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Sunday, June 24, 2012

Breaking Down the Master Race

Earlier this month, I read on Kotaku a user-submitted article about how we don't need game consoles.

I could write an itemized list, debating each point the writer made, but that's not what I'm here for.  Besides, the comments handled that pretty well.

What I aim to do, is to break down the mindset, or the perceived mindset of the "PC Master Race".

The PC Master Race term is basically the PC equivalent of console fanboys.  They are people who will defend their platform to the death, and deem all other platforms useless or for 'lesser beings', i.e. "Casuals".  You see this with the PS3 and Xbox to a degree (though the flame wars haven't been as bad lately).

One of the main arguments that zealous PC users like to throw out to show their superiority is their graphical fidelity.  While it is true that games may look or perform better on some PCs, the experience is not indicative for ALL PCs.  A few years ago, Crysis looked gorgeous on the PC.
Left: Real World Picture, Right: Real World... I mean Crysis.

The problem is though, that most PCs at the time could not run it at the highest settings.  Hell, most computer couldn't run it smooth on Medium settings.  

Now, the PC gamers love to tout graphics, but as a good portion (at least I hope) of gamers know that graphics don't make the game any more fun to play.  

Yaaaaaaay!

Yawn.


I know GTA IV crapped out Game of the Year awards, but oh my God did I get bored with that game.  I would much rather play a game that would capture my attention than one that would look pretty.  

Now I'm not saying we need to go back to Pong level or Text Based games, no no no.  I'm just saying that more pixels/polygons =/= more fun.

The next main source of ammo for the PC Elitist's gun is the customizability of the experience.  With mods and otherchanges a person can make to a PC game, it's hard to argue with them.  If we look at a game like Minecraft, a lot of people find that Vanilla (unmodded) MineCraft is too boring or easy, so they use mods that add more monsters or blocks.  This is impossible in the Xbox version of MineCraft.    This is the greatest strength, to me, that PC gaming has.  The ability to get little tweaks and modifications can give a game either new life, in the form of HD Texture packs for games like Duke Nukem 3D or Deus Ex, or add new content to a game, like The Nameless Mod.

There are times though when this backfires.  I tried to install a mod for Oblivion.  Turns out the mod wasn't compatible with my computer's integrated graphics card.  So I spent the hours downloading the 3GB total conversion, and the long install time, only to find that I just wasted that time.

This is obviously an error on my part for not doing my homework on the mod, but it highlights one of the problems with PC Gaming, one that the die-hards refuse to acknowledge.  The sheer diversity of machines on the market hinders gaming so much. Once you factor in legacy issues, gaming on any machine can be risky.  If you have too new of a machine, some older games may need extensive work-arounds to play.  If you're on an older machine, good luck running many of the newer games.

Another phase of the PC Gaming you hear about occasionally is the ability to get games for free via piracy, but this will be covered in a future podcast.

Now the biggest thing that PC Gaming lacks, in my eyes, is consistency.  A game can run differently on similar machines due to how the user takes care of their computer.  Compare that to any console.  If a game runs on SNES x, it'll run the same on SNES y, unless the console has a defect.  I played Alpha Protocol on the PS3, despite owning the PC version.  Why?  Simple, it ran SO MUCH BETTER on the PS3 compared to my computer.  With consoles you know exactly what hardware the users are going to be playing on, so you can play to the strengths of the machines.

You thought I forgot about this game.  THINK AGAIN!

To end on a happy note, one that I can't argue with, the PC scene has a MUCH wider variety of games, especially due to indie games and flash games.  Some genres, like RTS and FPS, play better on the PC than they do on consoles (Seriously, TRY to play StarCraft 64).

Which button is the "Get them to stop killing me" one?

To wrap this up, yes, PC's have obvious strengths in their game diversity and potential power, but their biggest drawbacks are legacy issues, and platform inconsistency.  Sadly, these will never be solved due to the rapid pace that PC Technology advances at.  

Each platform has their strengths and weaknesses, whether it be the Wii for single-unit multiplayer, the Xbox for Timed Exclusives, the PS3 for Free Online Multiplayer, or the PC with it's wide breadth of choice.  Going around decrying another person's choice of gaming isn't something to laud.  Instead, we should be praising the fact that gamers today HAVE this many good choices.  With the dwindling amount of exclusive titles, it's all about personal preference, and honestly, that's how it should be.  

