Monday, December 29, 2014

2014 Play Log - Blowing Off Steam, Deader Space, and Shutting Down 2014

Okay, first off, this is NOT a condemnation of Steam. I am very happy with the service and use it for nearly all my PC gaming. (The only thing I get a little worried about is having an inventory of nearly 900 games that are dependent on a single login!) What I'm doing here is listing games that, while they sounded good and the price was attractive, just didn't work for me. Hey, it can happen with any game, but there is a certain permanence when it happens with a digital download game - in short, I'm stuck with it.

 Viscera Cleanup Detail: Santa's Rampage - This is a cheap, stand-alone expansion of what could best be called a janitorial simulator. Your "job" in this "game" is to cleanup Santa's workshop after he's gone "postal" and murdered all the elves. The concept of this - lots of Christmas gore - was a lot more interesting before I started to play it. Cleaning up even elf body parts just isn't fun.

 7 Days to Die - I'll cut this one a bit more slack as it's in Early Access, but still my initial playtime with it, while short, just consisted of running away from zombies, checking junked cars and trash for items, and then dying. It's got to be deeper that that, right?

Paranautical Activity Image Paranautical Activity - I bought this before the developer decided to do something really dumb (ie, threaten to kill the head of Steam, Gabe Newell) even if everyone knew he was kidding. Well, ya know, the fact that you can't buy this game on Steam anymore is exactly no one's loss. It's low-res crap, to be honest, and a complete waste of time. Sorry, guys.

 Transistor - I probably shouldn't have bought a game from the same company whose first game I didn't like, but I was never known to be particularly bright. Yeah, I didn't like Bastion, and guess what? I don't like Transistor either. Not as annoying (the narrator is less "hip"), but the combat mechanic isn't anything I want to learn how to do well.

 8BitBoy - To the developer: Congratulations, you made a game as a tribute to your fond memories of the "good old days" of video gaming. Not bad, but we could have done without the depressed gamer/Tron rip-off at the beginning. Also, it's just another platformer.

Changing gears at this point, I was looking at a "25 Greatest Sci-Fi Games of All Time" article and came across Dead Space at a respectable number 10. This got me to thinking about how much I enjoyed it and wondering why I hadn't tried the sequel yet. So, as I have it in probably 3 different locations (PS3, Steam, Origins), I decided to blast off into another horror adventure.

 Dead Space 2 - This is one of those sequels where you can really benefit from playing the original. I was only about 30 minutes into the game and I was already using my plasma cutter, the stasis effect power, directional beacon, and kinesis grab, while chopping up necromorphs into bloody chunks and stomping on crates - all stuff I was doing during the first game. There was little to no introduction to these mechanics for anyone who didn't play the first one. (The graphics look sharper, I will admit, but I don't feel the sense of scale that the I did in #1.) I can't really complain about the sameness, I guess since this is, you know, the sequel! I did find the following "tip" to be amusing.

And so, this another year comes to a close. I'll need to go over all my posts from 2014 - the first year I've documented all my gaming experiences. It will be interesting to see if it was worth the effort and what I will consider to be the highs and lows. In the meantime, I'm wrapping up the year with some tablet and portable gaming due to some family time. But time away from the consoles and computer is hardly a bad thing.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Christmas Truce

On occasion, I put stuff here that isn't about videogames. For better or worse, it's my online diary - open to all and, hopefully, preserved for (nearly) all eternity.

This year has marked the 100th anniversary of the start of what was called The Great War until another one happened, at which point it had to be called World War I. Man has done some pretty horrible things as a species, but it's very possible that nothing will every match the level of human suffering and waste of human life on such a scale as WWI.

After about five months of fighting, something amazing happened, something that made the Christmas of 1914 unlike any before or since - humanity stopped trying to kill itself. It became known as the Christmas Truce and I didn't find out about it until 9 years ago when my local paper published an article about a resident whose grandfather had been on the front lines in France on December 24, 1914. (This lack in my history knowledge was likely due to the fact that the US didn't enter the war until 1917, so it didn't make the textbooks over here.) Her grandfather was an Australian soldier attached to a Welsh regiment who survived the war and eventually moved to California where he died in 1929.

At some point after he moved to the US, Fredrick John Murray put pen to paper and wrote about his experience that night. It was the only record of his war service that he documented and the yellowed, faded original was kept private by his grand daughter, Gloria Tecca, until 2005 when she had read that the last living witness to the Christmas Truce had passed away that November. The paper published a photo of Murray along with the full text of his account.

Every Christmas since then, I take out my yellowed copy of that newspaper and reread his words. I've never been able to keep from crying when I do. There's a part of me that thinks this was modern civilizations's last chance at sanity and it slipped away. I know that's an incredibly naive way to think about life and war, but the Christmas Truce showed that even in the vilest of situations, men can still recognize each other as fellow human beings regardless of what color uniform they wear or language they speak.

Here now is my transcript of Fredrick John Murray's words. I have tried as best as I can to preserve the wording as it was set in the paper. Any odd English usage is likely because this was written in the 1920's.

Snow covered ground, wet soddened trenches, cold sleety winds, filth, dirt, vermin, and all the horrors of war. What a setting on the Eve of the birthday of the “Prince of Peace”. Attached temporarily to a Welch Regiment – for intelligence – how I wished myself back in sunny Egypt among my own wild Australians. But once in, you must play the game, and as the English Tommy would say, “We’ll go west – one place as another.”

Slowly the hours til midnight drifted away, all was so calm. And still, in our sector, it seemed as if the war had drifted away and that the trench and filth, and all the attendant horrors were only a dream. Occasionally in the distance we would hear the dull boom of a big gun, or see the trailing flash of a rocket in the sky. But in front of us all was still, nothing but the ghostly strands of our own and the German barbed wire, while between the two lay the ghostly strip of no-mans-land, scarce 100 yards wide.

Midnight had passed; softly there came to us the strains of music out of the German trenches. They seemed to be tuning their instruments. Then all at once there burst forth the triumphant strains of “The Soldiers Chorus” from the opera “Faust”. The Welshmen, taking it as a challenge, waited til the Germans had finished; and then there burst forth from our trench the battle song of Wales, “The March of the Men of Harlech”. How those Welshmen sang! It seemed as if the fierce fighting blood of old Owen Glendower flowed a fresh in every man’s veins that night.

We kept low fully expecting a fusillade from the Saxons for we knew – just as they always knew the troops that faced them. Instead of rifle shots, came a burst of applause from the Saxons as the Welshmen finished. Then, from the enemy’s band, came the strains of the music and their soldiers sang the words of that beautiful old German hymn, “Holy Night, Silent Night”.

As the Saxons came to the words, “Peace on earth good will to men”, our men, one by one, slowly rose til their heads were above the parapets. Each soldier seemed like a graven image, so calm and still they stood, til the closing words, “Christ is born indeed, Christ is born indeed”.

And then a sigh, like the dying of the wind, ran through the ranks of those rain soddened, weary soldiers. Their minds drifted back to their Welsh mountain homes, where they too sang those very words in scenes, where war and its horrors were unknown.

Then a voice from the Saxons called out, “Hey Welshmen, sing one of your Carols and we’ll play”. Then, while the Saxon orchestra played, the Welshmen sang “While shepherds watched their flocks by night”.

Oh God, how those rough Welsh miners sang. I have heard great societies in many lands sing, but never did I hear such pathos in words of a song as those men gave that night. Now the Saxons would sing one of their old folk songs, then the Welsh would respond with one of the beautiful quartets, so on they sang alternately while hours oh too quickly passed away.

And then there slowly appeared above the enemy trench, a small lighted Christmas tree laden with cigars and other Christmas joys. “Come over”, they said, “This is for you. We’ll be fighting enough in the future.”

Not to be outdone, one of the Welshmen filled a sand bag with tobacco, cigarettes, candy, and plum pudding and, climbing over the parapet advanced boldly to the enemy’s barbed wire.

There Saxon and Celt exchanged their gifts, wished each other a Merry Christmas, gave a hearty hand shake, and said good bye. As the Welshman dropped into the trench, one of his comrades asked, “What did you see?” Looking his questioner squarely in the face, he replied, “Nothing except barbed wire and a man.”

