The Animal Farm

October 21st, 2009

Borderlands

Borderlands is…

Well…

It’s…

It’s Fallout 3.

It’s different, to be sure. The emphasis is more on shooting and less on stats. You have a class-based skill tree instead of a list of perks. There’s no VATS, obviously. But at the end of the day you’re a man searching a wasteland for quests, branching out and making friends/enemies, gaining experience and leveling up, and just doing that RPG-ing that the kids love so much.

So what does Borderlands bring to the equation? Multiplayer for a start. I haven’t had an opportunity to try it yet, but four player co-op is a considerable selling point. Vehicles. Oh, how arduous it was slowly walking through the wastes of DC. In Borderlands I have a tank; it moves fast and it blows things up; I call it Peacemaker and we eat ice cream together. That last bit is fabricated, but if I could eat ice cream with an inanimate object I would choose to eat it with a tank named Peacemaker.

Moving on.

Qualitatively, Borderlands is up there. It’s highlighted as having near-infinite weapons, but so far most of them follow the same core with some different stats; it’s more of an iterative upgrade than a brand new weapon. The main storyline is your typical western RPG storyline (read: there isn’t any). A ton of disjoint quests, fun in their own right, but if there’s actually a bigger narrative there it’s taking its time. Lots to tinker with. And challenge. Fallout 3’s difficulty curve fell apart when you had a shotgun big enough; you walked into a room, hit the VATS button, and watched heads explode. Borderlands has enemies that keep you on the move, shooting and stressing and wondering if that big dog actually just wiped out all your health in three attacks.

I won’t say Borderlands is better than Fallout. It’s a different experience, similar enough to draw considerable parallels but different enough to make them both worthy investments to the game collection. It’s certainly fun and stylish and well executed.

And it has four player co-op.

One man. One night. Five peanut butter sandwiches. This is his story.

June 13th, 2009

Weekend Hackery

First. to respond to Zach:

Of course, Nintendo is winning the console wars by a huge margin. But only on the quality of their marketing, not the quality of their product. I would speculate that developers themselves aren’t seeing much of that improved market - how many games other than Wii Sports do your parents own? How long do you give them before they shelve it and never look at it again? Sure, Nintendo’s making a lot of money, but not because they’ve done anything good for gaming.

If you want to see a company actually empowering good game development - and I’m putting on a fanboy hat for a second here - look to Microsoft. They focus on making the lives of developers easier, whereas Sony’s own Hirai has been quoted as saying that difficult PS3 development works in their favor. XNA was also brilliant, allowing games to be made by an entirely new audience with new ideas. Now, yea, OK, Community Games has a lot of rubbish, but there are gems in there.

And speaking of XNA…

XNA 3.1 was released with Avatar support! They didn’t release the skeleton (they said they’re working on it), but I was able to construct it using the BindPose and BoneParent information they provide.

So yea, I’m kinda the first one making custom avatar animations. *Slow clap.*

Do what you say, say what you mean, one thing leads to another.

June 11th, 2009

F Natal

Here’s my unwarranted prediction for Natal:

It’s going to be wonderful technology. It’ll expose new avenues for the developers. It will open up possibilities gamers never dreamed of.

Of course, that’s what the pamphlet in the box is going to say. What’s really going to happen is that we’re going to be assaulted with a bunch of mini-game collections and shovelware; if the device has any actual potential, only 0.1% of games is going to expose it at best.

Zach uses the Wii as an example of new ideas being big, but his only support of the - yes, gimmicky - hardware is that it sells a lot. Not that it’s actually better. I would challenged him to think of three games where the Wiimote positively influences a game. I’ll even give him one: Trauma Center. Hell, I can count the number of really good Wii games on one hand: Smash, Mario, Zelda, Mario Kart. There are a few other solid experiences in there (Wario Land, Mad World, de Blob, Excite Truck, Chocobo’s Dungeon, Mario Party, Dokapon). And not one of them uses the Wiimote in any way that improves over a classic controller. If you want to believe a waggle motion is superior to pressing a button, you’re a fool.

I welcome innovation, but innovation does not immediately equate to quality. I don’t see a lot of opportunity for Natal, but perhaps some creative genius will show me a better way.

