Sunday, January 29, 2012

Monday Musings - 30th Jan, 2012

An early musings this week as i am heading up to Brisbane to a friend's place to watch the Royal Rumble. Should be a lot of fun. This last week was also a lot of fun in gaming. Let's get to it!

El Shaddai (PS3)

Last time i played this i felt like i right at the end of the game, and it turns out my instincts were right. I had a boss fight, a short level and then the final boss fights. Having had time to reflect upon the game i have a couple thoughts. The first is a reiteration of a previous musing where i recommended the title to everyone, and that still stands. The presentation is enough to give this a try, but the way the game plays with narrative is rather interesting. There's an element of breaking the 4th wall barrier and a lot of supposition (or at least the back story has to be unlocked via a way i never found out how to do), but for a story based on a disregarded religious text, there's enough intrigue and high level drama to keep the player interested.

My other point is one i think i have brought up before as well (oh nos! Treading old ground!), but the game has a nice way of giving you a sense of growing in power over the length of your play. Near the start you are put into battle against the watchers you have been sent to Earth to defeat. Most of the game if you fall down a hole or die in battle, you can come back to life instantly. In these fights however, if you're defeated, the game continues, and the watcher snidely taunts you. If you win, they curse you. Over the game the power of your hits or their health must have been tweaked as they become easier and easier to defeat. I suppose the argument could be made that the player gets better at the game over time so is able to dodge their attacks and defeat them... but the battle mechanics don't have that much of a learning curve and you'll be using the same strategies from the first couple hours all the way through the rest of the game.

As i work my way through all the games i wanted to play last year, i'll be re-evaluating my best of year list. El Shaddai would have been a runner up but Deus Ex still holds the top spot.

Gray Matter (PC)

So the day i complete El Shaddai, Gray Matter arrives in the mail. Fortuitous timing there. After installing the game off the DVD (how quaint), i load up the first point and click adventure game i've played in a while and after a week of playing (i'm at the start of chapter 6), there's a lot to talk about.

First i want to talk about some of the little touches Gray Matter includes that make the whole experience a little less frustrating when thinking about the conventions of this genre. For instance, pressing the spacebar will bring up hotspots, so you'll never have to pixel hunt for an item. Everything you can interact with is spelled out for you if you wish it. Not only that but each chapter has progress bars so you can see how far along you are with all the goals of that particular chapter. On the map screen the locations are colour coded. Gold signifies that the area contains something needed to complete the chapter. Silver indicates bonus points, and the name turns grey when there is nothing left for you to do there. Finally if an object or character needs an item used on them, the cursor over them will have a hand with a little x on it, so if you are stuck you won't be walking around trying every inventory item on every object.

The presentation is a bit of a mixed bag. The backgrounds are absolutely gorgeous are indeed the visual highlight. The music as well is phenomenal and i will see about getting a copy of the soundtrack when i'm done with the game. The cut-scenes use a sort of moving comic book format that seems a little unprofessional considering the visual polish of everything else. The voice acting is superb though.

I haven't really discussed the story and as that's the heart of an adventure title i don't really intend to. I'll say that a young travelling magician named Sam finds herself in Oxford one night at the home of the reclusive neurobiologist David Styles. What follows is a tale of science and magic as you control both characters. The main cast is introduced slowly over the game as you learn more about their past and motivations, and there's a supporting cast of characters that are equally as memorable.

Heh, this kind of turned into a bit of a review, but i am enjoying playing through a Jane Jensen adventure again. She has a wonderful talent for creating endearing characters and her stories always have an intriguing element of the supernatural in them.

Deadly Premonition (360)

It's been about two months since Kenneth and I last played this wacky game and boy did this session not disappoint. Those that follow me on twitter (@Dave_the_Turnip) will have seen my tweets during our playthrough as that has become a tradition of playing the game now.

We finally came to a big boss battle in the clock tower. The chapter beforehand we learned some rather disturbing things about one of the town's characters and then we find ourselves playing as Emily (complete with the Emily rap remix). The fight ended with one of the more gruesome death scenes the game has shown so far (and there have been a couple of disturbing ones). We saved after the fight but i'm itching for the next game session cause the end of the game seems to be right around the corner.

One thing about playing as Emily... her gun packs some punch. We were worried when the game turned to combat mode as we were used to York and his shotgun of awesomeness. Emily only has her revolver. What a revolver though. It was more powerful than the bloody shotgun! Girl's packing some heat! We almost didn't want to switch back to York.

