Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Podcast 02: MMOs

So we've got another non-news podcast for once!

Aander91 and myself have a chat about the differences in MMOs and our takes on the genre.

Topics include...

Open-world vs Instances
Mid-Game Grinds
End Game Troubles

And more!

Just hop on over to the Podcast tab to have yourself a listen.

Obsolete content, a curse and a blessing

So I just played WoW for way too long, it was grindy and repetitive, but my God, this game offers an experience like no other. You know when you play a game that you get so invested in that you can't stop thinking about it? It's something that goes beyond the gameplay, you get an emotional attachment to the environment, characters, and story, and everything comes alive. I found myself questing in Silithus, and generally I'd complain about having to kill 20 stupid things but this time I had no quarrel, the area is just so rich in content.

Upon seeing Silithus, you might be confused. It's not pretty and it seems pretty straight forward. It's a desert with bugs, but there's something special here and I'm not sure any other game has or has even been able to accomplish. The area feels old, and not in the lore sense, but this area is outdated. There are items and quests that are simply relics of a time passed. Most notably Silithus boasts something that WoW hasn't really had for a while, and those are World events. As far as I know (since I started playing mid-Cata), this was the first or at least one of the biggest vanilla world events. There is a gate at the southern end of Silithus (which also marks the edge of the continent, which was off limits before flying was brought to the old world) that only opened once a bunch of players completed a bunch of absurdly lengthy quest lines. Upon completing this they were able to open the gate, which spawned a bunch of giant bad guys and allowed the server population to run new instances.

Now the gate stands open, and the gong which triggered the opening is still there, but there's no players around, and the raid content that had once been the talk of the town is now ignored. It's kind of sad, but at the same time it works with the original game design. In the lore, Silithus bears the scars of a war fought eons ago, and in reality, the content tells the same story. The parallels open a doorway to a new sense of immersion in the game world, as I can relate to the content that I have missed with the actual lore, and it makes it all the more real.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Final Fantasy: A Retrospective (Part 5)

Now for the final installment!

In this one I'll cover Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy XI. I'm not touching X-2 (Haven't played), XII and XIII (Too recent for a "retrospective").

Final Fantasy X (2001)

Final Fantasy X marked the series transition to the next generation of consoles.  The game took advantage of the PS2's vastly superior hardware to produce full 3D effects (as opposed to the ones seen in the previous games) and incorporated near-full voice acting.  Due to the player being able to name the main character, some scenes weren't voiced due to this.

Just gonna get this out of the way riiiiiight now.

Corny moments aside, this game made a few interesting strides in terms of gameplay.  The Sphere Grid system replaced traditional leveling.  As you gained enough experience points, you gained "Sphere Levels", which allowed you to move along a grid.  You could activate the space you were on, and spaces adjacent to you if you had the appropriate spheres in your inventory.  Now, at the start, each character was on their own path, so they were distinctive (Auron had a lot of HP and Attack spaces, Tidus had Speed and Evasion spaces), but if you used the right special spheres, you could jump into someone else's grid, or learn an ability they learned.  It was a different approach to leveling up your character and was kinda fun in my opinion.  

The next gaming convention was a slight modification of the Active Time Battle (ATB).  In past Final Fantasy games, your turn order was determined by a filling bar on the side that filled faster if you had higher speed.  In this game, the bar is gone, but you have the same concept.  The turn order is displayed on the side, but certain moves (Tidus' Quick-Hit for example) would make your character's next turn come sooner.  Other moves had a chance to delay an opponents turn as well.  In addition to all this, you could switch out your party members mid-battle if one gets hurt, or you need to switch from melee to magic.

The game also allowed you to customize equipment.  Unlike previous games, two weapons of the same name could boast different stats.  If you have a sword for Tidus, for example, it could have 3 slots.  They can either be pre-determined with some abilities, or empty, waiting for you to fill them in.  If you have the right materials, you could make a weapon that does more damage (Strength +5%) or poisons your enemies (Poisontouch).  This, paired with the ability to change gear mid-fight meant that you could switch to a specific piece of armor to fight off an incoming elemental attack, back to your other piece of defensive gear.  

Also in this game, summons (called Aeons) are only callable by Yuna, the female protagonist of the game.  The nice thing about them is that they're controllable, unlike previous "Summon for big attack, then leave" summons of previous games.  The Aeons can have their stats improved and abilities can be learned the same way you customize gear as well.  This means Ifrit, a fire element Aeon can learn Blizzaga, a strong Ice Spell, which would make him very useful against fire-type enemies since he would receive minimal damage, but do massive amounts in return.  Aeons also have their own Limit Breaks, which allows them to deal massive damage to all enemies.

