Monday, November 28, 2011

Monday Musings - 28th Nov, 2011

It is Monday and there is coffee coursing through my veins. Let us muse.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution (PC)

I'm back in Detroit after a crazy time in Shanghai. I've infiltrated a convention centre and an underground bunker, and now am about to head back to Sariff Industries.

Quick question: Does anyone know if it's possible to disarm proximity mines? They have been a pain in my tuckus for a while now.

I don't want to give too much away, but i was really enthralled when you return to Detroit and there's that opportunity to learn more about Adam's past. Since i share what happened to him (trying to be vague enough not to spoil things. Hopefully it's not too vague), this side quest really resonated. I think it shows that even in games, creating compelling characters is paramount in creating impact in your audience. One could even argue that it's a little more important, since the gameplay options given to the player need to reflect the type of character given to them (or the one they choose to play in the case of games with moral choices... which really Deus Ex is included in). I'm playing an Adam Jensen that only kills when he has no other choice (so far that has only included the intro and the boss fights). Because of the way i am playing, my interactions with people, i've tried to keep in line with that... and i think that's what makes these side missions resonate a little more. Oh sure, the example i'm giving works because of my past, but there's a side mission in Shanghai where you help a prostitute in making the lives of the people in the under city a little easier. Heck there's a section where you have to escape from a pod hotel. The enemies are there to kill your contact. I disarmed all of them, thinking that i could save this guy. Turns out it didn't really make a difference. You were just meant to escape.

But on that note, there have been a couple occurrences where even though play doesn't affect the story (as far  as i know), actions had weight attached to them in my eyes. One was in the pod hotel. I sneaked into the office of the desk manager. I hacked his computer and his safe and took his money. I then found an ebook diary he had written how he was saving up to finally escape to a better life. I felt miserable. I reloaded my save, but it was too late, my most recent auto save was after i had stolen from him (i auto-save like a maniac in these games).

The second example was in a section i just played. I noticed an area in the streets of Detroit i had never noticed before. Accessing it, i found a letter, a sniper rifle and some ammo. Someone had left these there for a mercenary who was contracted to escalate the riots that are going on. I took the rifle and ammo and sold it. It would be cool if this leads to something further on. I'm not expecting it to, as it was just something i found off the beaten path, but again, it reinforced what kind of character i wanted Adam Jenson to be (or probably more to the point, the type of character i like to be, even when given power in video games).

K.O.L.M. (Indie)

If this was a live blogcast i would have to apologize. I went to get the url for KOLM and ended up continuing my saved game and completing this. I was checking out games at Kongregate and KOLM 2 was on the front page. The sequel continues right from where the last game ends. Intrigued i decided to check out the first game. It's an interesting one.

It's kind of a metroid platformer. Find upgrades which allows you access to unreachable areas you came across before. It has a really interesting presentation to it, from the way the screens are presented as different cameras to the dialogue the main character has with its mother.

The game took me 40 mins to complete so there's a decent amount of content there. I shall report on the sequel next week.

Final Thoughts

So at the moment i am giddily anticipating Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. Since the internet gaming scene has been abuzz with Zelda tributes of all varieties, i thought i'd use this space this week to work out just why Zelda resonates with me so much.

Seriously there is no other game even like it. Each entry in the series has had a nice combination of nostalgia combined with new experiences. What other series could go from the original game to what we saw in Zelda 2? What about Ocarina of Time to Majora's Mask? No two Zelda experiences have really been the same but they retain a lot of the design choices, characters, and locations that makes this series resonate with so many gamers.

At its heart i think the key to the magic of Zelda is rising to the challenge. In every game Link starts off as a boy who through various confluences finds himself on a quest to save the kingdom of Hyrule. As he travels on this quest, he discovers new equipment and new power, and always has to constantly use his skill and ingenuity to overcome adversity. This is a very positive message combined with a gamer's favourite trope, power fantasy.

The characters and world itself have a part to play as well. Now some games have had better characterization than others, but aside from the first game, Hyrule has always been inhabited by a cast of colourful characters (and you know what, i count the old man in Legend of Zelda as a colourful character dammit). The denizens of Termina in Majora's Mask all have their little story arcs over the three days of anxiety that town keeps facing. Windwaker saw some of the most expressive characterization in the series visually, and Twilight Princess has Midna, who quickly became my favourite Zelda character for her snarky, mocking attitude.

