Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Game of the Year 2008

On Gamespot, users were allowed to vote for their Game of the Year. A Gamespot blog author asked why people voted for what they did. Was it based on what game was the most fun for them? Or the most "artistic"? Or what?

For me, the Game of the Year was Metal Gear Solid 4, even though I'd only give it an 8.5 / 10. It wasn't the perfect 10 Gamespot gave it, but for me it was the best I had played.

Here's what I ended up posting in the comments section after reading how some feel that MGS4 did not use its interactive medium effectively, instead relying more on cinematic storytelling norms.


It's odd. For movies, my favorite movies are usually the ones I have the most fun watching. But for video games, my favorite games are more likely to be less about how much fun I had, but how good their storytelling was. You could almost say that I like my movies to be more like video games, and my video games to be more like movies. I voted MGS4 for GOTY, but I'm not sure if MGS4 was the most fun game I played this year. MGS4 left such a lasting impression that I can still clearly remember moments from it today, even though I haven't played it in months. I think I have more fun playing Battlefield 2142 or COD5 online against people, but ultimately these were just exciting experiences not unlike playing a game of basketball or riding a rollercoaster. Like a game of sports, there's no moral or ideology I'm trying to accomplish in 2142. I'm killing for the fun of killing. It becomes a pointless, hedonistic struggle.

I think another reason why I like movies to be more like games is because when I watch a typical movie, it's hard for me to identify with what the characters are going through. After all, no matter what I do while watching a film, the character will proceed forward to whatever ending is in store for them. The character is in the situation, not me, so I'm detached from the story. I'm powerless to help or hinder the characters in a film. So if a movie is more "superficial and fun", like a game, at least I can enjoy that aspect. Story alone will just leave me with a passive, observant feeling.

But a game's story is totally different. I propel the story forward. Through my struggle, I'm fighting for the story to continue. It doesn't matter if it's told through passive cutscenes or through branching dialogue trees, because the story won't continue without my help. Solid Snake's struggle becomes my own. I think this is why I think story is so important in games for me. I need to say about the character "You're a good person, and what you're trying to do is important, and I'm going to help you achieve your goals." And Solid Snake's goals felt important. Another thing that's important for me is that the struggle I partake as a player reflect the struggle that is happening in the story. One of my probs with Bioware games is that their gameplay is ridiculously easy and simplistic, while their storytelling is great and epic. The former weakens the latter's impact. If I'm mashing buttons in a simple and repetitive way to defeat "The Greatest Evil There Ever Was (tm)", the Evil seems a lot less evil. This is why I don't understand the reverence people have for Bioware, Bethesda, and RPG games in general. Neither company releases games that give me that sense of gameplay struggle and challenge befitting their storylines. The "immersion" of being in a Survival of the Fittest post-apocalyptic wasteland is destroyed when I can succeed in every battle by merely hitting the VATS button.

The Metal Gear series is the strange and unique entry in the action game genre that combines the storytelling you expect from an RPG, with the challenging, fast paced gameplay of an action game. It gave me exciting challenging gameplay experiences, and then made my actions feel important through its story. It's rare that a game does all of that together.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The demo for Lord of the Rings: Conquest came out on the Playstation Network. Here are my impressions that I posted on Gamespot's forums:

I'm disappointed but I had quite a bit of fun anyway. The frame rate is too low when playing online, although it strangely improves to very acceptable levels in the Tutorial singleplayer mode, where there is even more action on screen than online. Graphics feel out of date, and I honestly prefer the graphics and animations from EA's Return of the King game over this one o_O

The melee combat does not feel that deep, and as someone else said, the lack of a Lock-On feature makes things a bit confusing. I would've liked a lock on feature for the melee classes at least. Right now you have to move both joysticks, then move your thumb off of one joystick in order to use your attack buttons. So your thumb is constantly going back and forth between the right stick and the attack buttons. Just feels kinda weird..

The Scout is interesting in that it feels so much like "ninja" class. He does martial arts and such. It feels out of place but still cool.
The horses seem kinda pointless. You get knocked off a horse very easily. I can only see it being used as a fast way to travel, don't think anyone will be fighting on it for kills..

My big gripe with the combat system is that it just doesn't look like what we saw in the film. Instead it has a very arcade game feeling to it. Archers are running about while shooting arrows. Warriors and scouts are running about frantically while swinging their weapons like madmen.
Multiplayer does not have a battlefield feeling at all. I was under the impression that in multiplayer, there would be ARMIES of AI running around while the human players also battled, thus giving you a big sense of epic fantasy warfare. Instead all you see are the players. 16 people on a battlefield. Wow. 16! Sigh..

Friday, December 19, 2008

I hope my low review scores don't come off as being negative for the sake of being negative. To me, a game in the 6.0 area is something I felt I could've skipped. Usually this is for sequels of games that just don't bring much new to the table and are forgettable. A 7.0 game is a good, enjoyable game. An 8.0 score would mean it's something I'm really glad I didn't miss. Anything in the 9.0 area was an absolute must play.

