Words from the Phantom
As their feet, weak and mostly silent, crossed the cobblestone walkway in Paris, as their voices rose in quiet desperation in Berlin, as the singing faded to silence in New York, as world over they dropped their eyes and shuddered, this is the blog of a phantom.
think we may have gone overboard. For weeks we have been getting complaints that Broken was too easy. We needed more challenge. That was the main feedback we were getting. Well people are going to get what they wished for. Throughout the day we will be implementing new special walls and advanced mechanics for each world. We have our Sanity Bar up and running and beating these levels before the time runs out is going to be an incredible challenge. Tonight I created the Rebel levels. Now included in these levels are kill walls which reset the characters when hit and greatly decrease sanity, damage walls which subtract sanity at a much greater rate when hit, and our garbage mechanic. Being all rebellious, the Rebel doesn't really like cleaning up after himself. So he leaves trash in his wake. Trash he can't walk back over. So be careful where you step, or you might block your only path to victory with piles of trash. They said the game was too easy. Well let's hear them call this easy. The real killer will be the final vertigo levels. Most players were having a lot of trouble with the vertigo levels already, so we decided to slaughter them. Now with kill and damage walls plus a camera that rotates every couple of seconds, anyone who beats these levels will truly be master gamers.
Honestly, I think we may have gone a bit too far. These levels are cruel. While it's too late to change them for this version, we may go back and make them a bit easier after Christmas Break. We're working as hard as we can to have this game ready in only four days. Our art and sound still aren't ready so it is going to be a race to the finish line to get everything done by Tuesday. By midnight tonight all of the levels will be done and working. That will happen no matter what. We need to test for the next three days so we are certain everything works. While people are testing we will add the graphics and audio. GUI and menus are partially implemented. Everything is coming together. It's going to be a tough couple of days but we are going to have this working on time. Release Version 1.0 is going to be presented in a week and a half.
We have plenty of plans for next year. We have the core down. Next year is going to be about adding more levels, more personalities, an online leaderboard, iOS and Mac versions, tons of UI changes including a level selector, and additional art and audio. It's going to be a hell of a year. I can't wait.
Mario Kart 7 was reviewed by Gamespot today and given an 8.0. Tom McShea claimed that by removing the random elements of the game and focusing on skill, Mario Kart 7 has improved over previous entries. On the surface such a statement sounds obviously true, but the question is, does a fairer Mario Kart make for a better Mario Kart?
One thing has always separated Nintendo multiplayer games from those made by other companies. Especially this generation, Nintendo has always allowed for a great degree of chance in its games. In Mario Kart those nasty shells could knock any player from their hard earned position, while in Super Smash Brothers you had items like the hammer that could turn the tide of battle in moments. In most competitive games, elements like these would be seen as game breakers. Call of Duty players would be horrified if a random item dropped them from first place to last place without any chance for them to dodge or defend against it. Such an item would ruin the balance of the game. The same goes for a fighter like Street Figher, or a racing game like Forza Motorsport. Chance is often viewed as the antithesis of what you want in a quality multiplayer game. For every move their should be a counter. No arbitrary system should change who wins and who loses.
Yet Nintendo games buck this tradition. Their multiplayer games are all about chance yet they are beloved by players across the globe. Why? Because for Nintendo it doesn't matter who wins and who loses, it matters that everyone enjoys themselves while playing. It's similar to their structure in the co-op platformers they did for the Wii. Not all players in New Super Mario Brothers Wii have to be good to have fun. Players can suck, or they can goof around, and as long as one player is decent, they can all have fun. A similar system is at work in Mario Kart. Nintendo knows that the average Mario Kart player isn't a hardcore gamer, and even if they are, they'll probably be playing with people who aren't hardcore gamers. So Nintendo made the choice to let bad players have a chance to win by adding in those items. With the help of bullet bill and the blue shell, a player in last place can end up in first place without any real effort whatsoever. This system infuriates hardcore gamers, but it is the very reason Mario Kart is so successful.
Now, with Mario Kart 7, Nintendo has introduced several defensive items that can ensure that a player in first stays in first. Plus, the addition of alternate paths means that players who know a course will have better success than newcomers. Mario Kart has suddenly gone from casual to hardcore. The chance element has been lowered and the skill element has been increased. For us hardcore gamers that may be a great change. But I have to question if the people who made Mario Kart DS and Mario Kart Wii so successful will enjoy this new take on the franchise. And I have to wonder if hardcore gamers will even take the time to realize that the game has been changed to more appeal to them. What you have is Nintendo following through on its promise to focus more on the core gamer, but ignoring the fact that the core gamer isn't the type of person who is going to play Mario Kart regardless of how much skill is now involved in playing it. So you get sites like GameSpot giving the game a good score and saying that the racing is improved, but ignoring the fact that the game has been improved for them and not for the audience who is actually going to be playing the game. So for you and me, yes, this is probably the best Mario Kart yet. But for your son or little sister, or whatever young gamer is on your Christmas shopping list, this game suddenly seems like a less appealing choice than older entries in the series.
So Nintendo, you've made your choice. I hope that choice pays off for you more than I expect it to.
After 3 days of downloading, Need For Speed The Run was finally fully installed on my computer earlier tonight. After playing the game for several hours I have a couple thoughts to share mainly with the presentation aspects.
First off, why the hell would you cap a racing game's framerate? Yes, The Run only runs at the slow speed of 30 frames per second. I assume this was done to keep the control responsiveness in line with the console versions, but I really don't care. If I have a computer that can run the game at double the speed I should be allowed to run it at double the speed. Artificially limiting performance is just plain stupid. The game even includes a V-Sync option, but why? If the framerate is capped at 30 fps you can never get out of sync. It's ridiculous. I was so upset I exited the game and headed for the config file only to find that there was no config file. So they limit my framerate and then tell me I can't go in and edit any of the settings they didn't deem important enough to put in the game? You can't even turn on MSAA. But the PC stupidity gets even worse. The mouse has absolutely no effect in the game. That's right, you can use the mouse to click on options or navigate through the menu. The keyboard acts as your sole form of control. Seriously this has to be one of the worst PC ports I have ever experienced in my life, except for one thing.
As a side effect of using the Frostbite 2 engine, Black Box had a ton of built in effects and settings they could enable for PC players who had the juice to use them. Since I couldn't get over 30 fps anyways, I decided there was no harm in maxing out the graphics settings. And let me tell you, maxed out this is simply the best looking racing game I have ever played. Move over Gran Turismo 5 and Forza Motorsport 4, there is a new king in town. What's amazing is the environments. You won't really appreciate it unless you've actually traveled through these areas, but they capture the mood of each area of the US better than any game I've seen. The winding forest roads of the Northwest give way to miles of desert, which in turn give way to the stormy emptiness of the Midwest. Each of those three areas (all I've played so far) really nail the setting. The mountains east of San Fransisco are foggy, with thick walls of evergreens stretching as far as the eye can see. The roads wind along the treacherous peaks and the skies are clear and gray. The next section is Death Valley, a stretch of desert named for its brutal heat and lack of resources. Getting stuck in death valley really can lead to death as towns are dozens of miles apart and vast stretches of empty dirt really do seem endless to the lost traveller. The use of heat shimmer, glaring sunlight, and massive draw distances really make this game feel right.
Soon after you reach the bright lights of Las Vegas, followed by flat open fields of the midwest. Anyone who has travelled that area of the world knows how huge everything seems. The sky box in these levels really defines them. Anyone whose been in a massive midwest lightning storm, with clouds stretching on for miles and not a single tree in walking distance, knows the electricity in the air is palpable. I have never played a game that really captured the mood of the endless fields of the midwest before The Run. It's really something else. So if you have a chance to play Need For Speed The Run on a beefy computer, and have experience travelling the lonely stretch of road between San Fransisco and the East Coast, I would recommend it without hesitation.
