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!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Quick Review: Limbo

Developed by: Playdead
Published by: Playdead
Released: July 2010 on Xbox 360, July 2011 on PS3, August 2011 on PC
Played on: Xbox 360

Story: Average

I guess the ending revelation is kind of neat in a pondering sort of way, or at least as a culmination of all you've been through, but it's exactly what you've been through that made me yearn for something a little more definitive and satisfactory after slogging through all the game has to offer.

Mechanics: Good

This is a hostile world in which you have a stubby little jump, and the ability to pull things. As a platformer, this is mighty close to bare bones. With that said, the developers have done an amazing job creating interesting puzzles that will have you scratching your head until you figure them out. One criticism i have is that early on the puzzles were a little more centered around the hostile world you find yourself in and the game cleverly used that to its advantage. Later on some of that is thrown out the window for what i'll call 'fun with physics'. They're still clever and interesting, but it does feel a little like they ran out of ways to tie the puzzles into the world.

Aesthetics: Good

For a game based in blacks and whites, there is an incredible sense of atmosphere and mood conveyed in the environment through the visuals. The backgrounds have a hazy, dreamlike quality to them and there is a definite sense of contrast through the use of light and dark. The sound is very minimalistic and accompanies the gameplay quite well.

Technology: Good

While playing Limbo, i experienced no slowdown or any type of graphical issue. The best part though was how quick you respawn upon death. The instantaneous respawn coupled with the well placed checkpoint system makes for a stress free game experience... at least from the technical perspective.

Overall: Good

While i felt the game kind of overstayed its welcome in length, it is a short enough experience full of clever puzzles in a very striking atmospheric world. A must for those who like to use their brains while platforming. If anything, i felt a lot of satisfaction from besting some of the crazier puzzles presented.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Monday Musings - 14th May, 2012

Oof, that sickness last week really took it out of me folks, but Dave is back and a picture of health (what kind of picture? Well i'll just leave that up to your imagination). Time for Dave to stop talking in the third person because once again it is time to muse!

Terranigma (SNES)

So lacking the access to consoles i decided this was an opportune time to go a little more retro, seeing there are so many classic RPGs on the super nintendo that i have wanted to play. I acquired a copy of Earthbound and was ready to start that up again when my new roommate Pierce caught wind of what i was doing. "You have to play Terranigma", he said. He was rather insistent on this matter. I'd heard about the game (and i seem to be one of the few people i know that enjoyed Quintet's other Snes RPG 'Illusion of Gaia') so i said, "why the hell not?" and loaded it up.

You start underground with the world destroyed. You open Pandora's box and unleash further devastation. Then you are tasked with fixing things, first by raising the continents, then by repopulating the Earth with plants, birds, mammals, and finally humans. Once humans are raised, you're tasked with helping them with their problems, and it's in Europe in the town of Loire i find myself at this moment, with a tyrannical king and his mute daughter.

It's quite impressive the scope they tried to convey with what is really a rather straightforward action RPG. You have a dash, a jump, an attack, and a shield. With button combinations you have about five different moves of varying success (dash/jump/attack being a favourite). And holy moly, the difference that levelling can make. When trying to resurrect the mammals in Africa, i came across a boss that i was doing no damage to (and he was destroying me). I finally resigned myself to grind a couple levels, and it's insane the difference that made. The boss went down like a hot spoon through chocolate pudding. Grinding is pretty damn time consuming though, and even though it's worth it (and the whole level up sound effect makes you feel pretty good), i still dislike the practise. Really i just hate filler in my videogames and grinding is most definitely filler.

Oh and the menu screen is inside Pandora's Box. You press select and jump inside with your legs flailing. You access weapons, armour, items, and spells by travelling to different rooms inside the box... well your weird pink bat sidekick Yomi does. It's a unique touch that helps the game to stand out from what was becoming a thick glut of Jrpgs at the time i imagine.

Limbo (360)

The place i moved has consoles because two of my housemates work at videogame retailers. I was given the go ahead to play some stuff so i thought to start with i'd play what's meant to be a quick indie title i should have played years ago. That of course is Limbo. Now at the time of this writing, i'm not finished with the game yet. I dunno how close i am to the end. It seems everytime i think i'm getting near, the game keeps extending itself. What is this, Tron 2.0 (obscure joke)? To tell the truth, where i am at the moment, i'm not sure i'm having fun anymore, but i'm under the influence of what i'll call stubborn gamer syndrome. Since i know it's not that long a game, and i've been steadily making progress, even though most of the new puzzles are exercises in frustration, i persevere and eventually overcome.

The puzzles are damn clever though. Especially since the world gets more and more hostile the further you go into it. What started out as evil kids and creepy spiders turns to gravity and physics puzzles with ever present saw blades, deadly drops, and a recent addition being sensor driven machine guns. It also helps that the game is gorgeous, especially with such a simple colour palette.

This game also teaches us that trial and error gameplay is not bad game design if you have the frequent checkpoints to back it up and ease gamer frustration. Players should be mad at their inability to solve a problem, not having to traverse previously charted territory to get back to their trouble spot. Kind of similar to what i said about grinding up the page, replaying entire areas is gaming filler. I have grown despondent of gaming filler.

Final Thoughts

I'd like to take the opportunity this week to give a shoutout to a blog i discovered and have started devouring the archives of today. Killias2, a blogger and commenter over at Destructoid posted about some gaming blogs that people might enjoy and the one that i've latched onto it 'The Adventure Gamer'. Written by 'The Trickster', this bold gamer is playing through the entire run of PC graphical adventure games starting at the very beginning. Not only is he blogging and rating the games, but he's doing it all sans walkthough. He's definitely got some fortitude, but for those who like the adventure game genre (*raises hand*), he provides some good insight into his playing habits and the trails and tribulations associated with the early genre (like puzzles that make no damn sense).

And as these things go, the games you're the most familiar with and the ones that test your sanity make for the most entertaining reads (such as his time with 'Uninvited').

The blog can be found here -

I look forward to catching up, and then being able to follow along the discussion.