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Persona 3 Review

I discovered this game through a Game Informer review of Persona 3 FES back in 2008 or so.  The concept of the game intrigued me.  I started off by renting the original Persona 3 a month or so later, and eventually, bought FES new.

So, what is Persona 3?  Well, for those unaware, it's a JRPG of the Shin Megami Tensei brand which was published locally by Atlus for the PS2.

The premise of the game is that you, the silent protagonist, knows that the world will end in exactly one year, and no matter what action you take, you take full responsibility for it (comes into play towards the end).  Nobody else is aware that the world will end either.

From left to right: Junpei, Main Character, Yukari.  Above: Goddamn Thanatos.

Keeping with traditional JRPGs, you play a high school aged character, but you actually have to go to school during the day, hang out with friends after school, then kill bad demons at night in the twisted recreation of your high school.  Totally normal.

Alright, so to break down the game itself.  It's divided into two main parts: Day and Night.  During the Day period, you go to school and can hang out after school with a variety of people to bolster your "Social Links" (a little more on those later).  During the Night period you can either go out to the mall to boost some stats/find specific people, or go to Tartarus, the twisted remodeling of your school, to fight the Shadows.

This division of your day is pretty neat.  Building up your Social Links is beneficial towards exploring Tartarus.    Every person is assigned an Arcana, based off the major arcana from Tarot.  For example, the main character is of the Fool arcana due to it's potential (Fool's number is 0).  So, as you form Social Links and level them up, your ability to fuse Persona, the powers you summon from within, improves.  If you have a high ranking in the Chariot Social Link for example, when you make a Chariot Persona, it'll get a huge amount of XP upon creation, leveling up several levels.

So that's the general mechanics on the game.  Right now I'm devoting a whole section to the soundtrack.

Seriously.

The soundtrack is pretty interesting because it emphasizes the contrast between what goes on during the Day and Night periods.  The soundtrack has an infectious vibe to it.  The day time music is really light, peppy, and relaxing, whereas the night-time music is more upbeat and at times, intense.

This is what we call a fun boss theme.


That's the theme for a few different boss fights, whereas this...




Is the regular fight theme.  You'd think this wouldn't work, but damn, does it it infect you.  It's one of those fighting themes that can stick out during a fight, and can blend into the background at the same time.  

Now, if we compare this to your after-school music...




This is what we call contrast folks.  It's a pretty big theme in the game.  Contrast between day and night activities, persona abilities, music, and even among the characters themselves.
Atlus pulled some pretty good talent to do the voice work for this game.  Notable voice actors include Vic Mignogna (Full Metal Alchemist, Disgaea 3, other roles), Michelle Ruff (Bleach, other roles) Tara Platt (various roles), and Liam O'Brian (Final Fantasy XIII-2, other works).

Atlus seems to have a track record for bringing games stateside that people want, and for doing a damn good job of it.  I haven't played Persona 4, but I hear it's another great game that was localized well.

Atlus: Giving your great RPGs since 1986... except the ones that sucked.  Ignore those.

Alright, now I'm going into rambley land.

Combat in person is pretty simple.  You choose whether to attack with your weapon, or to summon your persona to use a skill.  Casting physical skills does some HP damage to you, while magic skills use your SP.  Simple.  in addition, you can only control the main character (in P3 and FES, all characters in P3P).  If the main character dies, it's game over.

Done.

Fahgeddaboudit.

Also, the game takes advantage of some "elemental Rock-Paper-Scissors".  While you can change your persona (even in battle), and thus, change your strengths and weaknesses, your NPC allies only have their one persona to work with.  

Starting Persona, with stats somewhere between "Jack" and "Shit"

The resistances are groups into physical and magical.  The first three are "Slashing", "Bashing" and "Piercing".  The second group is: Fire, Ice, Electricity, Wind, Holy, and Darkness.  As you can see, Orpheus is weak to Electricity and Darkness type attacks.  This means that if I get hit with an electric type attack while having Orpheus equipped means I take extra damage and I get knocked down.  This is detrimental because to stand up you either need to be hit, healed by an ally, or spend your next turn to stand up.  

You can also use this to your advantage.  If an enemy is weak to a type of attack, you can knock them down.  You can also knock an enemy down with a critical hit as well.  If you knock an enemy down, you get an extra turn, which can lead to knocking down all enemies.  If this happens, you and all allies will bum-rush the group of baddies, dealing a good amount of damage to all of them.  This makes it a good tactic to speed up the level grinding process.  

