Saturday, January 18, 2014

All Things Big and Small

Jesus it's been awhile since I've written anything here.  Oh well, let's get this underway.  I want to talk about the importance and need of both Indie and AAA studios.

I know a lot of people want to shit on both of these types of games, but just hear me out.  I get that to some, indie games can come off as pretentious or as non-games, and that some AAA games are simply akin to popcorn films, but why do we say these like they're bad things?  After all, would cinema be better off without your Die Hard's, Rambo's or even your Godfather's?  It takes all kinds to build a medium.

First up, let's talk about the positives of indie games.  Indie games are where you will see some of the most unique game ideas ever.  The premise for Portal came from a small team's project called Narbacular Drop.  Indie games don't have the same boundaries that AAA games have, due to fewer expectations and fewer restrictions from Publishers, Shareholders, and the like.

Indie games are useful not only for the unique genres and gameplay mechanics, but often, indie games handle more intricate and nuanced subjects.  Where they fail though, is that some of these games that tackle heavy issues, don't have a good game surrounding it.  It acts more like an interactive experience that focuses strictly on the narrative, at the expense of everything else.  This would be your games like Dear Esther, and the Stanley Parable.  I love the Stanley Parable, but there are times where you wish that this content was in something with more meat on it.

On the flip side, you have your AAA games.  The games that can cram content onto a disk.  In this context, content isn't just "stuff to do", it can be music, graphics, physics, etc.  There's just a certain level of polish and shine you get with most AAA games.  Assassin's Creed II had a great city to explore.  It was alive, large, and overall fun to explore.  These games are what push the mainstream.  If you want to get a point across, this would be the size you wish you could reach.

I'd love for these two things to co-mingle. I'd love to see a game with the moral and discussion about freedom of choice, like a Stanley Parable, but frame it inside something substantial.  The question of free will could easily be a subplot in any major game.  You could say that the David Cage games might fall into this category, with Indigo Prophecy and Heavy Rain.  Those games though, suffered from similar effects.  They were close to being great, but Heavy Rain was mostly an interactive cut-scene with many Quick Time Events.

For an example that does this right: Spec Ops: The Line.

Advanced warning, I haven't played this game personally, and I'm going off second hand information from various places.

We good?


It handles the reality of war, and actually made people feel bad for what they were doing.  The game carried weight with it, while being a major release, within the Spec Ops franchise.  Granted, Spec Ops isn't the most popular of IP's in the world, but it's been around awhile.  It's a First Person Shooter, a genre that's been saturated with Power Fantasy, a definitive foreign bad guy, and bombastic set pieces over the last few years.  You could even say that the modern War FPS genre is oversaturated of late, with Annual Call of Duty releases, Battlefield coming out every other years, and then games like Medal of Honor clinging to the sides.  So, it's a popular genre that ended up telling an impactful story, which surprised the hell out of a lot of people.


Are you...


A Pattern


Now, I know I'm picking on Call of Duty and Battlefield with these images, but it proves the point that this is a populated market, and most games within it are seen as interchangeable for the most part, which again, made Spec Ops the Line so surprising to people, because they just expected another Call of Duty/Battlefield-esque First person Shooter, from a smaller studio, that was going to be mediocre.  

So, it can be done.  AAA games can bring mainstream attention to serious issues, but it takes the buzz on the indies to make them viable.  I may not like games like Dear Esther, or ... what was that interactive story-game about lesbians that made so many people's... GONE HOME.  That's what it was.  I may not like that sort of game, but I can see that it has value, just as much as a Call of Duty game, or Assassin's Creed game.  The indies will drive the direction for the content of our games in the future, but the AAA's are the ones who need to see that the risk isn't as great as they thought, and can wrap an interesting concept in fundamentally sound mechanics.

Now how to wrap this mess up...

I suppose with a game recap.  I recently finished up the main Story in Pokemon Y, so I'll be moving onto Shin Megemi Tensei 4 soon.  Pokemon Y: Pokemon but More and Improved.  ALso been bouncing between Okami HD, and DmC: Devil May Cry on PS3.  Okami should be played by as many people as possible.  Clover Studios did something wonderful with that game, and I highly recommend it, especially if you enjoy classic Japanese art styles.  DmC is the reboot of the Devil May Cry franchise, and I'm not sure how I feel about it yet.  There was a boss fight that had a gratuitous amount of swearing in it.  Hell, I curse some, but when every sentence in their dialogue exchange had some form of expletive, it got real old real fast.  Gameplay is really solid for it, and chaining combos together is hella satisfying though.