Till next week, happy gaming all!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Musings postponed

Heya folks. Fun times this week (he said sarcastically). I not only contracted a cold/flu over the weekend but i think i've been hit with a bout of food poisoning on top of that. Due to this writing for more than a sentence or two today has been extremely difficult.

Sorry to have to postpone musings. I should be back next week, if not updating later in the week when i'm feeling better.

The picture used is cause i google image searched 'Sick Dave'/

Till next time, happy gaming all.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Monday Musings - 30th April, 2012

Hey folks. Musings might become a little more cutback in the coming weeks. I've been forced to relocate my living arrangements and have lost most of my gaming possessions. I have this laptop, and my Steam and GoG accounts though (and there's always old console emulation too. *cough cough*), so there will still be gaming talked about, but nothing current and console specific.

With that out of the way, let us muse.

Batman: Arkham City (PS3)

I'm in the museum now. Sure there was that bit where i had to go in the subway systems, and then i've had to rescue frozen undercover police on ice while a shark looms underneath (and me without my trusty bat-shark repellent), but i've found Mr. Freeze and now i'm going to attack The Penguin head on.

One bit i'm less than enthused about is the sections where you have the gargoyles up above and have to scare and incapacitate all the gun totting goons down below. Sure it makes you feel like the Dark Knight, but here's my issue. It's so easy to just glide down when a guy is on his own, put him out, and then zip up and do it again (although one guy was scared enough to take a hostage, which was something new). The thing is then you go down and start exploring, and there's all this potential for traps and cool ways to get rid of the aforementioned goons. I guess it's a way to reward those that take the risk to scope out the area more, but as it happens so often in games, easy trumps rewarding. If there's a simple way to progress (like let's say an exploit), most gamers will always take that way. It seems the more elaborate ways to progress only happen through boredom or subsequent playthroughs of a game when experimentation is more of the focus.

So without my PS3, i won't be playing anymore of this for a while. Perhaps one day i'll grab it for cheap on Steam and continue my play. It's definitely been a fun ride so far.

Spacechem (PC)

I forgot where i heard about this original little puzzler, but i decided to download it and give it a try this week (it had been sitting in my steam collection since that initial discovery). I've definitely never played anything like this. It's one part chemistry lesson, one part programming lesson. You need to program these loops to pick up molecules of certain elements, and fuse them into more complex elements. You have two coloured loops, and a host of commands, but the pick up and drop off point of these molecules is specified by the puzzle. You can pick up, drop off, rotate, and sync up the colours. It definitely takes a couple levels for the concept to really click (and then it gets maddening pretty quickly), but as puzzle games go, it gets a recommend. It might be too obtuse for some players however.

Heh, this turned into more of a mini review than a musing. I stand by what's said however!

Final Thoughts

I want to talk about nostalgia today. Why are the games of our childhood remembered so fondly? They might have glaring faults and outdated gameplay elements but playing them we tend to ignore these. They have the same joy they presented to us at that young age. I've been thinking about this a lot lately. It seems that it's harder and harder as i age to find games that illicit that sense of wonder and joy. The last one to do so was Journey, but for the most part, games fall into the category of "Yeah, it's pretty good. I had fun". That sense of something special is lacking.

Perhaps then we return to the games of our childhood not only because it was a simpler time filled with more innocence when the medium was new and full of possibilities, but with how hectic and depressing life can be, we cling to what made us happy in days of yesteryear. And of course as a gamer, like a junkie, we keep chasing that kick, hoping that the next game will give us those same glorious feelings. Some still do, but as they say, joy is fleeting, so then nostalgic games also become a comfort. We can return to these worlds with their simplistic controls and more abstract graphics, that somehow engage us more. They flare our imaginations and transport us back to that time when all was well with the world, and with gaming.

Well at least that's one way to look at it. What say you?

Let me know your thoughts on gaming nostalgia in the comments, and till next time, happy gaming all.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Monday Musings - 23rd April, 2012

It's another week folks. Things have been going pretty badly lately, but gaming helps to heal the wounds, and yes there was quite a lot of it this week. Let's muse!

Alan Wake (PC)

This is actually an omission from last week. Yes sometimes a game I've played slips my mind. It happens more often than it should, but I'm making amends. I've been waiting years to play this game, but didn't have a 360 when it eventually was released. I still held faith that sooner or later it would get ported to the PC and that's exactly what happened.

So was the wait worth it? Well the answer is a resounding "I don't really know". I've only played the first episode to date and have a mixed reaction. The graphics and atmosphere are absolutely amazing. Having grown up in the Pacific Northwest, the section where you're alone in the forest at night felt very true to life (minus the creepy shadow monsters of course). The story is also intriguing, but more in a listing of horror tropes rather than general interest in what's going on. Lastly the controls and camera absolutely frustrated me to no end. Walking in a straight line seems to be one of those things that requires some acrobatics to execute. I think perhaps it's the odd third person angle the camera takes while behind you (with it being quite close behind you to boot). I get that it's to increase the horror factor by not being able to see behind you, but at least so far, i don't think it works. Maybe it's something you get used to over time, but I'm sceptical at the moment.

Of course my less than stellar reaction to this game could be due to just coming off playing Deadly Premonition; another Twin Peaks-esque horror game set in the Pacific Northwest. It also could be waiting too long and hyping the experience up in my mind (like what happened with Skyward Sword last year). I'll report back if play continues.

Bastion (PC)

This one's been hyped a lot too, and it's one of the final entries off my 'games i must play from last year' list. Aside from the gorgeous colour, the cool shifting landscape, and the novelty of the narrator, i wasn't feeling the love, and i think that's because gameplay wise, it's pretty much just a simple hack and slash dungeon crawler. I fully admit that my negative attitude regarding titles this week could be my state of mind, and in Bastion's case, i will be giving it another chance, but i don't really have too much else to say on this. It didn't leave any sort of impact to tell the truth, either positive or negative. I guess that puts it in Dave's gaming limbo (hmm, that's another game i need to play one of these days).

