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Archive for February, 2010

Presenting the case against Darksiders

Posted by nfinit on February 27, 2010

Last week you may remember my (not quite unconditional) exuberance for Vigil Game’s Zelda/God of War tribute Darksiders.  And you may remember my contention that, for $40, you could hardly find a better gaming experience.  And while I still stand by that, after a week and roughly sixteen hours plowed into Darksiders, I’d like to present a counter-argument against my own argument:  Darksiders falls apart in its final act harder than the final two months of McCain/Palin presidential bid.

Valve built an entire game around the Portal gun concept. Darksiders crams the same mechanic into the last act of it's 3d platformer

I brought this up earlier with my latest (of many) Bioware rants, but everything wrong with Darksiders could be fixed through proper Quality Assurance– presumably Vigil Games has at its disposal a QA department complete with a team of testers.  My contention is that these studios either are not listening to their QA department or they don’t have nearly as much input over gameplay and balance issues as was needed.

Darksiders provides a classic example of this disconnect in it’s final dungeon, the gimmick of which is three convoluted, vexing light beam path puzzles combined with the teleportation gun from Portal– the mechanics of which were introduced entirely within the last act of the game.

The addition of the Portal gun is where I feel Darksiders started finally going off the rails  Darksiders has such a rich and varied collection of gameplay mechanics that by the time you get to the final act adding More Stuff to the game finally becomes Too Much Stuff.  You’re already dealing with jumps and double jumps and double jumps and glides and two separate grappling mechanics and wall climbs and a horse and what feels like an entire armory of ranged weaponry– Then Darksiders throws in the gun from Portal along with the accompanying play mechanics, all of which must now be incorporated within the framework of a 3d platformer.

To say that the player beings to feel a bit overwhelmed is an understatement.  Added to this is that the Portal gun’s mechanics have no  internal consistency at all.  There’s designated spots in the game where the portal gun will work, and you aim at one to make an entrance and another to make and exit.  But it’s never clear what happens to the first two portals once you fire a third time.  It’s entirely possible to jump through an exit portal and go out your erstwhile entrance whereas the push blocks you’re supposed to drag through the portals for whatever reason don’t enjoy the same luxury.  Also these portals will randomly allow you to fire through them and hit other portal locations on the map, but sometimes doing so wipes out the portal you fired through for no apparent reason, leaving you without a portal on your own end.  And other oddities– sometimes it is possible to double jump when exiting a portal, sometimes not.  Sometimes you carry your momentum through when exiting, sometimes not.  Sometimes it’s possible to fire a ranged through a portal, sometimes not.  For some reason you’re not allowed to drop through a portal and land atop a push block, despite being able at all times to simply walk up to that same block and jump atop it.

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Gaze upon this, and know despair

And all this would be frustrating enough if you were not  also dealing with Darksider’s voluminous and finicky 3d platformer mechanics.  The double-tap-hold mechanic for activating the glide jump, for instance, fails randomly and it’s unclear why aside from perhaps being a split instant off in the timing– also it feels like your character has to be in the right frame of animation before a jump will register, meaning that if your foot hangs off the edge by the barest inch then the jump will refuse to take hold and you plummet to your (thankfully temporary) doom.

This is the underlying problem with Darksiders– what’s going on seems arbitrary; that most of your failures are not attributable to lack of skill on the part of the player, but a combination of poor mechanics and the developer’s inability to get across exactly what they expect from the player at any given time.  Most of the game’s puzzles don’t revolve around logic, but around stuff that you expect would work within a videogame because the devs have expected you to have spent a large chunk of your life playing videogames– in other words, the world revolves around videogame logic.  And in a way that’s refreshing because with this mindset Vigil Games didn’t  have to go out of the way to explain how to push blocks; but at the same time it is frustrating when the game throws a handful of puzzle elements onto the screen and expects you to just start using them with no explanation given as to their use or how they interact.  In one section you’re given a set push blocks and scales without any clear understanding what the blocks do in relation to the scales or how exactly push block interact with portals generated from the Portal gun.  You are expected to instinctively know how these elements interact.  And that would be fine, but even as someone who’s come into Darksiders with an entirely unhealthy amount of experience playing videogames, most of the time I just randomly pushed and pulled and hit switches until I triggered a cutscene and knew I’d “solved” the puzzle.  But I didn’t really solve the puzzle as there was no real puzzle to solve, no more so than you could “solve” a jigsaw picture of a random Jackson Pollock painting.  You just hunt and peck and guess and hope.

As a result, when one of these endgame puzzles opens up, I’m not tempted or intrigued by a new challenge the game has presented.  Instead I feel like turning off the system and playing through Bayonetta one more time.  This goes beyond mere frustration– this game actively crushes any interest or desire to play it.

And to return to my original point, none of this happens if Vigil Games’ Quality Assurance department is operating correctly and they are listening to it.  Testers and/or focus groups would be able to look at this issue and deliver the correct feedback to the devs and crimes against gameplay such as Darksiders’ grappling mechanics (Oh yeah, I didn’t mention this earlier but somehow Darksiders also gets grappling wrong) never happen.  One or a combination of these three things is taking place:

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Hope you enjoyed that one horse level, because you're never using him again

1:  Testing and QA is not allowed to offer feedback in regards to gameplay issues; only bug testing and reporting glitches.

2:  The QA and Testing department became so intimately familiar with its mechanics that these issues seemed inconsequential

3:  The devs simply didn’t listen/never had time to implement fixes.

Here’s what I want to know– is it asking too much to have open betas for single-player videogames?  Clearly it’s a concept that works well for multiplayer shooters, and MMOs are in a state of open beta for the entire time they’re operational.  But once a single player game’s code hits disc, it’s all but impossible to make sweeping changes, and stuff that gets lost in the insular culture of a development studio becomes permanent and inviolate.  Mass Effect 2, for instance, has a little-publicized but highly annoying bug where the text is all but unreadable on SDTVs.  If enough people outside of ME2 were allowed to play even an hour of the game before code was finalized, that could have easily been rectified.  Same thing happened with Capcom’s Dead Rising.  The PC port of Grand Theft Auto IV was a notoriously glitchy mess and may well have ruined the reputation of the entire franchise in the minds of PC gamers for good.

Back to the game in question, Darksiders– The most frustrating thing about the final act is that the game was remarkably well done leading up to that point– and this may belay a flaw in my logic in regards to open betas resolving this issue– there’s just no way this issue could come up if you’ve not already invested 16 hours into this game, by which point you feel kinda dumb if you can’t grind out the final 3 hours or so.

So in retrospect, is Darksiders still with the $40?  With the final section of the game in its current (and permanent) state, I can’t say that without qualification.  However, if you can be comfortable packing up the box the moment the final dungeon is unlocked and never touching the game again, it’s a fine, if decidedly b-level experience.  You’re still getting a lot of content for your money, just not a finished product.


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Wallet Abuse Wednesday 2-24-10: Heavy Rain, Sega All Stars, Bobby Kotick Wants Your Soul

Posted by nfinit on February 24, 2010

Our friend and joy-crushing psychopath Bobby Kotick is back in the news again, and as ripped whole cloth from sourced at cited from Gamasutra’s coverage of his recent DICE keynote speech he’s willing to admit that perhaps saying he wished to boil down the process of making games from the virtual sweatshop process as it currently stand and convert it to an actual, legal sweatshop probably wasn’t a good idea:

Aware of recent criticism of some of his remarks to investors — remarks about taking the fun out of making video games and working in an environment of skepticism, pessimism and fear, to name a few — Kotick says that too much brashness means “you can come across as being like a dick.”

He particularly addressed his ‘taking the fun out of video games’ comment: “I wanted to somehow come across in a humorous way that… it wasn’t some Wild West lack of process exercise.” Nonetheless, he says, he regrets how it was misconstrued.

And that in retrospect maybe Activision should have approached Harmonix to handle the genre they basically created instead of handing Guitar Hero off to the Tony Hawk guys and inadvertently killing rhythm games entirely:

Kotick’s also made another significant miss: choosing the wrong acquisition among the Guitar Heroco-creators. “We knew about Harmonix… [who had] lots of good ideas, but nothing that was really commercially viable,” he said. Activision instead acquired RedOctane in 2006.

According to Kotick, Activision believed if they gave the franchise’s development to Neversoft, great games would result. But he said that if they had also gone to Boston to talk to Harmonix, things might have turned out differently, and “it would probably be a profitable opportunity for both of us.”

However, despite all this Activision wants studios to know that they are still in the business of buying out companies and wringing them dry of cash nurturing their creative spirit.

It’s vital for Activision to be “respectful of the independent cultures” of individual developers within a company, he adds. Creating a culture that “fosters independent thought” will result in great games games — although he agrees that it’s not always possible when balanced with the needs of a public company.

“You can’t always do what you’d like to,” he says — but there is a middle ground.

In two deals, ex-Activision execs, perhaps fighting against the creative/financial balance, formed new companies — JAMDAT and Pandemic — both of which were sold to Electronic Arts for large amounts of money. The exec joked, to much mirth in the DICE audience: “We’re a great mother ship… if you want to sell out and move on, there are definitely other companies to talk to.”

