A game blog for grown ups (sorta).

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Heart of the Swarm is coming....

As an openly huge fan of e-sports and specifically Starcraft 2 it may come as a shock to anyone who cares that I am actually not that excited for the upcoming expansion Heart of the Swarm. Of course it is too soon to tell how good it will be, but in hindsight it is my not-so-humble opinion that more doesn't necessarily always equal better. Heart of the Swarm's success in my eyes will really focus on what it brings to the table and what it really improves. In case you haven't seen the teaser/gameplay video:

Maybe I started off a little harsh, as the single player campaign of Starcraft 2 is really only rivaled by earlier entries into Blizzard's RTS's in terms of polish, variety, arc, and quality. The mechanics were amazing and the design was so meticulous that it may as well have had a mirror shine. My only issue was that the story, characters, and setting weren't really that good.

*Spoiler warning* the plot of Wings of Liberty was pretty much a drunken rebel faffing about, crying about his evil bug girlfriend for most of the game until he attacks the "swarm" and leads a small band of soldiers to defeat the greatest threat the Korpulu sector has ever known. By his side was his old friend who has always been his old friend who evidently only wants to kill his bug girlfriend (and is probably right to do so).

Dude, how did a few marines fight an entire planet swarming with the most evolved killer sentient bug race in history? What really happened for the first 80% of the game? I know I always say story doesn't make a great game, but it certainly can make a good game amazing and can take a great game down to good. Stracraft 2's single player mechanics and mission variety are rivaled by no other modern RTS's, but the plot is certainly garbage. Can they turn that plot around and make it actually as epic as it should and thought itself to be?

The best thing about Wings of Liberty's story was the launch trailer. Epic:

The multiplayer, ie the reason Starcraft 2 was really created, is what keeps millions of players worldwide glued to their PC's. Starcraft 2 is pretty damn close to perfectly balanced, and I know my friends all make fun of my love of watching the pro's play (btw did you see the AMAZING game QXC played? Mass micro'd Reapers FTW its a new thing) and around the world there is a reasonably lively scene. The question here would be would it be too much to alter the delicate balance? Does more mean better or would it throw off the delicate flow of the match? Would chess be better if it got 2 expansion packs?

Ultimately Blizzard has yet to deliver a product not worth full price and then some. They have made the 2 best RTS franchises in the world, the best click fest ever, and the best legal drug to ever ruin nerd culture. They are the best of the best and it will be nice to see them bring the story forward and improve the already amazing multiplayer. I am just going in to it with the attitude that it will be messing with a good thing and will leave the burden of proof with Blizzard to show me otherwise.


Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Witcher 2 and Dragon Age 2 Lessons Learned Part 2

As I mentioned in a post last week-ish I didn't like the first entry in The Witcher series much at all. Despite being a premier member of the PC Master Race, the controls were a little too unintuitive for me (pains me to say that). The writing was also unbearably awful. The game felt like a parody of itself except it wasn't funny. The entire 5 hours I played of it all I could think of was the All My Circuits Futurama where they kept saying "I have...... AMNESIA!"

So the Witcher 2 hit me totally out of left field. So far I am absolutely blown away, and it's awesomeness really makes me sad about how terrible Dragon Age 2 is in comparison. Not to say that w2 is perfect (far from it), but it is pretty damn amazing.

First off the graphics are unbelievably amazing; probably the best this console generation. The bloom effects, the textures, and even on low graphics settings the game looks fantastic. I have the game running on high settings on my mid-range desktop as ultra makes my GPU cry for mercy. Seriously though, how does a barely not indie developer like CD Projekt with much more limited resources then BioWare put out a game that looks THIS much better then Dragon Age 2? Lets take a look at some screenshots I took side by side.

It really is night and day.

Honestly what is BioWare's excuse? One can assume it's development costs i.e. money. Okay, enough BioWare and Da2 bashing, I did that enough last time!

Anyways like Da2 the writing is also very good. Of course the less experienced, Polish developer has a much different style than the very experienced Canadian developer, but The Witcher 2's writing sucked me right in to it's fantasy world. Despite thinking that the first Witcher was written terribly they clearly, in my pretentious opinion, have really honed in on their plot arcs, dialogue, and character development.

