Thursday, October 27, 2011

Discordance: Music Games In A Post-Guitar Hero Industry

Earlier this year, Activision made an announcement that the Guitar Hero series would be shelved due to low sales numbers. The last piece of DLC was released in April, and the Guitar Hero world has been dormant since. Though Rock Band is still doing quite well, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the music game genre as we know it is on its way out. While I love the Rock Band series (Devin Townsend DLC in the Rock Band Network is the greatest thing that any music game has ever had song-wise), there have been little to no truly groundbreaking innovations. This is why so far, the greatest music games released this year are the ones that stray from the given formula.


Chime is a strange but fun hybrid of Tetris and Lumines, set to music. Very addicting and fun, but you can't add your own tunes, which is missed potential there.
Available on: XBLA, PSN, PC (Steam)


A top-down shmup in the vein of Geometry Wars with a dash of bullet-hells on LSD, Beat Hazard is not only a really fun and challenging (on the harder difficulties) game, but it is also a developmental miracle. Created by Cold Beam Games, which consists of one person (That's right, ONE PERSON), Beat Hazard is amazing in terms of not only fun factor, but content as well. There's online multiplayer, multiple gametypes, many different types of enemies, each with their own strategy, boss fights, and a fully-featured perks and leveling system. You can choose any mp3/aac/flac music file, and the on-screen action (amount of enemies, speed of projectiles, even the power of your own weapons) is linked to the frequencies of the song. It's simply brilliant, and amazing in the bang-for-your-buck sense.
Available on: XBIG (the original, highly outdated and as such, barebones release), PSN, PC, Mac OSX, Steam

More to come

Final Fantasy Retrospective (Part 2, or "Wow, it's been 2 months since an update")

Alright, been awhile. Anyways, here's the not-that-long-awaited part 2.  

Final Fantasy IV (1991 SNES, 1997/2001 PSX, 2005 GBA, 2007 DS)
Alright, now onto the good stuff.  Final Fantasy IV is a stellar game, plain and simple.  This game has strong characterization.  You play as the captain of the Red Wings of Baron.  The Red Wings, are an elite airship army for the nation of Baron.  After a few incidents in the plot, Cecil is questioning his loyalties to his king.  Eventually, he goes through a transformation to purge himself of the blood on his hands and becomes a Paladin.  

This serves two purposes: The plot reason is to help Cecil come to terms with his life and indicates a full realization of what he must do and who he is, as a person.  Gameplay wise, it changes Cecil from this HP siphoning damage dealer to a naturally protective support character.  When an ally has low HP, Cecil will automatically guard them.  

This all aside, the game is a pretty damn good.  Depending on the version, it can vary from hard, or fairly easy.  The SNES version is actually considerably harder than the DS remake.  The SNES version required a considerable amount of grinding vs the DS one.  

Good soundtrack, good characterization, good story.  Final Fantasy IV gets a recommendation from me if you're looking for a good JRPG.

Seriously, that’s all you get for FFIV.  Intentional yo.

Final Fantasy V (SNES: N/A {in N.A.}, Playstation: 1999, GBA: 2006, PSN: TBD)
Alright, now we’re a little obscure.  Final Fantasy V is one of the unheard of games.  Until a few years ago, I had never played it myself. 
If there is one thing you take away from this little recap it’s this: I love their Job System.  It’s absurdly fun to mess with.  Seriously.  Want to play a Ninja in heavy armor?  Well level as a Knight for awhile, learn “Heavy Armor” then just equip the ability when you turn Ninja.  Ta-daaaaa.  It is the precursor to the job system in Final Fantasy Tactics, which is a good thing (That had a stupidly fun job system as well).
Anyways, this game has a decent-to-good story, and the gameplay/combat is more fun than normal because of the way you can build your characters. 
Also introduced in this game is Gilgimesh, who later becomes a recurring character in later Final Fantasy titles.  Also, his theme music, Clash on Big Bridge, pretty awesome. 

or for a more epic version:

The story involves stopping Exdeath, the big bad, from sending the entire world to the Void, nothingness, fates worse than death, unlife, et al.  It’s up to you, Bartz, your faithful steed Boco (a chocobo, naturally), a crass pirate, a princess, and a badass grandpa (Thanks TVTropes). 

If you’re going to pick up and play this game, grab the GBA version.  It’s received higher scores than the PSX counterpart.  The PSN version hasn’t been released Stateside as of yet.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Final Fantasy Series (A breakdown) Part 1

This is a personal breakdown of the Final Fantasy games I've played.  Any release dates posted are drawn from Wikipedia since I don't have a super-tronic memory.


The inaugural game in the series was simply, Final Fantasy.  This, along with the Dragon Quest series, helped cement the RPG genre as we know it.  Top down maps, with turn based combat soon became the norm.

The game itself is pretty standard.  At the start, you built your party of 4 by combining any combination of the following classes: Monk, Warrior, Thief, Red Mage, Black Mage, and White Mage.  Late in the game, each class turned into a better version of their starter class through an all powerful class change.
Monk was your two handed fighter that needed no weapons.  High HP and multi-hit attacks were his trademarks.  Turned into a Martial Artist.
Warriors were your weapons and heavy armor users.  They could boast high Vitality, so they took less damage usually.  Turns into a Knight
Thieves were the quickest of the group.  They didn't hit hard in combat, but they could pilfer goods from the enemy.  Turns into a Ninja, who can then throw things... and move even faster.  With many attacks.
Black Mages could use damaging/crippling magics against the enemies.  Black Wizard gets access to the strongest Black magic in the game
White Mages used healing and buffing magics on the party.  White Wizard gets the strongest buffs and heals.
The Red Mage was a combination of the White and Black Mage, but wasn't as proficient at either.  Can cast decent spells, but not the strongest from each color.  Also can be used as a backup melee fighter.  I don't know why they didn't call it the Gray Mage though.  Red Wizard gets some of the medium-high spells from both schools.  (Like 7 or so on a scale to 10.)

Anyways, the party (I went with Fighter, Monk, White Mage, Black Mage on my PSP playthrough) starts off as a small group of do-gooders that go around doing heroic things like saving princesses, until an event occurs and you're called upon to save the world.