Which is to say, Activision has not only  killed the golden goose that is Guitar Hero, they’ve cooked the entrails into a stew, made sausage casings of the intestines, skullfucked the corpse, and sewed Red Octane’s tanned and treated skin into a dress made of the husk of other dead gaming studios.  All of which means that Activision, much like Nosferatu or Buffalo Bill Gumb, needs new blood, stat.

This is terrific news if you own stock in a development studio, as it’s time to get paid!  But for a bloodthirsty industry-destroying mercenary, Bobby Kotick isn’t exactly freewheeling when it comes to buying out companies– after all, this is the same guy declined the chance to buy Blizzard for seven million dollars.  So you’re going to need a good idea before Kotick will bite, and if you can manage to sell a $10 plastic doohickey for sixty bucks more than current MSRP, all the better.

All of which is a convoluted way to incorporate this week’s Wallet Abuse Wednesday gimmick– How Likely Is Bobby Kotick to Buy Out Your Studio Based on This Game?, rated on a scale of 1 to 5 Psycotic Leering Plastic Guitar Koticks (PLPGK’s)

activision_bobby_kotick-480x380-1.jpg picture by bigredcoat let’s begin.

Deca Sports (DS)

When I first glanced at this title in this week’s rundown I was immediately excited as to the prospects of a handheld followup to the seminal Saturn track-and-field game, Decathelete.  Nope, it’s a completely unrelated DS port of an abhorrent Wii minigame collection from 2008.

ScreenShot Image

The timing on this is weird– obviously Hudson is hoping to get some lift from the buzz surrounding the Vancouver Winter Olympics, but why release a summer games cart?  Why not release Bi Sports, place it on a ski slope and force the player to shoot a rifle between every event?  Also you’d get some crossover sales from confused GLBT supporters.

How Likely Is Bobby Kotick to Buy Out Your Studio Based on This Game?

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I like the odds of this, as track-and-field videogames are trending well in the videogames news cycle right now, thanks in large part to 2 of the dozen known Stadium Events NES carts popping up on Ebay last week.  Also, there’s a huge backstock of DDR powerpads lying around that could be easily converted to use for a Track and Field revival.  You wouldn’t even need to upgrade the graphics in the DS game to sell on the PS360, just say that it’s an artistic choice paying homage to the classic style, and boom, 5 million sales at $120 bucks each.  If the Wii guys ask why you’re trying to sell them powerpads when the Wii Balance Board is laying right there just call it a yoga mat and hope they don’t pay attention.  After all, they’re the same people who went and bought a billion copies of Guitar Hero III Wii.

Endless Ocean :  Blue World (Wii)

While the Biathlon teaches us that everything is improved with the inclusion of rifles, the Endless Ocean games taunt us with the knowledge that this game would be approximately a hundred thousand times better with the inclusion of a harpoon gun.  I mean just look at this smug motherfucker

Don’t you just want to put a harpoon in him right now?

I never paid much attention to the first game, but it would appear this version at least is actually an JRPG disguised as Pokemon Snap.  Which is a pretty tricky way to introduce the soccer mom market to higher level gaming concepts. It would be pretty neat to see this same idea incorporated into other mainstream-friendly games, like maybe hiding Ikaruga inside the inventory menu for Madden 11.

How Likely Is Bobby Kotick to Buy Out Your Studio Based on This Game?

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Not bloody likely, as this is produced and published by Nintendo itself.  Also there’s just no way to brodude up the concept of taking pictures of fish enough to make the idea palatable to Activision’s primary market– Maybe you could sell Activision on a game based on throwing dynamite into fish-infested lakes, but the ATF would probably have issues with bundling sticks of TNT for sale at Best Buy, even if you make the blasting cap a separate pre-order bonus.

Heavy Rain (PS3)

Allow me to entertain the thought that, despite last week’s diatribe, Heavy Rain might not suck, and that it may it fact be a good videogame.

After all, I’d be remiss to cite Metacritic scores when discussing something like Aliens vs Predator while ignoring Heavy Rain’s, which at the time of this writing is just a tick under 90% and featuring a passel of perfect scores.  And it’s entirely possible that my beef with Heavy Rain stems from the fact that, as someone who does not yet own a PS3, I cant’ actually play the stupid thing.

But there is a common theme to those review scores– namely, that they hail the game’s story but sidestep the bit where there’s little to no actual game involved.  And that’s not a problem in and of itself, after all we’ve seen time and time before in Metal Gear Solid and Shadow of the Colossus and Resident Evil that a game can do a lousy job of presenting itself as a competent game, but still be a worthy and entertaining videogame.  Also goodness knows we could use better storytelling in games in general.  But I still believe all of us– gamers and developers– would have been happier with Heavy Rain the movie instead of Heavy Rain the videogame.

How Likely Is Bobby Kotick to Buy Out Your Studio Based on This Game?

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While at first glance selling a poorly rendered CGI movie as a $120 videogame is tempting, you run into the issue of finding an appropriate plastic doohickey to bundle the game with.  Maybe you could sell a DVD remote to control Heavy Rain II with, but how far are you willing to push the Wii audience before they realize they’re using a DVD remote instead of their own remote?

Hello Kitty: Birthday Adventures (DS)

At first I was going to say that researching Hello Kitty games scares me because of the very real threat of tripping several FBI search flags, but hen I realized that they make Hello Kitty vibrators personal massagers now, so what the hell.

Turns out it’s Puzzle Bobble.

How Likely Is Bobby Kotick to Buy Out Your Studio Based on This Game?

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Very high.  Nevermind the inherent profitability of repackaging Puzzle Bobble to a world of unsuspecting soccer moms– it’s a scientifically proven fact that you can put a Hello Kitty face on anything and someone out there is going to buy your product.  It doesn’t even have to be a product that’s remotely connected with how your game is played– pack in a dozen Hello Kitty paper napkins and call it Hello  Kitty’s Birthday Adventures Birthday Party pack.

Last Rebellion (PS3)

It’s hard to find concrete information on Last Rebellion, as Nippon Ichi’s own trailer for the game seems more interested in showing off the game’s cutscene art than the actual game, but judging from Destructiod’s 10 minute gameplay slice, it would appear to be a fairly standard JRPG where you fight your enemies via selecting a menu of places on that enemy where you’d like to hit them at and then await the random number generator to do it’s job.  There doesn’t even appear to be separate animations for attacks, just particle effects that randomly appear on the afflicted body parts.

Which is all to say why this thing is on the PS3 and not something that could actually sell to fans of hardcore niche JRPGs, like maybe the 360?  Also its’ 2010 and I just typed out the sentence

Which is all to say why this thing is on the PS3 and not something that could actually sell to fans of hardcore niche JRPGs, like maybe the 360?

How Likely Is Bobby Kotick to Buy Out Your Studio Based on This Game?

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Decidedly low.  Wierd Japanese shit is way outside of Activision’s core competencies,  and the brodude PS3 audience would likely take exception to the fact that the FMV cutscenes rarely actually animate. However, NIS could be acquired for roughly thirty dollars and a bottle of cheap hooch , so maybe Kotick will buy out the parent company if for no other reason than there’s probably money to be made in selling Disgaea-branded vanity pets in World of Warcraft.

Lovely Lisa and Friends (DS)

Remember the part where I said I was afraid of accidentally being placed on an FBI watchlist?  Yeah, fuck you people.  I am not going to run the risk of appearing on Dateline for the sake of Wallet Abuse.

How Likely Is Bobby Kotick to Buy Out Your Studio Based on This Game?

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For all I know, this is already published by Activision, and if it’s not there’s at least an even chance that Bobby Kotick would willingly pay off the developers of said game simply to go away and never be associated with his company.  What I’m trying to say is that this game is the gaming equivalent of an STD, only instead of genital warts everyone involved is sent to federal prison and stabbed to death.

Metal Slug XX (PSP)

Otherwise known as Metal Slug 7, Widescreen Edition.  Which is to say that it’s a very competent Metal Slug game.  Also SNK has decided to leave PSP Go owners for dead, the only way you can download MSXX is to pirate it, which everyone will do anyway.  If you’re one of those weird PSP owners who actually engages in retail media, it’s only twenty bucks, which is quite reasonable and  half the insane amount NIS was trying to ask for that Prinny Metal Slug ripoff everyone also downloaded and stopped playing five minutes later because holy shit Prinny’s too fucking hard.

How Likely Is Bobby Kotick to Buy Out Your Studio Based on This Game?

Zero.  Kotick might be evil and dumb, but he’s not dumb enough to attempt to buy something freely available with a firmware hack and a google search for “metal slug XX torrent”

Pony Friends 2 (Wii)

Things I wonder about Pony Friends 2:

* Was someone already making My Little Pony games and the license not available?

* How hard would it be to reprint Pony Friends 1 discs as Pony Friends 2?  Would anyone notice?  If they did, would they say anything?  It’s not like there’s a pressing need for a Pony Friends 3, it seems like you could just go ahead and burn that market and make an extra couple mil minus the cost of printing new boxes.

* Do little girls who own ponies also play Pony Friends games while riding ponies?  If so, is that perhaps the most perfect event that could possibly happen in one person’s life?

* Are unicorns involved?  If not, why?  Is there a separate Fantasy Pony Friends as to not offend Fundamentalist Christian parents who don’t want to expose their children to magical beasts?