Anyway, I found some cool videos on Hulu I thought I'd share on here. First up is "Dr. Horrible's Sing-A-Long Blog." It's a romantic comedy musical about a wannabe supervillain. Made by the creator of Firefly and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I really enjoyed it! The second video is "Speed and Angels", a documentary about two people who have wanted to be fighter pilots since they were kids. The documentary follows their pursuit of that dream. Any fan of military aviation will love this. (Sucks that the embedded videos overrun my blog borders though.)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Warhammer Online

I was really looking forward to this MMO as the press was describing it as a big change to the MMO formula. Having not enjoyed a single MMO yet, I was excited to see if Warhammer Online would hook me into the genre. But nope.

I focused primarily on the PVP combat scenarios and found the game to be both boring and its controls needlessly complicated. The boredom stemmed from the core mechanics of MMOs, I suppose. My primary goal was to get my statistics to increase. That's pretty much it. There was no compelling story driving me forward. Get more money, get a bigger weapon, get more hit points.

The controls, I thought, were complicated due to the messy mash-up of turn-based, statistics heavy RPG mechanics (inherited from pen and paper games like D&D) and real-time gameplay.

As a melee fighter, I had to do the following in a typical combat situation: move mouse onto rapidly moving enemy, left-click. Hold right mouse button while using WASD and moving mouse in order to close the distance. Continue throughout battle. Use 1-6 keys to trigger special attacks and to use items.

Maybe for seasoned MMO players this is par for the course, but to me the number of buttons I was pressing to pull off relatively simple tasks seemed to be out of place for this style of game. A total of twelve different keys were repeatedly hit in a typical fight. And I thought my eyes had to be in far too many places. How's my health? How's my enemy's health? How's my mana? Has my skill recharged? Has my other skill recharged? What buffs/debuffs do I have on me? What buffs/debuffs does my enemy have on him? I can see how all these demands are easily met in a turn-based RPG situation, say a Final Fantasy game. Or how the demands are not a big concern in a real-time, PVE situation where the enemy is a braindead NPC monster that isn't moving at all (thus leaving the player with just the 1-6 keys to worry about). But the PVP situation seemed to throw everything into a mess.

My rating: 5/10

Interesting feature: Female pain noises sound "orgasmic."

Armored Core For Answer

I really need to stop buying games from FROM Software.

I'm a fan of "mecha" media, like Mechwarrior, Robotech/Macross, Transformers or Gundam. To me, robots are like a form of futuristic armored knights, and they anthromorphize military equipment in a way only a robot can. So even though I never really liked Armored Core 4's demo, I was interested to see if For Answer's 2 player co-op campaign would be enough for me to give the game another chance.

The campaign was really dull. Fodder enemies wait around the map doing nothing, patiently awaiting your arrival so that they can be killed off with ease. Every few missions, you fight an enemy closer to your level. Here, I ended up feeling like my primary battle was with the game's controls, and not with the actual enemy. In order to effectively pilot your mech, you have to use the two joysticks, the four face buttons which shoot and change weapons for you, as well as the triggers. The right joystick controls your facing, while the X and square buttons (on my Sixaxis) shot my weapons. This means I could not control where my mech was looking at while shooting at the same time. This causes a serious and common problem. Anytime you are shooting your weapon, you are giving your target more and more time to leave the center of the screen. It's a very awkward setup that can't be fixed up entirely, even by customizing the controls. Imagine if an FPS game forced you to choose between tracking your enemy with your gun, or shooting that gun. Yeesh.

So the co-op play didn't change the fact that the game just wasn't that great. There's no story to speak of, and the multiplayer combat never feels particularly satisfying. And the voice chat seems broken. Seems pretty rare for a PS3 game to have decent voice chat though. Lame.

My rating: 6/10

Interesting feature: The game seems to take a jab at relaxed immigration policies. One of the factions in the game is considered very pro-democracy, but it is said that its "ideals are being eroded due to its immigration policy which lets anyone who wants to enter become a citizen." Not sure what to make of that, but it caught my ear.


A friend of mine was a QA tester for the bulk of this game's development cycle and had convinced me the game was going to be terrible. But I thought it was really fun. I liked how the game has no HUD. Your health is on the back of your character. Your ammo is on the readout hovering above your gun when you aim it. You access items through a hologram system, and the game doesn't let you pause the game to use items either. All this really helped to immerse me into the game. The sound design was excellent, too.

My biggest complaint is that the game spent far too much time in dark corridors. The first three quarters of the game has a very repetitive look and feel to its environments, and there are few areas that I found memorable. I never felt the same way about Resident Evil 4, which seemed to keep different kinds of environments coming at the player at a good pace.

I liked the controls of Dead Space and wish Resident Evil 5's creators would emulate it.