The story, is kinda lacking.  The gameplay is definitely monotonous.  It's a grind.  The original NES version is difficult.  The PSP version?  Not so much.  Part of the difficulty comes from getting lost.  This game can get by on it's historical merits, but to some, that's enough.  It can be entertaining enough to keep you playing for a few hours without realizing.  You're not going to get attached to any of the characters.  It shows exactly how the massively popular series started.  It may have a few gray hairs, but it's worth a look for those curious about the franchise origins.

Fianl Fantasy II (1988)

I haven't played much of this one, but I will say this... The NES version is BRUTAL.  At the beginning, if you don't stay on the intended path, you will encounter insanely tough enemies... and you will die.  Not a supposed-to-lose die, but a Game Over die.  The main premise is that there's a war going on, and an invading Empire has taken over the kingdom.  You are recruited into the resistance after a scuffle with the Empire left you and two party members unconscious, and the main character's brother missing.

That's right, they introduced characterization.  One of the more interesting things in this game is the dialogue system.  At certain times, you can either learn or say key words.  these key words can be used to grant entrance to places, or to see extra snips of conversation with the NPCs.  It's actually a pretty interesting concept for a video game.

Magic and weapons work like this, the more you use a specific spell or weapon, the better you get with it.  Granted, your characters are naturally specific at the start (Main character is better at swords at the start than axes, Big guy is better with Axes than staves, the chick is better with Bows than swords).  You buy magic and "Affix" it to a specific character, then poof, they can use it.  Using it makes it stronger and more effective, so grinding serves more purpose than just levels.

Speaking of levels, there's no real "level" system in the game.  You get stat increases at random after battles.  If your character does a lot of damage over the course of a few fights, then his strength will increase.  If they take lots of damage, their HP and Vitality will go up and so on.  A dynamic stat system like this falls in the middle of the "Pro-con" scale. At least for me.

Last in this part...

Final Fantasy III (1990)

Here we are, number 3, and the last NES release.  Granted, it never came stateside til the DS port, but whatever.  You start off as a young teen who falls into a crevice after an earthquake.  You are then deemed to be one of the "Warriors of Light", along with 3 others.  Then this rag-tag group of peoples are supposed to save the world.

The notable addition in this game was the base for future Job Systems.  You can change a characters class from say, Warrior to white mage, with the only downside is that you'd be in a weakened state for x amount of battles after the change.

I've only played a bit of the DS remake, so I can't go into full detail about this game.  I will say I do like how they tried to incorporate a job system here.  I'm a fan of how FFV (Later) and FF Tactics (Later) have used these systems.  The penalty for switching classes is a bit harsh, and it makes it difficult for experimenting with party ideas, since you're weakened for so long after a change.

That wraps it up for this part of the breakdown.  Not much to work with here, since I never played much of 2 or 3, but next up is Final Fantasy 4, 5, and maybe I'll get to 6.

Crafting Chronicles, part 1

So, I'm going to try my hand at something.  I'm going to keep a chronicle of a Vampires: The Masquerade
game I'm running this summer.  I'm going to basically give you, the reader, a story-like retelling of
the adventures of the group of young vampires (the players, obviously).  But first, character
introductions.  If you want a term defined or a small glossery made up, just let me know and I'll edit
this to include the new info.  This is mainly to test the waters on this style of post and polish up my
creative writing skills.

Name (Clan)
Short Bio

Vance Archer (Malkavian)
Vance was a pianist before his Embracing.  During his lifetime, he's accrued a small share of wealth,
but is well known throughout the state for his eccentric playing style, yet enjoyable songs.  He is the
Math Rock of the wandering classical musician market.  He made his stay up in Duluth, but after his
turn, strange voices started to echo throughout his head.  Some of them told him utter nonsense, while
others offered grave insights.  One voice rang loudest, and that's when he began his cross-state trip to
Minneapolis, to find out why this voice beckons.

Shadow (Gangrel)
Shadow still clings to parts of his former self.  A former Mixed Martial Artist before his Embraced, he
shed his real name, in favor of his nickname.  After a fairly lucrative career, he has "retired" to
Minneapolis to start his own gym.  Of course, the day to day operations of the gym are run by his Ghoul,
Bartholomew, while he trains some of the more promising students at night.  He needs to be wary though,
the Camerilla have eyes and ears everywhere, and one slip up could mean Final Death.

Aria (Assimite)
[Note: Character has no defining characteristics as of yet, hope to fix in future]

The First Night

A messenger arrives at the doorsteps of the 3 newest Kindred in Minneapolis.  Each one gaudy and
grotesque.  Their message is the same: Meet at Elysium tonight.  The Science Museum.  1 o'clock.  Sharp.
 They then disappear as abruptly as they arrived.  Shadow, who was in the midst of setting up his new
gym, tells Bartholomew "Alright, you hold the place down, I guess I have somewhere I need to be".  The
Ghoul is only happy to oblige.  Shadow hops into his Hummer and heads off towards downtown.  "This had
better be important", he mumbles to himself.

A quarter mile away, Vance has just recieved his summons and is only too happy to make the trip. The
voices were calm for once while the messenger delivered the memo.  They spoke up though, once he was on
his way.  "Elysium?  You know what that means!" cackled one sadistic voice, "That's where all the stuffy
higher-ups are going to sit around and stare.  Right. Through. Your. Head."  A softer voice replied
"Just go, nothing can be worse than this twice-damned form".  Grinning and not letting these get the
best of him, he merrily strolled downtown.

Aria coldly closed the door on the messenger as he left.  She sighed and went to her room.  "So much for
going unnoticed" she though to herself.  "God, the Camerilla must have eyes and ears everywhere".  She
considers ignoring the summons, but the mere thought of blowing off such a ominous request sent shivers
down her frigid body.  Reluctantly she grabs her coat and scarf and heads out into the cold, January
night.  She turns the key in the ignition and mutters "Better get this over with".

Shadow was the first to arrive at a quarter to one.  He parked his monsterous vehicle, but stayed
inside.  "I think I'll just watch for now"  Five minutes later, Aria pulls in across the lot and Vance
is seen ambling towards the front door.  "Huh" Shadow thinks, trying to piece out what exactly is going
on.  Vance tries the front door, to find it locked.  Footsteps in the snow reveal a path that leads to
the side employee entrance.  Following them, he is approached by Aria.  "Summoned too, huh!" the
excitable Vance exclaimed.  "Wonder what's going on?"  His words were met with cold silence.  The path
takes them around a corner, where they spot a security guard.

