Sunday, May 29, 2011

Monday Musings 30th May 2011

This week in gaming was mainly taken over by one game. Other things were played, and as always, there's plenty to talk about. Let's muse!

Portal 2

For about the past two weeks i've been stuck on a puzzle. I'm pretty sure it's near the end of the Cave Johnson segment (i've already heard the infamous lemons line), but try as i might i can't find a way out. I loaded up the game this week, played around for 10 minutes, and quit again. It would be a shame for the game to end here, but unlike the other times i've been stuck in Portal, the solution hasn't presented itself to me after a while of tinkering around. Truth is when i'm stuck, i tend not to feel like playing said game (notice the lack of FFXIII this week). It's a pity. When Portal 2 works (and it does this for the majority of my experience), it's a fantastic piece of gaming.

Civilization 5

This has been my obsession for the past week. It started last Monday evening starting a multiplayer game with my friend Cam. Since then i've thrown myself into everything Civ. I've been reading strategy on the civ fanatics forum, i've been watching Let's Plays on youtube, and i've been playing the game pretty much everyday (on Thursday, i even broke my 'no games during the day' rule to play a couple hours before work).

And that's the thing, i still haven't finished a game. I came damn close last night. I was the Japanese and was playing on the archipelago map type. I had covered a lot of islands, made peace for most of the game, and had become a powerhouse. Suddenly Germany decided to publicly denounce me and ridicule my lack of standing army (got to keep those upkeeps low), so i prepared for war and wiped him off the map (it was about 1930 when i went to war with Germany. Eerie). Suddenly everyone else started denouncing me, and after a failed war with India, i decided to call the game there.

I'm still very much an amateur when it comes to Civ but i haven't had a game grab like this in quite a while, and i really am loving the hell out of it. My multiplayer game is still going and we're in modern times now. Cam is Russia, and i am Persia. He's more of a warlord and science based player while i'm more gold and culture. It's been a good team. The only civ we haven't obliterated is the Iroquois.

I'll tell you this, it's amazing how much the combat changes once you open up modern units. It's really like two completely different battle games. A lot of the strategy i've been reading online doesn't cover much of modern era combat, mainly cause these guys are such good players, the game usually ends before then. I guess i'll get used to it. After all, i'm still learning every round i play!

The Witcher

The Witcher 2 was released last week. I have to say, from the Game Trailers review, it looks really good. So good in fact that i felt it was time to finally play the first game. After spending all week downloading it (go go ADSL connection 6km from the exchange), i finally sat down to experience the game Saturday night after work.

I've talked about this before, but sometimes the judge of a game worth playing is if what it does right can overstep what it does wrong. That there are more pros than cons on the game scale. The Witcher, at least early on is a case of this. The intro and prologue sets up the atmosphere and this is one huge thing the game does right. I am fully immersed in this world. Despite the graphical glitches and the ui getting in the way of combat, this game is holding my attention.

Let's discuss the combat, or more specifically, the camera in relation to the combat. It took me the prologue and an hour or two into chapter 1 to find out my preferred playstyle, that being isometric camera and mouse. Even with this, on some enemies, it's hard to extend your sword combos because either an object is obscuring your ability to click attack on the enemy, or you're not being precise enough. Even with these issues, i love the combat. The sword combos and the mixing up of stances give a feeling of strategy, timing, and fun. Throw magic into the mix, and i can see myself enjoying this my entire play length.

Another thing i am very impressed with so far is the amount of side activities so far. I've uncovered alchemy, dice, bare knuckled boxing, drinking, and collecting herbs. Plenty to keep a player occupied, and easy ways to make money (aside from the notice board quests). It's funny cause in an MMO, i'd consider something like gathering herbs a time sink, but in a single player game, it becomes a welcome addition.

The level up system is pretty neat too. You feel overwhelmed by choices initially, but aside from enticing you to level up as quick as possible, you can see where your points are going depending on your playstyle.