"This is my Ass-Kicking pose"

The story can be a mess at times, and the main minigame, Blitzball (or as one of my friends affectionately calls it "Drown Ball") can be hit-or miss for people.  Overall though, it's a solid entry into the series and is pretty fun to play.  

Final Fantasy XI  (2002 PC/PS2, 2006 Xbox 360)

Final Fantasy XI was Square Enix's first MMORPG, and predates World of Warcraft by 2 years.  Now, what this game does is... well, a lot.  It offers 5 playable races: Humes (general all-around stats), Elvaan (Tall elf-like, good Warriors), Tarutaru (Smallest race, cute, strong with magic), Galka (Strong bear like people, good Strength), and Mithra (All female race of agile cat-people... This is Japan after all.).  There are also 20 different Jobs (classes in other MMOs) that you can play as, but only 6 are available at the start.  Unlike other MMOs, you can switch your Job at your "Mog House", which acts like a safe haven of sorts. 

 Until you hit level 30, you can only be a Warrior, Monk, Thief, Black Mage, White Mage, or Red Mage.  Upon reaching that milestone, you can undertake quests to unlock the other 14 jobs, which include series staples like Ninja, Samurai, and Dragoon.  Not all the quests are easy though.  Some you can undertake at 30 by yourself, others, you may need a party of 6 at level 50 to unlock a job.  

In addition to being able to change your job to fit your mood, you can also synergize your Job by having a sub-job.  Upon reaching level 16, you can do a quest to unlock the sub-job ability.  This allows you to equip a second job.  You would get all the benefits of the second job up to the level cap of 1/2 of your main job.  For example, if you have a level 10 Warrior and a Level 10 Monk, going Warrior/Monk means that you'd be a level 10 Warrior, and a level 5 Monk.  But if you also had a level 2 Thief, and went Warrior/Thief, you'd be a level 10 Warrior, and level 2 Thief still.  The subjob doesn't bump up levels.

This system plays out nicely overall.  If you want to kill for items (farming), you could go Thief as a main (for the Treasure Hunter ability, which helps drop rates), and sub Warrior for extra attack and defense.  This sort of  hybrid gameplay made the game feel fun.  When I played the game solo, I'd want to unlock other jobs just to try other combinations.  Of course, as in any MMO, there's a generally perceived "Right" way of doing your class-subclass combo, but still, it's fun to experiment.  

There are three starting areas, which are major cities in the world.  in addition to doing missions for them to progress the story, you can switch your citizenship for a fee.  You need to make it to the city and go to their embassy, and request a change of country, and BAM, now you can do their story missions.  There's a LOT of content in this game, and a lot of endgame stuff I've never even played.  

This is not a very PVP-centric game.  There's passive PVP in "conquest", which basically amounts to "kill monsters in this zone with your country's sigil buff active, and help them take over".  If the monsters kill a lot of Players, the Beastmen take control of the zone, which means that there's no real PC help in that region.  If your country controls the area, you can buy some simple items from the outpost, and deliver Outpost supplies, which allows you to warp from the region to your home country, and vice versa.  


The soundtrack is pretty good, not just by MMO standards, but by game standards.  Series veteran Nobou Uematsu had a hand in helping with the soundtrack, which showed in the quality of the music.  

This game is still going today, albeit with a smaller fan base.  The strong PvE endgame are good reasons for this though.  The community is pretty open and friendly.  The graphics are a little dated, and the combat may feel slow at times as well.  The game is still receiving new content over 10 years after release, which is astounding.  Once this game goes free-to-play though (if it does), you can be certain I'll be diving back in for another go.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Final Fantasy: A Retrospective Part 4

So after a brief hiatus from this series, I return!

And luckily, it's a topic I can't shoehorn Alpha Protocol into!

Haha, suckers.

Anyways, onto the next game.

Final Fantasy VIII (1999)

So, This is a pretty polarizing Final Fantasy game.  I'm going to list a few of the features in this game that may have deviated from the norm.

