Polishing off my half-finished pile of super shame

If the pile o' shame is games you bought but never played what do you call games that you played half of and then walked away from for no good reason? The pile of super shame. With some actual time to game this week I resolved to mount an assault on mine. Here's how it has gone so far.

Stick it to the Man PS4

This was a PS+ game I played and enjoyed earlier this year, but then I got busy and when I had time to game again newer and shinier things were available. It's a pleasant, rather easy, adventure platformer with a twisted sense of humor and some pretty great music/voice-acting. It wasn't hard to beat the last 4 levels and I remembered the story pretty well, but picking it back up again it struck me how little game there actually is here. The puzzles are beyond trivial (heck you generally only have at most 4 options of what stickers to use at any given time) and the platforming isn't even intended to be difficult. The only challenge comes in sections where you have to avoid guards by platforming and using your two defensive stickers to distract them. The problem is that the controls are finicky and these sections are often built without a clear path to take so I had to die multiple times before I knew what I was supposed to do, and even then it could be tough to execute with the controls. I can see how it would be much better with a mouse. Anyway I didn't enjoy the frustrating guard sections and the rest of the game was a breeze so despite really great aesthetics and a story that came to a fun and satisfying conclusion I ended up feeling like there wasn't a lot of game here. I liked my time with it but wished they'd done more to make it mechanically interesting.

Worth finishing? Yes. To see the story and enjoy the aesthetics.

Dust: An Elysian Tail XBLA

I had been picking away at this game for the better part of a year. My general experience had been that the game looked great and was decently fun to play for a little bit, but I would get bored after about 45 minutes. After I got to the Sorrowing Meadows a combination of frustrating enemies and an aesthetic I didn't enjoy made me put it down for an extended period. Picking it back up to push through to the end, I realized why I kept getting tired of it. The combat is boring, and there's way too much of it. Dust has amazing, lush, visuals, the type I always wished video games could have when I was a kid, but it pairs these visuals with relatively simple combat and, more importantly, enemies with very simplistic AI that are boring to fight. And a lot of them. A LOT of them. The platforming in Dust is much better than the combat and I ended up looking forward to the platforming sections and trying to push through the combat as quickly as possible. The back end of the game is also packed with story and revelations that just didn't draw me in. Too much lore that I could not bring myself to care about. The voice acting is pretty mediocre, and not just from the annoying Navi-like character Fidget. The ending of the game had some emotional resonance though, and I could see some people really digging the story. The game looks great throughout and it plays well in the platforming sections (not that the combat is horrible, just repetitive and simple); hard to believe it was mostly the work of a single person.

Worth finishing? Sure. The art is fantastic, the platforming is fun, the ending is satisfying, and I am glad I learned the answer to the game's fundamental mystery.

The Swapper PS4

I put it down after being stumped by a few puzzles. Now was the perfect time to pick it back up. Full disclosure, though I did figure out most of the puzzles that stumped me previously, there was one I had to look up hints for because I just could not get it. I also looked up the locations of the secret terminals because trying to find a bunch of false walls that do not have any particular visual cues or in game hints is my idea of an anti-fun nightmare borefest. I really liked the puzzles in the game, and the aesthetics are once again great, both spooky and beautiful. The music is good, the voice acting is good, the story vast and mysterious, touching on deep philosophical questions...and yet. And yet. I didn't like the ending and overall I feel like the story is unsatisfying. It raises a bunch of interesting ideas and just sort of drops them, like you're having a conversation with a stoner. "What is a mind, man?" You also are not an active participant in the story at all, which is something that's hard to pull off in video game. The way Patrick Klepek and others were going on about this game I was expecting to have my mind blown. Instead I got a nice little puzzle game with a cool look that might not have been worth $20. I don't know I'd recommend it to others at that price, though it's worth playing.

Worth finishing? Yes, if only to get it off my plate. I liked it overall, but I liked it more before I finished it and saw that, story wise, there was no there there.