He had gone and been received as a friend, and the honor of a British soldier forbade that he should reveal what he saw.

All too quickly the night passed. Soon came the first faint glimmering of dawn in the Eastern sky that told us the truce would soon be at an end and we must again resume the grim role of war. Then, out of the enemy trenches, rose a huge fair haired Saxon, a living picture of the warriors of old, in full views of both sides.

There in a beautiful full tone, he sang the words of an old Methodist hymn, I had last heard years before, one Christmas Eve in far off sunny Australia. There silhouetted against the lightening sky he sang those beautiful words: “When Jesus was born in a manger and the shepherds came over to see and the angels proclaim that a Savior is born to a poor sinner like me.”

How strange the words seemed amidst those ghastly surroundings, “To save a poor sinner like men.” Yeh we whom He came to save were trying to kill our fellow man whom he also came to save. As the Saxon finished the last stanza, “He’ll save us and we shall be free,” he turned and slowly disappeared into the trench, just as the dull boom of the guns away to our left burst forth, telling us, grim Mars still ruled and that here the Prince of Peace had nowhere to lay his head.

Many moons has passed and many miles I’ve journeyed, through hospital bed, the rack and horrors of wounds and gas, peaceful voyage to sunny Australia again over the water to U.S.A. Here this Christmas Eve, under California’s reigns; where the troops of gay clad happy children romp and play in the toy lands of the great department stores while parents wish each other seasons greetings and good cheer.

         Yet through it all comes to me again, the snow covered fields of France, the barbed wire, the trenches, and filth and horrors of war, but above it all stands vivid before my mind, ever the figure of that blond Saxon giant as he sang: “To save a poor sinner; to save a poor sinner, to save a poor sinner like me. And the angels proclaim that a Savior is born to save a poor sinner like me.”

Monday, December 15, 2014

2014 Play Log - Just Trying Things Out

I debated whether or not to even bother with this, but I thought it would be good to at least scribe something. Most of my gaming other what's here has been tablet based as I just haven't had the initiative to dive into a serious title yet. (And by "serious title", I snobbishly say any game that doesn't have in-game app purchases as it's main reason for existing.)

I tried out a series of PS3 demos last week. They were:

Blood of the Werewolf Image Blood of the Werewolf - This one was developed by the same studio that did the 2D Bloodrayne game that I hated, and I quit it about five minutes after starting it.

Toybox Turbos Image Toybox Turbos - One of the games I used to play back in my SNES days was a top-down racing game based on the Micro Machines toys. Toybox Turbos is an updated version of that and it's simultaneously much easier and less interesting.

Tales from the Borderlands: Episode One - Zer0 Sum Image Tales From The Borderlands - I was hesitant to give the demo for this a try. While I loved the first Walking Dead game from Telltale, I didn't care for either the second one or The Wolf Among Us - was I just "done" with that style of gameplay? Add to that the incongruity of a point and click adventure game set in a FPS shooter world and you'd think it would be a recipe for disaster.  However, this one was so entertaining in the first half an hour that I decided to stop I could enjoy the full game when all the episodes are released!

LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham Image Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham - Well, first Lego messed with their winning formula by giving the figures voices in the games. Then, they managed to give what has always been a comfortingly simple game system a whole new level of aggravation by assigning multiple functions to buttons based on how you press them - quickly or by holding them down. It may make for a "deeper" platformer experience, but I just found it annoying.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

2014 Play Log - No-vember Bundle

November 2014 will be remembered as "No-Vember" since there were many things that happened that if I had had my choice, I would have said "No" to. (Not that saying "no" would have done anything.) As a result, I'm way behind in both my gaming "schedule" and updating this blog (neither of which are really very important, of course).

The month started with a bug (ie, virus) that got the better of me for most of a week. I had Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Day Zero Edition in my hands....and I couldn't stay awake at night long enough to play it. Oh well.

One game I did play a little of was...

 The Binding of Issac: Rebirth - There was always something about this game that put me off. The original (I played the updated version) has been on sale several times on Steam for practically nothing and has very high ratings, but the image of the little crying child/baby, lying on his side surrounded by monsters, bothered me so much I didn't want to buy it. If it hadn't been one of the "free" PlayStation Plus games for November, I still wouldn't have tried it. Now that I have tried it, I guess it wasn't as bad as I thought, but it is a bit unsettling anyway.

The story starts with Issac and his mom living a happy life together. Then mom starts hearing the voice of "God" tell her that to save her son, she has to sacrifice him! Mom grabs a knife and Issac jumps into the world's worst basement in history. What follows is a very Rogue-like game (more on that later) where dying happens a lot but the levels are always randomly generated. This gives the game considerably more replay value than something like, for example, Pix the Cat. If you die, your run ends. You don't really advance unless you clear 4 levels and a boss. Needless to say, this is not a game I will ever finish. I played it on the PS4 and Vita (since I got both versions in the deal). As a little diversion/time killer, it's not bad. I don't get killed so often that it's annoying, and have even taken out a level mini-boss once in a while, but it's still a rough game. A simple enough concept (sort of a Robotron-esque design) with some fun power-ups. I'll probably pick it up for a quick fix between other games - which isn't a bad thing to be.

Now, as for the issue of "Rogue"-like games: I'd like to go on record as being one of a rare cadre of gamers who can say, "I played Rogue, on a PC, in colored ASCII characters, somewhere back in the mid '80's." It looked like this:

...and it ate up huge amounts of my time!

The other game I played most of No-Vember was one I didn't even buy for myself. I got it for Diane because someone had mentioned on a podcast that it was like Animal Crossing with better quests. What it's like is a cross between a Zelda game and Skyrim, and I can't stop playing it!

Fantasy Life Image Fantasy Life - It seems odd in a way to be spending so much of my gaming time (something I don't have a lot of) on a fairly simple handheld game. I own a number of HD consoles and numerous unplayed Triple-A titles, but when the hour gets late, all I want to do is settle down on the sofa with my 3DS and do more missions and explore more areas in this game. There's no voice work - it's all reading and lots of it! My character doesn't talk but there's a "butterfly" that does the talking for me. Her dialog is really rather funny and everything is done in a fairly kid-friendly manner (it's rated E10, presumably because of the complexity and combat). But it wasn't until my first "boss battle" that I started to have real respect for the game.

The game gives you the option of about a dozen different "Lives" (ie, classes). Some are just for crafting items, and others are for combat. It becomes clear pretty early that you need to have experience in a few of them so that you can defend yourself and create items that you need to either save money or make it. I started as a Carpenter, added Tree Cutter,  then Mercenary since I needed to be able to fight well when I went looking for trees and when I was on the story missions. As I progressed up in levels for my Mercenary Life, I was able to knock out most creatures with little or no problem. (One thing I liked was that the game had some creatures in the wilderness that were not aggressive - I mean, would a deer just attack you in the forest? - which makes it more realistic.)

When I did all the quests and objectives for the level I was at, I found I had two to go that were much higher in value, but the game was insisting that I do at least one to advance. I headed over to the first one, which was closest to my area - a creature named Silverfang. I whacked it once with my great sword...and it did almost nothing to it! Silverfang then turned around and killed me in about 5 hits. Lesson learned; I'm not ready for this! So, I continued on my travels, visited the next city, bought armor upgrades, bought a new great sword, added an NPC to my party then went back and tried Silverfang again. The battle lasted a long time (I don't know exactly how long), and I used nearly all my healing potions while running around the boss and reviving my NPC (who was basically used as bait). When it finally fell and left behind a bounty to turn in I felt unusually proud of my efforts and realized that this game was deeper than I had given it credit for. Definitely a memorable boss fight! I don't know if I'll finish the whole game, but when I play it I will consider it a privilege and a good use of my game-time.