  • A "Draw" system, where magic was 'stocked' from enemies, items, or points of magic in the world.
  • The "Junction" system, where the characters equipped summons in order to get stronger.  The 'junctioned' summon (called GF's for Guardian Forces) enabled the character to boost their stats by equipping the magic they had stocked.  For example, you could junction Fire to your Attack, but Fira would give bigger effects.
  • Interactable summoning sequences for the GFs via the ability called "Boost" to increase damage.
  • An in-game Collectable Card Game called Triple Triad, where the cards could be found through special events, or using the ability "Card" on some enemies.
  • Dynamic Skill selection.  Similar to equipping "Command" materia from Final Fantasy VII, you could equip abilities from GFs to your character, either passive ones (like HP + 20%, or Str +40%), or active ones like Card, Item, or Devour.
  • Monsters that level-scaled with the player.
So, those are a few of the new things that changed in Final Fantasy VIII.  Many people felt like this game was too easy due to these changes, since if you could junction the status effect "Sleep' or "Death" to your attacks, you'll put the enemy at a huge disadvantage, or that simply grinding GF abilities would give you a huge boost if you turned monster Cards into items.  

Hi, my name's Quetzalcoatl, and I'm your guide to breaking the game.

Another reason people dislike the game is due to the lead character, a brooding, introverted, anti-social, loner named Squall.  Through most of the game, he seems his teammates more as annoyances than as comrades.  He's the type of character who feels like people are better off on their own so they don't get hurt by others.  He has his reasons for thinking like this due to being abandoned by the one person he looked up to when he was a child.

The rest of the cast includes a hot tempered brawler, a peppy girl, your former instructor (who's younger than you are), a wanna-be ladies man, and a young lady trying to lead a revolution against the government.  

All of the main cast, save for Rinoa, the revolutionist, are members of an academy called SeeD, which basically trains the students to be mercenaries for hire.  Remembering that this is a JRPG, the main cast is between 16-20, meaning that they've had combat training from a young age.

Also in this game, instead of buying new weapons, or finding them in chests, you upgrade your old weapons.  By finding magazines throughout the world, you'll find exactly what items you'll need to make your weapon more badass.  If you just happen to have the ingredients though, you won't need to find the corresponding magazine (I usually end up skipping the second gunblade because I found the items for the third).  

Personally, I rate this game above Final Fantasy VII on any list I make for the series.  I find the character development of Squall to be interesting.  It doesn't hurt that Triple Triad is probably my favorite JRPG minigame ever.  

Also, dat intro movie


Final Fantasy IX (2000)

Final Fantasy IX returned to the series roots.  It returned to the higher-fantasy roots of the series before VI. It also returned to allowing you 4 members of your party to use in combat, instead of 3.  

Honestly, I played this game years ago, beat it, and forgot about it.  The game didn't leave a huge impression on me.  I need to replay it to refresh my memory better.

The beginning is pretty funny though.  Doing mock-battles with fake magic was fun.  Using "FX-Comet" for 0 damage was funny, due to it's impressive looking nature.

Something happy from the game

And we'll wrap it up here for now.

I'll post Final Fantasy X and XI in the next, and final edition of Jama7301's Final Fantasy Retrospective Special Extravaganzapolloza!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Album Review: That Handsome Devil Pt 1

Alright, so I'm going to take a small break from game related updates to post some album reviews!

I'm going to start by posting a short review of a few albums by That Handsome Devil.

Part 1 of the reviews will contain the following albums: That Handsome Devil EP (2006)

Part 2 will cover their first full album, A City Dressed In Dynamite (2008).

Part 3 will contain a review of Enlightenment's For Suckers EP (2009) and The Heart Goes To Heaven, The Head Goes To Hell (2011).

That Handsome Devil

Godforbid invites you to take a trip with him.

  1. Standing Room In Heaven
  2. Yada Yada
  3. Sleep It Off
  4. Elephant Bones
  5. Dating Tips
  6. Miss America 
  7. James Dean
The album starts off with a very somber sound.  The slow, rhythmic upright bass almost lulls you into a trance as the guitar and drums are used intermittently until the vocals kick in.  Instantly, you're transported to a dingy bar where the live act is capturing the mood of the room.  This song is how THD establishes their big band influence ever so slightly.  The tempo fluctuates gradually from slow to an almost moderate pace, while almost never breaking that trance it establishes early.  During each of the slower portions of the song, you can still find that hypnotic bass riff droning in the background, providing a base for the rest of the melody to be built upon.  In what will become true THD fashion, they end the song with an audio clip that has some slight relation to the song, this time being a phone operator answering a call to heaven.

Immediately you're presented with an upbeat drum beat that welcomes you to Yada Yada.  From here, you can definitely hear some of Godforbid's, the lead singer, unique vocal stylings in the way he slides from note to note.  The Big Band influence is still here as you hear horns in the background during the verse.  The chorus kicks up the energy another notch as the guitars pick up.  Honestly, I can't figure out a proper interpretation for this track.  It's a short track that's a lot of fun rhythmically though.