Final Thoughts

I've finally gotten around to reading the work of H.P. Lovecraft. I purchased a collection of his more famous stories for my kindle and have been enjoying them. It's not hard to see that a lot of game monster and atmosphere design could be inspired by his work. I was reading 'The Shadow Over Innsmouth', and i think some of you know where this is going. I'll try my best not to spoil too much for those who haven't read the story.

When the story describes the followers of Dagon as they emerge from the sea and begin their search of Innsmouth, and when the protagonist finally gets a close up look at them, and listens to their guttural cry? I had a gigantic smile on my face. Murlocs! Now one should never smile when they think of Murlocs, as any WoW player knows. They're annoying, they run, they bring back friends... and they're very annoying. The thing is, ever since the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, i can't help but smile.

It's that quest group in Borean Tundra up in the north east. To infiltrate a group of Murlocs, you dress up like them. In this gigantic floppy cloth Murloc suit. You can hear appropriate bassoon waddle music playing in your head as you walk around in the costume (well maybe that's just me). Since then, that's all i think about when i think of Murlocs, and it makes me smile. The realization that the Murloc design came from Lovecraft made me smile, but only momentarily. They are quite threatening in this story, and i recommend giving 'The Shadow Over Innsmouth' a read. It has some good tension and an... interesting ending.

Well till next week folks, Happy Gaming!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Monday Musings - 23rd May 2011

I had quite a solid week in gaming. It's time to muse about it!

Final Fantasy XIII

I'm up to the final boss of the game. You fight Barthandelus again and then you fight Orphan in two forms. Orphan's first form is giving me some trouble. It has an attack that removes about 85% or so of everyone's full health, so if you're in the yellow at all when it hits, you're dead. At the start of the fight this is fine cause he only does it at the beginning of the fight, and then after each stagger ends... but once his health goes about half way down, he can do it anytime. Adding to the problem is an attack that has the same effect on one person. It turns the last half of the fight into a game of chance. What really made me unhappy was i had about beaten him when a random shot of this attack on Lightning ended everything (again, why does the battle end when the leader dies? Why can't the AI revive her like you can do to any other party member?).

I have read that the second form of Orphan is pretty much the same except now you have a doom timer on you. Fantastic. I might have to experiment with some of my accessories. I don't need to level up as i only have a couple hp, strength, and magic spheres to crack on everyone. With luck, the game should be completed by this time next week.


I checked out Kongregate again this week for another game to try. I might make a habit out of it. Faultline was the name, an interesting take on puzzle platforming is the game. The goal of each level is to reach the exit, but walls, spikes, and lasers impede your path. What you have to do is use your mouse to connect two points of the level together, and the space in between them folds in on itself, changing the layout of the level. Of course you also have to revert some of the folds, and there are switches and other additions that make things more difficult and interesting, but in the end this is a simple, interesting idea done well. It can be played here.

Battlefield Bad Company 2

I picked this up for $6 in the Steam EA sale. I have heard many good things about the multiplayer, so what have i been doing? Playing the single player campaign! I dunno, i just can't jump into multi without going through the main game, or at least starting it. I'm about 4 or 5 levels into the game and here are my impressions.

First off, the game is gorgeous. Really. In the Bolivia missions, when you're creeping around the jungle, and the light is shining through the gaps in the trees. That's amazing. Secondly, it may be due to the destructive environments, but the firefights in this game have a real fun and visceral feel to them. I haven't been this impressed with the overall feel of the shooting mechanics in an FPS since FEAR (that game just did something right in the way it handled the firefights).

I think also my expectations of the FPS genre are quite different from other genres. I'm not expecting a decent story or attachment to the characters (although the developers have tried to create attachment to your squad through banter). I treat it like a good 80s action movie. You're looking for one great action scene after another with entertaining filler to link them together. So far, the action elements of BC2 have been varied and quite entertaining. We shall see if they can keep this pace up.