Batman: Arkham City (PS3)

The final game off last year's list. I thoroughly enjoyed Arkham Asylum (it's the game i bought my PS3 with), so was looking forward to Arkham City giving me the same enjoyable play experience. I'll say this for it, it certainly feels like the same game, just on a larger scale, and i have good and bad things to say about that.

Let's start positively. There's a lot to do in the city. From Riddler trophies to side quests and AR training missions, if the main quest isn't scratching your gaming itch, you can explore. Some of the side quests so far I've found quite interesting, as they flesh out other villains and more of the plot. Oh and i do have to say the first cut-scene interaction between Batman and the Joker is marvellous, and scenes like that are part of what makes me want to keep playing. Finally (especially once you get the grapple boost), flying around the city is just fun. There are lots of nooks and crannies to explore and if you feel like a fight using the always enjoyable combat system, there are plenty of thugs on the street waiting to be pummelled.

But that lack of focus that comes with such a large area to explore is kind of off-putting. Sure you can follow the main quest line, but it feels like there's always something fighting for your attention, and most people know that abundance of choice can sometimes be as bad or worse than no choice at all. Seeing how the Riddler trophies work in this game does depress me. In Arkham Asylum i kept playing after completing the game, to finish everything to do with the Riddler. From what I've seen in my short playtime, doing the same in Arkham City seems unfeasible both from a time and sanity perspective. Due to this I'm ignoring all but the most obvious Riddler collectibles and that lessens my enjoyment of the game somewhat.

X-men Destiny (360)

After finishing Deadly Premonition, Kenneth and I were wondering if we could find another game to enjoy playing together once in a blue moon. We were thinking about Nier as we've both heard good things, but seeing how long it took to complete Deadly Premonition, perhaps a Jrpg wasn't the best idea. Kenneth had the answer. He's a big fan of Silicon Knights and loved Too Human (i guess someone had to... zing). Why not play the X-men game they released last year. The game that had no press behind its release, so much so that game journalists were actually shocked to find it was out on store shelves. As Alberto Del Rio would say, it was our...... destiny!

The game has potential but it's definitely a case of not enough development time. There's checkpoint issues, the graphics are.... yeah, the controls are serviceable, but until you reach level two, and the ability to upgrade your attacks and powers, combat is pretty blah. Soon after though we found an "I win" combo, and that made things amusing, because the game does throw a lot of enemies at you. Sure they're all the same three stock types, but some of the fights we had before calling it quits for the night reminded us of Dynasty Warriors. Our "I win' combo for those interested was the forcefield which stuns and hurts enemies who are in it while recharging your health. We'd pop that puppy and then spam the light attack of energy fireballs till everything died (their deaths recharging both our health and mana).

What finally made us call it quits for this session was a boss named John Sublime. He injects himself with mutant DNA and then there's a multi part fight. To tell the truth, i blame Kenneth and his horrible playing for failing this segment (oh yeah, i went there!). Anyway, dying on the third form brought us back to the first, and was a good indicator to stop playing for the evening.

Seeing that this is only a five hour game or so, we should finish it off within one or two more play sessions. If you ask me, it can't come soon enough. Sure playing an average to bad game with a good friend has its novelty but that time could be spent playing good games too. For those wondering, Deadly Premonition was an outlier. It jumps from good game to bad game and all the spots in-between, so it's a tough act to follow for any game, let alone a rushed X-men title.

Terraria (PC)

Speaking of playing games with friends, my buddy Cam set up a Terraria server. Our mutual friend Shannon and I joined. They had played the game before (actually it was Shannon who gifted me a copy), but i have never tried it. All i knew is it was like 2D Minecraft.

So after a couple days playing (it being on a server, the world is accessible at all times) I'm starting to get a feel for the game. It seems to me to require a lot of dedication to get something out of it. The feeling of exploration and crafting is pretty alluring however. Our mine is crazy deep. Like past the bowels of the Earth deep... and we haven't even scratched the surface apparently. Also we have a ladder to a sky highway. The sense of vertical scale is quite impressive.

I need to find some copper or iron to craft some better tools and weapons. Other than that, I've just been exploring while Cam and Shannon do all the work (or blow up our houses as Shannon likes to do at times). I have a destructive streak in me too, but for me it's mining holes into lakes to flood our mine tunnel, extinguishing all the torches. Apart from that I've found the game kind of overwhelming. We'll see if that passes or if it can hold my interest.

Oh and because it's required in these games, i made a penis out of stone. On the sign on top of it, i named it "Rock Hard". Wit!

Borderlands - Mad Moxxi's Underdome Riot (PC)

The reason we were playing Terraria is i was repairing my copy of Borderlands by downloading some files. I purchased all the DLC separately and for a while now have been unable to access Zombie Island or Mad Moxxi due to the game trying to open up a validation program behind itself, that doesn't work anyway if you access it. Testing the integrity of the game cache caused some files to re-download but sadly this did not solve the problem. Running to Google i found one solution was to run a program deep in the Borderlands directory where i could enter my CD key. The program wouldn't open but funnily enough, running it in compatibility mode with Windows XP Service Pack 3 opened it, and then it registered my Zombie Island DLC key. Even more strangely, this allowed me access to Mad Moxxi as well.

So even though i wanted to play Zombie Island, Cam and Shannon didn't want to, so we played Moxxi's. The idea is fun enough, but i found it kind of unsatisfying. It's an arena where you fight waves upon waves of enemies, culminating in a boss. There are special modifiers for each round (low gravity is amazing!), and even though you get loot after each boss wave (we didn't work that out till the second arena), you get no experience, and i think that alone made the whole thing kind of pointless (well also that it was kind of the same thing over and over again, most of the fights being really easy with my level 42 Siren).

So yes, not really a fan of Mad Moxxi but still, even unsatisfying games can be fun socially... as the last three games discussed have had that theme in common.

Final Thoughts

Oof. After all that, i dunno if i have the energy for much of a final thoughts section this week. I might just use this for a little bit of self promotion. I've started writing over at IGM Retro, and my début piece is on revisiting a game from my childhood, Gobliins 2. Check the link and tell me what you think!

Till next week, happy gaming all!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Monday Musings - 16th April, 2012

It's a Monday, and there was gaming. Let us muse!

