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Fffrustration in games: why Demon's Souls isn't actually frustrating

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This week I've been playing Dante's Inferno and Demon's Souls. One of them is an incredibly frustrating and annoying game, the other is a relatively smooth and painless ride.

The frustrating one is Dante's Inferno.

I am not a fan of this type of games. While God of War didn't invent the genre, Dante seems to clone its gameplay mechanics without paying attention to GoW's many mistakes. I don't care about a game imitating another, but I'm very annoyed when it doesn't even try to fix what's broken in the original. I hate timing puzzles with a passion. I hate checkpoints separated by fifteen minutes of platforming, puzzles, secrets and bosses. I kept playing because I absolutely adore Dante's presentation and was relieved when the final third of the game finally calmed down and focused more on combat.

The previous hours were spent almost constantly raging in caps lock. The timing requirements and checkpoint placement were pure torture. I got better, of course, and yet every new death and bad checkpoint drew me closer to a heart attack. Every passed challenge and activated checkpoint weren't a triumph – but a IT'S ABOUT **** TIME, VISCERAL! Same thing was true for God of War, DmC and many other similar games over the years. I highly enjoy the presentation of these games, but their gameplay outside of combat is mostly horrible.

As a side note, many times I'm not able to properly judge distances and object placement. I wasn't always sure if I'm about to drop in the abyss or on the rope below, I misjudged jumps, ignored or hit ledges because it seemed they were background elements. That is one area where 3D would indisputably aid the gameplay in the absence of a controlled camera.

After finishing Dante I went back to Demon's Souls. It is a difficult game, but it's fair and that removes the frustration.

You have to restart the area every time you die and you lose your souls. A minor annoyance, because the enemies respawn and you can happily hack away and regain them – even better if you touch your bloodstain and recover the souls. All items discovered remain in your inventory. All enemies are in the same place, so you can plan your strategy better. All levers pulled and all opened doors remain activated.

Every new step is learning. This is not about perfecting some bull**** skill you don't even have. It's not about training the reptilian part of your brain. You have to think, learn, adapt in a way that very few games allow. Off the top of my head I can only think of a few games that touch this so very human part of your brain – Ultima Underworld, Dwarf Fortress, a couple of roguelikes... and, well, Minecraft.

There is of course the fantastic online integration. Watch and learn.

It's not frustrating because every time you restart, you think. It's not your avatar that is or is not able to do something, like in many RPGs, it's the man behind the wheel. The game lays down a rather generous set of toys and shifts the world's behaviour according to an arcane set of rules. It's up to you to understand these rules and *actually* play the game. Who knew you can cross a bridge guarded by a dragon in so many ways? You're not constantly required to exploit patterns, press the right buttons or shave a hundredth of a second. You're not even required to think, adapt and play smart – you can tank and cheese your way across that bridge in 1-2 if you feel like it.

You know what makes Demon's Souls even less frustrating? The presentation.

There's no Enochian choir and 210 people orchestra drilling through your brain. No flashy what-the-****-am-I-watching not-so-special effects. There's no cockney bloke screaming in your ear while mortars fall all around you, everything's a grey mist and the entire Russian army has wallhacks. Demon's Souls is simply down-to-earth, stern yet polite. It's always clear what you did wrong and there are always hints about what's coming. You don't defeat the first area's blobs by reading messages and watching ghosts – you draw the conclusion that they must be flanked and don't like fire from the second you first meet them. It's all clear and and logical. Blind trial and error is an almost unknown quality in Demon's Souls. It's like the Matrix code: if you can read it, you'll see a lot of hints. The game doesn't hate you, like some reviews said – it proposes a challenge, then gives you all the tools, info and training needed to overcome it.

Thus, I can't fault the game for my shortcomings. I can be at most upset with myself – and that only drives me forward and makes me want to improve. To be a better human, not a better pavlovian dog reacting to triggers and timers.

There is also the fact that the gameplay mechanics and world rules work exactly as you expect them to.They're responsive and realistic. It's so disappointing to see how hard The Witcher 2 tried to imitate its combat, only to fail miserably! Demon's Souls is polished, logical and functional, while TW2 suffers from terrible omissions and a lack of understanding of very simple principles that make the combat enjoyable.