Heh, here's one for ya. Who's York's favourite Peanuts character? Peppermint Patty! Ha! I kill me.

League of Legends (PC)

One thing i'm starting to do in LoL is make a mental note of champions i do really well with in games, so when the time comes that i want to buy a champion to learn how to use better (i'm almost at the number of points needed to buy one at full price), i have a decent selection to choose from.

Oh i had my first run in with the dark side of the community yesterday. We lost a game because instead of focusing on fighting our opponents, members of my team were calling each other childish names in the chat. It all started when one of them got really cranky for someone 'stealing their kill'. I've seen this a few times while playing and have had the winging laid on me more than once. Ok, i can understand that possibly the money and exp is important to players (although not as much in Dominion from what i can see)... but we're all on the same team. We have a goal to fight towards. If i attack an enemy champion you're attacking it's to help you out so we can move on. Maybe there's a naivety to my thought not having played the game too long but this kind of complaint just sounds like ego being thrown around. I would be happy to hear other thoughts on the subject.

Final Thoughts

In discussing El Shaddai over the weeks and this week in Deadly Premonition, i mention how i get this feeling when the ending of a game is 'around the corner'. I believe i had similar things to say with Persona 4 and Deus Ex. I mean i don't think it's hard to recognize. Usually a game will have this definitive build up to the final encounter that's pretty easy to spot (although i have been tricked many times by what i think is the lead up to the final encounter being the lead up to the lead up). RPGs tend to have this lead up lead up a lot because their tales are stretched out over many hours of gameplay. Still, a stretched out lead up to an ending is a lot different than a false ending.

I really haven't come across too many games that have false endings, but there is one title that stands out for having at least two. That game is Tron 2.0. While i think it's a great FPS/RPG hybrid that acts like a true sequel to the film story wise, man was its pacing all over the place. If memory serves me correctly the first false ending was around the half way point. You'd just completed a series of tasks having gone onto the internet. There's then this area where i believe you had to either disarm something or escape this room. There was a timer and a lot of annoying jumping puzzles. It had all the feel of a final encounter, but afterwards? Nope. New goal, game extends... for hours. Then maybe 5 - 10 hours later there's this section where you have to get on a train. Again, it has that feel of "this is it! Time to travel to the final showdown!" Nope.

In the end i do have a favourable memory of that game, but fragments like those negatively colour my memory and make it so i'll probably never return for a replay... but i think that's a topic for another time. Do any of you have any examples of games with false finishes or a lead up that wasn't exactly a lead up? Let me know in the comments!

Till next week, happy gaming all!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Monday Musings - 23rd Jan, 2012

Hey all. It's been a bit of a slow week in gaming but gaming was had. Let us muse.

League of Legends (PC)

The majority of the week was spent in Dominion. Last week i talked about picking random characters and jumping into the fray. There has been a small caveat added to that. If i end up sucking with a character after two plays or so, i no longer allow myself to play them. On the other side of the equation, there are some characters i've gotten to try that i absolutely dominate with. The desire to pick them and have a high scoring game can be tempting but i think what this is doing is giving me a mental list of the champions i might like to spend my points on when i finally decide to buy one or two. I think as i continue to play the game, sooner or later there will come a time when i will want to learn more of the game, and that might coincide with wanting to focus on a couple characters or even one.

Another thing is LoL has quite the reputation for a toxic online community. I am happy to say in my playings so far, i've only come across a couple individuals that were rude, and none that were outright hostile. Perhaps those people are all playing summoner's rift, or perhaps this environment only occurs in higher levels but i have been pretty happy with the community i've come across so far. I do think possibly the dominion game type has something to do with it. It's quick and not too complicated. You win or lose, you had some fun, not much of your day is wasted. That's a framework for a good competitive game.

Run Roo Run (iphone)

Made by 5th cell, the creators of Scribblenauts, this game kept me amused as i was waiting for LoL matches to load all week. Each level only takes a couple seconds and each stage utilizes a different platforming mechanic. It's clever, has a great art style, and is really well designed. The extreme levels make me want to pull my hair out, but there's gonna be a lot of weekly updates with new content.

This is the kind of game i would love to make if i could ever stick with trying to learn how to program!

