Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ultima 7 Day 4-5

Well, I beat it. Yeah, I really started to just plow through it near the end. I didn't do it so much because I was getting bored, I really wasn't, but just because I don't have the time to give the playing my usual going-over. Still, the game was super fun.

One thing that struck me in my playing was that the back half of the game was a lot more puzzle heavy. Real puzzles, tough puzzles. In the first part of the game the NPCs all but tell you exactly what to do, but in the back half you have these obtuse invisible wall/appearing/disappearing bridge puzzles that are fun but tough.

The Isle of the Avatar part of the game was a little frustrating at times, though. They continually threw these liches at me that could kill my Avatar in one hit, so I had to know when they were coming and slip on a ring of invisibility for safety. My guess is that I was supposed to be of a higher level at this point in the game, but the ring trick worked and I was inclined to just say screw it and abuse the magical jewelry.

I have one more Ultima 7 (PC) blog left, where I will put some closing thoughts on the overall game design. Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Slowing things down

My new schedule keeps me a little too busy for daily Ultima 7 updates. Something about coming home at night after a 12 hour day makes me not particularly feel like playing U7 and dissecting it for the blog. Still, I'm going to shoot for two updates a week until I finish the beast.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Ultima 7 Day 3

I just finished Skara Brae, a piece of gameplay that many hold to be the best part of Ultima 7. I haven't beaten the game so I can't yet say if I agree or not, but I will say that Skara Brae definitely typifies the gameplay of Ultima 7. Skara Brae shows all of the negatives of Ultima 7 by forcing you into a lot of boring combat, having really easy quests that involve no more than following exactly what the NPCs tell you to do, and being incredibly buggy (I had to revert back to an earlier save no less than THREE times before I finished because certain scripts weren't firing). Yet at once Skara Brae also shows the positives of Ultima 7 by having such an intriguing story that you don't end up caring about all of the negatives.

Anywho, I've gone through some more gameplay without anything worth noting. The Storeroom was a kind of neat puzzle, although the crate stacking was ugly and a pain. At this moment the Guardian's plans are becoming a bit more clear thanks to some friendly Wisps and the Time Lord. Now I have to go somewhere and do more random stuff for random people before said random people will aid me in saving their own stupid world. Go figure.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Ultima 7 Day 2

Okay, so my party is complete. I have Spark, Shamino, Dupre, Sentri ('cuz he can train us for free), and Jaana (heals for free). I bumped into Tseramid by chance at the Bee Cave but turned him down because I don't feel like rounding up another set of armor.

I have to say, this game is a lot better than I expected or remember it being. Sure, the combat is pretty boring, but the rest of the RPG elements of the game more than make up for it. This is stunning for me. Normally I am a "gameplay is king" kind of guy, and if you show me a game where something other than pure gameplay is the centerpiece I probably won't be able to get into it. This is my problem with MMORPGs, as they tend to focus on the social aspect while the rest of the game is uninspired. But Ultima 7 rises above. I think it is because unlike MMORPGs, the lousy combat in Ultima 7 is not a center point. It is like the developers acknowledge the lack of depth to the combat, so they don't throw it at the player needlessly and they fill the majority of your game time up with what the game does best: crafting a great story and creating a living fantasy world. In MMORPGs, however, they shove the boring combat in your face every step of the way.

Regarding where I am in the game now: I am off to meet some wisps so they can clue me in onto the whereabouts of the Time Lord. Inventory space and management is the biggest problem I am up against in the game so far. I have TWO characters who carry nothing (aside from their equipment) but gold and Iolo carries nothing but food, yet I STILL am having space issues. Quite annoying. I can't imagine playing this with any smaller a party.

Do you get anything for solving the side quests in the game? I generally help the townsfolk solve any quests/mysteries in every town I stop off at, yet I don't think they have ever given me anything for it. The stories are fun enough that I will continue helping the folks out anyway.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Wolfenstein: Final Days 3-5

Will Power to Play: 9999292929292929

Wow did this game get sucktastical in the final moments. The game starts to lose steam in the finale levels, and it just starts throwing poorly planned bosses at you. Bosses were one of the highlights of the game up to this point, and it just seems odd that they suddenly start throwing uber baddies at you without any story or particularly special way of killing them. The final boss in particular was so frustrating that I almost gave up right then and there. Also, you are forced more and more to just stay in the ugly Veil forever. I had planned on replaying the game on a harder difficulty and using the cheats that beating the game once onlocks, but that whole end sequence has sapped my interest in the single player of the game. I'm done.

