Aura's Annual Award Bonanza - 2011 Edition, Part 1

Ladies and Gentlemen!

That concludes our tour of the public bathrooms.

*canned laughter*

But seriously, folks, welcome to another year of user-created award ceremonies, of which I handily make my own as an excuse to design pretty banners and express pretty opinions about things I love and hate. It’s been a wonderful year in sequels, and I’m excited to share what I picked as my favorite games of this year, but we first take a stop at the second-annual random shit awards.

I started these awards last year because of a sound effect in NFS: Hot Pursuit. It was so great, I felt I needed to express this opinion in a formal manner, and created an entire award-thingy around it just to give it praise. Sound familiar? Yeah, it’s probably been done before. But I had fun doing it, so here I am, a year later, doing it again. So without further ado, here is what I nominate as things that games accomplished this year:

Just in time for holidays, the PS3 and 360 have reached a point in their lifespan where graphical development is at somewhat of a standstill. With Battlefield 3 and Skyrim, this year’s two biggest PC titles, looking leagues better on the PC than their console counterparts, the wallet-cringing question starts to arise on message boards: “When is Sony/Microsoft going to release their new console?”

I mean, honestly. Look at this and tell me this isn't the best looking game of this year.

Well, I don’t know. I do not hold the answer to that question and I am not entirely sure I want to, either. Then I’d have powers, and that entails a world of responsibility I am not ready for. What I do know, however, is that an older console forces developers to work hard around a platform’s architecture and get the most out of their game. For my money, no developer has done this better than Naughty Dog. Uncharted 3 is an absolute masterpiece of technical accomplishments. A big or small area will have an equally massive amount of detail to them, the game runs beautifully without any hiccups, and characters look and animate in jarringly realistic manner. I have no idea what the Naughty Dog team is being fed, or how they are being bred, or if that workplace is actually just a group of wizards with astonishing programming skills. Whoever they are and whatever they are doing, they continue to set an example of what a talented team of developers can accomplish. They deserve more credit for it than I could ever give them here.

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Skulls EVERYWHERE.

I’d make some comment here about how well-written some of the games this year were, and how most of you will most certainly have picked Portal 2. But you know what? Fuck you. Portal 2 didn’t have enough dick jokes in it. So I won’t talk about any other game, I will just talk about Shadows of the Damned because man, that game is funny. Like, real funny. The interactions between Garcia and Johnson are always brilliant, the storybooks will have you in stiches and there are so many god damn dick jokes that I’m pretty sure I can never take any mention of a penis seriously anymore.

… Ehh… ew.

Shadows of the Damned is brilliant, and the goofiness of its story and the ridiculousness of its characters make it pure gold. There is so much to love about the game—a lot if it that you should, no, need to experience it for yourself. You really do. After all, how can you refuse a guided tour of the Underworld by Johnson in the company of Garcia Fucking Hotspur.

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Let’s just get this out of the way first: Duke Nukem Forever came out this year, the Vita was not announced to be $400 and the 3DS flopped. All the surprises out of the way? Sweet. Now I can get to the real one-- Driver: San Francisco. If you told me, I don’t know, a year or two ago that Driver would be relevant again, I would have thrown whatever food I was eating into your face. … Well, honestly, I like eating too much, so I probably would have laughed and/or assaulted you.

Who knew Driver would be fun again?

My point is, Driver 3 and Parallel Lines were about as broken and soulless as video games get, so that the series would have any potential of coming back seemed unlikely. With no attention paid to the game since its ridiculous E3 announcement, (Tanner in a coma?) it already became a huge surprise to hear Jeff talk so positively about it on the Bombcast. I hated the single-player demo, but maybe the full game had something that made it special. And it did. Oh my, how it did.

The Shift mechanic to jump between cars is loads of fun and continues to be for the duration of the game. But the real thing here that’s worth playing for is the story. There are some moments in Driver: SF that are absolutely bananas and it’s the Shift/coma trappings that lets them pull this off. It’s brilliant. The end-game of Driver: SF really is a must-see, only by virtue of it being so completely out-there and different from anything else you’ve even come to expect out of a game in its genre. The great dialogue, terrific controls, fun side-missions and silky-smooth framerate really just add on to how surprisingly great the game is.

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I honestly think L.A. Noire deserves some kind of “runner-up” prize for this category, avoiding the full award ceremony thanks to the fine folks at BioWare. I initially liked Dragon Age II a whole lot--so much so that I felt I was the only one defending that game anywhere on forums. While I can appreciate how old-ass-school-ass Dragon Age: Origins is, I really didn’t care for any of the characters or conflicts thrust upon them. The game reeked of generic fantasy tropes and I wanted none of it.

Also forgot to mention, every single female in DA2 has a rack you could do Shakespeare off of. Kind of ridiculous.

Dragon Age II seemed like the perfect fix to all of those problems. Streamlined combat, (because I, unfortunately, do not possess a powerhouse PC and played it on PS3) a main character with an interesting narrative (and voice!), a far more interesting cast of companions, and a story with actual drama and intensity. And DA2 absolutely had all of that. Its art-style revamp also was welcome, with the look of Hawke and the general art style really helping the game to gain an identity. Unfortunately, a lot was sacrificed to achieve this, with actual content being the biggest thing missing from the game.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a repetition of assets as egregiously prolific as Dragon Age II. I can count the game’s total environments on both my hands. No seriously, watch.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Done.

Get ready to see a whole lot of this fuckin' cave.

This an open-world RPG developed by a high-profile studio with a long-lasting pedigree of quality in this genre, and they made a game where I can count the number of environments on my hands and still have three fingers left over to pick my nose with. This is also mirrored with character equipment, with armor and weaponry featuring barely any variety. I played through the game as a Mage and found myself always equipping a plethora of broken-looking branches the game called “staffs”, alongside a riveting choice of ugly, anti-color coordinating robes. The engaging and streamlined combat system also gives a great first impression, until it continues to be the exact same thing 15 hours into the game. Differences in class specializations are so minute that playing a Healer Mage or Arcane Mage will have no difference in combat style. The entire game, no matter how compelling the story or characters, ends up feeling like a drag.

But this still pales in comparison to the complete lack of an open-world. Dragon Age II has no scope and the repetitive re-use of assets only worsened this. DA2 is disappointing in every possible way, sacrificing what was great about the first game to make way for improvements on what it wasn’t. Unfortunately, the sacrifices it made were crucial to its overall quality, and Dragon Age II will be remembered for years as the game Bioware wrong because of it.

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In all honesty, El Shaddai should be here. I’ve only played about an hour of it, though, so I can’t really call it as a winner here. What I did play, however, is a metric fuck-ton of Skyrim. As a gamer, the art style is not the first thing I’d think of when I am engrossed in Skyrim’s world. But as an artist? It’s the first thing I see every time I play. See, I played more Oblivion then I will ever play again (225 hours, last I checked) and during all that time, I couldn’t stand how generic-fantasy everything was. All of the character and monster design, along with the architecture and presentation, fell into almost every stereotype of fantasy. It made for a bland, repetitive game. … visually speaking, of course.