Catherine (PS3)

Man what is with Atlus and their end games? I thought starting off the week being at stage 7, it'd take an hour or so to complete the game. Ha! Nope, after a marathon session of 3-4 hours, the credits rolled and Catherine was over (as evidenced by my review last week). The ending i received was quite satisfactory and i'm happy overall with my experience.

One thing i'm a little disappointed with is that around stage 7 i finally got stuck and succumbed to a video walkthrough on youtube. Those who use hints when stuck will know that once you break that barrier, the urge to go to the walkthrough again when you get stuck is so much stronger, and sadly that did happen. Funnily enough though the game kind of weaned me off the walkthrough. It was all due to the monster blocks.

Monster blocks are blocks that move of their own accord, and can lick you off the front of them. Due to their random nature, the video walkthroughs became kind of useless. I mean you could kind of see how you were supposed to get up, but all it took was one block to move, and the whole thing fell apart (and often enough, more than one block would move). Thus i fell back on my old ways of climbing and experimentation and that led me all the way to the final boss.

The final boss appears in two forms. The first form was actually kind of easy. No problem at all. I cleared it in one go if i recall. It was the second form that drove me up the wall. It was close to controller throwing. I had thought those rage days behind me, but it is amazing how some sequences can bring it all flooding back. The problem was with the randomness of it all. The boss is able to randomly change blocks as you climb so suddenly a stairway starts to crumble or becomes a bomb, destroying your tower work. Suddenly ice appears and whisks you into a portal block. Oh and the fire that rained down can pick you off if you happen to be pulling a block out at an inopportune time. After wasting about 30 retries i finally scaled to the top and was treated to my ending. Phew!

My review can be found here - >

Portal 2 (PC)

Another game session with my friend Em as we made our way through the aperture science labs. We completed Lab 2 easily enough, got through all of Lab 3, and started our way through Lab 4 before the lack of food started to affect my brain power and we called it quits.

Lab 3 was nuts because of the bridges. Our teamwork really shined and that final level gave me the most awesome dawning of realisation when i worked out what we had to do. Am i the only one that uses the high five gesture once a fiendish puzzle has been solved?

Lab 4 is full of... i guess i'll call them gravity wells. We're only on room 2 but already i wish we were back with the bridges. I don't like these wells at all. Hopefully this week we get another chance to play and can put the wells behind us. I can't wait till we get to the gels!

Fallout: New Vegas - Old World Blues (PC)

Like Borderlands and The Secret Armoury of General Knoxx, i had heard many good things about the DLC Old World Blues for Fallout: New Vegas. I didn't like my time with Dead Money (i didn't return after all), but within the first 15 minutes of Old World Blues, i knew this was gonna be a blast. It was.

Yup, i started on Wednesday and completed it yesterday. Well i completed the main quest. There's so much more to explore and so many more functions of the house to activate. One of the main focuses of this expansion was giving you your own house. One of the things that was kind of missing from the main game that was a highlight of my time in Fallout 3. Oh sure i had the hotel rooms in Novac and the Casino, but they didn't feel like home. At least not to the extent The Sink does in Old World Blues. Every part of the house talks and has personality too (and they get their own epilogues when the game ends). I have quite a few left to obtain (my thought is that following this quest chain takes you to every research facility in Big Mountain so it's a good way to explore).

The story itself is just pure science fiction cheese. Experimental surgery, mad scientists, experimental technology, robo-scorpions, giant robo-scorpions... it has it all! The final showdown between yourself and Dr. Möbius is one of the more enjoyable parts of the entire Fallout universe. I think it's because this whole expansion is completely tongue in cheek yet so much is dangerous and there is a sense of foreboding and danger as you make your way through this scientific dystopia that time forgot.

I say to myself i need to finish off my house and explore the rest of Big Mountain, but i do have so many other games to play. It's definitely a reason to return to the Mojave in the future though.

Final Thoughts

You probably know all about The Minibosses, and their rock medleys of famous nintendo tunes. If not, check out their site because they're offering their album 'Brass 1' for free!

It's a damn good listen. For example, here is their Megaman 2 medley (some of my favourite videogame music ever).

Till next week, happy gaming all!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Quick Review: Catherine

Developed by: Atlus
Published by: Atlus
Released: July, 2011 on PS3, 360
Played on: PS3

Story: Good

Catherine starts off with Vincent Brooks not wanting to further his relationship with long time girlfriend Katherine. After a strange nightmare, he finds himself cheating on Katherine with a girl he meets at his local bar named Catherine. The rest of the game is spent surviving the nightmare, and managing his deception while not really having the spine to say what would solve his problems quickly. Vincent also continues to grow and helps a bunch of other characters come to a realization about their lives that he eventually comes to (depending on how you've been answering the moral questions the whole game). With an element of the supernatural and a bit of a tongue in cheek tone, this is certainly one of the more unique narratives to play out in a videogame.

Mechanics: Good

The main gameplay is in the nightmare realm climbing up the towers of blocks. Vincent can pull and push blocks, and as long as they connect to an edge will not fall into the ether. The tower constantly is losing ground as well so you need to climb quickly and think on the fly (especially in the boss stages). This can become frustrating since you don't really have much time to tackle a section that's giving you issues (and pausing the game blurs the screen so you can't work out the problem visually in safety). It does flex your brain in a good way however, and the restarts and pillows (which grant you retries) will make sure you're never outright failing. The safety spaces between tower climbs allow you to rest and learn new climbing techniques. Finally each tower and night adds new types of blocks and new ways of climbing. As a puzzle game, it's immensely fun and satisfying.

Aesthetics: Great

This may be biased, but i am a huge fan of cel-shaded art styles, and Catherine makes great use of it. The characters are all distinct and well designed, and the in-game cut-scenes look almost up to par stylistically as the animated cut-scenes. The voice acting is all top notch and adds that feeling of attachment to the character's plight, and the music during the climb is a great selection of classical tunes that really fit the mood (even if they should be on longer loops).

