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Microsoft Game Room Sucks; Let’s Fix It.

Posted by nfinit on June 8, 2010

I admit holding unreasonable hopes for Game Room when it was announced.  Microsoft and developer Krome promised the ultimate retro jukebox, a one-stop shop for the entire history of videogames.

The first sign that the hype of Game Room was far removed from reality came with the very first game pack.  No Pitfall!, no Adventure, no River Raid– No compelling 2600 titles at all, truth be told.  There was an odd emphasis placed on Intellivision titles, while the three genuinely good games present among those initial twenty-some-odd games– Tempest, Crystal Castles and Centipede– were broken in degrees ranging from mildly annoying (Tempest) to downright unplayable (Crystal Castles).  What was there was mostly awful and wasn’t was mostly broken.

The Promise of Outlaw 2600...

In the following months Microsoft has done little to sell the concept.  The initial slate of games was followed by a month-long wait for additional titles, with perhaps one or two titles in every additional pack proving enjoyable or even particularly playable.

...meets the horrible, deeply confusing reality

The most recent update to Game Room may in fact prove to be its most troubling, and in the words of Giantbomb.com, “looking back, may be the point where Game Room went off the rails

With every weekly update to Game Room, we were promised seven titles.  This week, the week of the 3rd, we instead received five.  If those five games only one title proved to be compelling, that being Missile Command, it itself being mostly broken thanks to the inefficiencies of the 360 thumbstick as compared to the arcade trackball.

The problems with Game Room may indeed prove to be too great to be fixed without a complete overhaul of the service, but here’s where I’d start:

1:  Expand beyond 2600 and Intellivision.

I’m not saying to stop producing 2600 and Intellivision games for the service entirely.  There are still important games for both systems that we’ve yet to see on Game Room, and they represent an insight to the sort of problems developers had to deal with when working with hardware that was underpowered even for its time period.  But what’s being released right now feels a lot like filler.  The Intellivision is a historical curiosity at best, whereas the 2600 catalog was so bad it nearly destroyed the videogame industry entirely.  Yet every update includes 4 or 5 of these titles.

Maybe Microsoft will never get the rights to emulate the NES on Game Room, but the 5200 existed.  Why have we yet to see any of those games?  The Colecovision was arguably as important and beloved as the Intellivision, if not more, and the MSX code is sitting around not making anyone any money whatsoever.   There’s a lot of room to explore before you get to the Crash, and a lot of this stuff we never heard about– the stuff that Game Room excels at– is nowhere to be found.

2:  Don’t double dip titles.


2b:  If you must double dip, put the good version out first.

The fact that the 2600 port of Millipede was released before the arcade version of Millipede is blatantly cynical cash-grab on Microsoft’s part, a borderline scummy action that will cause fans to hesitate before buying further console ports.  Instead,  include 2600/Intellivision ports when releasing the full arcade original.  Having the 2600 port of Millipede available with full version is a good way to illustrate the compromises made by game developers back before console hardware surpassed arcade hardware, but few people will be interested in buying the 2600 port when the arcade original is available for the same price, and if you release the arcade version later, buyers of the console port just feel ripped off.

(Note that there are some titles where this wouldn’t apply.  During the NES era developers gave up on the idea of trying to convert arcade titles whole cloth, instead rewriting games from the ground up to take advantage of the console market.  So releasing  Bionic Commano arcade separate from Bionic Commando NES makes perfect sense.  Somewhere around the PS1 era the situation actually reversed and the console port became the preferred version.  No one is interested in Tekken 2 arcade when the PS1 game does everything Tekken 2 does and adds more stuff.  But the same idea holds true– release the good version first, and in the case of 2600 ports where the console game is more an approximation of the original, release both at once.)

3:  Optimize controls for the 360 gamepad.

Non-standard arcade controllers– stuff that used paddles or trackballs instead of a joystick– are rendered all but unplayable using the 360 controller.  Crystal Castles is utterly broken on Game Room, whereas getting into high level  Missile Command play may prove literally impossible.

But it also extends to stuff that would be easy to fix if we were simply allowed the ability to fully customize the game’s controls.  As was previously discussed, the Xbox 360’s D-Pad is an awful, awful tool for the purpose of playing videogames, and many 2600 games pay the price for this as non-directional inputs often had to be placed in weird places on the joystick.  For instance, in River Raid one must press down on the joystick to decelerate the plane, upwards to gain speed, with the left/right controls responding differently depending on how fast the plane is going.  With the 360 d-pad it’s almost impossible not to press the diagonal when pressing left/right, resulting in a schizophrenic experience that leaves the player living in mortal fear of moving more than an inch away from the center of the screen, making even the most trivial fuel tank grab…

an exercise in sheer terror.

Now if we were allowed to, say, put accelerate on X and decelerate on A with “fire” mapped to a bumper, this problem is eliminated and you’d have a game that plays as least as well as the original.  Tempest is another good example– far too often it’s easy for the player’s ship to become stuck as the analog movement of the thumbstick no longer tracks correctly within the shape of the tube you’re flying around, resulting in a game that’s difficult if not impossible to partake in high level play using the standard controller.  If instead left/right were mapped to the shoulder triggers you’d accurately replicate the arcade paddle.

This is the sort of rudimentary shit that you expect to see implemented on every single game at Kongregate.com.\ a flagship XBLA product.  Jeff Minter was basically driven (more) insane by Microsoft’s certification process, yet somehow Krome has released five updates for Game Room and in not one of them has Crystal Castles been rendered a playable product.

