A game blog for grown ups (sorta).

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Starfox 64 3D and why Nintendo is evil (another Fanboy Rant)


I know I have a bias opinion. I haven't owned a current Nintendo system since the N64 and even that only had one really fantastic game (Mario 64 was garbage and doesn't hold up. Goldeneye was garbage compared to Quake on the PC).

I was in high school when this game came out and I loved it. It was fast paced, fun for everyone (not a kiddie game), had multiple paths and level paths, and was in general a great game with a great story, world, and mechanics. Win all around. Great job Nintendo.

Starfox 64 originally was released in 1997. 14 years ago. Now it is being released and packaged as a brand new game. I am a huge fan of people who release their back catalog and make it accessible on modern hardware. I bought Doom for $5 on XBLA. Hell I love gog.com. My big problem is adding a gimmick and using it to justify a new game price tag.

When was the last time Nintendo put out a new franchise? When was the last time Nintendo did something new and different? I just really feel like I am in the movie soylent green and I am the only one who knows the truth; that Nintendo is content to milk it's past success's and will continue doing so as long as the unwashed masses fork over whatever sums of money Nintendo ask for.

Thankfully the awful 3DS is doing so miserably. How ya feelin' now if you paid full price for that hunk of junk? My phone plays better, cheaper games and it makes phone calls too.

I will end my rant with a best case scenario. I think it is great when a publisher or developer releases old games at a discounted rate to supplement income to develop new properties. I love that Square Enix gave Eidos Montreal the artistic freedom to make Deus Ex Human Revolution. That used to be Nintendo. I don't think it ever will be again and if you buy the same game 14 years later for full price it's your fault.


Monday, August 29, 2011

Saturday, August 27, 2011

My Thoughts on Deus Ex

I am now about 10ish hours into Deus Ex and I do have to say I am enjoying my time with the game very much, but I think I rested it on too high a pedestal. Anticipation has a funny way of helping us set unreasonable goals for a work of art, and especially one so ambitious from first time developer Edios Montreal.

Don't get me wrong or misread my criticisms here, this is certainly a $60 purchase. With that said...

Deus Ex is what Metal Gear would be like if it were well written and had a sense of artistic direction. It is very deep and conspiracy-ey (totally a word, despite what spell check would lead you to believe), but the characters and plot actually make sense and it has a very strong visual and aural tone. Deus Ex certainly gets an A+ for writing and for environment. I actually find myself reading most of the emails and eBooks I find lying around.

I think it is really funny that all of the voice acting is so top notch except for the lead. Seriously, did anyone actually listen to his dialogue? All I can ever hear him say is "Harvey Dent.... CAN WE TRUST HIM?!?!" That aside this is the best voice acting in a game, well since this.

The biggest glaring misstep is really what the game expects of you. A lot of reviews have stated the game rewards you for playing your way, but in my experience that is only true if you are an explorer who likes to spend hours combing around maps searching for every last detail. When I have a game that has such a thick plot and engaging scenarios, I don't want to spend the next hour and a half breaking into people's apartments or doing fetch quests for strangers. I get a strong feeling though if I don't I will miss valuable experience points and loot to sell.

I know Edios Montreal spent a lot of time making these sprawling, beautiful and grotesque environments for us to explore, but I would say it was too much. With a story focused game I want to focus on the story. It really rips me out of the immersion when I have a team of experts waiting to support me in my mission and I am running around doing errands for the local Triads. I know that is how it is in this post GTA3 world, but I really wish the game was probably about 66% of it's length and more focused, because the highlight of this game is the great mission levels and sneaking/fighting your way through.

I have only been through one boss fight so far as well, but I can say it was a battle of attrition. Having a character that is solely focused on stealth and hacking and then having to have a shooting match with a human tank..... it can be frustrating. Needless to say there was a lot of "load last autosave" going on until I finally figured it out.

Now, in my old and stuck in it's ways mind, the greatest cyberpunk game ever to be released was the legendary Shadowrun on the Sega Genesis. The game has not aged well beyond the prism of nostalgia, but it was GTA3 7 years earlier. With RPG elements. And cyberpunk. And an actual plot. And actual GOOD writing. In 1994. On the Genesis. The game was awesome. I dream and opine daily for a current-gen update to this game. I imagine a cyberpunk elder-scrolls with hacking, corporate espionage, a huge urban sprawl, and spectacular writing.

Deus Ex is the prefect example of a really great game that could have been legendary had it been a little more focused. Granted I still have easily 50% of the game to get through (and I will actually finish this game), but my mind still dreamily thinks about what could have been rather than what is.

