Archive for February 2010

Attention: Those with Cash to Blow

February 27, 2010

If anyone is feeling generous and would like to buy me something frivolous then this would be it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cgcdEk3LWzM

I’m not sure where to even get one, or if Square even still produces these little boxes of joy.  The Aeris one if by far the favorite one I’ve listened to but the ones for Legend of Mana and Chrono Cross are also pretty cool.  It’s just the crazy lengths that Square goes to to produce eloquent merchandise for their properties is pretty astounding.

But like I said, those with money feel free to send a comment my way or just ignore this post entirely

I leave the choice completely in your hands

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Mini-observation of Darksiders

February 25, 2010

Darksiders reminds me of a 16-bit game mixed with a Saturday Morning cartoon straight out of the 90s.  I know I know, I write too much about nostalgia but hear me out.  The color scheme for the game is dark but still vibrant and colorful in the right spots, freeing itself from the dark muddy browns of most current-gen games.  I haven’t noticed this contradictory art-style since the days of the Genesis and SNES with games like Demon’s Crest,and Contra Hard CorpsPerhaps what is giving me that blast from the past feeling is the guy who designed all the characters, Joe  Madureira.  I followed the “Age of Apocalypse” storyline enough to know his art style.

As for the Saturday morning cartoon comparison, just watch the scene where War meets Ulthane and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.  It’s a great aesthetic to have in my humble opinion.

The Art of the Package

February 25, 2010

I’ve been trying to build up my collection of old games over the past year. Partly because a few pawn shops have opened up around my area that have a pretty good selection of old NES games.  It’s not so much that I want to play them (although I do from time to time) I just like to have them, to hold this little piece of history of the media I love.

Aside form my unnatural need to hold these things in my hand, the artwork featured on each cartridge.  The bizarre 80’s-ness of  and classic art design (that half the time doesn’t match what the game looks like) of some of their covers just brings a smile to my face.  I’ve been trying to branch out into obtaining box copies of these game and have the complete package.  Thanks so a friend of mine who was recently giving away his old Nintendo collection my modest collection has grown a little with prize being a complete boxed copy of the original Final Fantasy with the manual, explorer’s handbook, maps and bestiary included.

I cannot stress how important a package like this was for a child growing up who didn’t follow many gaming magazines.  It was always a shot in the dark choosing good games when all we had to go by was the art on the cover and, if you were lucky, the text on the back of the box.  Here’s is the text on the back of the Final Fantasy box for those interested.

Dragons and broadswords

mystery and adventure

Final Fantasy has them all!

An evil shroud covers the world in darkness.  You must restore the powers of earth, wind, fire, and water to the Four Orbs.  Create your own band of 4 Light Warriors from fighters, thieves, marital artists, and magicians.  You’ll need all their skills to triumph in this massive role-playing adventure.

Your treacherous journey takes you to all parts of a strange new. Explore dangerous castles and dark caverns where deadly perils and great rewards await at every turn.  Hundreds of ferocious monsters block your path.  With patience, skill, and cunning you can defeat them.

Come, begin your quest.  Enter an enchanted new World.  Command your warriors! Prepare to face the Final Fantasy!

A world shrouded in the darkness of evil. Your mission – to restore the light!

Man, that was epic.  But every NES game was about saving some world right?  Most of them were for sure but not all.  What would a game that wasn’t about saving a world or princess have written on the back of it’s box.  How about a quirky little game called M.U.L.E..

“IRATA.  A New World rick with opportunity. For wealth. And Power

And you can become the richest, most powerful inhabitant of the newly discovered planet by owning the most land, mining the most precious metal, and supplying the most food and energy to all the peasants – otherwise known as your opponents.

To win you need MULES (Multiple Use Labor Elements), kind of mechanical donkeys which do your dirty work: growing food, mining, and producing energy.  MULEs are critical, so you want to get as many as possible as cheaply as possible.

And by the way, treachery is acceptable.  So use it when needed.