4:  The arcade interface is a clumsy gimmick; get rid of it.

The “game room” idea of Game Room is interesting enough– A personal arcade that you slowly fill with authentic replicas of the original arcade machines.

The problem becomes evident when you realize most of the stuff released so far in Game Room aren’t arcade machines at all, but rather 2600 and Intellivision titles.  So instead of an arcade machine you get a model of an arcade cabinet with a 2600 glued to it for each individual 2600 game, a setup no one in their right mind would encounter as if you’re a functional adult with a game room you have a couch and a good TV and a box full of Atari games.  Most of these cabinets exist as a contrivance to fill up spots inside the arcade.  Cute yes, but also clunky.

Additionally, a large chunk of the games that existed as arcade titles are Konami games.  For whatever reason Konami refuses to use the original cabinets or the side art — instead there is this jarring generic black cabinet with a tiny marquee displaying the game’s title.  It looks like something someone with a MAME cabinet might cobble up with twenty bucks and three hours of effort.

Probably one of the top five arcade cabinets of all time and several layers of corporate indifference are keeping you from ever seeing it in Game Room.

For the handful of actual arcade titles that make full use of Game Room, it’s a great feature..  Some of this artwork is stunning in its detail and 80’s sci-fi aesthetic.  But for everything else that populates your arcade it’s just a clumsy gimmick that gets in the way of actually accessing the games you want to play.

for that matter, the entire interface for Game Room is clunky and needs an overhaul.  Trying to find the newest games is an onerous chore that’s best done from Major Nelson’s Twitter account.  There are no filters available for when a game first appeared on Game Room, just filters for year of release, platform it was released on, or title.  Also there’s no way to tell at a glance what games you’ve already demo’ed or any kind of rating system for the games you’ve tried but not purchased.  It’s just a dumb and clunky way to operate a list of games that’s already grown as large as it has, and something that will hopefully one day extend to hundreds of titles.

5:  Let Game Room become a museum for all (feasible) games.

If I had to name my one greatest frustration with Game Room– aside from seeing it populated with dreck like Haunted House and Outlaws– Is that it represents a missed opportunity to serve as a virtual history tour of the videogame industry.

By that I mean that there is almost no background provided with the games, at best a perfunctory paragraph or two.  There’s usually no indication of what influenced the developers, or how that title influenced further games, and there’s usually no real information on the developer.  There’s no story presented for these games and how they fit the greater narrative of the industry, and that’s a shame.

This moment in Adventure (and the game Adventure itself) is an important event in the history of videogames on several levels, but with Game Room you never really know why.

There’s a lot Microsoft could do to improve this.  There could be scans of instruction manuals and concept art.  For arcade games they could provide accurate 3d cabinet models.  They could provide streaming video via Xbox Live with developer interviews and the original commercials.

I should be able to look at Adventure for the 2600, play it and then bring up a menu showing that game’s impact on the game industry.  I should be able to sit a friend down and explain to them why something like Missile Command fit into the zeitgeist of the 80’s

Game Room could provide an entire history of the games industry in one easy-to-access package.  Instead we’re given mascots and fluff.  The confluence of events that resulted in Game Room may never be duplicated and the fact that it’s instead used as a vehicle to sell digital knickknacks is irresponsible.

6:  Reach beyond Konami and Atari.

Not saying that this won’t happen, but we’re into our fifth update and we’ve yet to see a single Namco, Capcom, Sega or Tatio game appear on the service.  These are all companies that have released classic titles for Xbox Live Arcade, so it’s not like they’re reluctant to work with Microsoft in this arena.  Sure, we’re probably never going see a Nintendo game or even a NES title, but there’s plenty of stuff that these companies have in their back catalog that does nothing but fill space on compilation discs.

Apparently Midway thought Defender was worth more money as a MAME rom than as a Game Room title. Observant readers will note that Midway is currently in Chapter 11.

If it’s a matter of price, then that’s workable.  It was never possible to get Namco to agree that Dig Dug should have price parity with 2600 games.  We need pricing tiers;  there’s simply no way to defend the idea that Outlaws (a game that has no single player component at all)  should be sold for the same price as Millipede.

7:  Address the broken games.

One of the unspoken secrets of Game Room is how many games don’t actually work within the service at all.  Take Combat for the 2600 for instance.  Combat never had a single-player component.  It was one tank (or plane, or jet fighter) vs another in brutal, one-on-one… combat.  The 2600 probably wasn’t even capable of producing a compelling opponent AI even if the designers had wanted.  As Game Room games are as authentically reproduced as possible (or, a someone of a more cynical bent may assume, cheaply reproduced as possible) the Game Room version of 2600 features no enemy AI either.

Before Call of Duty re-introduced us to the idea that single player campaigns don't really matter, there was Combat. Also Jimmy Carter was President and we were still making the Trans-Am. Overall it was just a better time to be alive.

Now, this is not unusual for 360 games, some are simply meant to be played online.  The problem is that Game Room  games can’t be played online.  You can have a second player with a second 360 controller join in on your 360 sure, but this is going to be a rare occurrence, and for most users Combat is broken and unplayable.

The other solution is to stop trying to sell this game at the same price as the most compelling and fully featured games on the service.  This philosophy can be extended to games that may fit within the feature set of Game Room but are of obviously inferior quality.  Don’t try to tell us that Grand Prix is on the same threshold of quality as Tempest.  Grand Prix doesn’t keep score and thus lacks the Ranked Mode feature that makes Game Room games inherently replayable.  Grand Prix, Combat, Outlaws, Skiing and other titles are obviously broken on the service and either need to be fixed (not likely considering Krome’s lack of effort exhibited so far) or simply not try to sell form for the same three dollars asked for River Raid and Tempest.