The first hours of Two Worlds 2: this is quite awesome

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Today I bought the retail version of Two Worlds 2. It only costs 15 Euros here.

I was very impressed by the package. It comes in a beautiful cardboard box with dual cover. Inside there is a regular DVD case. The game disc has a fine holographic print. Also included are a 40 pages colour manual and a really big map of the game world, with a poster on the other side.

The game occupies a bit over 4 Gb. It requires activation, which can be done either by phone or in-game through the Internet. I also registered my copy in-game, which was super convenient, and received a free item code as a bonus. I then applied the Gold update, which adds a DX 10 renderer (DX 11 is coming too).

The main menu is rendered in real time and you can move the camera around. The scene is a great choice – all the graphical options, of which there are many, can be easily evaluated and they change instantly. There's also a hardware physics option for Nvidia users (check out this video).

Then I set up my character and started the game.

There are two things that immediately stand out. First, the art direction is incredibly cheesy and awesome, clearly inspired by the fantasy epics of the '80s. It's like every cheesy metal band artwork ever mixed together. Second, the cutscene direction is atrocious. Mixed with the hit-and-miss voice acting, they create a bloody hilarious first impression. Which is good.

I was helped by some orcs to escape from the villain's prison and then I teleported to a beautiful island. And by beautiful, I mean absolutely stunning, amazing and incredible. It's colourful, it abuses special effects and runs at about 300 frames per second. The forest feels like a forest, it's very thick, it's dark and the plants react nicely to your presence. A tutorial dungeon featured skeletons animated by a bright green light inside their ribcage. The colours and shadows were mesmerising. The ground textures are surprisingly bad though. But this is certainly the most beautiful RPG released so far.

I then continued my tutorial. The melee is a simple combo based affair. It's satisfying. Stealth is basically this: creep behind someone and biff him in the head. Worth noting that the character automatically equips a dagger when you go stealth.

The magic – now that's special. You fill an amulet with cards then mix and match them for various spells. For example, use a projectile card as the base card. On top of it add one of the fire effect cards, and you end up with a basic fire arrow spell. There are dozens of effects in five magic schools. You can increase the number of cards, you can add bonus and modifier cards. You also aquire blank cards to save custom spells – which can also be given any name. Alchemy works a lot like this too. You can break down all items and craft new ones from their parts or improve the others.

Each time you level up, you get four attribute points (basic health, strength etc) and two skill points. There are a ****load of skills with a ****load of levels. The catch is that you must find tomes to activate these skills.

There's a lot of potential to completely screw up the balance of the game with all these complicated systems, but it sure looks like fun!

The game features a lot of (intentional) humour. The books you find are especially amusing. It was a pleasant surprise that some of the first books I found were actually disguised and hilarious tutorials and guides. Also one of them simply listed all the people involved in making this game. One of the companies involved is The Farm 51, former Painkiller and Medal of Honor developers that made Necrovision two years ago. This explains the rock album look!

The first portion of the game was set on a stunning mediterranean island. About one hour later I was teleported to a savannah. The town I landed in was a fascinating mix of middle eastern (think Assassin's Creed) and Conan. Outside it's a superb environment, a savannah which is actually populated by wildlife! I met wild hogs, ostriches, a cheetah, baboons and a rhinoceros!

And they all behave differently. The hogs and the rhino were minding their own business, but when I got close they started warning me. The hogs attacked, the other beast was a bit more lazy. The baboons threw rocks, the ostriches never attacked alone but chased me when there were more of them together, and the cheetah... well I avoided the cheetah. I managed to make a hog stumble and he fell off a bridge, screeching all the way down. Feels good man. A nice touch is that the main character informs the player about the challenge he's about to face. Not yet, he said when I got closer to the rhino. What, all by myself?! when I approached the cheetah. And Don't say I didn't warn you... when I got into a fight with the hogs. By the way, the main dude sounds a lot like J. C. Denton.

So far, the only real complaints I have are that the interface is enormous, obviously designed for a controller, and the map is weird. Otherwise it's a very PC-centric game – the stunning graphics, the excellent optimisation, the complex RPG system and the crushing difficulty in the non-tutorial areas are all signs of a good PC RPG. I was killed by the first enemy in the first cave I found on my own!