Then sit back and enjoy your wealth and power, OH MIGHTY RULER.”

I especially enjoy the “OH MIGHTY RULER” part.

These days with every bit of information so readily available about games and what most of them play like being common knowledge the package doesn’t seem quite as important.  With all this information also comes the more conventional box art, which is odd because you would think publishers could get away with more abstract art with most of their costumers knowing what their game was all about. I’m no publisher I don’t know, but what I do know is that I prefer the box art of old and hope we can return to those wacky times one day.

Damn If Feels Good To Be A Gangsta

February 21, 2010

My Mass Effect love fest will continue now, if you are still sensitive to spoilers then stop reading after this sentence.

I finally finished my final run of the suicide mission at the end of Mass Effect 2 and have all my main crew and secondary crew survive along with my paragon Shepard.  I think in total I played the final mission 4 times and it is still one of the most epic and tense final mission of any game I’ve ever played.  Despite the cheesy terminator looking human-reaper hybrid that took the place of the final boss it was still really good.  I can see where they were going with the idea of the human-reaper it does fit with the story and what the reapers are trying to accomplish, but it definitely came off a bit hokey.

The stress I felt during the final mission was enough to make my arms stiff and my eyes fixated on the screen for the last hour or so of the game.  It starts with the final assault on the Collector base with the Normandy coming through the Omega-4 relay.  The game switches from pre-rendered cinematics of the Collector’s blasting the Normandy to in-engine cut scenes of your characters reacting to the attack.  These cut-scenes seem to be where your decisions to upgrade the Normandy come into effect with a noticeable load time in between scenes where the game is figuring out if your ship can take these blasts.  That’s when my tension starting rising and I began questioning if I did enough work to my ship.  Luckily I made it to the base with everyone in tact, that’s when my decision of my technician and fire team leader would come into play.  Two times I lost Legion after a rocket to the face and finally decided to put Tali in the tubes and she performed admirably.  I’m not sure if I lost Legion because he sucked in the tubes or my choice of fire team leader being Samara who I changed to Garrus on the same run I switched to Tali.  It’s my understanding that there are several places you can lose party members, but after the opening I only lost characters right before the final boss.  With Garrus as my fire team leader and Mordin escorting the secondary crew back to the ship I didn’t lose anyone and was quite surprised.  Despite each cut scene playing out with my crews success I was still on pins and needles all the way up to Shepard’s slow motion jump to the Normandy.  I was never sure what throw-away decision I made that the game kept in some crazy behind the scenes algorithm that was calculating my ultimate doom.

So it took a couple of tries but I managed to save everyone and watched the ending of the game for a 4th time.  While I felt the ending of the game was very satisfying having lost a few characters, it didn’t feel as satisfying having rescued everyone.  I just didn’t feel the stone cold resolve in the characters that I did when they were standing next to the space caskets of their fallen comrades.  The final image still gets me every time with the entire reaper race heading towards our galaxy and Shepard staring off into space knowing he has to do something about it.

Which leads me to Mass Effect 3, probably my most anticipated sequel in quite some while.

The wealth of content that could potentially be in Mass Effect 3 is staggering to me.  They’ve built such a deep and rich universe and only a fraction of it has been explored in the first two games.  The structure of the game looks like it’s going to be in a Dragon Age type direction, with Shepard massing an army of aliens to combat the threat of the reapers.  This can be key to some of the major decisions you made during Mass Effect 1 & 2.  For instance, if you chose to save the rachni in Mass Effect 1 then Mass Effect 2 acknowledges that but perhaps in Mass Effect 3 you can recruit them for the final showdown with the reapers.  Also the connections you made with the krogan and quarians in Mass Effect 2 could come back to help or haunt you in the sequel.  The decision on whether to return the geth to their former selves or flat out destroy them could also be interesting.