8:  Make all previously released XBLA arcade games Game Room games.

Xbox Live Arcade was an outstanding retro jukebox even before Game Room was introduced.  You can play everything from Rally X to Puzzle Fighter to Outrun 2 without ever turning off your system.  If anything, the arcade content on Xbox Live Arcade is more compelling than anything released for Game Room and serves as a much more useful history of the gaming industry.  The only problem is, none of those games are integrated to the Game Room.  Would it be all that difficult to simply plug Mortal Kombat into the service?  Retro fans would probably be willing to pay a couple dollars for the arcade cabinet and an integrated Ranked Mode– plus once they’re inside Game Room they may be willing to buy more Game Room games.

This argument becomes even more compelling when you realize that a great many previously released XBLA retro titles have been pulled from the service entirely due to low sales.  The work of getting Rally X onto XBLA has already been provided, the arcade boards perfectly emulated within the 360.  With that done, Game Room integration should be a trivial matter. I could be wrong, but how much more could this possibly cost, especially as this code is not making anyone any money whatsoever?

I'm posting this image to remind you all that one day Pac-Man 2600 will be released for Game Room when you could be playing this instead.

In closing, I’d like to state that it’s painfully obvious that Krome and Microsoft want to get away with the least amount of effort possible in Game Room while still monetizing the experience at every turn.  The company is more interested in selling mascots than in producing a compelling product.  As it stands there is nothing in Game Room that isn’t better served within any number of complication discs you can find most (if not all)  of these titles collected within, and the only compelling feature of the service– The ranked mode which allows for online challenges and achievement tracking– isn’t functional within a great many of the games within the service.

There is nothing wrong with Game Room that isn’t a direct reflection of Krome’s lack of effort in producing content for the service.  It’s fixable; it’s just that we’ve yet to see any indication in the past two months that Krome has the ability or wherewithal to do so.

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Posted in Retro Wankery, Sperging about games | 4 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!

I said METAL AS ALL FUCK

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 »

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.

https://i0.wp.com/www.breakfrom.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2008/04/jaguar.jpg
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:

https://i2.wp.com/img.villagephotos.com/p/2008-2/1299319/JAGUAR7.JPG

**

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–

https://i2.wp.com/i637.photobucket.com/albums/uu99/bigredcoat/220px-Atari5200controller.jpg https://i0.wp.com/i637.photobucket.com/albums/uu99/bigredcoat/intellivision2.jpghttps://i1.wp.com/i637.photobucket.com/albums/uu99/bigredcoat/ColecoVision-cvproto.jpg

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.

https://i0.wp.com/i637.photobucket.com/albums/uu99/bigredcoat/3560549854_840d8e2ca5.jpg

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.

https://i2.wp.com/i637.photobucket.com/albums/uu99/bigredcoat/Jaguar_Controller_540x312.jpg

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 »

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:

WAYS IN WHICH MASS EFFECT 2 MIGHT BE A GOOD GAME

*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:

WHY MASS EFFECT 2 MIGHT ACTUALLY SUCK

* 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.

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Mass Effect 2: The First Eight Hours

Posted by nfinit on January 31, 2010

So this is later than sorority girl a month after coming home from Cancun, but due to work kicking my ass up and down 5th avenue in midtown Manhattan this week I’ve not had the time to sit down for some quality time with any games, and I knew Mass Effect 2 was going to be one of those games that I wouldn’t fully enjoy if I didn’t have a good long stretch to sit down in front of and veg out before while absently eating Pringles.  So after most of a Saturday devoted to saving the galaxy in as surly an anti-social way as possible.  So while I wait for my eyes to re-assemble themselves into something more closely resembling spheres and for my body to overcome the toxic shock I tried to induce up on it by eating dried potato crisps for three straight meals, here are some quick and dirty thoughts on Mass Effect 2:

*Remember how I was saying in last week’s Wallet Abuse Wednesday that there’s a pattern all post-Knights of the Old Republic Bioware games follow?  Well, ME2 nicely breaks that pattern by removing all the preliminary bullshit and throws you right into the “gather your party” stage that everyone enjoys anyway.  Sure there’s an introductory sequence where you’re re-introduced to the controls and the game world and given some vague idea of what you’re doing, but it lasts maybe an hour at the most before you’re sent out to fend for yourself.

*speaking of stripping away extraneous bullshit, Bioware has managed to create a WRPG with no loot.  Well, I mean, I assume there’s no loot– I’m eight hours in and I’ve not seen a single weapon or armor drop, and all the upgrades come in the form of blueprints that are automatically downloaded to your ship’s database and applied to all your weapons at once.  The nearest thing the game has to loot are caches of credits and rare metals scattered through levels which you use to make new weapons and buy upgrades.  I must say, it all feels rather liberating, as if there’s one thing Bioware has never been good it, its inventory management and easily the worst part of Mass Effect 1 was dealing with the storm of useless junk  that would pour in from hacked wallsafes and dead Krogan warlords.  However, it does feel odd to play a RPG where the only loot drops are ammo clips, which bring us to–

*Basically, this is an 80+ hour game of Gears of War.  You would be hard pressed to find any vestige of turn-based WRPG combat in ME2– You can pause the game to swap weapons an access your special abilities, but you can map most of these to controller buttons and use them on the fly anyway.  Outside of hit points I’m not even sure if this game has any stats.

