ZZoMBiE13 / Member

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ZZoMBiE13 Blog

Next Gen early impressions

The "next gen" is currently in full swing. Which I suppose makes it the current gen... currently... what is the protocol here? Doesn't matter. I thought it might be fun to share some early impressions of the new toys we all have to play with and see if others share my views. So here goes.

SONY's PS4

Some of those who have read my comments in the forums will already know this, but my time with the PS4 has been extremely limited. It is going to be my Christmas gift and therefore I only have the slimmest exposure to it as of writing this. I, like many, had heard the rumblings early on of the "RED LINE OF DEATH" and it worried me enough that I persuaded the family to allow me brief access to the device to ascertain if I was among the minute percentage affected with this issue. I'm happy to report, I was not.

A glorious piece of kit

The test run did allow me a brief opportunity to try out the interface, get a feel for the controller, and see the italicized and elegant design of the machine. I've got to say it, I'm very impressed with all of them. As one who was very turned off by many of Sony's decisions regarding the PS3, I'm happy to report that the PS4 is a case of a company bouncing back to what made them great in the first place. It's hard to verbalize it really. It all just "feels right" if that makes any tangible sense.

This looks to be the first time Sony has shipped a console with a controller I can actually enjoy. The grips of the Dual Shock as far back as the PS1 have always left my hands achy after extended play and this new one fixes all my problems with the design. It's got heft, it's comfortable, and it's button, stick, and D-pad layout all just feel natural. Thumbs rest in obvious places and even though my time with it was brief, it was enjoyable.

Since my time with it was so limited, I'm going to leave the PS4 for now. I've spent far more time with the X1 so far, so I'll move on to that for now. Once Christmas rolls around, I'll probably try to update this, though by then no one will care. But still, this is more for me than anything else.

Microsoft's Xbox One

As I said earlier, this is where the bulk of my next gen time has been spent thus far. The decision to use the Xbox first wasn't a tough one. Regardless of internal chipsets or memory bandwidth or resolution, those things are all in service of the one thing I truly care about and that is the games. And for the launch offerings, Xbox had more games I wanted right out of the gate. But I'm getting ahead of myself. First, the hardware.

Man the X1 is big. Taking up a significant portion of my entertainment center for it's big fat ass is a bit of a drag. As most electronics manufacturers have moved toward a simpler and more elegant design, here comes Microsoft selling us the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. This has always been a strange choice and even the original Xbox was a beastly size, but it's obvious to see why they went this way. After the RRoD became a stigma, they put a fan inside that is about as big as my hand. Good on them I suppose. Anything to ward off the gremlins I guess. Still wish this thing was a bit smaller, but again it's the games that will make or break it for me.

It's watching you!

A brief mention of the Kinect now. I've been no fan of the device since it's inception. While I liked the idea of barking orders at my machinery, I'm not in a position to jump around in my living room as a means for playing a game. And even if I were in a position to do so, I wouldn't want to. When I want a workout, I go to 24 Hour Fitness. When I want a game, I go to my television and turn on the Xbox or Playstation.

That said, the focus of the new Kinect doesn't seem to be games so much as navigation. And for me, it seems to be working well enough in that regard. I'm not opposed to using it in this manner, and in this manner it's actually kind of cool. Voice commands have been working really well for me, though I've heard reports of people having issues. I can only speak to my experience though, and my experience has been a pleasant one. From turning the machine on, to the snap feature, to navigation it all works pretty well. The issue though, is that since the entire thing is designed around this feature, the menus seem cluttered and less intuitive than the 360. Not really a deal breaker, but a bite in the butt just the same. I'm a night owl, so often times I cannot simply bark out orders for fear of waking the rest of my family. But if the Xbox 360 showed us anything, it's the value of having a malleable infrastructure that can grow and change over time through firmware updates and such. From the Blades to NXE to that current Metro design, I'd be shocked if the first design isn't reorganized a bit by this time next year. And none of it is non-functional mind you, it's just that if you're not keen on voice commands it may take a bit to get used to the new design is all.

A delight to use.

I'd also like to mention the controller briefly. This controller is basically just a solid evolution of a near perfect design. The 360's controller was already a great design, and the additions to the X1 controller are fantastic. The impulse triggers are a nice addition and the new D-pad is a much needed improvement on the old design. There's not a lot to say really. If you used a 360 controller, you know what to expect. Comfortable, elegant, and with trigger feedback that makes a game like Forza even more immersive.