Back in December it was revealed that Two Worlds 2 sold over a million copies, and it's still not released in the UK and US. Crazy Euro devs are on a roll.

Teeth

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When I was a kid, a dentist removed one of my silver fillings because he tought it's a decayed tooth. Amazing, isn't it?

Today, about half of my teeth are made of plastic. I lost some of them in an accident.

You see, eating a sandwich is an adventure for me. The sandwich has to be closely inspected. The filling must meet certain size, texture and strength requirements. The bread must be of the finest quality. Its crust – not too crunchy, not too rubbery. The temperature – always room temperature. You know those baguette sandwiches? I must bite them with my goddamn molars.

Biting an apple is, sadly, impossible. In fact, the only thing I can always safely bite is a banana.

A couple of days ago, I broke my tooth. While eating bread. It doesn't hurt and, thankfully, it's not a front tooth. But it feels like crap.

I hate going to the dentist.

My dentist is a lady just a few years older than me. She adopted a girl. A gypsy, for some reason. She's got small, round glasses and always smiles. The dentist, I mean.

I hate the anesthesia. She stabs my face and then we wait. Small talk while my face dies. My jaw and lips start flapping and I don't know if saliva is dripping. She just grins.

I hate the small tampons that she puts between my lip and my gum. They make me look like a horse!

I hate the drill. It's not the sound, but the smell that gets me. Ozone and bone dust – a killer fragrance. Not to mention that it always sprays water all over my face when it releases pressure.

I have to take my glasses off. Can't see **** beyond 50 centimeters. The dentist covers half of my field of view. The giant lamp covers about a third, and the rest is nothingness. Where am I supposed to look? Should I look at her? It's awkward! The lamp – hell no. Everything else – there's nothing there, plus I can't just stare like that towards my left. And I can't close my eyes because it's lame. So I suppose I'm looking all over the place like a scared kitten...

And then I feel a jolt of pain, which I shouldn't but it always happens. I don't HNGH because I'm supposed to act brave, but it's impossible not to tremble.

- Does it hurt?

Now how am I supposed to answer? I've got an aspirator in my mouth, tampons under my lips, a dry throat and a very bad day.

- Nuh-uh, I say. Or uh-uh, or aha, or nnnnnngh. It doesn't matter because she'll keep hurting me anyway. It's yet another awkward interaction.

She'll then order me to rinse my mouth. I take a sip of water from the fragile plastic glass – can't tell how much. My mouth is dead and I don't know if I'm doing it right, if water and blood flow on my chin and I'm not even sure if I can spew it where I'm supposed to, so I'll just open my mouth above the sink and let if fall.

I have to use a horrible, horrible and horribly expensive toothpaste. She usually gives me a tube or two when I leave – out of pity, I presume! It contains every plant I ever heard of and samples of the entire periodic table. Thus, it smells and tastes like piss.

Teeth are the most stupid part of the human body.

In a perfect world, science would take care of them. They'd regenerate, just like in every animal which is not a mammal. They would be stronger. Or they would be replaced by metal or plastics. Or, as some evolutionists think, they'd simply be removed.

In this world though, we have to suffer.

The Ballad of Bad Birthday

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2010:

- Go out with friends

- Drink vodka like an idiot – don't get drunk. Fail.

- Crash at a friend's home, play Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat for hours, then watch Centurion for the second time in three days

- I really like Centurion

- Final rating: 7

2009:

- A girl I knew in highschool shares my birthday

- She gets hit by a truck two months before our birthday, partially loses her memory and has motor disabilities

- Go to her place to celebrate together

- Cuddle up together in bed and watch Family Guy for hours

- I don't really like Family Guy

- Final rating: 8. I want to have a sister.

2008:

- Parents have a horrible fight

- Go out with friends later that day

- Drink vodka like an idiot – don't get drunk. Fail.

- On the other hand, I had a wonderful girlfriend. Spent night talking to her.

- I also got some pretty cool T-shirts and possibly a videogame I already owned from my friends.

- Final rating: 5

2007:

- Spend evening trying to install Call of Duty 4

- Damn game refuses to install

- FML

- Final rating: 4

2006:

- Have a severely twisted ankle (which still hurts years later)

- Spend all day in bed...

