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Palantas Blog

Thought of the Day: Gaming, 20 Dec 12

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I'm playing Dark Souls:

Dark Souls

This game is...hard. It's got a steep learning curve, and you die a lot. It doesn't help that right next to the starting area is a graveyard full of skeletons that are extremely tough. They take about ten hits to kill (and I'm playing a knight), while they can kill you in half that, plus you fight two at a time! Then I come to find out you weren't supposed to go to this graveyard. You were supposed to go to a less obvious area that's the actual starting dungeon. There enemies die in a couple hits, and do far less damage. I wasn't supposed to go to that damn graveyard until many levels higher. Nice.

That lack of direction itself in an issue I have with this game. It is not at all obvious where you're supposed to go or what you're supposed to do. The first NPC in the game makes some reference to a couple bells I need to ring. He doesn't say why I need to ring these bells, and he gives only the vaguest directions. Modern RPGs have a little overabundance of directional help (e.g., a compass that tells you exactly where to go) which removes some aspects of exploration. This game has the opposite problem. Not only is there no compass of any kind, there is no:

  • Automap
  • Actually, no map of any kind
  • No conversation log
  • No quest log

Imagine playing most any RPG you've ever played...with no quest log. I feel like I'm eight years old, playing The Bard's Tale, or some other old school game where you needed a pad of paper to actually play the game. Dark Souls is what you call a Wikia game. :)

Death has two penalties: One, if you don't make it back to your corpse, you lose all your money. So, die twice in a row, lose all your duckets. Secondly, in this game, you collect "humanity," which is dropped somewhat rarely. You can use this to turn from undead back to a human. This gives you various bonuses, notably higher drop rates. The catch is that when you die, you revert to an undead form. Usually, getting back to your corpse and collecting your money isn't too hard. However, the humanity mechanic ads a significant level of tension to the game.

Like when...

Grr!

I was human, and stumbled on a boss battle on the roof of an abbey, against two gargoyles.

And... I beat them on my first try!! I'm so happy right now. Sometimes, life is good. There are some tense fights in this game, and it's definitely a grinding game. I certainly succeeded in finding a grind to replace Too Human. Go Palantas.

Thought of the Day: Gaming, 16 Dec 12

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Let's talk about annoying achievements for a minute. I'm only going to cover two categories, ones I've run into lately. I know there are more, and feel free to tell me about them in the comments.

1. Negative Achievements

These have got to be some of the worst. Right now I have 995/1,000 points in Too Human. The last achievement I need is "Die 100 times." What kind of achievement is that?!? Why is that an achievement? That's an anti-achievement! And it's a bad deal any way you look at it. Consider the following...

Scenario A: You're bad to average at the game. The achievement pops up in the middle of your game. Normally, that's a happy moment. But here's this giggling, mocking achievement saying "Haha, you suck!" No one wants to be reminded of their failure; we play games to get away from that (you know, real life).

Scenario B: You're really good at the game. This is no better. Consider my Too Human situation. I've completely beaten the game, got all the achievements, but now I have to go back into the game and deliberately play poorly to get this last achievement. What a waste.

It's a kick in the balls either way.

2. Scavenger Hunts

I considered titling this section "Treasure hunts" or "Easter egg hunts," but no. A treasure hunt would imply that this stuff is valuable, and "Easter egg" means there's something amusing. The greatest example of this are the flags in the first Assassin's Creed. There are a gazillion of them, some are very hidden, and they have absolutely no purpose other than creating an achievement.

Why does every game coming out these days feel a need to make me find pointless crap for achievements? Why? And it's always 100% completion. There's no achievement for just finding most of the hidden stuff in the game. So what's the end result? If you want the achievement, you have to play with a guide. I have yet to play any game where even with great care and patience, you could legitimately find all the hidden crap on your first playthrough, or even multiple playthroughs. Even if most of the hidden crap is in plain sight, there's always going to be a few items that are absurdly hidden, that you would never, ever find on your own. So instead of just being able to play the game, I have to play the game with my laptop, pausing every few seconds to look at the walkthrough on YouTube.

Why does every game have this crap? You can kinda understand it in RPGs or adventure games, but why is this in shooters?! Shooters are about action, not hunting through the level for hidden stuff.