From his vantage point, Shadow watches closely as the two strangers stare at the mortal.  The guard
is sitting there, glazed look in his eye, when suddenly Aria leaps forward and lands a vicious blow to
the head.  The man crumples to the ground without a sound.  "Pretty impressive there Miss..." Vance
proclaims.  No sooner than the last word leaves his mouth, the door swings violently open, and a tall,
striking figure opens the door.  He looks at the two outside and jerkily motions them inside, obviously
frustrated that his Dominated guard was so recklessly assaulted.  He then points to Shadow in his tank
and flicks his head towards the door, signaling that he too, was beckoned.

"Sit here, and wait to be summoned" the tall man orders, "The Prince will see you shortly".  They aren't
made to wait long.  Within ten minutes, a twisted figure tells them that the Prince is ready for them.
With a cackle, he hobbles off.

Uneasily, the trio wanders over to where they were directed.  "Greeting young Childer.  Welcome to my
City."  The voice carries a sickly sweet tone to it.  Like a pot of honey tainted with arsonic.  "I am
the Prince of this fair city.  I hope you do not tarnish it's beauty with by misbehaving."  The man cut
an excellent figure.  He was tall, fair skinned, and carried the look of a celebrity, even in undeath.
Though he looked like your run-of-the-mill airheaded celeb, he walked with a certain confidence.  One
that said "cross me, and I WILL end you".  He was clearly, not a man to fuck with.

"Now, tradition is important to those of us in the Camerilla.  If you wish to remain in Minneapolis, you
must adhere to the laws.  But first, you need to introduce yourself to me and ask to stay here.  As this
is my domain, I posess the power to deny your residence, so play along boys and girl."

Shadow steps forward first and says woodenly "Prince, my name is Shadow, I request permission to stay in
Minneapolis".  "Permission granted.  You may think you're tough because of your past life, but that
don't mean squat here", the Prince replies in the same lilting tone.

Aria approaches and says cooly "My name is Aria, I ask for permission to stay".

Finally Vance steps forward and does his best to imitate the flowing speech of the Prince "Dear Prince
of Minneapolis, head of the Camerilla, I humbly request your permission to stay in your domain".

"Also granted"  The Prince pulls Vance close "I know what you are, if you cause any... "special" kind of
trouble, I'll have the Sheriff deliver your Final Death is the most painful way possible.  Do I make
myself clear?"

"Crystal" was the reply.

"Good.  Now, first and foremost... Welcome to Minneapolis.  As part of the Camerilla, I expect you to
follow a few laws.  First and foremost, you keep information of the Kindred away from the Humans.  This
is the Masquerade.  The Kine must never know we exist.  Breaking the Masquerade results in death.  I
mean this.  I will call a hunt on your head, and you will be murdered.  Do I make myself clear?"

The three fledglings nod in unison.

"Next, I am the ultimate authority.  Everything I say should override what anyone else in this city
says.  This includes your Sire, if present, or the Primogen.  The Primogen is the council made of the
oldest Kindred of each clan, sans the Tremere.  They are high up in the chain of command, so be on your
best behavior.

Third, there is NO violence in Elysium.  I'm sure you're currently feeling uneasy here.  You can feel
the presence of all the elder Kindred.  Should you raise your hand in violence, they will swarm upon you
and leave you for daybreak... And I do hate having piles of ashes out on the street.  Is quite untidy.

Now, with all that said, I have a task for you three.  I'm sure you're sufficiently anxious to be out
of here, so I'll be quick.  There are some Sabbat running rampant out near the Mall of America.  Nothing
serious, just a few thugs ravaging some parked cars and low tier vandalism.  I want you to dispatch of
them before the authroities arrive.  You are dismissed."

Vance quietly queries "Uh, what's a Sabbat... sir.  Eheh."

"The Sabbat are another group of Vampires.  One who feel they don't need the Camerilla or the
Masquerade.  They don't have much of a foothold in Minneapolis, but I hear they're quite the problem in
Iowa.  Anyways, they run roughshod all over the place, causing chaos and destruction, and with each
night the Kine come closer to discovering the existance of Vampires.  I WILL NOT stand for their
reckless behavior in my fair city.  You will dispatch them immediately.  Now go!"

"May as well hop in," Shadow mumbles.  "A single vehicle is less suspicous than a convoy".  Aria and
Vance pile into the car as he starts the ignition.  "Hold on", he warns as he throws the car into drive
and peels out of the parking lot.

Pulling off on a nearby exit ramp, they spot the renegades in the parking lot.  Under the dim lights,
they can make out the figures of 4 men assaulting a car with baseball bats.  "So what's the plan
fellas?"  Vance asks.  "Should we just run in and put a bullet in their collective skulls?  Then stake
'em and put them atop a billboard for the sun to roast 'em?"

"I could go down and try to seduce them" Aria plainly states.

"There's 4 of them, and 1 of you.  That'd end terribly.  I'll just walk down there and intimidate the
piss out of them." Shadow retorts.

"4 of them, remember?  Hehee" replies Vance.

"I can soak a bullet better than you fragile bags.  Plus, red eyes are a good way to spook people.  oh,

The bickering continues about the best possible route.  Intimidation, seduction, stealth, straight up
confrontation, when suddenly Shadow just started walking briskly towards the delinquents.  Eyes now
glowing red, and claws bared, he makes his way through the snow covered asphault, with Aria and Vance
trying to keep up.

"Hey, what gives?" Aria protests quietly
"I took action.  Bickering got us nowhere, so I did something about it" Shadow grumbles in reply.

"Well, looky here.  A couple of Cammy Welps have come to ruin our fun" one thug proclaims.
"Or maybe, they're just lost, heh heh heh"

Shadow silently replies by brandishing his claws as both Aria and Vance draw their handguns.

"Oh, so we're going to do this the hard way?  Well, that's fine by us!  We prefer it this way!" One of
the Sabbat goons roars.

Two of the Sabbat discard their baseball bats and draw guns of their own.  Both sides are trading fire
as two of the thugs rush the group with their bats.  They're met swiftly by a roaring Shadow, who begins
to tear into undead flesh with his primal claws.  A few stray bullets ping off of Shadow, but show no
signs of doing anything other than pissing him off.  Two Sabbat fall victim to Shadow's unrelenting
claws, another falls to a well aimed bullet from Vance's 9mm, as he grins manically.  The last one meets
his end from a knife to the throat by a rushing Aria...