Battlefield 4 single player PS4

I put this down when I couldn't find the hatch in the 3rd level (I'm an idiot, I know.) When I tried to pick it back up my save was corrupted. Yay BF4! I vowed to play it all the way through from the start. No better time than the present. Except never. Because, as everyone in the world has said, the Battlefield 4 single player just isn't very good. It's definitely a competent shooter and the game looks great on PS4, but there are no particularly memorable set-pieces and good lord does that story stink. The game tries to tell a story about loyalty and sacrifice but it's impossible to take it seriously both because it's poorly told and because it takes place in a Battlefield game where you are slaughtering hundreds and hundreds of guys in a cartoonish fashion. There are a lot of other issues, such as the fact that the game makes a big deal about you being given command of your squad and then has every other member of the squad, including people who join you briefly and aren't even American soldiers, giving you orders. It also does my least favorite thing ever in a game, where you're supposed to look for intel and collectibles but your AI squadmates are constantly telling you to hurry up (SHUT UP! I AM THE SQUAD LEADER AND I WANT TO PIXEL HUNT FOR DOGTAGS!). There were too many lulls in the action while various people prattled on uninterestingly and no particularly memorable set-pieces to differentiate the levels. The ending is silly and unearned, and I didn't care about the final choice at all. As for the gameplay, the enemy AI is pretty terrible and makes up for it by constantly throwing grenades at you with MLB accuracy. It's often unclear where you're being shot from and most of my deaths were due to screen shake and dark environments. Vehicle sections were generally annoying and more difficult than the main game. Checkpointing was inconsistent, especially in the beginning of the penultimate mission when there are two linked areas you have to clear of enemies, and no checkpoint between them making dying to a random guy with an RPG in the second area particularly frustrating. The only reliable way I found to get through certain areas was to grab a sniper rifle and pick people off from range (these were not areas designed specifically for sniping.) I've played worse modern military shooters (I beat both recent Medal of Honor games) but that doesn't make BF4 single player worth playing. Aside from a couple particularly cool visual moments there's nothing in the single player you won't get from the multiplayer.

Worth finishing? Decidedly not. My time would have been better spent just playing a half-dozen more hours of Battlefield 4 multiplayer, which, you know, is an option if you own Battlefield 4.

Overall I'm glad I went back and finished these games. Most were worth playing, and even Battlefield was just mediocre, not truly awful. Getting through them also means I will we be able to start new games without the feeling that I should go back to them. I have this unopened PS4 copy of CoD Ghosts I picked up on the cheap just waiting for me to pop it in...

I've learned nothing.

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Infamous 2 is a great game hurt by a mediocre back half

With the release of Infamous Second Son a lot of people were saying that Infamous 2 was a disappointing and skippable game, despite good reviews upon release. Having liked the first one and since I had a digital copy through PSN I decided to finally try it out myself. I'm glad I did; it was very good, but I also understand why it left a bad taste in people's mouths.

Infamous 2 has great graphics for a PS3 game, and a great and original design aesthetic. Virtual New Orleans (Not sure why they call New York Empire City and New Orleans New Marais but keep the real name for Washington DC) is a great place to set a game, and adds flavor to the open world proceedings with cool architecture, interesting pedestrians, and a bit of local mythology. The frame rate is pretty good most of the time considering the amount of action on screen and there are plenty of big detailed bosses.

Sound is not so great, with a lack of ambient noise or memorable music, but voice acting is very solid with plenty of cut scenes and radio calls.

The game plays great, combining traversal, relatively tight shooting for an open world game, various powers and utility abilities, and collectible open world hijinx. People who like collecting orbs in Crackdown or SR IV should enjoy collecting blast shards and dead drops in the inFamous games. The first area of the game plays great, and after beating the midway boss and opening up the next area Cole goes to a still-drowned part of the city where the floor can be deadly and a new type of enemy is introduced. It's a great change of pace and as you continue on the adventure you gain cool new abilities to play with and become more powerful, until you engage in a big epic battle and then...

You open up an industrial area with the same foes (but just more of them) and the story drags on and you fight the same minibosses over and over until by the time the game reaches its conclusion it has lost all momentum and relies on your desire to see the end of the story and affection for the first 2 thirds to push you over the finish line.

Sucker Punch seems to have believed that if fighting 10 bullet sponge enemies is fun fighting 20 is funner, and if a single battle with an Ice Titan is exciting, it would be great to fight 4 more before the game ends. Sucker Punch is wrong. I'm not sure if it was a desire to put in enough content to compete with other, longer, open world games, or just the incorrect belief that repetition is the same thing as challenge but it definitely doesn't help that the last area is not only boring looking and generally uninteresting in comparison to the first two, but also has less places to drain electricity, which you need for health and ammo, meaning that many late fights involve periods of fighting followed by periods of searching for ammo so you can rejoin the fray. I also hit two bugs during late game boss fights that forced me to reload my save, which isn't great when missions can take a half hour each. It makes sense that people's memories of Infamous 2 would become more negative over time as the first part of the game recedes in memory and the sour back end remains.