Technology: Average

The one section that really made Catherine frustrating to play, especially in the later stages were the controls, or more specifically the direction of controls. When hanging on a block or trying to push or pull a block, so many times Vincent would push the other block reachable in his position. The hanging controls were especially maddening with shimmying left and right switching positions based on the camera or based on if you held the button down or let go of it for a split second. These issues only really came into light near the end of the game, with the more complex blocks and techniques needed but they reached an apex on the final boss. I think though in that case, there was some system lag with everything going on, and that caused confusion with the controls, as many times during that fight death was due to moving to an area i had no intention on moving to.

Overall: Good

Atlus have cemented their reputation in making polished and unique games with great stories and presentation. If you're looking for something a little different, enjoy puzzle games, or an interesting tale of infidelity, i recommend giving Catherine a try.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Monday Musings - 9th April, 2012

This week i did something that i haven't done in a while (and used to be a staple of my gaming habits)... i downloaded and played some demos. Extra Credits was responsible with their most recent episode of 'Games you might not have tried'. I recommend you give it a watch as there are some very interesting titles in this edition (and if you don't watch Extra Credits, i recommend you go back and check out their archives cause the work they do is absolutely amazing in terms of looking at games analytically and making the medium better).

Now, let us muse!

Catherine (PS3)

Having jarred my ankle something chronic early on in the week, i had a lot of time where i was resting it. Aside from watching movies, and checking out some of the local television stations that have on demand services through my PS3, i played a bit more of Catherine. I also played some last night, but being near the end of the game and playing at night is not the smartest idea. I was stuck on stage 7-2 and for the first time in the game, i looked up a video walkthrough on youtube. Of course the solution made me feel stupid as it was pretty obvious, i just didn't see it (isn't that usually the way though?).

I touched on this before, but while earlier i found Catherine's formulaic progression kind of quaint, now it's gotten a little disappointing. The whole cycle of nightmare, cut-scenes during the day, and then the bar in the evening works well to breed familiarity and what to expect, but in that familiarity, the lack of surprise for new gameplay is extinguished somewhat. I mean you expect a new twist on the climbing each night and that does make for interesting gameplay, but really the only surprise comes from the progression of the story, and as that section of the game is not interactive (except for influencing the morality dial in other sections of the game), as a player, this sense of just going through the motions starts to set in.

I will end by saying that the climbing stages are quite clever in how they progress, and you genuinely feel intelligent for working your way passed a problem. Puzzle games that make you feel smart are definitely doing something right.

Portal 2 (PC)

It's been close to a year since i played the game (i never did finish it), and the reason i returned is i had an opportunity to try the co-op with a special lady friend. We played through the majority of the first two lab sections, stopping on this one puzzle with a laser cube and crushing spiked walls.

I must say that there were many circumstances where the urge to play a prank on my companion resulting in their unfortunate demise overtook, but in self interest i used my willpower to overcome these feelings.

Perhaps it's due to time or just that the co-op experience is more of a pure puzzler like the first game, but i got that feeling of solving the puzzles making me feel smart again (I think my issue with the single player of Portal 2 is that the story and humorous dialogue overshadowed the feeling of solving the puzzles). It could be sharing the experience as well, or at least solving puzzles with another mind (for instance i've always enjoyed playing through adventure games with friends as a second mind brings greater enjoyment, and less hitting that brick wall that the genre is famous for creating).

I am definitely looking forward to continuing the experience.

Xotic Demo (PC)

The first game i checked out from the Extra Credits vid. It's kind of like what The Club tried to do, but instead of chain killing, you're terra-forming the land (so essentially switching the theme of this type of play from death to life). Well there are enemies to destroy too, and it is one of the completion icons at the top of the screen, but the majority of the game is shooting plants to cause chain reactions to areas, and jumping to collect these coloured DNA-strandy type things. There's a time bonus, so quick completion is rewarded, and at the end of a level, a five star rating is possible (and then experience is gained to upgrade your character).

While i found the gameplay fun and intriguing, the lengthy tutorial and the vague areas and reasoning for play left me a little cold, as did the plethora of game options when choosing a level (as well as the strange restrictions on upgrading my character which i think were imposed by the demo).

I recommend people give the demo a go, especially if you were one of those who liked what The Club tried to do (i was for the record).

Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale Demo (PC)

I've heard good things about this game for a while and after it was mentioned in the video i grabbed the demo. I've actually put quite a bit of time into it so far. My first play i fell quite short of making the weekly payment that acts as the game's checkpoint barrier. I started reading tips and tricks online and so far my second playthrough has me in no danger of missing the payment. Having figured out the best way to make money though, i'm a little disappointed with how the game plays.

The hook is that it's a management sim. You're controlling the item shop in a town full of adventurers, and each day you need to buy stock, display it, and then sell it for an optimal price (which fluctuates depending on customers). The funny thing is that to level up your market skill, which opens up more options for selling, you need to chain sales together (which means not selling an item at a rate where the customer asks you to lower your price). The best way to do this is to sell at base price, which if you have bought your merchandise, will not net you any profit whatsoever.

This leads to the best way to make money, which is to hire an adventurer and go dungeon crawling. Everything you find in the dungeons sells for one hundred percent profit, and within three days of opening the store, i had almost reached the weekly payment goal. My problem with this is that in essence it becomes like every other Jrpg with a fun little side addition of selling everything you find as the manager of your own shop (kind of like playing the auction house in an MMO).

It's still a good game and i'll probably sink more time into the demo, but seeing that the hook of the game was a bit of a façade dampened my enthusiasm for the title.

Final Thoughts

It's not videogames but board games i want to talk briefly about here this week. For starters my Saturday night was spent with friends, Easter chocolate, alcohol, and The Simpsons Game of Life. Not only was our game immensely fun (because of the company and mood of course), but most of our conversations were recorded by one of the players on her phone and there might be some animating and youtube uploading in my future to share some of the more hilarious moments with the world.

But speaking of youtube and board games, i encourage you to check out Wil Wheaton's new show Table Top in which him and some of his nerdy celebrity friends play interesting table top games as the cameras roll (and the game is explained as they play). Episode 1 is on a game called Small Worlds, and it looks like episode 2 which is being released later this month is Settlers of Catan. The link is below.

