds like a neat feature, but having to kill people twice is a bit of a drag. One other neat addition though is the ability to respawn next to a teammate or where you died (although this can be inopportune).

All in all, for $2.50, i got my money's worth and will probably give this a go every now and then.

Final Thoughts

Sigh... i had written a big post about steam and indie titles, but it somehow got cut off when i posted. I will write about it again some other time. Sorry all

Till next time, happy gaming all!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Cabal Clones

In 1988, there was a game released called Cabal. It was similar to games like Commando in that you played a gun toting protagonist with the camera behind him (well sort of a 3rd person, top down view), plowing through hoardes of enemies. Where Cabal differed was that your character was stationary, could dive out of the way of fire, environments were destructable... and oh yes, the roller ball control scheme.

Cabal was released by the TAD corporation, who in 1990 made a spiritual sequel to Cabal in the wild west, titled Blood Bros. In my opinion, this game plays a lot better than Cabal while keeping the same style of gameplay. Who knows, perhaps it's the western setting.

As a fan of both these titles, my curiousity got the better of me and i went in search to other games that shared the same style of gameplay. I found quite the treasure trove.

To start with, let's have a look at Alligator Hunt. Gaelco released this in 1994, and it pretty much is an Extreme 90s version of Cabal, being that you play a kid on a skateboard (radical!) defending the Earth from aliens. This game is amazingly fun though. The enemies are very interesting (especially when you get to level 2), and shooting frogs for extra missiles in an interesting addition. This one is worth a play on MAME if you can get a hold of it.

Next we have NAM 1975, probably the most blatant of Cabal clones, at least in theme. Released by SNK in 1990, you're a soldier mowing down helicopters, tanks, and waves of enemy soldiers. One really neat edition is that your dodge button doubles as a roll and a speed run, so you can zip around to get power ups as well as dive out of the way of bullets. The distinction between the two modes of the button though is a little hairy.

Before we move from the arcade to the console, one final little oddity. A game called Hard Times, which the Italian company Playmark released in 1994. It's basically a modded version of Blood Bros with a gangster theme.

So now let's get to some of the great Cabal-esque games released on consoles throughout the years. First let's stop off on the SNES, with the sci-fi western, Wild Guns. Released in 1994 by Natsume, this title brought a couple new things (aside from a neat setting and decent gameplay). The stages contained some horizontal scrolling, and your character would actually inform you when they were in harm's way and it was time to dodge.

Let's move forward a ways now to the Dreamcast and Charge'N Blast. Even though the game is in 3d and the camera changes angle, your character moves on a fixed path. While this looks fun enough, that robotic voice over would grate on me pretty fast.

Finally let's have a look at the WiiWare title Zombie Panic in Wonderland, which was released just last year Akaoni Studio. The game has a really nice art style, and the sound and music are well done. It also seems very cutesy for a game about disposing of the undead. It does seem a little repetitive though, which i admit is a strange criticism of this style of game.

Well that's the titles that my research led me to. If you have suggestions to any games in this genre i have missed, please let me know. Any games where your character actually moves forward as you shoot doesn't count i'm afraid.

Till next time, happy gaming all!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Monday Musings - 21 March 2011

Man, it's really hot today. The coffee is certainly not helping matters, but i need it to write, so what cha gonna do? Some good gaming this week, let's get to it!

Final Fantasy XIII

I hit Chapter 10 over the weekend. I'm in the 5th ark, and i just fought the Primarch. Man was that a battle and a half. The cut-scene leading up to it was pretty epic too. That kind of was a main turning point storywise, so with 3 - 4 chapters remaining, it'll be really interesting to see how this plays out.

All my characters now have access to all jobs. I've got a main party of Lightning, Hope, and Fang, and i'm really starting to love how valuable the sentinel is, especially when you change paradigms, but keep the sentinel, so you always have a tank soaking damage, and it's just what's happening with the other party members is changing. Man that was a run on sentence.