*What the fuck is going on with this game?

How Likely Is Bobby Kotick to Buy Out Your Studio Based on This Game?

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High.  And not because Pony Friends 2 is cheap and easy to sell, but because you can pack in a riding crop with this game and instantly open up a market for people who might be into BDSM but are too afraid to actually visit a sex shop.

Risen (360)

Three things you need to know about Risen for the 360:

1:  The PC version is supposedly quite good

2:  The 360 version is a glitchy, poorly-reviewed mess

3:  Divine Divinity II: Ego Draconis is only $40 brand new right now.  Please do not buy this game.

How Likely Is Bobby Kotick to Buy Out Your Studio Based on This Game?

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With the announcement that Activision passed on the chance to buy Blizzard for a pittance before World of Warcraft set Blizzard’s asking price roughly on par with the GDP of Bolivia, I don’t know that Activision could afford not to buy Risen devs Pluto 13 if they asked to be bought out.  The problem would be finding a way to sell the game for twice the standard MSRP– however, Activision could simply do what they’re doing with Starcraft III and make people buy the game three times before they can play the entire thing.  Since Risen sucks and no one wants to buy it anyway, no one will notice and thus no District Attorneys will catch wind.

Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing (everything)

You ever get one of those friends who you grew up with in high school and it seemed like you were going to be best friends with this person for the rest of your life and you make plans when you get out of school to maybe open a business together and that friend has been with you for so long and you’re so close with them that they seem like your other half?

And then you go off to school and lose contact with that friend for a little while and when you get back it turns out that friend is now a toothless meth addict?  And what’s worse, he won’t have the dignity to just fuck off and die, but keeps trying to clean himself up and every couple months tries to convince everyone he’s got his act together this time if you can just loan him a couple bucks to help him make rent?

Yeah, Sega. It’s sort of like a toothless meth addict friend who won’t fucking die.

Which is why Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing doesn’t particularly piss me off– The Sega I grew up with has been effectively dead ever since the Dreamcast was killed off and Sonic games started appearing on Nintendo consoles– it’s just embarrassing and time-consuming.  I mean, Sega’s been reduced to going hat-in-hand to Microsoft to ask for permission to use something, anything from Microsoft’s Game Studio to make this game more marketable to the 360 crowd, which is how you wind up with Banjo-Kazooie in the title of the 360 version, or how you wind up with a plastic steering wheel in the PS3 version.  It can only be assumed that Nintendo would rather not harm the value of its own intellectual property and that’s why there are no Nintendo-exclusive characters or features.

And it’s not even like you’d rather see the characters used in Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing in their respective games instead.  No one wants to see Ryo Hazuki in a new Shenmue, because we all full well know that post-Dreamcast Sega would fuck it up.  I keep bringing this up, but these are the same guys who fucked up NiGHTS for the Wii.  This is not the Sega you want to trust with a new Jet Set Radio– In fact, if Sega were going to do anything with these characters, you’d almost rather see them in a title like this where they can’t further piss away their respective legacies.  One wishes that Sega and Sonic All-Star Racing would have come along before the tragic mistake that was Golden Axe Beast Rider was released.

As far as the game itself?  It may well be decent, the development team is Sumo Digital; they have a lot of experience in Sega mascot mashups and arcade racers, although the lack of review scores is troubling as the game is supposed to be released… well, today.  But I ask, does it particularly matter if Sonic and Sega All-Stars racing is a good game?  It’s a kart racer.  The market is lousy with perfectly competent kart racers, and the only platform where this would sell well, the Wii, already has a Mario Kart game.

How Likely Is Bobby Kotick to Buy Out Your Studio Based on This Game?

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While one wonders exactly what Activision would want with a kart racer full of Sega characters, it does raise the intriguing question as to what Activision staples could be included in the followup.  Judy Nails vs Ghost from Modern Warfare 2?  Tony Hawk driving a hoverboard version of the Ride skateboard?  It’s too good of an idea not to explore, and you can make the game controllable through one of those cheap RadioShack R/C car remotes with the wheel on the side.

Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s World Championship 2010 Reverse of Arcadia (DS)

I cant’ really discuss this game without addressing the absurdity of the name “Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s World Championship 2010 Reverse of Arcadia”.

Let’s break this down.

Yu-Gi-Oh:  Okay this is fine, provided you can wrap your mind around the idea that it’s 2010 and there’s still enough interest in Yu-Gi-Oh for Konami to still be making videogames about this series and not, say, Contra.  Which brings up something that bugs me about modern children’s franchises– back in the 80’s, the half-life of any given children’s media franchise was about a year and a half.  GI Joe, Transformers, He-Man, MASK, what have you, never lasted very long in their original form, and were usually never rebooted until well after the current kids had grown out of the fad to begin with.  Yeah, a lot of this stuff got revivals in the 2000’s, but we also forget that for the better part of two decades that Transformers was largely forgotten save for a small insane fanbase that refused to move on and was somehow still profitable for Hasbro and Takara to release stuff for.  Meanwhile Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokemon have waxed and waned in popularity, but never really went away, and more amazingly, they seem to keep the exact same age demographic while the kids who grew up with that franchise largely moved on.  The really hardcore Transformer guys never really stopped being Transformer guys, meanwhile the Pokemon guys managed to lead healthy lives unencumbered by childhood fandom.  I don’t know if this some wierd adjunct of the way 80’s kids grew up vs the way 2000’s kids grew up, but I have a feeling that the fact that Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh never went alway also meant that it was impossible for those kids to have a fucked up nostalgic love for their respective franchises– they grew up and saw their younger siblings become infatuated with what they themselves were infatuated with at the same age and realized it was all sort of dumb.  Meanwhile for 20 years the only thing the Transformers guys had was that godawful 80’s movie that they managed to convince themselves was a transformative cultural event.  But I digress.

5D’s: Not quite insane yet, as this somehow does not denote a previous 1-4D’s.  This apparently denotes one of the several Yu-Gi-Oh reboots, this time the main guy drives a virtual motorcycle.

World Championship:  Which denotes that this is a videogame based on the Yu-Gi-Oh 5D’s World Championship but somehow not the real World Championship as this is still a videogame based on the anime, so the World Championship as depicted in the anime.  Okay.  Insane, but not quite yet batshit insane.

2010: Denoting that there were either previous Yu-Gi-Oh 5D’s World Championship games, or that there are planned future World Championship games.  For those keeping track, we are now working within three nested franchises here:  Yu-Gi-Oh, Yu-Gi-Oh 5D’s, and Yu-Gi-Oh 5D’s World Championship.  That is officially batshit insane and it’s quite clear that Konami lost all oversight of the Yu-Gi-Oh division years ago and it’s entirely possible this entire division is operating out of a long forgotten biodome somewhere in Siberia left to its own devices.

Reverse of Arcadia: We have now evolved beyond regular batshit crazy insane and have moved on to the sort of full-on eating-the-flesh-of-still-living-loved-ones insanity that can only be reached by either severe emotional trauma or repeated exposure to experimental psychotropic drugs.  We can now assume that there won’t just be multiple 5D’s World Championship games, but multiple 5D’s World Championship 2010 games.  Also there may or may not be a regular, non-reversed Arcadia game lurking out on the horizon like some mad nightmarish beast of the id.

My my calculations there are now well over five billion permutations inherent in the mind-warping logic that brought us to the point where we see Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s World Championship 2010 Reverse of Arcadia on store shelves.  Well played, Konami.  Historians will be dissecting this series of events for generations to come.
How Likely Is Bobby Kotick to Buy Out Your Studio Based on This Game?

activision_bobby_kotick-480x380-1.jpg picture by bigredcoatactivision_bobby_kotick-480x380-1.jpg picture by bigredcoatactivision_bobby_kotick-480x380-1.jpg picture by bigredcoatactivision_bobby_kotick-480x380-1.jpg picture by bigredcoat

Provided Konami would be willing to let go of the franchise, pretty high.  Collectible card games are evil moneysinks and the added villainy that Kotick could provide to that mix would be too much for him to pass up– Just imagine, not only could he make it so the only way to buy more Yu Gi Oh cards was to buy a box with every Yu Gi Oh videogame sold, but he could use the company’s expertise in developing a Modern Warfare CCG.


Vic Ireland cannot stop LUNAR SILVER STAR HARMONY~!

BAD COMPANY 2 is so brodude it should come packaged with a popped collar

BATTLE OF GIANTS: MUTANT INSECTS is too good of an idea to be on the DS

Posted in Wallet Abuse | 8 Comments »

Darksiders! Buy it! Kinda!

Posted by nfinit on February 20, 2010

Kids, do you like the videogames?

Do you like it when there’s one enormous armored guy who charges at you so you can dodge behind him and hit his exposed flank like a big glowing orange Hit Me button?  Do you like it when you can juggle guys up in the air for half a minute and land on their chest with your sword improbably lodged in their skull?  Do you like breaking random objects and earning experience points for doing so?  Do you like giant glowing treasure chests filled with orbs?  Do you like playing Zelda games but are afraid all the guys on your Modern Warfare clan will call you a pussy if you own a Wii?

Then brother, do I have a videogame for you!