Some day Shadowrun, some day.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Deus Ex and Batman Arkham Asylum Similarities

So I am pretty gosh darned (excuse my colorful language) excited for Deus Ex: Human Revolution releasing tomorrow. In anticipation I've been thinking and the release really reminds me a lot of similar circumstances to the release of BAA. Edios Montreal is a new developer, so was Rocksteady. Both developers got established franchises with lots of room to maneuver and, pretty much, creative autonomy. One is a game I paid full price for and one is a game I will pay full price for tomorrow (esteemed praise in my book).

When BAA came out it really wasn't much on my radar. I knew it was a Batman game, but there really hasn't been a single Batman game prior even worth mentioning, never mind playing. Despite being arguably the greatest super-hero ever conceived, Batman had a terrible track record in the interactive medium. It really took pretty much universal critical praise (and summer boredom) for me to resign to giving the title a shot and, much to my delight, it was an absolute pleasure.

BAA was a game that not only embraced all of the lore of it's high profile license, but really built and innovated on what that license meant. For the first time in my video game career I knew what it meant to control the iconic Dark Knight. Also, it was about as dark and gritty Batman as you can get, but nothing resembling the real world tone of the recent movies.

Deus Ex also reinvents an epic license (although the history is not quite as storied or well known outside the PC master race). It is a game that has been marketed as a reboot/spiritual successor of the cyberpunk cult classic. It is also created by a freshman developer with an auteur vision of bioethics (I'm comparing this to BAA, not BioShock mind you, but that might be another great post after I actually play the game).

Now it took critical acclaim for me to pay my hard earned dollars for BAA, but it took one trailer for me to buy into DEHR hook line and sinker. Bottom line is that it makes me happy that these are both games created for, and marketed to me; the 24 to 40 year old male gamer who makes up the core consumer base for video games. Both games take great geek topics (one game takes a Blade Runner-esque dystopian near future and makes it awesome and the other one is Batman) and creates a mature, fun, well polished story that makes more sense as a video game then a movie or book (speculation of course on the DEHR front, but I am comfortable that it will be epic).

Regardless it instills great hope for the future that new developers like Rocksteady and Edios Montreal have the money, license power, and the artistic freedom to take established franchises and make them awesome.

Is it tomorrow yet???

BTW, special thanks to @antaydos for the AWESOME graphic above!!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Tropico 4 Demo

In a vein effort to keep my mind occupied until Deus Ex: Human Revolution comes out on Tuesday I have decided to play the Tropico 4 demo available on Steam. I have always had a very fond place in my heart for the Tropico series (well 1 and 3 at least) and I was excited to see what Kalypso came up with for a new installment.

I adored Tropico 3. When it released last summer newcommer Kalypso media quickly made a great first impression on me. Tropico 3 really captured the spirit of the original, while giving us gorgeous next-gen graphics and an updated interface. When the Tropico 3 demo came out I played the one level they offered 4 or 5 times just because it was that exciting. The music, as everyone who reviewed the game mentioned without fail, was absolutely spectacular and really helped create the banana republic island dictatorship theme to aplomb.

With Tropico 3 being so innovative and chock full of the things us PC master race strategy gamers dream of, you may be surprised to find I was not anticipating Tropico 4 in the slightest. Since the release of Tropico 3 last summer Kalypso has also released Dungeons, a "tycoon" type game focused around building dungeons for heroes that was marketed as Dungeon Keeper 3, and the Last Templar, a budget 3rd person slasher that no one really paid any attention to. Not releases that would suggest that Kalypso is a company focused on delivering quality products rather than releasing mediocre games that cost nothing to develop.

Enter the Tropico 4 demo. The first thing I noticed is, well, look at the 2 screen shots below and tell me what you notice.

The games share the exact same graphics. Only thing is Tropico 3 actually looks better! Tropico 4 has the same buildings, same character models, the same fountains, the same mechanics. The only thing really different are the menus. The game has a few more buildings and a perfectly imbalanced "quest" system that does nothing but inflate your income. Even the biggest community problems with Tropico 3, namely the gigantic footprint of garages and the non-existent difficulty (side note: turn up the difficulty on Tropico 1 and it is brutal!) are completely ignored in Tropico 4. The game is, for all intents and purposes, a map pack marketed as a full priced release.

