Everytime I go visit the States, I always make sure to pick up a few boxes of Trix. I used to live in the US, and Trix was my favorite cereal to eat there. For anyone who doesn't know what it is, it's a fruity cereal similar to Fruit Loops, but with a bolder and fruiter taste. So better basically.
Its marketing typically consists of a hapless rabbit trying to get the cereal, but not being able to because, "Silly Rabbit, Trix are for kids". Sort of similar to Lucky Charms.
Recently, I had the idea to try and get the breakfast cereal online so that I could have it whenever I wanted to. Surely the magic of the internet would pull through? Apparently not.
Everywhere I went I saw great deals for Trix; $7 for a 2 pack, $18 for a 6 pack, $40 for a 14-pack etc. Unfortunately, each time I hit the checkout button the same problem kept greeting me:
It was always either that they didn't ship to Canada, or the shipping was massively expensive, costing more than the product itself. As much as I love Trix, I don't feel like paying $30 shipping for a couple boxes of cereal.
I was also trying to get some York Peppermint Patties earlier (another favorite) but there was the same problem; the shipping was always disproportionately expensive.
On top of that, even if I did purchase them I would likely need to pay an additional $20-30 border fees, if they even let them through at all. So basically I'm locked out of buying my favorite foods unless I pay extravagant fees because food companies impose arbitrary regional restrictions on their products.
Well, at least I still have Coffee Crisp and free healthcare. And the good version of Corn Pops.
So the frequent users of this site here probably recognize me as a rather rabid Crysis fan. I've beaten the game countless times, I mod and tweak it, I take screenshots and I make videos of it. It's a rare game that pushes both technical and gameplay boundaries that hasn't really been met in either area to date. It's only just recently starting to be surpassed technically, which an astonishing feat for an almost 4-year old game, especially on the PC platform.
Naturally, I was fairly excited when Crysis 2 was announced. If Crytek could pull off what they did in 2007, then whatever they were planning on releasing in 2011 must be utterly mind-blowing. Based on past experience, I envisioned running through the boroughs of New York City with super speed, and jumping to perch on whichever ledge I wanted to observe my surroundings. I imagined the gameplay and artistic possibilities in a to-scale version of Central Park. Maybe I could even swim or fly over to the Statue of Liberty?
The early promotional material showed promise. First we got to see the new Nanosuit, cool. Then there was the new Cryengine 3 tech, which was also nice. The Wall trailer convinced me that Crysis was building an engaging, emotional experience that would accurately depict New York City on a broad scale. But...the direction slowly deviated as you went along. Looking at the Gametrailers page you can see what I mean. Starting from the bottom up, after the initial suit and tech offerings, we get 3D, Limited Edition Bonuses, and Multiplayer trailers after that. The tone of the trailers changed as well, compare:
Clearly attempts were made to market to a broader audience. This isn't all bad, as was the case with Dragon Age: Origins, the marketing doesn't necessarily determine the game. I still had full hopes that the game would shape up to be fine.
Then the multiplayer demo arrived. This video pretty much explains it all:
The servers didn't work, the interface was screwy and there were next to no options, graphics or otherwise, to speak of. Inside the multiplayer itself, killstreaks, hit markers, custom classes and fast respawns made it quite apparent which game it was "inspired" by. The graphics were overall good, but had several flaws and was in no way groundbreaking. My hope was deteriorating. The only thing that saved me from cancelling my pre-order right away was the fact that the multiplayer was made by another studio; perhaps the single player would be a completely different affair.
March 22nd finally rolled along, I installed the game and loaded the first mission. I don't think it's much of a spoiler if I tell you the first 5 minutes of the game involves getting out of a sinking vessel. Strange, because I recall another recent shooter that had a first mission involving getting out of a sinking vessel as well.
Coincidence maybe? I played for another couple of hours, and, alas, I reached the end of my rope. The truth was too much to deny anymore. Crytek sold out.
Let's be clear - the game takes cues from popular shooters like Call of Duty and Gears of War. It's linear, scripted, and borrows many key mechanics such as "press X to look at key event or way to progress through mission". You can only traverse one city block at a time (sometimes less), which makes the game feel disjointed and cuts out the exploration aspect altogether. The game feigns to give you a choice in approaching an area, but because the areas are so narrow, you end up with at most two ways, the second way usually just being a simple flank.