The question many of you might have right now is, "How does the game actually play?" The answer is that it has a really unique feel. Jeff over on Giantbomb described the racing in The Run as somewhat running on autopilot. You still have to control your car but there are a lot of assists helping you. Jeff wasn't a fan of this, but I really like it. It's really easy to zig zag through traffic and make sharp, fast turns and I like that. I just think the whole thing feels good. I guess it doesn't give you the pinpoint control you might want if you like simulation racing, but it makes it fun to race through these open stretches of road. Races are all point to point in style. You have to either make it to the end of the race in a certain amount of time, or overtake a certain number of other drivers before reaching a certain spot. Both of these objectives are enjoyable.
The much talked about quick time event sections have only popped up twice and were simple enough to be non-offensive while letting you do some out of the car acrobatics. The real point of these sections is to get you to a new vehicle class. You don't earn new cars every race or anything like that. You have a limited set of cars in a bunch of different classes. At predefined points in the story you have to get out of your car and find a new one. This new car will of course be much faster than your old car. You can switch between the different cars in your class at a gas station along the road, but doing so takes you out of the race for a moment, so I have honestly only used the initial car I chose and the new one I got in Las Vegas. Suffice to say if you are the type of person who plays racing games to collect or tune cars then this is definitely not the game for you.
I am really enjoying Need For Speed The Run. I don't think it is for everyone, but I am having fun with its forgiving handling and beautiful scenery. I'd especially recommend this game to anyone who wants to check out the landscape of the Northern USA. I assure you it is a beautiful sight and one that really hasn't been explored in games maybe as much as it should. I got The Run for $20 on Black Friday, and I don't think I would spend $60 on it, but if you can find it on sale then give it a try and you just might be surprised.
This has been a slow week for the team. With Thanksgiving taking over the past three or four days we haven't had a chance to get a ton of stuff done. But it has been a while since my last post so here is a nice bullet list of our efforts for the past couple of weeks
- We now have a total of 80 levels. About 30 of those levels are currently being edited to improve balance
- Our initial level designs were too easy, with players beating the initial 40 levels in around 20 minutes total. Not good. We have decided to implement kill walls that will kill the player upon impact. These walls will force the player to use different strategies to beat each level instead of focusing on a single dominant strategy.
- The second set of levels are testing well. The Vertigo levels are proving to be very challenging, and people are enjoying the concept of the Pyro levels as well.
- Our Sanity Bar will be up by the end of the day today. The Sanity Bar is a meter that decreases when time progresses or when the player dies or restarts. Players are scored based on the remaining sanity they have at the end of the level.
- Art is still being drawn by our artist Amanda and should be done by this weekend.
- All told we are on schedule to have a completed game ready by next Tuesday. Closed Beta testing will begin when the sanity bar and new levels are implemented. Hopefully this will be on Thursday. The weekend will be spent polishing and balancing, as well as adding art assets.
So that is the summary of our efforts. Version 1.0 will be released on December 13th. Next semester we will be working on Version 2.0 of Broken where we will be creating a ton of new features and porting the game to iOS.
Well I hope all my American friends had a happy Thanksgiving and a fruitful Black Friday. I chose to skip the lines and sleep all day, but I realized today I am behind on my game impressions. So for your reading pleasure I have continuing impressions of Warhammer 40K and Rage.
I had high hopes for this game. It was developed by the excellent Relic, a studio who had previously worked on some of the best RTS's this side of Blizzard. And it drew from a deep fiction that dates back to the 80's. Subtitled Space Marine, this game is about the very first Space Marines created in gaming. I guess the problem with the game is twofold. First, the balance simply isn't right. Orcs are weak saw blade fodder but in this game an Orc Warboss manages to go toe to toe with a Chaos Lord and survive. It's hard to make a game that stays true to the fiction of the series while also making sense in a video game, but this game just doesn't quite get it right. The art of the game is great, but there have been so many games copying this style of art in the past 20+ years that it seems really cliche. I think in the end I would have really liked to see a story that didn't revolve around Orcs, Space Marines, and Chaos Marines. They are the most overplayed factions in the series, and the ones that have been most copied in other games. There are a ton of cool species and factions to play as in the Warhammer universe. Why make a game that puts you head to head against the best and brightest of the genre, instead of having you play as one of the more interesting and unique races in the Warhammer universe?
That cliche art and setting feeds into the main problem of the game, and that is that the game overstays its welcome. People have called this game repetitive, and I'd agree. The first eight hours or so have you fighting the same 5 enemies in different combinations over and over again. You do gain additional powers and weapons as time goes on, but I never really felt like I was becoming significantly more powerful. None of the weapons were very creative or especially fun to shoot, and the melee combat was shallow and dull. The highlights are a couple sequences where you strap on a jet pack and tear enemies to shreds with a giant axe or hammer. Sadly there are only a couple such sections in the game thus far, and I'm two chapters from the end.
Spoiler Alert About Really Obvious Twist: About 3/4 of the way through the game the Chaos Marines come into the picture. You'd think these enemies would be far more interesting to fight, but they basically act as Orcs with more health and less suicidal tendencies. They did manage to kill me several times, but I never felt like I had just moved from an enemy that I could slaughter by the tens of thousands to one that was my equal in combat. So the combat is decent, but without any sort of set piece battles or compelling story twists all you have is the combat. And because the combat doesn't really evolve from beginning to end Space Marine ends up being a pretty boring game that I honestly can't recommend unless you have nothing else to play. In all honesty it isn't a bad game by any means, but as I've said before, the standards in the shooter market have risen to such a high level that average is the new bad and in a way that is a shame. Now that we've been spoiled by top of the line shooters like Gears of War, Halo, Resistance, Crysis and so forth, it is hard to accept anything but the best of the best when it comes to shooters.
Speaking of shooters, with the arrival of my new graphics card I was able to play Rage. I'm only about half way through at most, but there are a lot of interesting things to be said about Rage. What we have in Rage is a game that has been in development for at least five years and at the time of its conception was quite revolutionary. But in the five years since, several games have done the post-apocalyptic RPG/Shooter hybrid thing. Rage takes a slightly different approach than games like Fallout and Borderlands in that the shooting in Rage is not stat based but skill based. But the setup is so close to Fallout, and the structure is so close to Borderlands, that Rage has trouble finding its niche in a crowded market. If there is anything Rage does right it is the shooting. The technical wizardry of John Carmack has allowed Rage to be a 60 fps game on all platforms and you can feel it the minute you start playing. The combat is incredibly smooth and just feels really great. With the controller there is a degree of aim assist but the response times on the controller input are so small that player accuracy is just a lot higher than in most other console shooters. Meanwhile the graphics have both good and bad sides to them. The good is that they allow Id to hit that 60 fps while still making a superb looking game when viewed as a whole. Seriously, if you don't stare in awe at some of the scenes in Rage you are a really extreme graphics whore.
There is a reason graphics whores have complained about this game though. Up close Carmack's Mega Textures are a blurry mess. This isn't a flaw of the technology per say, but a limitation on disk space. There are hundreds of gigabytes worth of textures on Id's servers, but the developers had to reduce those textures to something that could fit on two or three DVD's. Weighing in at 20+ GB's it is the biggest game released on the 360 thus far and nearly saturates a single layer blu ray. But to get nearly a terabyte worth of textures into that small of an application meant that the textures had to be compressed a lot. I'd imagine the textures you see in the game are only about 2-4% of the quality of textures on Id's servers. It makes Rage look extremely blurry up close. But it also means that every environment in the game world is unique. You won't find identical bases here. Every area has its own look and the variety in visuals is one of the key draws of the game.