I mean, have you ever seen a better looking landscape?

Skyrim does little to change any of the core designs to its lore, such as monsters, races and objects. It keeps the base for all of that, but throws a thematic curveball with the Nordic theme. The design of the architecture, weaponry, armor, clothing… it all looks like it should, only everything has the slightest hint of “different” in design thanks to its northern influence. It makes all of this stuff that should be standard fantasy… different. New and unique. Skyrim has a look to its own and this, coupled with the incredible variety of locations in its landscape and scenery, makes for a game that continues to feel fresh, even if you are 60+ hours into the game. It’s an amazing feat that anyone can recognize, but one that I am especially floored by on a personal, artistic level.

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Man, fuckin’ shooters…

This giant worm isn't friendly, in case you were wondering.

We are in a weird spot with first-person shooters, with the most notable games offering campaigns that either hit every possible blockbuster-movie checkmark, or completely suck ass. If you could pick out a modern genre that’s had the creative and imaginative life-force of the 90’s sucked right out of it, it would hands-down be first-person shooters. It’s difficult to argue against, because consumers have proven time-after-time that it’s what they’re looking for in a game, but you really have to wonder what any of these guys would be capable of, should they be given a little room to express the insanity of a game developer’s mind. Fortunately, People Can Fly got that chance.

I had tepid expectations for Bulletstorm, with my only real excitement for it being the presence of “dicktits” somewhere in the dialogue. Pretty neutral on everything else about it. With a campaign that was constantly exciting and a cast of characters that I grew to appreciate in a really dumb way, Bonestorm Bulletstorm managed to put a smile on my face that’s been missing from first-person shooters in a long time. All of the writing in that game is insane and immature, with it totally working every time it throws a concocted curse word at you. The characters are preposterously silly, the world is surprisingly colorful for an Unreal game, and the gameplay is loads of creative fun.

For an Unreal game (or a modern game, really), Bulletstorm is surprisingly colorful.

The “kill with skill” thing is interesting, with the Skill Point system being a great motivator for trying out a variety of murderous acts in style. It lets you play around with the game’s weaponry without being punished and finding different ways to combo certain weapons or environmental hazards is always a blast. The only issue I had with it is that about halfway through the game, I started to care less and less about unlocking different skill shots because I really just wanted to get through the levels. I still played around with the weaponry and Leash, but not like I did at the start of the game. It would have been nice to see some way of getting you to play around for a bit longer with that stuff.

But really, that’s just nitpicking. The reality is that the gunplay was still a ton of fun, the dialogue to accompany it had me laughing a whole bunch, the locales were all varied and great looking, and the characters had me legitimately anxious to see the plot’s development. I had a ton of fun with Bulletstorm, and in a year where gaming is plagued with bullshit shooter campaigns, it’s an astonishingly soothing breath of fresh air.

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I am really conflicted about L.A. Noire. I’ve been thinking about it a lot since I played it and I’ve come to the realization that... I don’t know where I stand on it. When I played it, I was baffled by the technology it was presenting. It has never been done in games before and I really think that it’s the next step in making games look closer to realism than extra shaders or lens flare will. The game itself was also fun. I love crime stories, and the detective part of the game was a refreshing change of pace from it’s third-person brethren. The setting, the tone, the music--all of it top notch.

But looking back on it is also where my opinion on it starts to fall apart. See, while the face-capturing technology was mighty impressive, the rest of the game was pretty ugly. It wasn’t disfigured-level ugly or anything, it just didn’t have the polish that most other Rockstar productions do. The open-world was uninteresting and the vast majority of the game’s assets, be it buildings, bodies, cars or weapons, were bland at best. I understand that building the entire city was an authenticity pull, and it works, but to fill it with little-to-nothing in the way of interest to actually explore what they built... I felt like there should of been something with a little more substance other than unwatchable movie reels. The face-capturing tech also had its drawbacks, as it really is impressive when you see it for the first time, but the game very quickly dissolves into staring at their faces to see their smiles or eyes crunch in a bizarre manner, or accusing them of lying to see their reaction, then promptly backing out.

The more I think about it, the more the game just seems really devoid of variety. L.A. Noire boils down to some very core gameplay trappings, and the novelty of the technology and setting heavily mask this. It was a fun and different experience, but one I do not think will hold the test of time very well, even a year from now. It makes me really indecisive on what I think of the game, because I did enjoy it. I just don’t know if that would hold, should I play it again.

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It seriously bums me out that I can find nowhere to put Dirt 3 on my list. If I could be “that” guy and have 11 slots on my game of the year list, Dirt 3 would take that spot, no questions asked. I just wished it did more than what it actually offered. Not that it is disappointing in any way, because it’s an improvement over Dirt 2 in every facet imaginable. It’s just… kind of the same.

Codemasters' graphics engine shines to unprecedented levels in Dirt 3.

That’s not to say that Dirt 3 hasn’t changed. The physics, for one, are vastly improved. The game’s controls feel a lot tighter, and the handling of cars has significantly improved. The slot car-feel of previous Codemasters racing games is finally gone, replaced with a physics engine that heavily relies on terrain differences and independent suspension. There’s still that good-ol’ touch of arcadey-ness in there, but you feel so much more in control without ever feeling like the game is sacrificing realism to give it to you.

The presentation also continues to be one of the game’s strongest suits. I heavily recommend you go see the game’s art director’s portfolio, because his past work is just as brilliant as his current work in Dirt 3. The game oozes with style, from its golden-modern main menu to its typeface. Its soundtrack also shines, with a well-versed mix of electro, bass, alternative and hip-hop.

Gymkhana events aren't the greatest, but they're not bad, either.

Dirt 3 also has a host of new events, some of which unfortunately relying on Ken Block’s inexplicable Gymkhana craze. It’s fun, but it’s not what I really want out of a rally game—much less a racing game. Tony Hawk in cars never sounded like the greatest idea, but at least it works. Thankfully, all of the mixed-match race hybrids and other various disciplines all take a backseat in Dirt 3. Point-to-point rally is back in full effect, and this makes me fucking ecstatic. The Colin McRae Rally series of old continues to be some of my favorite racing games of all time, and the rally events in Dirt 3 are the best throwback to those games that I could ever ask for. I know it’s not what most players are asking for with the newer entries of the series, but it makes me so god-damned happy. Because of that, it deserves a ton of merit from my part.

Thanks, Codemasters, for caring about point-to-point. <3

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If you want to talk about sequelitis, then you need look no further than the Yakuza series. What was once a brilliant mix of brawler combat, RPG elements and a well-realized world and plot is now… well, it continues to be all of this, but the problem is that it hasn’t become anything more. It’s to be expected, I suppose, that franchises originating from Japan tend to iterate very minutely from game to game, as “more of the same” goes down a lot smoother there than it does here. I understand that, but there is something to be said for just how little Yakuza 4 actually “improves” upon its predecessors.