Another nice feature is the equipment.  While it has almost no cosmetic changes, save for a few pieces of armor, the main draw is that each weapon, accessory, and armor has a unique attribute.  For example, if you find two pairs of shoes that are the same in name, they'll both confer the same stat bonus (i.e. 12 Evasion), but their unique effect may be different (Dodge Electricity: Medium Chance vs Critical Chance Up: Low).  This makes managing your equipment a little more interesting.  You may give an NPC a certain piece of equipment with lower stats, just because it helps neutralize their weakness.  

Some other negatives about the game is that it can be repetitive at times.  You need to be able to put up with the mandatory level grinding in order to be able to beat the storyline missions.  Also, you should keep a manual calendar of your Social Links if you want to max a lot of them.  Some only meet on certain days, so you'll need to take that into consideration.  

So what's the difference between the three versions?  Well, there's a couple.  Between Persona 3 and FES, you gain new Persona, new Social Links, updated dialogue, a "Hard" difficulty (Seriously, this sucks.  Enemies hit harder, and their status effect attacks hit you more often), and a 30-hour Epilogue.  From FES to P3P, you gain access to a New Game + option, a choice of Male or Female Protagonist, which changes the Social Links around, and I'm not sure if that includes the bonus chapter...

Female and Male protagonists


All and all I'd recommend this game to people who like JRPGs.  The story is surprisingly dark at time, but is often contrasted by some humorous writing and voice work.  If you can put up with the level grinding, you'll find that the game has surprising depth to it.  The cutscenes, though few and far-between after the start of the game, are well done.  

You can find the game at various GameStops for new or used, or grab the digital version off PSN for FES.

Monday, June 11, 2012

All The Small Things...

This is a trickier topic to fully pin down for me.  It's one I've been tossing around for awhile, but haven't found a complete way to explain, so this may ramble a bit.  

There are little things, usually insignificant on their own, that can make an average game good, or a good game great.  These small things can be anything from an easy way to catch up on the story, or even some game mechanic that you won't be required to use.

I've been playing Red Dead Redemption lately, and I've been enjoying it more than the other major Rockstar franchise, Grand Theft Auto.  RDR is varied in what it offers you.  The game offers randomly generated mini-activities like getting your horse stolen, someone robbing a store, or getting jumped by bandits, that add a lot to the world.  These events can happen at many locations, so it feels like the world is alive.  Another thing that I discovered made the game, for me, much much better.  I discovered I could pull people off horseback using my lasso and drag them behind me as I rode my horse.  Have I needed this for a mission or quest?  Nope!  It's just one of those little touches that makes me smile.  I dragged a guy through main street of one town on a whim, just because I could.  

Giddyup!

Another game that I feel just has these little touches is Persona 3.  In Persona 3, you can view a compendium, which allows you to recall Persona you have used or owned previously.  That's the function of it, but this is where one of those little perks comes into play.  In the compendium, you can see a little history of the persona. For example, you can read about the origins of Orpheus, from Greek mythology, or learn a little about Odin, of the Norse culture.  

"I do believe impalement is my favorite way to kill someone"

Another popular one is continuity nods.  If you're playing a game in a series, it's always nice to recognize lines, items, or events that make call-backs to previous games, even if they aren't related.  

This is a tricky topic to write about because it's so subjective.  I usually try to write in broader terms, but today I felt like indulging on a whim.  Plus any excuse to talk about Persona is fun.  



EPIC FORSHADOWING

Yes, this means I'll be doing a review of Persona 3 here in the near future.  If there's any series you want me to look at or write about, or any subjects you have questions about, feel free to let me know, either through the comments or other means.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Artist Showcase: Devin Townsend, Part 1

Devin Townsend. Where do I begin? This is a musician who's been all over the place throughout his increasingly-large discography, and no matter which genre of music he attempts next, he performs it with the same perfectionist quality and attention-to-detail that'd be expected of the masters of the genre. So, let's start from the very beginning.


NOTE: Even though Devin Townsend has had many guest appearances and helped out with other albums in small ways, this Artist Showcase will focus only on the ones that the Dev had a major role in, and will be listed in chronological order. Sorry, no love for Front Line Assembly in this post!

STEVE VAI - SEX & RELIGION



So, when Devin first began his initial foray into the music industry, he was but a strapping young lad (I MADE A FUNNEH) of the tender age of 21.

He was awfully ambitious for his age.