Rating: 7.5 / 10

Gears of War 2

I thought the campaign was significantly weaker than Gears of War 1's campaign. The level design seemed far too linear in that enemies were constantly appearing straight ahead of me, and there seemed to be far fewer opportunities to flank enemies than in the first game. This resulted in a pretty repetitive campaign. Get behind cover. Wait for enemy to pop up behind their cover, shoot enemy, repeat until they die.

There was no story to speak of, and the multiplayer continues to squander the game's unique cover system. Nearly every battle ends in a near point blank range battle between shotgun users. And being caught out in the open is hardly a risk like it is in other FPS games like Rainbow Six or Call of Duty since you can infinitely dive around. Weapon choice remains shallow, and they've actually made things worse by allowing you to use your grenades as a kind of proximity mine, resulting in a lot of cheap feeling kills.

Rating: 6.5 / 10

Fallout 3

An incredibly boring game. This game's popularity completely baffles me. I played it for at least 10 hours and felt half-asleep the whole time. I kept playing hoping to see something exciting or interesting happen, but nothing ever came. I can only imagine that players are enjoying the post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland environment of the game, which is pretty unique for a first-person game.

What else appeals to fans of this game?

For me, the combat was extremely simplistic, and felt far inferior to even the most basic FPS games of 10+ years ago. Some have said that instead of treating it like an FPS, view it as an RPG combat system but from an FPS perspective. Even if I do that, what is really here that makes the combat interesting? I press V to engage the VATS system. I choose my target. I execute. All enemies are quickly dealt with in this manner, and I didn't even do anything! I didn't see any tactical or strategical depth to the combat of Fallout 3, and while I'm not a big fan of RPGs to begin with, I was under the impression that their combat typically has some kind of challenge...

Rating: 6 / 10

Left 4 Dead

Technically excellent, but the game feels very repetitive after just a short while, and in many ways, does not feel any deeper than those House of the Dead light gun games you can find at an arcade. You shoot zombies. You shoot a lot of them. I can see a lot of potential in the game if many additions are made, but as it is right now, I have no idea how EA/Valve justified its multi-million dollar advertising campaign, or how gamers justify paying full price for such a shallow game. I paid $20 thanks to a Black Friday deal, and even that seems too much.

Rating: 7.0 / 10

The game needs more game modes. More things to do. Here are some suggestions.

- There needs to be more risk-taking opportunities for players. More reasons for players to leave the group. Right now, everyone knows to stick together. But as any zombie movie fan knows, things get most interesting when the group splits up. When there's some in-fighting between the humans. I think there needs to be powerful and rare items in each game that selfish players might leave the group for in hopes that it will ensure their survival, even if it means increased risk at first.

- There needs to be a strong scoring system. Right now, it's hard to tell who the best player was in the group. You can sorta get a feel for it by waiting for the credits at the end of a scenario, but that takes up to an hour to see.

- Create a game mode where ammo is much more limited. I feel like I always have far too many bullets.

- Create a game mode where two teams of humans are in competition. Not only must they fight each other, but also the zombie hordes. Perhaps the escape vehicle of a map only has room for ONE of the teams. Both teams race to the end, killing each other on the way there, while fighting off zombies. Weapon and resources are limited, and killing enemy survivors means you can take their stuff.

Another idea.. one team is the military, the other is of survivors. The military must fight their way to the survivors, who are themselves fighting increasingly powerful waves of zombies. The military then escorts them out to safety.

Another idea... the military has been sent in to cleanse all witnesses, along with the Infected. The survivors need to evade the military and the zombies. This would create interesting situations where the survivors might lead the military into a Witch or Tank, where the zombies would actually be saving the survivors. This idea could also be a three-team game mode. Zombies vs military vs survivors.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Hey hey, it's been a while since I last posted. I guess I've been a bit busy with work.
I spent a couple months working at Perfect World Entertainment as a game tester for their North American release of their game, Perfect World. I made this trailer for them. Tell me what you think.

I think the music goes really well with it, but being my first trailer for anything, it does feel sloppy in a lot of ways. You can see targeting circles around the feets of enemies, there are screen ratio inconsistencies, and other problems. D'oh! I'm glad the Youtube viewers like it, though. I have to say that I feel kinda dirty making a trailer that spices up the game so much, when I personally found the game dreadfully boring. Haha.

After my temp contract was up at PWE, I got a job as an Audio Video PC Technician, and did that for about 3 and a half months. This was a cool job in many ways, and definitely had the coolest bunch of coworkers I've had. I got to have all expense paid trips to Orlando and Seattle, too. And the job itself was easy enough. I mostly just pushed and lifted heavy objects around. It was good exercise, but the commute was too much, and ultimately I've decided to return to school for some Cisco networking training, which I hope will get me a better paying job that is closer to home. I've also landed a great part-time contract job doing audio editing work. It'll be the perfect job for me if I can get more hours.

In my next post, I'll try to review all the cool (or not cool) gaming stuff that's been pouring in this season.