"Well done.  I see the Camerilla has some... competent... new blood."
A tall individual, donning a treanch coat and hat steps out of the shadows.  He pulls a cigerette out of
his coat and snaps his fingers, causing a small flame to appear in the palm of his hand.  Lighting his
cig, he quickly waves away the flame as he walks towards the group.

"So, you are the people I was told about hm?  You don't look so impressive.  Just a bunch of young
fledglings.  From what I understand, this is your first night in Minneapolis, right?"

"Don't tell him anything.  He knows too much!  That Filthy filty Assimite!" One voice hisses in Vance's
head.  "You may as well tell him, those Tremere are crafty.  They can pull information out of you like a
taffy puller", cries another.  "What's the point?  Those 'regal' Ventrue can make you dance on a string on a whim...' another whines.

"ASSIMITE FIEND!" Yells Vance, out of nowhere with a crazed look in his eye.

"Uh, yeah, sure.  Anyways, I think I best be off.  What with it being late and all.  I have my eye on
you three."  The stranger snaps his fingers again, and this time, a soccer-ball sized ball of fire
appears in his hand.  He throws it at the car that the Sabbat were vandilizing.  The car bursts into a
roaring inferno as he disappears into the shadows from whence he came.  In the distance, the group hears
sirens of fire trucks and police cars, heading rapidly towards their location.

"Damn it!  Let's get out of here!  Figure out what just happened later." Shadow snarls, bolting for his
parked Hummer.  The three pile in, and head out moments before the lights arrive in the lot.

Glossery can be added at request.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Gaming Trends That Failed, Pt. 1

This is the first in a trilogy of posts, with each author voicing his opinions and discussing gaming mechanics or trends that failed horribly. While the other two authors will reminisce about failures of the past, I will embellish upon the trends of the present that may just become failures of the future.

Remember the old days of FPS gaming? A gun's accuracy percentage was just how accurate the gun was and the only zoom or sighting of any kind was from sniper rifles? Those days have been long gone, and with it, a new breed of FPS has emerged: Generic FPSs. You know a trend has overstayed its welcome when it's refreshing to see an FPS these days that DOESN'T use that particular trend. I acknowledge that there are FPSs that use ironsighting and are still amazing games (BioShock), but that doesn't change the fact that trends like ironsighting rarely serve a purpose at all, except to be all gritty and realistic by jamming the stock of a gun up your nose. Ironsights in games are either the only way to shoot accurately or rarely useful. In addition, ironsights in EVERY GAME EVER do not help to make a game good nowadays, it only makes it a CoD clone*.
*Not that most FPSs aren't CoD clones in the first place.

First-Person Shooters are named that for a reason. That's why it's annoying as hell when a game is mainly an FPS but the camera zooms out of the character's view to show that he's crying behind an explosive barrel for thirty seconds while shooting what is usually an AI with brain damage. It's not that cover-based shooting can't be done in first person (Killzone) in addition to being done really well, but if your game is focusing on immersion, the LAST thing you want to do is strip that immersion from the player. Take the new Deus Ex for example. Now, I love Deus Ex. I'm preordering the Augmented Edition of Human Revolution for my birthday. But it makes me sad to see a cover-based shooting mechanic in the game, especially when the atmosphere is top-notch and looks to be one of the most immersive games in years. It's that time, when third-person CBS is practically shoehorned into a game that makes me wonder if this trend will eventually ruin games that thrive on being a first-person experience but are simply incapable of being so because the view zooms out to an external view every thirty seconds during an action sequence.

Take the Medal of Honor series as of six years ago. It was a first-person shooter set during World War II in which you played a single member of a larger squad, undergoing countless firefights, deaths of friends, and the German Reich to come out victorious and alive. Now take the first three Call of Duty games. Those were first-person shooters set during World War II in which you played a single member of a larger squad, undergoing countless firefights, deaths of friends, and the German Reich to come out victorious and alive. Now take countless other games that are more than just "inspired" by CoD and copy that exact same statement. Call of Duty 4 brought that same motif to a modern-day fictional war against the Russians. This also inspired countless numbers of games that actively copy CoD to varying degrees of success. Cue Medal of Honor's sudden resurgence, and guess what? It's the same thing as CoD, only set in a real-life modern-day war scenario against the Taliban as opposed to a fictional war against the Russians. It also had vehicles. This is pretty much a vicious cycle that is doomed to repeat itself, oversaturating the FPS genre with countless military shooters that all bear resemblance to Call of Duty or Halo in some form. Rarely does an FPS bear a new and innovated story and bring something new to the table in terms of gameplay. AND DON'T EVEN GET ME STARTED ON THE COLOR PALETTES (or lack thereof).

Has the beginning of the end begun for the First-Person Shooter genre? It has already begun, as long as every other game in the genre rips off Call of Duty or Halo in some form. It has if every game uses the same tired mechanics and never innovates. It CERTAINLY HAS if every developer company for every FPS never bothered to hire an artist who at least knows that colors other than grey and brown even exist. A perfect example of Det Som Engang Var (What Once Was, in case you don't listen to Burzum) is Unreal Tournament 2004. This game cared not for being gritty and realistic. It had a brightly-colored palette, no ironsights, and no cover system. On top of it all, it was unabashedly proud of itself for not conforming to the trends of the time. The next games, by that developer, however, began to go down the same path as many a series before it, beginning to also take part in the orgy of bland color palettes and third-person cover-based shooting systems. If a game was released that did not conform to the trends of the time and focused on being a fun game, that would potentially be a wake-up call for the industry to start making games fun again. After all, being fun is of the utmost importance for any from of media, right?


Halo Reach: A Flawed Legacy

Halo is a series that I have always loved for it's art style and streamlined gameplay, but with the latest addition to the franchise, I feel it falling short.

Halo has always stood out for because of the dramatic contrasts it presented to the player. You gun down thousands of aliens, but on a mysteriously beautiful island, or in pristine yet ancient system of corridors and hallways that snake through the canyons of a great chasm, or high on the outer walkway surrounding vast city that lay covered in a think veil of fog thousands of feet below. The environments were also very mysterious and foreboding: there is almost always some massive structure that obscures the horizon ahead of you and completely dominates the scene. There was also always something just out of reach, some area or island that has a story or secret that you aren't told and can't find out.