The love interests you chose throughout the first two games could also play a role in Mass Effect 3 that is if they decide not to go the Hollywood route with a different girl for a  different sequel.  But the fact they have your first choice’s picture in your captain’s cabin and you can simply ignore all the potential mates in 2 would lead me to believe that they would not do that.

I can’t imagine how Bioware is gonna handle all the players who lost their Shepard at the end of Mass Effect 2.  Do they just lose their character and have to create a whole new Shepard? Do they have you create a whole new character who isn’t Shepard? Could they take one of the existing characters and have something happen to them so that the player could customize him or her to play as?  I’m not sure and it seems like a pretty daunting task.

And finally, what sort of choices would they have you make in 3?  This potentially being the last game they could lay on some pretty heavy stuff  without having to carry it over into another game.  The coolest thing they could do in my opinion would be a Darth Vader type turn where Shepard would make enough renegade choices throughout all three games so that he sides with the reapers and becomes their champion of doom.  That would be cliched but it would also be one of the most interesting parts of the game.  Imagine players game stories be do drastically different from one another that one player would be the ultimate hero of the galaxy in the end and one player would lead it to it’s destruction.  It’s kinda crazy and something I hope the good folks at Bioware are contemplating.

Needless to say I’m super excited about the next installment of this franchise, it’s definitely going to be one to remember.

On a unrelated note, I purchase Darksiders recently in hopes of getting Red Faction for 5 bucks.  I’ve played about 4 hours of it and despite some screen tearing and a drops in frame rate it’s turning out to be an awesome game.  Perhaps I’ll give it some more time in the next post.

VVVVVV

February 16, 2010

I don’t follow the indie game scene much.  The main problem that I see is there isn’t a great forum for the cream to rise to the top.  It’s a few good games in an ocean of mediocrity and crap.  There is the Xbox indie games that I’ve checked out every now and again.  There’s only been one game I’ve payed for and that’s Groov which is an awesome Geometry Wars clone revolving around music, but it didn’t really grab me.  While not having my pulse on the Indie pulse, I knew I had spotted a gem when I saw VVVVVV on Giantbomb’s Quicklook features.

VVVVVV is a simple platformer created by Terry Cavanagh based around switching gravity with a Commodore 64 aesthic.  It’s super simplistic but also extremely challenging and fun.  It has a Metroid like feel to it with each screen representing a grid on a map, with no scrolling between screens and everything is interconnected.  Each screen also has a unique color and name featured across the bottom of the screen to help from getting too disoriented from flying around the different screens in all different directions.

The challenge in the game is absolutely spot on.  There are some rooms in the game that are downright brutal with the timing you need to have, but with VVVVVV’s great controls and generous checkpoint system it never feels unfair.  The checkpoint system really needs to be commended.  I can’t say how many times I would have just given up and never finished the game had I not respawned right were I died.  It really speaks to the thought put into the game.

The game’s story is pretty simple as well, something to do with dimensional rifts and trying to get back to your own dimension.  It all boils down to your 5 crew members on your ship being missing (all with names starting with v, hence the name of the game) and you having to rescue them from a grim fate.  Some of the ways you go about rescuing these crew members can be pretty interesting as well but I won’t spoil anything.

The soundtrack featured in the game is simply amazing.  I love old 8-bit tunes and this game had the feel of those old games in spades.  The soundtrack was so good that my girlfriend who doesn’t really care for chiptunes really got into it.  If you go and try out the demo and think it’s something that isn’t for you but still dig the music you can download the soundtrack straight from the composer and still be able to experience the soundtrack.

My playtime clocked in at around 2 hours, and for 15 bucks I’d say it was well worth it for how much fun I had.  For those interested I died 707 times and the room I died the most in was “Three’s Company”. Immediately after I beat it my girlfriend started a game and promptly died 400 times but never gave up.  I think that says alot about the quality of the game.