This is a far cry from Crysis where the environments were so large that you would get lost without looking at a map. In earlier interviews, developers of the game tried to justify this by saying that it was due to the setting change. This is a bit disingenuous. Games like GTA IV took place in "New York" as well but were fleshed out quite nicely. It doesn't feel like New York in Crysis 2. It feels like different arenas in Moxxi's Underdome Riot (Borderlands). Everything is closed off in every direction (rather convenient that the aliens decided to rip up the roads into neat block sized areas, no?)
The organic feel of the environment is lost as well, and not simply due to the lack of palm trees. Why aren't the buildings crumbling around me as they get hit with explosions and heavy machine gun fire? Why doesn't my movement brush away plants anymore? Why are hot dogs carts and telephone booths apparently indestructible and immovable? If they're so tough, why doesn't the military just make their armor out of whatever those hot dog carts and telephone booths are made of? I think you catch my drift in how the little environmental interactivity detracts from the atmosphere and immersiveness of the game.
Regarding the story, one of the key talking points was that a professional science fiction writer would be heading it. When you hear something like this, you assume that you'll get a genre-breaking story that will instill many different emotions in you. What you get is just the same boiler-plate B-action movie nonsense that's been in games for years. If Richard Morgan really did write a good script then surely it got lost in translation. The story is arguably worse than what's in most contemporary games.
The cast is awkward as well. Nomad and Psycho, the two protagonists of the Crysis and Warhead respectively, seem to be completely forgotten whereas a more minor character like Prophet is put into the spotlight. Not to mention, you pretty much have to have played the first game to even know who Prophet is in the first place, which contradicts their mainstream reach-out since most people probably have never played Crysis before. Perhaps it's a Freudian slip for "profit"? The rest of the characters are well-developed when they are on-screen, but seem to play too little of a role in the actual story for you to care about them. What was needed for the game to have made any impact was something a la Alyx in Half Life 2, but none of that was found here.
Crytek games have also been known to be highly moddable; Crysis is probably the most heavily modded game behind Half-Life 2 or Oblivion. In many ways, it is the modding community that has kept the sales of Crysis alive after its initial launch by demonstrating the engine's capability, improving performance, and showing off almost impossibly high image quality screenshots. Yet in Crysis 2, there are little graphics options to be found, let alone modding material. The .cry files are missing (meaning you can't edit levels), the .pak files are encrypted (meaning you can't access game assets), the console is locked (so you can't test different settings on the fly), and there's no editor to speak of (whereas Sandbox2 was included with the original Crysis). It's just a huge slap in the face to the modding community that has been faithfully supporting their game all this time.
Finally, the game overall lacks polish. Several things about the game are janky, the AI for one:
(thanks dudeglove for the video link)
The animations are also a little wonky, with stiff arms almost reminiscent of GTA III. The same character models and voices are used so much that you'd swear there's no more than a handful of different types of citizens in all of New York City. Again, things like this pretty much causes immersion to evaporate.
There's no end-boss. No giant alien to fight, the game just ends. Extremely anti-climactic and a bit of a cheap trick to ensure that additional games can be made.
All of what I said above might lead you to think that this is a terrible game, but to be fair, it's really not. All of the familiar shooter mechanics are there, it plays reasonably well and its graphics, while flawed, still look better than average. I suppose the most appropriate expression is that the game isn't bad, it's just disappointing considering its lineage. Really, if you're satisfied with other modern shooters then Crysis 2 is just as good or better. But the scary implication is, if even Crytek has succumbed to making "safe" games, who will carry the torch for innovation now?
Recently, I was able to recently obtain a global top 10 position on the Dawn of War 2 ladder.
DoW2 probably has one of the largest RTS communities behind SC2, so it's a relatively impressive feat; there were plenty of talented players to beat and nuances to learn and execute in order to succeed.
It probably doesn't mean much to anyone else, but for me, it's a significant personal achievement in my gaming career. I also learned a ton which can probably be carried over to other games as well. If nothing else, know that you've got a GBer representing in the competitive gaming sphere ;).
I got my current system nearly two years ago, the graphical component consisting of two GTX 275's in SLI, which is roughly between GTX 570 and GTX 580 in DX10 performance. Each card was ~$200 MSRP at the time. It still performs well enough today, but I've been itching to upgrade so I can truly max out games like Crysis, and the graphics card industry has done nothing but disappoint since then.