Darksiders!  It’s what I’m playing, and maybe you should be playing it too (provided you can still find it for forty bucks because man this game’s got issues for a $60 game)!

It’s one of those vanishingly few videogames that’s unabashedly videgame-y in every aspect of it’s being.  There’s sword fighting, there’s overwrought dialog, there’s CGI full motion video like it’s 2002, there’s upgrades, there’s collecting heart skull pieces– it’s very much a giant walking videogame trope library, and god bless Vigil Games for making a videogame that makes no pretensions about being anything more than a videogame.

There’s no real story here;  no high-minded concepts like MW2’s infamous “No Russian” level.   There’s no attempt at, doing anything at all new, really.  It doesn’t even attempt to do as much in its own space as Bayonetta does within the realm of 3d brawlers– there’s no attempt at creating a pixel-precise combat mechanic.  It’s very button-mashy, and most of the combat involves throwing people in midair and wailing away on X until everyone involved touches the ground.  There’s just you, your sword, a zelda-like hub world and an absolute shitload of glowing orbs.

untitled-24.jpg picture by bigredcoat

Orbgy: The process of being overwhelmed with glowing orbs

As I touched on earlier though, it’s not perfect.  If you pay full MSRP for Darksiders, you’re probably going to feel a little cheatd.  Because it tries to do so many things at once, it can’t begin to do any one thing very well.  For the same amount of money you can buy something likAssassin’s Creed 2 and get a much deeper experience, if not nearly as broad an experience.  That said, for the price Gamestop was recently asking for it ($40 brand new last week, sadly $60 again this week, although used copies can be found for less than $35), it’s nearly a perfect gaming experience.

Of course, I’m saying this when I’ve only put in maybe four hours into the game, but I’ve already encountered the game directly stealing from paying homage to Devil May Cry, Shadow of the Colossus, Panzer Dragoon Saga and Hulk: Ultimate Destruction.  And all this is wrapped around the fact that you’re basically playing Ocarina of Time in a Warhammer 40k skin.

Which is to say, I’m not sure how well this going to hold up.  Right now I can’t tell if Darksiders is a quality videogame, or if it’s like your junkie uncle who always manages to get himself cleaned up just enough to give a good interview and starts hitting the JD and meth while he’s coming down in the company parking lot.  What I’m saying is, Darksiders feels like it’s barely holding itself together at the best of times, and you’re constantly waiting for that one minor disaster be befall the game and everything starts to unravel.

No man, it's cool; the security guy knows me here

In other news I’m done with Mass Effect 2.   I’m roughly 1/4th of the way through my second play through and that’s probably the quickest I’ve ever been done with a Bioware game since the first hour of Baldur’s Gate. Mass Effect 2 is just plain fucking broken, and in retrospect I’m pretty sure the only reason I put up with it for as long as I did was because I felt some sort of insane loyalty toward the developers and their previous efforts.  If Mass Effect 2 were the first Mass Effect game the series would be as fondly remembered as Advent Rising.

Posted in Sperging about games | 3 Comments »

WAW 2/17/10: Aliens vs Predator; Miles Edgeworth; Peter Molyneux’s Floating Head

Posted by nfinit on February 16, 2010

So Peter “Big Fat Stinky Liar” Molyneux would like us to all be pissed off at Fable 3.

The reason for this don’t lie in the fact that the third installment of the Fable series will likely follow it’s predecessor’s long tradition of broken promises and unfulfilled ambition, nor  that the feared Natal support has been dropped in favor of traditional game pad control.  No, the reason Peter thinks we’ll all be pissed off (his words, mind you) at his upcoming game is that it won’t have an on-screen display.

No health bars, no minimap, no inventory screen.  Just you and the character.  Apparently this is to promote a sense of connection between yourself and your avatar and give you more reason to want to care about the way your character looks and acts.  And for whatever reason Peter thinks this is going to piss everyone off.

Now to be pissed off that there’s no GUI in Fable 3, you have to hold the following two thoughts:

1:  Pretend Dead Space never happened

2:  Pretend that videogame UIs are worth being legitimately pissed off about.  Which is shocking, when you consider the wealth of legitimate things in the world that you should be pissed off at– things such as the state education system of North Carolina pretending United States history didn’t begin until sometime shortly after the Reconstruction.

Or there’s this week’s deplorable list of games– However, not all things are worth getting pissed off about equally.  To explain, I’ve provided a handy scale for exactly how pissed off you should be about the existence of each game in relation to how pissed off you should be that there’s no HUD in Fable 3.  In short, the more creepy Peter Molyneux heads present

The better the game should be.

Ace Attorney Investigations:  Miles Edgeworth (DS)

Players who complained that the previous Ace Attorney games could be solved by randomly pressing menu items will be happy to know that the “life bar” that previously existed only during the prosecution phase of the previous Phoenix Wright games actually now exists during the investigative phase as well, forcing the player to utilize logic while piecing together the evidence for the case.
This also means that bad decisions actively harm your character, possibly making Miles Edgeworth dumber during the process which serves as a convenient parable for political parabola of Sarah Palin.
HOW PISSED OFF ABOUT THIS GAME SHOULD YOU BE IN RELATION TO FABLE 3’S LACK OF A HUD:  You should be way more pissed off that Fable 3 doesn’t have a HUD than you should be about Miles Edgeworth— if you like the Phoenix Wright brand of adventure games, then Miles Edgeworth will be an intriguing, innovative title.  If you don’t, then you don’t play Ace Attorney games anyway and shouldn’t care.

Aliens vs Predator (Xbox 360, PS3, doomed space station)

I’ve always found it interesting how in the entire milieu of things related to the respective Aliens and Predator franchises that only three decent movies could be produced– meanwhile, it seems most games relating to either franchise turn out at least decent.  It’s one of those very few non-gaming concepts that seem like likely candidates for good games and actually manage to deliver on that promise, unlike say, Transformers.  Of course, it’s not like Rebellion is new to the concept of making AvP games, having produced them as far back as the Jaguar.

There’s not many reviews out for AvP2k10 yet, Metacritic only showing 2– One of them, Game Informers, rating a troubling 58%– so it’s hard to get a grasp on the game’s quality.  My concern would be that given this game has three wildly divergent single player campaigns (as well as the requisite muiltiplayer options) that Rebellion won’t deliver a focused, polished single player experience.

All of which highlights the idea that each of the three concepts present int AvP needs its own game.  No matter how good the survival horror aspect in Aliens vs Predator may be; it can never be as good as if Rebellion had dedicated its full resources developing that single idea.  The same holds true for the Predator/stealth portion of the game and the Alien campaign.  None of these three sections can ever be as good as a single, dedicated game.

HOW PISSED OFF ABOUT THIS GAME SHOULD YOU BE IN RELATION TO FABLE 3’S LACK OF A HUD:  Remember, this is the same Rebellion Games that produced Rogue Trooper.  Chances are this game is going to piss you off far more than anything related to Fable 3.

Crime Scene (DS)

Yeah, this isn’t happening.   Do you want me to lead into the clumsy segue or can I just start talking about the Heavy Rain demo now?  Because really:

This thing is Dragon’s Lair, only without charm or good artwork or Daphne’s boobs.
But maybe that’s not being fair to Dragon’s Lair.  Despite the limited amount of interaction you actually had with Dragon’s Lair or Space Ace, in the end it was still a game– if you fucked up there were consequences involved.  Heavy Rain will happily trundle along without any input.  Dragon’s Lair was a Don Bluth animated short broken in order to make it a videogame– Heavy Rain is an abstraction layer away from being a poorly rendered CGI movie.

But barring God of War III and the hypothetical cloud of data representing Gran Turismo 5, Heavy Rain is the Playstation 3’s standout title of the year, so it’ll sell well and since it screams GAMES AS ART from every sweaty, awkward pore, game reviewers will be unable to resist the lure of awarding Heavy Rain good scores.

HOW PISSED OFF ABOUT THIS GAME SHOULD YOU BE IN RELATION TO FABLE 3’S LACK OF A HUD: (Crime Scene Investigations)  No one is ever going to buy this game, so it’s moot point.  However, I’m a firm believer of giving new titles the benefit of the doubt until they’ve proven themselves worthy of contempt.


Chicken Riot (SDTV Shovelware Box)

Developers sometimes like to make it very difficult to find credible information regarding their games; this is all the more true when you’re dealing with studios like City Games who make a living developing Wii and DS shovelware— after all, the more you know about Chicken Riot, the less likely you are to purchase the game.  So in these instances I can only make a value judgment based on the media provided– In Chicken riot’s case:

We may well be dealing with one of the greatest games ever made.


Data East Arcade Classics (Wii, somehow)

Speaking as a guy who has no access to a Wii at the moment, I’d just like to say that the existence of this game makes me hate all of you Mario loving bastards so much.  I mean just look at this:






I mean fuck Microsoft Game Room, why isn’t this entire disc on XBLA right now?  Who do I have to kill and/or engage in sexual gratification with in order to unlock achievement points for busting Karnov in the ‘nads?