I'm interested, is anyone else a fan of all games, and not just the electronic variety? I'm always on the lookout for fun new board and card games. I think part of it is that these games force local multiplayer, which readers will know is my favourite type of multiplayer, having your friends on the same couch or in the same room. It creates a much more enjoyable gaming experience in my opinion. Some of my favourite non-videogames from the last few years are Munchkin, Carcassone, and Gin Rummy (i've also been planning to run a Shadowrun game for what seems like forever now).

So if you do play other games, what are some of your favourites? Let me and others know in the comments!

And til next week, happy gaming all!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Monday Musings - 2nd April, 2012

Man what a day. Wrestlemania in the morning, intense bass lessons in the afternoon, and i somehow sprained or twisted my ankle during the day. Forgiveness if musings is a little lite this week.

Mass Effect (PC)

I finished off my third playthrough of Mass Effect last Monday night. While it was kinda cool to burn through the game, this run-through felt a little empty. I'm not quite sure why. I think it wasn't the renegade options but more just running through the main story, avoiding all character interaction and all side quests. I imagine half the fun of renegade is the way you approach some side quests and just playing the main story just felt kind of empty. I think when i finally get around to playing Mass Effect 2, i'll be using the character from my 2nd run-through in which i went full paragon and did every side quest in the game (excluding the collection fetch quests... though i get close to completing them due to other things).

Left 4 Dead 2 (PC)

I usually find myself playing a couple games of this each year, and each time i load it up again, i say the same thing. "Why don't i play more of this?". I mean yes, it's kind of annoying when you have iffy team-mates (like this suicidal japanese guy in our game), but there's a lot of fun to be had in the campaigns, most of which i haven't really played through.

And on top of that, they seem to have added a metric ton of new campaigns to the game. I picked Swamp Fever as i cannot remember playing it (my favourite out of those i have played is Hard Rain). After the third restart on chapter three, dying when you lower that tiny bridge in the bungalows i decided to call it quits. Well it was midnight and i was yawning up a storm. Why don't i play more of this?

Catherine (PS3)

Aside from yawning up a storm playing an action game, one should definitely not tackle a puzzle game when one is sleepy. I did finally best the first chapter of the clock tower eventually, but i knew that continuing would be a folly.

I will say the moral system in this game confuses the hell outta me. The first playthrough of a game with moral choices, i always answer how i would truthfully answer if i was the player character. In Catherine, this practise has kept me around the middle of the moral barometer. I'll answer one person and the dial will move a great chunk towards the angelic side, then i answer the next question, and it'll fly back towards neutral territory. Maybe this is an indicator of things not being so clear cut in the choices the game offers, but as a player, i find it utterly confusing and a little disheartening. The game apparently has eight endings (i wonder if one is a clown ending. Bonus points for getting the reference there), and after overcoming all this fiendish puzzlement, i'd like a satisfying conclusion, and i'm afraid i might not get that.

Time will tell i guess.

Superbrothers: Sword & Sorcery EP (IoS)

I picked this up when it was on sale a couple weeks ago for two dollars. You know, most games that recommend you use headphones to enhance the experience i ignore the suggestion, but there was something about this game that made me grab a set and plug them into my iphone. I am glad i did. If nothing else, the sound design and music cues in this game are amazing. It's a good thing i find the visuals engrossing and having played the first session, the gameplay and story are very intriguing.

Coolest part by far... so far is turning the iphone into portrait mode fluidly changes to your attack mode. It's a great use of turning the phone and so far it has been used sparingly. It seems mostly a game of exploration and mood rather than action or combat, but in session one, there were definitely tense and foreboding moments. The gameplay being broken into sessions that have an estimated time to complete really helps sell it as a game designed for a portable device as well. if you have 15 - 30 mins to spare, you can pop the headphones on, site down and have a complete experience that's part of a larger whole.

I'm very interested to see what the rest of the game is like.

Final Thoughts

Since i wish to go lay down i will forego any lengthy discussion and instead offer you some awesome videogame music. Music from a game that would probably be in my top 10 (i do need to create that list one of these days).

Till next week, happy gaming all!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Monday Musings - 26th March, 2012

Another week, another Musings. Interesting gaming habit abound. Let us continue.

Mass Effect (PC)

About this time last year i played through Mass Effect for my 2nd time. I started a fem shep, went full Paragon and completed every side mission i could get my hands on. Part of this was to have a really great character to continue on to Mass Effect 2 with. I never did get back around to playing Mass Effect 2.

Well this time i've surprised myself. I have taken my character from the first playthrough and decided to rush through and go full Renegade. I've tried this path before, and found it hard to continue. I just have this issue with purposely choosing selfish, bigoted, and sociopathic options. I don't really know what's changed this time around, but i've been progressing nicely. I just completed Virmire and am about to head to Ilos. I've been choosing the bottom right option for most speech, and choosing intimidate options instead when they present themselves. Most of the time i'm kind of detached and agape at the way Shepard is acting... and wondering how he still has his crew following him.

It is kinda funny how rushing through with a renegade character adds an extra dimension onto the play type. No investigating, no talking to people longer than i have to, no side missions. Shepard is focused only on carrying out his mission, and screw anyone or anything that gets in his way. It'd be kind of easy to respect if he wasn't such a horse's ass. Having a level 46 character with awesome weapons and armour also lends a lot to the single natured badass focus of the this playthrough as well.

Catherine (PS3)

After the initial days of the game pass, the rhythm becomes apparent. The intriguing introduction of new game concepts to the tower climbing, coupled with frustration at the hard bits (especially those during the boss battles). All this is followed by the revealing of the tale as the stakes raise more and more with each passing day. Then you have a short reprieve in the bar at night, where you can talk to your friends and some of the regulars before repeating the whole cycle again.

The bar is interesting because of how it links to the nightmare world (as it's not hard to link some of the sheep to their real world counterparts). You can also get drunk which increases your speed in the tower climbing portion of the game, and both in talking to the patrons and responding to text messages on your phone, you influence the morality meter that governs your responses during the next day's cut-scenes.