Overall inFamous 2 is still worth playing if you want an open world superhero game. The story is serviceable, the action is great, and the end part isn't bad, just not as good as the opening sections. If the game was a little shorter or had just a bit more variety towards the end it could have been a true classic, but what's there is pretty darn good and I am looking forward to Second Son.

P.S. Ice Titans are bullcrap. How you gonna only have one enemy that heals and that you have to melee part way through the fight before you finish it without clear instructions? Took me forever to figure out how to kill the first one.

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More thoughts on Killzone 1: Halfway there, starting to get it

A couple weeks back I posted a blog on Killzone 1 and its antiquated ways. Since then I have been picking away at the game and have some more thoughts. Overall I like it better than I did at first and see both how it influenced modern game design and some things modern games could learn from it.

  • The biggest difference from the opening levels of Killzone 1 and the later game seems to be the ability to play as different characters and be accompanied by your squad. This makes the game a lot less generic than its opening levels, where you play as Templar, suggest. While Templar is a typical FPS guy, Luger plays very differently, more focused on sniping and stealth. Playing as her allows for some different traversal of the levels and also rewards a more methodical approach. Instead of just a bad Modern Warfare Precursor corridor crawler you spend a lot of time sniping and hiding behind cover. It makes for more exciting play. In addition, your squadmates in Killzone are not useless. Given enough time you can rely on them to take out threats and they can also draw fire. Once Killzone has its full squad in place it is a much different, and more interesting game, than it is at the outset. Going off on recon missions to open up areas for your squad to come meet you is exciting and fun.
  • The environments also improve over the first few levels. The first level is a bombed out city that just looks ugly and devoid of detail, followed by a very boring facility you infiltrate. Later levels include a docks area that has some character, and rivers and canyons that, despite all being green and gray, are at least mildly visually interesting.
  • What doesn't improve is the draw distance, and it sucks. It really sucks. Enemies can shoot you from an indecipherable mist and threats often pop in after they've seen you. There is an area where drop ships are adding soldiers to the fray but other soldiers literally pop in behind to flank you (if you're looking you can see them just appear) and overall the game shows its age and hardware limitations in a big way. Killzone is the opposite of a Halo killer. It shows why Halo, and the Xbox, were better than the Ps2, at least from a hardware perspective. Halo does things that Killzone simply can't.
  • Killzone's checkpointing also sucks big time. HUGE time. There is one level in particular where you go down a long river facing a number of questionably fair challenges and difficult areas, with zero checkpoints. I died a few times towards the beginning and then made it through on my fourth or fifth run, but the level took me half an hour, was more stressful and times confusing than fun, and if I had died near the end I may have had to put the game down for several weeks.
  • Enemy AI is dumb as a post.

Killzone plays very differently from a modern shooter, at least once it opens up. It throws challenges at you with enemy placement and the like and gives you various tools to approach them, then lets you do so. Want to sneak around as a Shadow Marshal and snipe everyone? Go ahead. Want to charge in as Rico and machinegun everything? You can. Want to be bored? Templar is available. It's definitely a linear game, but it opens up battle arena spaces and gives you interesting geometry to explore or use as cover. The squad mechanic is also interesting and fun. Rare is the modern shooter that allows you to pick between characters who have different abilities and focuses, Having a squad that can actually kill enemies is also rare in the genre. Unlike the roller coaster ride of a CoD game, Killzone gives you a set of abilities, a set of challenges, and lets them approach them how you like. Modern games could learn from that design and implement some of those options to make the corridor crawls feel less generic, while not really compromising the spectacle and bombast. As long as they don't learn from Killzone's brutal draw distance and enemies who can shoot from beyond your range of sight. Really, who thought that was a good idea? That dude should not be designing games.

Overall I'd say Killzone is worth revisiting, if not a great game that deserves to be in the pantheon. Now if you'll excuse me I've got to find a wire to shimmy up so I can snipe at Hellghast with my submachine gun (which does much more damage in single bullet mode because...?) while Hakkar cheers my 'efficiency.' Good stuff.