There was a spot earlier in the week where there were some enemies that i could respawn and keep fighting for a decent amount of CP. After about 15 mins of this i gave up and continued with the story. Maybe it's the way FFXIII is designed, but man grinding is not fun at all. I mean, ok, it really never was, but it's one of those mechanics we've come to expect in JRPGs... but for a lot of other titles, the rewards seemed greater. This was just boring and it wasn't long before i told myself i wasn't doing this. Again, i think it's partly to due to that FFXIII doesn't require grinding (you go through fighting, you should have enough CP to keep you on top of things), but perhaps it's becoming an antiquated mechanic that the genre doesn't need anymore.

Fallout 3

I'm level 8 with my new character, so i'm pretty much where i was when i decided to restart. I'm a lot more powerful and having a lot more fun. I finished off that quest chain with The Family, and i just cleared out the fire ants (my god, the first time one went flamethrower on me, i about crapped myself). One thing i am really liking is how quests seem to be self contained stories. I'm not quite finished with the fire ant chain (i need to travel to Rivet City and find the kid a guardian), but finishing The Family chain was really rewarding (and i got a lot of exp too).

I keep telling myself, "One more side quest, then i'll go hunt for my dad again".

Prince of Persia

I've unlocked 3 of the seals on the temple. Everytime i did, and i got to see what the new areas i could access had in store for me, i was in awe. This game does a lot right. Sense of scale, and very entertaining flow to the platforming. Often when i had just finished a section, i thought, "Man, that just happened".

I also have defeated the Alchemist. The combat is not that entertaining, but easy enough that it's not a problem. The multi-stage boss fight was pretty cool.

The only real negative i'm having is sometimes the platforming doesn't work. It's like you're playing an old side-scroller, and your jump is off by a pixel so the game doesn't register it. A few times, i've happily taken the blame for plummeting to my death, but there have been many times where the game just decided that things weren't going to happen.

Oh and god, the dialogue in the game? Terrible! Half the time i feel like i'm playing a bad action movie. It's a really stark contrast to the environment and art style.

GTA IV - The Lost and Damned

I think the game took pity on me this week. I still haven't blown up those vans with the pipe bombs (i always seem to die just as i blow up the final van), but i got a call on my phone opening up new missions options after i failed yet again. These missions are full of murder, and escaping the police (i always seem to escape in vehicles that have their tires blown out). I must admit though, the game is wearing a bit thin now. I'd like to finish it off as i'm pretty sure there's not much more to go, but the motivation to play it is becoming less.


I bought this a while back, and had many nights of fun playing co-op while laughing over teamspeak. I thought i'd give single player a try (and soak in all the humour the game surrounds itself with). It's definitely not as fun as playing with friends (and blowing each other up), but single player has a more experimental approach to it. You move at a slower pace so have time to try out new spell combinations (and make liberal use of area effect spells. You tend not to use them in co-op as you have friends around you). For $10, this is still great value and such a fresh take on combat with oh so many variations.

Final Thoughts

I was going to put my thoughts on JRPG grinding here, but it seemed more appropriate to talk about it under the game that prompted that line of thinking. Readers of my blog, or friends will know that i make no qualms about using walkthroughs, FAQs, cheat codes, and playing games on their easist settings. Once upon a time, i might have cared about challenging myself in this medium, but these days all i'm looking for is entertaining experiences not hampered by physical or mental deficiences on my part as a player.

My decision to restart Fallout 3 without use of a walkthrough made me think a little though. I've talked before how a walkthrough can disturb immersion in a game as you're constantly breaking contact with the game world. I also am beginning to wonder if my desire to use a walkthrough in a game should be indication of when to leave that game on the sidelines. There are two different types of brick walls i hit while playing games. One has me running to a solution as i have no desire to continue on my own (and my history with JRPGs usually has me starting with a walkthrough to avoid this brick wall scenario). The other is a challenge that i keep chipping away at until i overcome it.

Now the second type is becoming more rare but it still exists. It exists in a lot of Telltale adventure games. Super Meat Boy has constantly had me striving forward. Vanquish has had me playing bosses over and over till i complete them. I might have used a walkthrough on my 2nd playthrough of Mass Effect, but the first time i did things my way (which led to me wanting to replay with a walkthrough, but that's neither here nor there).