Kiryu remains as polygonal as ever.

For one, there’s the story. The inclusion of four playable characters for the main story is a smart move, and it made the plot a lot more engaging than another tour around Kamurocho would of otherwise. The plot structure remains largely the same, however, and the new characters have about as much personality as Chex Mix, especially when compared to Kiryu. The story goes in the directions you expect to, with the government being involved and betrayals happening left-and-right. It’s standard affair for the series, and that three new characters change little-to-nothing speaks volumes to how tiring it is getting to be.

Second comes … well, the game itself. Presentation and gameplay are carbon copies of Yakuza 3. Yakuza 4 suffers horribly from the similar presentation, feeling more like an over-priced expansion pack than a sequel. The menus are identical, the HUD is largely similar, the combat is the same, the moves are the same, the unlocks are the same, the mini-games are the same—it goes on like this for a while. The new characters all have their different fighting styles, bringing a little change to the combat, but will eventually grow into the same fighting patterns that you’ve used with Kiryu for the past 3 games. There is a change, at least, with the leveling system, which now works with tokens that you spend instead of the usual experience points. It’s neat at first, but in the end, it’s just a different way of giving you experience for punching jerks in the face.

This is actually a screenshot from Yakuza 3, but you wouldn't know that if I didn't tell you.

The third, final, and biggest issue comes with the setting. I will say this: I love Kamurocho. It’s an incredibly well-realized piece of Japanese culture and environment. They’ve iterated on the setting a lot since the first Yakuza game and it feels a lot like a home now. It’s a great feeling when you set foot in it, but it’s one that wears off quickly into Yakuza 4. 3 had the benefit of moving into the next generation, allowing you to experience just about all of the city without any loading screens. That novelty is gone now, and all that’s left is an area that is incredibly familiar, has changed little since the last time you saw it, and instills a feeling of fatigue that will really get to you in the late-game. By the end of my run through Yakuza 4, I had absolutely no interest in any side-quest. I didn’t want to run around chasing dudes, or fight jerks in the streets, or play blackjack or any of that stuff. I wanted the game to end because I wanted to see the end of the story, nothing more. If the series is going to continue, it needs a new environment and central setting, because I am not entirely sure I’d be on board with another visit to the never-changing sights of Kamurocho again.

It also wouldn’t hurt to switch graphical engines because man, is that series starting to look rough around the edges…

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Guys, Saints Row is so dumb. Like, unbelievably dumb. With that in mind, let me explain to you why it’s the most fun I’ve had playing a game this year. I need to preface two things to do so, though.

What is this, I don't even--

The first is why I am so surprised I love Saints Row 3. The shortest of the two answers starts with me telling you that I fuckin’ hated Saints Row II. It was a broken, unfunny and immature attempt to capitalize on the serious direction of Rockstar’s GTA franchise, and I didn’t connect with it at all. That might be reading a bit much into it, but by the time my game had glitched out 50 times, had no laughs whatsoever and was shooting poo at people from a truck, I decided that I had seen my share of stupidity and that I’d be better off not playing this insanity. It left me unexcited to play Saints Row: The Third, and it’s probably those lowered expectations that led me to having such a great time with it. Or, at least, part of the reason why.

You'll spend a large portion of the game jumping out of these and watching crash to shit. :D

The second reason why is as simple as me growing up in a time where games were just games. Games weren’t this thing trying to tell you this story, make you experience you never have before or transporting you to some fantasy world you feel like you live in. More than anything else this year, I feel like Saints Row: The Third goes back to that “games as games” mentality. Cars handle way too responsively, you can upgrade your character (already a throwback) to have infinite ammo and become invincible, the game’s plot is nothing but an excuse to do insane things and every bit of it is as fun as a game should be.

If there’s one impression I get from Saints Row 3, it’s that at no point did the words “No, we can’t do that” come up during the game’s development. There is so much shit crammed into this game, all of it more bombastic and fun than the last.

The game goes all out and fills the whole disc with insane moments everywhere. I love it. I love Saints Row: The Third, and I love Volition for thinking this was a terribly great idea. Those guys are heroes, and we should all thank them for making videogames fucking videogames again.

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See you tomorrow for Part 2!

12 Comments

Dirt 3 and it's amazing soundtrack.

I really don't think there is going to be a better soundtrack, original or licensed, released this year. DiRT 3's soundtrack is just pure aces all around. Judging by the amount of love for it on here and in the chat, I know I'm not alone so here's me giving back to you all. I collected through various blogs and Beatport downloads the soundtrack to DiRT 3, compiled all of it, edited all the tags and made custom album art for it. 43 tracks of dance, DnB, electro and britrock/pop. Hopefully y'all enjoy it as much as I am doing so right now. :)

[MOD EDIT - Link removed. Sorry, everyone.]

OST!

The entire thing is brilliant, though. Massive props to Christian Stevenson for making another killer list of tunes for Codies.

8 Comments

L.A. Noire + DIRT 3 impressions

 

It’s funny to me that the first thing I did when finishing L.A. Noire yesterday was rush onto the Giant Bomb forums and check out what the community had to say about it. I barely gave myself time to reflect on the ending and was instantly curious to know what everyone else thought of it because… well, I think it’s pretty well in line to say that I didn’t see that coming at all. And judging by the community’s fairly negative reception to the end, neither did you guys. I will refrain myself from stepping into spoiler territory, but I do have other stuff on my mind about it.

Obviously, the first thing that I need to address is the facial animations. There isn’t a single moment where the tech in question isn’t staggeringly believable, save for the very few cases where children are interviewed and for some reason end up looking like they’re 45 years old.  It makes this kind of game so much more possible on modern consoles and it makes it a completely unprecedented experience, something that I found to be totally refreshing and fun in a generation where I spend most of my gaming days staring down the barrel of a gun and having hit markers show up. The methodical experience of investigating a crime scene, interviewing potential suspects and witnesses and tying found clues and evidence to both was a ton of fun to me. It was so great to play through a game so different, especially after getting the early impression that it was to be a Red Dead/GTA-like formula game. It’s not, and I couldn’t be happier about that.
      