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Why I told my friend to get Xbox One (even though PS4 is cheaper and more powerful)

One of my close friends was recently in the market for a next gen gaming console and asked my advice, since I have both a PS4 and an Xbox One he asked for my advice. I thought about it and decided to advise him to get the One and, since that system gets beat up a lot among hardcore gamers, decided to post my thoughts about why I gave that piece of advice, even while acknowledging that the PS4 is a better gaming machine. Here are some facts about my friend: Late 20s; Married without kids but considering; busy professional; plays between 2 and 4 new story based games a year with some evergreen stuff (Sports games, fighters) sprinkled in.

  • The Xbox One is designed as more than just a gaming box. It is designed to be integrated into an entertainment system, to provide an enhanced TV viewing experience and a huge variety of media aps. While this promise is not quite met by the One so far I trust Microsoft, based on the 360, will get it there. PS4 will have a ton of apps as well, but it's less emphasized in the UI and less integrated into the system. Based on the PS3 it will always seem like a neat trick that the gaming console can do rather than a core function. Plus voice control is cool. The suspend and snap functions are cool. The UI will only get better. PS4 seems less interested. The one big downside for XBONE here is the lack of a remote play option like PS4/VITA and Wii U but my friend doesn't want to play games while his wife watches something on TV. He wants her to be able to voice control Netflix and easily Skype her parents a few states away while sitting on the couch. The XBONE is a gaming machine that adds value for stuff they do more in a way that the competitors are not.
  • My friend doesn't really notice things like resolution and frame rate. He only got an HD TV a few years ago and only had a Wii from the last generation. He does want some stuff that looks cool, but his eyes glaze over when you say 60 FPS or 1080p. He can barely notice the difference when you point it out. Even frame rates below 30 FPS don't really bother him unless they drop too far. Having the slightly inferior version of every game is something that just won't bother him.
  • He only plays a few games a year and they tend to be pretty mainstream. He might sample something like Octodad or Don't Starve but ultimately they are too weird and difficult to capture his interest. He also doesn't need a huge number of games because he just won't play that much. This also makes PS+ much less of a value.
  • His wife is what I would consider an ultra-casual gamer. She will play relatively simple stuff like puzzle games or party games like Dance Central. Microsoft seems to be targeting people like her with games like Peggle 2 and with the Kinect, which can be used for Just Dance/Dance Central type stuff. You can buy the camera for the PS4 as an accessory but if previous gens are any indication it will split the base and not get much development attention.
  • The XBONE is not as good a gaming machine as the Ps4 but it is a better jack of all trades, and for people for whom gaming is a minor part of their entertainment lives, it seems to have more to offer and more promise. It'll have a (probably) decent version of the big games, some big Microsoft exclusives, and let him play stuff online with his friends who have an XBONE.

I, frankly, think that my friend and his wife are the ultimate target Microsoft has in mind with the XBONE. Gaming as just one function of a multi-media device has worked fantastically for the iPhone and the iPad, and while the XBONE is competing in this space with smart TVs and Apple TV and the next generation of cable boxes, it is arguably the highest end product in the space right now, and the only one that doubles as a credible, if not cutting edge, gaming system. The 360 was almost there but was stymied by its hardware and the decisions Microsoft made in designing it as gaming first. Game companies have ignored the casual market because of the low attach rate (the Wii problem) but if Microsoft can sell other media like video and music (and I'm sure eventually even other products like food delivery and other consumer goods) through its unified eco system it doesn't need a massive attach rate.

Anyway, I thought I'd share some thoughts on why the Xbox One might make sense for people closer to the fringe than the core of gaming.

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Killzone 1: What a trip back in time.

For some reason I found myself playing Killzone 1 today (I have many, many, better games to play but I felt an urge to play through the Killzone franchise and I picked up the HD trilogy cheap a few months back so...)

Here are my thoughts on the first five or so levels:

-The presentation stinks. I thought this was supposed to be an AAA PS2 game, but when I think PS2 AAA I think God of War or MGS 2 or 3, or whatever. I've recently played through GoW 1, Jak and Daxter 1 and 2, and Prince of Persia Sands of Time on HD collections so I think I have a decent idea of what HDified Ps2 games are like, and well, this is by far the ugliest and seems the most dated, even though Jak and Daxter was 3 years older. The voice acting in Killzone is frequently really bad, the environments feel like they're out of a PC game circa the first Half-Life and the cutscenes are stitled and lame.