I guess my point is, if the compulsion to chip away at a problem isn't present, on some level the game i am playing doesn't have my attention, and perhaps i should put it down and try another title. This can be problomatic if it occurs late in a game, when one is invested in the story, characters, and the time spent... but it's a thought i shall be dwelling on some more.

Till next week, happy gaming all!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Monday Musings - 14th March 2011

It's been an interesting week of gaming. Let's dive right in!

World of Warcraft

This will probably be the last week I play this for a while. Level 20, played another dungeon, did some more quests. I just felt bored. It's not the quest types or the story going through (i think both have been very well handled in Cataclysm), i think ultimately is that there's not enough variation in the class i'm playing at this point. I have a few new spells yeah, but the way i'm tackling enemies is pretty much the same it was 10 levels ago. I mean i'm more efficient in using my skills, and the talents i've selected help the process, but combat already has lost its fun for me, and with 65 more levels to go, that's definitely not a good sign.

It makes me wonder what it was about hunters and rogues that allowed me to break through that barrier.

Heh, i've been talking about leaving games at hour 20 recently. This time i left it at level 20. It's a pattern!

Final Fantasy XIII

I'm up to about hour 10 on this. Snow has just returned (with an amazing re-introduction), and i got to play Fang for the first time. One thing i really enjoy is how the story keeps breaking up the parties, giving you new combinations of characters and classes to play with (which all act slightly different). I think i'm going to miss that once i reach a point in the game where i'm allowed to choose my own party (If FFXII was any indication. Once i was allowed to choose my own party, i only used the same 3 characters for the entire game).

GTA IV - The Lost and Damned

Still stuck on the same mission i was last week (you have to drop pipe bombs to blow up moving vans). I've played this for a few more hours regardless. I've been busy starting gang wars, and engaging in that old GTA staple of just being a menace and having fun with civilians and the cops. One thing that i find astonishing about the way they changed the police mechanics for GTAIV (you know, with the radius), is that i was able to lose a 4-star wanted level. How the heck does that happen?

Tiny Wings

The game that's lighting the app store on fire. I thought i'd give it a try for myself. It deserves praise. Challenging without being unfair, beautiful presentation (audio and visual), and addictive. For its price, i'd give this a definite recommend. The checklist of challenges to acquire new nests is a nice touch as well.

Tales of Monkey Island - Launch of the Screaming Narwhal

I've had this series for a while. On Thursday, i felt like giving it a go. First off, character designs, the voice acting, and the writing, all top notch. I was most impressed that Elaine sounded vaguely British again (Curse of Monkey Island is my favourite in the series, and i did not like the change in voice actor in Escape from Monkey Island).

The movement is really weird though. Holding the mouse button down opens up a circle that guides your movement with the mouse movement. Very hard to get the hang of. Luckily you can use the keyboard to move, but i would have preferred the click to walk control that most adventure games use.

I have only played about 30 mins though. I was exploring the jungle when my computer suddenly restarted and i have not been back to the game (as i did not save yet). A pity cause a couple instances had me laughing out loud.

Marvel vs Capcom 3

I visited my friend Kenneth and we played this for 90 mins or so. Tycho from Penny Arcade was right. If you have a fighting game, a couch, and 2 people, you're set. Matches consisted of us picking random teams and then just trying things. It's a pretty good game, though some characters i felt were completely useless (*cough* She-Hulk, Sentinel and MODOK), but i only too happily confess to sucking at these games.

I wonder how many characters will be added via DLC. I want Son Son dammit! My favourite character in MvC2.

Fallout 3

I have restarted my journey through the wasteland and am already level 5 again. I was following a walkthrough but in some games, a guide can disconnect you from what you're playing. F3 really does seem like as long as you aren't a complete idiot, play it your way and things will work out. I'm back in the swing of things and have already started to make my mark on the land.

At the moment, i am searching for The Family. They sound ominous.