I had the pleasure of meeting the North American head of marketing for Kalypso at Pax East this year and he was a very pleasant guy to chat with. He let me know that Kalypso is profitable. This really concerns me. Now Tropico 3 has proven to me that there is definitely talent in the publisher/developer. They are capable of great, but they make more money producing mediocre. This is bad news for us PC fans and for the future of Tropico in general.

Hasta lavista El Presidente.

Is Deus Ex out yet??

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Diablo 3 In Game Auction House

I am still alive, I swear. So.... I have really been meaning to weigh in on the whole buying IG items for RL monies.... in a pve focused game. If you don't know what's going on with Diablo 3 by now check out the story over at The Escapist.

As I may or may not have mentioned before I have probably spent more hours of my life playing Diablo 2 then any other game ever (even Oblivion GASP!!!!). In case you couldn't tell from reading this blog I love Blizzard and I have loved pretty much every PC game they have ever released. Now anyone who has spent any time with Diablo 2 on Battle.net may have seen something to the effect of:

"mulXXXbot224: Come to www.annoyingspam.com grand opening for D2 EPIK LEWTZ!!! On Sale Now!!!!"
"mulXXXbot224 leaves game>"

(See above screenshot I captured after joining a game for 15 seconds. This was just taken today.)

It's really annoying. It keeps happening, 12 years after release. Why has nothing happened? Why is this so commonplace? Because people keep buying IG items for a 12 year old game for RL money. People make a living by item farming in Diablo 2. It happens in pretty much every online game, and especially Blizzard games.

I actually really like the idea of Blizzard taking the reigns on this and, instead of trying to fight it and fail, is trying to control the obvious and overshadowing IG black market and make it not only safe and secure for people, but also try to curtail cheating and hacking. Imagine a world where we can play again and not be subject to the situation as detailed above, but the newbs who want to pay $50 for a SOJ can do so and give their money to Blizzard instead of Chinese gold farmers?

That is a world I want to live it.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Terraria and Minecraft

Hey guys, it's good to be back. Expect 3 to 5 updates a week going forward for the foreseeable future. Anyways to the topic at hand....

I recently purchased a 4 pack of Terraria for my buddies and myself over the Steam weird summer camp sale thing. Being a huge Minecraft fan (PC Master Race hello?) I figured it was high time I try the seemingly 2D concept ape
. Not to my surprise Terraria is about as awesome as a 2D Minecraft can be.

The point of this post is the potential for Minecraft will always be greater than the execution of Terraria.

Allow me to clarify; Terraria is an amazing Indie game. It is really great to explore caves and dungeons, fight boss monsters, craft new weapons and armor, find new materials, and have lots of really fun items and possibilities. Despite having a lot of fun with the 8 or so ho
urs I've put into Terraria so far I still have the thought nawing at the back of my mind saying one thing....

What if these features were in Minecraft?

Despite spending at least 100 hours over the last year in Minecraft I really think, like many people, that it really isn't much of a game. I am in the process of building my 3rd giant map spanning castle thing on my friend's server and all I can think about is why? The major flaw with the build thus far (1.73) is there is still no purpose. Terraria has that purpose, but all it does is remind me how awesome Minecraft could be.

In Terraria if you build a castle useful NPC's will come and populate it. Imagine if we built a giant 3D castle in Minecraft and different shopkeepers and other service providers would bustle about, adding life and purpose to your creation. Imagine if there were 5 times the monsters to fight and if there were more differences between a skeleton and a zombie rather than one has a bow and arrow. Imagine if there were 10 times the ores to find, much more intrecate caves and
dungeons, and a real reason to explore in Minecraft?

Now I know Minecraft is still in Beta and we have had the "Adventure Update" being touted by Notch for a little over a month now. There still is a lot of time to see this potential be realized, but Terraria serves as a catalyst for my desire to see it happen.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Quick thoughts about the Supreme Court Decision

So in case you have been living under a rock the Supreme Court has heard and ruled on the California law equating violent video games to tobacco and firearms. Pretty scary stuff. Of course the Supreme court heard none of it and ruled the law unconstitutional.

Won't someone think of the children is, and has always been a low-brow argument. When I was a kid my parents did allow me to play violent videogames. They also allowed me to read Shakespeare. Let me ask you a question.... when was the last time you read MacBeth or even Romeo and Juliet? Pretty gruesome stuff. Sorry to get sidetracked, but the won't someone think of the children argument will get you political points in certain demographics. They won't stand up in court.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sonic the Hedgehog

Way back when in the magical time of 1991, when America was invading Iraq for the first time and the Spin Doctors had not yet come to prominence, a game came out called Sonic the Hedgehog. The game, and character, were designed for the sole purpose of aping Nintendo's marketing of home videogame consoles. When it came out (and still today) the original game was amazing.