Some of these things may seem rather insignificant, but they add a sense of vastness to the game that few games manage to accomplish. Vastness makes the player feel insignificant in the world they are in, which makes for a more immersive experience and just makes the game feel bigger.

In Reach, you could go just about everywhere, and while some of the locales were definitely interesting, you knew what everything did. Now this may seem ridiculous, but there were subtle things in the other games that made you want to know more. There are doors in unexpected places that you can't open, switches that seemingly have no function, passageways that lead to nowhere, things that make you want to see whats behind them or know what they do, but you can't. They were always placed in such unusual places that you felt that you found something special, but they did nothing. They were just...there. They were a part of the world, a seemingly useless addition the the environment that just makes the places feel all the more real and natural.

The issue with Reach is that it's more like Modern Warfare with a year 2500 facelift and more colors. You know what a house is for, if there's a locked door, it's probably a closet or bedroom. If you're in a city area and there's a locked door, it's probably an office or an apartment complex. You didn't feel the need to see what was behind these doors because they're supposed to be there. These are familiar environments with a shiny new coat of paint. Naturally, this had to happen seeing as the game details a covenant invasion on Earth, but I just can't help but to miss these elements. Everything is just too normal and functional.

I also found the Multiplayer hard to stomach. It was a totally different style of play from the previous Halo games, and while I really feel terrible because I'd rather just have Halo 2 with better graphics, I think it would have been better if they would have just slowed down with the amount of added features. It was just too much, too fast. One of my biggest issues was the Ranking System and how it was executed.

One of the best ways to rank up was by playing Challenges, and they were usually something like "Kill 150 enemies in Matchmaking". They weren't usually too hard to achieve, they just required time. I found myself having fun just playing the game as it was meant to be played for the first few rounds and found it quickly becoming a chore. I just wanted to hit that damn goal. Reluctantly I would put in the extra four or five rounds after I had grown tired of the game and accomplish the goal, and eventually this stacked up and eventually I just didn't want to touch the game at all because I knew that when I would go to shut it off that I would only be 33 kills away from unlocking this weeks challenge or something to that extent. This had a really negative effect on my experience, because I simply wouldn't feel satisfied with that last round because I had forfeited all the effort I had just put into the game those past couple hours.

The game is good, a top notch shooter, but it just isn't Halo. Hell, even the Halo theme is absent in this game. Too many elements are missing and it just doesn't have the same tone or feel anymore.

I hope that 343 realizes what makes Halo, Halo.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Ranking Systems: Are they becoming the main focus of games?

It seems to be the new trend, having a number ranking system in shooters and other games that usually don't have a rank up system. While it's a great way to reward players by consistently playing and performing well, I feel like the short term instant gratification comes hand in hand with an unfortunate side effect. Are we playing the game because it's fun, or are we playing it just to hit that next level?

I remember dumping endless hours into Halo PC. It had no ranking system or unlocks, it was just fun. The gratification came from winning and outscoring the opponents, and often to absurd degrees. The thing about it was that the reward never changed. You won or you lost, and it was usually fun either way (assuming you didn't choke, horribly). With newer shooters, you play the main game, but it's as if there's a completely different game on top of that, and while the depth of some of these rank up and reward systems is definitely something to be praised, I feel like it detracts from what should be center stage.

So this brings me to my question: will future shooters feel complete without a ranking system? Will we be able to simply play because it is fun or will the game lack the gratification of other shooters?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Bad Teacher is a Bad Movie

Since there's some downtime, I figured I'd do a movie review for once.

The following sentence spoils the entire movie... beware if you want to read on...

Cameron Diaz is the bad guy of this movie.

That's all you need to know.

Anyways, to be a bit more detailed, Diaz plays a junior high teacher that doesn't give a damn about her students and mooches off of her well-to-do fiancee.  After the wedding is called off, she's forced to go back and teach to pay her way.  Of course, she still freeloads, and tries to hook up with the substitute teacher (played by Timberlake), who's the quite, sensitive type, but also belongs to a very well off family.

Her main opposition, and Timberlake's main love interest throughout the movie, is a beloved teacher that actually works to make the students better, played by Lucy Punch (Hot Fuzz).  This is actually one of my biggest gripes of the movie.  The person who actually tries to do good in the world, is labeled the "bad guy" and loses her job because of the manipulative main character.

I don't see how I'm supposed to like a movie, where the only voice of reason, and moral guardian is shut down and thrown away.  The fact that Diaz's character cheats to get the best grades by stealing the standarized test scores, and blackmailes to cover it up, is something I cannot believe they had the main character do with no reprocussions.

That's right, she commits felonies and gets off scot free.  She's even REWARDED with a paycheck bonus in the film.  What the hell?  Her character is the same manipulative pain in the ass throughout the whole film.  There is almost zero character development for her.  Compared to her counterpart, who starts off as a friendly, good-natured person towards the lead, but eventually starts to try her damnest to get Diaz's character fired.  And rightfully so.

And on the topic of character's, I can't stand Timberlake's character.  He's as interesting as a lump of clay, which is funny, because that's what he is.  He's easily swayed by some of the characters, but seems only genuine around Squirrel (Punch), but otherwise he's as wishy-washy as they come.  This isn't Timberlake's fault, but the way his character was written was just... ugh.

The most insulting part is the motivation for all of the lead's actions... Breast Implants.  She does all of this crap... for breast implants.

I would never willingly watch this movie again.  If it was the complementary in-flight movie... I'd sleep through it, or find some little kick to kick me in the shins for the hour and forty minute runtime.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wednesday Update rundown.

Alright, I have a grab-bag of goodies to go over, so let's begin.

Resident Evil: Mercenaries 3D Contains Permanent Save Data

So in an attempt to curb used game sales, Capcom has intergrated a new save system into their latest Resident Evil game.  They will not allow you to reset your save data on the cartridge.  This means, no matter what, you cannot delete your save info from the game (through default means, mind you).  This means, if you buy a used copy, everything will already be unlocked for you.  It'd be like starting a New Game + right our of the gate.

It's an interesting idea, but I can already see some people getting up in arms about this.  Hopefully it doesn't create a backlash like the Ubisoft fiasco.