-The gameplay is about as bad as expected. It's pre-CoD4 console first person shooting.

-The enemies have no AI to speak of and come off as super generic. Maybe this will change.

-Oh those checkpoints...I have not died far from a checkpoint yet but if I do I feel like it might be the end of the road for my run with this game. Brutal.

Despite all those flaws there are some interesting aspects that make me want to continue playing, at least for now.

+The Hellghast squad chatter is somehow engaging even though it seems like it shouldn't be. Basically the Hellghast speak the same way that your squadmates do. They come off not as videogame enemies placed there to be killed but rather soldiers on a mission who happen to be on the other side. It's pretty cool.

+The game is a corridor shooter but seems not to know it. Lots of open rooms and side areas. Plus the level geometry sometimes allows for multiple approach. In level 2 there is a room of Hellghast above the street who are meant to shoot at you as you pass by, but there are stairs leading up to the room from below and you can go up and machine gun them from behind. This feels like the game trying to break out of corridor land but being forced back in because of the PS2's limited RAM.

The game really shows how game design was different back in the Ps2 era, especially first person shooters. It makes no effort to be a CoD style rollercoaster or tell a great story like Bioshock, or to present interesting environments and mechanics like Metro Last Light or Bulletstorm. It just plops some brain dead hellghast down in some generic settings and says go shoot them. And it was well-received at the time.

All in all the game feels incredibly dated but in an interesting way. I think I'll explore a little further.

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The XBONE every game is worth 1000 points policy makes Gamerscore totally meaningless if it wasn't already.

I never much cared about gamerscore. Achievements are cool because they A) Give you a small incentive to pursue side stuff you might not otherwise care about, like finishing off collectibles or whatever, thus extending the fun of a game and B) Serve as a nice reminder of the games that you have played and finished. Services like True Achievements and the PS4 also tell you how many players completed a given cheevo or trophy, which can be interesting. I have no problem with achievements.

But Gamerscore attempts to quantify achievements and it does so in a weird way, letting developers assign score (previously based on whether the game was retail or XBLA) regardless of difficulty or length of the game. It was always a dumb idea, since finishing some early 4 hour games would net you a thousand points while other achievements have ridiculous requirements. Microsoft, however, at least tried to compensate for this by assigning different numbers of cheevo points for downloadable games, which at the start of the 360 generation tended to be smaller in scope, if not always easier.

Downloadable games got a lot more complicated as the generation drew on (From 50 Megabyte maximum sizes to 2 gigs or over now, and from Geometry Wars to fully fledged story-based games like Shadow Complex.) Last year Microsoft lifted the points max of XBLA games from 200 to 400, which made sense for a game like CoJ: Gunslinger but maybe not for Brothers or Zuma's Revenge, and on the XBONE all games will just be games (Fair enough, since there's no reason Gunslinger is less of a full fledged 360 game than the old King Kong retail game) but rather than making tailor made achievement amounts (possibly too much work and too many politics) they will all have 1000 total points, which means that Peggle 2 has the same amount of gamerscore in it as Assassin's Creed 4.

This means that score is absolutely meaningless. Why keep it? Is it just a legacy product? Do they think they are still selling games to cheevo hunters? It just seems weird and stupid. Even weirder and stupider when you consider that MS gave away Killer Instinct and even XBONE systems to people with high gamerscore. So the score is meaningless and debased but you can get real world items up to $500 in value for having a high one?

I feel like this is really dumb and Microsoft hasn't caught enough flack for it.

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Brothers - A Tale of Two Sons has lots of good ideas but is not a great game.

First off this is not a review. I will wall off spoilers below, but this is a discussion of the complete game.

Brothers got a lot of good press and is showing up on top ten lists. It's very cheap on XBLA right now so I finally picked it up and played through it today while off from work.

Brothers has a lot going for it. The aesthetics are fantastic. I loved the music and while I wasn't impressed by the graphics in the beginning, as the game got more fantastic (as in based in fantasy) I became more impressed until by the end I felt it was one of the best games I've ever played from a graphical design perspective. The game also chooses not to explain its world at all, leaving it for you to explore and inhabit, and that is a choice many more games should make. The game goes further down this path by using a nonsense language, which helps for immersion but damages characterization.