Civilization 5

I've started two new games in Civ this week. The way i play is i start off, and keep playing till things start going pear shaped. Then i re-evaluate the hours i played and start again. Sadly i do this for a lot of games. It's this thought of, "Ok, this time things are going to start off right". I even do this for RPGs... when i'm hours into them (readers will remember i restarted Fallout 3 eight hours into it).

One great thing though is that each civilization you pick plays a little differently and because there are so many ways to complete the game, i'm feeling like i've learned a lot just from my restarts. For instance in my game last night as the Aztecs, i focused on military production... but then i picked a fight with Rome, who was at the time, more advanced than myself. Needless to say, i got decimated.

In my previous game i played as the Arabs. I focused on gold production and diplomacy. Unfortunately my undoing was in trying to appease a city state by going to war with another city state. Who knew one city could be so well defended? I wasted a lot of resources there, and in the end felt that i had made a grave error.

It reminds me of how i played in Civ4. Usually i just kept to myself, but still built up military defences. That way if any civs were mad at me, they were always deterred from attacking me. Oh they would threaten war all the time, but they would never go through with it. In Civ5, i've tried to explore, expand, and flex my might a little more, and so far, that hasn't worked out for me. In my next game, i might try my Civ4 strategy and see how that pans out. The only problem with that strategy is with no real conflict, and a bustling empire, things got kind of boring. Mind you i played most of my games on easy difficulty. In Civ5, i'm already playing on normal (in my 3 games, i've boosted the difficulty each time).

Barbarians can kiss my tuckus.

Final Thoughts

So last week i spent a good portion of my morning last Friday reading Tim Roger's review of Final Fantasy XIII (all 18,000 words of it apparently). I've been a longtime fan of Tim's writing. Sure he writes a lot on each topic (some might say too much), but it's usually entertaining and insightful. Like the majority of the game playing population, Tim thinks FFXIII is a bad game. He goes into a lot of detail on his reasons and i agree with him on pretty much everything. One might ask why i keep persisting in playing it then. Hell, i've asked myself that from time to time.

One answer is that there's this fault humans have in their psychology. There's probably a name for it, but it's the idea that "I've already put so much time and effort into this pursuit, to give up now would be admitting that i've wasted all that time and effort. I need to see this through." This can be a detrimental thought if applied to gambling addiction, a failed relationship, or playing an MMO, but i'm not so sure it applies to a videogame with a definitive end.

Another answer would be the history i have of enjoying bad games with redeeming qualities. For instance, my love of every Suda51 game i've played (yes, even Flower, Sun, and Rain.... and that game is terrible), and how much fun i've had playing Deadly Premonition. Still, i don't think FFXIII is bad on these levels. I just think it suffers from some unfortunate design choices (or as Tim points out in his review, a lack of a coherent design).

If the battle system had fully opened up much earlier (maybe 5 - 6 hours into the game), and there were no limiters on the Crystarium, a lot of issues would probably have been solved right there. I think the battle system is quite interesting, kind of combing the active time battle of some FF games with the job system of others. Perhaps if there were more jobs, or if the enemies required differing strategies that would have alleviated further problems (cause really, the way to beat each enemy is pretty much the same with a couple small variations).

Then there's the corridor issue. My stance on that is most JRPGs have always been this linear, it's just that there's been an illusion of exploration and more to do. Perhaps some of this is due to FFXIII having most of its side quests at the end of the game, so the main plot was all there was to do until the credits hit. Still, this illusion seems to have been important. As a counterpoint, let's look at FFXII. One criticism of that game with that it was too open (at least coming after FFX... which was about an linear as XIII). Truth be told, FFXII isn't really open. It does quite a good job of funneling you as a player along the main plotline until the end of the game. What it does do however is offer a lot of other things to do (mainly in form of the hunts), and a lot of screens aren't necessary to visit in the wilderness, but they either have treasure, or are good places to chain up monsters for cash and levelling. There's also the teleporting between areas of note, which doesn't become an option in FFXIII until chapter 11.

