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.