The energy keeps up as the scat styled intro of Sleep It Off rolls in.  The trumpets provide accents ever few lines, but the really interesting part comes when the strings pick up in the chorus.  During this time, violins provide a contrast to the upbeat sounds the verses provide.  Also, the verses seem to hide some kazoos... so there's that.  It's funny to me how upbeat they make a song about someone drowning their sorrows in alcohol.  The way I hear the song is that someone gets near-blackout drunk trying to forget something that had happened.

Then we break into the Surf Rock inspired Elephant Bones, which most people will know from Guitar Hero 2.  The verse of the song is very chilled and relaxing with the sparse guitar and it's warbly tone.  The simple bass line is the driving force of the non-lyrical sounds during the verses.  Then when the chorus rolls around, we're met with a more distorted version of the beach themed guitar tones.  The song wraps up with a sound clip that would be at home in a 1950's commercial or talk show.  This is the first time they use such a clip to close out their tracks.

Speaking of Talk Shows, Dating Tips starts off like a fanfare from a talk show.  Then it rolls into a lackidasical beat that Godforbid raps slowly over.  Simply put, Dating Tips is all about relationship advice. The validity of the track's advice is up to to interpretation, so use your own discretion.  This is a song that simply has to be heard to believed.

The tone shifts back to melancholic as Miss America starts, almost as if to cause a mood whiplash.  The keyboard is almost haunting at times in it's use during the verses.  The song highlights how messed up life can be, despite appearances of normality.  Most of the things mentioned in the song are things that are very real and could happen to people around you.  Someone taking an anti-depressant, but then having it make their condition worse?  That's a very real situation that some people face.  

Then we start James Dean, another song that covers a heavy topic: money and fame.  It's a hard  song for me to cover honestly, since it's about wanting to die young in order to be remembered.  

So that wraps up the first installment of this album review for That Handsome Devil.  Part 2 will roll out sometime in the near future.

Friday, May 18, 2012

[Review] Octodad

Have you ever noticed how serious most of the video games we play are? Usually they’re all very serious games with the occasional joke thrown in. Well this game’s whole purpose is to be serious as hell, if the title doesn’t tell you that.
See? Seriously Serious.
The story revolves around you being an octopus that is trying to masquerade as a human. Your “health bar” in this game is a suspicion meter that fills up if you don’t complete a task right, or if you do odd things, like pick up makeup (since dads don’t wear makeup, duh). Once said suspicion meter is full, it is game over. Your main antagonist is some Japanese fish store owner dude that knows you are an octopus instead of a regular human dad, and he wants to chop you up and sell you as sushi.

However, the beauty of this game is not the story, but the gameplay. You use your mouse to control the legs and hands. Basically you switch between hand mode and leg mode using either the space bar or the middle mouse button. When in leg mode, you hold left and right mouse buttons to lift your left and right leg respectively, and then drag the mouse around to move the legs around. When in hand mode, you just move the mouse around to move your hand along the horizontal plane, and then when you want to move it vertically, you hold the right mouse button. Oh, and you click the left mouse button to pick up and/or drop items. At first it feels a bit odd to play this way, but once you get somewhat used to it (you never fully get used to it, but that’s what provides the challenge to this game), the tasks that are provided to you aren’t too hard.

As far as what I do like about the game, I love the quirkiness. It’s just so fun to walk awkwardly around a room trying to pass off as a human. The sound effects are funny as well. Probably my favorite thing about it is the unique gameplay. It’s challenging to do everyday tasks, but it’s a fun type of challenging, instead of the way Heavy Rain worked (I’ve only played the demo, so eh), which made those everyday tasks a chore.

There are a few small gripes I have with Octodad though. While I do like how the hand zips over to the nearest object to pick it up with your hand, sometimes its detection of this object works oddly and makes it hard to pick up the object you wanted (like when trying to pick up a specific toy from a toy bin). I also feel like in some places it would have been nice to have a bit more help in figuring out what to do. I also would like to be able to use both hands instead of just one of them, but honestly that’s not too big of a deal.

I would recommend this game to two different types of people. The first of which would definitely be kids. If you have a young ‘un, this game is silly and fun enough to keep their attention for quite a while. I’d go as far as to say it would help improve motor skills or something. My other recommendation would be for those who do lots of “let’s play” videos with commentary. I feel like it could make for some memorable moments in a series of LP vids.