June 6th, 2009

Dokapon Kingdom

The next Mario Party?

It’s a budget title - and I use this word to indicate that it is both cheap and has a low production quality - that meshes a board game and an RPG. The basic mechanics are thusly:

You spin to see how far you move. Then you move. Depending on where you move, you either (a)get into a fight, (b)get/buy an item, (c)get a special event, or (d)…other. Fighting is a rock-scissors-paper affair, where you choose what kind of attack you want to execute and the opponent chooses how they defend, and then the two are paired to see how much damage is done. After combat, you might gain a level, bumping your stats up and potentially gaining new skills. To aid in combat, you can purchase equipment and spells. It’s not particularly deep, but it’s engaging.

Special events run all over the place. I was at one point abducted by an alien and when I was returned, my strength increased. A computer opponent sold his soul and was granted huge amounts of power (as in, he was doing 4000 damage to my 200 hit points and was rolling six spinners per turn to see how much he moved).

But these are both going toward the main goal, which is to liberate towns (by freeing monsters) and gain the most money. Because the person with the most money becomes the king of Dokapon and gets to marry the princess. Obviously. And my character is so lonely. He just wants to hold her hand.

As a single player game, Dokapon is mostly throw-away, except that often it’s infuriating becomes the computer cheats like a bastard. On normal difficulty he will roll *exactly* how much is necessary to get where he needs to go. But I digress. As a multiplayer game, Dokapon has a lot to offer. You can obviously choose to ally with teammates until the appropriate time to strike them (and after beating them you can draw on their face… for shame). There are a wide host of options here, and although it doesn’t have the mini-game aspect Mario Party has, I think in a lot of ways this is deeper. It’s also not completely f-ing luck-based, which sets it above Mario Party. Unfortunately, there’s no internet component.

I picked it up for $17 used, and I’ve already gotten my money’s worth. I’m hoping they find it in their hearts to release an internet-capable sequel in the future.

May 18th, 2009

Things Brian Likes for $400

I finally broke down and bought a PS3.

I don’t know the exact catalyst. I just know one morning I woke up and really wanted either that or a PSP, and I don’t get a lot of opportunity to do handheld gaming. I purchased four games along with it: Valkyria Chronicles, Disgaea 3, Folklore, and Little Big Planet. I’m pleased.

Little Big Planet is one of the biggest draws for the system. It’s a fun platformer/creativity suite, where the gameplay is secondary to creating your own content. It’s also multiplayer, which is a huge boon now that I’m spending so much time with Laura (did I mention she and I are dating?). For a game about sacks, it’s remarkably pretty. The physics conflicts with gameplay in a few instances, making maneuvering feel awkward, but it’s never frustrating for more than a moment before you get to see and play with new toys.

Valkyria Chronicles is amazing. It does things with turn based strategy that rejuvenate the whole franchise. Real cover mechanics. Suppressive fire. Individual unit characteristics. The gameplay really takes the genre to a new place. It’s also very, very pretty. My only complaint is that there’s just too much dialog, and so far it’s underwhelming.

I haven’t played the other two much. Disgaea is, well, Disgaea; over-the-top and charming. Folklore is a hugely atmospheric RPG. Can’t wait to dive into them.

There are a few other games on my list that need purchasing: inFamous, Drake’s Fortune, Resistance. However, after spending so much I’ve placed myself on a strict budget, so I’m not going to purchase anything new for a while.

I’m on a boat!

April 10th, 2009

Gripes

Crazy Bump is no longer free. It was a fantastic program, but $100 fantastic? I hear there are nice Photoshop/Gimp plugins for generating normal maps, but those won’t generate AO/displacement/specular highlight maps and won’t give me a nice 3D window to quickly view results. Give me some good reference material on Crazy Bump’s methods and a week and I’ll have something comparable.

Puzzle Quest: Galactrix is too confusing. Now instead of gems falling down, they will fall in the direction you move the gems, which is one of eight directions. It’s unwieldy. Hacking is far too dependent on the initial board layout, and one bad turn of luck can shave 30 seconds off your time before you make any matches. Also hacking is far too important. Still, there are a lot of improvements over the base Puzzle Quest format.