HOW PISSED OFF ABOUT THIS GAME SHOULD YOU BE IN RELATION TO FABLE 3’S LACK OF A HUD:  As much as I want this to be a fantastic collection of late 80’s arcade goodness, I hesitate to give Data East Arcade Classics a full five Peter Molyneux Floating Heads, as it’s published by Majesco, and you just know they’ll do something to screw this up.  So I’m removing two Peter Molyneux heads for that, but adding another as Backbone Entertainment has not laid their foul taint upon this disc as they have any number of Sega Xbox Live Arcade titles.

Deadly Premonition (360 exclusive, much like the Red Ring of Death and 20gb hard drives)

So apparently this is a blatant Silent Hill ripoff but with cherubs and trees spouting blood and… stuff.

Also what’s with second-tier Japanese developers  being unable to make 360 games that don’t look like up-rezed PS2 games?

Everything about Deadly Premonition screams cheap and dire, including the sub-budget retail price– $20.  Buying something you full well know is going to be terrible is a deal only if you think playing something 1/3rd as good as a full priced game is a good way to spend your free time.  However, there’s no way Deadly Premonition is half as good as Darksiders, and it’s on sale for $40 brand new at the time of this writing.

HOW PISSED OFF ABOUT THIS GAME SHOULD YOU BE IN RELATION TO FABLE 3’S LACK OF A HUD:  This game just makes me feel dirty, and all 360 owners should be pissed off that we got this and not Silent Hill Shattered Memories.

Dynasty Warriors Strikeforce (PS360)

Summoning interest for this game requires not only that you’ve someone become interested in both the 587th Dynasty Warrior game and what is basically an upscaled port of a PSP game.  I don’t know how you can do that and still look at yourself in the mirror in the morning.

But it does have 4 player multi, so I guess that’s new– to the series, I mean, not the HD console version.  Little information regarding Strikeforce PS360 exists, and judging from the middling-to-awful review scored the PSP original received it’s hard to tell exactly what this port brings to the table aside from a $50 price point.

HOW PISSED OFF ABOUT THIS GAME SHOULD YOU BE IN RELATION TO FABLE 3’S LACK OF A HUD:  I mentioned that this was a PSP game, right?  A PSP game that received a 65% aggregate at Metacritic?  Yeah, this thing shouldn’t’ exist on at least two levels.  Be way pissed.

Korg DS-10 Plus (DS)

Okay so I make fun of a lot of stuff here for only being tangentially “games” but in the case of Korg DS-10 this is specifically not a game.  It is  a music making tool that replicates the Korg MS-10 Synth—  This was first released in 2008, but the Plus version adds twice the number of synth and drum machines.

HOW PISSED OFF ABOUT THIS GAME SHOULD YOU BE IN RELATION TO FABLE 3’S LACK OF A HUD:  Well, it’s not a game, but it’s a non-game on a Nintendo platform, so how mad can you possibly be at that?

Free Running (Wii)

Gameplay video reveals something like a Wii version of Mirror’s Edge, only without policemen shooting at you or combat segments:

Which would mean it’s about 10 time better than Mirror’s Edge itself.

Okay so this is probably godawful, but it’s rather admirably clean and works well within the confines of the Wii’s hardware, even if the main character slides around like his Pumas were slathered in bacon fat.

HOW PISSED OFF ABOUT THIS GAME SHOULD YOU BE IN RELATION TO FABLE 3’S LACK OF A HUD:  Sure Wii owners get a Mirror’s Edge game, but it’s a Mirror’s Edge with some lumpy looking European dude instead of … whatever the name of the chick was in ME.

Ragnarok Online DS (It’s right there in the name!)

While  a handheld version of a PC MMO sounds like a horrible idea doomed to failure, this actually looks more like a Korean MMO version of Phantasy Star Zero, only with 2d sprites instead of clunky DS polys.  Also, bunnygirls:

So it can’t be all that bad.

HOW PISSED OFF ABOUT THIS GAME SHOULD YOU BE IN RELATION TO FABLE 3’S LACK OF A HUD:  I can’t be mad at bunnygirls or 2d sprites, but this game is probably worthless without other people to play with.

PopCap Arcade Hits Volume 2 (somehow not XBLA where it should have stayed)

This is important to the three people in the world who are simultaneously interested in Peggle yet have no online access.  Just be aware that you’re paying twenty bucks for Peggle and two other games you’ll never touch– you can probably get Peggle and two other games you’re actually interested in playing for the same price off Steam or directly off of XBLA.  I wouldn’t’ know, I find the idea of paying money for Flash games appalling.  Also since this isn’t Alchemy I don’t care about it.

HOW PISSED OFF ABOUT THIS GAME SHOULD YOU BE IN RELATION TO FABLE 3’S LACK OF A HUD:  I just said, it’s not Alchemy.  Peggle has  all the skill of a pachinko machine without the charm of being surrounded by chain-smoking Japanese salarymen.


HEAVY RAIN:  Still Terrible!

SEGA SONIC RACING ALLSTARS reminds us all that the 90’s was the worst decade

ENDLESS OCEAN this is going to be the worst week ever

Posted in Wallet Abuse | Leave a Comment »

Bad Controllers: The Jaguar

Posted by nfinit on February 13, 2010

Observant Bigredcoat readers have noticed that I tend to use the Bad Controllers feature to pick on Atari.  There’s a good reason for that– Atari spent nearly thirty years making terrible game consoles and could not once produce a game controller meant for human hands.  Even their lone commercial success, the 2600, requires that you partake in a fair bit of nostalgic wistfulness before you can admit it’s controller wasn’t a catastrophic failure of the understanding of the design of the human wrist.

Now, I like Atari.  I grew up with Atari, and Atari games are what made me fall in love with gaming.  Atari is the gift that keeps on giving, as their commercial exploits– or failure thereof– have provided me hours of easy blog content.  But sadly, the Atari gravy train is nearing its end, as today’s update will explore Atari’s last console and it’s into experimental interrogation techniques disguised as controller design, the Atari Jaguar.
One of the terms that sports writers get to throw around a lot is “historically bad”.  “Historically bad” describes awfulness that goes above and beyond mere failure, awfulness that sticks out in a sea of suck, awfulness that sets the standard for futility for future generations.  The 2003 Detroit Tigers were historically bad, having lost more games than any single team in American League history.  The Carolina Panther’s Chris Weinke was a historically bad quarterback, having lost 17 games in a row and sporting two wins in five years in the NFL.

If any entity within the videogame realm qualifies for historically bad status, then it’s Atari..  We’re talking about the company that all but created the Crash of 1984 and the near-destruction of the console gaming industry; the company that turned away the rights to publish Nintendo’s NES; the company that thought it was a better idea to sit on a warehouse full of completed 7800 consoles for two years instead of actually selling the stupid things– So the infuriating thing about this article is having to admit that Atari very nearly came close to producing something that looked like a good system with the Jaguar.

Now, I don’t mean “good” in terms of hardware– the console itself was a nightmarish amalgamation of half a dozen chipsets running under radically different architectures with no clearly defined CPU– Nor do I mean they did a particularly good job marketing the system, as they forced the “64 bit” thing down everyone’s throat despite not being able to provide a clear case for why the Jaguar was a 64 bit system.  Even the poorly documented development tools provided by Atari seemed designed to thwart any attempt at producing decent games for the system.  Yet despite these flaws– and the overseeing malevolent eye of Jack Tramiel– the Jaguar managed to produce a handful of decent games, something Atari hadn’t managed to do in quite literally decades.

Well okay, maybe two.  But still, this was more decent gaming than Atari had managed to pump out with the 5200 or 7800 or the Lynx, and we’re dealing with a period in gaming history when developers had a wealth of platforms to develop games for.  They’re just lucky that Jeff Minter is more concerned with the benefits of psychotropic drugs than making money off his work.

But maybe it’s a good thing the Jag sported as few compelling games as it did.  After all, if it had any more than Tempest 2k and Aliens vs Predator going for it, we’d have to actually use this  goddamed thing:


The first thing you’re struck by when viewing the Jaguar gamepad is that there’s too many buttons, and nearly all of them are in the wrong place.  This wealth of buttons has its roots back in Atari’s own pre-Crash roots, where plastic overlays were considered important elements of the gaming experience.  More on that later.

The second thing you’re struck by is that despite this embarrassment of buttons, the thing somehow manages to not have nearly enough buttons, or at least enough buttons where they might be of some actual use.  Remember, this was 1994– Games were massively more complex than what could reasonably be played on a 3-button pad and fighting and sports games ruled the market.  Even Sega admitted that the standard Genesis 3-button gamepad simply could not compete with the wealth of input options offered by the SNES and released a superb six-button pad of their own in 1993.  Yet here was the Jaguar sporting all of three action buttons and still Atari wanted to sell the Jaguar as the most advanced games machine ever released.   I mean, maybe this was a workable gamepad for when you just needed to port Final Fight.  Aliens vs Predator?  Not so much.