Many locations keep popping up in the games as well, like Kakariko village and Death Mountain. They change each time though and serve different purposes, maintaining the familiar but different vibe that Zelda games seem to hold. One of the joys of each new game is to see how the world is different. Windwaker was probably the most drastic departure, but Skyward Sword looks to be just as intriguing with the duel layers of sky and land (and of course who can forget the light and dark worlds of Link to the Past).

My anticipation for the new entry has even got me thinking about planning a replay through all the titles i own (for those who care that's Zelda 1, 2, LttP, OoT, MM, WW, TP, and Minish Cap). It certainly has been a while. I don't think i've touched a Zelda game in years now that i think about it actually, that probably explains why i'm getting all nostalgic and itchy trigger fingery about playing not only the new game, but going back through the series.

I'm not alone as the series has always had a large vocal fan base. I'd love to hear your thoughts on what makes the series so endearing and magical, as well as perhaps some of your favourite or least favourite games in the series (my fav is probably a toss up between LttP, and Zelda 1).

Till next week, happy gaming all!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

5 Credits to Midnight: Ep 8 - Donkey Kong 3

This week on 5 credits, we look at Donkey Kong 3, an odd sequel that involves bug spray and naughty parts.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Monday Musings - 21st Nov, 2011

It's almost December. 2012 is almost upon us. The big release window is pretty much over. I have SO SO much catching up to do game wise. Let us muse.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution (PC)

I might have been too hasty when i downplayed the visuals in this game last week. I had just come off L.A. Noire, and the facial animation of the characters in Deus Ex did not impress me, and probably influenced my over-all opinion of the visuals. Truth be told though, until L.A. Noire, i held up Half-Life 2 as still the best facial animation i've seen in gaming (well at least that made an impression on me)... and that was released in 2004.

So game wise i am in the upper city of Shanghai. Shanghai was actually what brought me back over to praising the visuals. It was the street signs. Just all the neon going on with the glows and reflections. I've visited densely populated Asian cities and they definitely got the feel right. I also like how the game rewards you with interesting side quests for exploring and actually paying attention to the conversations of random people. I've found more than a couple praxis points by completing side quests and exploring elevator shafts and the like.

Upgrade wise, am i the only one that feels reactionary to how i level up? I mean there are plenty of areas i have no intention to put points in because of how i play, but in the areas that look useful, i find i'm always thinking about upgrading them too late. Case in point, there's a section in the upper city where you can come across a fan shaft with the grating removed. Quite a ways down, something is glowing (i bet it was a praxis point). So then i decide it might be a good idea to save up two points and upgrade the back so i can safely land a fall from any height without damage. Who wants to bet that i'll hardly use this new ability? I felt that way about the silent walking actually. It was the first thing i upgraded... and i never use it. Partially because i didn't initially realise it was an activated ability, but mainly cause i always move around crouched.

On the other hand, the cloaking has already been very useful.

Deadly Premonition (360)

So another Friday night of heading over to Kenneth's for some Deadly Premonition. We made some solid ground story wise. We decided to visit Harry (so says Mr. Stewart), and we solved his puzzles and fetch quests and he told us his story. Intriguing.

Also, now that shotgun ammo is dropping off almost every enemy, the shotgun has become the weapon of choice. It definitely makes things less difficult (even though most of the zombies still are bullet sponges).

I've started tweeting during out play sessions. Not too much was overly hilarious this play session (nothing to rival the line of "Becky is dead.")... but we fished at the waterfall. We caught the gift box. That had us in stitches for a good 5 minutes. I think Kenneth had trouble breathing. Playing the game with a friend definitely creates a joyous mood.

I kind of worry now thought that the story seems to be heading towards a climax that the game will lose some of its charm. Part of what makes this just a great experience is how crazy everything is. The characters, what's happening, and especially Francis York Morgan himself. Now as many of the questions are being answered, some of that is going away. I expect to be entertained right up to the closing credits, but this is a concern none the less.

Wonderputt (Indie)

Style over substance. Mechanically and control wise, this is a pretty awful mini-golf game. The courses and how its presented make it worth playing all 18 holes. The course morphs and changes. Sometimes the hole you just finished reforms into another. All up, it's a really fun experience full of wonder. Yes, the name Wonderputt is apropos.

