Thursday, November 26, 2009

Another Holiday Commences

In an unusual twist, I have already obtained all of my 'must-have' games of 2009. I picked up both Brütal Legend and Dragon Age: Origins on their respective launch days, and I am disappointed by neither. I must confess, however, that Double Fine's metal opus has been shelved temporarily by BioWare's dark fantasy juggernaut. As odd as this sounds, I tend to play Brütal Legend on weekend afternoons while Sandi takes a nap in the living room; evidently, she finds pounding guitar riffs relaxing. Tim Schafer has finally given me a sandbox game I can play without guilt -- set in a fantasy realm where my avatar is a freedom fighter and not a criminal.

During the week, Street Fighter IV continues to garner a large portion of playtime. I have close to three hundred online battles under my belt now, and I continue to wear my charge character as a badge of honor. I have found my opponents to be, by and large, polite individuals; my 'nice fight' post-game messages are usually returned in kind. I like to think that the fighting game community is more good-spirited than the typical online rabble, but that is most likely my niche market talking.

Game well this holiday weekend, and, above all else, get hype!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Long-Expected Update

Since I have my doubts that anyone without a blood or legal tie to me ever reads this, forgive my lack of diligence in updating my gaming activities. I have chosen to spend my nights actually playing games, rather than writing about the games I want to play.

To no surprise for those who knew me in high school, Street Fighter IV remains at the top of my playlist. While I still have little online play experience, I have found the title a wonderful replacement for lousy television nights. The Championship Mode update for the game and its replay storage feature has given me hours of viewing pleasure -- except for the fact that Balrog totally owns my beloved Blanka. I have also spent a fair bit of time rifling through the forums here, gathering information about how serious players approach the game. Who knew jumping is such a bad idea?

What I am about to say will astonish almost anyone who has ever known my feelings about widely popular media, from quasi-reality television to ridiculous stories about vampires wandering about in broad daylight. I refuse to provide links on this one; I suppose they enjoy fording rivers, too. Anyway, in a moment of weakness, I bought a used copy of Halo 3 last month. I was moved by my nieces' desire to play games with me over Xbox Live, which was simply not possible with my prior gaming collection. In all honesty, the game is pretty good, in much the same vein that pizza almost always makes for a good meal. I have played through most of the campaign missions twice on various difficulties; those who know me are aware that changing the difficulty is not one of my usual maneuvers. Without a known playing companion, though, I doubt I would give Master Chief and his incomprehensible plot more than a cursory playthrough. Seriously, developers -- stop trying to convey your storylines while I am shooting at stuff.

Game well as the summer wanes, and may every grenade you toss stick.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Two Bits' Worth of Gaming

All right -- I admit I have spent more than twenty-five cents on the games I am about to mention. Call me the master of hyperbole, except for the fact that the title is already taken.

Xbox Live's Community Games section is, for lack of a better way to put it, a tangled mess. Apart from checking out a couple of 'hot list' groups, one has to do a metric truckload of careful reading and demoing to find the gems. Frankly, I think panning for gold has a higher rate of return -- and not simply because one is spending money while the other is (potentially) earning it.

We bought a puzzle game called Poker Squares not long after the Community Games feature launched, and we picked up Ye Olde Dice Game to avoid pulling out actual dice if we want to play Yahtzee. I bought the first part of the three-dimensional adventure game Mind's Eye of Jupiter, and while there was a good bit more repetitive grid searching than I anticipated, I am okay with the two and a half dollars I spent on the game.

That same night, I also purchased Light's End, which has one of the more intriguing premises of my recent gaming experiences. Microsoft classifies it as roleplaying, but while its graphics hearken to classics like the NES Final Fantasy or Chrono Trigger, its focus on shifting playable characters and apparent lack of combat stand in defiance of that description. The absence of puzzles (apart from figuring out who needs to talk to whom) stands in contrast to the traditions of the adventure game genre, so what remains? The title's website describes itself as story-driven, and I think that is the best place to put it. Light's End takes the idea of interactive fiction past the borders of Hotel Dusk - Room 215 and the Phoenix Wright series. By the way, go find Hotel Dusk if you have yet to play it. I can wait.