Prince of Persia

The 2008 release. I bought the PoP pack in the Christmas Steam Sale, and decided to give this game another go. I gave it a try a couple years back on the PS3, but i was burned out on games at the time and it left a bad taste in my mouth. So far, i am enjoying things (the only negative... the first time it loads takes an eternity. Good thing i have Tiny Wings on my iphone to keep me busy).

I've recieved my first upgrade (pretty damn awesome), and there is a really nice flow to the platforming. It also helps that the game is freaking beautiful. Updates on my progress as i continue (it's not like i don't have enough on my plate at the moment).

Final Thoughts

Often i wonder if i could complete more videogames if i would only limit myself to one at a time. There are people that do that, and i have tried it in the past. I think aside from possible ADD when it comes to interactive entertainment, it's a want on my part to experience as much of the medium as i can. I mean i have the same problem with books. Many times, i have to attempt a book 2 - 3 times before i finish it. I always seem to lose interest and move onto something else. Movies don't have that problem because they're always completed in one sitting. TV shows are a little different, but i don't really have a problem with them (perhaps because TV is a passive form of entertainment while reading and videogames are active forms).

Perhaps it's also linked to artificial length and immersion. Let's face it, many games are drawn out past where they should end. I understand it's a value thing (especially for time spent on making the game and the price of new releases), but many games fail to hold me past a certain point. Either the mechanics get stale or the story has not been engaging.

A 3rd possibility is one of finance and freedom. As a kid, i was lucky to get 2 - 3 games a year for my NES or PC. I sat and played those games to completion... and then played them over and over again because there was nothing new. Nowadays my Steam and GoG accounts alone are larger than the time i have for videogames (it's the collector in me and those damn sales).

Funny story, i still remember saving up for a month or two to buy my first videogame for the NES. I already had a decent library thanks to my mum, but this was the first time i got to buy a game. I was planning on buying Double Dragon III but instead on a whim purchased Bart vs the Space Mutants. Both games in retrospect were terrible titles, but i think i came out ahead on that one.

Well till next week I wish my readers all the best. Happy Gaming

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Monday Musings - 7th March 2011

It's Monday again! I've been doing this for a month! Let the good times roll! Today's Musings are dedicated to the annoyance of Games for Windows Live.

Final Fantasy XIII

I've found that this is a good title when i get home from work to pop on, and play a chapter or two. Not much exertion or input needed, and as i said last week, i enjoy the story and characters. Also since the levelling system is almost an echo of FFX's, i love the joy that comes from having enough points to travel through the Crystarium and get those new abilities that make your characters even more badass.

GTA IV - The Lost and Damned

I really enjoyed GTA IV but never completed it. There was this mission where you're ambushed in an abandoned hospital. I was playing on the PS3 at the time (I bought the game off a friend. It cost me fried chicken. True story), and the cover mechanics weren't working properly in the hospital. I gave up the game there.

The episodes seemed the best way to enjoy the game as they are short and self contained (along with small improvements like mission checkpointing). A friend gifted them to me on Steam a while back.

First though i had to contend with Games for Windows Live. Turns out you can't save without being logged in (at least that's what the game told me. After my time with Fallout 3, i have to wonder, but more on that later). I have a live account from when i had a 360. Years ago i loaded it up into a friend's 360 and it has been used since. I wanted to start fresh, but my email has already been used for that account (and it seems my other email has been used for someone else's account). In the end i have used my old live account, and everything seems to be working. Man that was a cumbersome process though.

I have played about 6 hours of this game so far. Playing a member of a bike gang chapter is a new gaming experience, and the story so far has been pretty interesting (the main theme being loyalty). The combat is so much better with a mouse (headshots a plenty), and things have been moving at a nice steady pace.

I'm up to a couple of missions that are starting to give me trouble. We shall see how long it is till i start loading up cheat codes (it's how i finally completed my favourite game in the franchise, Vice City).

Fallout 3

Progress is starting to slow on the wasteland front. I'm still exploring. I found a vault with a crazy gas that made the inhabitants mad, and it makes me see blue visions. Combat shotguns to the face are the best way of taking care of said mad inhabitants. Also, enemies using a stealth boy? That's just not cool. Not cool at all!