I haven’t seen a lot of coverage on this game I thought I would help get the name out there, it truly is worth looking at

You can try the game at http://www.kongregate.com/games/TerryCavanagh/vvvvvv-demo

You can purchase the game at http://www.thelettervsixtim.es/

You can purchase the soundtrack at http://souleye.madtracker.net/

Blasphemy

February 14, 2010

With the announcement of Sonic the Hedgehog 4 and all the outpouring of hate for the series in it’s wake I thought it would be a good time to get something off of my chest.

I’ve grown up with Sonic games like many of my peers today.  I saw him at his astronomical heights and have seen him descend to his ridiculous lows.  I’ve made it apparent in previous post that I loved the series back in the day, and loved the music even more.  But with all these opinions being thrown around now that Sonic will be heading on his “4th” adventure I thought I’d put in my 2 cents about one of his most beloved games.

I hate Sonic CD.

That’s right probably the most widely regarded “best” of the series and this long time Sonic fan does not like it one bit.  You see I missed out on the whole Sega CD thing.  Even as a  child I thought it was a bit crazy for me to beg my parents for another system even though there was only one game I saw that I wanted, Sonic CD.  I didn’t actually play Sonic CD until the Sonic Gems Collection came out on the Gamecube about 5 years ago.  In fact it was the sole purpose that I purchased the game, I didn’t much care for the other games on the collection.  I just had to see what all the fuss was about after daring to enter internet gaming forums and seeing many raise this as the best Sonic experience a gamer could have.

So I popped in the disc in my black lunch box and quickly navigated to the option to let me play Sonic CD.  The  first thing that jumped out at me upon playing the game was how much I disliked the music.  I was aware of the whole musical switch from the localization, but I don’ t know what human being thought this would be easier on American ears.  The Japanese tracks are still there in the past sections of the levels and they just feel awkward, not blending in the rest of the level at all.

And that’ s another gripe I have about the game, time traveling.  Don’t get me wrong I’m all for time traveling in games, cartoons, real life etc. I just don’t won’t to be interrupted by one of the most agonizing load screens in history to get to it.  In reality this load screens were probably 1-2 seconds long but for me they really wrecked the flow of the game so much so that I actively avoided the time poles. Which causes me to not get the good futures of each level, thus ruining the whole purpose of the game.

The sheer over the top wackiness of the levels was somewhat of a double edged sword for me.  I do love me some over the top wackiness from time to time but it seemed to make some of the level designs a bit disorienting.  Of course I’m saying this from a modern perspective, had I’d played these levels when I was a kid I might be singing a different tune.

While we’re on the subject of the blue hedgehog there’s something else I’d like to discuss.  Where does all this hate for Sonic 3 and Sonic and Knuckles come from.  There are a few bad things about that games such as the beginning of the the end of Sonic only games with the introduction of playable Knuckles and the fact that they were 1 game split into 2.  But putting all that aside, Sonic 3 & Knuckles is the best pure Sonic experience you can have in my opinion.

I have no idea if Sonic the Hedgehog 4 will be any good.  Judging by Sonic team’s last decade of work it probably won’t be, but they have my attention which is good enough for now

2 Bioware RPGs in 2 Days

February 5, 2010

Yep, yesterday I completed my almost tragic play through of Dragon Age: Origins and today I destroyed the Collector base in Mass Effect 2.  Both were great games and I wanted to write about them separately, but since I finished them both so closely to one another I figured now would be the best time to get my thoughts out on both of them at the same time.

There will be some spoilers regarding both games to any who hasn’t played them and are sensitive to such things, you have been warned.