The Jaguar was one of those weird transitional consoles that popped up between the end of the 16 bit era but before anyone was really interested in upgrading their systems, and in many ways its design reflects how it was stuck between the 16-bit and PlayStation  eras.  It was one of those systems that had an add-on CD player, for instance, back before console developers knew better than to split their userbase in two–

well, before they’d do it again, at any rate.  The design of the controller itself is probably the best reflection of just how caught in time the Jaguar really was– in between not having enough action buttons to faithfully replicate a game of Super Mario World, the designers saw fit to re-introduce a design cue last seen in 1982–

You may remember these systems as being the last consoles released before the entire industry COLLAPSED UPON ITSELF.  Now I don’t want to sit here and blame the entire Crash on  controllers that looked like a Motorola DynaTAC 8000, but you will remember that the very first console to actually make money after the crash went back to two action buttons and a d-pad.  Just saying.  Anyway.  This damned thing.

The idea was that gamers would pop in a plastic overlay over this section of the pad and thus every game developed could sport its own customized controller layout.  Which was fine, until you realize that the keypad was so far away where a normal person would want reach while playing a game that it may as well reside on nether regions of an enraged  gorilla.

The whole point of the overlay is vaguely silly anyway.  If there’s any point in a game where I feel compelled to look down to see what button I’m supposed to be pressing, then you’ve failed as a game designer.  This is why tactile feedback is so important to gamepad design and why the Genesis and SNES pads were rather outstanding– The SNES featured a row of scalloped and convex buttons, whereas the Genesis had a bump on the middle action button.  You always knew where your thumb was resting .

(Sadly this idea was forgotten sometime after the release of the Gamecube pad– to this day I cannot tell you exactly where the face buttons are on any Playstation gamepad, and if prompted by a quick time event I have to look down at the buttons to see where the “X” button is at.)

And then there are the myriad of other, smaller problems with the Jaguar pad.  The D-pad, for instance, is a flat featureless cross inexplicably surrounded by a raised circle that thwart attempts to make simple rolling motions, and the action buttons themselves are amorphous blobs with no analogous shape found in Euclidean geometry.  The shape of the pad is not designed to be held as much as it is engineered to feel like it’s in constant danger of slipping out of your hands.

The baffling thing about the Atari Jaguar gamepad is that Atari would go on to use this same design to develop a very good gamepad, the Atari Pro Controller, representing the only example of Atari ever building a device that did not inflict intense physical punishment upon anyone attempting to interface with it: The Atari Jaguar Pro Controller.

Not only did Atari finally manage to develop a controller meant to be held by a human hand, having excised sloping surface present on the original controller, leaving a nearly flat surface that doesn’t actively try to squirm free from your grasp, and there were enough buttons present that you could wholly ignore the keypad, provided the game you were playing were developed with the Pro Controller in mind.  Which, of course, seeing as the Jaguar itself only sold around 200 thousand units, meant that few games were developed to do so. But hey, if you ever want to play an authentic game of Primal Rage, this is the gamepad you want to have on hand.

Make no mistake, the Atari Jaguar would have been a colossal failure even if it sported the best game pad ever made.  The whole operation was handled in the way the Tramiels always did business– cheaply, and with obvious contempt toward consumers and developers.  Perhaps the greatest legacy of the Jaguar is that it’s failure would represent the final indignity the Tramiel family would be allowed to commit upon the gaming industry.  By the time the Jaguar’s fate became obvious to everyone involved, Sony had so fundamentally changed the business of console gaming that it would be impossible for any company that wasn’t an enormous corporate behemoth to compete– which, when you’re dealing with a family as regressive as the Tramiels, isn’t always a bad thing.

Posted in Bad Controllers, Retro Wankery, Sperging about games | 2 Comments »

Dear Bioware

Posted by nfinit on February 10, 2010

Hey there, it’s me, Mark.

So I’ve played your games lately.  A lot of them.  Between Mass Effect 1, Dragon Age and Mass Effect 2, I’ve probably invested upwards of 300 hours into Bioware games over the past year, and if you guys were to re-release Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire for the 360 with Achievements, I’d probably burn through those again, too.   So when reading this, I want you to understand that it’s coming from the perspective of someone who loves your games and has spent an inordinate amount of time on them.

I know you guys are trying to create legitimate action games.  And that’s great!  Mass Effect 2 is the best Gears of War game I’ve ever played, even if it’s not exactly the best Mass Effect game I’ve ever played, but I’m confident you guys can put the pieces and deliver a Mass Effect 3 that delivers the improvements from ME2 inside something that more closely resembles a functional RPG.

But you guys have two problems.

One, you like to kill people.  A lot. It goes all the way back to that damned homicidal mage you encounter at the start of Baldur’s Gate.  I’m not exactly sure if you’re aware, but fights in your games tend to go one of two ways:  Either a: all the die rolls are perfect and the rest of the fight turns out rather  inconsequential or b: all the die rolls go the wrong way and you die, suddenly, violently, horrifically, and oft without any indication of what caused the horrible fate that befell you and your crew.  Death in your games is swift and brutal on either side– and that’s okay.  If we wanted chessmatches, we’d all be playing.. well, chess.  Or Valkria Chronicles.  Whichever.  But the main thing here is, fights in your games are usually decided very quickly, even on the rare occasions that the fight itself takes a while to play out.  Now this is an issue because of your second problem:

Your load times.  They’re horrendous.  Look, I know you guys employ QA teams and playtesters.  You can’t operate a modern development studio without people to test the scenarios you put forth– hell, we even have reality TV shows dedicated entirely to the QA process.  Well one TV show and it’s on PSN, but you get my point.  Anyway, you have these QA people, presumably you’re paying them money, and presumably they’re telling you that the load times on a typical level for a Bioware game for the 360 takes.




And this is a huge problem when most of the encounters you’ve set up take mere moments to decide.  And if it takes you four, five, six, twenty-seven times to suss out an encounter, the time you spend staring at a load time is substantial.

Wait, substantial isn’t the right word.  Substantial is used to describe something ponderous but ultimately enjoyable.  The A Song of Ice and Fire series is substantial.  A steak dinner at Outback is substantial.  Fallout 3 is substantial.  Staring at a loading screen for thirty seconds a dozen times over while the fight itself only last an average of seven seconds?  That’s not substantial, it’s fucking  frustrating, and you should know better.

(And this is something I”ve never been able to figure out about how you game developers operate; because you’re not alone in this– if I load a room and die five seconds later and re-load that exact same room– that data should still be in resident memory, right?  Why must the entire engine need be reloaded?  I know this isn’t a huge technical hurdle, I play lots of racing games and if you screw up in a racer, you can restart more or less instantly, and a racetrack and a full grid of eight cars uses up a lot more geometry than a 50×50 room with 5 enemies inside, of which there are only two distinct polygonal models.  But I digress.)

And yes, I full well understand that you can dial down the difficulty at any time, but I shouldn’t have to resort to that for a handful of obviously broken encounters.  If anything, dropping down the difficulty level is a crutch for you guys– maybe what’s happened is that your playtesters have come to you guys complaining of this very issue, and your answer has been to simply allow the player to cripple the game until such time as the player gets bored again.  This shouldn’t be the solution.  Fixing the encounter should be the solution.

Look, this will be a huge issue moving forward if you wish to keep up the whole action game hybrid tract with your future games.  The casual folks you’re going to rely on to make The Old Republic viable?  They’re not going to settle for this.  World of Warcraft is difficult at times, but if you die at least you have a good idea of why, and at any rate even high level raid guilds don’t expect full wipes fifteen times in a row.  If you’re going to ape Epic and Infinity Ward in terms of game mechanics, then you need to also see how they craft each individual encounter.

And yeah, Mass Effect 2 is a pretty game and all those textures and particles and gee-gaws take a lot of memory.  I understand that, I even appreciate it.  Mass Effect 2 is a stunningly beautiful game at times.  But if the choice is between an outstanding looking Heavy Mech and not spending an hour of my night staring at a load screen, well– Let’s just say I’d rather not have enough time to have typed this up.

Anyway, keep up the good work and for the love of god re-release Planescape on XBLA.

Love and kisses


Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Wallet Abuse Wednesday 2-10-10: More like Dante’s Infern-blow.

Posted by nfinit on February 9, 2010

Note:  Before I begin, I’d like to point out that apparently in last week’s WAW, I was talking out of my ass in regards to White Knight Chronicles.  As explained to me by Imran of Quick Time Event, where I said:

White Knight Chronicles has an interesting history.  Pushed as Sqeenix’s first big title of (what was then assumed to be) the PS3 hardware era, WKC looked to be SE’s first big post PS2 franchise– and then it was released and got a bad Famitsu score and discussion about WKC fell off the map because it was horrible and sucked and okay maybe it isn’t an interesting history so instead I’ll talk about Mass Effect 2 and how it relates to Final Fantasy 13.

It turns out

WKC is Level 5, published by Sony.
It did get a bad score (7877), but the main reason it fell off the map was because it came out in 2008 and took this long to come here.

Bioshock 2 (PS360)

I’ve already made my disgust for this game clear– simply put, it doesn’t need to exist, it shouldn’t exist, the original game is the very last thing you want to make a franchise out of and it’s all a horrible example of how videogame publishers continue to Miss The Point.

But it also doubles as a good example of how screwed up the entire big studio development process is, and how different it is from virtually ever other media enterprise before it.  Save for a precious few examples that have started to crop up in the indy gaming scene, videogames are largely products of committee.  No one really owns the creative vision for a videogame; all big studio games produced are not visions of their creators, but instead visions of the corporate behemoth that drives funding for said game.  As such, the vision for Bioshock is no longer Ken Levine’s vision– it is instead just another revenue stream from 2k Games, and if they think they can eek even a dollar’s profit off rehashing one of the most original and creative games in recent memory and shoehorning deathmatch into the mix, well.  You wind up with Bioshock 2.

