The Witcher - Game of the weekend

As usual, I'm playing games this weekend. I'm skipping on  Saint's Row 2, since sandbox games kind of bore me. I may try it out next week if Ryan gives a decent recommendation and I can borrow the office copy. In general though, sandobox games seem to try to do too much and end up just being a miss mash of mediocre mini-games with spotty controls. I tend to like more focused genre games or ones that focus on character creation. With SR2 out of the way that left Dead Space, but that one looks good enough that I think I'll wait for the PC version, since the only thing I hate more then scary games is scary games with unresponsive controls. I know, I know, I'm one of those dying breed PC players that hates playing shooters on a console.

The over the shoulder combat had me worried, but it's actually pretty smooth
My search led me to Steam out of boredom, and I noticed that an Enhanced Edition of The Witcher was out at a reduced price. Although I thought the game looked spotty from the gameplay cinematics and I wasn't very trustful of a over-the-shoulder, aurora-engine game I figured I'd give it a shot after reading a couple nice user reviews here on GB.

My mark of a good game? A complicated skill tree.
I'm glad I did. Although I'm only a couple hours in, I can already tell this will be a fav for the year. The story immediately grabbed me and although it uses a tired cliche of a man who lost his memory, the lead character seems pretty cool. The combat, which looked a little hokey and unresponsive in movies, is perfectly adequete, if a bit easy in practice. Although I'm more of a fan of BioWare style pause, shoot, pause gameplay, the more action oriented feel is pretty decent and not getting in the way of things. Graphically I'm pretty impressed with the amount of modification must have been made to the Aurora engine. While I loved games like NWN, I also thought they looked kind of lame. The Witcher has closer ties in style to Oblivion though, just with a level based world instead of an open one. Which brings up the one downer, load times. While I hear they've improved, the start, load, stop, load progression is currently my biggest annoyment with the game so far. It's not drastic, but I'd prefer that it didn't happen so much during the course of a mission. Other then that I'm having a good time with the game.

For those curious, I've started to slow down my King's Bounty playing. While it's a good game for the genre, the amount of grinding is kind of bumming me out. I feel like I'm fighting too many boring low-level monster fights between the awesome, story based boss fights. This is common for the genre, so if you like TBS games I wouldn't let it deter you, but I doubt I'll end up finishing the game.
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TBS game you might have missed...

This guy look familiar?
Dunno why, but I had not heard of King's Bounty till I was recently checking Direct2Drive. As a turn based strategy nut I have no idea how this one slipped past my radar. In any case I just picked it up and gave it a whirl for a couple hours. I'll write up a full review later on (maybe the dudes will let me publish it), but lemme quickly say that if you in any way enjoy the TBS genre (games like HoMM and Disciples) this game is right up your alley. What instantly impressed me was the WoW inspired art direction which is over the top in all the right ways. This is a beautiful game and enjoys some of the most detailed and lively texture/UI work I've seen in any game this year. I've only just started with the campaign (as a change of pace I'm trying a warrior) so I don't have any solid words on the combat yet, but my gut says this may be one of those games I get addicted to for a couple weeks.

Here's some screens I just uploaded to the site so you can see what I mean about the artwork.

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Games this weekend

It's funny how the PC gaming market seems to be crumbling at brick and mortor stores and yet... I feel fine. I REALLY love steam, a little too much these days. I'm finding that I'm rebuying older games I may already have just so that I can ditch the CDs and have them available on STEAM where I know I can always access them. This weekend's culprit was Max Payne 2, which  at $9.99 has one of the better stories that I can remember in video games, definitely close to tops for the action genre.

Mona Sax is my kinda lady
Videogames to me are more like books in that I very rarely revisit the games I've already played through once. Unlike movies, games take quite a while to finish and most of the time I can't justify the time to replay a whole game. Also, games, unlike books, tend to become less meaningful as time goes on, mostly due to yesterday's graphics not holding up to today's memory. I find it even stranger that the games that feel the effect of graphics-degradation are only the games of post GL quake era, and not the 2D games of 10 years and previous, who tend to stand up really well. Essentially, I notice how a game like Max Payne looks today more so then I would playing a game of Final Fantasy on the SNES. That's not to say I'm not having fun, I'll definitely make it through the game again just to get through the story, but I wish I could be having a better time with it. Maybe it's also because I'm playing Crysis: Warhead at the same time which would warp anyone's perception of graphics and style.

I also took the time to play a little bit of Force Unleased this weekend, which while a little sucky with the controls, is satisfying my inner star wars nerd with it's storytelling. The first level, where you pounce around as everyone's favorite Sith Lord was truely awesome and I was more excited about how Lucas Arts nailed the gait of Darth Vader more then anything. Darth doesn't run you see, he just walks fast.

In any case that's what I've been playing this weekend, along with my usual does of TF2. I'm trying to fit as much gaming in as I can before Fallout 3 consumes my life. I haven't been as excited about a games since... well, Oblivion.
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What I've been working on

The last couple weeks I've been working on two things. Getting GB ready for serving ads and allowing people to switch to a white version of giant bomb. Here's a screenie of the white version as it stand at the moment. I'm still working with stuff and switching up colors, but it'll give you a good idea of what the site looks like inverted.