*In light of all this, I’m not even quite sure if ME2 qualifies as an RPG.  I’m not saying this is a bad thing– the combat parts of ME2 are fun, the galaxy exploration parts are good, and the NPC interaction is as excellent as it ever is in a Bioware game.  But if you define RPGs by combat or stats or loot… well, then ME2 isn’t an RPG.   If you instead define an RPG by all the other stuff WRPGs bring to the table– exploration, NPC interaction, decisions made by your character and a metric fuckton of sidequests, then it’s very much a traditional WRPG.

*This game is seriously pretty.  It’s gorgeous.  There’s still some texture pop in during dialog sequences, but it’s been exorcised from combat and some vistas the game presents are reminiscent of Josh Harris’ sci-fi book covers.  It’s stunning, and very un-Bioware like.

*Mass Effect games could greatly benefit from at least one more party member slot.  I’ve only uncovered 3 extra party members aside from the 2 you start of with and already I’m fairly sure I have the party I want to keep with me through the rest of this playthrough.  For that matter, Mass Effect 2 really needed to keep Dragon Age: Origin’s party member system where you had four party members and could switch between all members at will.  We could have had the first ever example of a Gears of War-style co-op shooter fully accessible by a single player.

*As we saw in Dragon Age: Origins, Bioware’s new EA-mandated advertisement campaign did nothing for Mass Effect 2.  Is ME2 dudebro?  Mabye a little, but no dudebro is going to sit through 80 hours of a single player, dialog-heavy game.  If MAss Effect 2’s barrage of TV ads during the NFL playoffs turned you off the game, don’t worry.  All the stuff you loved from ME1 is there, with all the crap you hated stripped out.

*Tycho from Penny Arcade tried to compare the change in Mass Effect 2 to the changes in Dues Ex to Dues Ex 2, but its not really comparable– Deus Ex was a classic that just needed a few tweaks, most of them graphical.  The one thing it didn’t need was modernization as it was already the most modern attempt at a WRPG made up to that point.  What Dues Ex 2 did instead was strip the game down to it’s FPS core, simplify what was there until it could fit onto an XBox 1 gamepad, and then shipped it out the door.  ME2 takes all the stuff no one really liked from Mass Effect 1– Inventory management, MAKO driving missions, Ashley/Kaiden, and throws them out the door, leaving behind a streamlined, modern action WRPG that manages to merge the very best parts of its component genres without insulting fans of either– which is the exact opposite of what Deus Ex 2 did.

Closing thought:  Between the two games, w now have something over 100 combined hours of Mass Effect content– that’s a rather conservative estimate that doesn’t take into account multiple good/evil playthroughs and sidequests– point is, Mass Effect is now a bona-fide sci-fi franchise, with more combined content than the entire run of Firefly + Serenity, or all official Star Wars movies, or even the entire run of Battlestar Galatcia.  So my question is, how much further does ME need to go before it can spawn a fandom?  Between the two games it has a fully realized universe– the only problem  I can see that keeps ME from being as legitimate as any given sci-fi franchise short of Trek is that there’s no official narrative.   And Mass Effect has the added benefit of still being current.   There will assuredly be a third Mass Effect game, and likely even a Mass Effect movie at some point.  Mass Effect may well be the most relevant sci-fi currently available.

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Authenticating the Xbox Game Room Experience

Posted by nfinit on January 24, 2010

Save for a brief dalliance with online Street Fighter IV, I’ve managed to avoid the siren’s call of Xbox Live Arcade Gold membership.

Paying for online service seems a punitive and regressive tact for Microsoft to take as compared to the fully functional free services offered by Sony (and to a lesser extent, Nintendo) and the fluff services that Microsoft has tried to attach to Live Gold (Twitter, Facebook, Last FM) have yet to entice me as these services work perfectly well for free on the regular ol’ Internet.

So I’m a fairly satisfied second-class Xbox 360 owner, and I’d be hard pressed to think of a service which would sway my opinion and warrant another $50/year bill to my credit card– Well, I mean, unless Microsoft had a plan to create your own arcade space within Live using retro arcade games where your friends could come and visit then yeah, I’d probably have to break down and buy Live Gold for that.

(via Kotaku)

(via Destructoid)

(via Giant Bomb)

…motherfucker

However, Microsoft being Microsoft, I’m concerned that they may push the ideal of the arcade over the reality of the arcade– namely,a bright, safe, clean, a place you don’t dread walking into, nothing of which represented the actual authentic arcade experience.  And I think a lot of reason for that is that most gamers haven’t actually been inside an arcade.  They went out of business!  Arcades were dank, dismal places that probably did more harm than good to the gaming industry and it’s no mistake that as soon as home consoles could convincingly replicate Tekken without need for specialized hardware that the arcade industry in America died virtually overnight.

So if we’re going to do this right, I want my arcade experience to authentically replicate the arcade as I knew it personally, if perhaps for no other reason than for my arcade to serve as a lesson for generations to come:

Clifford

Possessing no discernable form of income, no car of his own, nor any detectable identity away from the immediate confines of the mall arcade, and likely operating under a variety of illegal narcotics, Clifford exists for one reason and one reason alone– to defeat you at Street Fighter.  Clifford is an implacable arcade game playing machine, laying waste to all in his path, issuing mocking dismissals to his opponents even as his quarters fall into the catch box.

If Clifford were to direct his natural game-playing skills toward something useful instead of mastering Guile’s seven hit corner handcuff combo he could have become one of the great chess grand champions, or world-famous poker player. As it stands he uses a mixture of phenomenal natural talents and a drug-induced haze to make sure you won’t spend more than two minutes at any given Street Fighter cabinet before slinking off to a nice safe game of Fatal Fury Special.