I downloaded the trial of Kodu Game Lab to experiment. I have no great aspirations of game design, but an idea or two has floated through my head, and this might give me a way to put them into virtual form without spending two years refreshing my C++ skills.

Game well, and may your expeditions be free of claim-jumpers.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Bombs Bursting in Air -- and on People

I have managed a whopping one match of Street Fighter IV online (which I won -- gooooooooo Team Blanka!) since my last post, but that is because I have spent many hours entrenched in the stylized turf wars of Team Fortress 2 of late. I am by no means an expert at the game; explodey or burny death comes quickly and often for me, although it seems to happen about as rapidly for everyone else in the match. I have spent most of my time as a Medic, which alleviates my general inability to aim. The last game I played saw me experimenting with the Pyro class, which was fun but even more lethal. The weekend will likely see more multiplayer mayhem -- at some point, anyway.

Game well over this Independence Day weekend, and may the rockets' red glare not be at your feet.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Of Obsession and Combo Links

As I mentioned in my last post, I have spent a great deal of time with the newest addition to my game catalogue, Street Fighter IV. To be honest, I have spent way too much time with Street Fighter IV; several nights have resulted in a disappointingly short sleep cycle due to elongated play sessions. All the magic from Street Fighter II Special Champion Edition on my Genesis has come rushing back with a vengeance. Blanka handles almost exactly like he did back in the 1990's, with a few extra moves (and meters) tossed into the mix. All I need now is a controller designed explicitly to accommodate its button scheme.

In an odd twist, I have yet to face another human being on the field of battle. The overwhelming majority of my time has been spent in the game's Trial mode. Before battling other players, I wanted to make sure I had a solid feel on the timing mechanics. As a long-lost fan of the fighting genre flagship, these challenges seem embedded especially for me. I am by no means an expert (the links in Blanka's Hard Trial Five are extremely fragile, and most other characters are still beyond me), but there is something strangely addictive about repeatedly flailing at the same button combinations. This, of course, is a large component of my lack of massively multiplayer experience. I also find myself frequently watching AI matches while having a snack; these breaks can turn into an hour or so of fascination as I watch the computer-controlled fighters have absolutely no answer to Zangief.

I will make my first forays into the world of Xbox Live fighting later this week, provided my Internet connection holds out. I will also be trying Team Fortress 2 soon, after I quizzed the folks at the Escapist about its viability off its primary platform.

Game well this week, and may you always have frame advantage.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

I Was Excited About More Last Year

As virtually anyone who would be reading this knows, the gaming world experienced its own little Wrestlemania this month, when the Electronic Entertainment Expo (whose name is often redundantly shortened to the E3 Expo) hit Los Angeles. This time of year is a moment of wildly elevated expectations for gamers, as we are enraptured by flashy trailers, bold announcements of games we have known about since last year, and, lest my testosterone-fueled comrades shriek in indignation, women. I ended up watching most of G4's coverage of the event, barring an overall lack of interest in company press conferences. Unlike the majority of my fellow gamers, I came away from E3 underwhelmed.

Perhaps my ennui stemmed from nothing more than a sophomore jinx; last year marked the first time I had seen E3 coverage as the event was in progress. However, I had the distinct feeling I was repeatedly being shown the same game with a slightly different interface. Uncharted 2 and Splinter Cell: Conviction looked nearly identical to me in terms of gameplay, and Mass Effect 2 only differed in the presence of space suits. The same could be said of God of War III, Brütal Legend, and Assassin's Creed II, given the radical difference in those titles' respective art styles. Alan Wake, a game I have been watching with interest since last year, now looks to be plying itself as Resident Evil 5 with more nighttime. How will Halo 3: ODST and Modern Warfare 2 differ apart from the whole space marine/terrestrial marine thing? Each night, I found myself wondering if by this time next year, I would have four choices of video game: whiz-bang shooty fun, whiz-bang slashy fun, rock star fantasy simulator, and Peggle.