I do have a few beefs with the game, the biggest of which is probably the under-developed feeling the rest of the game has. Anything story and investigation related is top tier, yet everything else seems to have suffered. The open world is arguably the most intricately detailed and most well-realized one of any game in the genre to date, yet there is almost absolutely nothing of interest to do in it. You’re given the option to go tackle “street crimes” during downtime in a case, yet those side-missions are a complete snooze, involving either shooting guys in the face or chasing guys until something hits them in the face to stop them for you. Besides the very little setups, there is almost nothing to tell them apart from each other. Only one of those missions is actually different and involves investigative work, only to have that “investigation” be one clue which, of course, ends with you punching a dude in the face. Throw in a couple ladders and drain pipe climbing exercises and you have yourself the recipe for every side-mission in the game. The hidden cars are fun to find and subsequently drive but none of them later spawn in a centralized garage, rendering them completely useless. It’s neat that you get to drive a three-wheeled car called the “Davis”, but having to drive across town just to get it again? Fuck that. With 40 one-minute missions and only three types of collectibles to uncover, the world ends up feeling a lot more barren than it should.
That’s honestly about all I have to negatively say about the game, though. The rest is story and setting, which they’ve created to a stunningly precise perfection. The story dug into me and refused to let go, making me stay up until four in the morning on two separate occasions, both times being completely unbothered by it. There are no crazy plots for world domination, no non-sense business that borders on fantasy, nothing to have you believe this is any universe other than the one you live in. It’s police business about drugs, murder, politics and money, pure and simple. Team Bondi really put the work into making this as authentic a film noir experience as possible and it really hit the mark for me. No other game I’ve played benefits from such a well thought-out periodical direction than L.A. Noire. The music, the radio intermissions, the architecture, the writing, the acting, the character archetypes, the plot, the setting, the imagery, the selection of vehicles… the list goes on and all of it created the most brilliant atmosphere I’ve played through in ages. 
What had me most, though, are the characters. The game doesn’t set up the characters and events right at the start, kind of leaving you wondering what the actual plot of the game is. It was a little disorienting to be introduced to a bevy of characters and flashbacks to World War II with none of it really meaning anything until about half-way through the game. All these different narratives then start tying in together and makes for a really, really compelling storyline. The partners you’re introduced to are all great in their own ways, like Rusty’s brilliant punch-to-the-faces-of-necrophiliacs, and the supporting cast of the LAPD was all well-realized on their own, despite their vastly shortened screen time. It’s weird, I really ended up connecting with the characters later on and I didn’t think that would happen, given how there is a very impersonal sense of storytelling early on. There’s a distinct moment in the story where as soon as that event happens, it gets to be a much more up-close narrative and I loved every bit of it. It weaved all these different narratives with those of the main character without fault. Seems like it’s a fairly polarizing end-game, considering the community was really bummed on the end of that game but it really clicked for me.   
After beating the game, I sat around for a while just collecting all of my thoughts and immediately set out to write a review. I wrote about two paragraphs and, after reading through it a few times, deleted all of it. I don’t think I’m able to approach the game with a critical eye. As much as I adore L.A. Noire, I don’t see it being anything other than an interactive film. More than any Quantic Dream game and more than any other Rockstar game, L.A. Noire had me treating it more like a movie than a game and I honestly think that’s essential to enjoying the game. The game mechanics are there to support the narrative and the tremendously well-realized characters and plot are in no way hindered by any of the game mechanics and their shortcomings. Even those game mechanics aren’t really game-like, involving nothing other than thinking, watching and pressing a single button. To enjoy L.A. Noire to its fullest, you can’t see it as a video game but only as the evolution of the genre of film and media it’s trying to emulate. Team Bondi has successfully elevated this genre of gaming to a new standard and I can only hope we see more of this forward-thinking creativity from them. It’s a brilliant effort but it’s one I can’t judge as a game.

That being said, if I had to review it then it gets a perfect five out of five sandwiches.

I’m roughly 5 or 6 hours into DIRT 3 now and having completed the first season and nearing the end of the second, I feel pretty confident in saying this is quite possibly the best entry in the series to date. There will always be a special place in my heart for Colin McRae Rally 03, but DIRT 3 does so much right and so much better than the first two that it’s impossible to resist.   
The first thing that’s got me completely in love is the glorious return to force of Rally events. Raid and Rallycross events have taken a backseat to allow for tons and tons more of point-to-point rally and it’s AMAZING. There is no thrill like the thrill of racing against the clock in the most varied terrains. This with the other additions and improvements makes the game incredibly fun. The weather effects, for one, make for some seriously challenging changes. There is now rain and snow, alongside times of day, making the already incredible amount of tracks feel varied and fresh. Going head-to-head against another driver at night during a snowstorm with the in-car camera on is an experience like nothing else. The handling is also vastly improved, with Codemasters finally implementing independent suspension. It’s always been a point of contention for serious racing game fans, since the omission of this feature made the earlier games feel a little like slot-cars on a slot-car track. This is gone now, so all of you imbeciles who argued against the first few incredible games in the series have no excuse to miss out on this one. 

Also replaced are the trailer menus, switched in favor for the most beautifully designed UI I’ve seen in a long, long time. Philip Cox, Codemasters’ UI guy, is a genius and DIRT 3 is definitely proof. Menus are now far prettier to look at and have the added bonus of being a lot faster and snappier to navigate—something DIRT 2 suffered seriously from doing the opposite. The incredibly sharp presentation alongside the terrific dance/electro soundtrack makes for visual and audio euphoria every time I do anything to get to any race in that game.
The Gymkhana stuff is also a pleasant surprise. I was expecting that stuff to be nothing other than annoying and it’s actually a lot of fun. Hearing it described as Tony Hawk with cars is a little crude but is, unfortunately, pretty apt. It’s tricks and combos with cars and it’s infinitely more fun then you’ll give it credit for. I think it’s silly to have some of the in-game figures describe it as some bullshit form of expression but I’ve grown to like it a lot. I’m glad it’s an addition to the game and even more glad that they gave you the Battersea Complex to drive around in and fuck around with no time limit. I’ve still got far more to do in it but what I’ve played of it so far, it’s definitely shaping up to be a contender as my favorite racing game. Absolutely in love with it. 
4 Comments

30 Days of Gaming : Day 20

Hey! On time!


Driving Games

Driving games hold a place near and dear to my heart. I grew up around a family of car aficionados and my first PlayStation game was Gran Turismo. The combination of those two made me a pretty heavy follower with racing games and as I grew older, I'd come to love further entries in the genre. Formula 1, Jet Moto, WipEout... From simulation to arcade, from tracks to city streets, the driving genre would be the seat in which some of my favorite games ever would sit in. I've always loved cars and continue to do so, so it should be no surprise that I find myself excited with just about every entry in this genre. 

Also worth adding, Colin McRae Rally 03 is not just my favorite racing game ever, it's also one of my all-time favorites and candidate for the "One of the Greatest Achievements in Entertainment" award I just made up.

Days of Gaming Recap!