Phillip

The straight-laced, methodical Ryu to Clifford’s cocky and overbearing Ken; Phillip may seem a nice fellow with a good-paying job (despite also seemingly never leaving the arcade) and a bright future ahead of him– but make no mistake about it, Phillip also exists entirely to take your hard-earned tokens away from your pockets, denying you even the visceral thrill of Clifford’s elaborate, flashy 27-second long air juggles as he executes an endless, demoralizing, boring secession of three-hit Jumping Fierce-> Crouching Jab-> Fierce Fireball combos.

Possessing no discernable personality of his own, Phillip eschews Clifford’s opiate-induced zen state for a mixture of his own superb skills and an obsessive amount of research to stifle his foes.  Phillip will peruse messageboards, usenet, YouTube, ancient Assyrian texts, anything at his disposal in order to gain an advantage, all to perfect the exact frame of animation where Ryu’s first pixel of fist interacts with Chun Li’s hitbox.

Battles between Phillip and Clifford often take hours to complete and are fully capable of depleting the gold reserves of developing nations.  These conflicts will usually end with Phillip issuing grudging respect toward Clifford’s abilities while Clifford will ask for a ride to a friend he knows who “owes him some money”.

That One Awesome Machine That’s Always Broken

Maybe it’s a deluxe Galaxy Force machine with full rotating cockpit, a Capcom Dungeons and Dragons arcade machine, or  a two person Tokyo Wars booth, but whatever it is it’s by far the coolest machine in the entire arcade and it’s always broken.  Maybe you’ve heard about another machine like it in a Chuck E Cheese three towns away, but the one time you drove out there to lay witness to a fully functional version of That One Awesome Machine That’s Always Broken you found a barren lot overrun by wild marsupials and vagrants.  You’ve never actually managed to play That One Awesome Machine That’s Always Broken yourself, but you’re sure that if you were to experience but a credit’s play on the machine that you could die a happy man.

On the rare occasions where you’ve actually seen it operational That One Awesome Machine That’s Always Broken is almost always being surrounded by….

Foundlings

You don’t know how they got there and no one will take responsibility for the little bastards, but they’re invariably all over the place, under foot, slamming violently on buttons to machines they don’t have quarters to play, waving their hands between you and the screen, begging for quarters, screaming with the staff over the crane machine, asking if anyone has seen their dad, running cover for their friend who’s being chased by a liquid metal assassin robot from the future, breaking the Galaxy Force cabinet again… And the worst bit is how you’re utterly powerless against these little brats as you just know if you ask the kid if he’d mind moving out-of-the-way so you can play some Captain Commando that his meth-riddled mom who’s been using the mall as her own personal daycare will materialize to knee you mercilessly in the crotch.

Dropping off the kids at the arcade was a classic late 80’s/early 90’s white trash child rearing technique and one wonders where these mothers abandoned  their children once the arcades began closing their doors.  It’s interesting to note that this dovetails nicely with the rise of the homeschooling phenomenon in the United States– Could it be that the collapse of the American arcade industry left millions of mothers with little option but to force their kids to stay at home?  Would America be facing its current public education crisis if Daytona USA had never been developed?  Most importantly, are we raising an entire generation of children lacking an instinctual smooth crouching roundhouse into a double fireball?

A Row of Daytona USA Machines


As much as I love Sega of yore, I have to wonder exactly how much the success of Daytona USA played into the eventual downfall of the arcade.  Sure, most people like to point fingers to the proliferation of fighting games, but it always seemed to me that the Daytona USA machine– while undoubtably popular– took up most of the oxygen for the casual arcade fan.  How many times would someone pop into the arcade, see the Dayona USA machine in use, only to walk back out again without dropping a single token in an NBA Jam machine?

I contend that the success of Daytona USA forced arcade operators to stuff their arcades with ever more elaborate Daytona USA setups, eventually forcing operators to spend tens of thousands of dollars on multiple four-player cabinet setups– which in itself set up an arms race between arcade developers to release the most eye-cacthing, stupidly expensive, space-hogging arcade cabinets imaginable, culminating in Dance Dance Revolution and the spectacle of thousands of obese pasty geeks sweating profusely as they attempt a sadistic form of digital Riverdance.

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DO NOT WANT: Digital Swag

Posted by nfinit on January 22, 2010

Remember when you used to actually get stuff for your pre-order?

Okay, sure, it was terrible stuff, like a sub-Fruit of the Loom-quality T that turned everything in your wash the same color as the shirt itself, or a 20-page soft-cover “art book” with paper stock on par with Game Informer magazine, or a messenger bag of such appalling quality that you could leave it behind on the N-W from Queens to Brooklyn and find it waiting for you the next day, but at least you got some tangible, physical object in return for lending GameStop fifty US dollars interest-free.  Nowadays we get digital pre-order swag– Weapons or armor or levels often unique to the location at which you registered your pre-order.

Not only are these awful in that we’re basically receiving nothing at all in return for our pre-order dollars– thus exchanging physical t-shirts for virtual t-shirts– they’re also awful in that it’s since become impossible to buy the full version of many games without registering a pre-order at a specific retailer.  Batman: Arkham Asylum was probably the worst offender in recent memory, having featured exclusive challenge maps for pre-orders placed at GameStop, shutting you out of content if you chose to wait until release to buy Arkham Asylum– Basically placing an entire swath of game hostage, forcing gamers to choose between waiting for a review score or playing the entire game.  Luckily Arkham Asylum is a fine gaming experience, but it’s not exactly the sort of thing that engenders good will.