The attention to detail in the Witcher 2 really helps the world come alive. Whether it's the background chatter in the local village, the beautiful bloom effects of the sunlight coming through the trees that are gently billowing in the breeze, the amazingly detailed monsters, or just that one cool, weird carved face you see once of the beaten track in the forest, the game world really feels alive.

So far the Witcher 2 has been showing me what it's like to be in it's universe, it hasn't been telling me.

Although flawed, I am really enjoying the action and combat elements of The Witcher 2. One of the biggest complaints I've found is the inability to drink potions during combat. While I would probably prefer the ability to do so, it really makes sense in the game world and for the character to drink potions while meditating. Alchemy is a huge part of the Witcher, as is preparation and diligence. W2 shows us very early on that it is not interested in holding our hand and expects a level of understanding and preparation to get through even the most menial combat. Of course this will, and has turned a lot of people off but are we so afraid of having a game that has a steep difficulty curve? Granted I wouldn't call the first missions a tutorial because they teach you nothing, and they definitely should introduce the mechanics one at a time and make sure the player understands them. There is a LOT to know about surviving even the first battles of the game, but once you do figure out the mechanics there is a certain zen like bliss to picking out potions, managing buffs, and weaving signs, bombs, daggers, and traps into just roflstomping even the scariest of boss's.

The side quests in The Witcher 2 are also much better prepared. Maybe it's that the game has more than 3 dungeons, but I really felt like each task was relevant or important; that each one had a purpose. Even the "kill a bunch of spider-ey things" was more in depth than that.

The inventory and crafting systems in W2 are very old school. The crafting is based around collecting recepies and diagrams and carrying around lots of components. Nothing feels superfluous though. The one area where I prefer the inventory system in Da2 over W2 though is the junk option. It would be nice to go to a vendor and just hit the sell all the crap you don't want button. Aside from that I absolutely love the crafting and inventory systems and they are a shining example of how to adapt old school concepts into a new school game.

Regardless I think the Witcher 2, despite it's shortcomings, is a shining example of what should occur during a development cycle, how to properly "streamline" game mechanics, and how to really tell a story and describe a world that works best in an interactive medium.

I am psyched to pour of my precious leisure time in to this game and once again bravo CD Projekt.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Witcher 2 vs. Dragon Age 2 and lessons learned

I have purchased exactly 2 action RPG sequels this year. Can you guess which ones? After spending several hours with each title it has really brought me to a few stunning conclusions. Today I will focus on the first conclusion and also why Dragon Age 2 ultimately failed.

FACT! Good writing does not translate into
a good game.

There is no game out there that had terrible gameplay mechanics, but the writing was so awesome it made it a positive experience and Dragon Age 2 is the epitome of this concept. Please allow me to ellaborate!

As per the usual, I know I am sounding like a broken record but video games do not share the "luxury" that books do as an artistic medium. It takes more than one skill mastery to create an effective work of art. What makes and effective video game? Of course a game that is very fun is a game that works but a great video game can be so much more than that and it takes more than above average writing. The mechanics need to work together to create an experience that works better as an interactive medium then any other.

I still haven't finished Dragon Age 2. I got to about midway through the second act and, despite loving the characters, the politics, and the idea behind setting the game in one location and not making it the end all be all epic quest to save the world, the game got eaten, nay devoured by it's massive shortcomings.

In my opinion Dragon Age 2 would have worked better as a book because it is only the superior writing that really brought me in to the world of Kirkwall and kept me engaged. The sub par graphics, reused environments, generic power-ranger enemies, and overall lack of polish and progression of the environment really prevented me from becoming obsessed like I did with Dragon Age Origins.

The sad truth is it really seems that BioWare put out DA2 to help pay for The Old Republic.

It is an unfortunate fact of life and of our industry (or any inustry). It is just such a shame when what should be a brilliant artistic statement gets rushed out the door when it clearly needed minimum another year. Just imagine if DA2 had the same 4 year development cycle that The Witcher 2 enjoyed. Continue to imagine the game if we had more than three dungeons to explore for all the quests. If we had more enemy variety and battles that ever played out differently then Dyansty Warriors. If the city actually grew and changed along with the characters. It is incredibly un-immersive when the game just tells you 2 years pass, but everyone is wearing the same outfits and armor, the city looks the exact same as it did, and the only way we can tell that any amount of time passed is the text on the screen. It is always bad game design when the game tells us and doesn't show us. May as well be a novel.