I mentioned my Dragon Age play through was almost tragic, let me explain.  I played through Dragon age slowly and carefully until about 2 weeks ago when I realized that Mass Effect 2 was looming over my head and I knew it would own my life when it was released.  I put my time in Dragon Age into turbo and blasted through recruiting the dwarves and taking care of Loghain making Alistair in line to become the new king after the blight is over.  As the darkspawn began to march to Denerim I readied my army of men, mages, elves, and dwarves for the fight of their lives.  Once inside Denerim I took out both of the Achedemon’s generals and made my way to Fort Drakon.  I did all of this in the span of a Saturday and when I reached this point my eyes were hurting, it was time for a break.  After a few hours of hanging out outside, getting some food and entertaining myself with some fine programming on the History Channel I figured it was time to finish the fight.  I turned on my PS3 and waited for my Dragon Age disc to be recognized and it didn’t take me long to realize you don’t have to wait for the PS3 to recognize discs already in the system when turned on.  What the hell was happening? I ejected and inserted the disc several times to no avail, the game was not being read at all.  I quickly grabbed a copy of Batman: Arkham Asylum and inserted it into the system and it read just fine.  I inspected the Dragon Age disc closer to find a small crack the length of my pinky finger nail on the inside of the disc and to this day have no idea how it could have gotten there.

Last weekend I resolved myself to signing up to a free Gamefly account to rent that game and finish it for good. After a quick easy setup and a few days wait, the game was in my PO Box and ready to go.  I was very surprised how sloppy my skills had become in the few weeks.  I was quickly getting destroyed by enemies I would have had zero problem with only a few weeks ago.  It took me a while but I found my combat groove again, knowing what skills to use where and where to position my comrades and myself, eventually making to the Archdemon himself.  I fell only once to him before finding a way to defeat him that I don’t think the games developers intended for me to find.  On top of the fort where you fight the Archdemon there are ballistas that shoot giant flaming stakes at your enemy.  During the fight I summoned the elves to keep the Archdemon busy with long ranged attacks while stood by a ballista just hitting the x button over and over again til the giant dragon fell.  Kinda anti-climatic after all the trouble I had getting up to the roof of that fort.  I think what happened was once the Archdemon reached 50% health he starts summoning dark spawn to help him and they come in waves, once you defeat one wave more will come.  While I was shooting him with the ballista there were still 2 grunts left in the wave I was fighting and they couldn’t hit me with their arrows because I was behind the ballista shooting the dragon like there was no tomorrow.  The next wave never triggered and the Archdemon was busy with the elf archers thus making my final battle experience extremely easy.  That’s my theory , I can’t be exactly sure why that’s the way it played out.

Despite the the ease of the final battle I really did enjoy Dragon Age.  Deep, lore-filled fantasy is something I am a sucker for and Dragon Age has it in spades.  The dark world the Bioware developers created reminds me alot of the Song of Fire and Ice series where bad stuff happens all the time and that kind of stuff catches my attention.  I didn’t have as much fun with the combat as I thought I would before the release.  Before it came out I was on the fence on whether I wanted it or not but when I heard the combat compared to Final Fantasy XII ,which I easily poured over 100 hours into, I was sold.  Building the character tactics to decide their actions in battle didn’t grab me as much as they did in Final Fantasy XII where I sat through many menus to make the perfect party for any situation.  I wasn’t as inclined to do all the personal character quests as I thought I would be, they seemed like they would be too tedious for me to accomplish.

My most driving thought when seeking to complete this game despite the cracked disc was being able to carry over my saved game over into a sequel to Dragon Age.  I haven’t read or seen any confirmation that this will actually happen but I have to assume that it will given some of the decisions you make at the end that go no where.  For instance the decision to have the ritual with Morrigan or sacrifice yourself or Alistair when killing the Archdemon.  I chose to have the ritual and the child with Morrigan so my character wouldn’t die and Alistair could become king.  Why would I be allowed to make this decisions moments before the end of the game if they didn’t have the intentions of letting me include my warrior champion in Dragon Age 2.

Moving on from high fantasy to hard sci-fi, Mass Effect 2 is a game the does realize this dream of bringing over characters from the previous game and realizes it well.

What an epic game.  That’s one thought that stuck with me through the entirety of Mass Effect 2.  From the very beginning when you have to get Joker out of the Normandy while there’s a huge whole in the hull and you can see out into space to the very last image of Harbinger and the other reapers heading towards our galaxy this game is Epic with a capital E from start to finish.