4 Elements Image 4 Elements - This is probably the most "casual" game I have ever played not counting Windows Solitaire. It combines hidden object, three or more matching, and find-the-differences mechanics into a single game with good graphics and sound. It's a pleasing way to pass time which this month has so desperately needed. When things are going to shit, a fun distraction is just what you need.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Play Log 2014 - Lords of the Fallen Standards

Lords of the Fallen Image Welcome to my third-in-a-row Gamestop rental review. No, this wasn't a keeper, but there's hope I might pick it up sometime next year when it drops in price.

Oddly, my initial reaction to this game was something that bordered on feelings of betrayal! It's hard to not think that game companies are skipping anything but the merest threads of a storyline in favor of being able to jump directly into the action. I figure that they a) don't want to spend money and time on story, b) don't think anyone who plays games now (teens to 20-somethings) will care, and c) believe that an extended introduction will make their games look like slow-starters which might affect their review scores.

While some of those might be true, I should have given some more consideration about where this game had come from, namely a developer I hadn't heard of before, and a publisher, Bandai-Namco, who isn't particularly known for deep, story driven games. Still, I knew more about the character and setting (not much, by the way) from previews on my podcasts than from what was shown in the game. Starting this game feels a bit like turning on the TV and watching a movie after it's been on for 20 minutes.

There were parts of this game that felt either rushed (like tutorials that only covered some features) or the victim of cost cutting measures late in development (I found what looked like a crawl space behind some bookcases, but had no way to crouch to go through). There were controller features that were listed in the manual but not on the settings screen in the game, for example.

Visually the game was, to be expected, stunning - a lot of special lighting and "dust" floating in the air. Combat was similar to something like Demon's Souls/Dark Souls, but a bit more forgiving. However, that didn't keep me from getting killed (a lot!) by the first boss. I did finally take him down, as seen here:

Probably the worst thing about this game, and the main reason I decided not to keep it, was that all of the non-boss enemies you fight respawn whenever you exit an area and come back. I even had a portal open up to a "bonus" zone after killing the first boss that had the same affect! It really saps your feeling that you've accomplished something when all the monsters you've battled pop back into existence when you reenter. In a way, I see it as another developer short-cut - it's much easier to just reinitialize an area than to try to keep track of what monsters died where.

All in all, not a bad game, but not one that's worth the full price of admission. When it hits the $20 mark (new or used), I'll give it a try again. In the meantime, I leave you with a little example of some of the surprises that this game provides:

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Play Log 2014 - Within The Evil Within

The Evil Within Image As much as I love "survival horror" games, I have to come out and say that The Evil Within is just a bad game.

I guess I really shouldn't have expected much different. When I heard previews of this game, I was a little shocked that the comments were so derogatory. It seems most outlets (this was IGN) are willing to give an unreleased title the benefit of the doubt. We all want to see a game succeed, but this one was condemned before it was even born. Then, when it was released, Joystiq gave it a 2 1/2 out of 5, which they seldom drop on most games. Some reviewers were a little kinder, but in general it didn't fare well.

Now that I see the end result, I have to say it deserved all the criticism.

I did a Gamestop "rental" on it and as of this writing it has been returned after 4 1/2 fairly joyless hours. Yes, I know, it's a horror game. I'm not "supposed" to enjoy it, but this game felt more like work. Most of this was because the game has no story to speak of. And when I say that, I mean there are characters, but you have no idea why you are there, why things are happening they way they are, or what you are trying to accomplish other than to not get killed. The best game comparison I can make (and most other reviewers made) is with Resident Evil 4. But at least there you started with a goal of finding the President's daughter (though what she was supposed to be doing in some decrepit, Eastern European farm town I never figured out). What bothers me the most is the feeling that a story was left out of this game on purpose because the people making it may have just thought, "The 20-something demographic that buys this game most doesn't care about anything but shooting monsters, so why waste the time?" I think we've hit an "uncanny valley" of a different sort - one where these real-life looking environments seem like empty shells when they don't have at least an attempt at a story behind them.

Of course, this game also suffered from some mechanical issues. The camera gave me problems from time to time and, as I captured in the video below, the decision to make every door opening animation super slow led to unnecessary injuries. (By the way, why does this guy take doors so carefully when Ripley, in Alien: Isolation, would bash open a door when she came out of hiding? You'd think she would have wanted to be a bit more discrete!) I would also like to know why the developers wanted to pepper these areas with tripwire bombs? That level of sophisticated booby-trapping made no sense considering the enemies I was fighting and the setting I was in.

However, I was proud of this sequence. I had been killed multiple times before I got Mr. Chainsaw here and figured out this little tactic on my own.

Out off the time I played, this was the only part I thought was worth highlighting - which tells you something.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Play Log 2014 - We're Streaming Now!

After working out a few kinks, I think I've got the hang of this streaming thing. I've only had a couple of people watching, but that's okay. The point is if I'm streaming, someone could watch and I'm archiving the streams at the same time. From these archives, I'm making some fairly amusing highlights - little segments of interesting action from an hour or more of gaming.

How to Survive Image How To Survive - I picked this up for a couple bucks on Steam the other day. I guess you would describe it as Diablo meets Zombieland. You fight zombies (and other creatures at night) while finding amusing "handbooks" on survival. It's a unique way to build in a tutorial, but in some ways I just wish it would leave me alone and let me explore the world. The combat is wonderfully brutal (who doesn't enjoy chopping up zombies!) and the environments are nicely detailed. I didn't really play much of it, but I think I will come back to it someday soon and finish it up. In the meantime, here is a clip of my favorite battle from what I did play. I like that I was able to tackle so many zombies at once and still win!

Alien: Isolation Image Alien Isolation - I have always been an Alien fan. I remember seeing the first film back when the words "In space, no one can hear you scream" and the cracking alien egg poster were just becoming icons for a new generation of horror and science fiction films. I've seen every Alien movie since, including an unforgettable birthday celebration viewing of Aliens in a theater filled with real Marines. (They loved their future counter-parts and were having a ball showing it!) When I heard that Alien Isolation was made as a sequel to the original movie, I was intrigued. When I heard it was going to be a flee-not-fight kind of game, I was worried that it would be too long for that level of tension, publishers being unwilling to try to sell a short game for $60. That turned out to be only one of its problems, but not one that I had to worry about.

After hearing and reading some reviews, I figured a Gamestop 7-day rental would be the best course of action. I'm glad I did. The first hour or so of the game is very slow and you get the feeling that you are walking around the baggage area of an airport. When you meet other inhabitants of the station, they generally want to kill you, which leads to some interesting fights.

I did finally end up seeing the Alien, but fortunately, from a distance. Still, it can be unsettling.

I actually had more trouble with the androids than the alien. They are hard to kill and seem to be patrolling everywhere you need to go. If they catch you, they do a lot of damage. They do have a trick or two of their own, I'll admit. Note: the following clip is best viewed in full screen.

But what finally killed the game for me was the complete lack of checkpoints. By the time I got to the point of the following clip, I had been dodging those murderous dummies for over an hour. I had also transitioned through two zones (ie, loading screens) and never saw any save stations on my map.

I mean, what game in this day and age doesn't do an autosave when you transition from one game zone to another? Apparently, the developers of this game wanted it to be "hardcore". Well, screw them! The game has been returned from whence it came and I will not be buying it, even when it drops to the inevitable $20 range. The one thing I can say is that this is the first game that I broadcast and archived all of my playtime in. I only wish it had been a better experience.

At this point, I think I'll be doing some much needed palette cleansing with some mindless Need For Speed racing.

Monday, October 20, 2014

One Night Stands - The Playstation Plus Edition

When I realized that a) I would want to get a PS4, and b) PS+ was going to be giving away Resogun, I took the plunge and bought a subscription. Over the months I've owned it, they have been giving me at least 2 games per platform (PS3, PS4, and Vita). As long as you don't mind the $50 a year (less if you get a good deal during the year), you will end up with a significant number of new games to play. I've actually had to start an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of which games I have and what they run on. (PS4 is the only platform that has a good way of seeing what you have in your "library".) I figured it was time to start going through a few of these and also use them to do some stream testing.