 Devin performed all of the lead vocals on the album, and does an astonishingly good job at it as well, with his work on this album being home to some of the highest notes on his recorded vocal range to date. On some songs, like Touching Tongues, he showcases a bit of Freddy Mercury influence, and on others, he embarks on a style wholly his own. Though not flawless, Devin's vocal delivery on this album is stellar, and a promising hint on the rest of his vocal work to come.

STRAPPING YOUNG LAD - HEAVY AS A REALLY HEAVY THING


Disillusioned by his experiences with the music industry when he was with Vai, and his constant rejection from various record labels during his short-lived stint as the guitarist for a British hard rock group known as The Wildhearts, Devin decided to turn his anger into a productive outlet, and formed an extreme metal project named Strapping Young Lad. Heavily inspired by extreme and industrial metal (more specifically, Fear Factory's debut cut Soul Of A New Machine, which blended industrial and death metal), Devin set out to record this album, not for any perks for himself, but solely as an elaborate joke at the expense of the music industry, one of the album's prime targets lyrically. Although the album was the product of sheer angst and anger, it never took itself too seriously, beginning a trend of subtle (and not-so-subtle) self-referential humour that would persist throughout the project, and even through Devin's solo material. The album was mostly a solo effort, but was performed with the aid of Adrian White of Front Line Assembly on drums, and Jed Simon on backing guitars. Jed Simon would remain a part of Strapping Young Lad throughout the project's lifespan. 

THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU WILL EVER SEE

This album also marked the beginning of Devin's trademark wall of sound production, inspired by Frank Zappa, but with his own over-the-top flair to it, and with an almost perfectionist quality to it. Each background noise, every frequency had its own special place within the song structure, a trait which would carry through even today. The album lives up to its name, as the songs are unceasingly brutal, aside from a few entirely tongue-in-cheek sections, such as the bonus track, which at first glance seems to be too happy for its own good... One problem with the album, however, is that it was very much an album to be taken as a whole, focusing on the general intensity and sentiment of the album as a whole, rather than individual songs, although the album did have a few hits. Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing is one of the more underrated releases in Devin's catalogue, some would argue rightfully so, including Devin himself, but the sentiment remains as relevant as ever, especially in today's world of cookie-cutter pop artists and exploitation. 


PUNKY BRUSTER - COOKED ON PHONICS

With a band name and album title like that, you can tell that this is going to be the darkest Devin Townsend work yet.

Punky Br├╝ster was a one-off project helmed by Devin and brought to fruition with the help of Adrian White, fresh off of his previous work on HaaRHT, and John Harder on bass. Continuing the trend of jokes at the expense of the music industry, Cooked on Phonics tells the tale of the death metal band Cryptic Coroner, from South-Central Poland, who decide to sell out and become a punk band. The entire album was a jab at sell-outs, the very nature of selling out, and the general absurdity of the music industry. The music was played in a typical, almost parody-ish punk style, with the story being told through the lyrics, and occasionally through a narrator. Much like Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing, the album was much more about the general concept rather than the individual songs. Punky Br├╝ster is another oft-overlooked entry into the Devin Townsend discography.


Welp, that wraps it up for this first entry in the Devin Townsend Artist Showcase. The next part will kick off with the section of Devin's catalogue where the real gems start showing up. Good times!

Internet Backlash

I don't know why I find myself defending Call of Duty time and again.  As much as I'm not a fan of the series, I feel that it's the target of a lot of internet hate.  Some justified, some not.

Clearly this is a series that needs saving.

So what is it about this series that garners so much hate?  

While the series has some serious saturation (16 games in 9 years, counting spin-offs and non-traditional games),  there are other series that are guilty of this as well...

Let's take our time machine back to 1985-1994.  That's right, we're looking at the Super Mario Series. 

Remember this smug bastard?


Starting in 1985 with Super Mario Bros, Mario was in 19 games up til 1994, and that's me being generous. 

If the internet was in full swing in the early 90s, Mario would be burned in effigy with people complaining about too many adventures for the platforming plumber.  My point is, the advent of the internet has given gamers a reputation for being horribly, horribly impatient.  It seems like we want something new all the time.

Let me run a hypothetical by you real quick.  Let's say that Tekken 7 comes out, and it shatters Call of Duty's day-one sales record.  What do you think will happen?  Well, for one, Capcom would pump out Street Fighter 5 in a hurry in order to cash in on the new-found popularity of fighting games.  Other fighting franchises like BlazBlue might even change their formula to better line up with Tekken.  