I'm on day six now. I usually try and play through two nights whenever i play, so i should be done with the game soon. Of course that would be easier if i didn't keep returning to old games on my PC (and i still have two games left from last year to try out)... but progress is being made, and one thing to say about Catherine is it's indeed a unique gaming experience.

English Country Tune (IoS)

This has a PC version too (

I discovered this game in an article about extreme game difficulty in the New Yorker. I was intrigued by the demo of the PC version, and decided to review the game for Appspy. The iphone version really impressed me (as swiping your finger to move makes more sense direction wise than using the D-pad... at least i think so).

Basically it's a puzzle game with little information about your goals but it uses 3d surfaces and each universe you play in (which houses a different puzzle) obeys its own sense of physics. Working out what to do isn't that difficult, but the devil is in the details, and solving some of these levels is maddening. Like any good puzzle game though, it's a positive kind of maddening, and thus when you finally reach a solution, you have this immense sense of satisfaction.

Now i haven't delved too deeply into the game (i've almost completed the advanced larval universe), and from the article it seems some of the puzzle mechanics to come are quite intense, but i view the game as a time waster on my phone. I load it up, play around a little and see if i can't come to a solution. I can at least recommend the PC demo (i'd recommend the iphone version, but the price is a little steep...well, steep for iphone pricing), but this is the difference between good difficulty and bad difficulty. Good difficulty puts the player in control, and encourages them to learn from their mistakes and persevere to overcome the game's obstacles. The game isn't being unfair. Bad difficulty is putting roadblocks in the way to cheat the player out of a positive experience.

This is all from one gamer's viewpoint though. Each individual player has their barrier for when a game crosses that line from good difficulty to bad difficulty, and there are those that really enjoy the 'butting their heads against the wall till victory' experience, as the immense satisfaction is worth the frustration. If given a choice in difficulty setting i'll always pick the path of least resistance, but if a game has no choice, and even if it's quite hard, if i sense the need to improve skill instead of the game being artificially difficult, i'll usually stick around. This is why i want to try Demons' Souls and its sequel.

Final Thoughts

Heh, the last couple paragraphs of the last section was almost a final thoughts in itself, but i'll take one aspect of that discussion and expand on it here. I mentioned playing around in English Country Tune till i could find a solution. This is a very important aspect of any game that is considered to be difficult, and i think it's a distinction between the well made ones and the ones that are made poorly. It's the aspect of being able to play.

In English Country Tune, your player piece is sort of a flopping paddle, flipping end over end onto the surfaces of the object you're on. Not only is this movement fun, but there's a sense of exploration is flopping around, and a curiosity about flipping the larvae around in that universe. I'm still not one hundred percent positive how gravity works in regards to the larvae, so half of the wonder in some of these levels is batting them along and off a surface to see which way they'll fall and how they react (this is made possible by the wonderful undo and restart buttons available). It's the ability to try things without any hesitation or fear that you will be penalised for doing so, and thus these brain teasers don't seem so threatening, almost inviting you to play around till the solution comes to you.

My favourite game of 2010 had a similar joy to it; Super Meat Boy. This was an insanely tough platformer that required your skill to rise to the occasion on almost every new level right through to the end. There was a playful nature to the dangers presented to you however. Part of this was how solid the jumping and running mechanics were, but it was the bite-sized levels coupled with the instant restarts upon death that kept us playing. If something wasn't working, you could easily try something else, and there seemed to always be more than one way to get to the end of a stage.

Even while playing Catherine (even though it has a difficulty setting), i get a sense of this playing around. The bottlenecks usually have a certain technique in mind and especially during a boss, you only have a couple seconds to think of what to do and try it out, but at least on easy, you have a judicious amount of retries available to you, so after experimenting and failing, it's hardly any time till you're back there, trying something new and playing around with the blocks to get to the top.

It's actually this freedom in how to climb (or the illusion of it) that has kept me playing, even on those segments where after twenty retries, i'm still slowly working my way up to a solution. And you know what, sooner or later i work it out and continue either onto the end or to the next bottleneck.

So what about you dear readers? What distinction do you make between a game with difficulty that encourages you to continue, and difficulty that only breeds frustration? Do you have any examples of games that do it right? Please let me know in the comments!

And till next week, happy gaming all!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Monday Musings - 19th March, 2012

Wow, what a fun week of gaming i had. There's a bit to get through so let's rev up the musing engine and go full throttle.

See, Full Throttle is a game and we're talking about games and going forward. It's a joke son!

Sigh, let's get to it.

Catherine (PS3)

With Borderlands complete i decided to return to this tale of supernatural infidelity. I'm on day four now. The tower climbing in night three was, well maddening would be a good start. Especially the boss. The problem is that these boss encounters have the enemy move so quick, when you come to a brain teaser climbing, you usually only have a couple seconds to make a decision, try something, and if that doesn't work, die a gruesome death. There was this one section in the middle of the level, a little after the first checkpoint and had me stumped for at least a good twenty minutes or so. I spent so many retries on it. The thing is when i finally was able to pass it through experimentation, the next checkpoint was ages away. I died a few more times and at least the first couple retries had me try to remember how i passed that difficult part in the first place.

The end of the boss encounter had another really tricky bit, but i carried a bell which turns all blocks normal. Yes it's cheap but i passed, and now i get to continue at least till the next night where i will most probably cry tears of frustration.

Despite all this though, i did not rage quit or even really get that angry playing. Because of the quick turn around and the perception that i was making headway, i took on that all too familiar gaming stubbornness. The ol "No! I will beat this dammit"! I've said before that if a puzzle game gets that reaction instead of the ol "This is BS", that puzzle game is doing something right.

Borderlands: The Secret Armory of General Knoxx (PC)

This piece of DLC alone has made me more excited for Borderlands 2 than the preview video or that cute letter to PC gamers on the Borderlands 2 site. Over two nights i played through this with my friend Cam and we had a blast the entire way. The main quest was streamlined, all of the characters had hilarious dialogue that had us laughing through the entire game, and the ending was such an awesome surprise that i want to experience it again.