Road Not Taken Image Road not Taken - It turns out that this is actually a puzzle game. You have to save children who have been sent out to pick berries and gotten lost in a terrible snowstorm. (Oh, the horrors of forced child labor!) Your character, who reminds me of a Jawwa wizard, has the power to levitate any object around him that can be lifted. But you have a limited amount of time to keep these things in the air. When you release them, they fly until they run into something or the edge of the area you are in. (This led to a rather amusing thing with a cat I found myself owning.)
I'm not big into puzzles, so I only played through the first couple of missions. I'm not sure what the significance of the title is; I guess you have to play more of the game.

PIX the CAT Image Pix the Cat - Talk about Pac-Man flashbacks! So, you play as a cat, who has to collect eggs, which hatch into ducks, which follow you around and are dropped off onto targets that turn into tiles. And this is all timed and when the timer runs out, you start all over again on the same boards. This part makes it somewhat less interesting to play - while you can get good at a particular pattern, it gets old quickly. I do like how the next board is actually "hidden" in the current screen and then everything sort of collapses back onto itself at the end. Neat touch. Below is one of my better runs.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Yesterday's Worlds #6 - Back on the PS2 Trail

Wow, I didn't realize that #5 was way back in January! Where did 9 months go??

(I'll tell you, after soaking my eyeballs in HD graphics for that long, PS2 games take a little getting used to again. They look muddy and dull at first, but after awhile you get back into appreciating the older graphics.)

Checking my PS2 collection and where I left off, my next games on the shelf were

Castlevania: Lament of Innocence ImageCastlevania: Curse of Darkness Image Castlevania: Lament of Innocence (KCET\Konami\2003) and Castlevania: Curse of Darkness (Konami\Konami\2005) - I know I played a little of one of these games, but I'm not sure which one. However, it really doesn't matter - I have something against Castlevania games in general. I've never been able to explain it or understand why, but they've never really caught my interest. (So why did I buy these? Probably to have a more complete collection is my only defense.)

Champions of Norrath ImageChampions: Return to Arms Image Champions of Norrath (Snowblind\SOE\2004) and Champions: Return to Arms (Snowblind\SOE\2005) - Back in the day, my brother and I turned to these games as a suitable sequel to Baldurs Gate: Dark Alliance. They were, in fact, made by the same designers (while BG:DA2 was done by a less capable developer). I'm not sure how far we got, but I know we never finished them. They are great co-op games, however the lack of a "jump" button makes for some needless frustration when you can't get over a small obstacle. I suspect that I will dig deeply into Champions of Norrath one day and finish it. But not this day...

Clock Tower 3 Image Clock Tower 3 (Sunsoft\Capcom\2003) - This one proved to be an interesting blast from the past. You play as Alyssa Hamilton, a teenage girl who was sent away to boarding school, but returns home to find her mother missing and a strange (and scary) man in her house. She shortly finds herself in the position of being a Buffy-esque fighter against evil, dealing with infamous killers from various historical times. These hulking brutes are possessed by evil forces that feed off the souls of the killer's victims. She also has to put spirits (ie, ghosts) to rest by returning sentimental objects to their rightful place. The gameplay is very reminiscent of Resident Evil (not a big surprise being a Capcom game) with fixed camera angles, but better overall character control - even stairs are handled much better. You don't have guns or other weapons, but use Holy Water to ward off enemies and open sealed doors. A Panic Meter acts as a health bar - get it too full and Alyssa freaks out, making her susceptible to being killed. Other than that, it's a matter of finding objects to open areas or things and solving simple puzzles. But the stories are what caught my attention. The designers of the this game did not shy away from brutality. The first entity you have to defeat is a huge man who killed a child with a giant sledge hammer and the second one throws people (including an old blind woman) into vats of acid - oh, and pours more acid on them! The graphics aren't very detailed (this is an early PS2 game) so you don't see any gore, but the nature of the crimes is more than a little disturbing. Unfortunately, I only got to the second "boss" before I got stuck - this is one of those Japanese games that shows no mercy. After 4 or 5 attempts at a fight that lasted over 10 minutes each time, I called it quits.

Cold Fear Image Cold Fear (Darkworks\Ubisoft\2005) - The easiest way to describe Cold Fear is as a lost Resident Evil game set on a ship instead of in an old mansion. But while the setting is unique and presents its own flavor to the game play (the screen is constantly rocking back and forth), playing the game is not as entertaining as even the tankiest portions of RE. The worst part is that for some reason, the developers either chose not to have in-game maps or were unable to implement them due to budget or time constraints. Instead, the three maps of the ship you are stumbling around on are reproduced on one-page of the manual. Without any other sort of guidance (ie, waypoints), it's often frustrating to figure out which direction you should be heading in, especially when the camera angle keeps changing when you move around. A promising survival horror game done in by unfortunate design decisions.

Cold Winter Image Cold Winter (Swordfish Studios\Sierra(VU)\2005) - I don't know why, but this was one of those PS2 titles that I always an aversion to. I didn't really know anything about it, but for some reason I thought it was an espionage-style game - something with little action and dull interactions with spies and embassies. It never occurred to me that it was more like Goldeneye and Time Splitters. And I'd never have known this without going through my collection alphabetically. (It's lucky it wasn't called Winter Cold!) The game is set in China first, where you rather undiplomaticaly dispatch a whole bunch of Chinese soldiers escaping from their prison. Honestly, I thought they would have picked a slightly more contentious location like North Korea. As FPS's on the PS2 go, this one handles very well. Character models aren't perfect, but they do react to head shots. I'm playing on Amateur (ie, easy) and I manged not to die during the whole first chapter. Starting the second chapter in the Middle East, I can start to see a lot of duplicated assets like the gun emplacements, but it still holds up. Another plus is that Tom Baker is doing some of the voice work. I'll play any game where he's talking!

Now, I'm going to stop playing Cold Winter and my other PS2 games for the time being while I get my Elgato capture device hooked up. I want to start capturing my gameplay in order to show it here and also be able to watch it later. Do I need to? No, but since I can, I feel that I should at least try. The world of gaming is changing (again) and it almost feels like its written word is incomplete without a video record to go with it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Play Log 2014 - Murasaki Miniature

Murasaki Baby Image It's sort of strange to go from massive titles like Destiny and Dark Souls (I dipped my toes in for an hour), games I know because of their size and complexity I will never finish, to a game that I completed in about 3 hours. Murasaki Baby is a short game but one that touched my heart in a way that the full length ones never will.

When I heard the game mechanics described on one of the podcasts I listen to, I knew I had to get it immediately. It's a puzzle/platform style game, but instead of using standard thumbstick and button inputs, you lead this little child and her heart-shaped balloon around a demented world by holding her hand on the touchscreen of the Vita. But you have to be careful - pull a little and she walks slowly, pull a bit more and she speeds up, pull too hard and she either slips from your grasp or falls down. The connection I made with her was so strong, I felt I needed to apologize anytime that happened. In playing it, I was reminded of Limbo, but I never felt this kind of attachment to the character I was controlling there.

The worlds and creatures in it are bizarre - like what Peanuts would have looked like if drawn by Edward Gorey or Tim Burton. They are also disturbingly amazing! The amount of art in this little game makes it worth the asking price alone. The backgrounds, which affect things around your little charge, are an array of strangeness - electrical storms in a sea of batteries, a giant eye, a Godzilla-sized rabbit, and a dead-grey heart that turns the balloon to stone. Then there are flying safety pins, one-eyed spiders, and tooth throwing ghouls.

In addition to trying to find her mommy, you also help some of the other inhabitants of this world. There's just enough story telling through actions and pictures that you get what's happening. Everyone has mouths on the top of their heads, but I think it's more of a matter that everyone's head is on upside down - maybe to denote a different view of this odd life.

About half way through the game, the little sweetie is just so tired, she sits down and falls asleep. From the left comes a strange buggy device that gently picks her up and tucks her into a seat for a brief "mine cart" segment - the only time the thumbsticks are used. The tenderness of this tentacle trolley was just beautiful.