Conclusion

I am not complaining about hard achievements. I am complaining about stupid achievements. Achievements should be organic to a game. They should describe what a person did in a game and how well they played it. The challenge levels in Portal are an example of this. Yeah, they're hard as hell (less than 2% of players have it), but that's what Portal is about. Assassin's Creed is not about finding flags. Gameplay elements should not be created simply to generate achievements. Achievements should serve the game, not the other way around.

Post Script: Actually, the greatest example of a scavenger hunt would be the vials in Far Cry Instincts Predator (an awful game). As you might know, Far Cry is a very open world game, set on a dense tropical island chain. To get this achievement, you have to find these tiny vials which are literally hidden in the jungle, under leaves, inside of logs, and under water. (To get one of them, you have to swim in a random part of the ocean down to a boat wreck. Inside the wreck is the vial. There is absolutely no indication that there is even a wreck in that location.) You could play this game through 50 times and still not find all those damn vials.

Thought of the Day: Gaming, 14 Dec 12

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Doom 3 BFG Edition

Thoughts on Doom 3 for 360...

I'm fairly happy with this bundle. When I said I beat Doom 3 yesterday, I should be more specific: I beat the Doom 3 campaign of the Doom 3: BFG Edition. The BFG Edition includes:

  • Doom 3
  • Doom 3: Resurrection of Evil (an expansion pack released in 2005)
  • Doom 3: The Lost Mission (a new expansion)
  • Doom (specifically, the four-episode Ultimate Doom)
  • Doom II

That's a healthy amount of content for a budget price. I paid Amazon $20 for BFG Edition (though oddly, it's gone up to $23).

As to the game itself, I had a pretty good time. It had a lot of scares in it. The game became a little formulaic towards the end. Virtually every appearance of a monster is an ambush of some sort. Monsters appear in one of the following ways:

  1. They're already in the level, showing up when it loads, and you encounter them naturally (e.g., the way most shooters work).
  2. They pop out of the walls.
  3. They teleport near you, accompanied by appropriate audio and visual effects.

Those are in reverse order of frequency. Towards the end, most monsters teleport in, and it's pretty standard that one will appear in front of you and one behind. You come to expect it. There are a few cheap deaths, like a floor tile collapsing into lava, with no prior indication it would do that. There are a handful of platforming bits, which are annoying, but thankfully rare. The final battle, against the Cyberdemon, is a cake walk.

Doom 3 has save-anywhere, which is rare these days. The back of the box laughably boasts a "new check point save system." That's BS. The game has an auto-save system, which saves quite rarely, and at odd locations sometimes. You'll want to be saving manually at regular intervals, which is fine.

Artistically, this game is great. The technology was amazing in 2004, and is obviously nothing special now, but the art direction holds up. The Mars base is legitimately creepy. There are a few sections where you walk on the Martian surface, which looks great. Hell is scary and disturbing. If you glanced at the game during the Hell levels, you'd think it was a fantasy RPG (except for the plasma rifle in the middle of the screen). Hell in Doom 3 is far scarier and "Hellish" than any of the Oblivion levels in, you know, Oblivion. Graphically, this game is inspired.

Conclusion: Check out Doom 3: BFG Edition if you like shooters, particularly classic shooters.

Thought of the Day: Gaming, 13 Dec 12

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I just beat Doom 3.

Doom 3 BFG Edition

I'm going to share some achievements with you. I also typed up some thoughts on the game, but this blog got a little long, and I decided to post the rest of that tomorrow.

DOOMed Veteran DOOMed Veteran

"Complete the DOOM 3 single player campaign on Veteran"

Usually, I play a shooter on the second hardest difficulty (whatever that may be called in the game), which I did with Doom 3. In the days before achievements, this was always the case; now it varies a little more. Some games make no differentiation in achievements for any difficulty under the very hardest. In these cases, I might play on the medium setting.

That was Close! That was Close!

"Kill an enemy with 1 health remaining in DOOM 3, RoE, or Lost Mission"

I had a laugh when this one popped, as the picture expresses exactly the way I felt. I didn't review the achievements going into Doom 3, so I got this one by chance.

All of Us All of Us

"Find the id logo secret room in DOOM 3"

This is a secret at the end of the game. I remember finding it in 2004, when I first played the game. It's taken eight years, but I finally got the recognition I deserve!


Goody Finder Goody Finder

"Open all storage lockers in DOOM 3"

This one I'm pretty happy about. Again, I didn't use any guides while playing through this game. I found all of these--about 50 of them--through careful observation. There's a similar achievement for finding all the PDAs in the game. I'd probably have that one too, except the game counts a couple PDAs that belong to friendlies; you have to murder them to get their PDAs, and I didn't care to do that.