Also, PayDay 2 on PS3.  Basically the perfect formula for a sequel.  Take the core gameplay from game 1, tweak it, and make more of what made the first game great.  A review of Payday 2 may come in the future.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Morndas, 13th day of Morning Star, 3E 2014 - A Rant On The Elder Scrolls Series

It's been a hell of a long time since I wrote on here. What can I say? Life is always keeping me busy, especially with the holidays that just flew by. Christmas promptly kicked my ass and took all my money.

Merry Christmas motherfucker.
But that's what the holidays are for right? I'll tell you what it's not about: playing the ever loving shit out of not one, but three Elder Scrolls games. Yes, you read that right. THREE. FUCKING. ELDER SCROLLS GAMES.

In case you haven't gotten the hint, that could be a combined total of 800 FUCKING HOURS OF GAMING. And that's not even the best part! I'm going to go into detail of the three games I've been playing, starting with the one I played first:

Expecting maybe Morrowind, or Skyrim here? Not quite. The funniest part about this game, is that I've owned it four times over a period of four years, and maybe played a good half hour of it. Why is it here you may ask? I've gotten the RPG itch it seems, despite hating RPGs with a passion. Maybe it's the invisible dice rolls, the calculations of all the stats playing out in the code, blind to the human eye. This game is different.

For one, it's all real-time combat, which makes it playable for me. If I had to wander around in first person, and have to stop for some elaborate turn based combat system to start, I would have forgot this game the first time I sold it. Thankfully, the combat is straight forward, swing-a-sword-until-something-dies affair. It's also one of the only RPGs that gives a shit about starting you off to a good pace with a clear fucking objective.

Oh, the irony...
It helps that the graphics are on par with what I expect things to look like. We will get to that more later... but Oblivion is definitely a pretty game. It also helps that this game makes your objectives easy to engage. You get a quest, your next stop is marked on your map. You can either walk (or take a horse) to said location, or use the Fast Travel system, which basically just teleports you to a location marked on the map. Do not confuse those two. Yes, you can add a marker to your map. No, you cannot fast travel to it. It works by showing locations you have found in the world, such as dungeons, towns, landmarks, etc. It's very easy for me to do quests without feeling lost or bored from having to trek long distances.
Long time fans of the series hated this apparently. Well guess what? I'm not a long time fan. This is my foray into Elder Scrolls, just like most people. I enjoy my generic fantasy setting. I enjoy easy and engaging combat. I enjoy easy to follow quests. I ENJOY BEING ABLE TO PLAY THE FUCKING GAME.

I'm yelling at this point, and for good reason. The next game I'm going to list will start our shallow journey into the great fucking Elder Scrolls debate that the internet loves soooooo much.


Yeah, that's the internet equivalent to describing this slow, unforgiving and absolutely boring game. It's on everybody's top games lists for some divine reason. I've had this game more than Oblivion, and have tried on multiple occasions to get into it and see where the shit ends and the game starts working in all the right ways, BUT IT NEVER HAPPENED.

Why? Because this game shows no mercy or lends a helping hand EVER. You create your character, and you're thrown into the game world with a vague objective. That's it. You're on your own after that. Okay, so you're thinking, well surely you can ask NPCs for help, at least some directions right? Sure, if you enjoy reading a wall of text after choosing over EIGHT things to ask.

For example, the first person I see I talk to him. He introduces who he is, and the game shows me some topics to click on that I can ask him. Every time you click one, you get a paragraph or longer of text which more than likely will add more things to ask. I just want to know where the silt strider is, which is the equivalent of a bus in Morrowind. He tells me it's in a certain direction in the town I'm in. Asking about which town I'm in presents me with yet more topics. This is the first guy I've talked to and its starting to be fifteen minutes into gameplay.