In addition to these aesthetic choices, Brothers features very little combat, has an unusual (though not unique) control scheme, and gameplay primarily consists of traversal and puzzles. In a world of endless modern warfare and space marine shooters, Brothers stands out. Not having combat, in particular, is an excellent design decision that other traversal games could learn from. Brothers is a short, focused, experience without much padding, and is unlike almost anything else out there (though The Cave tried something similar)

So what's wrong with it?

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SPOILERS BELOW

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For one thing there's not much game there. The puzzles are generally extremely easy, not requiring much brainpower or dexterity, and the traversal tends towards the easy and obvious. Mechanics like the rope tying the brothers together are introduced and discarded rather than being built upon. Partially this is a function of length, but the game also just doesn't seem very interested in being a game. It wants to tell a story and show aesthetics. I get that. The level where you traverse the battlefield of the Giants is truly spectacular and is a world I would love to spend more time with. But without good gameplay, Brothers has to fall back on its aesthetics (very good) and its story...

About that story...

A lot of people have been saying they were deeply affected by the story, and I get that, but for me it has some serious problems. The simple tale of two boys going to get medicine for their father is a fine framing device, but there is almost no character development along the way. The younger brother has a hallucination, the older one a flashback, that's about it. The sights you see are spectacular, sure, but you are just tourists. No meaningful relationships or deepened characterizations. That makes sense given the nonsense language, but leads to my biggest issue with the story.

The older brother's death is unearned. The brothers free the spider woman from what appears to be an angry horde, they follow her, reasonably, and while the older brother starts to romance her, pulling away from his younger brother, and pushes them to enter the den, he has no reason to suspect what she really is. When he is then punished after the boss battle (and from a gameplay perspective it's kind of cheap to have her strike the mortal wound right after you defeat her, there's some ludonarrative dissonance there) it's unclear what he's being punished for. And yes, it can just be random, but that doesn't seem like the kind of story Brothers is trying to tell. If the story did more to flesh out who the older brother is as a person and let his attributes be his downfall it would be closer to the fairy tales its world draws inspiration from, and, in my opinion, more satisfying.

Without gameplay or story to drive the experience what's left then is a bunch of good elements and ideas put together into something adequate but not great, which is what Brothers is. Perhaps, somewhat ironically since most games are too long, it could have benefited from being a longer experience, giving the player more time to identify with the characters and doing a better job of characterization, with more interesting side stuff like the achievement tasks (a nice touch) and even an opportunity to develop the spider woman. I could easily have spent another 3-4 hours in that enchanting world. But without that, with what's there, I'm left with a few striking memories based on aesthetics, an appreciation for what the mechanics were trying to do, and not much more. Is that enough to make it a good game? Sure. I don't regret dropping $5 on it. Is it one of the best of the year? I don't think so.

There's just not enough substance.

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I really want to buy Ryse but cannot justify the $60

When I first heard about Ryse it was on a bunch of podcasts where everyone was saying that it looked absolutely terrible and would be the worst launch game for either of the new systems. Because of this I didn't even consider pre-ordering it. Then the XBONE actually came out and reviews, even from those podcasters, were that the game was shallow but pretty, hyper violent, and reasonably fun. I am really in the mood for a game like that, and I thoroughly enjoyed Conan, which seems like the 360/PS3 equivalent, but I know the experience will be disposable and I can't justify spending $60 on a digital game that will just sit on my hard drive/account like a badge of shame for the rest of the time I own my console, reminding me that I paid more than it was worth, which in my twisted mind is worse than buying a game at a good price and never playing it.

A game like this is a guilty pleasure, to be bought for $15, played over a weekend, and put away. Even though I can afford the game I know I'd feel bad about buying it at full price, taken advantage of. But launch titles tend to lose value slower than most because there will be nothing else to play on the Xbone for the next few months, and lots of folks will be getting Xbones for Christmas, looking for stuff to play.

I guess I'll just try to play Remember Me from my backlog and then break down and buy Ryse while drunk at 1:30 in the morning.

P.S. Whenever I think of Ryse I am reminded of Gladius, one of my favorite RPGs of all time. I guess with Lucasarts gone we'll never see a sequel. Another reason to hate Ryse! Damn it Ryse, why aren't you a Gladius sequel?