Not that this bastardization holds true for all game developers, mind you.  Shigeru Miyamoto basically runs the entire creative vision for Nintendo, and has done so for many years now.  Will Wright probably had carte blanche over at Electronic Arts, as does Lionhead’s Peter Molyneux and Warren Spector is even being allowed to fuck around with Disney’s creative vision with Epic Mickey.  But these examples are rare.

This is why you hardly ever see a developer listed by name anywhere on a game’s box or in the promotional materials for said game.  If people knew Bioshock 2 wasn’t sharing the same development team as Bioshock 1, they’d probably be scared off.  Meanwhile if you plastered “FROM KEN LEVINE: THE MAN WHO BROUGHT YOU BIOSHOCK 1” on the box of Ken’s next game without mentioning Bioshock 2, that creates problems of its own.

All of which just goes to show why Platinum Games is so freakishly awesome.  I’ll pre-order Vanquish because I know Shinji Mikami (God Hand, Resident Evil 4) and he makes the games I love to play.  Imagine if Hollywood produced movies without ever advertising who the director is, or book publishers refused to list writer’s names on the spine of books.  That’s the situation the gaming industry is in, and Bioshock 2 is the perfect example of why the industry wants to keep it this way.
As far as the actual game Bioshock 2?  It may turn out that it’s distressingly good.  Chris Kohler at is giving it a 9 of 10,Giant Bomb’s Jeff Gerstmann gives it 4/5 stars and it’s currently sitting at a metacritic average of 88%, or roughly on par with Bayonetta.  So.  Um.  I may wind up buying this at some point in the near future.

Dante’s Inferno (PS360)

I was kinda worried that I’d wind up having to buy Dante’s Inferno at some point– after all, while Visceral Games (Dead Rising, Dead Rising Extraction) hasn’t had an original thought climb into their collective heads since the first time they bought a Nickelback CD, they do have a distressing track record of producing excellent videogames.

Fortunately, Dante’s Inferno is sporting a 74% at metacritic, which is on the awful side of average.  If you absolutely must have an overwrought, uncompromisingly derivative western-developed beat-em-up, go buy Darksiders instead.  Also this is happening:

Which is telling, as apparently Dante isn’t a big enough star for RAW and that he’ll probably have to job to the Undertaker.

Scene It?  Twilight (Oh god no)

Yeah, not talking about this.  Instead I’m going to talk about Project Needlemouse Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 1, the latest threat Sega has put forth in regards to the once-beloved Sonic the Hedgehog franchise.

Now normally the thoughts of a true 16 bit, side-scrolling Sonic game would have me interested and perhaps even hopeful– after all, this is one of the things Sega was once good at.  But that Sega is long dead, even though the corpse still shambles on, much like an old doddering grandfather laying in his hospital gurney barely hanging on to life, sometimes gaining a moment of lucidity and recalling a really kickass war story (or developing an Afterburner: Climax) but usually just shitting himself and making everyone in the family uncomfortable and wishing he’d just die already.

What I’m most afraid of is that Sega is basing a 2d Sonic revival entirely on the (supposed) popularity of Mega Man 9 and Retro Gaming Challenge.  If so, Sega’s not getting the point– Mega Man 9 and RCG were beloved because they were bringing back something that had been lost in translation between the simplicity of the NES and the endless, ruthless refinement and polish of the post PS2-era.  We had a fully competent 2d Sonic game as little as five years ago with Sonic Rush for the DS.  Moreover, RCG and MM10 traded heavily in nostalgia.  RGC was a love song for the very early years of the 8 bit NES of the early-to-mid 80’s– Meanwhile MM9 was a revisiting of 1988’s Mega Man 2 and the franchise itself has always been held in high regard by its fans.  Sega has brought Sonic “back” constantly since the release of Sonic Adventure for the Dreamcast and the games have grown progressively worse.  It’s hard to feel nostalgia for something widely regarded as a nuisance.

Shiren the Wanderer (Somehow the Wii?)

I wonder how much it bothers Vic Ireland that Atlus can afford to take a waiver on a Wii translation to a roguelike that didn’t sell very well on the DS when Vic had to bring Working Designs to the brink of insolvency just to get Growlanser Generations out the door.

Also, wtf Atlus, why are you bothering with the Wii translation to a rougelike that didn’t sell very well on the DS?

Star Ocean:  Last Hope International (Ps3 owners increasingly confused at receiving an exclusive JRPG)

Last Hope International sounds like the title to a kickass Warren Ellis graphic novel.  Sadly this is the most interesting thing that could possibly be attached to anything related to Star Ocean.  Moving on.

Super Monkey Ball Step and Roll (Wii)

So apparently this is a party game that used the Wii Balance Board.  I don’t even know how you’re supposed to get that to work, can the Wii talk to more than 1 balance board at a time?  Even supposing it does and you can get 4 people playing at once, you’re looking at a party game that costs upwards of $450 to play correctly.

Anyway, I’m officially done talking about party games.  If publishers want to keep throwing cash into the gaping maw that is the Wii casual market, more power to you.  Those people already own sixty-seven Mario Party games and arent’ interested in what you’re selling.  INstead I want to talk about this goddamned thing:

Which is infuriating for any number of reasons, lest of all this:

Where we see a glimpse into a nightmarish alternate universe where Sega was reduced to sticking rudimentary motion control into an interfact that’s a blatant Wii ripoff in an attempt to sell Genesis sports game in two thousand and ten OH WAIT THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED.

World Cup of Pool (Men staring determinedly at camera for DS game)

I’m going to assume this is an actual, real videogame and not some elaborate prank being played upon us all by, as any attempts to research “World Cup of Pool” results in news for the real-life World Cup of Pool and not the DS game which may or may not exist.  Also GIS’ing for “world cup of pool DS” only resulted in this furtive image:

Which may or may not represent proof of a DS game or maybe it’s in regards to a child predator of some sort.  However, if this does represent an actual screenshot of an actual videogame, it’s sort of a weird thing for the publisher to advertise, as if you’re going to sell real-world pool players you could instead sell, say, Shanelle Loraine.

World Cup, indeed.

World of Outlaws:  Sprint Cars (Your cousin’s brother-in-law who lives alone in a trailer, surrounded by Kasey Kahne merch and an Xbox 360 connected to a 23 inch SDTV; Owns a season pass to Trackpass )

World of Outlaws has always annoyed me in that, in the rest of the civilized world, if you want to watch a bunch of cars sliding around in mud and slamming to each other, you go see rally racing, which is great because there’s a nonzero chance of seeing a Subaru WRX collide head-on at 120mph with a horse that wandered free from its pasture.

Here in the US, you get ridiculously overpowered dune buggies with oversized wings slop around defunct short ovals.  It’s just depressing.  Speaking of depressing, seriously, how the hell is World of Outlaws: Sprint Cars not a Wii game?

If you work at one of the few studios that’s actually making THQ money right now, remember that it’s your work that’s going to feed these guys.


If Rebellion fucks up ALIENS VS PREDATOR I swear I’m going to seal their airlocks and release a xenomorph into their offices

Seriously, how is it fair that DATA EAST ARCADE CLASSICS is a Wii exclusive?  Why do you hate America, Data East?  I thought we were cool.

I’m not sure if I’m qualified to talk about KORG DS-10 and it’s probably not even a game!

Posted in Wallet Abuse | 3 Comments »

Is Mass Effect 2 secretly lame?

Posted by nfinit on February 6, 2010

It’s rare that I have to spend 32 hours with a game before I can figure out if I’m disappointed in it or not, but that’s the situation I face with Mass Effect 2.  What I’m positive though is that in spite of the necessary and welcome changes made in the core gameplay elements in Mass Effect 2 over Mass Effect 1, Mass Effect 2 wound up a worse game than Mass Effect 1.  What I’m not sure yet is if ME2 is actually a bad videogame, or if ME2 is simply bad at what it’s trying to do.

If it seems contradictory that ME2 can make improvements over ME1– to the point that ME1 feels outdated and clunky– yet still be not as good a videogame, let me first explain what I feel ME2 improves on in ME1:


*Combat is just as enjoyable as any “real” 3rd person shooter ever released, including the game it was obviously aping inspired by, Gears of War.  Indeed, in some ways ME2 manages to surpass Gears, mainly in that effectively plays as a fully featured co-op shooter playable by one person.

*All NPC interaction is at a level above anything found in Mass Effect 1.  The Paragon/Renegade interrupt triggers alone make every line of spoken dialog worth listening to, unlike ME1 where you dialed through dialog as quickly as possible just to reach the first plot point.  All party members are interesting, compelling characters that are worth investing time into getting to know, unlike most of ME1’s roster– even returning characters such as Garrus are given an extra layer of depth and you never find yourself with a dud like Kaiden from ME1 or Knight of the Old Republic’s insufferable Carth.