ZOMGz

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Holy Crap... Why didn't anyone tell me STALKER was so good?

I'm primarily a PC gamer and have been since Doom first came out. I've always loved gaming on a PC because of 3 things...

  • Mouse / Keyboard control is unparalled for shooters
  • The graphics on PC games are always better if you've got a nice setup
  • Western turn-based, complicated RPGs have always been PC only (with the exception of Elder Scrolls)
  • You can mod the hell out of anything

STALKER's start
Recently I got my gaming rig upgraded to celebrate the launch of Giant Bomb. Hey it's a work expense right? Anyways, I've essentially been playing the games that I missed in the last year, buying as much as I can off Steam (whose awesomeness I'll save for another post). After revisiting Neverwinter and having a bit of nostalgia for Titan Quest I figured I'd give STALKER a try. Although the reviews seemed to be lukewarm at best, I tend to always try out games made in Europe/Russia for the simple reason that they tend to make radically different games and you can find some real gems. The last game I "found" was Silent Storm, a turn-based, squad strategy game that was I was absolutely bannanas for a couple years ago. For $20 bucks, I figured I could count on at least a weekend of fun out of STALKER so I loaded it up.

I hope Fallout 3 is as awesome
Good God is it awesome. It's an RPG, well kinda. The game is basically Fallout but as a first person shooter. After installing some recommended mods I got a better looking game with some pretty nifty realism added in. This is the kind of game true PC nerds go nuts for, I'm absolutely loving it. I just figured it was your average poorly made shooter, but I was greated with a living world, hundreds of NPCs, an RPG style quest system and an absolutely gorgous, if not technically impressive, game.

Fair warning though. I would not recommend this game for anyone but old school PC gamers who like their games hard, complicated and so open that you often have no idea what to do but just walk forward. It's the kind of game, like the Elder Scrolls series, where a guide is really only marginally useful and you just kinda gotta feel your way through it.

Did I mention it's pretty fucking scary? I'm one of those guys that really can't play my way through resident evil games because I'm a wimp when it comes to video game horror, but STALKER is such a good game outside of the spookiness that I think I might just make my way through it. I'm only a couple hours in, but I'm really hoping this one has a gripping story all the way through. Right now I'm hella impressed.

I think this is one of those early genre games (Non-linear RPG Shooter) that will be utterly copied by other games in the next few years. It's taken everything that you may have liked about a game like System Shock or Deus Ex and thrown it into a living world where you don't hit the end. You can just walk in any direction you want to go in. Totally badass. 
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For the love of Bomberman

Bomberman 2 for the SNES
Yeah, this WII game is exactly what went wrong with the series
To this day I consider Bomberman 2 / Bomberman 93 as one of the pure pinacles of video gaming. It had fast paced gameplay and a perfect feel to it that only games like Galaga had before it. I recently played 4 player Bomberman 93 with Jeff, Andy and Vinny and despite it being 4 in the morning, we all had to continue playing one more game.

Because of all that, it's sad the franchise completely imploded somwhere in the mid 90s. Bomberman 3 introduced such horrible ideas as the bombermen riding kangeroos, and the later 3D next-gen versions simply changed the game altogether to a crappy action title. Bomberman was possibly the franchise to keep going indefinitely. Just like tetris, it doesn't need fancy graphics or new game types to keep it fresh, it just needs to be... well bomberman. Jeff introduced me to the Saturn version of the game which supposedly allows 10 person bombing, but until I get a full 10 man game on I still think Bomberman 2 was the best of the series.

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Day in the Life...

So... day 1. Let's just say it's blown our expectations.


We started last night by deciding it would be better to launch the site at night then in the morning, because even though we were tired, it would be less traffic. Turned out to be both an awesome and a bad idea. The site got up by midnight, and was down by 1am. Seriously, who stays up for a site launch? Apparently the bomb has some hard core fans. The servers were obviously slammed and the engineering team here was trying to think up every possible reason the site was down. As the designer you just kinda sit in the corner patiently and hope no one yells at you when you ask the occasional question.

Meanwhile, downstairs vinny and jeff had come in to cheer us on and upload a bunch of the old videos. By 2am their jaws had dropped. How is it possible we could have that many submissions when the site was barely reachable. Luckily they've been through major site launches before to understand the drill and be patient enough while andy, ethan and sean figured stuff out. That's important in any team. 

Speed forward to now. We're all exhausted, but the site is finally running well. I've had some time to sit on the boards and try to look through the bug reports and delete / combine pages. Andy's still plugging away, trying to gain every inch of speed out of our framework. We're having a lot of fun despite how tired we are.

For those wondering about queue times. We're plugging away as fast as we can. I've also been combining/deleting pages as needed when they are requested. We'll get to a decent schedule in the next couple days. In the meantime, thanks for stopping by, I'll admit it's been a rough day, but we love the company :)
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