I bought 'My First Infirmary' for my house in Megaton. It means i could finally fix my broken head injury. It turns out being bashed on the back of the noggin by a raider tends to screw with your cognitive faculties.

On levelling, i immediately grabbed the perk that allows me to carry more stuff without becoming over-incumbered. I've needed this for a long time (i might be a bit of a scavenger).

After getting GFWL to work for Lost and Damned, it loaded up when i opened Fallout 3. Now that i was logged in, i couldn't continue my saved games. I started to dispair, but logging out of live opened up that option again. Bloody system.

World of Warcraft

Plenky is closing in on level 20. I've run a couple more dungeons (not to completion... but to be fair, this was Wailing Caverns we're talking about. I got an awesome staff out of it too), and am now levelling in an area supposedly below my level, even though i have been moving forward quest wise at a steady pace (i have to turn on low level quests to see the exclamation marks now). The exp is still ok and now i kill things a lot easier, so i shall power through!

I helped a super intelligent raptor ready a space rocket to blast herself and her babies to another world. When i let the babies out of their cages, they attached themselves to my face and limbs with their razor sharp teeth. I enjoyed that quest.

Wonder Boy

One thing i want to do with this blog is give myself an excuse to have a look and play older games and talk about them. I have this MAME emulator with 3000 or so arcade titles. I thought now and then i'd pick one and talk about it here. This time i picked an old arcade/console favourite from my youth.

For a platformer, Wonder Boy is actually a strange mix of mechanics. You collect eggs to power yourself up (you need to grab the first egg to gain a weapon). There's a timer that is extended by gathering fruit. If you touch an enemy, you die. If you touch fire you die. If you trip on a rock, you lose a chunk of your timer. If your timer expires, you die. Also, there are speckled eggs that release death. Death eats your timer.

The 2nd power up, the skateboard, can be a help and hinderance, especially in the water/cloud levels. I played for maybe 30 mins or so and in the end gave up on level 1 - 4 because there was this stupid frog i couldn't get past (it's the one after the warthog that runs up from behind you).

I do remember liking a lot of the sequels to Wonder Boy better than the original. Wonder Boy III in Monster Land on the Genesis, and Super Adventure Island on the SNES i have fond memories of. Maybe i'll play the arcade version of the former for next time.

Jack Keane

Who else out there bought the 2010 Telltale Adventure Bundle? I did, and have been slowly making my way through the games. I fell in love with Penny Arcade Adventures, enjoyed the 2nd season of Sam & Max, re-played the King's Quests, and was very happily suprised by how much i liked The Whispered World (Nelson Tethers has a graphical glitch that does not allow me to play past the 2nd puzzle, so i cannot comment on that game). The final game to play was Jack Keane.

After about 30 mins, i'm not sure i shall be continuing with this game. The design is colourful and vibrant, the writing got a chuckle or two out of me, and the puzzles and interface seem straight-forward. The reason i cannot continue is the same reason i stopped playing King's Quest 5. Bad voice acting that you cannot switch off. Well ok, in Jack Keane you can turn the volume of the speech down to 0, but it's not like switching off the voice acting in King's Quest 6. In KQ6, when you turn the game from speech to text, all text is moved forward by the click of the mouse. Turning the volume off in Jack Keane just means you read the subtitles as the speech continues... which means clicking on short sentences might skip the next line of dialogue as the characters don't take that long to say the line and move on. It's quite frustrating.

It's a shame really, since it seems i might have enjoyed the ride. The game is kind of an adventure adventure game (think if Guybrush Threepwood was Indiana Jones). Ah well, i most certainly got my money's worth out of the bundle, and enjoyed most of its contents.

Final Thoughts

With my love of adventure games, RPGs, and constant talk of story and character, i think it's safe to say that i enjoy narrative in video games. One of the more controversial narrative driven games of late was last years' Heavy Rain. Over at Brainy Gamer, Michael has written a wrap up of David Cage's talk about his game and narrative in videogames at GDC. He makes many controversial statements but i think it's worth a read. Have a look here.

Till next week, Happy Gaming!