More Details About Final Fantasy XIII-2

So, this will be mainly gameplay changes I'll cover here.  First, you can talk to people again, like classic Final Fantasy games.  Second, the world is far more open, with branching paths with treasures and monsters.  I cannot tell you how much the first game screwed this one up.  I'm glad to see that the sequel is not so chokingly linear as FFXIII was.  Third, the combat system from the first game in completely intact.  I actually REALLY enjoyed the combat in Final Fantasy XIII, and I only played for about 20 hours (About the time when all the good stuff gets unlocked).  The combat has a definite flow to it that makes it very satisfying when you take down a difficult boss.  Hell, the combat was fun for another reason, there were no easily stompable enemies.  Every fight could potentially bring you down.  To compensate for the tougher fights, they allowed your HP to recover after every fight, and it worked.

One of the newer features though, is the ability to actually actively get Pre-emptive strikes on the enemy.  When one appears, you have a timer appear, if you engage when the timer is green, you get a pre-emptive strike, and the enemy is slowed, or you're buffed, or whatever.  Engage on the red though, and your party is surprised, and now has to fight buffed enemies.

There's a ton of crap I could write about, but for some reason, I haven't had the spark to write an opinionated piece about the news I'm reading.  Maybe I just need to fire up the PS2 and play some RPGs or whatever and make a review or liveblog of a game.  Yeah, that sounds pretty relaxing actually.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Tabletop Gaming (Pt. 2)

Alright, time to wrap this up.

World of Darkness

The World of Darkness setting is actually quite fascinating to me.  It can be set in any time period, but most often is placed in the current year.  The core game has you playing as humans, in which you can take on natural or supernatural occurrences.  The expansions (Such as Vampire: The Masquerade, or Mage: The Awakening) can be played either as their own seperate game, or run in conjunction with the base World of Darkness game.  Simply put, the expansions are just new ways to play the game.  Hell, some campaigns even have the human players turn into Vampires, Werewolves, or Mages in the middle of a game.

The system for WoD games is fairly straightforward and easy to learn, making it a good introductory RPG.  The main difference between this series and say, Dungeons and Dragons, is that you don't earn XP (experience points) for killing enemies.  You earn it for doing story-based things.  If you think of a clever solution, or avoid a lot of trouble, the Storyteller may award extra XP.  Experience in WoD isn't like Experience in DnD, you don't level up when you hit a set number, instead you spend your XP like a currency, to make your character stronger, or more adept at a given task.  This way, growth is more open, instead of railroaded by a class.

The World of Darkness series of games is meant to be played almost as a horror game.  With it's darker tones, and focus on the supernatural and things outside the player's control, it isn't all 'fun and games' in the world.  I recommend this game to people who are interested in a tabletop RPG, but are put off by the High Fantasy of Dungeons and Dragons.


Shadowrun is set in the near future (2077 I believe) after a series of semi-catestrophic events.  The future setting allows it to add fantastic technology, but blends it with some familiar things.  Cars still exist, but computers can now fit in the palm of your hands and are more powerful than any current consumer PC on the market.  Guns also still exist, but they can be fitted with microcomputer that can link up to your glasses, contacts, or cybernetic eyes for better aiming and a HUD.

Leveling up in Shadowrun is akin to leveling up in World of Darkness, get Experience to raise attributes and stats.

The setting details are pretty fascinating for this game as well.  You play as a Shadowrunner, a street mercenary hired by a corporation to complete some task.  This could be an assassination, data theft/manipulation, escort, courier, etc.  No matter what the task is, there's likely to be danger though.  There are no preset classes, but there are archtypes your character can follow: Hacker, melee, weapons expert, etc.  Hilariously enough though, you can have a hacker who's deadly with an Automatic Shotgun... just sayin'.

The Corporations play a big part in the game.  The country is run by the Mega-Corps, a dozen or so giant companies that control huge sections of land across the United States.  Most of them are competitors with each other.  You will probably make enemies out of most of these AAA companies during the course of your Shadowrunning career.  Law enforcement is usually handled by high-grade Rent-A-Cops called Lone Star.  Their services usually go out to the highest bidder.

Shadowrun is a little more complex than World of Darkness (it's magic system takes a bit of learning), but otherwise it's another good tabletop game I'd recommend.

Well, there's a brief look at 4 different tabletop RPGs that I'm familiar with.  If there's any questions, comments or concerns, feel free to leave a comment.  Also, leave feedback if you want to see more of these, or if you want me to just focus on the video games.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Tabletop Rundown (pt. 1)

Hey, this IS a gaming blog.

Anyways, right now I'm going to run down a few different tabletop systems that I play.

Dungeons and Dragons
The standard staple of the Fantasy RPG style game.  Lots of number crunching here, so be prepared for that.  The two "Editions" that I play are 3.5 and 4th edition (4e).  Each edition has pros and cons associated with it, so we'll dive into those.

Lots of character choices - With 3.5, you have a lot of choices for your character race, simply because the Monster Manuals have a template for letting you play as non-standard races.  Level adjustment means that a Drow (dark elf) can join the party, with the proper level adjustment (I believe Drow level adjustment is +3, which means that a level 1 Drow is equivalent to a level 3 or 4 standard race).  This opens up tons of options for a player to play some really strange characters.

Extensive Skill System: This can be both a blessing, and a curse.  It lets your character have training in various areas, but some of them aren't as useful as others.  While you can take ranks in Craft and Preform to earn money (or to do any of your Bard class features), you then end up with some semi-useless skills like Appraise.  Again, it's all about the depth you wish to put into your character.

Better Magic Item System: Ok, this is just for laughs, but it's hilarious seeing a Frost Flameburst Holy Vorpal Longsword (in order: Extra frost damage with every attack, extra fire damage on critical hits, extra damage against evil alignment, and vorpal is in 'mess your shit up' territory).

Multiclassing: Multiclassing in 3.5 is rewarding.  A good player can manage his levels for his character.  Unlike  4e, you aren't limited to a single multiclass.  For example, a player could be a Ranger/Rogue/Bard if he so desired.  This also means that Prestige Classes (think of them like, Advanced Jobs from any of the Final Fantasy Tactics Games) can be multiclassed as well.

Combat: Combat is slow and boring if you aren't a spellcaster.  Most of what you do is "I hit it with my sword" type stuff with no other effects, whereas spellcasters get all sorts of fun spells to mess with that have a variety of effects.

Difficulty Curve: 3.5 can be a tricky game to jump into, with it's extensive book-keeping and whatnot.  It can be really off-putting for people who haven't played a game before.