While not perfect (it crashed on me once, could have used a few more checkpoints, and my big, fat fingers were not the easiest to see around), but I'll happily support a title like this - one that tries something very different on an obscure platform. My time with Murasaki Baby may have been brief, but I'll remember that little girl and our adventure together for a very long time.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Play Log 2014 - My Destiny

Destiny Image Actually playing a game when it first releases is still something unusual for me. I either don't want to spend the full price (they always get cheaper) or I don't feel like I can give it enough time right away to make it worthwhile. Destiny was a game I decided to make an exception for in a big way.

In a case of terminal impulsiveness, I jumped in with both feet and got the $150 Ghost edition with Release Day shipping. Was it worth it? Well, most of the "stuff" in the Ghost edition is also available in the Limited Edition (which goes for $100), so you're basically paying $50 for the little Peter Dinklage voiced, plastic Ghost module (or as it's called, the Dinkle-bot). From the standpoint of ultra-geekiness, it was worth it. From any practical standpoint, no, not really. It's heavier than it looks, is rechargeable (but without an indication of when it's "full"), and can either be set to just be "on" (lights only), or set to lights and sound (ie, Ghost voice). It activates by sensor so it needs to be in front of a light source. When the light source is "dimmed" (by someone walking in front of it), it activates. I don't know how many phrases it says, but I hear the same one ("This place is amazing!") a lot. It also makes a sort of lightsaber noise that gets really annoying after about the third time you hear it.

But that's just a toy. What about the game?

Well, I like the premise of the game; Earth is visited by a benevolent sphere called The Traveler who brings vast technological advancement to humans but at the price of being the next victims of the things that have been tracking it. You play a resurrected Guardian who is tasked with fighting back against the forces of darkness called...The Darkness. Oh, how imaginative. And that's about all the story you get. From there it's mostly just a series of firefights first on Earth, then onto the Moon, Venus and Mars. Since Bungie pretty much created the sci-fi shooter genre with Halo, the game looks and plays great. There's just not much holding the battles together. So far, I've played three missions (I know, not much) and they were a matter of fighting to a "boss zone" (ie, no respawn if you die mid-battle) through similar enemies. As this is a multi-player game, I saw other real players in my areas, but I couldn't talk to them. They could shoot some of the guys trying to shoot me, but that was about it.

There's upgrades and "loot" like an MMO, but I think the thing that will keep me coming back is getting to hear more Peter Dinklage.

**Update #1** - After talking to a Gamestop guy, I found out that the class I chose, Hunter, is basically a "thief" class and that I should probably pick the Titan (ie, fighter) class if I'm going to play solo. So, I restarted last night and played the first couple of missions again. It was easier, but I think it was mostly because I knew the game mechanics better, not that my character was more suited to combat. What did strike me was how shallow the story is and how some of the stuff we see in-game makes no sense.

According to the intro, Earth was visited by the Traveler and what followed was CENTURIES of "golden times" where we built cities on other planets and started to explore the stars. So, I ask you...why does my character start in an area that looks like it's from a slightly updated Fallout 3 set? Rusted cars? Crumbling freeway overpasses? Why are there still relics of these Twentieth Century technologies? And the Cosmodrome? It would be as antique as the Egyptian pyramids are now!

Well, I'm going to do the next mission and see how well I'm prepared for the one after that since it was the one that made me rage-quit the other night. If playing as a Titan isn't any better, I will probably chuck Destiny aside at least until they do a better job of making a single player game worth playing. In the meantime, I'd rather play Uncharted 2, Diablo 3 or try Skylanders! Teaches me for buying the "Balls of Destiny" edition!

**Update #2** - Well, I have to say that last night was the first time I played Destiny and enjoyed myself. And I think a lot of that comes from knowing what to expect from the game and knowing what it isn't going to provide. I realize now that Destiny is a pretty, shiny Faberge Egg...with nothing inside and for that, we have the current gaming environment to blame.

Bungie wanted to make a game that would play well on Twitch streams and be picked up for televised gaming events. The idea of futuristic worlds that you could explore and a meaningful story to experience was entirely secondary, at best. This game has as much single player focus as Left 4 Dead. You never get to name your characters, you can't see in numbers how much experience you have, and any interaction with NPC's takes you out of the environment you meet them in (sort of like interviewing someone against a blank wall). Plus, grinding (ie, playing over the same areas to gain experience points from repetitive kills) is mandatory if you are solo. Bounties, extra jobs that you can get at The Tower, are nothing but "number of this" kinds of things with no overlaying story elements. While visually stunning, the battlefields have almost no interactive elements save for a few rolling cans. Nothing can be shot up or broken.

All of these shortcuts are the result of Bungie looking at the gaming-space and realizing that...crap, this is all gamers seem to care about these days! They don't want deep story (seen anyone play Mass Effect competitively?). They want to use their own names to show off their skills. They don't need fancy RPG style game mechanics - just give me the goods and let me get back to fragging me some noobs!

So, once I let this paradigm settle over me, I was finally at peace with what my Destiny experience will be and I started to have some fun. I'll play it from time to time, but not in a manner that will frustrate me. There's very little chance I'll ever finish Destiny since I don't enjoy multi-player games. Some leveling and the occasional mission will be nice. Right now I'm looking forward to my first trip to the Moon. Funny, but I sort of feel like Fry from one of the first Futurama episodes. There's still that little kid in me that remembers the first moon landing.

**Update #3** - And now I feel a lot like Fry did in that episode - disillusioned! Bungie, could you have at least tried to make a believable game around your mindless shooter? Ok, maybe that's too harsh, but imagine my disappointment when I get to the moon and a) it looks like there's atmosphere because of the blue haze on the horizon, and b) the gravity is exactly the same as it is on Earth instead of the 1/6th it should be. I "suppose" that the lore of this game could have included a section where The Traveler gave humanity the ability to change the mass of the Moon. It would have increased it's gravitational constant so it could sustain an atmosphere but without disrupting it's orbit around the Earth. If so, it's never mentioned anywhere, but I think it was done just to make the game design easier.

As an aside, I managed to find my copy of GameInformer from last year that covered Destiny in a 14 page cover article. I'm very interested to see what the writers said about it long before it came out. With three "under-delivering" triple-A IP's this year (Titanfall, Watch_Dogs, and Destiny), a lot of people have been pointing fingers at the gaming media for raising our expectations in service to their corporate advertisers. Frankly, I don't like to think in such conspiratorial ways - too depressing. I just want to compare what the media primed us for that might have not been delivered with the final game. In the case of Destiny, any emphasis on a promised "deep story" is going to be highly suspect.

After visiting the Moon (and dying repeatedly, but deservedly - I knew I wasn't ready), I went back and tried the mission I had so much trouble with before. This time I made it through, but I must have fought off two dozen Fallen in the process. Yes, this would be a lot easier with help, but I don't have anyone to party (ie, Fire Team) with. On the way to the objective, I ran into a level 3 character who was having some problems and helped out as best I could by flanking his attackers. It felt good to help out another player, but there was no way for us to communicate and team up. Or if there is, I don't know what it is because the game hasn't told me.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Play Log 2014 - Un-Defiant

I am done with Defiance. Not the show, mind you. I, like many other fans, am eagerly awaiting good news about a third season. What I want no more part of is the Defiance game. On the eve of Destiny's release, I decided to give it one more try and only ended up frustrated. Enemies that require a whole clip of ammo to take down and always come in groups of at least 6 plus a chain-gun wielding Bio-Man are more than a starting character can handle..and these were the only enemies I saw other than a few mini-Hellbugs at the start. Add to this that one of the first missions I took from the starting base wanted me to drive over 7 kilometers over terra-formed ground with no real path. I could see where I needed to go, but not how to get there. What a pile of shtako! After using the "Delete Local Content" option on my Steam menu, I stated up...

 Aliens Vs Predator - This game should really be called Aliens Vs Predators Vs Colonial Marines, but I guess that was too long. I started up the Marines campaign and it actually felt a lot like the action in the Aliens movie. The motion tracker pings, alien screeches, and pulse rifle noises were all spot on and added to the feeling of being on LV-426 (though I think this is supposed to be a similar setting in an alternate reality from any of the movies). Fighting aliens wasn't easy since they want to get in your face and tear it off, but the weapons I had were pretty well suited to killing them. Seeing them sink into the floor was pretty satisfying and an interesting way to get rid of the body for the game engine while still keeping with the lore of the monsters to some degree. The only problem I had was the unusual keyboard layout that it wanted me to use. To play this game well, I'll need to go in and map the various commands to my trusty Fangpad (the greatest gift any company ever made to PC gaming).