The AI is also highly varied. Each enemy type behaves quite differently. You'll fight a variety of mutants and bandits in the first half of the game, and they all behave in unique but highly believable ways. Fighting the enemies in Rage is just plain fun due to the responsive controls, powerful weapons, and intelligent enemies. But, and you know there would be a but, there just aren't a lot of cool moments in Rage. You never feel like the tension is rising or that the stakes are getting higher. You'll fight in battles with this heavy orchestral music playing in the background and explosions going on all around you, but there is never any real sense of danger in these situations. Id seems content to just put you in dungeon after dungeon doing the same couple of tasks over and over. The enemies may change regularly, and you also tend to get a variety of new weapons and gadgets at a regular pace, but it doesn't really help the feeling that Rage is missing some of those Oh Snap! moments that you find in most top tier shooters.
I need to make one more thing clear for those who haven't played this game yet and are thinking about trying it. Rage is not an RPG. Don't expect to level up, or experience a non-linear narrative or anything like that. There are side quests to embark on and a decent sized world to explore, but Rage is very much a shooter. As far as upgrades go, think of the game like Bioshock. You will buy parts that upgrade your weapons, and find and create more powerful ammunition, but don't expect stats and numbers popping out of enemy's heads. You can upgrade your armor but there is no customization involved in this. You simply go from weak armor to stronger armor in a linear fashion. And you do collect various items that you can craft with and trinkets to sell at shops, but none of this is as in depth as you might find in other RPG's. You can't, for example, craft any items without the schematics. In most RPG's, even if you don't have the schematic or recipe you can still mix and match ingredients and hope to get a good result, but not in Rage. The game will even tell you whether an object you pick up can be used in crafting items, or if its only purpose is to be sold. It's essentially a game with RPG trappings on top of shooter gameplay, and I honestly have to question Tom Willits and John Carmack on their decisions to make Rage this style of game. The question really remains, is this style of game better than the Call of Duty style? I think a lot of people would say no. I think others would say yes, but in the end I think if Id makes a sequel I'd like to see them add more modern shooter trappings on top of their free form shooting and RPG structure.
And that does it for tonight. Don't forget to check out the final day of the Steam sale tomorrow!
I just wanted to give another shout out for the Humble Indie Bundles. Over the past year I've participated in five Humble Indie Bundle events. For those who don't know, the bundles give you a collection of Indie games for any amount. You can pay 1 cent if you want. Much better would be if you at least gave five or ten dollars. Part of the proceeds (you decide how much) go towards several game related charities while the rest goes to the developers and the group that set up the bundle. You can choose to give all your money to charity, or all to the developers, or half and half or whatever split you want. Almost all the games work on Mac, Linux, and PC, and are DRM free. They include Steam keys when the games are on Steam. Even if you already own some or all of the games, then you can give your keys to fellow gamer, or use Steam trading to trade your games for another. Even if you never play them, this is a great cheap way to support some amazing charities and possibly get some cheap gifts for those gamers on your Christmas list.
Also, for those who have missed it so far, the Fall Steam Sale is going on right now. So far I've picked up every Oddworld game for a total of $3.50 and Deus Ex: Human Revolution for $25. On Origin I bought Need For Speed: The Run for $20, and if you were lucky enough to be on there today you could even find Batman: Arkham City for $25, but I'm waiting for Steam to have a sale on that one. Games have been majorly discounted this year. Even retail stores in the US had huge Black Friday sales (Black Friday is the day after the US holiday of Thanksgiving and the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. Most retailers have ridiculous deals for shoppers who arrive early in the morning (like 4:00 AM early) and decent sales throughout the day) with Battlefield 3 going for below $30. The same was true for Arkham City, and several other games. One retailer was offering a $100 gift card with the purchase of a 360 Kinect Bundle, while another was selling the 4 GB 360 for around $100. Overall it was a good year for gamers, and the Steam sale is ongoing through the rest of the weekend so stop by tomorrow and Monday to get some ridiculous prices that you can only find on Steam.
It wasn't until PETA made a big fuss about Mario wearing fur that I realized that many people thought Mario's Tanooki suit was based off a raccoon. If you don't have raccoons in your part of the world they look like this:
That looks quite a bit like Mario's suit, hence why people tend to believe that the tanooki and the raccoon are one in the same. Well let me shock you. There is in fact an animal called the tanuki that is native to Japan. It looks like this:
The tanuki has numerous legends surrounding it. According to myth, the tanuki can shapeshift and fly, hence why Mario shifts into a tanuki and then flies. If you want to learn more about the tanuki there is a great resource in the form of the Studio Ghibli movie Pom Poko which features the animals as its protagonists. Isao Takahata likes making movies based off of Japanese myth and pop-culture, and from my understanding, his version of the tanuki is spot on to the actual myths surrounding their powers.
So next time your gamer friend talks about Mario's raccoon suit, be sure to be an ass and correct him as the suit is a tanooki suit not a raccoon suit. Also, I don't know why Nintendo decided to spell it Tanooki, not Tanuki, but I assume the translators were unaware it was an actual word and just translated it phonetically.
Well life is not treating me all that well lately. I went to work on my game yesterday and found that for whatever reason my display driver was crashing every time I clicked on an object in the game game engine. I updated my drivers and let my computer rest for a while, but neither of those options helped. I honestly couldn't figure it out. In the end I realized I just didn't have the time to tinker with this for a week, so I bought a new graphics card. It wasn't a top of the line card, but it was pretty decent, a Geforce GTX 560 ti with 2 GB of RAM. I'm sick and tired of AMD. It feels like every other game I try to play doesn't run right on AMD, be it because of a lack of CUDA support, or a lack of PhysX support, or just because of sh*tty drivers. So I've moved on to greener pastures. But that was $280 down the drain, so my plans to get a Wii have once more been delayed. I swear I don't know if I'm ever going to get one of those things. So new computer part means my games should run better, and also I should be able to build games more quickly. I've been needing an excuse to upgrade my graphics card and I'm glad I have found one. Now I won't have to worry about AMD drivers and I can play the half dozen Steam games I own that just don't feel like functioning on an AMD card. Good news for all. And with 2 GB of graphics RAM I could even play Battlefield 3 on High at 60 fps in 1080p. I won't be because I have no intention of buying Battlefield 3, but it's nice that I have the option. Let's hope this is the last computer part of mine to break for a while. I have spent way too much on computer parts this year. Of course I could always use a faster processor...
The Fruit fly is one of the most deadly flies on the planet. Weighing nearly a full pound, it has a six inch wingspan, can eat through a man's flesh in mere minutes and usually travels in packs of up to 1 million. Humans are advised to evacuate the building upon seeing a fruit fly and call for professional help.
Actually fruit flies are pretty harmless, and really tiny, but they do usually multiply rather quickly. I realized this when I woke up today. I walked into my kitchen and before me were dozens, if not hundreds, of fruit flies. f***. While a fruit fly won't harm you, they are quite dirty and enjoy laying their eggs in your food. I quickly threw away all my trash and open food and then rushed to the store to buy some fly paper. I hung the sticky stuff up all over my kitchen and lamented the fact that I wasn't going to be eating in there anytime soon. Now I'm just playing games, hoping all those flies will commit suicide sooner rather than later because I'm getting hungry and everywhere is closed by this time of night. The funny thing is that I haven't bought any fruit recently. So I'm curious how these flies got in my apartment in the first place.