Of course, publishers being the utter bastards that they are have started offering dueling exclusive pre-order content for specific retailers.  Activision’s upcoming Blur, for instance, offers a multiplayer mode exclusive for pre-orders placed at GameStop; whereas Best Buy gets an exclusive car.  Meaning it’s not only impossible to own the full version of a game if you don’t pre-order, you’re screwed over unless you’re willing to pay for multiple versions of the same game.

(While we’re on this subject, you notice how nicely GameStop comes out in all these pre-order bonuses?  Exclusive maps for Arkham, exclusive player modes in Blur, quest lines in Red Dead Redemption and early access to the Squad Rush mode on Bad Company 2?  Publishers push developers to make exclusive content for GameStop despite these same developers bellyaching that GameStop’s used game sales are cutting the collective purse strings of the gaming industry.  IT’s hard to take this complaint seriously when these publishers are all too willing to create incentives to get people into GameStop– and why aren’t the publishers asking for a cut of this pre-order money to begin with?)

Then there’s the particular institution of in-game pre-order swag, whether it be in the form of weapons or armor or power-ups.  These items are often in no way balanced for the game they’re introduced into, as a result you wind up receiving bonus items that actively make the game less enjoyable.  Take for instance the game-breaking Blood Armor pre-order bonus for Dragon Age– a particularly insidious form of unbalanced armor that actually acts as a virus that further infects your Mass Effect 2 save:

So publishers, developers, retailers– heed our plea.  Give us back our artbooks.  Yeah, they’re less lucrative than lines of code, but no one likes the practice of pre-ordering anyway, and holding content hostage isn’t an acceptable answer.  If you insist on doing this, at least make the content available for download after the game’s release.  After all, right now you’re writing code that’s not making money for anyone the very moment the ship date breaks.

(as an aside, when culling pictures for this update I realized that the art of the physical pre-order bonus is alive and well for Japanese games and the entire digital pre-order bonus tred may be localized to Western-developed games.  Take for instance the fantastic art cards collection available for pre-orders of Muramasa for the Wii:

Or this fantastic array of useless crap Atlus put together for Gamespot’s Game of the Year 2009, Demon’s Souls:

Or this artbook/slipcover set for the European version of Bayonetta, those fucking amazing bastards:

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Fast Draw Showdown: Further proof against a kind and loving god

Posted by nfinit on January 1, 2010

So let’s say we were to make a game that combined the absolute worst things about the Nintendo Wii and the year 1990.  What would we come up with?

The Simpons Sing the Blues Pop’n Music expansion disc?
Super Punch Out 2:  James “Buster” Douglass Knockout Boxing 3 ?
A Virtual Console release of a Mad Dog McCree ripoff dating from 1994?  DING DING DING!

Really?  The Wii gives us the potential for a light gun renaissance and this is what developers give us?  Fast Draw Showdown and a castrated versions of HD games no one wants to play because Wii owners saw all thier friends playing the grown-up version a year before?

House of the Dead: Overkill had given me high hopes for the future of lightgun games on the Wii, but it seems we’re stuck with crap like this.  What, did they feel like Lethal Enforcers was too lowbrow for the Wii audience?

Best not to give anyone any bad ideas, though, as Lethal Enforcers was also a lousy lightgun game and it’s quite honestly shocking that Midway hasn’t already sold the rights to the franchise.
There’s plenty of deserving lightgun games that have been left laying fallow that badly need at least need a re-release on Virtual Console, if not a full-on WiiWare remake.
1:  Lucky n’ Wild
In all honestly I could end this post with this entry and sum up my gripes with the state of lightgun games with this sentence:  Why can I not play Lucky n’ Wild right now?  It’s the perfect Wii game!  It’s multiplayer, its arcadey, it combines racing and lightgun shooting, and it’s so old no one will really mind playing it on Wii graphics instead of on a high-def system.   Plus, it’s full of that old 80’s action schlock that everyone finds hilarious nowadays.
Here’s what I don’t get– Namco is remaking Splatterhouse.  No one has ever cared about Splatterhouse and yet Namco went and made three of the damned things back in the 16 bit era.  No one’s going to care about it in 2010, it’s going to be released on the PS360 and it’s going to be forgotten because we don’t care about Survival Horror anymore unless it’s Resident Evil, and even then you have to trick us into playing Gears of War Zombie Edition.  Lucky n’ Wild is basically made for the West.  It has cops, guns and cars!  This is everything we love!  If Lucky n’ Wild was a movie then we’d already have the 00’s remake sequel starring Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone.
2:  Gunblade NY
Speaking of things that go great with guns, Gunblade NY combines guns, helicopters, and New York City!  Admittedly, most of the appeal of Gunblade NY (and it’s sequel, LA Machineguns) was the enormous, hulking mounted lightguns replete with shoulder-jarring recoil, but it’s still a great concept that could easily be ported to the Wii, and since it was an arcade game, the game itself would be tiny enough to be sold via digital distribution.
There is some small amount of hope for Sega lightgun games, however.  House of the Dead:  Overkill sold to Sega’s liking, and it’s developer, Headstrong Games, have said they’d love to take a crack at Virtua Cop next.  So maybe a visit to Sega’s lesser-known Model 2 lightgun franchise isn’t out of the question.
3:  Terminator 2:  Judgement Day
This will probably never see the light of day simply due to licensing issues, but let’s be honest.  There’s exactly three decent things to come about from the entire Terminator franchise:
1:  Terminator 2
2:  Terminator 1
3:  This game.
Terminator 2: Judgement day was also remarkable in that it’s one of the very few examples of 90’s digitized graphics that don’t serve to detract from the game in a modern setting, which for Williams/Midway is no mean feat– those guys had a bad habit of just wrapping the barest premise around some greenscreened actors and calling it a day.  Not so for T2, it’s legitimately a classic arcade title in its own right, mechanized Austrians or not.  In fact, I’d go as far as to say that in terms of pure gameplay, Terminator 2:  Judgement Day was the best game to ever utilize digitized graphics.
4:  Mechanized Attack
For some people, the 80’s were about The A-Team and Family Ties and other brain-melting television drivel.  Others joined wierdass cults devoted to writing large checks to guys like Jim Bakker and decrying Dungeons and Dragons.  Other people spent a lot of quality time eroding their sinus cavities with cocaine.  For me, the decade was defined by dropping my weekly allowance at the mall arcade shooting down missile barrages fired by Russian nuclear submarines using an Uzi.
Or alternately fighting off entire Russian tank batallions using an Uzi.
Also testing my skill shooting boxes.  Using an Uzi.
The 80’s:  The Uzi decade.
I was originally going to put the far superior Operation: Wolf in this spot until I learned that Operation: Wolf is actually on the Virtual Console right now, albeit the NES version which hardly counts.
A single lunatic armed with an automatic rifle defeating the entire Russian army is a timeless theme, and it’s one that should be revisited now that Vladiamir Putin has started to lift plot ideas from James Bond movies and is threatening to divert harmless asteroids into Earth’s orbit.  Isn’t it about time we started killing Russians again?
5:  Silent Scope
A home conversion of Silent Scope was attempted on the Playstation 2, but it didn’t work because the entire point of Silent Scope was the scope, or rather the hectic gameplay element of trying to pick out tiny, highly hostile targets using your scope against the background of a larger, seemingly harmless city.  But it’s 2010, we’ve got cheap, tiny color LCDs on everything nowadays, surely we can find a way to mount one inside a gun stock holding a Wiimote.