Final Thoughts

Sometimes thinking up a topic for the final thoughts section is rather difficult. Sometimes the brain doesn't like to cooperative creatively. So for a little bit of inspiration i visited Destructoid and found the good news that Alan Wake is coming to PC. Finally i'll be able to give this game a try after wanting to play it for years (you know... back when it was being developed for the PC platform in the first place?).

This was after playing through Max Payne 1 and 2. Yeah, completing games has always been a big thing for me, even before i started writing this column, and the fact that i finished the Max Payne games made me a fan of Remedy as a developer. Then when the buzz of Alan Wake came out along with screenshots i started getting hyped (this was in the days before i disengaged myself from the hype caboose). Of course the game became an Xbox exclusive, and thus i became a sad gamer.

Although now that the game is coming to PC i wonder how i'll fare with it. It is a horror game and those that remember my fifteen minute brush with Amnesia: The Dark Descent will know these games really get under my skin (Doom 3 freaked me out for instance). Still it's nice to have the option and i will be purchasing this when it comes out as long as it's not stupidly expensive (as then i'll just have to wait for a steam sale).

Till next week, happy gaming all!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Monday Musings - 16th Jan, 2012

Hey everyone and welcome to another week of Monday Musings. Let's kick this thing off shall we?

El Shaddai (PS3)

I think i'm on my way to the end of the game now and the experience has been somewhat amazing. I think i'll cover the negatives first and then move onto the positives.

Story-wise this section i just played has me completely confused. The game really doesn't do a good job at explaining itself. I don't want to give too much away but it's the whole segment with Dark Enoch and racing to help Ishtar in her battle. The game feels like you should be fully aware of what's happening (even going so far as to explain the previous level in a cut-scene as it's loading the next segment), but aside from the basic idea of what's happening, i feel completely in the dark when it comes to who all these characters are and what's actually going on. The letters given to you by the messengers when you find them help somewhat, but not enough. I do wonder if it's going to be one of those games where you complete it once and then the second playthrough fills in all the pieces. Even if i'm willing to play through the game again for extra story info, my interest usually doesn't last long. 'The World Ends with you' was testament to that.

So far the fighting and platforming hasn't been too much of a problem. As long as you have the arch for the platforming segments, the double jump and hover technique should take you through safely... and once you start wailing on enemies and stealing their weapons, they become whatever the opposite of a problem is. The one exception is the whole Amaros area. I don't know whether it was due to the platforms blending into the marble textured backgrounds or if i was too used to Enoch's jumping, but i died more in that segment than everyone else in the game combined. Getting back to a modicum of normalcy was greatly welcomed... but then the confusing story dump started.

Even with the issues, i want to recommend this game to all. It's so unique and even with all its faults, it's a breath of fresh air in my gameplay schedule. I'll be looking forward to whatever UTVIgnition comes out with next (and looking into it, it's not too surprising they were behind Deadly Premonition).

League of Legends (PC)

This week was my first taste of the free champions swapping. See what i like to do is wait till everyone else picks and then click random. That way i'm never sure who i'm gonna play as, and the fun of trying to win the match is coupled by the fun of working out how the champion i'm using works (or if i've played them before, refining my technique).

I'm starting to become more adept at this too. I had an amazing match with Heimerdinger where i didn't die once, and yesterday i hit the top of the ladder with Sivir with something like 18/12/10 (kills, deaths and assists for those not in the know). There's so much to learn and it is kind of overwhelming, which is why at least for the foreseeable future i'll be having fun playing like this and cherishing these small victories.

I mean with new free champions every week, around 90 in total, plus with new ones added, and game balances addressed, i don't see the game getting boring, especially since it's so easy to start up and play.

Final Thoughts

This week i'd like to address something i came across in playing El Shaddai this week, but i've noticed in far too many games over the years. You've just watched a cut-scene, and control is given back to the player. You start moving forward ready to get back into the fray again. You take two steps... and another cut-scene loads.

What was the point of giving control back to the player if you're just going to launch into another non-interactive segment? Could you not think of a way to link the two cut-scenes so you decided to have the player fill the gap? Are you just being mean as a developer? Honestly, i don't understand it.

In El Shaddai there's a motorcycle segment, and it is full of this. Another prime offender is the Metal Gear Solid franchise... though most of the time the cut-scene in question was a codec transmission, and not actually having the player character do something cool. I'm sure there are plenty of other instances in my game playing history but of course now that i'm writing about this phenomenon, they escape me.

Does anyone have any examples of this in their own game playing? Does anyone have an explanation as to why this happens? I'm sure there is probably a simple answer to the question, but damned if i can work it out.