Final Thoughts

This week i thought i'd use this section to tally my progress in experiencing all the games that have been released this year that i want to play. Every year since 2007 i've had some form of 'best of year' in regards to my opinion on videogames and which ones delighted me. My fear the last couple months has been due to my financial issues in 2011, i would not be able to experience much of what's on offer. Luckily over the year this column has helped steer my gaming habits in the right direction and especially the last month or so, i've been quite hopeful about at least covering some basics.

Also, even though there are some HD collections i want to purchase, they will not be included on this list because they are games from years past that just have a new coat of paint.

These are the games from this year i wanted to play and have...

Portal 2
L.A. Noire
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Child of Eden
Rock of Ages

Not a big list. This year was more about catching up on last year. Civilization 5, Fallout: New Vegas, Super Mario Galaxy 2, and Kirby's Epic Yarn were 2010 games that got a lot of play this year (not to mention all the time spent on Persona 4).

Now here are the games i have waiting for me.

LoZ: Skyward Sword (ordered online. It's in the mail)
El Shaddai (Borrowed from a friend)

I forsee Zelda taking up most of my December, but here are the remainder of my must plays for this year

Gray Matter
Batman: Arkham City

Finally i'll add a category for games i'd like to play once everything else is out of the way.

Serious Sam 3
Uncharted 3
Rayman Origins
Super Mario 3D Land (i'd need to buy a 3DS first and that isn't happening anytime soon)
Dark Souls (i'd like to play Demon Souls first)
Radiant Historia
Shadows of the Damned

Heh, i think 2012 will be another big game of catch up. This used to be no problem but for the last couple years, Q1 has been a release window as well. I'm really looking forward to whenever The Last Guardian and Journey drop. Those are probably the future releases i'm most hyped for... and we may get Diablo 3 next year too.

Yeesh. This is on top of all the great old games i want to play or revisit. It's extremely daunting when looked at in this fashion, but i think if i take it one game at a time and enjoy myself along the way, everything will turn out fine!

Till next week, happy gaming all!

Friday, November 18, 2011

5 Credits to Midnight: Ep 7 - The Super Spy

This week on 5 Credits we look at a spy that is indeed quite super... well at least his fists are.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Monday Musings - 14th Nov, 2011

It is indeed Monday. It is indeed time to muse. It is indeed time to stop typing this sentence. Let us go!

L.A. Noire (PS3)

The curtain closed on L.A. Noire on Saturday night. I must say, it's refreshing to have a game completed in a week. This was the first step in playing catch up on all the games i've wanted to play this year but couldn't afford. It was quite an exceptional first step. Mind you, i'm an adventure game fan so this was right up my alley. The investigations, the interviews, even the action sequences were a lot of fun.

Now i know this game has a lot of horror stories associated with its development, but i did really enjoy the tale that was told here. There was an overarching tale of corruption from the get go, but the mini-story during the homicide missions revolving around the Black Dahlia murders was incredibly well woven with a great conclusion. The final chapters at the arson desk were amazing too, especially the stuff revolving around Jack Kelso. The flashback after the credits, while a curious way to end things, just rounded out the experience a little more.

I feel a lot was wasted with this game though. While having all these side missions and a breathing 1940s LA to drive around in, the main storyline was too engrossing to ever want to explore or try other things. The facial motion capture was incredible (so much so that the game i'm playing now, things just look terrible face animation wise... but more on that soon), but it really was just a gimmick as most interviews, there were pretty obvious tells if a character was not being truthful.

Heh, i'm used to having multiple weeks to talk about games to pick out things and discuss them. I'm racking my brain to try and find all the little things i noticed while playing and cram them into this segment. I guess i'll end on saying i would play a sequel to this game. That's pretty high praise right? Maybe set it in another time or follow other characters with another story, but use the same gameplay, only refined? I would be all over that. Somebody make that happen.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution (PC)

I started playing this last night and played a little passed the first mission. Already i find the gameplay incredible. I love any action game where non-lethality is an option (see my love for Splinter Cell and Metal Gear Solid). The options present in upgrades have me planning out which route i want to take with my character, and this might be the coolest hacking mini-game i've seen in any video game before. The story is very intriguing. My buddy Andrew and i were having a conversation a while back (he'd already played through the game), and he mentioned the actual moral opposition that a lot of people would have to augmentation when it becomes a reality, and that Deus Ex might be a case of forecasting. If anything, the themes are very engaging to the philosophy and sci-fi fan in me, and already having exited the building to explore Detroit in game, i might put the main story on hold, and check out a couple side quests to see what they have in store.