4th Edition
Easy to learn: Once you learn a few key phrases (At Will, Encounter, Daily, Utility, Push, Pull, Slide), you can understand the basics of the game fairly well.  With the streamlined skill selection, you don't need to dive through all the different skills like you did in 3.5.  The game is easy to learn for beginners, and a seasoned player can pull a character together in short order.

Increased Level Cap: The level cap in 3.5 is 20.  In 4e, it's 30.  The difference this makes is noticeable.  With a higher cap, the enemies and campaign can feel a little more spaced out.  What this also does is allow for 3 different tiers of play.  Heroic (levels 1-10), Paragon (11-20) and Epic Destiny (21-30).  Heroic tier is the foundation of your character, where you play just the base class (Ranger for instance).  At Paragon, you become more specialized within your class or race (Stormwarden for Ranger makes you better at killing things with two weapons for instance).  Then Epic Destiny re-generalizes your character and makes him into some legendary typecast (Demigod).

Honestly, I had some reservations when I first started playing.  It seemed like it was more difficult to make an individual character.  Once more of the supplementary books were released though, more build options, powers, feats, and general stuff came out that helped that.  I suppose one of the con's is that it's Hard to completely break the game (Pun-Pun in 3.5 can DESTROY A GAME if the DM allows it).

Part 2 will come in the future and will cover other games I'm familiar with.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

First Person Shooters, my thoughts

Let me begin by saying that I don't HATE FPS games.  I'm just on the best of terms with them.  But this sums up one thing that bugs me.

I will compare this to games that I enjoy...

                                                                        Team Fortress 2

                                                                          Deus Ex

The biggest similarity between them?  Fast paced shooting, with the only sight aiming coming from snipers.

Even Doom and Deus Ex suffer from this next one.  The color scheme of most shooters is pretty horrible.  I mean... it's bad.  There's a huge focus on browns and grays in these games anymore.  It's kind of... annoying. There's not much that distinguishes the games from each other.  There's not much I can detect from Call of Duty and Battlefield (From playing/screenshots).  I'm talking strictly based off graphics here.

I don't know... maybe I'm being too rough on the genre, but I can't find anything to really to latch onto to like the genre.  The genre seems to have stagnated ever since Destructable Enviornments were introduced.  Nothing really fascinating has come since.  It's almost formulaic as how the games are made.  Cover based shooting is kind of irksome to me.  I prefer faster paced games when it comes to shooters.  Shoot fast, run fast, react fast, be careful of what little life you have.  That used to be part of the challenge.  Do I rush in?  Do I have enough life to survive a rush?  Or do I take it carefully, moving slowly?  Or do I try to find health before rushing?  These types of questions make you assess your skill and the situation at hand.  Personally, I liked that, but eh.

Licensed Music in Games: Where Did It Go?

I am very much a child of the 90s. I grew up on the original PlayStation, and during that time, there were plenty of games that were notable not only for the game itself, but also for the soundtrack. One game serves as a reminder, or perhaps a symbol, of this bygone age: N20 - Nitrous Oxide. For those of you who have not heard of this title, the gameplay is pretty much Tempest 2000 on acid.

Having never done acid, this is about as close as I've ever been.

The game was fun, but got repetitive after a while. One of the real highlights, however, was the soundtrack, composed in its entirety by The Crystal Method. The soundtrack fit the game like a glove, and still stands out as one of the game's main selling points. Between 1997 and 1999, it was pretty much required by law for PSX racing or vehicular combat games to feature Rob Zombie in some way or form. Zombie was featured in the soundtracks for Twisted Metal III and Sled Storm, as well as composing some of the soundtrack for Gran Turismo 2. He was also a playable character in Twisted Metal 4. Then, there was the Wipeout Series, which consisted entirely of techno tracks by groups like Future Sound of London, Cold Storage, and Paul Van Dyk, who also happened to be in the Sled Storm soundtrack.

My point is, licensed music was all the rage, so what happened to it? It seems like after the Sixth Generation of consoles, licensed music in video games had disappeared altogether, except for rhythm games, sports games and the occasional racer. There may be some games that feature licensed music, such as Alan Wake's intermissions and Brutal Legend, but those are few and far between (VALVe's Portal and Left 4 Dead games some of the sole exceptions). Now, I'm not knocking original soundtracks; Dead Space just wouldn't be Dead Space without an orchestra playing the lowest pitches they can, and the amount of detail and effort put into the Halo and Killzone soundtracks is staggering. But there was something charming about those days, something oddly compelling, knowing that if a game was adrenaline-soaked fun, it'd have the soundtrack to match, maybe even one of your favorite bands of the time.

Yeah, maybe those times are relics of the 90s and best left in the past, but even so, sometimes it's just fun to open the Guide/XMB/Music player of your choice and blast some good music, rather than all of these epic soundtracks which are commonplace today. I know plenty of people that do that, even for games with soundtracks like Halo. I do know that I certainly wouldn't mind hearing some Carcass in the next ultra-violent zombie apocalypse shooter, or maybe even some good, old-fashioned Rob Zombie in the upcoming Twisted Metal reboot. It'd be fun.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


I recently began playing Okami for the PS2, and it made me realize something.  The PS2 might have been the best console for RPGs to exist to date.

There's a few reasons for this, and to demonstrate, I'll make a short list.

1) Graphical Limitations: While the graphics of the PS2 are very appealing and impressive for the time, it also limited how much "realism" could be inserted into a game without it looking hokey.  Due to hardware and storage limitations, putting too many realistic polygons into a game would severely hinder it elsewhere.  BUT!  There is a plus side to this.  Without the burden of hyperrealism, games were allowed to have a distinct style.  By looking at a screenshot, you can see that graphical distinctions were really noticeable.  From Dark Cloud, to Persona, to Final Fantasy, each game had a distinct style that they used.  Hell, look at Psychonauts.  The game has it's own art style, it's not afraid to be different.

Comparing this to the PS3 for a moment, most of the high profile games for that system are all done in a realistic sense (in terms of overall graphics).  God of War, Bayonetta, Brink, and FPS all try to latch onto this realism that escapes them, for better or worse.  While I'm on the PS3, I will give mention to 3D Dot Game Heroes.  I salute their ability to go against the grain.