So about those games. As I mentioned last blog, all three of my games from Gamefly arrived yesterday. I decided to start by playing some Motorstorm. I rarely play through the entirety of a racing game and often I'll play the game over the period of several years. So I popped in Motorstorm: Apocalypse expecting to play a couple races and move on. Instead I played through a third of the game in a single sitting. Suffice to say the first third of Motorstorm is ridiculously easy. I lost a grand total of one race out of the 10 or so included in the first act. You play as three different characters in Apocalypse. Yes, this is one of those racing games with a story. This one is even more ridiculous than most. You play as three levels of racers who have come to a city about to experience a massive earthquake. You must race through the crumbling metropolis, surviving falling buildings, crazy citizens and even a paramilitary organization come in to restore order. Why would a government send in the military to take control of a city that is about to be leveled? Why would anyone choose to race in an earthquake? And how would they even know an earthquake was going to hit in the first place? I don't have answers to any of this, and honestly the game is more full of plot holes than pot holes, and that is saying quite a bit. I normally would say that this isn't the type of game that you need a good plot to have fun, but the thing is, if you are going to put in the effort to tell this much of a story in a racing game you might as well actually tell a story that makes sense.
Anyways, the gameplay effects of all this is that the tracks you race on will often crumble beneath you as you race. This will open up new paths and close off old ones, meaning you always have to stay on your toes as you race. The problem is that some of the explosions are so massive that they obscure your view of the road and you end up crashing into the debris. In most games crashing every five seconds would be a disaster and a game breaker, but this is Motorstorm. You reset to the track almost instantly and can make up a dozen places in half a lap, so unless you crash at the very end, you can almost always make it back into first place by the end of the race. Moreover, the game takes its time ramping up in difficulty. While playing as the rookie you only need to place in the top five to progress, while playing as the intermediate racer requires that you get in the top three. It isn't until the final third of the game that you need to place first, and by that point you should have the layout of the tracks down. There are maybe six or seven tracks in the game, but the game does a good job of mixing things up by having them destroy in a different way each time you race on them. At one point a track by the sea that was pretty tame the first time around gets hit by a hurricane, making the race as much about avoiding flying debris as it is about passing other racers.
Honestly I don't think the whole track destruction, action movie racing game genre has the right idea about racing games. It is cool in theory to race on a track that is blowing up all around you. But the games suffer from a similar problem to scripted action games. When you do exactly what the game wants you to do it is exhilarating. When you don't the whole experience comes crashing down. In a game like Uncharted the designers can mostly funnel you down the path they want, but in a racing game, by the time you realize that the building you are driving next to is going to collapse you sometimes just don't have the time to react. What should be a rush becomes a matter of trial and error. Like I said before, Motorstorm gets over this problem because crashing has never been a big deal in Motorstorm races. It is often part of the fun. But no Motorstorm has ever required you to get first place in any of its races, so I'm interested if the final third of the game manages to avoid the trial and error frustration that is inherent to this type of racing game.
The other game I played so far was Warhammer 40K: Space Marine. It is pretty fun so far. I decided that playing on easy was the best choice for this game. Since you are fighting Orcs, it makes sense that you would be able to kill pretty much all of them without breaking a sweat. A Space Marine in Warhammer is the ultimate fighting machine. It is common for a single marine to take out hundreds of thousands of orcs in his life. A single space marine is the equivalent of 100,000 Orcs. I was sad to see that, even on easy, a couple of the orcs didn't die in seconds at my blade, and one of them even had a chance of killing me all on his own. The problem in making a game about a Space Marine fighting orcs is that it should be all but impossible to lose. It would take hundreds of the most powerful Orc warlords to even stand a chance against a Space Marine. But making a game that easy isn't really fun. So instead you find yourself being felled by only a dozen Orcs. It doesn't fit with the fiction, but oh well. In the hour or two that I played I only died twice and once was at least against a dozen suicide bombers who all exploded on me at once and the other was when I was fighting a battleship single handedly while being attacked by a dozen of the strongest Orcs I've seen in the game from ground level. So if you can get past the whole 'this isn't how Warhammer is supposed to work' thing I think you'll find a game that is pretty fun. I've heard it can get repetitive. I'm a fourth of the way through and have fought only the same three or four enemies over and over, so I'll be interested to see if there are some new enemies to fight against as the game moves on.
Well I have to go check on the fruit fly army so I'll talk to you all soon. Night.
So the games I ordered from Gamefly came today. I think that's the first time anything from Gamefly has ever arrived earlier than scheduled. I was initially pleased. I opened the boxes and found everything in like new condition. I put in Motorstorm and went on to PSN to retrieve my bonus content for buying the game "new". I took out the voucher, turned it around and couldn't find the number to put in. I started reading the voucher in more detail. The voucher kept saying to enter the code below, but there was no code. It was then that I noticed that part of the voucher, directly in the center, had been covered in tape. Is this some way to protect the code? I tried to peel it off, but it wasn't peeling. I pulled a bit harder and by mistake tore the tape off, ruining the code behind it. I opened my other game, Infamous 2 to look at the tape in that voucher. I then realized I had made a terrible mistake. It seems this wasn't tape but the same sort of material you find on lottery tickets that you can scratch off to see your code. I took the torn piece of paper and started scratching at it, praying I could still read the numbers. Luckily the code was still legible. After the game is done updating I should be able to redeem the code for my content, but, seriously, how could I be so stupid? Though it might have been helpful to say that you have to scratch off the seal to reveal the code. Anyways, disaster averted.
I also did another really stupid thing. I was lucky enough to get a chance to hear David Sears, creator of SOCOM and director of the upcoming Rainbow Six game give a talk. Of course I forgot that we was going to be there and went home. I'm pretty bummed out. I'm sure it was an excellent talk and Sears is truly a legendary designer having worked at Zipper, Looking Glass Studios, and now Ubisoft Montreal. I would have loved a chance to meet the guy. Guess I'm just failing on all accounts today.
You know Gamefly has a tendency to frustrate me. They sometimes take a week or more to send me a game, and then it sometimes takes two or three days to get here. I rarely end up playing more than two games a month from them. But then they have their store. As a member I get free shipping and 10% off, as well as $5 of credit every three months. It is with these prices that I was able to buy two new games yesterday. Both games cost me $22.50 for a total of about $50 including tax. The two games were Infamous 2 and Motorstorm: Apocalypse. Both of those games sell for $60 new and $55 used at GS, so I think my prices were quite good. The games should be here in 4-7 days. Meanwhile, Gamefly shipped my next rented game, Warhammer 40K, which should arrive tomorrow.
In interim I played a bit more of Alice: Madness Returns. I'm on Chapter 2 out of 6. This game is pretty long. I think I've played a good three or four hours and I'm not even a third of the way through. I also downloaded Rage but have been having some technical issues. At first the game wouldn't even start, but then I remembered I had to turn off triple buffering in my Catalyst Control Center to get the game to start. After it started I was getting some pretty bad performance, but creating a cache file for the game helped fix the stuttering and I was able to play about an hour or so of the game. Then, when I exited one of enemy bases, the world decided it should just stop loading all the textures in the game. I tried to head back into the base and see if the textures would load again, but the game crashed so I quit out of frustration. I have to say, I have put way too much effort in making this game work. I really hope the updated drivers from AMD that are supposed to hit this week fix the problems. Id is also supposed to release a patch in the coming weeks, so we'll see if that hits before I finish the game.
When the game is working it is pretty fun. You have a sort of overworld that contains different towns that you can visit to get quests and then you head to various bases to clear them out of enemies. These parts work much like Id games of past where you walk through a bunch of corridors and slaughter foes with your shotgun. The controls are pretty solid with a mouse a keyboard, but I decided to play with a controller so I could play on my big screen TV. That made the game a bit harder, but I'm still not having too many issues with it. In the various bases you collect parts that you can use to build items, as well as junk that you can sell for money. This money can be spent on weapons, ammo, and various helpful items. I really like the combat. It just feels very impactful, and it is rare to play a 60 fps shooter with a controller, so that feels good as well. Some of the driving portions still drop down below 60 fps, but the combat sections have all been pretty solid at 60 fps.