So, give it a shot. It is an indie game, so I’m sure the developers would love to have more people try it out. You can find it at

Semi-Obscure Retro Game Review: Soviet STRIKE

In the early-to-mid 90s, there was a series of isometric strategic shooter games known as the STRIKE series. The games enlisted the player as the pilot of an Apache Helicopter, destroying enemy bases or supplies, rescuing comrades or innocents, or capturing enemy personnel, all while managing your resources like fuel, armor and ammo. The first three games in the series, Desert STRIKE, Jungle STRIKE, and Urban STRIKE all took place in a two-dimensional field of play that could only scroll horizontally, as a result of the hardware at the time (these games were released for DOS, but ported to other home consoles, such as the Genesis and the SNES). The fourth game in the series, Soviet STRIKE, was released in 1996, and was the first in the series to be fully three-dimensional, in visuals and in gameplay.
GAMEPLAY: The game is an isometric shooter/strategy game, of sorts. You fly around the levels, accomplishing the various objectives while managing your helicopter's fuel, armor and ammo. The game has no mercy when it comes to the resource management, so when you only have 5 fuel left and you try to make it across the map to a fuel pickup and you fail, it's the game's way of reminding you to PLAN AHEAD. The levels themselves are pretty large, and the objectives are open-ended; you can do them in any order you want, save for the rescue missions. The map system is pretty in-depth as well, as you can pinpoint not only the objectives, but also supplies, types of enemies, and the like. There's even supplemental info for every object. However, the map is on the pause menu, and the in-game HUD contains no signs of direction at all, so you're constantly checking back into the pause menu to see which way you're going. This problem would be fixed in the game's sequel, Nuclear STRIKE with an in-game compass and objective waypoints, but it is what it is.

AESTHETICA: It's a 3-D game in the mid-90s, so you probably know what to expect in terms of texture quality and amount of polygons. One interesting thing is how the textures for the ground were scanned into the game from real-life satellite photographs, and the models were scanned in from their real-life counterparts as well. Yeah, that may seem pretty generic nowadays, but at the time it was cutting-edge. In addition to the graphical improvements, there are also live-action cutscenes to add more detail to the missions, both during the briefing and in-game. You could be taking out some enemy radars and suddenly get a video feed from a POW at a firing camp who needs to be rescued before meeting a rather lead-filled demise. At the time, it was cutting-edge, and even today, it gets the job done. It helps that the acting isn't half-bad either, and was done by some pretty big names (for 90s standards).
John Marzilli does not approve of your shenanigans. 
STORY: You are an agent for an organization known as STRIKE, which is dedicated to quelling uprisings and ending wars before they ever begin. In this go-around, you're trying to prevent World War III at the hands of an ex-KGB dictator who's attempting to seize control of the former Red Army. There are a few other characters in STRIKE, who you'll be working with on a regular basis, such as the General of the organization, and Hack, the Communications Officer/Comic Relief guy. The main story itself doesn't really soak into the game, but on the occasion that it does, it provides some of the game's more memorable moments. One particular sequence near the end involving escorting Boris Yeltsin comes to mind.

REPLAYABILITY: The game as a whole is fun, but has nothing to keep you coming back for multiple playthroughs. There are no extras or bonuses upon completion, so replays will depend solely upon the gamer's desire to replay the game.

OVERALL: Strategy fans and shooter buffs alike will find plenty to love in Soviet STRIKE, if you can disregard quite a bit of aging and 90s graphics. The gameplay still holds up surprisingly well, and it's a wonder that this series hasn't been given a 21st century revival yet.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Linearity vs Sandbox Style.

Let me start by setting the scene here.  

Game A is a game that offers no real exploration and your path is set from Point A to Point B.

Game B allows you to roam around in a large area, and you can get from Point A to Point B by various means.

When asked which is right, you'd get a mixed result.  After all, platformers like Mario and Sonic are type A by nature, whereas games like Grand Theft Auto fall under type B.

When asking someone about Linear games, you may get responses like "easy", "boring", or "insults my intelligence"

You smug bastard.

But is this really the case?  Well, in a word, no.  There are games that are fairly linear through and through, but most games fall in between.  Now, I'm going to rip into a game that I like very much below: Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

The story of GTA:SA was well written, the world was expansive with several full cities to explore, and tons of little side missions you could undertake.  But in terms of story, it was fairly linear.  You had to do mission A to mission B, and all those side missions you did had no real bearing or relation to the rest of the game.  If you did some side missions for Cesar, it didn't relate towards doing missions for Smoke or Ryder, and vice versa.  While the world is open, it's not a truly open game.  for that to work, mission order would be very important, at least in my book.

Hey Niko, my world feels more alive, and it's on older hardware.