*Outer space exploration is actually exploration this time around and not just hovering a cursor over a radial menu disguised as a galaxy map.  You actually feel like you’re out there charting new territory as you venture forth into the expanse between star systems and the planetary scanning minigame manages to be perversely enjoyable.

*ME2 fixes a lot of the little problems endemic to Bioware RPGs.  Load times are still there (and far too long) but you no longer find situations where you walk into a door and stare at a loading screen for 90 seconds only to load a 20×20 room with a single desk within. Indeed, all the major towns (all three of them) feature perhaps 2 or 3 obvious load delays at most, taking only  a few moments.  Also ME2 breaks up the standard Bioware narrative structure somewhat by throwing you right into the part where you start assembling your team.

Judged by these improvements alone, ME2 would be the best game Bioware had ever released.  Gone are most of the major gripes prevalent in Bioware games (save for one, inventory management,  which we’re about to get to) while the core combat mechanic has evolved into a fully realized 3rd person shooter on par with anything released by Epic or Capcom.  But these weren’t the only changes made, and that’s where ME2 manages to be a lesser product than its originator:


* The Loot Thing. This game doesn’t really have loot.  It has a few blanket upgrades that effect every weapon of a particular type that your party carries, but there’s nothing along the lines of the wealth of loot options that form the heart of every PC-centric RPG to go before it, and one can’t help but imagine this largely stems from Bioware’s habitual inability to provide a decent inventory system.  The first Mass Effect game had an  enormous issue with loot management and loot allocation– For one, while the game provided an extensive upgrade and customization process for your squad’s equipment, it did so in such a way that made managing that inventory clunky and unwieldy– for another, since loot allocation was largely random, you ran into situations such as Tali (the game’s première anti-mech NPC) using armor found 4 hours into the game through the rest of the game, whereas Wrex ( the only tank class worth using) receiving bizarre light-and-medium armor drops long past the point where you’d need him equipped in the best heavy armor you could get your hands on.

*A depressing lack of character customization. This goes hand-in-hand with The Loot Thing, but there’s also a stumbling block present where most of the skills and abilities present in ME1 have been stripped from your ME2 characters.  Now, in many ways this is a good thing– for instance, it was kind of silly to have to spend valuable skill points toward stuff like computer hacking and lock picking.  But it feels like Bioware may have went too far in the other direction– now characters only have four or five skills per character, and all of these are combat related in some way.  There is some customization where you can choose one of two final forms of your character’s power to manifest itself once it’s fully maxed out, but usually this plays out in such a way where you choose for that power to either affect a group of enemies in one shot or simply become a more powerful version of the final skill.  As a result all the characters are equally effective in combat, the only real deciding factor being the sorts of guns they’re better at using and/or if their powers are better at mechs than or organics– since there’s usually a mix of organics and mechs in any given mission you usually run with 1 tech specialized unit and one biotic specialized unit in addition to your main character.

In a way this is nice in that unlike ME1 where you were basically forced to use Wrex if your main character was not combat focused, it also means that the frail, seemingly ineffective Salarian scientist Mordrin is equally effective in combat as the hard-as-nails Space Batman that is Garrus.  Aside from some minor dialog options it doesn’t really feel like any one team member adds anything more to the mix than any other.

*There simply isn’t enough to do. I’m 32 hours into this game and I’m already at the point where I’m padding out the game in order to stave off the trigger event for the point-of-no-return and the start of the endgame.  32 hours into my first ME1 or Dragon Age: Origins playthrough and I wasn’t even near the midpoint of the game.  Hell, not even half my roster was filled out at that point.  However I’m less than five hours away from ending the game at any given point and it’s only a matter of time before I get bored with scanning planets.

The lack of side quests in this game is shocking and without a doubt the most disappointing thing to change from ME1 to ME2.  PC RPGs (and Bioware games in particular) pride themselves on a rich and fully fleshed out universe that, at their best, overshadow the main quest line itself.  In ME2 there is hardly any leeway for stumbling onto optional quests– Sure, there’s an optional loyalty mission for each party member, but half the fun of a PC RPG is dicking around in the game’s universe and stumbling upon a wealth of wholly optional content.  I don’t know if this is due to an effort to focus on the main narrative of the game itself or if Bioware’s new corporate masters didn’t think it wise to allocate blood and treasure toward content that most customers would never bother finding, but it’s a radical departure for the PC RPG genre, and an unwelcome one.

*Also there’s a handful of little things that I would have expected to change from ME1 to ME2 but they never really happened– for instance, there’s still no ship-to-ship combat, despite the puzzling ability to upgrade your ships armor and main cannon.  Then there’s new things that ME2 brings to the table that just seem half-assed and actually detract from the game proper– the pallet swaps for alternate party member costumes comes to mind.

ME1 feels like ME2’s sequel and not the other way around.  Yes, ME2 removes a lot of the extraneous bullshit that’s managed to clump around the PC RPG genre, but it does so in such a way that removes a lot of the quirks and joys that made us love the genre in the first place.  I can only hope that ME3 combines the best elements of the first two games (along with real ship-to-ship combat, I mean what the fuck?) but seeing as how Bioware wants to release ME3 and finish the series in less than 18 months I’m not convinced there will me much room for incorporation of ME1’s features.

Posted in Sperging about games | 3 Comments »

Wallet Abuse Wednesday 2-03-10 OH GOD EVERYTHING SUCKS

Posted by nfinit on February 2, 2010

This week is sort of like the Mondale/Ferraro ticket of videogame retail.  you can’t even charitably call it “uninspired”– It’s more along the lines of “we are contractually obligated to fill up space”.  Much like this week’s WAW.

Family Party: 30 Great Games Winter Fun (Wii)

Let’s say you had twenty bucks and you wanted to fuck around with your kids– well don’t do it by validating D3 Publisher’s horrible, horrible business model.  Also, you need to remember that the kids you impose Family Party upon are the same kids get to pick out your retirement home.  It’s just a bad scene all the way around.
Instead, maybe you should look into getting your kids a Testor’s model kit.  Your child will soon go broke buying paints to complete the kit, and the fumes from the glue should be fun if you want to pull further cruel tricks on your offspring, like fooling them into playing Exitebots.
Imagine:  Reporter (DS)
Or you could, I dunno, encourage the kid toward a rewarding and fulfilling career path and wait a goddamned second this is an Imagine game?  And it’s not encouraging little girls to become a fashion diva or a professional babysitter or something?   What the hell is going on here, Ubisoft?  How far are we from Imagine: Stay At Home Dad?
…not that Imagine: Stay at Home Dad wouldn’t be useful.
White Knight Chronicles (PS3)
White Knight Chronicles has an interesting history.  Pushed as Sqeenix’s first big title of (what was then assumed to be) the PS3 hardware era, WKC looked to be SE’s first big post PS2 franchise– and then it was released and got a bad Famitsu score and discussion about WKC fell off the map because it was horrible and sucked and okay maybe it isn’t an interesting history so instead I’ll talk about Mass Effect 2 and how it relates to Final Fantasy 13.

So I was reading Action’s FF13 review– (you should, too!) and judging from what I read there it struck me that it appeared that both Mass Effect 2 and Final Fantasy 13 were developed with the intention of doing away with all the extraneous cruft surrounding their respective RPG genres and the horrible, horrible divergence those two games took along the way.

Final Fantasy 13 would appear to have removed everything that’s not relating to the core components of JRPGs– However, Squeenix has done this in a sort of way that leaves nothing behind but numbers.  There are apparently no towns in FF13 for instance– instead you buy and sell directly from an in-game menu.  When you hit an enemy you’re exposed to an endless stream of seemingly unrelated numbers that flow forth from your stricken enemy like so much digital gibberish, sort of like what’s happen if you started repeating “competent game design” until the words were reduced to nothing more than an unconnected string of grunts and clicks.  The game itself would appear to play as a long, extraordinarily linear boss rush mode sprinkled here and there with FMV sequences.

This is all rather remarkable as we already know full well what happens when you strip JRPGs of thier baggage and instead leave behind the core strategy game element inherent to all good JRPGs– You wind up with Shining Force.

Mass Effect 2 takes this same basic concept and distills the WRPG formula until you wind up with Gears of War.  I don’t know exactly how that happened, but at least Bioware managed to keep the towns in place.  Much like the original Mass Effect, ME2 is a surprisingly linear affair, with this game taking the extra liberty of making the dungeons themselves distressingly linear and incorporating an ammo mechanic that forces your character to either march forward or run out of bullets–which would be more of an issue if there was actual loot involved.  As it stands all the secret rooms in ME2– as few of them as there are– generally lead to gold and raw materials for the extremely basic crafting game that you use to upgrade your equipment with.

Despite these gripes, ME2 manages to still recognizably be a WRPG in the parts where it matters– side quests and NPC interaction.  And this is where it would appear tha that Final Fantasy 13 fails– ME2 is a WRPG that represents and evolution of its genre.  I’m not entirely sure what FF13’s evolution represents, but I’m pretty sure it’s not enjoyable.


*EA will sell more copies of DANTE’S INFERNO than Sega will Bayonetta but that’s okay because Ferrari still sells fewer cars than Glacier Bay does toilets
*We never asked for BIOSHOCK TWO but by god we’re going to get it anyway
*Somehow SHIREN THE WANDERER is now a Wii game

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