Star Ocean: The Last Hope promotes an overly defensive battle strategy. To blindside an enemy (sending you around the back to get in some safe blows), you have to hold a button and wait to be attacked. There is no offensive equivalent, and charging into battle often leaves you severely wounded. It’s an interesting battle mechanic, but it’s too one sided.

For all its attempts to be novel, Mad World does not have an interesting aesthetic. The black and white nature doesn’t add a single thing and often makes objects/enemies stand out less. But it’s hard to stay mad at a game where you can wrap a guy in a tire, lunge a sign post through his head, and then smash him against a wall for extra kill points.

XNA needs the following things: first-class skinning support in the content pipeline (I don’t want to pull the skinning code in from some external example), a decent scripting solution (there’s no use of the code compiler like I have in vanilla C# for bringing in C# scripts), an event-based input mechanism (no more polling, please!), and access to avatars with the ability to create animations with their skeletons. I could also use a better sound solution than XACT, but I haven’t looked into this since 1.0 and the playing field might have changed since.

Why oh why won’t Google SketchUp load C++ plugins without making me pay money? OK, I know the reason for that, but it’s still lame. It will load Python plugins, though. I’m half-tempted to put together an X exporter and a NIF (Gamebryo) exporter (the latter of which, obviously, I wouldn’t be able to give away). It’s such a great tool for making architectural models. The snapping features are unrivaled.

Things coming down the pipeline.

March 21st, 2009

Resident Evil 5/Weeds/Happy Fun Times

Had a chance to spend some quality time with Resident Evil 5, which is a lovely splendid game that lived up to every expectation. People are saying this isn’t survival horror, which I guess is true in that the zombies don’t have green faces, but that’s about the only justification. When a crazy-fast maniac with a chainsaw chases me around a confined level, ignoring my limited number of bullets and absorbing various explosive barrels, I get pretty terrified. Then when I kill him and he gets back up after luring me to his body for a key (a classic horror movie ploy that I really didn’t see coming), my fear is heightened.

The only real changes in atmosphere are that the world is less confined and more takes place during the day, which are both complaints I’m willing to ignore because cramped dark hallways are boring. I can’t take another game that’s strictly dark tones and drab environments. Conversely, we still have things jumping out at us, creepy bosses, high-stress enemies, and hordes lurching in as ammo dwindles. I’m happy where things are. The rest of you can turn your TV’s brightness down.

My only complaint is that the story here is a little light. Resident Evil’s never had an amazing story, but there are always a few highlights in there. This one is fairly straightforward, having covered most of the major plot points & twists in the previous games. It’s not a bad story, it’s very solid, it’s just not especially gripping.

Moving on.

I had a chance to see Weeds Season 4. Still one of the best shows around, though they’ve made some dubious choices. A lot more nudity this time around, which was kind of Meh even though Mary-Louise Parker is one of the most gorgeous women ever. More comedy. Andy steals every scene he’s in. I don’t have much to say here. The whole season feels a bit short.

So apparently Dunkin’ Donuts is not open 24 hours here, which is criminal. Open ’til 11? That’s barely night! We called and someone answered their phone at 3 AM but nobody was there upon arrival. Which is weird. Laura hypothesized that they showed up early to start making donuts, which is as good a guess as any.

Oh, right, Watchmen. I still haven’t talked about that. Pretty good, actually. A 95% faithful adaptation of the graphic novel. More action, which was mostly welcome. Gruesome. Very gruesome. And one of the campiest 80’s-porn-style sex scenes since, well, the 80’s. I couldn’t help but giggle like a twelve year old boy.

Lunchtime is nearly over, so it’s back to work for me.

Mr. Flowers?

January 4th, 2009

How to Drive a Franchise into the Ground

Take lessons from Russel T Davies.

Dr. Who was, at one point, a good show. It had wit, character, intrigue, all those things that make a show last 26 seasons. Twenty six. Name another show that’s gone on that long. You can’t. You’re just not that good.