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Okay so one more Bioware post

Posted by nfinit on December 27, 2009

So Destructoid’s Anthony Burch somehow managed to trick Bioware head honchos Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk into answering real, substantial questions regarding the games industry, particularly their views on the downfall in popularity of Japanese role-playing games in the wake of the current console generation.  Their answers, while more or less correct, were kinda weird coming out of Bioware.  I’ll explain.  First quote:
“The fall of the JRPG in large part is due to a lack of evolution, a lack of progression,” Zeschuk said. “They kept delivering the same thing over and over. They make the dressing better, they look prettier, but it’s still the same experience.
Greg Zeschuk is entirely correct here.  The fundamental Japanese RPG experience hasn’t evolved terrible much since the height of the 16 bit days.  It’s very much mired in traditional expectations, and as a result it’s grown stagnant despite the best efforts of standout titles like Persona 4 and The World Ends With You.
That said, it’s an odd opinion coming out of Bioware, who’ve basically been remaking Knights of the Old Republic for the better part of a decade.  I’m not saying the KOTOR formula doesn’t make for good games, obviously it does or Bioware wouldn’t have stuck with it all this time, but the whole open-world-but-it’s-not-really-points-on-a-map formula really needs an overhaul with Jade Empire 2 or whatever it is they wind up working on after Mass Effect 2.  And as far as JRPGs focusing on window dressing, it’s hard for Bioware to say this with a straight face when you’re spending the GNP of Uruguay on voice talent for Mass Effect 2.
And not for nothing?  Dragon Age and Mass Effect 1 were kinda hideous.  It’s 2010, you might wanna start looking at hiring some texture artists.  Unless it turns out Micheal Dorn is pretty good at drawing realistic faces for 3d models, maybe you ought not to be spending that money on Worf.
Okay, second quote:
“My favorite thing, it’s funny when you still see it, but the joke of some of the dialogue systems where it asks, ‘do you wanna do this or this,’ and you say no. ‘Do you wanna do this or this?’ No. ‘Do you wanna do this or this?’ No. Lemme think — you want me to say ‘yes.’ And that, unfortunately, really characterized the JRPG.”

It’s always been my major complaint about JRPGs that they’re not really role-playing games– they’re menu-driven novellas wrapped around strategy games of varying degrees of quality. This is why many of my favorite JRPGs– Shining Force, Vandal Hearts, Final Fantasy Tactics, Disgaea– do away with the entire “RPG” bit and present instead a robust, low-frills turn-based strategy game.

But again, Bioware isn’t entirely without blame here. Bioware likes to tout that the decisions the player makes in one of their games have real, substantial effects on the game itself, but the honest truth is you don’t really have nearly as much control over the plot as Bioware would like us to believe. Exhaustive side missions aside, Bioware RPGs are actually remarkably linear– there’s an opening sequence exposing you to the universe, you’re given a handful of locations to visit at your leisure, then once you get bored with doing that you meet up with everyone for the final fight with the Big Bad. Maybe an optional location or two will open up, maybe you get to chase away party members, maybe you get some optional side quests, but for the most part the stuff that has to happen happens in the same order and you really have no effect on their outcomes save for variations in dialog trees and video clips.  It’s a big difference from something like a Bethesda RPG where the player is given pretty much total control where they want to go and when they want to end the game.