I kind of started this looking into possible reasons why i'm playing this game that i admit is broken. Then i've given some suggestions on how it could be fixed, then moving on to defend the game against other FF titles. I guess in the end i'm not too sure why i'm still playing the game, but i have made the decision to complete it, and i shall follow through on that (unless the final boss keeps pissing me off and i quit in a rage, and start playing Metal Gear Solid 4 instead).

Till next week, happy gaming all!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Monday Musings - 16th May 2011

Hey there folks. Musings are a little late today as i am have been summoned to the municipal house of justice. Yeah, i got Jury Duty, but enough about non game related things, let's talk about game related things.

Final Fantasy XIII

Only played about 30 mins this week. Making my way through the streets of Eden attacking crazy creatures. I gotta tell you, now that i unlocked the haste spell with Hope, some of those super crazy battles are more of a breeze. Lightning has a couple speed and ATB boosting accessories so i only have to wait a second or so after attacking before her ATB bar is full again. Makes things go nice and smoothly. Also (and i don't know why i didn't do this earlier), having Fang act as a sentinel in my buffing and healing paradigms makes things go a lot more smoothly. The best paradigm i have to get stagger happening is still Ravager/Saboteur/Ravager. Especially with all my current abilities unlocked, haste, and Lightning's speed.

It's funny now that the battle system is finally opening up (and i really do think it's a fantastic battle system), i'm starting to tire of playing the game. I know i'm almost to the end so will push through, but i think a lot of critics of the game would have been a lot more forgiving if the battle system had opened up a lot earlier (i mean a lot earlier).

Lord of the Rings Online

It's probably good that i didn't reactivate my WoW account when i got the itch last week, because i've all but given up playing this free MMO. I logged in Tuesday, did some quests, died on a quest, shrugged, and logged off. I dunno, it just seemed pointless. At least it didn't cost me $15 to realise i have MMO fatigue this time.

Gravity Bone

This is an indie game... well it's like a prototype/demo for a game. It's 2 levels and you play a secret agent charged with a task and a couple tools to complete that task. It's got a unique aesthetic to it but at least on my PC, it crashed an awful lot, and i must say, until the end sequence of the 2nd level, i didn't think much of it. That end sequence though turns it into something special (in my humble opinion), and it's worth a play. It can be downloaded here

Elephant Quest

Gravity Bone made me curious to search out other titles that might be popular in the indie scene so it happened that at 2am on Friday morning, i found Elephant Quest. I played Elephant Quest until i completed it (and then in my sleepy state considered trying new game+). It's quite a basic game, but i think it does what it does well enough to hook players and keep them playing. It's got metroidvania exploration, an RPG upgrade system (a stat grid and upgradable abilities), and combat is as basic as holding down the mouse button.

The plot and quests are laughable (your brother stole your hat), but it reminded me of an old funny saying, "If the numbers go up, it means you're having more fun". This game speaks to that... and it's short enough that it doesn't overstay its welcome. It can be played here.

Civilization 5

Started a new game on Friday night, waiting for friends to finish watching Eurovision so we could go out for pancakes. I forced myself to quit around turn 55 as it was almost time to go. I played around with some of the options, bumped the difficulty up a couple notches and tried a new civ (going with the arabs this time). I'm starting to get a better sense of strategic placement and what buildings and units to build for what purpose (for squashing barbarians, you cannot beat horsemen), and already my game is more interesting diplomatically.

Play will commence when i wish to lose another evening.

Final Thoughts

Elephant Quest brought up an interesting thought. I wish more games could be completed in one sitting. Maybe it's cause it's rare for a game to hold my interest, or at least for me to want to continue playing it without actually having to force myself to load it up. Portal 2 is this way. I love the game when i'm playing it, but i never play long and it's always a bit of an oomph to open steam and press play. Portal i completed in one sitting. Fahrenheit and Heavy Rain i completed in technically one sitting (i stopped for food and sleep).