So, 5 days of lots of playing before I didn't want to play it anymore. I'd say that leaves the (singleplayer portion of the) game with a solid B- ranking from me.

To be fair, there are a lot of games where you can tell they didn't put much into the last length of play/had to rush it out. But more on that in another blog.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Ultima 7 Day 1

Ah, Ultima 7. You will never find such a deep and alive game world. In my short time in game I've managed to both change diapers and wake up a sleeping thief of a child by throwing a bucket of blood on him. If that kid had issues enough to make him a thief before this incident, he is likely to become a serial killer now.

My party consists of Iolo, Spark, and I just netted Shamino. Lord British just brought me up to speed on the recent goings on in Britania. Nearly every NPC in the game so far goes on and on about The Fellowship. It all sounds like Scientology to me. I'm going to talk to Batlin in a bit and see just what this cult is up to. Then probably steal from him, or at least order Iolo to. Then on to Cove. Woot.

On a side note: I'm playing using Exult, mainly because I want the graphical and gui enhancements (k for key!). However, the game has already crashed on me once. Hopefully that was just an anomaly.

Wolfenstein Day 2

Will Power to Play Rating: 0

The game is still fun. I read in a review today that the reviewer was able to play through the entire game, all side missions included, in 6 hours. While I think that I am nearing the end game missions, I'm probably already past the 6 hour mark so I'm not sure how he accomplished it. Maybe a lower difficulty? I'm playing on hard, and it really isn't particularly challenging (fun nonetheless). It certainly helps that the checkpoint saving system is very generous (as it should be).

Speaking of reviews, the game is doing about as well as I had expected based on my time with it yesterday. It seems to be netting reviews solidly in the B to B+ range. A B+ is nothing to scoff at, and the game deserves it. The franchise Wolfenstein, however, does deserve better. Hopefully with Zenimax's help ID can pump out the next Wolfenstein in-house and really make a mark with it.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Killin' Nazis: Wolfenstein Day 1

Will Power to Play Rating: 0 (No extra will power required to get me to want to play this game)

I have to say that I was scared that this game might stink on ice based on the job Raven did on Quake 4. But good on ya Raven, you made a class act game here. The singleplayer portion of this game, which is the portion Raven created, is just great. So far I'd put it at just sub The Darkness in a lot of ways.

Like The Darkness, Wolfenstein focuses on a certain aspect of the FPS that most FPS games these days seem to think is a secondary issue; the shooting. The gunplay here is GREAT. The weapons feel tight, and the ability to upgrade each of them in a whole bunch of ways adds a great deal of personalization to the game. Bad guys have wonderful death animations. They writhe around in appropriate agony before ragdolling, and they shed body parts just enough to not make it ridiculous. Also, the gunshot wound decals are the best I've ever seen. The baddies appropriately take cover and strategically attack you, a first for a Raven game, and it all comes together to make the shooting just feel right. Sure enough, while the story is more than the usual ID type offerings, it still just feels like a mindless summer action flick that may not make sense some of the time. One thing that sticks out is how BJ is supposed to be this super spy, yet the moment you arrive in the town of Isenstadt literally EVERYONE knows you by name. But so what? So this isn't a Bioshock or Half-Life quality story, the shooting here is better than what you find in both of those games combined. This is fun stuff folks.

Now, the not so great stuff:
  • The voice acting. While BJ's voice actor is recognizeable and gives the character a great feeling of action movie baddassery, the rest of the cast is not quite so good. My biggest problem is that they are in Germany, yet none of the characters ever speak German (save for a peppering of "scheissen!" and the like, for ethnic flavor). Instead they all put on these awful nasally accents and say things like "Ve have vayz uv makinck you zpeak!" Awful.
  • The Veil... Sort of. On the one hand I really appreciate the Veil game dynamic and think it adds a lot to the game. The post processing Veil effects are nifty in their own right, however the levels in this game are gorgeous, very detailed, and full of color; none of which can you see when you are in the Veil and everything is turned green. The designers encourage you to be in the Veil so much that it is easy to miss how great things look like when you are out of the Veil. As it is, I sometimes have to remind myself to kick out of Veil for a second just so I can take in the scenery and enjoy seeing the red blood again that I would otherwise miss.