Actually my only complaint so far (aside from the facial animation of the characters paling in comparison having just finished L.A. Noire) is that i seem to get really bad frame rate drops now and then. It's not enough to impact the gameplay (it's more about this second or two of jitter loading new areas), but it is noticeable and annoying. Mind you, i do have the graphics cranked up. To see if it made a difference i turned DX11 off, and that has helped somewhat, but it has taken some of the shininess off sadly.

Whoever is voicing David Sarif, i swear i know them... but i usually wait till the credits to work these things out if they don't become apparent.

Persuit of Hat (Indie)

This is a lot of fun. Why? Because its colourful, the music is jaunty and it's a puzzle game where you tear off your own limbs to retrieve your hat. You also shoot some of these limbs out of canons. The puzzles are clever without being too difficult and this could have wasted my afternoon if i had let it.

I tried this game because the title intrigued me.

Final Thoughts

So some of you will be wondering where the review i promised of Persona 4 is. This is a valid question. I wrote up my proposal for how i was going to tackle reviews on Wednesday... then i become unsatisfied with my game categories so i slept on it, and went back to re-evaluate things the next day. I've tackled writing the explanation for my review structure at least four times now and still am not satisfied with it. Sometimes i think it's a little too much like other reviews out there, sometimes i think it's not informative enough, and i haven't been able to agree on discussion categories since i started (plus i'm still up in the air whether to create video reviews or just to write them).

I think my reviews will be a work in progress till i've settled on something i'm happy with. Till then, well my discussion each week here on Monday Musings should leave enough insight to whether you'd like to check out a game or not. I'm always happy to field questions about titles i've played in the comments too.

Till next week, happy gaming all!

Friday, November 11, 2011

5 Credits to Midnight: Ep 6 - Yie Ar Kung Fu

This week on 5 Credits we look at the granddaddy of the modern fighting game, Yie Ar Kung Fu.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Monday Musings - 7th Nov, 2011

It's once again Monday, it's once again time to muse. Let it begin.

Persona 4 (PS2)

And the game is complete! I finally polished off the game on Friday. Well kind of. Let me explain. On Thursday night after work, i defeated the final boss. Then the game fast forwards to the next spring when your character leaves the town. You get some time to go out and talk to everyone you've maxed S links with (kind of having an ending for all those characters). Through certain choices, you uncover a secret dungeon that is the result of not every thread of the mystery being solved (I tell ya, the way they wove the story of this one deserves a lot of appreciation. This is an amazing example of narrative and gameplay being planned out in tandem). So i saved before opening this final dungeon and decided that i would continue playing to get the true ending.

The next day i felt the urge to just load up my save and see what the normal ending is like. It played through (along with a refreshingly short credits sequence), and i saved my completed game. The normal ending satisfied me. I made the decision then that i had completed Persona 4, and when i get the urge to return to the game, not only do i have a new game plus waiting for me, but i can achieve the true ending as well.

I wont talk too much more about the game (those who regularly read my column are probably sick of hearing about it), but sometime this week i will post a review. I'm experimenting with a bite-sized review format for the internet viewer too busy or lazy to read paragraphs of text, but in a way that still imparts some useful information about the game's qualities to potential players (Still debating whether or not to do it in an audio format). Keep a look out this week for that.

Finally, after completing the game, my curiosity got the better of me and i youtubed the bad ending of the game. In the words of the Professor... "Oh, i made myself sad". Yeah, i wouldn't have liked to have experienced that in game. Not at all.

L.A. Noire (PS3)

Now it's time to start putting a dent in all the games i've wanted to play this year but haven't (funnily enough, i've spent more of the year catching up on games from last year). The first on this list is L.A. Noire. As an adventure game fan, i am having a ball!

I'm in the middle of the homicide section of the game. Most missions my interviewing skills are right on the money, and my investigation skills are always high, but the game does have its quirks during the questioning. Some of the times what they're saying is true, but because you need more info, doubt was the correct response. Other times you get more info by picking truth. I've come across a section where i had evidence to prove the person was lying, but the game didn't give me that one (i guess i needed to use the other piece of evidence... but both proved the person had a connection to the scene of the crime).