The only real success of Dragon Age 2 is the strong characters who are incredibly well written. When writing is your strongest aspect that should be your focus; ie an amazing book. If I read the dialogue and the plot my mind would be free to imagine the city of Kirkwall, Hawkes epic beard (default male look FTW), dew glistening off a templar's armor in the hot, Freemarches sun, the pointed and misshappen horns on a Quanari, etc. You wouldn't have to worry about good level design or using a somewhat updated graphics engine. Hell the game doesn't look as good as Half Life 2 that came out the better part of 7 years ago!

Quick side note.... there is no excuse for DA2 looking as terrible as it does when Mass Effect 2 looks as amazing as it does. WTF guys?!

Let's be clear; I am (or certainly should be) BioWare's target adience with DA2. I played through Origins 3 times soup to nuts. I have been playing both console and PC RPG's for 20 years (yikes). If they aren't making that game for me then I have no idea who they are making it for. I came in to Dragon Age 2 as excited as could be! I mean hell, it was BioWare's follow up to one of my favorite games of all time! How could they miss (see above)?!

Bottom line is everything but the story and characters reeks of laziness, forced time tables, and rushed deadlines. It is cursed with the stench of what could have been. It ultimately proves to me that good writing doesn't make a good game. It also, unfortunately, demotes BioWare games from day one purchases to wait and see if we can snag a Steam or Amazon deal.

BioWare, we will always have Origins, KOTOR, and Baldur's Gate (which I bought again on GOG.com ironically).

Tomorrow the opposite with The Witcher 2!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Dead Island Gameplay Trailer

Thanks to the amazingly beautiful and haunting, yet increasingly irrelevant cinematic trailer released for the upcoming release Dead Island I have been following the media surrounding the game reasonably closely. Just a couple days ago a 12 minute gameplay trailer was released finally granting us snarling undead masses of the game buying public it's first real impressions regarding the actual mechanics to back up the amazing 3rd party cinematography. Don't remember the video? Click here.

So the game looks like a Grand Theft Auto clone with zombies. Well that's not entirely accurate..... more like a Just Cause clone with Zombies with a bit of Bulletstorm (minus the subliminal sexual assault impulses) mixed in.

It looks like it might be fun, but my pressing concern is that of a lack of gameplay focus.

I see instances of score boons rising from bloodied undead corpses being shot with automatic weapons and then scenes portraying horror and other similar emotions. It seems to me like you have to choose between Duke Nukem and Silent Hill 2; it really would be impossible to be both. Bottom line is looks like the game is trying to mix arcade style action with tense survival horror and that is the developer trying to have it's cake and eat it too. (The cake is obviously a lie anyways wakka wakka)

A horror experience needs to be before anything else immersive. For a survival horror game to really be effective the player needs to truly forget they are sitting on their couch and really be fully emotionally invested in what is happening on the screen and in the game. Huds, numerical scores, and other numerical information displayed on screen serves only to remind us we are playing a game; a pleasant diversion rather than being a part of a story in another universe.

Arcade style games are very fun, but for completely different reasons. It is simply a blast to pwn newbs with the sniper rifle from half a map away and see the kill message broadcasted to the entire server. It is a blast to get points for mutilating fodder enemies in creative ways a-la Bulletstorm, but it is a completely opposite experience from that immersive survival horror.

My kingdom for a true zombie apocalypse sim!

Honestly, making an fps where survival is prominent, you need to strike a balance between resource management, creating safe houses, and staying a step ahead of the zombie hordes would be epic. Hell a talented modded could do it in Minecraft in theory, or make a complete mod for L4D. It really would be a license to print money if someone would do it right.

