I hope you're goddamn happy, ER

Today I finally managed to find what was evidently the only copy of Deadly Premonition in my town. Having spent over a dozen hours with each of the ERs, I got tired of yelling at my monitor and scoffing to myself, so I took the plunge.
 
I suppose that's all I have to say. I've only just gotten to the first scene with Polly, so I probably won't catch up before the ERs finish. I'm also surprised how little information seems to exist about this game online, in terms of guides and such. Maybe I'll be methodical and write my own...

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New GB features.

As all of us have recently noticed, Giantbomb has introduced quests and leveling to the site. This is pretty wicked cool, in my opinion, but also fiendish in a way I can't recall in a long time. What's next, microstransactions? Har har.
 
But seriously, this is cool. And yes, I'm doing this for a quest too, so what. It encourages activity on the site. It's like, hey here's all these things you can do on here and we'll give you invisible meaningless points if you do them all! SWEEET.

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Starcraft 2 Beta Impressions

I've been in the Beta for about a week now. Unfortunately my PC is just a bit underpowered to do the game justice, so I've had to restrict myself to 1v1 matches. I've played all three races, but my personal preference leans towards Terran. So now, I'll give some (hopefully) brief impressions of the changes and improvements, and perhaps some balance concerns I've noticed.
 

Terran

This is the race I've spent the most time with, so I have the most insight. From a pure gameplay standpoint, terrans haven't changed much. Mining, supply and building methods are all the same. The buildings have all basically returned, with your barracks, factory and starport being your troop production. The biggest changes for structures is the addon system. Command Centers have two possible addons, the communications array and the planetary fortress. The Comm addon gives you the classic scanner ability, but also allows you to call in temporary SCVs (called MULEs) or to boost the food count on your supply depot. All three of these abilities are 50 energy, so it really comes down to what you need at that moment. Obviously your main command center will get this addon, and it's wise to get it as soon as possible, I've found. The planetary fortress I've barely used. It gives the command center the means to defend itself somewhat, but I believe it removes the ability to lift off. It would probably be best for defending remote expansions, but I've never really been in a game that's lasted that long.
 
The other addon change is the tech lab and generator. These two addon structures are identical for each troop producing facility, and function similarly for each. The reactor will give you two simultaneous build queues, but only for the lowest tier of that structure's units. That's marines for a barracks, hellions (vulture replacement) for factory, and the medivac and viking for the starport. The tech lab allows access to the higher tier units from that structure; reapers and marauders for the barracks, siege and thor with the factory, and banshees, battlecruisers, and whatever the new science vessel is named for the starport. Typically, I've been splitting between reactor/tech lab for barracks, purely tech labs for factories, and mostly reactors for starports. The only other big structure change is your supply depots can sink, which basically just allows you to wall your entrance early on. It doesn't play a huge factor in games, neither does being able to store SCVs in your Command Center for transport. Those are just quality of life changes, basically.
 
Now I'll get into the units a bit. The only returning units that are basically unchanged are the Marine, Siege Engine, and Battlecruiser. The Marine can get a shield upgrade, but that just boosts his health a bit. The Siege and Battlecruiser are practically identical to the first game. Most other units are new or modified in some way. Ghosts are back, but I've literally never built one, so I don't really know if/how they've changed. I do know nukes are now built at the Ghost Academy instead, the prerequisite structure for ghosts. The Marauder is a heavy infantry unit more suited to handling some of the mid tier units, with a concussive shot ability that slows their targets. The Reaper pretty much everybody knows, he can hop cliffs. The Hellion is basically a Vulture replacement, fast strike vehicle without the mines. The Thor is a big, meaty, expensive mech. Too expensive, I've found, to be practical. The Medivac basically combines the shuttle and medic from the first game, it can ferry troops as well as heal organic ones. The Viking is an interesting unit. Similar to the siege, it has two modes, fighter and assault. The fighter is a flying air to air unit, while the assault is a walking ground to ground mech. The Banshee basically replaces the Wraith with the ability to cloak, but it can only hit ground units. I can't remember the name of the last starport unit, but it is functionally similar to the science vessel from the original game. It detects cloaked units, it has no direct attack, but it has two abilities it can toss out. It can lay out an auto turret that attacks both ground and air, and it can put out what's called a point defense drone that apparently destroys incoming enemy abilities, but I've not really been able to use that or see what it applies to.
 
So that's a rundown of the basic structure of the race. I skipped a few of the extra buildings, but they're just necessary to produce other units, or for upgrades. Now I'll talk a bit about my Terran strategy. Typically my first act is to close off my ramp with two supply depots and a barracks. This prevents the enemy from scouting, and deters rush strategies a little bit. I'll stick a handful of marines behind the makeshift wall, maybe build them a bunker later on. I'll then start getting gas and get my factory up. As soon as it's done I plunk down a tech lab for it, and this is also about the time to get an engineering bay for missile turrets. Research siege tech at the lab, then get my starport down. This basically gives me access to whatever tech I need to counter their build strategy. Tanks are always useful. Medivac Marine build still works well against Zerg. Marauders are decent against protoss ground. Where I run into problems, and where I'll talk about my balance concerns, is with Terran air.
 