Tomorrow, I'll post some final thoughts about Doom 3.

Thought of the Day: Gaming, 121212

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It's national sound check day: 12-12-12!! Sort of an odd holiday. I was planning to complain about annoying achievements with this issue, but I decided complaining would be innappropriate on this festive occasion.

Instead I'm going to share a personal issue with you: I always need a game to grind. For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, grinding is a term typically applied to RPGs, meaning to engage in repetitive, usually mindless gameplay, playing the same levels, killing the same critters, for a purpose indirectly related to progressing in the game. This purpose is usually gaining XP or finding a rare item. If you've read my blog recently, you know I just finished a 100-hour grind in Too Human to get some epic armor.

I sat down at my Xbox the other day, and it occured to me, "I have nothing to grind on." I was in the mood to play a game, but I didn't wan't to pay much attention to either the gameplay or story, and I wanted to watch a film or show at the same time (I often do this). So it's Christmas time, and I need a grinding game.

I'd been considering Sacred 2 for a while:

Sacred 2: Fallen Angel

However, I learned recently that the studio behind Sacred closed. I really don't want to deal with unpatched bugs. Then I heard about this series:

Dark Souls

Dark Souls has excellent reviews, but what really sold me was 360a's description: "This game is not for the casual gamer. It has quite a steep learning curve to it, but if you manage to adapt to it, this game is very rewarding and fun." That sounds right up my alley, so I decided to buy it for myself for Christmas. I got it for $16 new on Amazon; I'm sure the story and gameplay would have been much improved if I'd paid $60 one year ago, but that's life.

So, anyone have experience with this series? This is the first Japanese game I've purchased in years. Will this make a good grind? Am I gonna like it?

Thought of the Day: Gaming, 11 Dec 12

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In my last issue, I mentioned my epic armor in Too Human (that I'm oh so proud about). My reasons for playing through the game one final time included "Get to see my epic armor in the numerous in-game cutscenes." Stay with me here, because the following is really dorky. It annoys me when my character looks stupid in cutscenes. This is usually a result of using my in-game character model for the cutscenes, versus pre-rendering them. This sometimes results in my looking strange.

Here's Baldur from Too Human in the opening game cutscene:

Baldur

Then, in the next cutscene, when you start the game, he's wearing this armor...

Crappy red armor

...which looks completely different. It also totally sucks. What's more, the other gods in Too Human are all dressed in a certain fashion, which looks nothing like this red armor. Here's Heimdall, Freya, Thor, and Frey:

The Gods

There's a common motif to their outfits. Now here's Baldur, in a mid-game cutscene, wearing some random armor found in a level:

Mismatched armor

It doesn't look right! My character doesn't match the other gods. It looks odd, and it takes me out of the scene. And at least the armor he's wearing there matches itself, if not the other gods. Actually playing the game, you'll be pulled into these cutscenes wearing a red breastplate, yellow shoulder pads, and green gauntlets, because you haven't had time yet to go back to base and color your armor.

On the other hand, here's my epic armor:

My Baldur

It's identical to the opening cutscene, and what's more it matches what other gods are wearing. It has the same color sceme, and the same signatures, like the metal epaulette and the gold trim. My character looks RIGHT in the in-game cutscenes; he looks like he belongs. I'm a weirdo, and probably the only Too Human (or any game) player to think about this, but I wanted to share it nonetheless. I think with that I am officially done talking about Too Human. Next issue will be about annoying achievements.

Thought of the Day: Gaming, 5 Dec 12

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I did something new today. I sat down with the intent to play a game from start to finish in one go. Since I finished my epic armor set in Too Human, I decided to do my final, definitive playthrough of the campaign. I had a couple reasons for doing this...

  1. Just to do something new.
  2. Pick up the last achievements in the game, which require an uninterrupted run of a couple levels.
  3. See how long it would take.
  4. Get to see my epic armor in the numerous in-game cutscenes (more tomorrow).
  5. See if I could beat the game in one go, with no reloads.
  6. Finish off this game, into which I've put considerable effort, off with bang.

And...I did it. The end credits are playing as I'm writing this. I still have zero deaths, and I never reloaded the game once. I got the last achievements I needed for beating the third and fourth levels in this fashion. (The closest I came to dying was in Helheim after accidentally killing up a toxic zombie right next to myself.)