As for the multiplayer, well... This is why ID sold out to Zenimax. Activision clearly blew their entire budget on Raven and the singleplayer portion of the game. Endrant got some table scraps and threw together a messy mod full of placeholder animations and programmer art. To be fair, the gameplay (which I suppose matters the most) is pretty solid. Nothing extraordinary, but a good small step forward in the Enemy Territory style class based team-multiplayer games. But the art is so spectacularly bad. I'm not sure I've ever seen missing animations in a retail game, yet here they are. There are no death animations. Behold as I shoot my enemy and in an instant he teleports to the ground. The animations that did make it into the multiplayer are choppy and awkward. Hopefully this stuff will get patched... But I wouldn't count on it.

More to come.

*: I feel I should add that The Darkness managed to have great shooting AND possibly the best story I've seen in an action FPS game.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Blogging my way through Ultima and MORE Features!

So I stumbled upon this Ultima series blog the other day. Basically, this blogger played through an Ultima game and talked about it as he went. I want to adapt this idea for myself for a couple of reasons:
  1. You know my feelings on long games. The Ultima games are loooooong, and mayhaps by blogging them I will actually play them to finish. I've always wanted to.
  2. It could be a fun regular update.
  3. I'm running out of ideas for the blog already anyway.
  4. I just said friggin' "mayhaps", I'm clearly in a medieval mood.

Sound good? Well alright then. I've already dug out my old Ultima 7 and I'm ready to get started. I am going to keep a walkthrough on standby, if my progress gets too muddy and slow. Also, I'm setting the combat difficulty to Easy -1, because the combat in Ultima 7 is lame anyways so I don't mind eliminating any unneeded frustration.

Also, Wolfenstein is finally hitting the shelves. Because I am a sucker for big name games, even when they might suck, I long ago reserved my copy for PC and will be picking it up shortly. I plan on writing about it daily as I play, to illustrate how good/bad it is based on whether or not I can muster up the will to continue playing it after two weeks. This is the way games should be reviewed in my opinion, and would be if reviewers could take that long playing them.

Voting Libertarian

Okay, so I missed a day. My apologies. School is rapidly approaching, my job is changing, and my nerves are generally fried. Now you feel like a real douche for making me apologize. Well too bad. I was originally going to write about the "Birther" movement and how colossally stupid it is, but after writing it down it felt a little meaner than was my original intent.

So now, Voting Libertarian: Why do it?

I should make clear that I have a lot of respect for libertarian ideas, and with the way the average elected Republican has been acting I now more than ever support libertarian candidates who want to run as Republicans. But I can't pull the trigger on an actual 'big-L' Libertarian candidate. I can't because it is stupid, and I try as much as possible to avoid stupidity.

Voting is a pain in the ass. An arguably worthwhile pain in the ass, mind you, but a pain none the less. So why waste it? You have to fit this chunk of time for voting into your busy schedule of work, school, and Internet porn; then get yourself down to some smelly elementary school gymnasium, deal with rude city poll workers, and fill the thing out.

So imagine doing all that: You get up extra early to get in before school and beat the rush, get your ballot from the disgruntled volunteer, then get into your TV-dinner-stand cubicle. You look down at the list of names and party affiliations and spot your Libertarian candidate. A warm smile creases across your face as you unzip your pants and proceed to wank all over the ballot, sophisticatedly. You then triumphantly turn your biologically filthy ballot in, secure in the knowledge that you are smarter and more noble than 99.7% (your guy loses with .1% of the vote, once again edged out by Mickey Mouse write-ins) of everyone else because you voted L.

"What a witty thing to say, good sir," I hear you tell me through your monitor screens, sultrily. But the analogy is even more brilliant than you know! Voting Libertarian is so pointless that the only possible reason to do it is for self gratification purposes only, and I know self gratification as I'm a blogger. Really, if you went and did what I described literally you would at least be more honest than a Libertarian voter.

Now debate the issues and add your unique and often great ideas to the national dialogue, then swallow your pride and pull the damn R lever.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Design Screed: RPG stats

Someone tell me what it means to have '18' strength. Does it mean that I can bench 250.532 pounds?

Now tell me what it means to have '18' strength in relation to having '17' strength. Is it that '17' means I can only squat 231.8 pounds, and that is 52.80733 pounds less than at 18 strength?

Or, more likely, does it just mean that '18' is one arbitrary point higher than 17? It does. But why!? When you use big numbers for stats you render progression in those stats meaningless. You don't feel like your character gained anything at all if he goes from 33 to 34 in intelligence.