Feb 13th, 2011 - Day 1: Your Very First Videogame
Feb 14th, 2011 - Day 2: Your Favorite Character 
Feb 15th, 2011 - Day 3: A Game That Is Underrated   
Feb 16th, 2011 - Day 4: Your Guilty-Pleasure Game     
Feb 17th, 2011 - Day 5: Game Character You Wish You Were  
Feb 18th, 2011 - Day 6: Most Annoying Character
Feb 19th, 2011 - Day 7: Favorite Game Couple    
Feb 20th, 2011 - Day 8: Best Soundtrack  
Feb 23rd, 2011 - Day 9: Saddest Game Scene  
Feb 26th, 2011 - Day 10: Best Gameplay (Part 1)  
March 11th, 2011 - Day 10: Best Gameplay (Part 2)    
March 12th, 2011 - Day 11: Gaming System of Choice    
March 13th, 2011 - Day 12: Game Everyone Should Play  
March 15th, 2011 - Day 13: Game You've Played Over Five Times   
March 16th, 2011 - Day 14: Current Gaming Wallpaper   
March 17th, 2011 - Day 15: Game You're Currently Playing     
March 19th, 2011 - Day 16: Best Cutscenes  
March 21st, 2011 - Day 17: Favorite Antagonist
March 24th, 2011 - Day 18: Favorite Hidden Secrets   
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30 Days of Gaming - Day 19 [alongside some other stuff]

So... I may or may not have taken a near-two month hiatus on this blog series. There's a perfectly good reason for that-- one that I will go on about at the end of this blog because, really, you're probably here to associate to my taste in games rather than the series of events that comprise my college life. With that on, I am sorry I've been so neglectful, I hope you're okay with it, maybe I can move my clothes back into the drawers with yours and we'll just forget all of this ever happened. 


 Scenic!
There are many places in games that I'd be thrilled to go on vacation to but none that I think I would really enjoy... staying at on extended leave. The area of Red Dead is fascinating but I'd be six feet under within days and while I adore the modern day, crime-ridden streets of Kamurocho, I would be far too fearful to even walk the streets knowing what goes on there. No, instead, I pick the kingpin of intergalactical politics and home to our dear Commander Shepard, the Citadel.

There's something so... so futuristic about it that I find the locale hard to resist. It's guaranteed to have all the shopping and entertainment outlets I need and there are scenic views no matter which area of it you're on. It's the perfect place to live for an idiot like me who wishes Ghost in the Shell's idea of the future was real.

The Boring Part

So, why haven't I updated in so long? School is the only reason, fortunately. While I've gone great lengths to schedule myself a little more efficiently (I've started to use the Calendar App and Widget on Android which brilliantly syncs with Google), I've still found it incredibly difficult to find the time to sit down and spend quality time with the WYSIWYG editor I call home.

The past two months have been like a non-stop barrage of projects, from painting to self-portraits, from technical drawings of houses in perspective to storyboards and advert renderings. Heck, that advert project had to be started, sketched, approved, transfered, lined and rendered in markers within a single week-- a challenge unseen to the class beforehand. But, we pulled through it, as a group, and finished the semester with an Art History exam that went over like a turbulent breeze. (See what I did there)

Class ended on Thursday and I spent the better part of Friday sleeping and being lazy, something I sorely missed and needed. Saturday and Sunday were spent catching up time with my girlfriend, watching 30 Rock and playing PlayStation One games on her newly purchased PSPgo. Actually, since I have nothing better to talk about beyond what I just wrote, let me just say this: the PSP Go is a brilliant little device. It has a sleek design, a great screen, terrific buttons and layout and the slide-design is perfect for pocket-carrying. It's a damn shame that the downloadable future everyone thinks is going to happen is decades away from happening because I'd honestly be thrilled if the Go was a success. As it is now, though, it's a perfect system to pick up if you're way into playing PlayStation EBOOTs that you make from your PS1 discs. Which brings up another point: Spyro 2 is fucking awesome.

Anyways, now I am taking stuff easy and waiting for tomorrow to come already so I can go pick up my copy of L.A. Noire. I'm typing this after dropping my girlfriend off home and watching The King's Speech, of which I am kind of bored with. It's pretty good and there's some great acting in it from Geoffrey Rush but man, that is some pandering-to-the-Oscar-crowd business that that movie has going on. Life has gone on the breaks pretty heavily and it's... it's enjoyable. Time to myself, time to relax, time to sleep and eat and do all the great things I've wanted to do over the past few months but haven't been able to because homeworkhomeworkhomework.

So that's that. BE BACK TOMORROW GUYZ

Days of Gaming Recap!

Feb 13th, 2011 - Day 1: Your Very First Videogame
Feb 14th, 2011 - Day 2: Your Favorite Character 
Feb 15th, 2011 - Day 3: A Game That Is Underrated   
Feb 16th, 2011 - Day 4: Your Guilty-Pleasure Game     
Feb 17th, 2011 - Day 5: Game Character You Wish You Were  
Feb 18th, 2011 - Day 6: Most Annoying Character
Feb 19th, 2011 - Day 7: Favorite Game Couple    
Feb 20th, 2011 - Day 8: Best Soundtrack  
Feb 23rd, 2011 - Day 9: Saddest Game Scene  
Feb 26th, 2011 - Day 10: Best Gameplay (Part 1)  
March 11th, 2011 - Day 10: Best Gameplay (Part 2)    
March 12th, 2011 - Day 11: Gaming System of Choice    
March 13th, 2011 - Day 12: Game Everyone Should Play  
March 15th, 2011 - Day 13: Game You've Played Over Five Times   
March 16th, 2011 - Day 14: Current Gaming Wallpaper   
March 17th, 2011 - Day 15: Game You're Currently Playing     
March 19th, 2011 - Day 16: Best Cutscenes  
March 21st, 2011 - Day 17: Favorite Antagonist
March 24th, 2011 - Day 18: Favorite Hidden Secrets
5 Comments

Parking Lot Search Algorithm

A friend of mine posted this on her Facebook page as a note. It's kind of really great, so much so that I feel I had to share it with the public world. So here:


Parking Lot Search Algorithm

I have spent a fair amount of time this semester thinking about the optimization of search algorithms, as well as a fair amount of time traveling to and from campus. As I frequently get insufficient sleep, I find myself rushing to class and have to minimize the amount of time spent searching for a parking spot and, ultimately, getting there on time.


Located north of science 4 are a number of parallel arrays of object "parking spot", which contains a boolean value "empty". The search is completed once I reach an object in the array with empty = true. Due to hardware limitations, performing the array search too quickly can cause the user to crash, so it is better to optimize which arrays are searched by performing car.searchsafe() and not car.searchunsafe(). car.searchunsafe() has improved best case running time but has an edge case which can cause huge amounts of slowdown if a parking spot object contains a car object of type university police.

 

The arrays are contained within data servers called lots, with some lots being more proximal to my destination than others. This seems inefficient to me due to added time spent changing lots, but different lots appear to have different access privileges for users, which is likely the reason for this design. The complex nature of the search algorithm is due to the fact that many users perform it concurrently and my search completion time can increase depending on the number of users performing search and the number of completed searches, as these will change array values. Because of this, algorithm complexity can become even worse than O(n), though this is a rare occurrance. The trick is in knowing where in this unsorted array to begin the search - if many users are performing search in a lot (especially more proximal lots), I will assume that that lot has no or very few parking space objects with empty = true values and I will start my search at a more distal lot. This most frequently occurs during peak user hours of 11:00am-2:00pm.

 

In ethological animals models of food searching, animals will often search high-risk areas if the potential reward is high and necessary for survival. However, death is a binary quality and being late for class has levels of magnitude, so I will often only search high-risk/high-reward proximal lots when I am not already late. Travel time via bipedal movement will only decrease at a logarithmic rate with increasing linear time spent performing array searches. The competitive nature of the parking spot search algorithm increases amygdala activity in some users - I prefer a dove strategy when challenged by another user, as I do not have the money to replace slashed tires.