Finally, I played a bit more Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit. It is a pretty enjoyable game. I'm not the greatest at it, but I'm having fun. The AI is pretty smart and good at dodging your attacks, so it takes some real skill to beat the game. I have respect for some of the people in my friends list who have some ridiculous times. The new NFS game isn't getting as good reviews, but I'll probably still get it in a year's time when it is $20. I'm sure by then there will be at least one more NFS game on the market.
And that does it for today. I have a lot of games to play and not a lot of time to play them. I'll be focusing on Warhammer once that arrives. The next game on my queue is Battlefield 3, followed by MW3, followed by Halo. Seems like I'll be playing a lot of shooters, huh? Have a good week everyone!
In the second week of July EA released the final game in the Harry Potter series. That was the only console game released that week. Why do I mention this? Well you might think that one of the games being released this week might have wanted to target a July date instead of a November one. Last week was, from a financial standpoint, the biggest week of the year. The combined weight of Call of Duty and Skyrim probably eclipsed the sum total of industry sales for the entire summer. Call of Duty alone made $400 million. That's nearly half of what Activision is going to make for the entire quarter. Likewise Skyrim will probably represent 2/3 of Bethesda sales for the year. But those two games really were far and away the two biggest games of last week. Compare that to this week, and you have to wonder just why so many games would be released in one week. Here are some of the highlights:
Saints Row: The Third
Assassin's Creed: Revelations
Super Mario 3D Land
Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary
Need For Speed: The Run
Ultimate Marvel VS Capcom 3
Jurrasic Park: The Game
That's a pretty ridiculous list. Surely one of those games would have benefited from moving to some other week either this year or early next? What we see represented this week are the AA games. They are still big budget action extravaganzas, but they aren't quite on the same scale as Call of Duty, Battlefield, Gears of War, or Uncharted. They still represent the biggest efforts for Capcom, THQ, Telltale, and Ubisoft for the year. Meanwhile Microsoft and EA both put forth their second best hopes for the holiday season, and Nintendo tries to bring the 3DS back from the dead. It's quite a week. For me, I won't be buying any of the games released this week. Halo I'll rent, and Rayman I'll buy when it drops in price. I might get Need For Speed as well depending on reviews, but again, when it is selling for $30 not for $60. What about all of you? Are your wallets crying this week or are you happy enough to skip these second tier games? And let me point out that we are certainly at a crazy point in gaming when Need For Speed, Assassin's Creed and Halo are second tier.
It's been a great week on Broken. By the end of the night we'll have our first 40 levels built. Then tomorrow I'll combine them into a single file and we'll have our first Broken prototype. Hopefully we'll be able to test it a couple times before Tuesday when we'll be presenting the first version of the game. Last week, we got some feedback about adding some constraints to our game. Up to this point there was no way to actually lose Broken. Players could take as long as they wanted and retry each level as many times as they wanted. After a lot of discussion we decided to add a Sanity Meter. This meter would decrease as time elapsed, and would decrease by a large amount every time the player restarted a level. We spent a fair amount of time debating how to work the bar. In the end we decided to try a system where the player would start with 300 points, and would lose a point every second, and 30 points every time they restarted. As the bar decreased, the screen might become more blurry, or the camera might start shaking.
We are still debating what will happen when time runs out, but I'm thinking that the player will still be able to continue but will just get 0 points for the level. The point total will be saved and added to a leaderboard, as will the total points amassed for the entire game. All this adds tension during a playthrough, and also gives the player a reason to go back and try to solve each puzzle more quickly.
We also debated adding items into the levels, either as objects that hindered you, or as collectables. While the thought was intriguing, we decided that we should focus on the core gameplay and not make things more complicated than they have to be. If we have additional time I would like to try and add some complexity to the levels later on, but we will see how things go.
Also, I finally have some concept art to share with everyone. We've decided on the four personalities we are going to have. They are:
Mime – The Mime personality will move in the opposite direction of the player on the X axis. The Mime's backstory and personality will be fleshed out in the coming weeks. His world will look a bit like this.
Concept Art for the Mime World
Teen Rebel – The Teen Rebel personality moves in opposing directions to the main character on both the X and the Y axis. His personality will be fleshed out more in the coming weeks. His world will look a bit like this:
The Teen Rebel World
Vertigo – This poor personality suffers from vertigo and that disability consumes her entire life. Her movement works sort of like an L shape. When the player goes left, she goes down, when the player goes down, she goes left and so on. Her personality will be fleshed out in the coming weeks. Her world will look a bit like this:
The Vertigo World
The Pyromaniac – The Pyromaniac, or Pyro for short, is a man obsessed with fire. He will move an extra space towards fire after every move. His personality will be fleshed out in the coming weeks. We currently don't have concept art for the Pyro.
And that concludes this post. I hope you enjoyed a further look at the game.
Several months ago I played a little XBLA game called Dishwasher: The Dead Samurai. At the time I said it was one of the best 2D action games I had ever played, and I agree with that statement today. Because of my love of the game I eagerly awaited a sale on its sequel Dishwasher: Vampire Smile. Such a sale came on Halloween weekend. I bought the game but had a bunch of other games I was busy playing so I didn't start it until yesterday. And what a joyful day yesterday was. Vampire Smile immediately blew my mind with better graphics, an even darker tone, and more fluid combat. But let me start by quickly explaining the Dishwasher games.
Dishwasher: Vampire Smile is a 2D action game that actually plays a lot more like Ninja Gaiden than a cIassic brawler like Final Fight. There is no depth movement. There is only left and right. Combat is based around a couple different buttons. You have a basic attack, a heavy attack, and a grab move. The most important tool in your move set, though, is your dodge move. This move turns you into a cloud of blood and sends you quickly in any direction. As a cloud you can't attack but you also can't be hit. It is like a more advanced form of the dodge you might see in God of War. Because you can dodge up into the air you can attack enemies in the air by simply using your blood cloud move over and over to essentially fly. Hitting the blood cloud dodge at the right time is the key to surviving in combat. Your offensive abilities are based on a series of weapons you can collect. You start with a katana, but quickly get a chainsaw, the cloud sword (which the game helpfully explains gains its powers from clouds and has nothing to do with a certain RPG hero), and more. Each weapon has a use, and they can all be upgraded. You can also upgrade your health and your magic meter. Magic in Dishwasher is similar to the system in Ninja Gaiden. You basically hit a button and the game slaughters most things on screen. The combat system is easy to get a hold of, but difficult to master. I haven't found the game as hard as the previous game, but that may just be because I had mastered the previous game only a couple months ago, and my skills are still pretty sharp.
Like the previous game, the story of Vampire Smile makes no sense, but the violent, grisly tone is really incredible. You do and see some really f***** up things in this game. You may have no clue what is going on, but whatever it is, it isn't pleasant. If anything, Vampire Smile is even more atmospheric than the previous game. The audioscape is much wider this time. The music still isn't anything to write home about, but at least there is more than one song looping over and over for the entire game. There is still no voice acting, and the comic book panels that tell the story are still a blurry bunch of scribbles that are pretty indecipherable. Most importantly, though, the framerate is high and steady, the animation is fluid, and the engine overall allows for the split second reactions that this game requires. The game also includes an unlockable very easy difficulty so you no longer have to be incredible at this type of game to enjoy it, but if you don't enjoy mastering this type of combat system then you probably won't find much to enjoy here.
Mastering that combat is fun because, simply put, the game just feels great. GS gave this game a 9.0 and so far I would give this game at least an 8.5. It is one of the most purely fun games I have played this year. No it isn't a big budget epic like Skyrim or Zelda, or a high-octane battle rush like Call of Duty or Uncharted, but I'm sure it is just as enjoyable as any of those games. This has been a great year for XBLA and Dishwasher is just an incredible example of what that service can offer to indie developers.