Another prime example of this type of open world/closed story would be Saints Row 2.  Possibly my most favorite Sandbox game (Have yet to play through SR3) with 4 major storylines.  The problem is though, apart from the radio newscaster keeping up to date with what you do, the rest of the world really doesn't.  The Ronin aren't intimidated by the fact you killed Mareo.  The Samdi don't flinch or change at all once the head of the Ronin has been burned at sea.  

This was such a huge opportunity to blend the stories together.  Instead they feel detached and kind of annoying.  The story is great, don't get me wrong, but with such a fragmented story, the world kind of loses some of it's vibrancy.  It's a game world with lots to do, with a good story, but the story segments don't interact.

Then we look at a game that looks linear on the surface, but is possibly one of the most open games I have ever played.  Alpha Protocol.

You thought you heard the last of me?  HAH!.

After the introduction missions, you become a rogue agent.  It's your task to uncover what's going on.  You can do operations in either Moscow, Taipei, or Rome.  I did my first operations in Moscow, then Taipei, then Rome.  What happened though, is that what I did during the course of one mission was brought up later in another.  The fact I took a non-violent approach in the first few missions in Rome meant that I gained respect with the person who flagged me down for my 4th mission in the city.  

Moments like that floored me in that game.  

Above: Me

The scope of that game was massive.  It's a game with so much replay potential.  What will happen if I let the Middle Eastern Arms-dealer bribe me?  What if I execute him?  What if I arrest him, but later do something different?  Each thing you do has an impact on how the rest of the game plays out.  Even doing a small, side objective during a mission can reveal startling things about your supporting cast.  

Going back to missions in Rome, because i did missions in Moscow before going there, I heard one NPC try to blame me for what happened to weapon shipments in Moscow.  Now, when I first played this game on PC (very poorly mind you), I went to Rome first, and that guy said he had no clue what happened.  In the post-mission wrap-up screen, I actually saw one of the changes made to the world when it said that I was under suspicion due to what that guy said.  

In that aspect, Alpha Protocol is one of the most Open games I've ever played.  

Going back to the subject at hand, if you step back from how grandiose a world looks (like GTA) it could still end up being fairly linear.  Then you look at one that looks nearly linear as hell (Alpha Protocol), but it can be a very complex experience.  

Now, examples aside, since I have a knack for rambling, is how do we make a better game using these two formula?

It's hard to say.  if you can make a tightly controlled game that feels open through non-explorable means.  That's better to me than a game that's wide open and easy to explore, but feels kinda dead inside.  

This is how Liberty City felt to me in GTA IV.

Linear and Sandbox, When you think about it, they're usually in the same game.  Open world, linear story.  A truly open game though, would require such an astronomical budget that I don't know if any AAA company would want to take that risk.  I hear Bastion is good at crafting the narrative around you, but I haven't tried it for myself.

I'm interested to see which way this goes honestly.  A linear game can be far more fun if the ride is worth it.  Half-Life 2 is a very linear game, but the way the set-pieces and the dialogue is delivered makes the experience feel more natural.  Sometimes Sandboxes get to big for their own good, and can't really deliver these memorable moments because they're spread out too thin to make an impact.  

[Review] Metroid: Other M

Before I start this review, it should go without saying that the Metroid series is one of my all-time favorites. I remember playing Metroid on the NES way back in the day, and loving every second of it. The exploration, the new, alien-like world and enemies, the sweet ass upgrades….

Pictured above: Sweet ass upgrades.
I’ve played just about every Metroid game, even rom hacks, and thoroughly enjoyed every single one of them. Super Metroid will hands down be my favorite forever. However, a new Metroid game is out! Words can’t describe how excited I am…

….to be done with this game!

Didn't see that coming...
 Yes, it’s a bad Metroid game. There’s never been a bad Metroid game. I prefer some over others definitely, but none of them would I describe as awful. I can disappointingly say that this game is awful.
Where exactly? Well, let’s break it down. This is the first attempt to flesh out Samus as a character, and it’s all downhill. The game’s introductory sequence is awesome and promising; recounting the last battle with Mother Brain in Super Metroid. It’s a nice nostalgia trip. Then you’re greeted with the game itself.
First, you control Samus by putting the Wiimote sideways. 1 and 2 shoot Samus’ beam and make Samus jump, respectively. It works, and isn’t a bad scheme when you see the way the game is presented. In a pseudo 3D style, the game still sticks to 2D elements. You might think, “HOW THE HELL does that work? The game is already bad!!” It works by being overly simple. You shoot in a direction, and Samus auto aims to her targets. Again, very simple…

 First thing you will notice is that you can’t switch to missiles. How is this achieved? By twisting the Wiimote back around, and pointing at the screen. The game goes into a first person mode, and it’s there you can fire missiles. I can’t even begin to explain how clunky and retarded this is. Not only can you not move in this mode, but in heated and intense battles, YOU DON’T HAVE TIME FOR SHIT LIKE THIS. Not to mention, you have to use the B trigger to lock on to the enemy first, THEN use A to fire the missile. It’s slow, and it subtracts from the otherwise acceptable combat.