- ... watching the Mad Max movies

- Final rating: 9

I don't really remember other birthdays.

Translating Steam

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The Steam Translation Server went live recently.

I gave it a shot today.

First assignment was for some obscure arcade shooter.

Check out the original English text:

3, 2, 1 Blast-Off! Launch yourself into the intense space-shooter Aces of the Galaxy™ — A non-stop, old-school arcade thrill-ride for the 21st century and beyond. Utilize an impressive arsenal of upgradeable weapons including high powered missile launchers, devastating torpedoes and the ever-reliant chain gun to annihilate the ships of the wretched Skurgian Empire.

· Temporal Shift — Intense feature slows down the hordes of enemies

· Stunning Visuals — Bring the action up close and personal

· 3rd Person Action — Retro-arcade shooter gameplay styIe


I understand everything from that text, at least at an instinctive level (I learned English watching Van Damme movies).

Translating it in my language is a very different story.

I was always annoyed by the crappy translations we get in my country, but suddenly I realised what a **** job it must be. Most puns are lost. What sounds cool in English will sound like ass in Romanian, and what is serviceable ends up even worse.

Anyway, here's my first attempt:

3, 2, 1 Decolare! Lansează-te în intensul shooter spaţial Aces of Galaxy™ - O aventură de modă veche non-stop, electrizantă, pentru secolul 21 şi mai departe. Utilizează un impresionant arsenal de arme upgradabile ce include lansatoare de rachete de mare putere, torpile devastatoare şi mereu folositorul chain gun pentru a anihila navele păcătosului Imperiu Skurgian.

· Transfer Temporal — abilitate intensă care încetineşte hoardele inamice

· Grafică uimitoare — acţiunea devine apropiată şi de-a dreptul personală

· 3rd Person Action — Retro-arcade shooter gameplay

**** if I know how to translate that last bullet point!


Goodbye, Raven Software!

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Bam.

They're turned into a DLC studio for Black Ops. I expect the last people working there to be laid off even before the last DLC is released.

With Silicon Knights taking over X-Men and with Raven's last two games not being marketed at all, I have no doubt these are the last days of the studio. These are the people that made Star Trek fun before J.J. Abrams. They made a tie-in game better than the movie it's based on. Their Star Wars games are pretty much the only games that nailed lightsaber combat. They created some of the most amazing fantasy action games ever. And who can forget this Quake 4 moment?

In a perfect world, the Raven guys would go to Zenimax and be again part of the id Software family.

In this world, 20 years of history, talent and experience end with a whimper.

Duke Nukem Forever will be revealed this weekend at PAX

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The evidence so far, taken from someone at the 3DR forums, who probably pasted it from NeoGAF:

1) Kotaku's rumor that Gearbox will develop DNF:
http://kotaku.com/5608769/the-week-i...-nukem-finally

2) Patrick Garrat owner of VG247 gaming news website posted "This is true, by the way." ( http://www.vg247.com/2010/08/11/mega...nt-at-gearbox/)

3) A Shacknews employee when asked what he thinks about DNF says he's going to call Gearbox's CEO.

http://www.formspring.me/xavdematos/...gn=shareanswer

- what do you think of Duke Nukem...will Duke Nukem Forever come out any time soon?
- Hold up, let me call Randy Pitchford real quick...

4) In 2006 George Brussard, CEO of 3D Realms said that DNF will come out when "pigs fly": http://www.1up.com/do/feature?pager....=1&cId=3147571

1UP: Wait, wait. You guys are working on Duke Forever?
GB: [Laughs] And ever and ever.
1UP: And when's that due out again?
GB: [Laughs] I think it'll be out when pigs fly.

Now this is really interesting. George suddenly tweeted a pic with guess what - pigs flying! http://bit.ly/9AF3PE the link being taken from http://twitter.com/georgeb3dr

5) Also yesterday, Jon St. John voice actor of Duke tweets he is going to appear to PAX: http://twitter.com/JSJakaDukeNukem , headed for PAX Seattle tomorrow. See you at Q&A#1 in the main theater 11:30AM Friday...ask, I'll tell almost all! He also changed his profile pic to Duke!