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Get it together Nintendo

I have owned every Nintendo console and handheld except the Virtual Boy and the Wii U, starting with the NES when I was in kindergarten. I grew up on Mario, Metroid, and the Legend of Zelda (original gold cartridge.) I love Nintendo. Recently I went into the Black Friday shopping season wanting only one thing, a Playstation Vita. One Amazon flash sale later and I walked away with a 3DS XL and a copy of Mario 3D Land instead. Not 100% sure how it happened, but it did. And so, a couple years after packing my Wii into storage I am back in a Nintendo state of mind...and baffled by some of the decisions they seem to have made.

The Games are Still Great.

I'd like to say from the outset that I'm not unhappy with my purchase. Pushmo is as great as advertised, I've enjoyed Mutant Mudds and I'm looking forward to Donkey Kong and Fire Emblem. Since I bought my 3DS Super Mario 3D Land is my most played game on any system and I love it. I hear 3d World is even better and I've considered a Wii U because of it. I hear the new Zelda is fantastic and I'm excited to try it. The quality of the games means I want to see Nintendo succeed even though

The Digital Rights Management and eShop interface are a decade out of date

Wowza. Buying stuff on the eShop reminds me of the first iteration of the iTunes store, only that was better, groundbreaking, and is 10 years old. Games are hard to find, require a ton of clicks to buy, and there's an absolute ton of stuff not on there. I have a 32 Gig SD card (kudos for letting us use those) so I have plenty of room, and with a portable I love having my collection accessible at all times. I shouldn't have ANY cartridges. But there are a good number of games only buyable in cartridge form and buying the games that ARE on the eShop is a pain. It's almost 2014.

If that's not bad enough, although classic Nintendo games are available I can't transfer any of the games I bought on my Wii. I can't even see what I had because there's no way to tie the accounts together. If THAT'S not bad enough, the selection of classics is absolute crap. I'm pretty sure I can't get a Link to the Past on my 3DS even though the direct sequel is the new hotness for that handheld. Awesome. Playing Super Mario 3D Land remind you of Mario World for the SNES? Fool, you can't even get Mario 3 for the 3DS. What were they thinking? Nintendo's strength is its deep library, but that deep library is locked away. Guess I could break my Wii out of storage to play some decent Virtual Console selection but why should I have to?

If THAT's not bad enough, there are no sales! I mean literally there are SOME sales, but they suck. Every other digital games distribution platform from Steam to PSN to XBL has deep sales on a regular basis these days. The 3DS still sells virtually everything at original retail (unless you want to hunt for cartridges...and I don't want to carry cartridges around!) and then occasionally offers up something like the inferior NES version of Donkey Kong reduced from $5 to $3.50. Be still my beating heart. First of all why are we getting the crappy NES version instead of the arcade version? Don't tell me the 3DS can't emulate both. Secondly...NES games should regularly be on sale for 99 cents. They are a source of great value, but on Steam sale I can get copies of hottish newish titles like Fez for $2.50 NES Donkey Kong for $3.50 is an insult in comparison.

IF THAT'S NOT BAD ENOUGH the games are tied to the system....FOR NO REASON. Want to transfer to a new 3DS because you thought the Luigi Dark Moon one looked sweet? Be prepared for a painful process. Lose your system or have it stolen? Be prepared for pain. This system was released in 2011 not 1994. The Xbox 360 was released in 2005 and I can still transfer my purchases to a new one because games are tied to account. There is no excuse for this whatsoever and frankly it is yet another thing pushing me towards cartridges and I DO NOT WANT CARTRIDGES. I don't want games that can be stolen or fall out of my pocket. It's the end of 2013 PEOPLE! HOW IS THIS ACCEPTABLE?

The hardware sucks

The 3DS is obviously underpowered. The screens are low resolution. The hinge is low quality. Spot pass doesn't really work. The 3D is so finicky that everyone turns it off. The 3DS is not a well-designed games machine and the fact that the XL sells for the same as a VITA is ridiculous.

