Sunday, February 12, 2012

Monday Musings - 13th Feb, 2012

Wow, can you believe it readers? This update marks one whole year of Monday Musings. While other writings have come and gone, the musings remain. Let's get to it!

Chrono Trigger (DS)

Man i underestimated the hold this game would have on me. One week of playing, i'm twelve hours in and still having a blast. Perhaps the idea with gaming everyday is that a game worthy of that attention needs to be played. Anyways, i have saved just after the whole Mountain of Woe debacle. This game was truly a marvel of design. To start with, let's discuss the pacing.

The game moves at an unbelievably fast pace. There's always something happening, usually the dungeons themselves are not bogged down in exploration and mazes (there may be one or two areas off the beaten path, but that's it). You flow through, fighting enough enemies to level up significantly (the mountain of woe area was throwing new levels at me), and then the pacing is punctuated by a boss fight, usually followed by a story segment before sending you off to do everything all over again. Sometimes there is more than one boss fight in a row but one thing i have noticed is the boss fights come along consistently. I think it's because bosses are when you really get to let all these powerful techs and magic you've been accumulating fly. I dunno about the rest of you, but with the normal fights, unless there's a large group of enemies or an enemy that requires a certain magic to defeat, i just spam attack and leave my techs alone.

The only real downtime you get is in-between story and dungeon segments, and really until you get your ship, there's not much to do (which is interesting considering that the intro in the fair was full of diversions). For instance the only real side quests i've encountered have been farming barter items in prehistory to buy upgrades at the shop, and then once you get the special pendant, opening those locked chests. About the chests, i love how the game plays with time. If a chest is in the same area in the past and future, the future chest will have an upgraded version of the past chest... and then you can go back and open the past chest anyway. Little touches like that create memorable moments that make me smile.

How about how easy it is to swap out party members, and how they're always within a couple levels of your main party? One thing that would always annoy me in RPGs of the SNES and PS1 era was not using a character, having them lag behind and then being forced to use them because of the plot. It means you have to go grinding with a character that's essentially made of glass (as at that point, any random encounter will probably destroy them). Chrono Trigger has a lot of character specific moments, and the ability to just pop them in and out at a whim in the menu, and know that they're good to go (the one exception being having not farmed tech points, they might not have the awesome techs you'd like them to) is a relief.

And the organic revealing of the story? You meet characters that turn out to have greater meaning as you travel to different time periods, new time periods open up after learning about events. And all this is window dressing to a very simple main plot that boils down to 'Horrific evil creature will destroy the world. Stop it'. And even that point isn't revealed until a few hours in (up to that point it's a question of doing the right thing and then survival). Then of course there's the war and ill will between two races, a personal vendetta, rulers being corrupted... it's all a rich tapestry.

Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar (PC)

When i was growing up, somehow the Ultima series passed me by. My first RPG was Final Fantasy on the NES so i think the PC RPG didn't really interest me till Fallout (although i do remember playing a couple of the TSR D&D games). The first Ultima i ever played was Ultima 8: Pagan, and while i found it interesting at the time, it didn't stick with me, and there's a good reason for that; it's a pretty bad game.

Anyways over the past year i have been watching Spoony's Ultima Retrospectives and browsing games at one day i noticed Ultima IV was free, so of course i grabbed it. This week i decided to give it a try. I spent about an hour with the game and these are my impressions.

First off the intro lays a really nice groundwork. Not only does it tell you to read the manual (which i found hilarious), but then you get to answer a series of morally ambiguous questions to determine what class you start the game off as, and in which city. This is where things got more difficult.

Now the graphics i don't have a problem with. It was 1985, and everything is clearly defined. Rudimentary yes, but clearly defined. What became an issue (which the manual failed to mention) was the interface and how to play the game. Every letter of the alphabet corresponds to an action, and it took me about five minutes to go through them all and work out what does what (for example you have to press G on top of a chest to grab its contents. G stands for 'get chest'). Truth be told i found this pretty awesome. It reminded me of old space combat games i used to play like Privater where most of the keyboard would have some purpose, and once mastery of the interface was acquired, you felt quite accomplished.

Really i'd say my main problem with the title was the open-ended nature of the game with a lack of guidance as to what to do. You really are just plonked down in this game world with no idea. I didn't even reach Lord British and find out the goal of the game until i died from being poisoned (Lord British will resurrect you upon death which is a nice touch for the time). So you need to become the avatar, the embodiment of the eight virtues of Lord British's new philosophy. A noble goal. How do i actually accomplish this? Ok, i need to find the eight runes in the eight towns and then raise these virtue stats. Can you tell me how a stat gets raised? No? Ok then.

Even a walkthrough i consulted wasn't that helpful just because getting around is such a pain. The map that comes with the game isn't helpful at all, and learning to use the moongates in nightmarish. Still, i am quite happy with my time in the game and i have had the desire to give things another go, to try and conquer the initial teething period of this game and quest forth. We'll see if that happens or not.

Sol: Exodus

I love me some space combat games but haven't really played a good one since Wing Commander IV (although plenty of friends have recommended the Freelancer series). Watching the Angry Joe Show, i see this review for a new space combat game on steam that's only $10. Why the hell not?

Now i've only played the first mission but the important thing, the combat felt right. Some of the features include missile lock, guns overheating, matching enemy craft speed, and a neat ability called sliding where you continue to drift in your current direction but can turn around and start firing behind you. It felt like returning to an old friend (and the game doesn't look too shabby either).

One minor complaint is that i had to go into options to reverse the Y axis. Now i'm used to having to do this in FPS games, but space shooters and flight sims are what ingrained this in me in the first place. It's the whole throttle method, you pull back to move up and push forward to go down (after years of playing this games, the movement felt natural once i started using a mouse in FPS'). To have the default for a space combat game be the opposite really boggles the mind.

I would have played more but Chrono Trigger was calling. Maybe in coming weeks.

League of Legends (PC)

Two things to say about the game this week. 1) I had a game over the weekend where i got to play Annie and her teddy bear Ruffles. There were two occasions when i successfully defended a point by myself against 2 - 3 attackers. Man i was just on fire that game.

2) I think the main reason i'm playing the game less and less each week is that the wait times for games are becoming longer and longer. I'm averaging five minutes or more a game when i used to not wait more than a minute. Is it perhaps being level eight and there's less people to choose from, or does it have to do with my win/loss record? I know five minutes doesn't sound like much, but when i want to play a multiplayer game, i'm used to just finding a server and jumping in, not waiting around.

Final Thoughts

So in my search for more information to aid me in playing Ultima IV, i came across this article from The Brainy Gamer a couple years ago.

In it he talks about how as an exercise for his students he gets them to play Ultima IV and then report back on their findings. Most find the game unplayable, especially by today's standards. I think it's a neat idea and offer the same challenge to those that read this column.

Go to the above link and grab the game. It's free! Then play the game. I recommend downloading the manuals and map as they will help, but go ahead, try the game. Go in cold. If you're smacking your head against the wall, have a look online for some help. There's a newbie guide that can help get you started, but i'd like to see if anyone finds working out the ui for themselves enjoyable like i did.

Please leave your experience in the comments.

Till next week, happy gaming all!

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