I've read a rumbling here and there about the bumpers not being as responsive for some gamers. I am not sure how they're holding the controller, but my time with it has been snappy and responsive from anywhere I press on them. But I do have long fingers so I typically hold the device with the index finger draped over the bumper and trigger simultaneously and apply pressure as needed to the bumper. It's been working well so far, but I have yet to play a First Person Shooter. Perhaps a game that is more hectic will see my opinion change, but out of the gate I'd call it a delight to hold and to use.

GAMES GAMES GAMES

Lets get this out of the way. No one expects a launch lineup to be all that remarkable. We expect a few things that show us the potential of what the machine will become. That's not to say that a weak lineup is acceptable, but I don't really think this is all that weak of a launch for either machine. Losing Watch_Dogs as a launch title was a tough blow though. But what's on offer is still reasonably impressive stuff. From titles that are basically more of the same but prettier, to a few moments where "next gen" is on full display.

Dead Rising 3

This game gave me my first "next gen" moment. Shortly after the opening, you are let loose in the city. And it is a sea of undead. Not like past Dead Rising games either. There are no copies, you won't see the same old woman wearing the same flowery shirt every couple of yards. It was, in a word, impressive. All of these potential threats staring towards you trying to hinder your escape from the events that preceded it. It was an overwhelming feeling. And it was a darn good time once I dove in and really started knocking around some zombies.

Combo weapons, voice commands, Smartglass... whatever. It's all functional and while neat, it never gave me that same sense of awe, that same WOW factor that the sea of undead gave me.

Forza Motorsport 5

It shouldn't really be a surprise to me, but this game has seen the bulk of my next gen playtime. I've always liked Forza, but this one feels very well put together. The impulse triggers on the new controller lend a feeling of weight to your actions. Feeling the triggers pulse when you're in danger of losing traction is exciting, and immersive.

The Drivatar (ugh) system works really well too. Much to my surprise. The thing I thought was going to be a throwaway gimmick, ends up breathing new life into what had become a pretty standard experience. Always had fun playing Forza, but 3 and 4 are virtually indistinguishable from one another if you boil it down. Sure 4 was prettier, but only incrementally so.

If you dig Forza, this one is a no-brainer.

Ryse: Son of Rome

This is a game I'm going to have to call a total surprise. I bought it wanting to get the Xbox platform's prettiest game and this one looks like it.

What I wasn't expecting was to actually get drawn into it. I've only played the first level though. Perhaps after playing it for a while, I'll get tired of it or it will seem too repetetive and I'll mark it down for that. But this is a first impressions and my first impressions are almost completely positive.

The combat puts me in mind of Batman: Arkham Asylum, though in a much more shallow way. But the beats of the timing while combating the Barbarians made my mind go there immediately. It's never going to be the best game of the launch, but serviceable and fun is kind of all I needed it to be.

Killer Instinct

I'd like to go into more depth on this one. But I've honestly only played it for a miniscule amount of time. A couple of random matches and a few lessons in the dojo. Initial impressions are good, and I'm eager to dig in and play some more. But I want to get the fight stick before I spend too much time with this one.

Beyond the veil

Video games, as an artistic exercise, are mostly smoke and mirrors. Those interested in game design, the way games are built, and the process of creating the illusion already know this. These are worlds, characters, and stories built from, essentially, math calculations being processed super fast to build something that is hopefully fun and enjoyable to interact with.

What I'd like to discuss, however, is the enjoyment factor. And does knowing these things in any way take something from the experience for you the player? Now don't get me wrong on this. I'm not suggesting that gaming is meant to be appreciated merely as a mathematical series of processes. It's the illusion, and it's execution, that take the design from teraflops and textures to work of art. As with all works of art. Starry Night is more than just a collection of oil based smears on a piece of cloth for instance. Star Wars is more than a series of flashing lights and sounds played at a certain frame rate on a big silk screen.

I've known people over the years who never enjoyed watching the "making of" features for films or television series that they liked. I've heard it said that it breaks the illusion. And while I can understand that to a degree, I've always been the type who liked to dig in to the nuts and bolts. Yes, I enjoyed Star Wars, but I also enjoyed the exercise of learning about stop-motion animation as a child. I enjoyed seeing Anthony Daniels without the metal costume and learning that R2-D2 was actually Kenny Baker in a trashcan with some lights attached. It didn't keep me from enjoying the art they created to know how they made it.