Now of course I carry a huge bias when it comes to the original 2d Sonic platformers. Growing up my house was a Genesis household. I did not aquire my SNES until about 1998 (which I still own by the way.... Super Bomber Man with multitap ftw!!!!), so the Genesis and it's mascot were the focus of my young budding fanboy praise.

20 years later Sonic should not be relevant. Towards the end of the Genesis era Sega made the poor-decision to take the franchise to 3d with the aptly titled "Sonic 3D blast". They continued with the release of the ill-fated Dreamcast (it sucked btw, more on that later in a future post) and Sonic Adventure. In the 2000's Sonic has developed a cast and many, many terrible games. Time after time Sega has continued to release terribly received titles bearing the Hedgehog's likeness, and time and time again people hope that the series would redeem itself. Of course the problem is Sega completely forgot what made the series fantastic in the first place.

Sonic the Hedgehog games could have been called anything and stared any protagonist. This is a game (I refer to the 2D Genesis releases) that had perfectly executed mecanics, a well balanced difficulty curve, fantastic art and level design, and the best music of the 16-bit era (with apologies to Final Fantasy 3/6). It was always the smooth flow of the 2d mechanics, the vertical-ness of the level design, and the varied art of the locations that made the games the really special journeys that they were. The real apex of the series for me was the combined cartridges of Sonic 3 and Sonic and Knuckles played together. It really was something special.

Like all good things it wasn't meant to last. Instead of pulling a Seinfeld with it (read go out on top) Sega decided that the draw to the series was Sonic's bad attitude and backstory, not the previous paragraph, and continued to dig a hole they now hope to dig themselves out of with the forthcoming downloadable release of Sonic Generations and a real return to the series's 2D roots. Problem is that the magic is gone. What was once a special moment in time has faded away and it really is time to move on (like most of us have).

I will always have a fond place in my heart for Sonic (and maybe Tails). I spent a lot of really amazing hours ensconced in his creative 2D worlds as a kid and the series has definitely shaped how I play games and spend my leisure time. It is a feeling I will always cherish and never look to recapture.

Here's to nostalgia. Now what else we got (time to download Trenched!!!!!).


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Not enough time for good and why Kaos studios closed

I have been doing this blog now since February (sorry for the recent infrequence of posting.... will resume 4 to 6 posts a week very soon as my schedule clears a bit) and in easily 66% of my posts I talk about the hard fact that the average gamer is not the 12 year old boy with negligent parents, or the college frat kid wasting $50k a year to get drunk and make bad decisions, but rather the average age of a gamer is 34. (Side Note: I link to that report so often but it is relevant in most every point I try and haphazardly make!)

Here is the thing though with people who are all grown up; they have outside obligations. Most of us have jobs, lives, etc and we don't have the 40 hours a week to game like many of us used Linkto. Problem is with the lack of free time, the leisure activities we do engage in need to be as worthwhile as possible. Getting to my point....

Publisher THQ recently shut down Kaos Studios. Despite decent sales, the poor precieved quality of recently released FPS Homefront ended up being the final release from the New York based studio.

How did everyone not see this coming?

Saying the FPS market is saturated right now is like saying there are a few polygons in the models for Crysis 2. Thing is that the core demographic for these games, the "34 year old's", don't have enough time to play every FPS that comes out. We are going to only get the best titles that all of our friends are getting. We want new ideas that make the interactive medium more enticing. You can't just say "well we have an awesome story!" That only works in books and movies; it takes more to carry a game (see this post).

Right now the FPS war is dominated by the Battlefields, the Call of Duties, and the Halo's. Unless you are willing to spend millions of dollars and throw as much top notch talent as you got, you can not compete with a standard FPS. If you are clever you can try something completely different (upcoming post on why Left 4 Dead is the best FPS series in the last 4 years), but ultimately AAA publishers are not willing to put enough eggs in one basket and really take a risk on a product.

The video game industry needs to realize that the business model of good makes more money than great will not propel them to profitability. What I am really trying to say is that if I can only play one new game every couple months it's not going to be good. It's not even going to be great. I, and the core demographic whom I represent, only have time for the best.

How many layoff's from Valve have we ever read about? Even Blizzard?

I don't have time tonight but I really want to expand on this idea with my thoughts on publisher Kalypso, with whom I am very torn.