I was further puzzled by how much everyone in attendance was in love with this convergence. Why exactly do stealth games need to play like God of War and/or Gears of War? I kept hearing the phrase 'speed up' in connection to this phenomenon, although I had been unaware that stealthy covert agents and infiltrators were on such strict timetables. Has the gaming industry run out of room for genres which need not appeal to twitchy action fans?

Nevertheless, I do find myself looking forward to several games from this year's E3. You will find them listed in a new category to the right, called 'On the Radar.' Sadly, about half the games on the list would have been present in January, but there are some new additions. I was always interested in the Silent Hill series, since it focused on psychological horror more than 'gotcha' shock value. The Wii reincarnation of the first Silent Hill sounds promising, especially when I heard the words 'no combat.' I was pleasantly surprised to see high-powered console technology used on a potentially awesome two-dimensional game like Shadow Complex. I am reservedly optimistic about Alan Wake still, in spite of its possible focus on putting rounds in things. You may be surprised to see PlayStation 3 titles on the list, but both Heavy Rain and The Last Guardian give me great pause on the lack of a black monolith in my entertainment center.

Oh, and Microsoft and Sony seem to want to turn the Wii's motion-control shtick into another hardware arms race. Yeah, there's that. yay.

If you'll excuse me, I have to get back to Street Fighter IV now. Game well, and may the bar be higher for you than I.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Possibly Unique Experience

I mentioned some time ago that I had picked up a used copy of Blue Dragon for a family-wide Japanese roleplaying fix. We have soldiered through the first two discs of the journey and are approaching the title's home stretch. While not a bad game, Blue Dragon does little to pull the player into its experience. The Final Fantasy X meets Shadow Hearts combat and character advancement systems are capable yet unastounding (two different genera of experience points is so 16-bit), and the plot is far from redemptive (did the villain ever actually tell us his name?). Perhaps the worst offense is the lack of sidequests; the first two thirds of the game have Tidus and Wakka scoffing at their linearity. For an explorer like myself, this is almost three strikes in one.

Blue Dragon also boasts a maddening set of Achievements, requiring flawless runs of banal minigames and outrageous amounts of experience grinding. I almost consider the awards for maxing out all job levels to be a badge of shame, but the bestiary completion is unforgivable. Some of the game's enemies only appear when summoned by other foes, and these latter opponents can be killed with one-turn simplicity. This means that, in a sense, players are punished for efficient character building and may never know where to find those missing creatures. I consider that poor, poor design. Although I do not play games for the mere sake of elevating my Gamerscore (note the absence of Yaris and Fuzion Frenzy 2 from my list of played games), Mistwalker almost seems to thumb its nose at the modern Achievement insanity, declaring that only the truly hardcore can claim its prizes.

"Where is the uniqueness here?" the gallery cries. In answer to that question, I have noticed that the most hardcore way to play Blue Dragon might not involve any of the niggling things I wrote above. In a bizarre twist of fate, a player can finish Blue Dragon, all the way to the closing credit scroll, without earning a single Achievement. I am aware of no other 'completable' game with this odd feature; heck, almost all games award a token for simply plowing to the finale.

What makes this 'zero-Gamerscore' approach hardcore? Avoiding Achievements actually makes the game harder, as you must meticulously avoid ambushing monsters and fight multiple opponents one by one by one for the title's full length. If either a back attack or a multi-monster fight occurs, the run is impossible for that particular user, as there is no way to 'relock' an earned Achievement. Experience grinding must be tempered by the inability to hit the level cap, and the player must manage his or her finances to avoid collecting one million gold. Finally, nothing in a player's Gamertag can, in any way, prove that this ridiculous event has occurred; this is a maneuver for personal pride and nothing more. I doubt Mistwalker planned it, but this anti-achievement is of NetHack proportions.

Game well, and note that my list of played games is not indicative of attempting this silliness.