This mode is also used for a variety of things in the game. You use it to scan the environment, which I’m using the term “scan” lightly because, unlike the Prime series where EVERYTHING could be scanned, this game reduces it to linearity for the sole purpose of continuing. For example, an hour into the game, I’m greeted by a cutscene which I accidentally skip, and then go into scan mode. Can’t move. Can’t do anything. So what am I supposed to do?

Turns out, I’m supposed to be scanning for something in the area, which happened to be a puddle of green liquid. I call these moments “pixel hunts” because that’s exactly what they are. You’ll swing the Wiimote all over looking at shit until FINALLY you get a confirmation that you’ve found something. I call it pixel hunt too because even if you’re on the object you need to scan, you need to be precisely on a certain spot with the cursor for it to register. These moments break up the intensity and do NOT belong at all. It’s a gimmick to add more gameplay but ends up being frustrating and only to move the shitty story along.

I’m saving the story for last, so lets focus on the graphics and gameplay some more. Graphically, the game is pretty great. Samus animates fluidly, as do her enemies, and the beams look awesome. The hud portrays everything quite nicely, and the CG cutscenes are gorgeous. However, the game’s settings are very subpar compared to the Prime series, and even Super Metroid. The Bottleship, the game’s main setting, is boring and generic. A lot of corridors look the same, and even when you get to go other locales in the ship, like the pyrosphere and snowsphere, they’re still lifeless. However, there are a few awe inspiring moments, like coasting a morph-ball passage along the side of the ship and seeing the whole galaxy in the background.
The gameplay is another thing though, and it’s here where story and gameplay go together, and the results break the game completely. There’s a move called the “sensemove”, and with it you can beast through this game without dying once. It’s done by tapping a direction on the D-Pad right before Samus is hit. The problem is, you can mash the D-Pad and NEVER be hit because this move requires no timing. Sure you can be late, but you will find it so easy to execute that never will you fail to use it. Along with this, you get an instant charge on your beam from executing the sensemove. This makes combat a repetitive “dodge, shoot charged beam until enemy dies” circle that continues the whole game, and is used on bosses as well. That’s ridiculous. The Prime series had bosses that required some pattern recognition to best, and clever uses of beams and visors to overcome. Other M however, you spam the routine “sensemove, charge beam” until the boss dies. It’s not fun, and it reduces big bosses like Phantoon to child’s play.

I'm back! Oh wait...

First let me get the greeting out of the way.

My name is Corey, but online I go by R4L. Or Waffle, depending where you go. I don't know... My username has become a base of such classic nicknames such as Raffle, and Waffle. Oh yes... you can feel the awesomeness, just by the italics I used... I switch between them in the IRC so much that they're starting to grow personalities for themselves. Good thing I have protection just in case they become sentient. *cocks shotgun*

DoomGuy won't let that shit happen...

Anyway, my good friend Jama helped me out by inviting me to this blog. Thanks again man! I want to write game reviews, because I just beat one of the worst games ever, and ironically, it's from one of my favorite franchises. Paradox!

So, let this first post be a toast to great things to come. Hopefully. I don't know. This is the first time I've ever done this. Let the reviews begin!

Don't get DoomGuy started...
 I have a tumblr in process, and a Facebook page where you can see my daily activities, along with seeing me bitch about random things like girlfriends and stuff. Check them out if you dig my posts or just can't stand to look at anything other than me for 3 seconds. Actually, maybe you should stay away if that's the case. :S

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Belisario's Introduction

Hi, I am Belisario93. I’ll start off by saying I don’t game in quite the same way Jama or Uncloudthesky do. I primarily play racing simulators (iRacing, rFactor) and racing games that aim towards simulation (Gran Turismo, Dirt 3). That said, I do quite enjoy platformers and some action/adventure titles. In terms of consoles I have, I own a PS2 and a PS3 (though the PS3 YLOD’d a while ago and I need to fix it), though lately I’ve primarily been gaming on my PC. There is a Wii in my household as well, but I hardly use it. I’ve also owned an SNES, Gameboy Color, Gameboy Advance, GBA SP, PSX, PSOne, and a Sega Saturn.