 

There are other extraneous factors to consider when performing an optimized search - Binghamton is renowned for being an undesirable location to spend extended time outside of buildings. The amount of time I will spend searching the more proximal arrays maintains an inverse relationship with the external temperature.

 

Uhm, I am a nerd and just spent 30 minutes writing this instead of finishing my data structures project :< bai

2 Comments

30 Days of Gaming : Day 18

Shit! I missed a day. Or two. ... or 3. School's keeping me busy, 'kay? :( This and me being away from home at night has prevented me from updating as frequently as I should and for that, I apologize. Which reminds me, if any of you who sent me a PM are reading this and I haven't replied to anything to you've written me, I'm horribly sorry and I swear I will get back to you. Stuff just gets pushed back in the Inbox real quick and I end up forgetting about it. >< 
  
Now then, onto the good stuff! 
 

Grand Theft Auto

 
So, the original category for today was "Favorite Protagonist", which I thought was a little silly because I distinctly remember answering that on, like, day 2 or something. With that in mind, I thought up a new category that could allow me to write about something I've been wanting to write about for a while now and that is the many hidden secrets of GTA.   
 
Let's go back in time a bit, back to the olden days of Grand Theft Auto III. Most obvious of them all was the "hidden" sign behind a wall on the second island of Liberty City.  
  
The Gateway Secret 
This was the first time I'd ever seen an easter egg in a game. My cousin had shown it to me when playing it in front of me and I lost my shit. I couldn't believe that a developer would put hidden messages in games like that and it started a fire in me that's yet to peter out. The dreaded Caravella-itis, where I need to find and collect EVERYTHING. Because of that sign and just how great it was when I saw it for the first time, I've since loved to find all the fun little secrets developers put in their work. And if there's one series that there's been more than it's share of secrets, it's GTA. Now, honestly, I could write up a delectably well-written blog entry about this stuff but it's 22h30, my girlfriend is in bed and I'm exhausted from being up so early. So instead, I'll run down a list of all of my favorite secrets, and even myths, that I've encountered in GTA. Maybe you'll know of them, maybe not. Either way, it'll be a fun trip down memory lane for one of us! 
  

  • Dick Building

 How convenient that all those guests would be there at that particular moment... every night.
Dude, I was, like, 14 when I played Vice City. This was hilarious back then. ... still kinda is, honestly. Lights on a building shaped like a penis is a relic of a time gone by, I tells you. 
 

  • Cement Shoed Victims


LOOK AT THOSE POLYGONAL FAT MAN NIPPLES 
This was a pretty great one, since it was rumored to be completely false for a while. He was said to be located somewhere near where the biker bar was, but for as much as I tried finding him, I never did. Fucking impossible is what it was. That is, until the day that I actually found him. Oh, how did I ever flip. All that searching was finally validated. 
 
... and then I went back to just seeing how badly I could flip my car over off the steps near the hospital on the third island. 
  
 
  •  Bigfoot Myth

 
When GTA: San Andreas came out, I got pretty heavy into this one forum community that I honestly can't remember the name of. They were just dudes finding glitches and such and through there, I found the rumor of Bigfoot actually appearing in the game. What you needed to do was head to the woods on the second island when the weather was foggy and look through a sniper scope in the distant forest. He would, apparently, eventually appear. Hours spent just searching and searching, only to have it be debunked by Rockstar, saying that there was no such thing in the game. 
 
A bummer, but a testament to just how fucking insane that game was. That urban legends were appearing and spreading like wildfire... that's pretty special-- something no game has yet to replicate.
 
 
  •  Plane Crash

 
Another urban legend that quickly spread across the forums, although this one turned out to be true! In extremely rare cases, a Dodo plane would just fall out of the sky near the player and explode. Nothing else. I thought that was pretty silly until it happened one single time in the 150+ hours I dished into that game. Fun stuff, especially when you tell your friends about with no evidence to prove it or replicate it!  
 
 
  • Heaven

     
If you flew through the ceiling, there was a warp point in the black nether that would warp you to the outside skybox in which all the other buildings were located. 

  This was probably GTA: San Andreas' biggest glitch/secret. Inside the first gym near Grove Street is a hole in the ceiling in which you can fly through using a jetpack. When doing so, you access an area of the sky that's above the actual ceiling when in the normal game world. See, what Rockstar did was create all of the building interiors and set them in a normally-inaccessible area of the sky. When a player would walk through the entry point in the game world, it would warp them to the appropriate building in the sky. Since everything was closed off, players wouldn't know they weren't actually in the middle of nowhere. There were no streets or anything up there, but every interior had a set location across the vast map. Restaurants, gyms, cutscene backgrounds... all of them were up there somewhere, but the biggest area of them all was...   
 
   
 That's right, Liberty City. There was one mission in the game that had you travel back there to kill some dude or something, but you returned back to SA as the mission ended. If you managed to get there, (Flying the jetpack for that long was tricky. If not done properly, you'd fall into a secondary skybox that was filled with water.) you could walk around in a small section of it too, which was neat. Hot coffee ain't got nothing on this secret, if you ask me. 


  • Jimmy Hoffa 


Probably the most widespread urban legend of them all is the Vice City-based location of Jimmy Hoffa's dead body. The game wasn't particularly the best with handling camera clipping, so driving a boat under the bridges in Vice City would cause the camera to clip through the supports and effectively let you see through them. It was told that if you did it on the northwestern most bridge (That connects Prawn Island and... whatever the fuck the second, bigger island was called), Jimmy Hoffa's body would be incased in the concrete inside it. Clever, but completely false-- on that bridge and every other in the game. 
 
 

  • Happy Easter! 

 
This is just depressing me. Why isn't there cool shit like this in games anymore? 
Oh, self-awareness. There was an accessible helipad on the second Vice City island that, if you jumped off at the right angle, would lead you to a hidden room with a nice, big chocolate easter egg.  
 
Now, there are many other secrets in the series, from easter eggs to funny signs, but all of them pale in comparison to the biggest one of them all.  
  

  • The Ghost Town 

This was fucking huge. The opening cinematic to GTA III (which details your main character robbing a bank and escaping) was in-engine and "recorded" in a little town set far off into the nether northwest of the third island. There were two ways of seeing it, one of which is the excruciatingly frustrating way of actually getting there. 
 
   
The Ghost Town doesn't actually have any solid ground (that I can remember, at least) and is the size of... about a single city block. There's nothing particularly special about it other than it being a floating part of the city that shouldn't really exist, yet is there for people to discover anyways. If you could manage to fly the Dodo, it was an incredibly satisfying reward that I'm glad Rockstar left in. 
 
Oh, and the second way of seeing it was climbing up the mountain on the third island and using a sniper rifle to peek through the mountain and zoom in on the city that would render-in when zoomed out to the max. 
 