On another note, I'm still open to trading Gish for something else on Steam. If you have an extra copy of a game and don't have Gish then make me an offer. I'm also downloading Rage. It's taking a while as the game is so big, but hopefully I'll be playing it by tomorrow.
So, question. Did Gamespot decide to remove the score from the page containing the text review? If so, why would they do that? Why even give a score if I have to go to a different page to see it? Either give a score or don't. If it is a glitch, it is pretty pervasive as it has occurred on three different web browsers and on both a Mac and a PC. So, GS, either fix your ****, remove the score entirely, or put it back. I don't want to have to go to a separate page just to look at the score for the review I just read. This site just does the stupidest **** sometimes.
Anyways, I also have a copy of Gish for Steam that I'm willing to trade to someone else for some other game they might have an extra copy of. I've never tried out the whole Steam Trading thing, but my understanding is that you just trade any game you haven't yet played for a game from a friend that they haven't played. So if that is how it works then offer me a game and we can trade. See people, digital games can still be traded for another game. Now if only XBL and PSN would implement a service like this.
By the way, I got this copy of Gish as part of the Humble Indie Voxatron debut. This bundle includesthree of the best indie games on the market, Blocks that Move, Gish,and The Binding of Isaac, as well as the alpha version of Voxatron, and three mini games from the makers of Voxatron. So get it now. The bundle ends tomorrow and this is a great chance to get three great indie games and thealpha of what looks to be a really cool upcoming game, Voxatron.
Good morning all. It's bright and early here and I haven't slept all night. Don't worry I'll be fine. So since I couldn't sleep I decided to finish up El Shaddai in the wee hours of the morning. I was on chapter 10 out of 11, so I didn't have a long way to go. Most of my initial impressions still stand. The game isn't incredibly deep, although it is deeper than I initially thought. The later you get in the game the more you are forced to use all of your combat abilities to get by most encounters. By the final standard chapter, chapter 10, you are fighting tons of enemies per fight, and the platforming becomes pretty intense. That easy difficulty I talked about last time definitely didn't remain throughout the whole game. Some of the later platforming sections are just devious. A large part of the problem remains the camera. It is just very difficult to get a sense of depth in this game. It doesn't help that there are few recognizable objects in the game. Everything is abstract, meaning you often aren't even sure of what is a platform and what is a bottomless pit. It's a weird setup.
The art remains the highlight of the game. There is just some stunning stuff and the variety is incredible. There are a ton of jaw droppingly beautiful scenes here. But as I said last time, the best art style in the world can't save a game whose platforming is borderline broken and whose combat, while enjoyable, isn't as deep or as fun as the best in the industry. The story also makes no sense whatsoever. I was hoping it would at least come to a satisfying conclusion but it didn't. It concluded, which I give it credit for, but not in a way that felt at all rewarding. It was actually quite anti-climactic.
So the game is done. I am going to award it an 8.0. I thought it was decent but nothing special from a gameplay perspective. If you love great art, though, I'd recommend at least renting it because there really is some stunning stuff here. So that about does that.
I was sad that a grand total of one person commented on my last blog. Many of you seemed to be enjoying my development blogs, so I was surprised at the lack of comments. Did no one see it or do you guys feel there is something that I could do to improve those blogs? I am required to write them, so they will continue to be posted on my site, but if people aren't interested in reading them then I don't have to cross post them here. So I'd like to hear your feedback on that.
Well that pretty much covers things. I have spent most of the weekend working on Broken and playing El Shaddai and Uncharted 3. I was hoping to go to a movie at some point but I didn't have time. J Edgar has been getting some pretty bad reviews which is shocking considering the talent behind it. I want to at least see it for myself and make my own judgement call. Melancholia also opens this week and I'm interested in seeing that. Probably the film I most want to see, though, is Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene. I'll hopefully get to that some time this week.
And that does it for today. Later duders.
Howdy, y'all. I'm going to try and keep this short because I've wounded my finger making typing rather painful. First of all, if you haven't read our Broken Design Doc you can check it out here. Obviously if you haven't read that post you won't be aware that the game we are working on, previously entitled Mirror, has changed its name to Broken.
Things have been going quite well. We had some debate on whether or not to start the digital version this week, but in the end we ended up preparing our first digital prototype two weeks ahead of schedule. We are going to be putting our finishing touches on it tomorrow and have it ready for initial testing on Tuesday. We are working towards having all of our levels implemented by November 22nd. That will give us a full two weeks to polish the game before we go gold on December 2nd. The ship date is the following week. Our hope is to initially release the game on Kongregate in addition to this site. We also want to hopefully have started on an iOS version by that time.
To start our digital version, programmer Morgan created the scripts and objects we'd need, essentially building a basic level editor. Kriz then polished this editor and then he and I built a total of 14 levels. The next step is to implement level swapping. The code for this is already built and just needs to be repurposed for our game. With 7 or so levels per world, and 4 worlds we will have 28 levels built at least by the time our game ships. Compared to our initial target of 4 levels, we have really blown our expectations out of the water.
Finally, I have to apologize as we still don't have any art to show you. We wanted to finalize the personalities we were using for each level before we had our artist begin work, but now with two of the personalities locked we have given her the go ahead to start drawing some art. So hopefully next time I update I'll have some concept art to show you guys. By the 22nd our goal is to have at least 50% of the art in the game. The game should be content complete by the 28th leaving just last minute changes for the final week of development.
My finger is starting to throb so I'm going to end this here. I'll have more updates for you guys later this week.
A day after buying it I have finished Uncharted 3. That isn't to say the game is short. I just couldn't stop playing it. I played for about eight hours yesterday and four today, for a total of 12 hours. So what do I think of the game? Well the bad news is that it isn't as good as Uncharted 2. That doesn't mean it is bad by any means. It is the difference between a 9.5 and a 9.0, but there is a distinct feeling of deja vu when playing this game. Uncharted 3 adds virtually nothing to the Uncharted formula. There are a couple tweaks here and there that improve the overall experience, but those improvements are entirely negated by poor pacing, especially during a God awful level in a boat yard two thirds of the way through the game.
Stop me if you've heard this before. Nathan Drake has a lead on finding a great hidden city full of untold riches. This city also happens to be hiding some dark secrets, and those secrets have attracted the attention of an evil, power hungry, figure who is racing Drake to the treasure. Yup, it's the same story as the last two Uncharted games. This story is both the best and worst Uncharted story in different ways. It is the best in that it really tugs on your emotions and makes you think about why we do these crazy things we do in games like this. The banter between Drake and his mentor Sully are as great as ever, and his various other allies are still some of the best written and acted characters in the business. Likewise, the new villain at the heart of Uncharted 3 is possibly the most evil and mysterious villain in Uncharted yet. But it is in this villain that the story kind of falls apart. There are a bunch of plot holes regarding the villains that I obviously won't ruin for you, but when this game ended I still had quite a few questions that simply weren't answered. Normally when this happens in a game I just assume they are saving the remaining answers for the sequel. But Uncharted has been a series that tells mostly self contained stories every game, so I'm worried there just aren't answers to some of the questions that the game raises and then chooses to ignore. All told it is a good story, and in many ways the best Uncharted has seen yet, but it isn't flawless by any means.