Regardless Dead Island looks to be in danger of having an identity crisis. Of course the game doesn't release for some time, but being an anonymous internet troll I certainly won't let that prevent me from passing judgment!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

My Favorite Japanese Developer

After reading an article on Joystiq a while back I was turned on to a game called "A Game Developer Story" for my Android phone. The game is a sim where you operate a game developer. It is very simple, far from any realm of reality, and, well, a phone game, but it is incredibly fun. It has a unique, very Japanese quirkiness to it and I have spent many hours while out and about thinking up funny game names (Density Effect wakka wakka) and in general just having a great time with the game.

The game was developed by Kairosoft, a Japanese game developer with an English website that looks like it should have been on GeoCities 16 years ago, yet the developer has quickly wormed it's way into my heart.

I recently did a search and found they released another game localized for us North American barbarians called A Hot Springs story. It's another sim where you run a traditional Japanese inn and, lo and behold, it is a ton of fun! If you have a lot of commute time on a train like I do every day totally check it out.

Ultimately the reason I love Kairosoft is they prove you don't need big budgets, crazy particle effects, or top notch voice talent to make a good game. All you need is a good idea.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

"Mature" Games and the first couple hours of The Witcher 2

I may sound like a broken record, and I know I am far from the first person to say this, but I think our industry has mistaken colorful language and the human form for mature subject matter. I would, and have, argued time and time again that cuss words and naked women aren't mature and I think I have figured out, thanks in part to the first couple hours of the Witcher 2, how I would and wouldn't define a mature title.

I would define a "mature" subject matter as writing that a 10 year old wouldn't understand due to the fact she/he isn't mature. A normal 10 year old boy understands boobs and swears. A 10 year old boy doesn't understand politics, foreign affairs, ethics (that aren't black and white), cultural differences, taboo behavior, etc.

I can already tell W2 is shaping up to be both scenarios I described above. In the tutorial there is certainly a lot of swearing, nudity, and blood. Towards the end of the tutorial missions there is also a lot of discussion about the politics of the land and the intricacies of the relationships between factions.

All I know is, despite the PUNISHING difficulty of the flippin' tutorial levels (seriously, someone on the forum was right when they said that normal is the new hard) I am shaping up to enjoy this game a lot more then the first.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Thanks again LeeLee!

"Squir" has found an awesome place in my home thanks to my lovely interior designer of a wife. It was awesome to meet you at PAX LeeLee!

Stupid Witcher 2 I have to buy you

Man sometimes it sucks being a person, and gamer with principles. I absolutely love developer CD Projekt. I love gog.com. I love to give them my hard earned money because I love the companies value and DRM free philosophies. It goes to show that some companies are focused on making money the right way by finding win-win situations with their customers rather than treating paying consumers like crops to harvest; like property that is rightfully theirs.

If you don't have a gog.com account go there now. You're welcome.

So The Witcher 2 has, as of right now, a 92 Metacritic score. It is a PC exclusive action RPG that is about as intuitive as a nuclear physics and is about as forgiving as Maria Shriver (come one! It was just ONE love child!) On paper I should absolutely adore the first entry in the series. I didn't, but I love the idea behind it and the company that made it.

The first entry in the Witcher had writing that I found, to put it nicely, sub par. The story followed protagonist Geralt (that is actually the protagonists name....) and his quest to save the world from something. I dunno I didn't pay much attention. I was too focused on banging local barmaids. Seriously. You got little collectible cards for every digital high fantasy ass you tapped. The writing wasn't all that great either. The controls and combat we're a little too difficult to even understand, never mind master. I got about to the end of the first questing area when I about called it quits.

I am, however, reluctantly resigned to give another $49.99 USD to developer CD Projekt for their sophomore entry into the series. I will, as a person who feels an obligation to support his industry and companies that move the industry forward, give the Witcher 2 an honest shot and my financial approval.

I just hope I like the game. Will definitely put up impressions!!!!

As a post script I generally like to preserve the artistic integrity and maturity of this blog but hot damn! Did you see the nude video of the chick who was the model for Triss on youtube? Duuuuuuuuuuuude (not for underage viewers)!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I've been away for too long

And there is so much to talk about. LA Noire is finally out. Duke Nukem was supposed to have a gay robot sidekick. There are evidently no women in Brink. Evidently there is a game called Brink that was published but not developed by Bethesda which means it much suck.

So much to talk about....