Gaming however is a unique medium. The illusion needs to be created and maintained in a different way because of the players involvement. Things like clipping issues and bug outs can break the illusion in a way that a faux pa in a film just can't. Knowing that the one Stormtrooper is going to bump his head isn't the same as falling through the world geometry. That was still a real man who bumped his real head on a real thing. But falling through the game world shows you just how empty it all is if you look beyond the illusion. Suddenly THE THROAT OF THE WORLD is no longer a gigantic mountain to be crested, it's a series of triangles with a fancy texture laid over top. It's no longer The Dark Knight Batman, it's just a wire-frame that keeps gliding effortlessly through his own "cape" and his arms have no more density than a ghost. If you don't compartmentalize the information, the illusion can be compromised for some.

I think this is why the best games are the ones that really immerse you. But those are also the ones that have to work twice as hard. I really loved Fallout 3. But the bugs in that game stood out ten fold because the experience itself was so engaging. I know there are gamers who've been with Fallout since the beginning and who find 3 to be a bitter pill to swallow, but that's not what I'm discussing here. Everyone's experience is different, as is the nature of gaming as a hobby, but that is a discussion for some other time. What is relevant is that setting the game in my nation's capital was brilliant design. It won't be as powerful for people living outside the USA. But for those of us who do, it immediately lends and bit of credibility to the scenario. Seeing the White House, seeing the Washington Monument, seeing the place where the leaders of the world should have been meeting for peace talks now lying in tattered ruins from a nuclear war. That is powerful. Even more so if you grew up during the cold war like I did. If you let yourself invest in the illusion anyway. And it's made all the more difficult to forgive it when the screen begins to tear and you start to see beyond the veil. Falling through a broken texture is doubly frustrating because of how powerful the images and setting have made the rest of the world. The Super Mutant who can walk effortlessly through the door you closed to escape his assault breaks the whole thing twice as much because of the quality in other areas of the game.

So I'd love to hear what others think of this if you are so inclined. Does breaking the illusion take you out of the experience in a meaningful way, or have you resigned yourself to not focusing on the bad? How much are you willing to endure before it becomes a deal breaker? Does a smaller issue take you out of the moment as much as larger issues? For example, when traffic in Grand Theft Auto V behaves in ways that no human would drive, is that enough to break the illusion? Or does it have to be a big old bug out before you care? I'd really like to hear the thoughts of others.

The advertising issue

Let me preface this with a quick disclaimer. I'm not the type of person who finds advertising as something inherently bad. Advertisers represent products that I often am interested in, and if those advertising dollars can go to websites, television channels, and thereby content producers I like to support, then I'm really fine with that.

That said, there has always been an issue in gaming media that walks a thin line between acceptable and worrying. Namely, the only advertisers on this and many other gaming websites are game publishers. Which can be fine. If I'm watching a review for Battlefield then it would show I have an interest in modern military shooters and a Call of Duty ad wouldn't be out of the question. Jack Donaghe would have called that "Synergy".

But three times in the past week, I've had an odd thing happen. Assassin's Creed, Battlefield, and Batman: Arkham Origins all three had ads for the very game they were reviewing on the front of the review proper. This is a concern I can't completely ignore.

Now I know, we all know, that a review in this day and age is an opinion of one person and is not to be taken as an all encompassing encapsulation of all you need to know. It is but one step in making an informed buying decision. Online videos, other sites reviews, and word of mouth should all be considered if you're on the fence about a purchase. We're smart people, we know how this works.

And yet, there's something about this practice that is just disconcerting. Off-putting. Cross promotional material is nothing new of course. But right there prefacing the very review is this 30 or 40 second ad pushing the product in my face. I find this practice is skating a very thin line toward unethical. And this isn't being levied at the reviewers themselves. Most places don't let the writers of articles or columns pick the ads, they sell "air time" to an ad service or on bigger sites they have a department that handles it and is kept separate from the content creators. Carolyn's own review for Batman and the 6.0 score would tell you that her opinions don't match up with the ad that it was prefaced by. But I can't help but feeling that there is just something wrong with letting the very game that I'm researching being the funding behind the research.