In an effort to start doing more modern game...writing...stuff, I used my video capture software (that came free with my Nvidia drivers, by the way) to document my experiences, because "showing is better then telling", right? So, here is my first YouTube video of gameplay for my blog.

Yeah, probably not my classiest move, but it was something that caught my eye. Truthfully, I tired to record my first alien kill, but I mixed up the keys I needed to press. Oh well. I'm still new at this.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Play Log 2014 - Labor Day Weekend

Well, it's nearly the next weekend, but I think I should make mention of the games I got to over the long Labor Day weekend.

Watch Dogs Image Watch_Dogs - I'll admit, I was motivated to play this because if I didn't really like it, I was going to sell it back to Gamestop during their recent "plus 50% trade-in value" promotion. And now, it's for sale there. It has a sort of GTA-lite feeling about it with computer hacking thrown in. The "hacking" part of the game mostly involves holding down the "square" button and triggering something - access a camera, move a forklift, change a traffic light, access an ATM, etc. Neat, but not compelling for the long run. I was also getting a little annoyed with the problem of lunging out of a moving car every time I accidentally hit the "triangle" button while driving! (Yes, this can happen in GTA too, but there isn't any reason to hit the "square" button while driving in that game. The proximity of the two is deadly in Watch_Dogs.) After completing a few missions, I found that the most entertaining thing to do was see how many citizens I could silently kill and not have someone call 911. When you start to do that, you know you've lost interest in the game's plot. When it drops to the $20 range, I'll get it again and give it more time.

 Paranormal - I generally don't go in for Early Access games on Steam. I prefer to wait until the game is complete, but I was intrigued by this one since it sounded like a Paranormal Activity movie game - and for the most part it was. Like in the movies, you are trying to catch strange things happening in your house at night with a camcorder. You can explore the house until your battery runs down (and it's a very weak one) at which point you better be back in your bed recharging both it and you. Unlike the movies, "stuff" happens pretty quickly in Paranormal. I don't think I managed to get more than 3 days in before something killed me and there would have been enough evidence on my tape to prove the existence of the supernatural world to even the most hardened skeptic. Since it is Early Access, the game has a fairly rough feel to it; textures are simple, movement is slow, and the area is pretty small. It kind of has that basic FPS mod look to it. But, I'm not complaining since it's being created (as far as I know) by a single person and putting something like this together is not easy. For what it is, it's quite good. The game is plenty creepy and at one point, when a blood-curdling scream rang through my headphones, it made me jump in my seat more than any horror movie has ever done! I only got two of the four available Steam cards from playing, but I'm going to wait until there's a new update to it and go back for more...if I can stand it!

An Aside: Horror games are becoming a very interesting genre lately. Back in the old sprite based computer game days, you could tell a "horror story", but not one that was immersive enough to really be scary. Nowadays, with first-person-perspective games that can recreate realistic environments, you can actually put the gamer into a horror movie. And in a computer game, you can control objects, sounds, lighting, location, and perspectives to make anything happen. With the viral success of P.T. and other recent horror games, I suspect that this trend of interactive horror will grow quickly.

 Defiance - I'm a fan of the TV show since it started and have watched all the episodes, so I have naturally been interested in the game. I actually played a bit of it, as a demo, when it was still a monthly subscription based game. At the time, I didn't get very far (as in, not even out of the landing area) and didn't really get any feel for it. This time I started exploring around and it's not too bad a game (and it's free-to-play), but I don't know if it "feels" like I'm in the Defiance world. When I think of the Defiance TV show, I think about the town itself which has a sort of shanty/post-apocalypse  vibe to it,  and the relationships and conflicts between the various alien races and the humans. There's the Ark wrecks they explore, the mines, the Volge attacks, razor rain, the E-Reps, and none of that is anywhere in the beginning of this game. (Ok, you actually "work" for the E-Reps, which is odd in itself, but they did just "save" you from the crash of your transport ship.) Instead I'm playing a Gears of War style shooter with nearly every bad guy I fight needing almost a whole ammo clip to kill. That actually isn't a problem since there are ammo crates all over the place, but it's still annoying. Currently I'm one of only two Irathians I've seen and the only other Defiance personality I've met is a couple of Bio-men. I'm guessing that there will be more Defiance oriented story items coming up, but right now, it's just a pretty good shooter. Glad they made it free.

Another Aside: I have to wonder if this type of game "journalism" (ie, blogging) is dying out in favor of the Streamers. How many people are going to still spend time reading about videogame experiences and instead, just watch them? Even I have been bitten by the Twitch bug and last night I spent the time I would have usually been playing, watching a few streams of other people playing. It was fun to kick back and watch other people play and it gave me some insight into a few games I haven't played yet (DayZ, Dark Souls II, and Dead Rising 3). I'm going to probably start doing some streaming myself on my Twitch channel ( and recording gameplay for archiving. Oh, and I'm going to try a MOBA since I read some good stuff about Smite. Gotta move with the times, I suppose.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The (Problem with) Walking Dead Season 2 - Oh, Clementine. Hello, Alice.

 I have to admit that I'm still having "issues" with the second season of The Walking Dead. With the imminent release of the last chapter, I thought I'd get back into it thinking that I stopped playing because I was waiting for all of it to be available. But, I think I'm just having trouble with the whole Telltale games design in general and this game in particular. Mind you, I LOVED the first Walking Dead game! Playing as Lee, I felt a very paternal drive that made me want to do ANYTHING to protect Clementine. I think it's that motivation that's sorely missing from season 2. The actions and words I'm picking for Clem just don't seem to matter. (Worse, I'm starting to "see behind the curtain" when I realize that whatever response I give will end up with the same outcome, just with a different NPC reply.) There are lots of characters, but none of them make much of an impact. Their living or dying has no real affect on me playing as Clem. I don't know if part of this disconnection is magnified because the main character is a little girl and I'm a 53 year old man? I guess you'd have to get more input from female and/or younger gamers. Also, the last game I played, Uncharted, was a action heavy, controller based game. TWD has, at best, crude action sequences that involve WASD presses and Q/E fast button mashing (obviously I'm playing on PC - I found aiming with a controller in this game very difficult and investigating the environment tedious). Maybe it's a matter of hitting a slower paced game too soon? As much as I'm going to regret having to listen to my podcasts undoubtedly praise The Walking Dead S2 as a masterpiece (and I suspect it will be unpopular to even speak ill of it ), I think I'm going to have to abandon it for more interesting fare.

**Update** - Well, not everyone thought the finale was a "masterpiece". Joystiq gave it 3 out of 5 and basically criticized the developer for "fixing" the game to placate the objections of players who said their choices didn't matter in the ending. (Yeah, I guess I'm in that group too. Mea culpa.) The result seems to be a watered down experience that may not make anyone happy. I still think that the main problem with the game was that the story wasn't that engaging, certainly not for me. For now, it's been removed from my hard drive and I've moved on to...

 This may end up being the most gorgeous game I never finish. A sequel to the first Alice game from 2000, it kicks up everything in the Lewis Carroll world several notches in the weird category. The scale of the levels is amazing - giant factories with lava-falls, lush gardens with massive statues, and moving platforms over bottomless chasms. I think I tried the first game and didn't get very far into it, but it was a long time ago. I know that the kind of sights I'm seeing in Madness Returns could not have been rendered back then. But, while I'm blown away by the visuals, I'm not sure I'll be able to play the whole game. This is one of those titles that really should have been shorter since there is a lot of repetitive combat, one-shot platform jumping, and needless room exploration. But it's soooo pretty!!!