As some of you may remember I was quite hyped prior to the Fermi launch, as I expected a doubling in performance over the previous gen. This was all in spite of the fact that it was 6 months late, and Nvidia was experiencing known manufacturing issues. What I got was less than a 40% increase in maximum performance, and a zero percent value increase (for instance GTX 460 768MB SLI would have been the same performance as my current system...but at the same price as when I got it a year ago). The 500 series has improved upon the design since the 400 series, but really it's what the 400 series should have been at launch.
AMD has been equally bad. They released their 5000 series in Q3 2009, with the Radeon HD 5970 being their flagship card. It's nearly Q2 2011 and guess which card is still the strongest performer out of either Nvidia or AMD? Radeon HD 5970. And the current top end card of AMD's 6000 series almost performs worse than Nvidia's 400 series! What the fuck is this bullshit?
Looking at both companies as a whole, the HD 6990 and GTX 590 are still nowhere to be found (and even when released would be monstrously expensive), and 28nm GPUs are estimated to be as much as a year away.
You might ask, "but who needs all that performance anyway"?
Newer DX11 titles, not to mention multi-monitor, 3D, 2560x1600 resolution, high resolution mods, supersampling etc.
This marks one of the longest periods of stagnation in the graphics card industry ever, and I'm quite astonished by Nvidia and AMD's recent ineptness. The new cards are still great for anyone upgrading from a much older system, but relative to the pace a few years ago, progress has practically come to a standstill.
There was a point several years ago when Nvidia was quoted as saying "Moore's Law is dead". Moore's Law is of course the general trend for performance to double every 18-24 months. At that point in time, Nvidia (and AMD) were doubling their performance closer to every 6-12 months. It seems that today that quote still holds true, but in the opposite sense.
(For best results, watch videos on Youtube at 720p or higher)
First mod I'd like to show is the latest iteration of ENB for GTAIV:
ENB is a graphical mod that basically takes away the vaseline filter, and greatly improves the lighting. The result is one of the best looking games you've ever seen. It also brings GTAIV's high quality textures to bear, an act that was strangely impossible with the base game.
Next up is the Carmageddon mod. Essentially it takes friction out of the physics calculations for cars. Here is one of the original demonstrations:
Here is an example of it in multiplayer:
(instructions in vid description)
Finally we have Xtreme FX 2 for Crysis, a long anticipated particle mod from esteemed Crysis modder Xigmatek. Living proof that PhysX is useless (all the effects are done without it, with less performance demands, and look better than any PhysX implementation).
(For best results, watch videos on Youtube at 720p or higher)
First mod I'd like to show is the latest iteration of ENB for GTAIV:
ENB is a graphical mod that basically takes away the vaseline filter, and greatly improves the lighting. The result is one of the best looking games you've ever seen. GTAIV's high quality textures are also brought to bear, an act that was strangely impossible with the base game.
Next up is the Carmageddon mod. Basically it takes friction out of the physics calculations for cars. Here is one of the original demonstrations:
Here is an example of it in multiplayer:
(instructions in vid description)
Finally we have Xtreme FX 2 for Crysis from esteemed Crysis modder Xigmatek. Basically living proof that PhysX is useless (all the effects are done without it, with less performance demands, and look better than any PhysX implementation).
This is just a short post to share my excitement for PC gaming in 2011.
On the software front we have Crysis 2, Portal 2, Batman Arkham City, Dead Space 2, Mass Effect 3, Starcraft II expansions, Red Faction Armageddon, Deus Ex 3, Brink, Elder Scrolls V, Rage, Duke Nukem Forever, Bioshock Infinite and more lined up. More than one blockbuster per month on average! We can also expect the typical output of high quality indie titles like Magicka and Monaco, and crazy Steam sales on the hits of 2010.
On the hardware side we're getting the release of the Bulldozer and Sandy Bridge architectures from AMD and Intel in the first half of 2011. Bulldozer will represent a major push into performance computing from AMD, while Sandy Bridge is the next logical jump in architecture from Intel that will give better performance using less energy, and will be hugely overclocker-friendly at the high end (great for RTS gamers). AMD and Nvidia are similarly stepping up to the plate with GPUs, and are both expected to release their next generation 28nm chips in the latter half, with an expected 2-3x improvement in performance/watt.