Terran Air to Ground is vastly improved with the Banshee. However, Terran Anti Air has, I feel, taken a huge hit. The only units that can hit air are the Marine, the Thor, the Viking (in fighter mode) and the Battlecruiser. The Viking is the most economic choice, but it's too fragile to go toe to toe with really any other race's air. The Thor is too slow and expensive to be practical, but at least it's decently armored. The Battlecruiser is also slow and expensive, and the Marine is fairly worthless except in mass numbers. This is where I've had the most difficulty in matches. Without a Goliath equivalent to defend my ground forces, I've often been slaughtered by only a half dozen carriers or a dozen mutalisks because my Vikings just get ripped to shreds. Once the Vikings are gone the ground units are completely defenseless and can only retreat. Compared to the other two races, who have low tier units with anti air attacks, it just doesn't seem fair. Hydralisks are cheap and effective in numbers, same with Stalkers, but Terran have no equivalent ground unit. Now obviously not all three races have to be the same, and Terran air has always been a weakpoint, but they should have some sort of effective counter that isn't prohibitively expensive. Thors and Battlecruisers are not typically part of my build, but I guess maybe I have to change that against air. The other option I haven't looked into is Ghosts. If they still have a Lockdown style ability, they could at least hamper a mass carrier build. But it seems like there's no reason NOT to go air against a Terran, because all of his raw power is in ground units that cannot defend themselves from the skies.
 
Anyway, this is long enough as is, so maybe I'll do another post or two covering the other races later.
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My "brief" opinion on the MW2 Airport scene (spoilers)

If you have not seen the recently linked single player footage from MW2, and do not wish to be spoiled, stop reading now. Although honestly, I don't know how somebody would have avoided it by this point. If you have not yet seen this footage and wish to do so, here is the link.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Alright, with the sufficient spoiler warning out of the way, it's time to sound off on this controversy. For starters, there's no way to grasp the context of this scene without playing the game. The quality of the footage is too low to read the subtitles, but even if one had a translation, that wouldn't help put it in perspective with the rest of the game. But there are a few obvious things we can grasp. We're playing the bad guys, or at least undercover with them. This scene is not representative of the overall game experience, as there are very few enemies to actually fight. What we have is basically a semi interactive cut scene.
 
What it is, is obvious. Armed terrorists enter an area crowded with civilians and start shooting. There's a certain amount of precedence for this in the real world, but I'm not going to get too deep into the connections with actual events. It's certainly a chilling scene, and has already gotten some media attention that will likely only get worse after release. But it has to be put in perspective. For starters, this is an M rated game. All too often has the rating system been neglected, but M is a basic equivalent to a movie's R rating. This is not a game for children, it is for adults. That is a plain and simple fact that will undoubtedly get lost in the upcoming frenzy, but it's important to note.
 
What I'd really like to analyze though, is what this means for a gamer's experience. This is certainly something we have never experienced so graphically in game before. Similar to the nuke scene in the original MW, it puts players in a situation that is frankly uncomfortable. This creates an interesting scenario, and watching this scene really made me step back and think. At no point are you required to shoot unarmed people. The person running this demonstration chooses to at some points, but it does not appear to be necessary to advance the proceedings. What this really makes you do though, is think about who you are, not just as a character in a videogame, but the actual person holding the controller.
 
How would I react placed in this situation? I don't honestly know, and having this in the game allows me to confront that interesting idea in a harmless fashion. It makes you think about it and contextualize the outcome in a virtual scenario. That's a pretty powerful thing for a videogame to do. If it happens to tie into the campaign in such a way to explain your character's motivations, then that makes it even more significant.
 
In the end, this is mostly speculation at this point. The game will be out soon enough, and I'm sure this will be far from the only introspective done on this portion of the game before things are all said and done. The potential for outrage and media scandals are ripe, but what I really hope is that this pushes forward the movement for videogames as an adult form of entertainment. This scene isn't simply mass murder for mass murder's sake. It places the player in a situation, presents them with choices, and forces them to deal with the outcome on a personal level. That interaction is more potent than any other media can accomplish, and as such it should only be handled by those really mature enough to deal with it appropriately. Time will tell on this one.

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My ultimate handheld gaming device... well for starters, it has to be a clamshell. The GBA SP and DS have it right, protecting that screen is priority number one. Next, it would be nice if it had two analog sticks. This isn't a knock against the PSP directly, it's just that modern game development has had access to those style of controls for a good two generations now, and it's long past time for handhelds to catch up. A small form factor is basically a necessity, should be no larger than an iPhone or DSi. The best portable devices are pocket sized or a bit smaller.
 
In terms of media, you still need some sort of solid format to sell in stores. I don't buy into the digital only future, at least as far as handhelds are concerned, because handheld consoles are always going to be most popular with the very young audience who doesn't have easy access to a credit card for buying games online. Something like UMDs would probably be best, in terms of production costs and storage size. That doesn't mean you can't have online integration, preferably with some sort of cheap memory card format. At least one touchscreen is basically a requirement now, with the DS and iPhone making that a standard expected feature.
 
The device should be at least as powerful as last generation's hardware, but this is the least important feature. What's more important is that it's cheap and easy to develop for. Nintendo's learned this lesson well. Wifi multiplayer would be nice, but not really required I don't think. Media functionality is, again, one of those things I don't think necessary, as almost everybody has an MP3 player now, and who's really going to watch movies on a tiny screen.
 
Ultimately, I suppose my ideal handheld is a DSi with a disc format, two analog sticks, and the PSP's horsepower. You start tossing any more features in there, and it just becomes a cluttered mess that can't execute any of it's peripheral angles properly. A handheld gaming device is for gaming, and any other function should be secondary to that nature. There are always going to be better phones, MP3 and PMP devices out there, and trying to compete with them is foolish and unnecessary.

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Of course.

Shadow Complex. Braid. BF1943. Geometry Wars. 
 
The download game market has been fantastic for games that might not succeed in the traditional retail space.  It's reinvigorated the gaming scene, with a lot less risk involved for both the publisher and consumer.

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