(After some thought on the matter...) I'm going to do some Defiance over the weekend and maybe some PS4 gaming too. After that, I'll see how I feel about Alice.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

2014 Play Log - Uncharted Charted!

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune Image Uncharted: Drake's Fortune - Well, I can add this one to my short list of games finished in 2014. It took me a little over two weeks, but it was worth it. I never felt like I was just playing in order to just say I completed it. However, that's not to say I didn't have my frustrations from time to time. I must have played the ending battle for half and hour before I got it! This was a blend of Raiders of the Lost Ark inspired Tomb Raider-ish gaming with an interesting dose of The Descent weirdness thrown in toward the end. And, either I was getting better at it or there was more ammo in the latter part of the game because I didn't have as much trouble during the gunfights. If I didn't have The Walking Dead S2 to play and Destiny coming up, I'd be starting Uncharted 2 this evening! These are really my favorite kinds of games - single player, exploration/action games.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Winding down the year: Plans and Thoughts

As I write this, there's only about a week of August 2014 left and it's gotten me thinking about what I'm going to be playing as the year ends.

Currently, I'm about 2/3 to 3/4 done with Uncharted. If I'm lucky, I hope to finish it this weekend. I've definitely been enjoying it, but there have been some controller-twisting-in-anger moments. Last night I had to traverse the upper rafters of a ruined cathedral and kept missing a jump which made me do it all over again from the beginning. Not fun. My biggest fear with this game is that I'll get stuck on some sort of final boss challenge. That would really suck!

Next week is the release date of the last episode of The Walking Dead Season 2 (the game). I've played the first two episodes and put it aside until the rest were done. Now I'm going to want to dive into that and get through it before I hear too much on my podcasts about it. Those episodes usually take me about 2 hours each, so that's about 5-6 hours or a week's worth right there.

Then, of course, there's the matter of Destiny. As I mentioned here before, I impulsed a purchase of the Ghost edition (along with some other items that I cancelled, by the way) and it will be here on launch day, 9/9/14. Will I keep it? Haven't decided yet. The resale options are good enough that I didn't want to cancel, so it will come down to how much I want a little Peter Dinklage sound chip toy. I can always get another copy of the game itself which probably everyone will be playing. But I feel like I fell into this same trap with Titanfall, even though I know I should have thought that one through more. At least Destiny will have a single player mode. To get anywhere in this game will likely take a loooong time.

And those are just the heavy hitters! I still have a desire to go back into P.T. and try to get the ending myself if for no other reason than to reset the game (I haven't found any other way without deleting and reloading). Diablo III just released for the PS4 and I'd like to give it a try again. I haven't done anything with Watch_Dogs or Infamous: Second Son, both titles that I got for my seldom booted up PS4. I got two versions of Skylanders, Giants and Swap Force, that I need to try to see if I want to continue buying sets for. And then there are the occasional games that pop up on my radar after I've heard about them on a podcast. It just never ends!

On the good side, I won't be bored.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

2014 Play Log - One Night Stand #1

(This is something I've been kicking around awhile and I recently had a chance to put into practice - one game, one night, no commitments.)

Murdered: Soul Suspect Image Murdered: Soul Suspect - San Marcos in August is like being wrapped in wet towels and locked in a sauna on High. I was out getting what passed for food at my local taco joint when I saw her standing on the sidewalk. She was tall, red shaped. The kid knew I liked movies and she had a million of them. Well, maybe not that many. I punched up two that looked worth the price of admission and was ready to swipe my plastic when the dame hit me with one I'd never seen before - a free game rental. "What the heck?", I shrugged, "Free's my kind of price." As soon as I saw what she had to offer, I felt like I'd brought a water gun to a knife fight. "This all you got, sweetheart?", I said in a whisper that only the CVS clerk at the register inside the store could her. Assassin's, soldiers, and football. I either had them already or wanted them as much as a kick to the family jewels. I was about to give her the "Thanks, but no thanks, doll" line when one caught my eye like an overhead cast fish hook. It was Murdered: Soul Suspect and I felt like my lucky numbers had just come up and Big Freddie would be owing me a big payout for once in my...

(Oh, good Lord, Mary-Joseph-Michael-Gabriel-Peter-Paul-Ringo! STOP ALREADY! You are NOT Phillip F-ing Marlowe!)

Well, alright then.


Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, Murdered: Soul Suspect. In typical One-Night-Stand fashion, the game gets down to business pretty quickly. You play a police detective who starts the game by getting pushed out of a fourth-floor window. You then witness your life flash before your eyes and see why you acquired a rather impressive body covering of tattoos. (How you paid for them all is never explained.) While you are trying to stay on this side of the veil, your assailant comes downstairs and uses your gun to make sure (7 times!) that you join the ranks of the dead. What follows is your journey through Salem as a ghost who can move through most objects like you had a clipping cheat on while playing Doom.

The game is a series of Investigations that require you to look at things or possess people in an area in order to gather Clues. This part is a bit tedious and the end result, Deduction, isn't rocket science, but it does as best it can. Most "mystery" games have this problem because you can't expect everyone playing to be as smart as Sherlock Holmes or they'll never finish the game. It becomes more of an exercise in finding the right spots to examine. You also get to interact with the ghostly citizens of Salem and help them "solve" their crimes in order for them to move on. One odd thing I noticed: a number of the things I either needed to look at or people I needed to posses were behind me when I got the button prompt.

I got through the first Investigation before having to send this one packing for the night. All in all, it was a good time and I can see me following up our first date sometime in the future. It will have to be after her "rate" comes down a little, but I'd like to see the rest of what she has to offer. Maybe not today or even tomorrow, but someday. Until then, here's looking...

(Oh, no! No, no, no, no! I'm just pulling the plug right h....

Monday, August 18, 2014

2014 Play Log - P.T. and other stuff

P.T. P.T. - (***Spoiler Warning***) I took a break from my current games to play this...thing? It was announced at GamesCon 2014 and at first no one knew what it was. Turns out it was cooked up by Hideo Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro as a preview of a new Silent Hill game (to be called "Silent Hills"). It has lots of sly references that point back to Kojima like his birthday and the location of his studio in Japan. You can't really call this a game or even a demo, really. It's more of an interactive horror experience/advertisement/nightmare simulator. There are few commands other than being able to zoom in on things and a couple button press prompts. One visual effect I really liked was when you stood in a darkened hallway and waited, your "eyes" would get accustomed to the light level and then you could see more details. Really advanced stuff. It does have an ending which I was never able to get to (I had to watch a YouTube video to see it) along with some other tasks and interactions that are not required to get to that ending. It's extremely creepy, I'll say that for it. Watching a horror movie is nothing compared with being in a horror movie! I found myself trying to stay in lighted areas just because I thought I'd be safer there. When the ghost got me, I have to admit I was pretty freaked out! Toward the end of the game you can avoid her by not moving and I did everything in my power NOT to have to see her. There's no indication that this "playable trailer" will have anything to do with the game (no release date, by the way) but it's unlikely that the full game will be as scary as P.T. If Silent Hills is a long game or even a standard length one (10-ish hours), I doubt most people will be able to stand this level of tension for that long. A scare needs to be delivered quickly, not drawn out.

 War of the Human Tanks Demo - I never got to the actual gameplay because it wouldn't shut the hell up! Too much reading!

 Luftrausers - What do people see in this game?? It's like something from the Atari 800 era...but less fun! Cool music, but crappy controls.

 Sid Meier's Ace Patrol - Now this is more my style! A turn-based WWI aerial combat game that plays like an old-style Milton-Bradley wargame. Very entertaining, but I don't think I want to get any deeper in it than picking up my four trading cards (which I did). I added it to a new "Pretty cool!" category in Steam.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Various Ruminations

Slow day and a good time to do some blog padding.

YouTubers - Maybe I'm too old, but I do not get this fad at all! People (younger ones, mostly) seem fascinated with watching other people (of assorted ages) play videogames and talk while they are doing it. Why??? Wouldn't they rather be playing a game themselves? Are these Internet "celebrities" that entertaining?

Funko POP! figures - I've found my latest Cursed Collectible (as in I can't stop buying them). Not since the days of Beanie Babies have I been so smitten. (Well, at least it's not as bad as that. I haven't bought multiples of any...yet.)