PC gamers can look forward to playing tons of great games at unprecedented levels of image quality and performance in 2011. We'll essentially be hitting a trifecta of great games, great hardware, and great value. So here's to 2011, it will be a great year :)
Welcome to my GOTY list for 2010. This list will be PC-centric as I’m mainly a PC gamer.
Dawn of War II engages you in the deep lore of the Warhammer 40K universe, and provides a robust multiplayer with various modes and maps. The game is highly balanced, and all of the factions along with all of their leaders are all extremely different from each other, making game matchups practically endless. The graphics are the best of any RTS right now, with units in the game looking almost as good as their tabletop counterparts. The sound is also very well developed, from the thick thudding of bolter fire to the explosion of plasma grenades. Finally, we also have the excellent soundtrack which ranges from ominous and brooding to uproarious chanting, and dynamically changes in intensity depending on the state of the game.
Runner Up: Battlefield Bad Company 2
Best Indie Game
This was a good year for indie games with quality releases in almost every genre. The indie game that wowed me most this year was Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale. Not only is it fairly unique (a Japanese indie RPG with an economy aspect), it’s downright fun. The art is uplifting, and the story makes you continually want to see what’s next (and also prevent Recette from her losing her home). There’s a dungeoneering aspect that’s just enough to be worth doing, but not so in-depth that it overbears the player. The best indie game is typically a game that I would purchase even at $60. Recettear is one such game.
Runner Up: Super Meat Boy
On the technical side, Metro 2033 wins this hands down. The engine that 4A put together does quite a job, and the only one real criticism that can be levied against it is its poor DOF implementation which brings even the strongest cards down to their knees without really adding any tangible effect. This game competes very closely with Crysis for best looking game ever made, and definitely excels over it in certain areas.
Metro 2033 wins on the art side as well. The dystopian future of Metro is rendered with almost unparalleled detail and immersiveness. Children scratching pictures of monsters on walls, people huddled together around a fire listening to a melancholy tune on someone’s guitar, the surreal lighting deep within the metro tunnels and the whitewashed, abandoned look of Moscow in an eternal nuclear winter all work together to cohesively and effectively paint the world of Metro.
Runner up (technical): ARMA II: Operation Arrowhead Runner up (artistic): Kirby’s Epic Yarn
This award goes to a game that I didn’t expect much out of upon announcement, but turned out to be one of the best games of the year. Just Cause 2 seemed like a Bionic Commando rip off out of the gate, but after playing the demo and then finally purchasing the game, I realized how wrong I was. Massive open world meets crazy physics meets ridiculous voice acting. It’s the only game I’ve played this year where you can play for hours on end having fun in ways that the developer never thought of. Add some mods that enhance the gameplay even further and some of the best graphics of the year, and you’re in business.
Runner Up: Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light
Best Game Released in a Past Year
Spectacular open-ended gameplay on gigantic maps, solid first person shooting, the best graphics around and one of the most moddable game engines ever made. That I played Crysis through for the fifth time this year is a testament to its quality.
Runner Up: Grand Theft Auto San Andreas
Best Story and Characters
From the surprising beginning to the revelations towards the end of the game, Mass Effect 2 packed a punch with its storyline. Even more so however were the unique and fleshed out characters that made up your crew. Garrus, the noble vigilante; Tali, a princess of sorts that joins your crew as part of a pilgrimage; Jack, a psychic with a short fuse; Mordin Solus, a doctor that helps people “by any means necessary”, the list goes on. All delivered with great dialogue and detailed character models. No game has quite created and populated an entire universe all of its own before, but Mass Effect succeeds in doing so.
Runner Up: Dragon Age Awakening
Best Game That I Will Probably Never Play
Amnesia: Dark Descent. Because I’m a big baby. Currently watching a playthrough on Youtube though and it looks incredibly well-designed.
Runner Up: Starcraft II (already too involved in DoWII MP, also I’m not a big fan of traditional RTS)
After some bad Dragon Age DLC and the so-so Mass Effect 2 DLC released prior, I was skeptical towards Lair of the Shadow Broker but bought it nonetheless. Boy am I glad I did. Not only does Lair of the Shadow Broker integrate itself with the main ME2 game (something that the previous DLC failed to do), it was also longer, more involving, and had higher production value. The payoffs at the end were also better than the other DLC released. This was by far and away the best DLC Bioware has ever released, and also the best DLC I played this year. This package should be what all further DLC are modeled after.