2) Improved Soundtracks: Don't get me wrong, I love some soundtracks from the SNES days.  But there's only so many 16-bit loops you can listen to.  This improved with the PSX/N64, but the audio was pretty iffy at times.  On the PS2, we started to get some nice, crystal clear sound that could really sell a mood.  Not much to say on this one.

3) Gameplay: While interesting and exciting concepts were released in previous generations, the PS2 took them and ran with the ball.  Take the Tales of [x] games for example.  On the SNES and PSX, their combat system was a nice change from the typical JRPG turn based combat.  Now on the PS2, the combat doesn't get bogged down, no matter what flashy attack is going on, or how many enemies are on screen.  This same 3D, Active battle also worked well in the Star Ocean game for the PS2 (Til the End of Time).  The games just feel smooth and polished.  While this all can be attributed to the developers putting some good QA on the games, I doubt this type of fluidity would be available on older consoles.

Sure, I'm probably bias, and I'm sure there are current gen RPGs that I'm omitting, but for my money, with it's healthy game library, and above points, I'm proud to say that I'm a PS2 gamer.

E3 Recap

While many of the industry greats attended Electronic Entertainment Expo 2011, I sat back in silence and observed. Most of the time while tenting my fingers.

So, here's my honest opinion on how the three main companies did this year.

Even before E3 began I had a gut feeling that Microsoft would not be bringing anything new to the table this year. Sometimes I hate it when I'm right. There were a bunch of casual/family-oriented Kinect games, a few sequels, an HD Remake... and that was it, really.


Of the Kinect games, none were particularly notable: There was a Fake-Disneyland Exploration game, a Star Wars game where you wave your hands around and shout "Lightsaber, on!" which is supposed to be cutting edge when it's been done since at least 2003 (the earliest example that I can call to mind is Rainbow Six 3: Lockdown for the Xbox, and at least that you could control your whole team instead of just turning a lightsaber on).

Then, there was the announcement that we all knew would be coming at some point: New Halo trilogy. I'm skeptical about it quality-wise, but I'm willing to give the new dev team the benefit of the doubt until I see a reason not to. There were also the two givens: Gears of War 3 (which we all knew was coming anyways and who's presentation contained Ice-T for some reason) and Forza Motorsport 4 (which will always be Microsoft's answer to Gran Turismo and nothing more, customization options aside). The most shocking announcement revealed that Minecraft would be coming to Xbox and would have Kinect support. While the fan-made hack of Minecraft to support Kinect amounted to waving your arms to chop materials, here's hoping that they'll think of more innovative uses than that, and it's always good to see an indie developer get the recognition he deserves when making such a great game.

If E3 was a competition, Sony would have won by default because of Microsoft's falling flat on its ass and Nintendo's newest console being difficult to place bets on as of yet, as well as containing the least-stupid name of the new consoles. The long-rumored PSP successor was revealed as being the PS Vita, which, hardware-wise is one sexy piece of machinery. Dual and improved analog sticks, dual touch-screens, a camera, and processing power that very well may surpass the Wii's... at only $249. Yes, you read that right, $249.

Sony's third-party support came through once again, with Irrational Games revealing a BioShock project. Also announced for the new handheld was an Uncharted game, a WipeOut game (CROSS-PLATFORM MULTIPLAYER WITH WIPEOUT HD), and a few others. Irrational also announced that their upcoming title, BioShock Infinite would not only support the Move peripheral, but would also come with the original BioShock on the same Blu-Ray. There was also more footage of games like Resistance 3 (also Move-enabled), the SSX reboot, and Need For Speed: The Run.

When it comes to E3 showcases, Nintendo certainly knows how to be classy. The Nintendo showcast opened with a live orchestra playing tunes from the Zelda series; effectively opening with the very same strategy that they seemed to use during the presentation: Banking on nostalgia. After the opening ceremonies, Nintendo unveiled their latest console. Hopes were high for this new console. After all, people got over the Wii's stupid moniker pretty soon, right? Nintendo had to have learned from their mistakes and make a new HD console, right?

Well, both yes and no. The HD is there, the processing power seems to be there, but the stupid name remains: the Wii U.

More like No U, amirite?

The controller has a big-ass touch screen smack-dab in the middle of the controller. One design decision that I find baffling is that they put the buttons BELOW the analog sticks.

Nintendo knows best.

For games, all the obvious entries were there: Mario, Zelda, Metroid, generic party games along the lines of Wii Sports, and so on. The surprise here is that The Wii-U has more solid third-party support than its predecessor, with Gearbox, EA, and Sigil Games all hopping on the bandwagon, stating that the Wii-U is a graphical powerhouse and even more innovative than the Wii. Unfortunately, when footage of some third-party Wii U games was shown, this footage was revealed to be PS3/360 footage. Not a good way to unveil your new console.

So, during E3 '11, there were many new products unveiled: Some destined to be a towering success, some potential blunders, and one thing that most of us aren't even sure to make of yet. Either way, the next year will be a very interesting time for the industry, in more ways than one.

Second Post

Hello world, I am The Mighty Traestorz and I will be your copilot for this often-turbulent flight through the gaming industry.

About Me:
Interests: Various sub-sub-genres of metal, games (of course), being overly pessimistic
Current Consoles: Atari 7800, Atari Jaguar, PSX, PS2, PS3, Xbox, 360, PC (Windows 7), PC (Windows 98), NES, SNES, N64, Genesis, PSP, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance (not the SP)
Favorite Franchises: Halo, Dead Space, Mortal Kombat, Doom, Quake, Wing Commander, Star Wars, Command & Conquer, Killzone
Favorite Genres: FPS, RTS, Rhythm, Fighting, Twin-Stick Shmups
Mildly Annoyed By: CoD, Activision, Pop Music, Metalcore/Deathcore, Rap, Country, Stoners

So yeah, sit back and enjoy the flight. And try not to kick the seat in front of you too much.

First Post

Alright, this is a test introductory post.  Mainly seein' how this will turn out.

As you can see, this is a gaming about blog... I mean blog about gaming.  Beware the strong language at times.  Those easily offended, well... what's wrong with you?

A bit about myself gaming wise.
Age: 22
First Console: NES
Current Console(s): PS2, PC, NDS
Favorite Consoles: PS2, SNES
Favorite Genres: RPG (Both Japanese and Western), Sports, Action-Adventure

More information will be made available later.