Game systems I still have no interest in - Xbox One and Wii U. When I think of the Xbone, I can't think of a single game I want it for. As for the Wii U, I have to admit that I own one game, ZombiU, and would probably like to play Mario Kart 8, but it seems like such a waste of money to get the console. ("Then why did you buy ZombiU?" Well, if I do get a Wii U, I'll want something to play on it, silly.) I will say that IF I find a new 32gb system, with a game for $200, I'll break down and get it. But that still seems like an unlikely price point. Black Friday, maybe?

Uncharted Frustrations - I almost did a rage-quit on Uncharted the other night. Playing on Easy, I'm still having problems with the gunfights. (Why is "gunfight" one word and "videogame" supposed to be two words?) I need to be able to carry more ammo as I often finish a fight with either no bullets or just a few left. Ok, clap-clap to the development team for tuning it so well, but it gets frustrating to die toward the end of battle and have to start over. I like the story and the setting, but the enemies I'm fighting are starting to feel like just filler between climbing sequences. Lord knows how you could make it through this on hard! I'm on chapter 8 of 22, so there's a long way to go.

Suckered in - There have been some games recently that I really shouldn't have rushed to get. I justified getting Titanfall because I had a new computer and it was the hot game at the time. When I played it, I had my usual multi-player experience - I died a lot. Typically, I would get killed by someone who would flash past me and do some special move that I had no defense against. I've only played it twice. The only good thing about getting Titanfall was that it made me install Origin on my PC. Origin has recently been giving away a free game each month, so I'm sort of making up for buying Titanfall at full price. The other poor choice I have probably made is Watch_Dogs. As a PS4 owner, there isn't a ton of big games out there yet, and, like Titanfall, Watch_Dogs was the game everyone was talking about. But now that it's out, I'm mostly hearing how not so great it is. I have to admit that I did hear some of this before the game was released, but I went ahead and dropped almost full price as soon as it hit Costco. I think I've taken off the shrink wrap, but not much else. Which sort of leads me to....

Destiny - As of this writing, I have a pre-order on a PS4 Ghost edition for Destiny, the new multi-player FPS from Bungie, the Halo dudes. With tax and release day delivery, it's almost $200! Is this a smart thing to do? Good question. As witnessed by Titanfall, multi-player combat is not my strong suit. I also didn't play in the beta, although I did have a chance to. Add to that the fact that my game time is only about 1 to 2 hours in the late evening some nights and you really have to wonder what I was thinking when I pushed the button. (Ok, to be fair, I was thinking, "OMG! This is sold out everywhere and Amazon has it now!! It's got a little plastic ghost-ship-thing that talks in Peter Dinklage's voice!! This is the only version of the game I will ever want!! GO! GO! GO! And I can always cancel it later if I change my mind." Sometimes I think there need to be more things you should need to click on before you buy something online. It's just too easy.)

More shopping - Other pre-orders today that I probably don't need were Diablo III for PS4 ($60) and an urban camo colored PS4 controller (also $60). Diablo III is like a monkey on my back - I played a little on the 360 and didn't really get into it that much. So why am I getting it for PS4? Because it's got the expansion, a new character class (the Crusader), and it's on the PS4. And...because it's Diablo and I'm a gamer, and gamer's should worship Diablo games! (I'm trying, I'm really trying!) As for the controller, well, it looks so cool and if I'm lucky Sony will work out the rest of the compatibility issues with using PS4 controllers on the PS3, and then I can use my original PS4 controller on it and keep this one just for the PS4. And I probably shouldn't be allowed to shop online. Ever again.

Monday, August 04, 2014

2014 Play Log - Putting up some mile markers

One of my all-time favorite B.C. comics had the main character, B.C., asking Thor what he was doing hammering number signs into the ground. The one he was working on was around 200 or 300 (I forget the exact number), and he tells B.C. that he is putting up these mile markers so people can tell how far they've gone. B.C. then asks what Thor has against the number 4. The last panel shows Thor in tears when he finds the start of his markers, at the edge of a cliff, go 1, 2, 3, 5!

Now, this story has absolutely nothing to do with my gaming or, really, anything else except maybe to underline the importance of the saying, "Measure twice, cut once".

Gaming-wise, I've been playing just two games - Persona 4 Golden on the Vita and Uncharted: Drakes Fortune on the PS3.

Persona 4 Golden Image I'm about 11+ hours into P4G and still finding it engaging. The script they must have wrote for this game probably looked like a novel! I'm really enjoying being with Chie, Ukiko, and Youske - oh, and Teddie too, of course. My only problem when adventuring in the TV-Land is that I don't find many items to bring up my characters Skill Points (SP) which are needed to summon the personas. But, that's what makes it challenging.

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune Image I've been hearing a lot about Uncharted recently (#4 was announced at E3 this year) and I figured that I should finally get around to playing #1. Part of the drive is that I want to play The Last of Us soon and I've heard that the experience of seeing Naughty Dog develop from the Uncharted series to TLOU is worth the effort. I know that Uncharted 1 suffers a little from the "original IP experiment" syndrome where the sequels are much better then the original, but I'm willing to give it a fair chance. So far the platforming has been fun with some really spectacular sights - a lost WWII U-boat in a waterfall and a deserted fortress in just the first few chapters! However, I will say the gun battles are wearing a bit thin already. I've killed over 50 guys with my pistol alone! Anyway, I'm still enjoying it and as long as it doesn't get suddenly harder, I think I can go the distance with this one.

Monday, July 28, 2014

2014 Play Log - Valiant Hearts, Steam games, and SDCC

I'm going to mash some stuff together in this post so I can get back on track. It was originally supposed to be an in-depth review/essay on a great game I played, Valiant Hearts: The Great War. However, I put the following paragraph together (which I think came out quite nice)...

 Wars represent the worst of Mankind's creations. And it is arguable that the most abominable of these was World War I, or as it was known at the time, The Great War,  there having been no conflict before it that affected so many peoples. Never has there been a struggle between nations that was so wantonly profligate with human life over such trivial stretches of land. It was birthed from the Industrial Revolution gifting the Old World military's with killing power that they neither understood or could control. What was expected to be a short, "traditional" European battle turned into four years of trenches, machine guns, artillery barrages, and gas attacks.

Onto this blood-stained parchment of human created horror and suffering, Valiant Hearts writes its story.

...and everything I wrote after that was awful. Part of this was due to the fact that I wasn't able to write more right after playing. The lapse in time diminished some of my inspiration for better writing. I wanted to put down how the game made me feel and how the game played, but it all seemed too heavy handed (me, not the game). This is a wonderful story that is told by playing the game. Some of it is easy and some of it is even entertainingly silly. Some parts, like the repeated cries of the injured, are haunting even if you know that they are just looped sound clips. And it keeps a respectful connection to the actual struggle with historical notes and item descriptions, something more games should strive to do. The experience of playing Valiant Hearts will stay with me a long time as we head into this centennial anniversary of The Great War.

Now, on to some quick Steam game plays...

 Alan Wake's American Nightmare - I loved playing all the way through Alan Wake and the bonus content, and I was looking forward to exploring his ongoing adventure in American Nightmare. But I just couldn't take it. The whole tone of the game was different. Lost was the ominous tension, the tweed jacket, the quirky townsfolk, the tortured writer, the haunting music at the end of an episode, and the lush Pacific Northwest scenery. Instead we get some moron trying to do a Rod Serling impersonation every time something happens to our now automatic weapon equipped hack! Even Rod knew to only talk at the beginning and end of the show. Anything more is just idiotic parody.

 140 - If we received a video game from another planet, this is pretty much what it would look like. Interesting, but not worth staying with.

Adventures of Shuggy - I think I got this one free and that's good, because it is not my kind of game. Aside from really floaty platforming, the goal of levels is to pickup all the gems. I stopped playing games like this back on the SNES.

And that brings me up to date. Yes, I did go to Comic Con 2014, but game-wise it wasn't much to write about. But it does give one an idea or two for a game. For example, someone should make a game about how to sneak into Hall H, or the quest process of getting a Funko exclusive which includes defeating Stoner Dude to get into the line!