GET IT TOGETHER NINTENDO

I know that none of these are original complaints but you don't really understand how it all interacts until you have a 3DS. The games are there so it's a system worth owning but the games have to compensate for an awful lot. That's why I wanted a vita in the first place. You can argue that the system is designed for a younger demographic but with games like Fire Emblem and Shin Megami Tensei IV they are clearly trying for the adult demo as well. Adults have smartphones and other consoles and they can tell when they are being abused. WE ARE BEING ABUSED. Nintendo needs to come up with a unified account system like YESTERDAY. I don't care that they're slowly inching towards it, not good enough. They need to fix the damn eShop. Their next hand held has to have less gimickry and more decent screens and build quality. I grew up on Nintendo hardware but if Nintendo announced it was going software only tomorrow I'd be happy. The truth is I love Super Mario 3D Land but I'd rather play it on a VITA, and the same goes for other games. Nintendo the hardware maker is basically holding us all hostage with the sweet Nintendo software and forcing us to put up with inferior systems to enjoy their product. Not cool. I want to want a Wii U for the same reason I wanted a PS4. Because it looks awesome and like a great platform, not because it's the only way I can get at specific games that would be better elsewhere.

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The evolution of open world games and traffic

I recently completed two open world games at the opposite ends of the open end revolution, Jak II and L.A. Noire.

Jak II came out soon after Grand Theft Auto III ignited the 3D open world trend and many reviewers at the time said that the open world was shoehorned into the design. That's a little unfair; Jak and Daxter the Precursor Legacy was technically an open world in that you could travel from any point in it to any other by the end, and Jak II does have a fair number of missions in the big city hub area. On the other hand these missions were often both simplistic and not all that much fun, and it's clear the designers had not yet mastered open world design. It's very easy to get the attention of the super tenacious guards and moving around the city is made more difficult by pervasive traffic that clogs the upper lanes. Fast vehicles can often blow up with one hit against another vehicle, not a lot of fun when controls are floaty and races often require taking blind corners at high speeds.

L.A. Noire on the other hand was released somewhat recently by a publisher virtually synonymous with open world games, and uses its open world not so much for action (though there is that) but also for atmosphere and sense of place in what is a sprawling adventure game. Like Jak II there's not a lot to do in the world outside of missions (collect random stuff) and like Jak II the traffic is supremely annoying. Here it rarely interferes with the gameplay, except during car chases, but rather obstructs your travel from one place to another frequently leading to a choice between driving carefully over what can be very long in-game distances, or putting up with virtually unavoidable ranking and suspension of disbelief damaging crashes every so often even if the siren's blaring (the A.I's reaction to the siren leaves a lot to be desired.)

In both cases the traffic seems to exist primarily to create a sense of atmosphere, which is good, but has the effect of interfering with gameplay. In Jak II it interferes with both missions and traveling to get missions, which isn't fun, whereas in L.A. Noire it heavily encourages the use of fast travel, which defeats the purpose of having a sprawling open world. The huge world of L.A. Noire cost a lot of money to make, and the game brought down the studio that built it, so to create something so sprawling and then encourage players to skip seeing it seems like a very strange use of development resources.

Compare these games to Red Dead Redemption, another open world game but one that, because of its setting, has very little traffic and lots of areas to explore. Red Dead had fast travel too, but many people didn't use it much because the horse riding through the awesome setting was just fun. That's good design. If you're going to have an open world then navigating it should be fun for its own sake and fast travel should be reserved for spots where you want to take care of something in particular or you've played a ton and seen everything already. The Grand Theft Auto series manages this with fast, fun to drive cars, unrealistically wide streets that allow for maneuvering, and gripping police chases.

I come back to traffic because of all the things for game designers to import into an open world it seems an odd choice. Traffic is something we generally hate in our day to day lives, and while a certain amount of it does provide a sense of a living breathing world, a little can go a long way. In Jak II the traffic just serves to show how barren the world is, with everyone circling endlessly despite there being nowhere to actually go. In L.A. Noire it makes driving through the city a little too real. I don't remember scenes in great film noirs where people sat at traffic lights listening to the radio because they were pinned in. It could be solved by putting stuff closer together (especially those damned street crimes, which were often on the other side of the city from the areas you were investigated) but the partner drive function just seems to be the game pulling in contradictory directions.

In both cases (Jak and Noire) it seems like once the decision was made for the world to be open, decided they needed traffic, and then tried to make the game work despite it, rather than starting with what would be fun and building backwards off that to create the world. It is especially a shame for L.A. Noire because the not so fun open world could have been excised or at least shrunk significantly, without impacting what's great about the game, potentially saving lots of time and money. To think that people were abused and pushed into constant crunch time to produce such a huge beautiful bland pointless digital map makes me sad. And the traffic is a very telling symptom of the things that make the world kind of pointless.

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