Then they revived it, and it’s nearly unwatchable. It’s been filled with a ton of angst coupled with horrendous story points. Most of the imagination has been removed, instead favoring revisiting different points on Earth so they can make William-bloody-Shakespeare a character. The Doctor’s not nearly as likable; David Tennant is better, much more fun than Eccleston, but now he’s always moping about one thing or another. Everything’s so poppy and sexy, ignoring that the first 7 regenerations of the Doctor were 40+ old men. The Daleks and Cybermen have been butchered to hell and back, and I’ve only had a glimpse of The Master so far, but I’m not impressed. Nostalgia typically always makes old things seem better than they were, but the old Doctor Who was hands down better than this. There are a few genuinely good episodes, but they are almost invariably written by someone else. Someone’s taking over at the end of 2009, so hopefully he’ll make everything right again.

On a different topic, I had a chance to play four player Left 4 Dead over the weekend, and it was great fun. It’s basically what I wanted to do with my Zombies in Morgantown game, but done in a way only Valve could do. Huge zombie hordes, frantic battles, lots of mandatory teamwork. It’s got a relatively small offering at present, only about 4 campaigns, but they do each take upward of an hour and a half each, which clocks in at a not-insignificant amount of gameplay. The replay value seems pretty good too. I wonder if they’ll release mod tools. I’d like to take another crack at modeling the town after a zombie invasion.

Everything alien belongs to Torchwood.

January 1st, 2009

Resident Evil

Watched Resident Evil: Degeneration. It’s basically, well, a Resident Evil game in movie form, which is not bad, but not especially compelling. The storyline is boilerplate; someone unleashes the T virus in a confined area, and our protagonists investigate. It is a welcome change that neither Leon nor Claire really gets pushed around by the zombies anymore, they’ve both become pretty good at surviving and avoid the main horror movie hero cliches. A few foreseeable twists; not a bad story, but again, not epic. The lip syncing was low quality, but they made up for that with some stellar action scenes. The movie doesn’t quite do for Resident Evil what the Street Fighter movie (the anime, for God’s sake, not the live action movie) did for Street Fighter, but it definitely honors the series.

There was one notable gem lying in the extra features section: trailers for Resident Evil 5 that look spectacular. RE4 took a lot of risks and managed to single-handedly revive the franchise. They look to be taking some new risks with RE5, and I hope to be able to applaud them. I’ve heard some talk about the introduction of a level structure, which worries me to some degree, but really, how often in a mostly linear game do you want to be able to backtrack beyond a certain extent? As long as they don’t make it too confining, I see no - why the hell are three owls right outside my window hooting incessantly. Sorry. I see no problem. That’s how that last sentence was supposed to end.

The multiplayer co-op sounds amazing, and the return of Wesker is intriguing. If the trailer is any indication, this game is going to be one of the first RE’s to have a strong antagonist, someone to compel the player in ways similar to Salazar but better and more meaningful. If they make those components work and keep the gameplay as strong as RE4, the game will set a bar for 2009 that will be quite hard to surpass.

I’m excited.

December 21st, 2008

Gears of Gilgamesh

Two topics in one. In this epic post, I will be speaking of Gears of War 2 (a game) and Gilgamesh (an anime).

Gears is pretty damn good. It’s basically the first game, but with bigger battles and a little more storytelling. Not particularly good storytelling, but it’s getting panned a lot more than it deserves. Perhaps the only failing is that it lacks the epic boss battles of the first - ie those frantic encounters with the Berserker where you’re trying to keep your head from being punched off. The co-op campaign clocks in somewhere around 10 hours and stays consistently good throughout. The other multiplayer modes add a lot, with Horde and Annex both being great, although I’d really like to see the Assault mode from UT4.

I watched Gilgamesh over Netflix during the course of a few nights, nights I would like to claim back were it not for the uncompromising flow of time. The anime is basically an assault on decent storytelling. Nothing outlandish, but nothing very interesting given the show’s relatively promising potential. Moves slowly, uninspired characters, that old dance. And I don’t know when cloning became hip, but now anything from Japan that doesn’t contain at least one clone isn’t meeting some sort of quota. And the ending is radically unfulfilling.

Meanwhile, there’s a Metal Gear Solid DLC for Little Big Planet which is seriously making me consider purchasing a PS3.

You seem rather chipper.