It's the same issue i had with some of the court sections of the Phoenix Wright games. I love those to death, but often an obvious answer (at least to me as the player) would be incorrect, either because you've jumped the gun on evidence or even though what you picked is correct, the game wanted you to pick another piece of evidence that was also correct.

And actually i'm kind of not happy that no matter how you do in a case, the game continues. I mean that's a neat accessibility feature to keep the narrative going, but you miss the good parts of the cases if you're constantly getting the wrong answers in interviews. Personally i'd actually prefer it to be like the chase sections. If you fail those, the game resets to the start of that area and you try again. Well ok, seeing as they've cleverly framed a lot of the cases to play out differently depending on how you do, that would detract from the experience they've set up for the player. I guess as an adventure game fan, i'm used to mainly engaging linear stories. L.A. Noire is engaging, no doubt about it, but getting a low star rating on a mission just makes you feel like you've missed out.

Oh and the clunky controls in the car chase sections. My god! I'll be talking about the controls a little more in the final thoughts this week...

Minotaur in a China Shop (Indie)

This is an interesting one. On the surface it seems like one of those shop simulator games with a bit of comedy thrown behind it. "You know that old saying about a bull in a china shop? What if one ran a china shop? Hilarious! Let's make it a Minotaur too!" It probably went something like that. The thing is though that like the QI board game, you actually can win by failing. Yup, if you want to succumb to your Minotaur ways and trash the place, go right ahead. See how much destruction you can wreck before security are called and tranq you to the ground. Depending on your rage insurance, this can actually end up being more lucrative than playing the game properly.

Plus all the upgrades you can buy in-between days are basically coaxing you to seek and destroy.

Final Thoughts

I'm talking about control schemes today. Well, one aspect of controls. The reverse axis debate! Before i learned the ways of playing an FPS with a mouse (one day on the internet in 96/97 i came across a revolutionary control scheme for Duke 3d), the only games i played that combined the two peripherals in an action setting were space shooters such as Wing Commander and the X-wing and Tie-Fighter games. These used the reverse Y axis with the mouse (as did plane shooters like Red Baron). It simulated the actual control stick after all. When i discovered using a mouse for FPS', i naturally used the same control scheme. It kinda makes sense. You crane your neck back to look up and vice versa. Even back LAN gaming in the late 90s / early 2000s, there was some contention among PC gamers about reverse Y axis. Funnily enough, playing reverse was in the minority back then. Not everyone played space shooters or plane simulators after all, and i can see how moving up to look makes sense to those players.

Fast forward to FPS game becoming popular on consoles and my first foray into playing them. This is where things get kind of funny, at least to me. I found that on a console, reverse Y axis was a handicap. My brain couldn't register it. It's like not reversing it on a PC. It's the gamer equivalent of trying to write with your non-proficient hand (ambidextrous people win this round!). Yup, even though i swear by reverse Y axis on PC, i have to use normal axis on a console. I think it's that an analogue stick feels fundamentally different to a mouse, and so in that context, moving up to look up works.

Now let's pile on the humour a little more. Before console games, the X axis never entered into it. I mean why should it? You want to look left, you move left. Makes sense, case closed. What about third person games though? Well... on a console, it seems that i have to have the X axis reversed. It doesn't feel natural the other way. Believe me, i find this very odd.

And that's where this whole discussion came from. L.A. Noire does not have an option to reverse its X axis for camera control. When i'm chasing down a suspect, i have to keep mentally reminding myself, "Ok, he's heading left. Turn the camera left. Good, good... now right." This must be how people who've never played games feel when they try and use a controller for the first time (especially if it's a game with camera controls). This is one of the reasons i stopped playing Enslaved last year (the half second delay on button presses didn't help). For all its faults, at least FFXIII let me change both axis' (axi?) to my heart's content!

So... how do other people feel about the axis controls when they play games? Do you reverse one or both? Do you change your preference between consoles and PC? Am i alone with this crazy problem? I'd love to hear all your thoughts.

Till next week, happy gaming all!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

5 Credits to Midnight: Ep 5 - Robotron 2084

This week on 5 credits we look at Robotron 2084. This is our future people. Avoid the brains!