One aspect that can make a game great is consistent surprises. Things the player doesn't expect that put a smile on their face (or make them jaw drop due to shock or badassness.... yes, badassness). General Knoxx had this in spades. As said before, all the dialogue and the characters are written amazingly well and provide constant laughs. The enemies alone are full of surprises. You have ninjas, armored drones, giant mechs, desert spiders, midgets riding skags, and even rocketeers (some who also shoot rockets)!

Word of mouth seems to have travelled on this piece of DLC as the reason i decided to play it was hearing rumblings in the gaming community about General Knoxx as a villain and how fun the DLC was. Trust me, these rumblings are true and i definitely recommend the 6 hours or so it takes to complete this.

Having just done a quick google search, it turns out that the amazing surprise at the end of the DLC is available one time only if the quest is triggered (boo!), but there is apparently a glitch to make it available multiple times. I'll put it this way... Mephisto runs.

I wish i had known about the glitch before :)

Journey (PS3)

Well i've already reviewed this game in my new 'Quick Review' segment (more on that in the Final Thoughts), but i cannot recommend it enough. I didn't exactly find it life changing or overly emotional while playing (your results may vary judging on the wave of positive reviews out there), but it was two hours of amazing visuals, an emergent soundtrack, and one of the best uses of co-op i've ever seen.

And there was one section of the game that literally had my jaw gape open, causing me to cover my mouth with my hand. I said this after Flower and i'll say it here, i cannot wait to see what Thatgamecompany does next. These folks know how to craft an incredible interactive experience.

I guess the downside of reviewing a game is that there's less to talk about in Monday Musings, but it could also be how short the game is and how more than most titles, i don't want to ruin anything for those that are interested and are going to play it.

Deadly Premonition (360)

The final game session. We did it folks! It took two years but Kenneth and I finally got through Deadly Premonition! The last couple chapters were a wild ride and i am as enthusiastic about the game now as i was when we started playing it. I'll definitely be looking forward to the remastered version getting a PS3 release sometime in the future. It will be worth another playthrough just for the fact that when looking through the manual during the credits, Kenneth found that there was actually a lock on button, when he spent the whole twenty hours of the game manually aiming (and sucking at it). Truth be told i don't expect it to make THAT much of a difference, but it might have helped. Ah well, part of the charm of the game i guess.

The last couple chapters had a driving section that plonked a demon dog down in front of us on the road (a giant demon dog), and the final boss fight, which consisted of three stages. By the end of the final one, we were not happy but the taste of victory was sweet (and the reveal before the final boss was..... um... interesting).

And can you believe we went through the whole game without eating Thomas' biscuit? That might be a good thing. That guy was one of the more memorable characters, and for reasons both amusing and terrifying.

So why no quick review of Deadly Premonition? Well i actually didn't play the game at all. Kenneth played the whole thing. I watched while back seat gaming, giving tips, making fun of poor performance, and laughing alongside the sheer battiness of the game.

I guess we need another game to play through as a team. We were thinking Nier but i dunno how a Jrpg would handle as a duo. Any suggestions from readers? It doesn't necessarily have to be as crazy and memorable as Deadly Premonition, but we probably want a game with enough to comment on and to be engaged with.

Final Thoughts

For those of you not reading this on the actual blog, i've stated writing what i call quick reviews this past week (already covering two games). There's also a post explaining my review structure. Readers may remember i was throwing around some ideas late last year about how to review games and i've finally reached a starting point where i can expand from as i write more. This means more extra content for all of you (even though the games reviewed could be from anytime), and it makes me think a little more on my experience after playing through a game (and perhaps i'll review games i stopped playing as well).

I've already explained why there's no review of Deadly Premonition but i'll also explain why there's no review of the Borderlands DLC i played through. I did review Borderlands, and many of the points addressed in the review would also apply to the DLC, and i don't want to start doing specific DLC reviews, so any DLC will be discussed here in Monday Musings. Man i said DLC a lot.

Let me know what you think about the reviews and till next week, happy gaming all!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Quick Review: Journey

Developed by: Thatgamecompany
Published by: Sony
Released: March, 2012 on PSN

Story: Good

After playing, i still don't really know what my journey was all about, but the word journey is correct for what transpired for the time spent in-game. There are cut-scenes, and there's a backstory, all told in silent animation, but perhaps the argument could be made for the game being a giant metaphor. Still, even though ambivalent about what transpired, i was engaged as the world and the gameplay told me more about the story than the cut-scenes needed to.

Mechanics: Good

The game is rather simple in its gameplay. Each section has you reaching a temple stone of sorts to guide you to the next area. Getting to the stone takes, floating with your magical scarf, and manipulating all the other fabric in the area to form bridges or to recharge your flying abilities. Secret glowing glyphs can be found which lengthen your scarf and the time you can spend in the air. Between sliding down sand dunes and flying around, there's a certain amount of joy given to such an apparently meaningful trek forward.

Aesthetics: Great

The use of colour and lighting as the game changes locations throughout this experience is breathtaking. The sand shimmers reflecting sunlight, and as the colour changes in future locations, so does the mood. As the game plays, the orchestral track seems to have an emergent quality, swelling bombastically or fading to a low hum depending on the significance of the immediate actions in relation to the story. There will be more than one time you'll find yourself marvelling at what's been presented for your eyes and ears as you play through.

Technology: Good

Part of the selling point of the game was the ability to have a meaningful cooperative experience. I really had no idea how that was going to play out, but after one section of the game with my nameless companion, i marvelled at the simplicity of how co-op was approached, but yet how meaningful it truly was (and it became later on in the game). The only way to communicate is in tones by pressing or holding down the square button, but that was more than enough as we worked together to find secrets, evade danger, and have fun. It'd be easy enough to play through the game offline, but i think that player would be doing themselves a disservice.

Overall: Good

Only taking two to three hours to complete, Journey's experience is a short one, but one well worth taking. Whether it's for the intriguing cooperative play, the presentation, or just the fun of flying and sliding your way around a desert, Journey gets a definite recommend.