The point of all this is that after spending the past year addicted to Mass Effect and Dragon Age (and no doubt Mass Effect 2 in a couple weeks), I’ve come to notice that Bioware has become more than a bit predictable. Not that Bioware doesn’t make outstanding games, but I’m pretty sure ME2 isn’t going to do much to break the KOTOR paradigm established back in 2003.

That said, Square Enix have taken Bioware’s criticisms to heart. For the Xbox 360 version of their new JRPG title Nier, Squeenix will utilize an exciting new technology they call “Bioware Filtering”:


Posted in Sperging about games | 1 Comment »

Game of the Year follies Gamespot edition

Posted by nfinit on December 26, 2009

The end of the year is upon us and with that comes the intoxicating mix of easy content and page view-generation that are the Game of the Year awards. Every site/magazine/newspaper-with-a-gaming-column gets in on the action, which is why you wind up with GOTY packaging on seventeen different boxes come January. Gaming is weird like that– aside from the hilariously inept Spike Videogame Awards, we don’t really have a consensus year’s best panel/award thing in the same way as there’s the Oscars or the Grammys or the Nebula Awards– pretty much any jack-leg outfit with access to an HTML editor and webspace is allowed go get away with this foolis—

— as I was saying. Admittedly most major publications at least will make some attempt at making their awards meaningful in a grander games-are-important sort of way– then you have some publications that are rather obviously just selling those same awards to the highest bidder. Some will even attempt to give these awards to the games which are actually the best in their respective category for that particular year, but this practice is frowned upon.

Then you have Gamespot.  Their GOTY for 2009 was Demon’s Souls.

Demon’s Souls. You remember Demon’s Souls, Japanese dungeon crawler, about as approachable as James Joyce’s Ulysses, no actual pause function? Yeah, that.

Demon’s Souls: GOTY 2009, Gamespot.

Admittedly, I’ve not played Demon’s Souls. Maybe it really is Game of the Year. Maybe it really is a better role playing game than Dragon Age, maybe it really is overall a better fundamental game than Arkham Asylum, maybe we really will remember it as more of a cultural touch-point of the console gaming community than Modern Warfare 2. But the selection begs credulity. After all, Gamespot’s own review described the game as “unforgiving”, “stubbornly difficult”, “unusual and unforgiving” and “You are meant to die, and you are meant to die often. ”

Judging from Gamespot’s own review, Demon’s Souls isn’t exactly a game that was meant to be enjoyed as much as it is endured.

I dunno. But if I look at a game and the general consensus for that game is that that it’s a dense, frustrating, inaccessible experience, I’m not sure if that makes for a very good videogame, despite how many times you throw around the terms “innovative” and “visionary” in your review.

And sure, you can’t criticize an opinion for being wrong. I mean, I’ve sat here and tried to explain to you people why Magician Lord is one of the best games of all time based on its sprite art. But when you’re in a position of authority such as Gamespot (or, alternately, if you squint until something resembling a “position of authority” comes into focus), where you’re actually being paid for your opinion, that opinion should carries with it some weight of credibility. It’s sort of like if ESPN were to announce that the Cincinnati Bengals were the best team in the AFC. I mean, maybe they are, if you play around with the definition of the term “best team in the AFC” actually meant “best offensive line in the state of Ohio”, but the Indianapolis Colts are sitting at 14-0 right now.

The Indianapolis Colts of the videogame world as of 2009? As much as I hate to admit it, it’s probably Modern Warfare 2. MW2 is as very dudebro as a dudebro game can be, but it also sold six million units and the PS3 version is sitting at a 94% at Metacritic, vs an 89% for Demon’s Souls. If we’re looking at something that ranks high purely on the basis of being a very good game and not cultural relevancy, then there’s been a whole lot of stuff that’s come out this year that have worked well as exceptional gaming experiences. Again, the overriding theme of Demon’s Souls reviews was how inaccessible the game ultimately proved to be– should that really be the defining characteristic of your Game of the Year?

Let’s dig a little further. Was Demon’s Souls Gamespot’s highest-rated PS3 game of the year? No, that honor is shared by Braid and Uncharted 2, each with a 9.5. Perhaps Demon’s Souls is Gamespot’s highest rated RPG? Well, no. That’s reserved for the PC release of Dragon Age: Origins, again with a 9.5. The highest rated game of the year as awarded by Gamespot? Well, no 10s were handed out all year, but the aforementioned Braid, Dragon Age Origins PC all received the next highest score, as did, Ballad of Gay Tony, Forza Motorsport 3, Chinatown Wars, Uncharted 2, Rolando 2, Rea Racing and F.A.S.T.

Wait, F.A.S.T?

Seriously? This is more a credible GOTY by Gamespot’s own standards? Moving on.

So what happened here? Did Demon’s Souls receive GOTY honors for being the best “hardcore” game? For being the best Japanese game? Is this some sort of twisted attempt by Gamespot to maintain some semblance of hardcore gamer street cred? In that case, didn’t all of my fellow espresso-sipping, beret-wielding console gamer intelligentsia agree we all had a heck of a lot of fun playing through Batman: Arkham Asylum? If the award just had to go to a Japanese game to maintain their hardcore gamer cred, isn’t Retro Gaming Challenge a far more interesting choice?

Of course, the easy answer is to say that Gamespot is doing this for the page hits, and it’s probably true, and is also why I’m not linking to them for the purposes of this update. However I get the feeling the real answer is not nearly as sinister. They’re probably just being the gaming equivalent of pretentious hipster twats.

Posted in Our Industry Is Awful, Sperging about games | 1 Comment »