My perfect solution is to start at '1', which we'll assume is average, then for every added point the character gets higher above average. That way if we know what '1' strength can do then we have some context for what '2' strength is, namely doubling the strength of the average person. Now for each time he levels instead of throwing ten near-meaningless stat points at the player we can just give him one stat point that he will actually have to think hard about using.

Big political post tomorrow.
Last day for Call of Duty: World at War on Steam for $25.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


No blog today folks, my gaming addiction has got the best of me again. I can barely remember last night. I was sweating, but cold. I think... I think I may have killed a hooker for her money... I bought Call of Duty 5 on Steam for $25, it was such an amazing deal that I just couldn't pass it up... I passed out around 6 in the morning.

Nazi zombies... 4 man coop... Bland multiplayer, but still... 25 dollars...

Need rest.

Also, I got to play Fat Princess yesterday and it was awesome. That makes it the only game I like on the PS3.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Top 5 Games EVER!

I'm running late today, having been set back by errands and other assorted lamenesses. So instead of my usual insightful greatness I will have to settle for a cop out list. Top 5 games ever made, ever. Good to better. Buy them all, perhaps twice over.

1) Samurai Showdown 5 (arcade): As much as I have loved the strategic fighting and near-perfect balance of Street Fighter 4, and more recently the adrenaline fueled ultra stylistic slugfest that is Blazblue, neither of them compare to the raw fighting perfection that is Samurai Showdown 5. The game is perfectly styled so that it looks exactly like a cheesy (but awesome) old school Japanese samurai flick. And how does it play? Like butter, my friend. It is cerebral without slowing the pace down too much. This game is all about outsmarting your opponent, no button mashing allowed.

2) Gears of War (Xbox 360): As the Doom 2 manual might put it: Chainsaw bayonet, 'nuff said. Revolutionary game dynamics fuel the short but sweet single player romp through a fun, if unintelligible, storyline. But the real treat is the multiplayer. It is a true testament to how groundbreaking and great the multiplayer dynamics were in this game when people (myself included) played the hell out of it DESPITE the almost ridiculously bad netcode.

3) The Gladiators: Galactic Circus Games (PC): A super innovative RTS from an unknown French developer that went right underneath just about everybody's radar. But not mine. Gameplay wise it is comparable to more recent titles like World in Conflict, only this game did it about 4 years earlier. The singleplayer is a decent Myth style romp, but the multiplayer is where this game shines. There are more good game design choices here than you can count. Unfortunately, the multiplayer servers are no longer in operation, but do yourself a favor and LAN this sucker. You won't regret it.

4) Counter-Strike (PC, the xbox one (which I had) kind of blew): This one just has to get on the list. In my opinion, CS is the game most responsible for changing multiplayer gaming from a novelty niche to something that everybody can be interested in. This game was a perfect storm for me. I had been gaming online for a couple of years already; but playing Quake, TFC, AvP, and Rainbow Six on a 56k was definitely more about the novelty of playing with people around the world and less about having a lot of gaming fun. It came around just as my parents had upgraded to a cable modem. The rest, as they say, is history. I have easily logged more hours into CS than any other multiplayer game, probably by a factor of three or more. And it was a free mod!

5) Vampire : The Masquerade - Bloodlines (PC): I realize that those of you who don't already know the amazing quality of this game are thinking "a game that barely scratches out an
80 on Metacritic is the best game ever made?" The short answer is yes, yes it is. There has never been a roleplaying game with a more immersive, better crafted world and world-lore ever made. Really, the game just does what so many other games have prided themselves in doing, but it does it better. Complex moral decisions (Fable)? It gets done here better. Believable game world filled with realistic characters with multiple agendas (Oblivion)? It gets done here better. A horror sequence that can scare the piss out of you (a dozen lame survival horror games)? Check+, the creepiest game sequence I've ever encountered. The game is perfect... Except for some of the near game breaking bugs. This is how you can account for the less than perfect reviews. Essentially, at launch the game was near unplayable due to bugs. Lucky for you, launch was several years ago. The game continues to get fan patches to this day and I can tell you from personal experience that it is now immensely playable and enjoyable. Pick this thing up on Steam for around $20. You won't regret it.

There you have it. My first Top 5. But why are you still reading? Go pick up Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines. NOW!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Sexism in MMOs?

That is what this chick seems to think, yet I think not.