If you have ever played an Uncharted game before you know what you are getting into in Uncharted 3. The game is split into three portions, platforming, puzzle solving, and combat. The platforming is simple but enjoyable. You won't find your dexterity tested here. Some say that the platforming in Uncharted plays itself. While I don't agree with that, it is generally easy, and pretty difficult to fail. The puzzles are your standard Uncharted puzzles that involve opening up hidden passages or unlocking doors by performing some ridiculous task that only could be found in a game. Most of the puzzles are easy enough, and like Uncharted 2, the game will slowly help you out more and more until you have figured out the puzzle. It can be frustrating for people who want to solve the puzzle on their own to have Drake and his companions spell out the solution after the game deems that you've spent too long in the area, but it really helps limit the frustration and keep the game moving. The game will also offer hints on where to go if you get stuck in an area for too long. This is the same as in Uncharted 2 and it is again a great way to keep people from getting stuck without putting a giant arrow on the top of the screen.
Finally you have the combat. Like the other portions of Uncharted the combat is really nothing special in and of itself. In fact, it is often extremely frustrating and is very rarely rewarding. There are a lot of reasons for this, but I think the core is that the enemies in Uncharted have just never been fun to fight, and the aiming has never really felt as good as it could. Numerous times I missed enemies that I thought I hit, and some enemies take several clips worth of ammo to go down. These aren't aliens. These are human beings. I shouldn't need to shotgun them from close range eight times to take them down regardless of what armor they are wearing. In addition to the shooting, you can also use stealth and melee combat to get through the battles. Stealth is always optional. You can choose to try and sneak through the areas or just go in guns blazing, but like in Uncharted 2, the best option is usually to kill as many enemies as you can before being spotted and then killing the rest. Melee combat has been upgraded this time around so that Drake now uses the environment to take down enemies. It sounds like a small thing but it makes the combat a lot more dynamic. The opening level of the game makes for a great display of the updated melee system.
But after that first level things start to slow down. And this is the biggest failing of Uncharted 3. The thing is, Uncharted has never had great combat, great platforming, or great puzzles. The mechanics themselves have always been average. What the series has always done well is framing those mechanics in situations that feel like they come straight from an action movie. In Uncharted 2 you had the famous train level, or the helicopter battle, to name a few. Suffice to say that the set pieces in Uncharted 3 are the best yet in the series. When Uncharted is at its best it is simply unbeatable as an action game. There are countless moments where you will just sit back and say, "HOLY !@#$, I can't believe I just did that!" But several chapters in the game are completely devoid of these moments, and those chapters really hammer home how average Uncharted can be when it isn't being amazing. The worst culprit comes two thirds of the way through the game in a lengthy shipyard level. While the ending of this level is fantastic, it takes half an hour or more of boring combat to get there. Plastered in each area are tons of one hit kill snipers, rocket launchers, and shotgun wielders. The combat quickly becomes frustrating and is at no point any sort of fun. The final third of the game is possibly the best final act of any game I have ever played. It is non-stop amazing moment after amazing moment. But there was a change on my end. After the horrid shipyard level I turned the difficulty down to easy. Why? The combat isn't fun in this game. It isn't rewarding. By turning it down to easy I was able to get through these lengthy combat gauntlets and reach the good parts of the game. I ended up doing the same thing in Uncharted 2 about two thirds of the way through the game. The simply fact of the matter is that combat in Uncharted is boring, frustrating, and far too hard. Naughty Dog often throws two or three waves of enemies at you in any encounter. It has been a problem with the series from the start and remains a problem now. Either fix the combat or stop making me shoot things for 15 minutes straight without a checkpoint.
So the combat is bad. Turing the game to easy made the combat barable. Because of that I was able to enjoy all of the great set piece moments in the final third of the game. I have to say this now, Uncharted 3 is easily the best looking game I have ever played. The lighting alone is so far ahead of what anyone else is doing (yes even Battlefield 3) that it is simply amazing. I thought one of the weaknesses of Uncharted 2 was its lighting engine. Obviously Naughty Dog agreed with me because what we have here puts every other game on the market to shame. It isn't just the lighting. Every single aspect of the visuals are best in class. The character models look great. Nate has so much detail on his model it is simply shocking. His animations are likewise second to none. There are just so many frames of animation here. You have to think that this much custom animation wouldn't come even close to fitting on a DVD. And then there are the water effects (just wait, the water will utterly blow your mind. If you thought the e3 demonstration was amazing you haven't seen anything yet), the sand (The desert level will bring your eyes to heaven), and the incredible destruction on display. When things crumble in this game they crumble mighty good. Really, Battlefield 3 has been getting a lot of praise for its destruction, well let me tell you that Uncharted 3 destroys just as well.
And then you have those setpiece moments. I won't ruin a single one of them for you, but I'll say this, if you thought the final sequence from Uncharted 2 couldn't be topped, well you were very, very wrong. And lastly I have to talk about the always top of the line audio on display here. First up is the impressive score by Greg Edmonson. As usual the music is fantastic and offers a wide variety of tunes based on not only the events but the location the game is currently taking place. It is a superb score all around, but the voice acting is even better. Nolan North delivers another knockout performance as Nathan Drake, proving why you'll find his voice in many of the top rated games on the market. The supporting cast is also great. Sully is charming as usual, but his character is given a wider array of emotions to display here than in previous games. In fact the story is just more emotional overall, and every actor and actress has his or her range tested, and they all pass with flying colors. Finally, a note has to be made about the excellent sound effects. The weapons may not be fun to shoot, but they sure sound good. Again, not ruining anything, but there are some sequences that let the audio designers really flex their creative muscles and it is all amazing stuff.
I think it's safe to say that from a presentation standpoint, Uncharted simply couldn't get any better. The audio and graphics are both perfect 10's in my book, while the story is a 9.5. Remaining then is the gameplay. And now in its third entry, the Uncharted series is starting to run out of excuses for its piss poor combat. Why spend time upgrading the melee system when the core of the combat, the shooting, remains largely untouched and has been the weak link in the series since the beginning? I could forgive the combat in the second game in light of its numerous other accomplishments. And thankfully there was much less combat involved and not nearly as many one hit kills. This game saw the return of the combat that I hated initially from the first game, and it just throws far too much of it at you. So while the platforming is still breezy fun, and the puzzles, while not difficult, are clever and well paced, the combat remains a slog, and unlike last time, I simply can't accept that when two years have passed and not a thing has been fixed. The gameplay is therefore an 8.5 for me. So my overall score is a 9.0. It's only a half point less than last game, and in many ways this game is far better than previous Uncharted games. But the poor pacing, and especially the lengthy combat sections, just aren't nearly as forgivable this time around. If you loved Uncharted 2 then you will probably love Uncharted 3. But this game is not greatly improved from the second. It's bigger, it's flashier, but at its core it is the same game we've played twice before. I can give them a pass for this entry. But I expect major changes if a fourth entry comes along. There are only so many times I can do the same thing in a different setting.
Fans of fantasy literature are surely familiar with Ursula K Le Guin, author of numerous famous fantasy and science fiction texts, but possibly most notably the creator of the Earhsea novels. Numerous attempts have been made to adapt the Earthsea books to film, including a critically hated version from the SyFy channel. One person who spent years attempting to make an Earthsea movie was Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki. For years he attempted to gain the rights to make an Earthsea movie. When his company, Studio Ghibli finally earned the rights the elder Miyazaki was busy directing Howl's Moving Castle. Not wanting to miss their chance, his son Goro Miyazaki took on writing and directing duties for the film. It is almost a given that Goro would be unable to reach the same masterful levels as his father, especially on his first film. That said, Goro did a fair job making a decent movie, although Earthsea fans will find the story to be nothing like the books on which they are based. Instead of simply taking, say, the first book and adapting it, Goro chose to largely make his own story based on the world and characters from the novels. The resulting film quickly crumbles under its own weight, with a muddled story that makes little sense. That said, those arguing that Goro's direction is faulty couldn't be further from the truth. While his script is horrible, the film is well made and handsomely animated.