Friday, May 11, 2012

May 11th News

Topics covered in this week's podcast include...

Microsoft's Minecraft issue

Price cut to popular Nintendo handhelds

Sony's financial woes

A welcome addition to PSN

And a Trio of PC gaming news.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Franchise Debate

Gaming is a strange creature when it comes to franchises. Gamers will say that series X needs to die, or that Series Y is past it's prime and needs to just fade away.

A few series come to mind when I think about franchises that people think need to die.

Call of Duty and Final Fantasy.

A thought occurs to me concerning call of Duty. It seems that they're (Activision) are taking an annual sports game approach to it. It's just a tuning on the multiplayer, with a token single player campaign. in the same vein, playing the career mode in Madden can be seen as training to help you grasp the game before you take on your friends. If we look at Call of Duty from this perspective, why doesn't it deserve to be made each year in the same vein of a Madden or an MLB The Show? I think since it isn't seen as a sports title, it doesn't deserve that sort of reasoning for an annual release. The last two Madden releases (Madden 11, and Madden 12) both sold millions of copies. While nowhere near the explosive sales of the last two Call of Duty games, it's still showing that annual releases make money, despite being just a small visual upgrade, updated roster, and tweaks to gameplay. If you look at the maps as the "roster" of the Call of Duty games, the update seams a little more reasonable.

Now I'll stop going in circles to mention something that irks me about the series. A Call of Duty game that's a year old will still sell new for 50-60 dollars. Compare this to a new sports title that sells for around $20 after it's been out a year. This is what irks me. I can still see Modern Warfare II selling for $20 new... It's a unique situation where you have a game that's almost the same as a sports game (Hell, they should just start calling it "Call of Duty 2013"), but it's treating each game as if it's a separate series.

Now, do I think that Call of Duty should die? No, no I don't. It has a right to exist, and Activision would be stupid to stop making them. The games are consistently among the top selling games each year, so throwing that revenue away would just be dumb. Would I like to see a little more difference between the titles, yeah, sure. But why would you change what works? That's like telling an NHL game to to change some core values around all the time. The NHL series has been praised as one of the best sports franchises around because EA Canada has the core mechanics down to near-perfection. What they do is add more, subtle, realities to the game. Stick breaking on some shots, screening the goalie, checking over the boards... Little details, but help refine the game to feel authentic. I feel that Call of Duty is reaching that same platform. I hear people saying that Black Ops multiplayer was really balanced, so they could experiment or tweak the gameplay to make things more realistic or fun.

The biggest issue for this though, is that they have different developers for their games. Between Treyarch and Infinity Ward, they have two different teams working on different versions. This means that gamers can't get a consistency with their games because the formulas make subtle shifts each year.

To get away from the Call of Duty talk now, we're going to take a look at the Final Fantasy series. This series has been around since 1988 or so. There are 16 games in the main numbered series (1-14 + x-2 and 13-2). Add with that the side series like Tactics, Mystic Quest, and some remakes, you get a lot of games released for this series. Now, some would say that many games might be too many, but there are differences that differentiate each game from each other.

Because I've already documented the differences, I'm just going to leave these here...

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

The changes may be subtle, but they are large enough to be noticeable. Switch from I to II, you go from standard fight => levelup formula to Fight => skill-up based on what you use. From II to III you lose the skill-ups, but you gain a primary class system. From III to IV, you go back to standard Fight => Level-Up, but you gain a diverse cast of individuals with their own skills and special abilities.

Simple changes, but enough to notice differences.

Now, how does this play into "this franchise needs to die"?

Simple really, if a game can keep making simple to substantial modifications to the RPG formula they helped define, they aren't stagnating. They're changing things up. Final Fantasy XI, an MMO that predates World of Warcraft, XII, attempts to bring combat without the "whoosh effect" and being transported to a special battleground. It also allows you to customize how the AI behaves. XIII brings back a class system with a huge twist, being able to change during combat. You can bemoan that the stories aren't as good, or that they focus too much on graphics, but you can't really say they aren't doing anything with the series. The benefit of the series is that the games are all independent of one another, apart from the sequels.

Is this a series that I think should die? Nope. This is another series that has a wealth of ideas they could return to. If they wanted to make a game with a classic job system, they could. If they want to keep trying new things, yeah, they have that option. A big problem though, is people becoming jaded to the point where nothing can live up to the games they played first.

But Nostalgia... that's a topic for another time.