Also, I got 80 gold to help me do the first quest, which involves delivering a package. The first thing I figure I have to do is get a weapon. So I ask the fucking guy where the shops are, and which ones are which. I find the shop, deal with the clunky and ugly interface which takes me five minutes to buy a fucking dagger, and finally I figure out where this silt strider is. But guess what? Remember that 80 gold I got earlier? It's not for weapons or armor. It's the fee for the silt strider to take me to my first objective.

Okay, so now that I can't use that method to go to my objective, I have to walk. Walking in Morrowind is the equivalent of crawling in real life. Yeah, it's that fucking slow. So off I go using the map to find Balmora, the city where my objective is. Along the way I encounter a flying monster. I pull my dagger out and start clicking away to slash at it, but nothing. Absolutely nothing. This is where the end of the line drew for me. There's a fucking random number generator happening behind the scenes every time you attack. The game does not make this appear to be so. You look to be slashing the monster, I mean how could you NOT when he's in your FUCKING FACE, but you aren't hitting it because your stats aren't high enough in the right places.After clicking endlessly, I realize this thing has drained almost all of my health, so I start running from it but it's no use. This thing is just on my ass the whole time, and kills me before I can get ten feet away.


Fuck that. I'm hoping that when I get to Balmora and deliver this package, maybe things will pick up. I start all over again, this time taking the silt strider. I arrive in the small town, separated by a river. After searching around for the guy I need to deliver this thing to and finally finding him, he gives me massive amounts of text and another objective more vague than the last. I honestly have no idea what to do. So I try joining one of the guilds. The Molag Tong guild seems cool, a bunch of assassins and what not, so I go there. Turns out the guy that takes new members in isn't even in this town, so there goes that idea. I can't go to Vivec where he's at to talk to him because I have no gold to use the silt strider, and I have no weapon to defend myself with if I walk. Fuck the weapon, I don't have the fucking stats to battle a damn worm!!!

Quit. Done. This game is too unforgiving in the beginning. Yet, it remains a favorite among fans. For what fucking reason? Is that kind of complexity a niche market for some gamers? I don't understand how anyone got past the beginning of this game without being bored to tears or being so fucking frustrated. I cannot understand why Bethesda thought the combat was acceptable enough. Even when you do hit something, you don't get the feeling you did, or that it took skill to do it. In Oblivion, I have to dodge attacks and make sure my sword hits. That is non-existent in this game. The number gods decide if you can hit something. Agility isn't high enough? Oh well, guess you're only going to hit that bat every 100 clicks and do FOUR points of damage.

Yet this is where Morrowind fans will bash Oblivion, stating it had the same system, you just didn't do a lot of damage when you start. Yeah, that's true, but at least I'm doing SOME kind of damage, and it FEELS like I'm hitting something. UGHHHHHHHH. This game just pisses me off to no end, in every single category. The music and story are pretty cool from what I've heard and read of it. It's just sad to say that I've played this game so many times and never got farther than that. It's too fucking hard and too boring for me.

Which leads me to another surprise in this post.


This is the granddaddy of the series. It should be known that Bethesda themselves said the game map is as big as Great Britain. No, that's not an exaggeration or a joke. Just fucking look at this:

Don't let the size of that boat fool you. It's horribly exaggerated in size. All that land and water you see is totally explorable. Every province and kingdom has over a hundred locations EACH. Think I'm lying?

That's just the province of Daggerfall. You may recognize its shape on the first map above. All those dots on that one province are places you can go to. Just think about that for a second. Now think about the fact that this game was released in 1996. What a fucking feat Bethesda accomplished back in the day! The scope of this game world is absolutely gigantic. And to think reviewers marveled at Grand Theft Auto V.

Where Daggerfall is less impressive however, is that it is all randomly generated. Everything keeps the same layout and name and what not, but loot and enemies are random. Dungeons are randomly generated in layout and loot, so they are never the same. That is awesome, but can be frustrating when you consider that the size of these things are gigantic.