Sure, a female MMO player is more likely to be subjected to whispers about her breast size, or jokes about her availability for dating or sex (surely a joke because we all know a girl playing an MMO is a fatty anyway). But why is this sexism? Male players have to deal with being called gay and having their ... sizes unfavorably compared(not cool, Skullgrinder Chasm players). This isn't deep seeded and corrupting sexism, this is just the common phenomenon of Internet users taking advantage of the wonderful, near total bomb throwing impunity that comes with anonymity. Note my expert use of this within my own blog.

More importantly, any MMO dev or player worth his salt knows that the stay at home or working mom is absolutely crucial to keeping the social side of the game running. The "hardcore" gamers come and leave an MMO within a month or two, but it is the stay at home mom that sticks around and keeps the game community (and thus the game itself) alive for years. If there really was soul crushing, ugly sexism running through MMORPGs, why would the stay at home moms be sticking around?

Plus, scientific research has shown that chick players get free stuff just for having boobs.

Sexism? More like sex-awesome.

Friday, August 7, 2009

My game is longer than yours

There has been much debate lately as to a trend emerging that games are getting shorter and shorter. It is certainly true that some of the biggest recent games have been notably shorter than previous big releases. Games like Gears of War, Bioshock, and Call of Duty 4 (to name a few) were all less than 10 hour affairs.

But is this a good thing?

Many think not, and they may have a point. After all, console games, at $60, cost more than ever before. Add to that the new trend in microtransactions and downloadable content that a lot of people think (and not unfairly) is content that should of been in the game at launch anyway, and you can see why some gamers aren't too fond of shorter games.

Yet it wasn't too long ago that some games were actually advertised for being particularly long. I believe it was one of the Final Fantasy games that claimed to clock in at well over 50 hours. And surely, if you actually play a game for 50 hours you are getting more bang for your buck. But can a game even hold your interest for 50 hours?

Not for me it can't. For my part, once a game hits about the 8 hour mark I begin to grind through the gameplay just so that I can see the ending. Good games can reach 9 hours before this happens. Great games, just 10. The simple fact is that games, by their nature, force you to do similar tasks over and over. By giving you a new weapon or ability the game buys itself a certain amount of freshness and extends its life by an amount of time. In the last few years we have seen developers add in so-called "palate cleanser" levels that act as a short-but-sweet distraction from the main part of the game. Usually it works (HL2:Ep2 antlion turret segment), sometimes it doesn't (GoW2 tank segments, looking at you); but it is clear that the segments are there to extend the life of the game by giving gamers a break from the repetition of the main gameplay bits. Developers are taking note.

I don't think it is a coincidence that the best games coming out have been smaller. What's more, I think it all boils down to simple logic: The longer the game is the harder it is to pack it with fresh content. Long games end up having to use fatty, boring filler segments. In the August '09 issue of Game Informer, John Carmack essentially agrees by criticizing his own Doom 3 for being too long. It is because of games striving for length that we saw the now infamous design tactic of retreading through a level emerge (In what was one of the few universal criticisms for the game, Halo was infamous for this).

Furthermore, by design long games encourage "shelf level events". The term, which I first heard used by Viridian Games (great design blog), means any in-game event that moves you to take the disc out of the drive and stop playing, indefinitely. Typically, it means big game breaking bugs that make you reload to an earlier save, or a frustratingly hard sequence. But after so many hours, when you are getting bored anyway, the threshold for what will turn you off from the game lowers dramatically.

Was that Final Fantasy game 50 hours+? Maybe, but I don't want to bother playing it to find out.

Full disclosure: I hate JRPGS as a rule anyway. Maybe Final Fantasy whatever was great...
No it wasn't.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Tired first posts

Hello and welcome.

"Yet another political and/or gaming blog?” you ask, stupidly.

Yes and no.

The term “gamer” is pretty self explanatory I should think, and so I won't bother to go into it any deeper. More importantly, I use the identifier “conservative” as a way to help readers understand the presuppositions that are behind some of the arguments and conclusions that I will make here. Not every post will be political, and not every post will be about games.

“Bloke”, because I am a dude. I should suspect few posts will be about that.

Basically, I am going to write about whatever I feel like writing about. It is just that for as far back as I can remember I have been playing games or watching others play them, so there is a good chance that something going on in the gaming world will be a subject for me. Likewise, politics has always been a fascinating subject for me, and a steady unhealthy dosage of talk radio throughout my entire life has left me quite Right in my thinking. Political topics, therefore, will not be off limits.

This should be fun. More tomorrow. Ta ta for now.

Also, I finally have a chance to use some of those skills I picked up in that community college HTML class!