In the case of the quantic dream games, it's because the story has immersed me (and Portal as well i guess), but there must be something else. The game mechanics don't overstay their welcome or at least enough is changed that i'm not getting antsy with playing the game. I had no problem loading up Mass Effect (hell, i played through the game twice). Prince of Persia: Sands of Time is one of my favourite games. I can play that over and over again... and i think the combat is seriously flawed and overplayed. I've talked about this before and i will probably mention it many more times, but i am in search of that elusive immersive quality that seems to defy perimeters for me (at least as far as i can judge).

What made Super Mario Galaxy so fun to play, but made me tire quickly of the sequel? Why do i find Deadly Premonition so entertaining when it's so horrible? Why don't ducks have thumbs? Bah. I'll continue to ponder this line of thinking as i continue to play games. The ones i enjoy overall or at least stick with are worth examining further. We shall see what comes of it.

Till next week, happy gaming all!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Monday Musings - 9th May 2011

Today's musings will be short as not much game playing was done. Well not many games were played. Friday night was swallowed from me by a game, but we shall get to that.

Portal 2

Solving a puzzle in Portal 2 usually has one of two effects on me. Sometimes i marvel at how clever the puzzle i just solved was. This is what usually happens. Most of the puzzles don't require huge leaps of logic, but rather a multitude of small steps that include some fun use of portals and gel. The second effect is how stupid i can feel when the solution to a room that has me stumped finally reveals itself.

So far this has only happened twice. First was the room with the turrets and the bridge (it took me forever to realise how to use the bridge), and the second time this has happened was this week. The room involved both the acceleration and repulsion gels (both were flowing freely from a spigot), a box and a button... and launching oneself across a gigantic chasm to the exit elevator. I believe i wasted about 20 mins wracking my brain on how to finish this when suddenly an idea clicked. I actually exclaimed, "Oh man... is it really that easy?", completed the level, and felt like an idiot.

So there you have it. One thing i love about Portal is how smart it can make you feel. The sequel has taught me how stupid it can make you feel. The weird thing though is it's not really a bad stupid because you're still progressing. It's like the difference between good challenge and bad challenge. Good challenge makes you rise to the occasion and persevere through any obstacle a game presents. Bad challenge makes you want to quit playing or look up cheats and walkthroughs. It's definitely a fine balancing act.

Civilization 5

So those who recognize the image on this post and then chuckled when i mentioned my Friday night disappeared earlier will have seen this title coming. Civilization (the first game) would be in my 10 top games of all time (i really need to write that list down sooner or later. It would make for an interesting post). The 'one more turn' meme is quite famous within gaming circles but even with the latest edition of the franchise, man is it still true. I started the game up at about 11pm, and when i decided to save and quit in the middle of my game (it was just after 1000 AD and i was pretty much mopping the floor with everyone), the clock read 2:45am. Almost 4 hours gone, just like that!

So what is different with Civ this time round? Let me do a quick round up of what i've noticed in my half-game thus far. The game looks beautiful, your cities can destroy hostile units with a ranged attack (in case you haven't garrisoned a unit), there's these experience trees that give you bonuses (they seem to have replaced government and religion), you can't stack units, oh and there's the hex grid. The city states are neat too. They're not full fledged civilizations, but you can form alliances, and gain bonuses for helping them. They also make politics more interesting...

... an example in my game was i was aligned with a city state that asked me to dispose of another city state. That state was aligned with India, who was my greatest ally at the time. What oh what was i to do?! My solution was that i ignored the request and continued with my game. Not making the tough choices! That's me!

Honestly though, i know i haven't scratched the surface with the game i played and didn't finish. I have all these ideas of how i'm going to plan my next game. I'll set aside an evening sometime this week and put my plans into action.

Final Thoughts

I've always felt that videogames and their sequels had a special difference to sequels in other media (primarily film). In film, rarely is a sequel better than the original. In videogames, sequels can often be better than the original games as they can address gameplay issues from previous titles, or try new things and invigorate the series. I'm starting to wonder about the first sequel though.