Palantas

I thoroughly explored the game's content. I watched the opening cutscenes; all the cutscenes, actually. I went into every secret area that I know about, and explored every level. The end credits just now wrapped up, and...this took eight and a half hours; 8:35:27 according to my chronometre, actually. Yes, I timed it. That's from inserting the disc to the end of the credits.

I gotta say, knowing how long it takes to play the game, Too Human is pretty short. I'm aware that this is a Diablo-type game where you're supposed to play it again and again (as I obviously did), but that's still short. I did know exactly where to go and how to beat certain bosses, and a game obviously goes faster if you don't die. Still, I'd put this at around a 10-hour game for the typical player, at most. I wonder how many other games are actually this short.

Thought of the Day: Gaming, 4 Dec 12

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Still playing Doom 3: BFG Edition. I already knew this, but my playthrough of this game has emphasized the fact that I play games slowly. I am very thorough and methodical when playing through a game. I'm really seeing this with Doom 3, since I'm completely ignoring achievements on my first playthrough. Still, I'm at seven hours right now, and I'm maybe halfway through the game. Doom 3 is supposedly a ten hour game, suggesting it takes me 50% longer to beat a game. Even ignoring achievements, I like to hunt around for secrets. I thoroughly explore every level. I listen to and read any supplemental material in the game (in the case of Doom 3, this being audio logs and corporate promotional videos you find laying about the base).

Anybody else like this?

Thought of the Day: Gaming, 1 Dec 12

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Bragging time...

On the First Day of Christmas, my Xbox gave to me...a really hard achievement. (Sorry, I couldn't think of something that rhymed.)

I just got the achievement "Relics of a Forgotten Past" in Too Human. The description for this achievment is "Complete a 7-piece Elite armor suit." This is an insane achievement. The drop rate for each piece of this armor is incredibly low. The highest that can be arranged is 4%, after killing the first level boss, which require that you play through the entire first level, a process that takes at least a half hour, and then only if you're really good. Do the math on how long that should take.

I have been working on this achievement with my current character for literally two years, off and on. It's taken over 100 hours of grinding to get this. Only 3% of people on Raptr who have played Too Human have this achievement. In the process of getting this achievement, I have killed 77,578 enemies.

The following continued bragging will only make sense to people who have actually played Too Human...

I got this achievement with my Human Champion. I have 152 hours of play time with this character. I have never died. That's right. On my status screen, under deaths, it says zero. What's more, I don't yet have the "Valkyrie's Folly: Die 100 times" achievement. I'm going to make sure that's the last achievement I get. Yes, I have managed to get that good at an obscure game. :)

Thank you for reading.

Thought of the Day: Gaming, 30 Nov 12

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More fun with Doom 3: BFG Edition...

This game is tense! This is the sort of game you play at night will all the lights turned off. I'm playing on Veteran (hard), which means you can only take a few hits before going down. If a demon gets close and melee hits you, your view oscilates wildly, making return fire very difficult. You REALLY don't want monsters getting close to you in this game.

I've been asked what I think about the changes to the game, notably the flashlight. For those of you who don't know, the original Doom 3 had an unusual mechanic: The flashlight took the place of a weapon. You could hold your flashlight or a weapon, but not both. If you think that sounds stupid, that's because it is. The BFG Edition gets rid of that nonsense. The space marine now has a flashlight integrated into his armor, that he can use in conjuction with a firearm...just like every other shooter ever that has a flashlight. The flashlight now discharges pretty quickly, to prevent you from using it constantly. The game is still incredibly atmospheric with this change, and it gets rid of one of the most ridiculed and contrived elements of any shooter ever. So yes, I am a fan of the new flashlight system. If you're one of the dozen people on the planet who liked it the old way, I'm sorry the BFG Edition doesn't include it, and you also need to get your f*cking head checked.

Yesterday, I complained about the game not having separate volume controls for sound, voice, and music. A caveat to that complaint is that you don't really need one for music. The game does not have a conventional score. At select moments in the levels, music will start playing. These are rare and all of them highten tension. Doom 3 might be one of the first shooters to contain music in this fashion. In all early shooters (Doom to Quake), the music just played constantly. Half-Life changed this a little, where musical numbers would play at certain triggers. Same thing essentially with Halo. However, I can't recall any shooter prior to Doom 3 that had horror movie-type music. A musical cue in Doom 3 might be only a few seconds long. They're not "songs" that continually play generally. It's well done.