Being archaic as it is, Daggerfall is not very user friendly. For one, the controls suck. It's DOS days though, so what can you expect? It's interesting though. You have so many features. For one, you can swing a weapon using the mouse. Swinging in certain directions makes your character do certain attacks, each having their own damage and chance to hit. I almost cringed at this, but when you fight you actually feel like you can hit things! Yeah, it's all random numbers being generated in the code, but at least the game makes it seem like you are making progress. Morrowind would play the same whiff sound over and over. Daggerfall adds clangs and clashes, and has a distinct hit sound when you do hit things. It's not as ridiculous as Morrowind either. You CAN hit things right off the bat, save for a monster in the starting dungeon if you don't start with the right weapon, but you can skip that monster. You don't have to fight it. And if by some chance it attacks you, you can run away and live.

And that's just the combat. You can run, crouch, jump, and fucking climb. If you get locked out of a town, fuck it, just climb the gate or the wall. Or get your jumping skill up and just jump over it. You can dual wield weapons. You can cast all kinds of magics and almost all of them are useful. Morrowind has a lot of spells, but there's only a handful that are actually useful. Daggerfall has every spell you need, and at some point you will need to use. Or want to use it. It's just that cool.

The best part is after escaping the first dungeon and making it to your first town. Navigating is much harder than Morrowind, but it's definitely worth it. Within ten minutes of being in my first town, I bought a new set of armor, and a fucking horse! As soon as you leave the store, you can ride it! Hell fucking yes!!! There's a certain degree of freedom in every choice you make in this game, and it's amazing. Want to steal from the armor shop? Pick the lock and sneak in. Or try to steal it off the shelf in broad daylight. Or just bash the door in and take it. Any of those options are possible. That is amazing.

All these cool things come with a price though. The game is super buggy, even after patches. It's prone to crashing and doing all sorts of fuckery. It's also just like Morrowind in that it throws massive amounts of text at you. However, the freedom and choices offered in this game is just too awesome. For example, I can't find one of the inns while I'm waiting for my armor and weapons to be repaired (which takes two in game days to repair) so I decide to just sleep behind the shop. I get arrested for vagrancy instead. I'm asked to resist, or accept. I accept my arrest, and I'm presented with a court appearance. I can plead guilty and pay gold and hurt my rep with the law, or I can say not guilty. I say not guilty, and I'm presented with yet two more decisions. I can plead my case by debating it, or I can lie my way out of it. Both choices can be used successfully, since they are both governed by certain skills. Debate will test my Etiquette skill, while Lying will test my Streetwise skill. Either way, you can use both to get away.

FUCKING AMAZING. It really is. It's even better that, say I join a guild, for example the Dark Brotherhood assassin's guild. If I am arrested and tried in court, they might threaten the judge to let me out. I AM NOT FUCKING LYING ABOUT THIS. This can seriously happen. It pays to have connections, and that means almost everything you do in this game is worth the trouble.

So yeah, it's safe to say that I like Daggerfall more than Morrowind. I shouldn't, because it has a lot of the same annoying features, but it doesn't make me feel helpless, and that's what matters. Who wants to feel helpless in a video game? It's okay to feel that way for a little bit, but giving up because it doesn't feel like it's going to end? That's just bullshit. Daggerfall just seems to use its features much better than Morrowind. The only problem I really have is that the graphics can be borderline ugly. Scrolling through my inventory and seeing shapes instead of actual things is annoying. Thankfully, there's an Info button that tells you what it is. Indeed, that thing that looks like two potatoes is actually leather greaves. Good to know.

Doing quests is the same as Morrowind unfortunately. Someone will tell you to bring this gem to so and so, and you have no idea who that person is or if he's even in the same fucking town. Mind you this game has over 700,000 NPCs wandering around. Yes, 7-FUCKING-THOUSAND NPCS. But that's alright. You can venture out and do so many other things that it doesn't even matter. No matter what, you feel like you have control over something in this game, where as Morrowind will leave you fucked unless you know what you're doing.

Maybe someone will prove me wrong. Someone will show me how to play Morrowind someday. Maybe I should just follow a guide, but apparently part of the magic of that game is not having any help. True, Daggerfall is the same way, but at least I can do other shit while I figure it out. I'm afraid to leave town in Morrowind. Maybe I need some mods or something. Who knows.

Anyway, I wanted to rant about this series because I have been sinking hours upon hours into Oblivion and Daggerfall, and I've realized that these games are pretty great after all. One day maybe I will feel the same way about Morrowind, but I'm not holding my breath. I want to like it, but it forces me not to. Oh well.