Anyhoo, till next time, happy gaming all!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Monday Musings - 9th Jan, 2012

I tried a little bit or reversion to old gaming habits this week. A side effect of that is that Zelda is on the shelf for the foreseeable future. With that out of the way, let us muse!

Serious Sam 3: BFE (PC)

On the final day of the Steam Christmas sale, I picked this up for $20. I've played a couple hours co-op with a friend, and have joined a couple servers with strangers. The game is classic Serious Sam fun, with the addition of instant melee kills, provided you can get close enough to pull them off (and of course, the graphics are new and shiny). Sadly a lot of the servers I joined have what I consider to be rules that take away the fun, like 1 life per person per level or just a couple. It's not that i'm against this level of challenge, but this seems to be the norm, and to explain my dislike I have to go into some history for a moment.

The original Serious Sam was a gaming favourite back in my LAN days. Around the turn of the century (man I love saying that), I was heavily involved in the Gold Coast LAN scene, of which there were two big LANs, Frags and Gameserve. The clan I joined, Atomic was friend to both, and while Frags was a personal favourite, the most fun were at our own Atomic LANs. Our clan was never the best at the most popular competitive games of the time like Counter-Strike or Quake 3 (although I could hold my own in Unreal Tournament), so instead we had a reputation for other games like Worms, Rune, Insane, and a co-op favourite being Serious Sam.

The first couple times we played we cranked the difficulty to its highest, gave ourselves unlimited lives, and plowed through. As you can imagine, after a couple completions this got boring. To make things more interesting, we left the difficulty where it was and instead gave each of us 20 lives, and then we saw how far we could make it. Mad fun.

So that's my problem. Having not completed the game or exhausted my enjoyment of plowing through hoards of enemies, the limited life stipulation feels like a serious hindrance... especially such limited life. I mean one or three lives doesn't even give you the chance to get started.

Still, the game itself is enjoyable. I just wish more of my friends would buy it so we can have some epic co-op fun (and get someone with a much better connection to host it).

League of Legends (PC)

So I finally took the plunge. A friend tried to get me into the game in 2010 but Summoner's Rift seemed like the learning curve was too steep. I decided to give LoL another try after hearing about the Domination mode. Capture and hold points? Average game time of twenty minutes? Sounds good to me. Especially that i've been annoyed about not being able to game everyday. Domination mode has solved that problem nicely.

I hit level five over the weekend and still know pretty much jack about the game, but I am familiar with most of the free to play champions at the moment, and I can play a couple of them decently (I had an amazing run with Caitlyn the other night). The most important skill i've learned is how crucial not going it alone is (well at least if you're a support or damage class). There is indeed safety in numbers. It just seems that with people speaking other languages and a lot of immaturity, communication is not your greatest asset in these games (even though it is). Perhaps playing with friends is a more pleasant experience.

Ah well, it doesn't dampen my fun. The games are short enough to not worry about winning and losing all that much, and hell, i'm still learning how to play. I can see myself sticking with this one for a while.

El Shaddai (PS3)

One of the games on my must play list for 2011. I'm only a couple hours in but I can see this making my best of last year list if I hadn't already written it up. The game has vision, a very unique vision. From the story to the visuals to the soundtrack. This is an experience unlike anything i've played or witnessed of late.

To tell the truth, it feels like a Suda51 game. It's style over substance... but what style! And it's not that the gameplay is utterly terrible. It's just fairly simplistic. Perhaps that's a good thing though. You travel through the platforming and all the fights without too much bother, taking in the visual feast in front of you and following this odd pre-bible Christianity mythos that never gives you enough information, maintaining an aura of mystery around what's going on (which is a good way to approach story... to a point).

I could see the repetition of the level design for each stage of the tower you're climbing becoming more stale as the hours go by, but I hope not. Nevertheless, we shall see, and I shall report.

Final Thoughts

I haven't got a good idea for the Final Thoughts section this (it happens when I take a break when writing these and come back hours later). To keep you going, here's a medley of some of the awesome music from Megaman 2 by The Minibosses

Till next week, happy gaming all!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Monday Musings - 2nd Jan, 2012

Well it's a brand new year and boy is there a lot of gaming I want to get done (along with so many many other things. Man, there just aren't enough free hours in a day are there). Nevertheless, it's time for a whole new year of Monday Musings! Let us begin!