6) Yesterday, again 2K, that is the publisher of Gearbox's Borderlands and that is owned by Take-2, the publisher of DNF, says that something very big is going to be announced in PAX.

http://www.2kgames.com/blog/somethin...ppening-at-pax

Windows 7 and a nearby transformer are leading to the collapse of modern society

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I RAGE

Had to do an emergency Windows reinstallation.

I used the same DVD earlier this summer and installed 7 in about 30 minutes.

NOW IT TOOK THREE EFFIN HOURS

I must've ran into every error possible. Had to borrow an old keyboard from a neighbour to type. Had to swap and remove RAM sticks, disable USB ports, hard drives, reinstall my CPU, swap cables and routers and browse a hundred Windows forums using a crap mobile connection on a laptop that runs like an exploded dog.

Although I formatted the HDD prior to the last and successful attempt I'm presented with a OS boot screen that contains 3 Windows 7s. I have a USB keyboard that doesn't work until the OS is loaded.

I also lost pictures, articles I wrote - some of them not yet sent for publishing -, savegames and other documents.

At least the Steam games seem to work. I'm running the executable from the old installation.

Something must've gone terribly wrong though, because I created a single Admin account without any password yet when I want to install something it asks for Admin username and pas. I have to right-click the installer and Run as Admin...

I'm stuck with this lame Vodafone mobile connection. Every time it rains, my cable Internet goes down because a nearby transformer is struck by lightning. It rains every 2-3 days, and, presumably because it's summer and summer sucks, that damn transformer is hit every freakin' time. It takes about 24 hours until it's repaired, only to be disabled a couple of days later. This is surely the most retarded thing I've ever seen. Today I actually turned off my PC and went to the window waiting for the lightning to struck it (it's just down the street).

Well, the more I type the more angry I get. Just what the **** is up with that device? How come it's always struck by lightning? Why isn't it moved from that place? I think it was installed this year, because I don't remember this **** happening before...

Right now I just want to play Starcraft 2. Which is asking if I want to update; I click the update button and then it asks me again if I wanna update. And so on :(

Eugen Systems and R.U.S.E. are all kinds of awesome

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- They had a huge open beta for R.U.S.E., that was prolonged due to popular demand (it was downloaded over one million times)

- They delayed the game for months and implemented tons of features requested by the community

- They recently launched a free weekend on Steam, containing both multiplayer and AI with a lot of maps and all six factions of the game. Valve screwed it up though, it abruptly ended 24 hours before it was supposed to. That's the second time in a row they ruin a free weekend, it happened with Serious Sam earlier this month. So now they got R.U.S.E. back on Steam and extended the free game time until Wednesday as compensation!

- They keep in touch with the community. The R.U.S.E. Steam group is always active. The developers regularly give updates on Twitter, Facebook and their forums. They created in-depth video presentations where the designers talk about the game and teach you how to play.

Now, about the game:

- First thing that you notice is that the optimisation is really out of this world. It pushes over one billion polygons on a map, yet runs better than common sense says it should. It's a stunning achievement. Supreme Commander has nothing on this game's scale.

- It's design is quite original. The base idea is that during WW2, the combatants always had an idea about the general enemy positions and plans. There was a real war of information. That's what R.U.S.E. allows you to do - information is your biggest weapon. Victories can be achieved through manipulating your opponent's perception. Deception is the key. It's closer to a board game than a traditional RTS. It's strategy and counter-startegy, not rush and 500 APM. As a result, it's a more abstract take on the RTS genre. You are really the general, not bothering with tactics and moment to moments combat.

I feel bad for Eugen. They made a kickass game and their dedication and support for the community is amazing. R.U.S.E. enjoys very good word of mouth, yet with all the marketing push I feel it's gonna bomb on PC: it's published by Ubisoft and comes between Civ5 and Starcraft 2.

I have no doubt that people are unable to figure out that these three games are nothing alike. R.U.S.E. is the one that will fail, being the newcomer. It will be a cult hit and will have a very dedicated fanbase.

I think it will enjoy strong console sales, especially on the PS3. It's a Move title, and I bet it's awesome to play it like this.

It's not a consolised PC game, its design happens to fit within console control limitations. Eugen's exemplary support of the PC community and the rock-solid PC version should make this obvious, but you know how PC gamers are...

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