Now it's easy to say something uninformed. "The review is bought" or some other such nonsense. I don't personally believe that. I just can't fathom anyone spending money to "buy" a review. There are simply too many outlets that it would serve no real purpose. At some point you're going to spend more than you could make and with whistleblowing at an all time high in our online world, I can't -nay, won't- accept that this practice would go unnoticed. Even if it did happen, there are plenty of credible YouTubers, Let's Players, and industry critics out there and no one could buy them all. Someone would have been able to provide concrete evidence that this took place. Some evidence of the practice beyond blind supposition by this point. I'm getting off message here, but I thought it valuable to the discussion to state my stance.

With advertisers having a seemingly unfettered access to put their footage right alongside the same material that is meant to critique said product, it's sets a dissonant tone before the review even has a chance to enlighten or inform. Even a scathing review that is coupled with the cherry picked footage of an advertisement as it's lead in smacks of putting the cart before the horse. And it's a practice I wish the enthusiast press could move away from.

What concerns me the most though, is how would you even try to fix it? Who else would use a games site for advertising and even if they did, would it see dividends for them in the long term? And I don't even particularly dislike game ads per se. Even if you set out to make the untouchable game site that didn't take money from game advertisers, you'd go bankrupt. The best I guess I could hope for would be that an ad for the game itself wouldn't appear on the review, but even that is going to take vigilance to maintain and is going to likely mean asking someone to write some dynamic code or algorithm. Is it even possible when ads often go through advertising services nowadays?

So is this a problem for you? Or am I reading too much into it? Or do you believe I'm naive in choosing to believe that the creators and advertisers aren't involved in a conspiracy? I'd really like to know what others think and feel on this matter.

Shameless Self Promotion

Over the past several months I've been under contract working on an art project I can't talk about. However about a month ago (give or take) the same people paying me for one project assigned me a second side project and it is finally live and ready to show off.

As avid StarCraft 2 players, the guys who hired me wanted to make a line of shirts loosely inspired by the rise of "e-sports" and their favorite game. The results are now available to check out at this WEBSITE. Each artist who worked on these has a profile page that shows off the things they worked on specifically and the link will take you to mine.

:)

One scary game

Dead Rising 2 is finally here and I have to say that this is one scary game. Of course I'm not talking about the games plot or narrative though. I'm talking about the obscene load times. And brother let me tell you, a developer letting these kinds of issues plague an otherwise awesome game in this day and age is a concept so terrifying I have trouble wrapping my head around it.

It's really my only complaint with Dead Rising 2. Other than this one glaring flaw this is exactly what I wanted from my favorite Xbox game's second outing. More things to explore, more zombies, more weapons, more save slots. It's got it all! I just wish it didn't take so long to get it.

Oh well. I guess good things come to those who wait... and wait. ;)

Finally!

After 4 long years of waiting, there is finally some new Dead Rising fun to be had today. Dead Rising 2: Case Zero has been released for the XBLA. And it's exactly what I was hoping for.

Make no mistake, Dead Rising 1 did have it's faults. But for me, personally, none of them were deal breakers in the slightest. In fact, it's my favorite game on the 360 and of this generation of consoles. It even edges out my beloved Halo series! With so many people complaining about things from the first one, it would have been easy for CAPCOM to make a ton of overhauls to the gameplay and change a bunch of stuff.

But what they did with Case Zero was make minor changes that streamline a few things, opened up the save system a little bit, and kept most of the other things just the way I liked them in DR1. This bite sized version of Dead Rising 2 is a short prequel set 3 years after Frank West's adventure in Willamette and 2 years before next months Dead Rising 2 full version. And since fans of the first have been waiting so long it's a nice little taste to tide us over until the full version drops.

This game is a full featured arcade title with achievements and multiple endings and it only puts you back $5. So stop reading this and go download it! Katey needs her Zombrex damn it, get to zombie killin!

So dissapointed

Spiderman 3 is out. And I haven't even bothered to pick it up. After two stellar installments in the series the third just fell so flat. It was so crammed full and most of it wasn't necessary. If they had left Venom for another installment it would have fixed most of it. Although there were still some pretty stupid decisions made throughout the movie.

Like for example the giant testing facility just out in the open that you can happen to come across while running from the law. HUH??? What the hell people? Would it really have been that tough to show him break into a place to try and lay low? Or anything moderately believable? I'm all for comic book logic, but some things are just stupid. And that's one of them.

And what court of justice saysit's fineto lay waste to half the NYPD then make it all OK by saying "Oops, sorry... uh, Venom made me do it"?