Making games is a risky business, one that costs millions and millions of dollars.  Why in the blue hell would a company such as Activision get rid of that guaranteed 5 million first day units sold?  Just to please other gamers?  Please.  If you think that stopping production of the most profitable genre of games to date is a good idea, you need to avoid making business decisions.  

Not as dumb as you think

Maybe you hate Call of Duty with a passion, or you just want to see the series go on a two year development period.  What can you do?  Bitch on the internet!  Yeah!  That'll show those greedy bastards how serious we are!

Or you could take the mature route and actually change something.  With each game you purchase at retail, you endorse that product.  If you by Battlefield to stifle Call of Duty, all you're doing is insuring that a new Call of Duty will be made.  On the flip side though, if enough people invest in something else, for example, MineCraft, you'll see a market shift. 

Such a thing has happened.  Millions of people bought Minecraft, and look what we've gotten.  FortressCraft, MineCraft for XBox Live and Sony Phones, and Terraria.  Even games like the upcoming, yet ridiculously titled ShootMania take these elements of building and creating.  

This is an industry where money speaks louder than words.  Complaining on the internet does NOT change the landscape.  How do you think the Final Fantasy series has been able to make 20 iterations?  Through petitions?  If that was the case, the PS3 would have an HD version of Final Fantasy VII by now, instead of getting Final Fantasy XIII-2.

For the record, if you complain about a series without having played the series you really have no right to complain.  If you dislike it on principal (requiring a bad service to run, unpatched issues, bad track record with broken games, or it just not being your genre), you have a better leg to stand on by my standards.  I don't like people who complain about things with no hands-on knowledge about the topic.

For example, I don't want to play Skyrim due to Bethesda's issue with buggy games.  

I heard you like your game.  Let me crash it for you.

On paper, the Elder Scrolls series seems like something I would enjoy, but due to previous experience with the series, the worlds have just felt empty, boring, and broken experiences.  Show me a game like Manhunt and I'll simply voice my displeasure about the tone of the game and say that it's not my thing.  

I'll reiterate one of my first points.  The internet seems to have made people very very impatient.  They want what they want immediately, other people be damned.  It seems like the vocal group only cares about what they want, but refuses to take into consideration of the 10 million people who hold an opposite view.  

I'm going back to my Tekken analogy to say this.  The video game industry is a safe industry.  You won't see a major studio take many risks due to the chance of financial ruin.  Look at what happened to 38 Studios.  They put out a game that's been praised in Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, but they're facing serious financial troubles.  

This is what developers fear.  Why do you think Blizzard has been riding World of Warcraft for 8 years instead of working on other games?  It's because it's a cheap, safe way to make money.  New IP is dangerous if it doesn't sell x amount of units to break even.  So until a new direction has been established in the market, developers are going to continue to play it safe.  You're going to see a lot of First Person Shooters, Third Person Action games, and Sports games every year, because developers know those will sell.

If you want something different, avoid the AAA developers and support a AA or indie dev to get the point across.  But be warned, even if the market shifts away from the FPS, wherever it will go, people will complain.  There will always be a saturation of the popular genre because the industry is full of Follow the Leader.  

With this, I'm not saying give developers a green light to do what they please, no no no.  If a company puts out shit, let them know it.  I doubt we're going to see another Duke Nukem game after Forever bombed.  EA is allowing games back on Steam due to people not buying their PC games due to Origin.  Bethesda has caught a lot of crap for their bugs in Skyrim and their lawsuit with Mojang over the word Scrolls.  Things like this should not stand.  But bitching about a game does nothing.  



Friday, June 1, 2012

Bigger Than Doom: A Source Port Rant

Only two things come to mind when I say Doom. Kick-ass, classic gaming near and dear to my heart, and that shitty movie starring The Rock.

What the fuck is this thing?
Now I love me some Doom... my first post had Doomguy in it. My avatar is Doom. I fucking love Doom. However, it hasn't aged well in my eyes. Back in the 90s I had a blast with it, installing shareware copies on my aunt's and uncle's Compaq's and Gateways, because hey, they had the money to afford a PC back then, and I was only like 7 or something. I can't remember that well. All I know is you ain't working a full time job to save up for a PC at age 7.

You're probably doing this instead.
Anyway, what I'm trying to say is, I played regular, old blood and guts Doom, and I couldn't do it. It hasn't aged well enough. I'm not playing on a Gateway from 1998, but a HP from 2009! It's time to update! Especially with Doom's source code available to the greedy public. What resulted was something that literally saved my love for Doom.