I guess the appropriate place to start would be the importing of my original Shepard from Mass Effect 1 along with all the decisions I made and surviving characters.  This was be far the most enticing  aspect of the Mass Effect series long before I even played the first one.  I even complete a 3rd play through of the original game in December just to get him up to level 50, have Wrex alive, and be able to remember all the details of the decisions I made.  All in all the imported game didn’t have that much bearing over what happened in Mass Effect 2 it just had effects on littles things in the story or peripheral things.  But it’s these little details that make the experience far more personal and why I simply can’t recommend playing the game without having played the 1st, it is simply a must.

I’ve been dreaming of having this kind of interactivity between games for a long time now.  I know there have been games that have done it in the past but not to this degree.  It’s a very futuristic thing to me especially when I think back to reading old game magazines about the Dreamcast launch and how the modem would change the way we play games.  One of the things that intrigued me the most was the possibility of a game being able to check the local weather and changing  the weather in the game to match.  It’s that kind of futuristic tingle this game scratched for me when I imported my paragon Shepard into Mass Effect 2.

One of the most common complaints I’ve seen on Mass Effect 2 since it’s been out has been the lack of RPG aspects in the game and Bioware’s decision to make it more action focused.  My first thought to any of those complaints is the defining RPG aspect from the 1st game and perhaps the best I’ve played in any game period is still there, the dialog system.  I couldn’t care less about getting loot or grinding for levels in the original Mass Effect, the main draw for me was talking to people, getting bits of the story through conversation, and choosing the dialog options.  They managed to make an already great system for conversing with people even better with the interupt feature which allows to butt into someone else speaking with some action.  Shooting enemies is also more fun this time around. While I could actively perceive the dice rolls happening behind the scenes, I knew that they were there and fighting was a bit clunky.  This time around there are no dice rolls just you and your skill as a shooter which I’ve been over that I’m not so hot at but I can get by in this game.  I have to say I like this way better than the original, it doesn’t make the shooting crazy fun like in Uncharted 2 but it’s still pretty decent.

I only just finished the game a few hours ago and one of the big catches that Bioware has made public about the game is that in the end your Shepard can die as can any of your crew.  I found that out first hand. After killing the giant human-reaper I had 4 fallen comrades: Legion took a rocket in the face, Samara was shoot leading the fire team, Thane was taken by the Collector swarm and Jack was just laid out on the floor after the battle was over.  Not to mention the entire Normandy secondary crew died en route back to the ship after I decided to not send them an escort.  After I watched the ending I immediately went to all the websites and forum threads I had avoided before to not see any spoilers and after reading that you can have everyone survive if you have their loyalty.  I had everyone’s loyalty, so I popped the disc back in and went for another run.  My second attempt was more fruitful than my 1st, all of the secondary Normandy crew made it back alive but Legion still took a rocket in the face. I fully intend to rectify this with one more try before I start up my second play through.

Like Dragon Age I found Mass Effect’s final boss to be a bit underwhelming.  Not in design, the human-reaper looked crazy (if a big terminator-ish) but in difficulty.  It was a really easy boss fight, unlike Dragon Age where I think I just got lucky with a little glitch, it felt more designed to be easy.  But it’s a small complaint, the ending was still amazing.  One thing I’d like to point out is the music during the final run it’s call “Suicide Mission” and I think everyone should Youtube it. That single song made me buy the whole soundtrack off itunes and I’m listening to it as I write this.

I had high hopes for Mass Effect 2 and all of them were met easily.  This makes my hopes for Mass Effect 3 exponentially larger, I just hope the developers at Bioware are up to meeting those hopes.  The task of bring all the different decisions that could be made from Mass Effect 2 and 3 must be an awfully daunting one.  I guess we’ll find out in another couple of years and if my hopes are met again it will be a truly amazing game.