Runner Up: Battlefield Bad Company 2 Vietnam
Best Sound Design
(video above is not mine)
After playing countless games with muted gun effects and other such annoyances, ARMA II: Operation Arrowhead was breath of fresh air with its visceral and realistic sound design. As a war simulator this is part of its job, and it does it right. The ARMA series has always prided itself on realism and it lives up to its reputation in the sound department with the most realistic gun, vehicle and environmental sound effects ever released in a game.
Runner Up: Metro 2033
ME2’s soundtrack goes a long way in delivering the epic feel of its story. From the theme during the unveiling of the SR-2 to the music in the end game sequences, the soundtrack instills awe, fear, and intensity in the scenes as required, which besides sounding good is really what a soundtrack is supposed to do.
Runner Up: Shatter (PC)
Here I'll just list the winners.
Best Racing Game
Super Meat Boy
Best Puzzle Game
Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light
Best First Person Shooter
Dragon Age: Awakening
Best Music Game
Game of the Year
Mass Effect 2 either excelled or was the best at every area. As mentioned in the previous awards, fantastic story, characters and soundtrack, and along with that solid gameplay, excellent voice acting and great graphics. There’s tons of replay value through the DLC, morality choices, ending variations, Shepard’s gender, and skillset as well (I’m personally starting my fourth playthrough). Furthermore on the PC version Shepard can be modded quite intricately, allowing me to create an in-game avatar that was extremely close to what I had envisioned in my mind, leading to a more immersive gameplay experience. Mass Effect 2 wins this by being great all around, and for delivering an unparalleled cinematic experience as well as creating one of the most fully developed game worlds of all time.
A long time ago I started playing Guild Wars. Had lots of fun with the PvP, thought the PvE was decent. But then I made the decision to try and achieve the "God Walking Amongst Mere Mortals" achievement, not quite knowing what I was getting into at the time.
For those not very familiar with the game, I'll put GWAMM in general terms. You need to achieve 30 titles. A title is awarded upon completion of a major task; completing all of a region's missions with 100% completion is enough for one title. Exploring literally every inch of the map in a region (of which there are 3) is another title. They range from rather short (can be completed in a few days of regular gaming) to extremely long (requiring accruing of vast amounts of wealth and/or completing long/hard tasks). GWAMM is the highest achievement in Guild Wars and overall, probably takes more than a thousand hours to achieve for the average player.
Due to judicious planning to complete GWAMM titles synergistically and relatively high competence, I've managed to cut the time down to a fraction necessary. At the moment, I'm 97% done (29/30).
Here's the problem though - I grossly miscalculated on the difficulty of one of the titles. I thought it would be easy when it's in fact, probably the hardest. The Wisdom title involves identifying 10,000 gold items. In Guild Wars, gold items are relatively rare and even if you were strictly farming them you'll get at most about 20-30 every hour. I originally thought that by the end of my adventures doing all of the other titles the amount of gold items left for me to identify would be nominal, but that is not the case - I still have thousands and thousands to go. Conservative estimates as to the time required to get the rest is about 200 hours of straight farming.
Farming in any MMO is not very fun. Farming for several dozens of hours - even less so. Even spreading the 200 hours across the span of a year would be a task, since I don't really have time to play the game anymore (and 2011 will be jam-packed with quality titles).
Now we arrive at the question that is met at some point by all MMO players - does spending the extra time justify the time already spent? If I spend the 200 hours (which could well be 300) finishing up the title, I can cite a major accomplishment in my gaming history (plus the title will follow me into Guild Wars 2) but it will also drain a substantial amount of my free time (and sanity) which I could spend on frankly more productive activities like jogging for an hour a day or playing games that I actually enjoy. But if I relinquish my quest to get the achievement, I'll have nothing to show for the significant amount of time and effort I've already put into the game.
To some of you the answer may be obvious, "only play games if you enjoy it, duh", which is true, but I feel it's also a little more complicated than that. I'll certainly enjoy finally getting GWAMM, and I'll also certainly enjoy flaunting it around in Guild Wars 2. But I won't enjoy the hundreds of hours of monotonous activity required for me to finish up the last title to get it. It's just very hard for me to decide.