Tales From Eathsea tells a confusing tale that drops more names and references to events from the books than it has any right to. I've read the first two books in the series and characters from those books were freely used, although their personalities were vastly changed. One of the key characters from the books is Sparrowhawk, possibly the greatest wizard who ever lived. The first book describes his ascent to power, while the second book recounts one of his greatest achievements. My understanding is that the third and fourth books likewise feature him as a central character. Sparrowhawk is a key character in this film. Here he is the archmage, a title he took on late in life in the books, but which he seems to have earned much earlier in the movie. Other characters from the books make an appearence, but there is a sense that Miyazaki simply crammed as many characters and stories as he could into a single movie. Because of that numerous plots are raised and dropped at a moment's notice, and nothing is explained as fully as it should have been.
For example, the main character, Aaron, is running from a dark shadow. This is the storyline of the first book in the series, where the character running from the shadow was Sparrowhawk. But two thirds of the way through the movie, this plotline is dropped completely. It is never explained why Aaron has a deranged shadow following him, or how he gets rid of it. Another character, Teru, seems to have a great deal of importance (the fourth book which I haven't read is her story), but her story is only hinted at. A late film twist involving her comes out of nowhere and really makes the rest of the movie seem completely pointless. It's such a ridiculous twist that it's shocking that Goro managed to get that one by his father. The whole story is simply incoherent.
That isn't to say that there is no merit to Tales From Earthsea. The art is beautiful, although not on the same level as Hayao's productions. The animaition is solid and the shots are well framed and organized. It is a small victory for Goro, but it shows that at least as a director there is promise in his future. Regardless, I can really only recommend Tales From Earthsea to Ghibli completionists or those that want to see a semi-promising start for Hayao's son. Yes, the art and animation still stand head and shoulders above what everyone else in the anime business is doing. But great animation and solid direction can't save the worst script to come out of Studio Ghibli.
Since making this film Goro has directed another feature. From Up On Poppy Hill is also based on a book, but this film was written by Hayao and merely directed by Goro. This film won't be released in the US until 2013 so we have quite a ways to go before I can comment on it myself, but Japanese critics have claimed that the film is poorly directed although the story and animation are great. It's sad to say this, but there is a strong chance that Goro may never be as good as his father. When Hayao dies, the question remains, who will take his place? No writer outside of Hayao and Isao Takahata has managed to produce a great script for Ghibli. I think it will be a great challenge for the studio to find another great writer to take over Hayao's position. Comments from Ghibli seem to indicate that Takahata's next film, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter might be Ghibli's next film, followed by another from Hayao. I'll of course be interested to see what the masters of Ghibli can come up with, especially considering Takahata hasn't directed a film since 1999.
And that does it for my comments on Earthsea. Expect a blog tomorrow with my thoughts on the mighty Uncharted 3.
If you haven't heard of El Shaddai then look it up. It is a game from some of the artists behind Okami. It is no surprise then that the highlight of El Shaddai is its art. In the four levels I've played I've experienced some of the most astounding visuals I have ever seen in a game. Although early demonstrations focused on the first level and some of the third, there is a wide variety of art styles at play here. The second level, for example, takes place on platforms floating above a burning city with a giant red tower in the background. Fireworks are going off all around you, and it would be hard not to be impressed by what is on display. At least partially. If you play on the 360 version expect to get these visuals uncompromised by aliasing. But on PS3 the aliasing is often so terrible it is hard not to look at it. I should do a quick course here on aliasing for those unfamiliar with the term. Aliasing is the graphical flaw where straight lines and edges feature a tiered "stair-step" look. Aliasing can also cause roughness in the pixels themselves. To combat this, many games employ some form of anti-aliasing. This effect essentially blurs edges, making the edges of lines look straight. The standard form of anti-aliasing, multi-sample anti-aliasing, is among the most graphics intensive tasks a computer can perform. For example, implementing MSAA on Battlefield 3 on PC can as much as halve your framerate. To counter this, many new forms of post-process AA have been created. One, called FXAA, is often used on 360, while the PS3 has a custom solution called MLAA which often performs just as well as MSAA. Battlefield 3 actually uses both MSAA and FXAA on its highest settings. The great thing about MLAA on PS3 is that it will drop framerates by as little as 1%. Therefore it is truly shocking that in El Sahddai MLAA was not implemented.
Now you might wonder why this is such a big issue for this game. And that is a fair thing to wonder. Gears of War 3 features no AA at all but looks just fine. The problem is the number of simple, sharp geometric shapes used in El Shaddai. The fewer straight edges you have in a game, the less of an issue aliasing is. But El Shaddai has a ton of straight edges that often are extremely noticeable as they are directly next to a contrasting color. This makes a graphical flaw that is often ignored in most games suddenly incredibly distracting. The 360 version of El Shaddai does use AA meaning the image is vastly improved. The problem is that the game is using MSAA not FXAA. What this means is that the framerate takes a large hit, often dropping from the target 60 fps to as low as 25. Compare that to the PS3 version which usually manages to maintain at least 50 fps, and you suddenly have a choice between a game that plays well and a game that looks good. The framerate is especially important in an action game like this where split second timing is important in both the combat and platforming segments. With dropped frames comes input lag, meaning you'll find yourself missing key jumps and counters. I chose the PS3 version, reasoning that I'd prefer to play the game than look at it. Normally this would be a smart choice, but El Shaddai is a pretty easy game, so I probably would have been better off with the 360 version as really this game is all about the visuals.
So El Shaddai technically is a mess. But the beautiful artstyle goes a long way towards making up for it. At this point you might be wondering how you actually play El Shaddai. Well the game is a mix between a platformer (both 2D and 3D) and an action game similar to Devil May Cry. Neither portions of the game are very complicated. You have three weapons to choose from in the combat section and a single attack button that you can hit in different rhythms to get a couple different combos. You also have a counter system in place, and each of your weapons are powerful against a certain type of enemy. These enemies carry the same three weapons you do, and since you can only carry one weapon at a time, you have to steal enemies' weapons if you want to use one of the other ones. The platforming sections are pretty simple. You have a double jump ability, and depending on the weapon you are carrying you have a different special movement ability. One weapon makes to float while another allows you to do an air dash. The third has no movement ability, but is able to block almost all attacks. And that so far is the gameplay of El Shaddai. There isn't a huge amount to it, at least on the surface. My understanding is that there is actually quite a lot going on under the hood, but you can't use a HUD on your first playthrough, so the various abilities you have are hidden from you until your second playthrough. It's telling that the only difficulties you can choose your first time through are Easy and Normal. Basically, the game wants you to experience the visuals and story once and then actually play the game. I'm not sure that is a good way to go about things, especially because the story is quite confusing if you aren't a biblical scholar.
The story is a retelling of the story of the Tower of Babel, but there are so many names that are dropped that it is impossible to follow unless you know the makeup of God's angels going into the game. Because the story makes little sense to me, I am mostly enjoying the visuals on display. It is a relaxing experience that is rarely taxing. The sole boss battle I've fought thus far was a pretty decent challenge, at least more so than the normal battles, but the game lets you get knocked out over and over and all you have to do to get back up is mash some buttons and you are back at full health. Each time you get knocked out it gets harder to mash the buttons fast enough, but you usually get five or six health bars before you finally fall and have to replay the battle. This makes most battles a matter of mashing away until you finally take down all the enemies. I think I should note again that replaying the game a second time on Hard with the HUD on is really the way to play if you want to get a good gameplay experience, but you have to play through the game once if you want to do this. Honestly this is the type of thing that happens when you have an artist as your lead designer. I am enjoying the simple combat and platforming, but if you are thinking of getting this game, know that you should be going into it for the visuals, not the gameplay. If you want a great playing Japanese action game, I'd check out Bayonetta.
So right now I'd give El Shaddai a 7.5, but we'll see how I feel after I play the second half of the game. Okay later duders!