... heh, childhood. 
 

Days of Gaming Recap!

Feb 13th, 2011 - Day 1: Your Very First Videogame
Feb 14th, 2011 - Day 2: Your Favorite Character 
Feb 15th, 2011 - Day 3: A Game That Is Underrated   
Feb 16th, 2011 - Day 4: Your Guilty-Pleasure Game     
Feb 17th, 2011 - Day 5: Game Character You Wish You Were  
Feb 18th, 2011 - Day 6: Most Annoying Character
Feb 19th, 2011 - Day 7: Favorite Game Couple    
Feb 20th, 2011 - Day 8: Best Soundtrack  
Feb 23rd, 2011 - Day 9: Saddest Game Scene  
Feb 26th, 2011 - Day 10: Best Gameplay (Part 1)  
March 11th, 2011 - Day 10: Best Gameplay (Part 2)    
March 12th, 2011 - Day 11: Gaming System of Choice    
March 13th, 2011 - Day 12: Game Everyone Should Play  
March 15th, 2011 - Day 13: Game You've Played Over Five Times   
March 16th, 2011 - Day 14: Current Gaming Wallpaper   
March 17th, 2011 - Day 15: Game You're Currently Playing     
March 19th, 2011 - Day 16: Best Cutscenes  
March 21st, 2011 - Day 17: Favorite Antagonist
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30 Days of Gaming : Day 17

I got my Dead Space 2 hoodie in the mail today! Woo! 
 

The Reapers

Hi! I'm here to DESTROY ALL OF YOU. 
There are very few antagonists in gaming that pose as much of a threat as the Reapers do. Can you honestly name another group of villains that methodically extinct entire species when they become the dominant race in the galaxy? Shit no, you can't!  
 
And they're not just my favorite baddies because of the insanely ridiculous threat they pose, either. They're my favorite because of just how awesome the story behind the Protheans and the Reapers are. I picked them because how great the end of Mass Effect 1 is. I picked them because Sovereign was the shit. The simple idea of them is genius and mysterious, a combination of some incredibly inventive thinking and some amazing sci-fi artwork and design. The end of 1 and the final cutscene in 2 gets me ancy-in-the-pantsy at what to expect out of Mass Effect 3, almost entirely because I want to know how you stop a force as destructive as the Reapers. 
  

Days of Gaming Recap!

Feb 13th, 2011 - Day 1: Your Very First Videogame
Feb 14th, 2011 - Day 2: Your Favorite Character 
Feb 15th, 2011 - Day 3: A Game That Is Underrated   
Feb 16th, 2011 - Day 4: Your Guilty-Pleasure Game     
Feb 17th, 2011 - Day 5: Game Character You Wish You Were  
Feb 18th, 2011 - Day 6: Most Annoying Character
Feb 19th, 2011 - Day 7: Favorite Game Couple    
Feb 20th, 2011 - Day 8: Best Soundtrack  
Feb 23rd, 2011 - Day 9: Saddest Game Scene  
Feb 26th, 2011 - Day 10: Best Gameplay (Part 1)  
March 11th, 2011 - Day 10: Best Gameplay (Part 2)    
March 12th, 2011 - Day 11: Gaming System of Choice    
March 13th, 2011 - Day 12: Game Everyone Should Play  
March 15th, 2011 - Day 13: Game You've Played Over Five Times   
March 16th, 2011 - Day 14: Current Gaming Wallpaper   
March 17th, 2011 - Day 15: Game You're Currently Playing     
March 19th, 2011 - Day 16: Best Cutscenes
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30 Days of Gaming : Day 16

Half down! Only 15 more days to go now, so I've re-vamped the title banners to celebrate. :3 
  

 My serious face.
I was thinking pretty hard about this one, since I wasn't sure if I should go by best cinematics (In which case, Blizzard would of won. Duh.) or by best "this-halts-gameplay-to-progress-the-story" type of cutscene. I chose the latter, considering the title made more sense to me that way. Once that was settled, I had an even longer internal conflict about which should win-- Mass Effect 2 or Dragon Age II?  
 
Mass Effect 2 has the genius addition of the Interrupt system but Dragon Age II's dialogue wheel and writing is so much better... And after much thought, I ended up giving it to DAII thanks to me realizing just how great of a character Hawke is. At least, my Hawke.  
 
Though the category is about cutscenes, the interactive dialogue sequences and the interludes between Varric and the Chantry Seeker easily take it for me. Mass Effect 1 and 2 has some incredible scenes in it that I still remember as vividly as when playing through it, but the framed narrative in Dragon Age II, as well as all the regular conversation stuff, is so perfectly executed that I can't help but side with it. You can check Day 15 (link below) for my complete thoughts on Dragon Age II and why I love the narrative in it so much. There are more "cutscene"-like games that I could of given this to but any opportunity for me to praise the game's narrative paces and devices is one I will take. 
 

Days of Gaming Recap!

Feb 13th, 2011 - Day 1: Your Very First Videogame
Feb 14th, 2011 - Day 2: Your Favorite Character 
Feb 15th, 2011 - Day 3: A Game That Is Underrated   
Feb 16th, 2011 - Day 4: Your Guilty-Pleasure Game     
Feb 17th, 2011 - Day 5: Game Character You Wish You Were  
Feb 18th, 2011 - Day 6: Most Annoying Character
Feb 19th, 2011 - Day 7: Favorite Game Couple    
Feb 20th, 2011 - Day 8: Best Soundtrack  
Feb 23rd, 2011 - Day 9: Saddest Game Scene  
Feb 26th, 2011 - Day 10: Best Gameplay (Part 1)  
March 11th, 2011 - Day 10: Best Gameplay (Part 2)    
March 12th, 2011 - Day 11: Gaming System of Choice    
March 13th, 2011 - Day 12: Game Everyone Should Play  
March 15th, 2011 - Day 13: Game You've Played Over Five Times   
March 16th, 2011 - Day 14: Current Gaming Wallpaper   
March 17th, 2011 - Day 15: Game You're Currently Playing
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30 Days of Gaming : Day 15 + Dragon Age II impressions

I really should update these during the day when I have plenty of free time as opposed to waiting at the very last moment :( Fuckin' late again, how embarrassing.

Dragon Age II 

 
I guess now is a good time as ever to talk about Dragon Age II, huh?  
 
I'm 30 hours into the game and I'm in the last act, probably a mission or two away from completely finishing it. I'll keep away from spoiler business and some of the end-game stuff since I haven't beaten DA2 yet, but also because remotely hinting at what the game's end has in store would be incredibly dickish of me. Instead, I'll just go over what I absolutely adore about it and what absolutely bugs the shit out of me. Luckily, the latter is comprised of only a few minor issues, of which are hardly anything to put a dent DAII's resilient armor.  
 