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii)

Due to schoolwork piling up, I didn't get as much gaming done as I would have liked to. Last week I had just completed the fun mine cart portion of the sand sea. This week I completed the pirate ship dungeon and opened some chests in Skyloft.

Let's talk about the pirate ship dungeon then. First off... did anyone else have a really hard time getting it to appear? I even looked online and it was only after finding some forum posts, I was able to get it to reveal itself. My buddy Effa was over and his remark was, “Do they actually get people to playtest these things?”, which I had to agree with. What makes it worse of course if I have heard about how rigorous Miyamoto is with playtesting. Perhaps it's a cultural thing. Puzzles like fooling the eye in the first dungeon or tasks like getting the pirate ship to appear might be pieces of cake to a Japanese test group but then when it comes over to the west, the clues don't make sense and only frustration remains. Instead of being culturally specific it's probably just a personal thing. Having talked to some friends about the game, it turns out we each found certain things easy and difficult compared to everyone else. So seemingly Zelda is an equal opportunity frustrator.

The pirate ship dungeon was pretty cool however. Like the Ancient Cestern, these latter dungeons have been expertly designed. It just has an incredible flow to it. You go down to the bottom exploring the entirely of the decrepit wreck, then when you gain access to the timestone, the whole ship comes alive and the puzzles start to make sense (and this only happens after a pretty neat mini-boss fight with the captain). Then you have to start using the timestone to move back and forth between the times to solve puzzles and gain access to other areas of the ship (through your new acquired toy). Finally the boss fight takes you from the engine room all the way to the deck and is a pretty fun encounter (my frustrations with the motion controls at times non-withstanding).

It is funny how my qualms with the game are all little things too. My number one annoyance... imprecise jumping. In all the past 3d Zeldas when you jumped off a ledge, the game had sort of an auto aim system so you would face the direction you need to when you left the ledge. This game, even when you line up the jump, half the time you miss where you were going for. Also, having to load between Skyloft and the sky around it, that really breaks the immersion factor for me. These are needle points, but are part of the reason i'm not enjoying the game as much as I thought I would.


So I don't have an indie game for you this week either. I should probably stop calling them indie games too. They're free to play. Freebies if you will. I say this because I spent the weekend trying to get League of Legends working. I have forgotten my username and password from last year when a couple friends tried to get me into the game. The new Domination mode intrigues me but their email services for recovering lost login information aren't working. I've emailed support and now play the waiting game.

Fallout New Vegas: Blood Money (PC)

Saturday night I loaded this up and played perhaps 30 mins or so. All my weapons were taken away. All the enemies are unkillable except by explosives (or by a hungry super mutant). I met said super mutant and have persuaded his more articulate side to join me. The premise is interesting, but this is so not in the spirit of the Fallout game I fell in love playing (so much so that I actually bought the DLC). I also feel kind of guilty for starting this while playing Zelda. I shouldn't but I think I might hold off on this till my Hyrule adventure is over.

Final Thoughts

So who else bought more games than they probably should have in the Steam Christmas sale? I held off for so long (having no internet for a week helped), and then on Friday I bought 'The Binding of Isaac' for $1.75... then the next day I bought all the original 3d GTAs for about $10 all up plus Spacechem for a couple dollars. Today I spent $22 on Serious Sam 3 and Terreria. Once you start grabbing games, it's definitely had to stop. I have more titles on Steam and GoG than i'll ever have time to play, yet I just cannot resist a bargain (and I still have the collector's bug in me).

This is the only umbridge I take with my decision around September to only play one game at a time. Long time readers know that the column was usually quite diverse with what I chose to play each time I decided to load up a game. I didn't really complete much but I at least got to try more things. I'm wondering if I should return to that style or not. Truth be told without buckling down I probably would still be playing through Persona 4 and Human Revolution. It feels good to have spent the time dedicated to those titles solely and completing them.

I started Monday Musings mainly to write about games on a consistent basis, but I think another part of the reasoning was to analyze and perhaps focus my gameplay habits. Those who read this column would probably agree to gaming being a big part of their life, and for me that's no different... but i'm always striving for new experiences, consistent fun, and efficiency in my gaming shortcomings... and when I make these changes and decisions about how to play, i'm always constantly questioning them.

It'd probably be better if I could switch all that off, screw it all and just enjoy gaming on face value... but I can't so this is what remains. Who knows, I might find some answers this year!

Till next week, happy gaming all, and I hope you all have an amazing 2012!