I've noticed a trend developing with my playing habits over the last year where i find myself enjoying the original game over its sequel. I stopped playing Mass Effect 2 about 20 hours in, and started another game of Mass Effect. No More Heroes 2 is vastly improved gameplay-wise, but it seems to be missing a lot of the charm that made No More Heroes so great. Super Mario Galaxy 2 was one of my top games last year, but i haven't completed it yet while in Super Mario Galaxy, i kept collecting stars long after the credits rolled. This week while playing Portal 2, i thought to myself, "This is an excellent game... but i think i prefer the first one".

Now to be fair, i have not finished any of these sequels yet and i have played through the originals multiple times. That more than likely has something to do with it. It's the same reason i thought Final Fantasy 2 was a pale comparison to Final Fantasy 1 (although comparing games in the FF series is a minefield as most titles are vastly different on purpose).

Perhaps it's becoming an extension of my erratic playing habits. I've enjoyed the original experience and even though the sequel might be excellent, in some ways, it's just more of the same. It might be why even though i've tried new Pokemon titles over the years, i've never gotten as close to finishing one as i did with the original Blue.

Heh, actually there are exceptions to this rule. There is a sequel that i feel is greatly superior to it's predecessor. It's my favourite videogame. It's Megaman 2.

I'd be very interested to hear your thoughts on sequels and their comparisons to the original games.

Till next week, happy gaming all!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Monday Musings - 2nd May 2011

It's been a busy day and the musings are a little later than normal, but it is still Monday and there have been video games played.

Final Fantasy XIII

Remember last week how i maxed out my Crystarium only to deal with this one boss that impeded my progress for the entire week? Well i completely dropped him first go. Well ok, there was one period where i thought his cheap tricks might cost me the fight, but i weathered the storm and he went down. I always have to tell myself as these boss fights are coming to a close not to get cocky and forget myself. In the first Barthandelus fight i found myself trying to hurry things up and it cost me dearly.

So now i'm in chapter 12 and am plodding along to the end of the game. There is a creature i have had to fight known as the Ademanchelid. It's a gigantic brontosaurus turtle that hurts you for a lot of damage everytime it stomps the ground (and it does this a lot). Luckily i have the haste spell so that helps things. There are also lots of 3 way fights now. Pre-emptive strikes are getting harder to pull off which can make these fights annoying as both parties turn their attention on you.

Portal 2

I haven't played too much more this week, but i am enjoying the ramblings of Cave Johnson. The gels also are a fun addition to the game. I'm trying to be as spoiler free as possible, since i think there's like 1 other guy aside from me who hasn't completed the game yet. I'm doing this for him!

The Lord of the Rings Online

I'm in the old forest questing before i go find Tom Bombadil's house. I'm really coming into my class now and the game is making more sense. I will say though, general chat in this game is just as bad as any other MMO. Maybe it's just me but when i want to know something, i look it up. I saw the same questions being asked over and over and over and over and over again in a 2 hour gaming session last night. And even though it costs real life money, i do think it's kind of cool you can buy your riding skill and mount at level 5. I'm saving up the free turbine points the game awards you to purchase my riding skill, and i have enough in game currency to buy a mount. I'm gonna hold out on buying points and upgrades as long as i can.

I've also been getting the itch to return to WoW again. It was the video i watched for the 4.1 update. Damn they announce their patches with great media. I feel like rolling a troll rogue again. Khalulakhaki shall live once more. I keed, i keed... i'm having fun with LotRO and it costs me nothing. WoW can wait.

Final Thoughts

I think i will use this section here for another plug this week. Last week was GoG, this week is a new feature at GameTrailers i am really enjoying. It's called 'Level', and they take a couple of minutes to explore a great level in videogames. is a link to their 2nd ep about the ice mansion in Twilight Princess (heh, link). I love little looks back at great things in videogames, and GT does some good ones (i also really love their pop fiction segment).

Well till next week, happy gaming all. I have plans for a new segment to test out on this blog, so there might be a post on Friday, but if not, see ya Monday for more musings!