If I stare at you long enough, maybe a plot will develop 
After playing through both games in the series now, I'm still unsure if Bioware has a greater sense of direction that they want to move Dragon Age in. Mass Effect, of which DA2 has taken heavy influence from, established in the very first game an immediate threat. Despite sharing different antagonists in each separate title of the franchise, said threat persists throughout the entire series. It made each game feel unique in it's own right while still belonging to the same universe, one you began to deeply care about when you know who the greater enemy was. Dragon Age, however, lacks this. The first game immediately set up the Darkspawn as the enemy and the Blight as the bigger threat, but this has all but been abandoned in the second title. In fact, I'm pretty sure I can count Darkspawn encounters in Dragon Age II in one hand. Literally. I understand the caveat of the Blight only happens every thousand years of whatever it is, but if that is the case, then I feel like some more forward-thinking plan should of been put into place. Dragon Age II doesn't have an actual antagonist until the last few hours of the game and that makes absolutely no sense to me. The vast majority of the story lacks any driving direction what-so-ever in terms of plot development. For a game that relies on fiction so heavily, this is nothing short of a major oversight. 
 
The other problem I have with the game is the ... well, it lacks scope. The first game had an absolutely massive world that could be explored and had a variety of major cities and towns that you could visit, each one more different than the last. I felt like it was a defining characteristic of the game and it baffles me that they took the complete opposite direction in Dragon Age II. You're now in an area called the Free Marches, which consists of the incredibly large city of Kirkwall and it's surrounding areas which... is two mountains and a beach area. Oh, and a few dungeons that you will have the pleasure of re-visiting over and over because the game recycles dungeon environments like a motherfucker. There's no Orzammar, no dalish elf village (well, there's a camp but it's so barren that calling it so is a little generous), no gigantic winter-grounded churches that hide a high dragon boss fight... there's literally -nothing- to explore anymore. Everything is triggered by quests-- even the secret bosses. The High Dragon, Hybris, Xebenkeck, Varterral... none of these are found by simply exploring and that's a huge bummer. I can completely understand why the need to make a more focused game is important to something that relies on narrative so heavily but I find it upsetting that this would be the way they'd go about it. The upside is that the more focused region allows them to seriously center the story of the game on the conflicts they present and that's where the game shines most, but there was a sense of adventure that accompanied the first game that is completely lacking in Dragon Age II-- and that's an honest shame. 
 
Even the menus look gorgeous. The layout, the type, the colors... just perfect.
Luckily, the game more than makes up for it's flaws by giving you some of the best story-telling, writing, voice acting, characters, art, lore, combat, quests and interaction. Sound familiar? ... Yeah, didn't think so, considering Dragon Age: Origins lacked all of those. While I greatly appreciate what Origins did, I had absolutely no interest what-so-ever in anything it had to peddle to me. I hated all of the characters and the story had me completely uninterested. The quests were just as much of a bore, the combat was laughably poor (on consoles, I'm unfortunately incapable of playing it on my current computer) and the entire game reeked of a generic tone and style that, as an artist, drove me insane. Nothing stood out. Nothing had an image. Origins embodies generic to a point that I never want to see it again.  
 
I don't know if they hired a new art staff or if they just felt more inspired but whoever was in charge of the art direction for Dragon Age II, I salute you and would give anything to have an apprenticeship under you. The design of the characters, the loading screens, the concept art, the symbols for the different factions, the architecture... it's all so inspired and creatively distinct. I can't think of another game like it and that's so much more than I could ever say than it's predecessor. I absolutely adore every bit of visual prowess DA2 has to offer and I hope they stick with it because, like they wanted, Dragon Age II now has a defining style. And it's one that I love from top to bottom.
  
The combat is also something I hope they stick with. As stated above, I didn't play Origins on my PC and didn't with DA2 either, so my experience is strictly from the PS3 version's standpoint. On the PS3, the combat in Origins was complete ass. Managing tactics was absolutely impossible thanks to the inability to queue up commands and the radial menus in which I tried to do so were poorly designed and beyond complex. Rings upon layers upon sub-sections upon rings... fucking... gross. Just gross. Controlling all of that stuff in real-time was also a pain-in-the-ass. I really wish I could of played the first one on PC, as I think I'd of enjoyed it a lot more. Thankfully, DA2 made some substantial improvements with combat that makes the first game essentially obsolete. You now have full direct control over both movement and your main attack, making it play much more like a hack-and-slash. Skills don't have casting times, they just cast instantly and managing your various skills is now perfectly doable thanks to the radial menu pausing during combat and the ability to queue commands for your entire party in said menu. There are no misses or dodges, everything happens in real time and you can avoid any attack by simply moving-- something the game takes advantage of in many instances. It's a much more engaging experience that I sincerely hope they keep and tinker a bit in the next game to make it even more enjoyable. 
 
But what's kept me coming back for 30 hours? The narrative. I don't want to say anything specific because I want everyone to enjoy this, in the fullest, by themselves but I'll say this: I think I may like Dragon Age II's main lore more than Mass Effect's. To those who know me personally, you know how fucking huge that is. While the story lacks any form of serious direction for it's first... well... 15 hours, I was glued to the screen thanks to incredibly sharp dialogue and voice acting that accompanies the absolutely fascinating fiction Bioware's crafted for the game. The history of the world, city and characters have so much more breath and imagination to them than anything the first game ever had. There's conflict in the characters in DA2 that's unlike anything else I've played and it makes me fear the end of the game. I don't want it to end. I want to know what happens to Kirkwall and Hawke, even long after the game's events have finished. 

Oh fuck, and I haven't even mentioned how fucking great it is to have a main character that's voiced. Female Hawke is so brilliant. Completely on par, if not better, than female Shepard. 
 
I can't wait to finish it tomorrow just as much as I fear doing so. Dragon Age II has it's fair share of problems but it makes up for it in so many other areas that calling it a disappointment or anything similarly negative is just out-right nuts. DA2 is an absolutely brilliant game and if you're still hesitant on playing it, forget your worries and ignore the elitist fans. You're missing out on one of the best modern RPGs by doing so. 
 

Days of Gaming Recap!

Feb 13th, 2011 - Day 1: Your Very First Videogame
Feb 14th, 2011 - Day 2: Your Favorite Character 
Feb 15th, 2011 - Day 3: A Game That Is Underrated   
Feb 16th, 2011 - Day 4: Your Guilty-Pleasure Game     
Feb 17th, 2011 - Day 5: Game Character You Wish You Were  
Feb 18th, 2011 - Day 6: Most Annoying Character
Feb 19th, 2011 - Day 7: Favorite Game Couple    
Feb 20th, 2011 - Day 8: Best Soundtrack  
Feb 23rd, 2011 - Day 9: Saddest Game Scene  
Feb 26th, 2011 - Day 10: Best Gameplay (Part 1)  
March 11th, 2011 - Day 10: Best Gameplay (Part 2)    
March 12th, 2011 - Day 11: Gaming System of Choice    
March 13th, 2011 - Day 12: Game Everyone Should Play  
March 15th, 2011 - Day 13: Game You've Played Over Five Times   
March 16th, 2011 - Day 14: Current Gaming Wallpaper 
6 Comments