Saturday, September 25, 2010

A little time off...

Two things are conspiring to bring this particular blog to a temporary halt of operations.

For one, there haven't been many crossings-over of the world of politics and gaming lately that have really caught my interest. I could probably do a write up about certain little controversies that have occurred, like the Medal of Honor team Taliban snafu and others, but those games don't matter much to me. I find myself having a hard time caring about such little events that so many gaming journalists have turned into full blown stories. I started this blog mostly because I found that gaming journalists so often stuck insipid political comments into their gaming pieces, but it happens so often that I'm bored with it. Do I still find it inappropriate (not to mention pedantic) when I read a game preview and get treated to some puerile potshot against Fox News out of nowhere? Yes, and I probably always will. I just won't write about it so much, at least for a while.

Secondly, I'm effing broke. It is hard to do game reviews and be current and relevant when I can't afford to buy many games anymore. Lucky for me the last batch of must-have games like Halo: Reach, Starcraft 2, and others are all derivative drivel that don't interest me much. Still, I need to secure some income if I want to keep gaming, and consequently keep writing about gaming.

So what happens now? Well, I'm still going to post at the Stingy Hat Games blog, perhaps more than ever now. I'm getting dangerously close to a release of an alpha version of my Quake mod, so I have much to write about on that front. A side effect of discontinuing this blog is that I can unreservedly work more on my indie game developing projects. As for Conservative Gamer Bloke, I'm sure it will be back eventually. I'm too politically charged to be able to go too long without something happening that pisses me off enough to write about it, you can count on that.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Elemental: War of Magic:To Buy or Not to Buy...

And why you should...
Wait for it...
Wait for it...


For those of you who have not heard, Stardock's newest game (and first game developed in-house since the critically acclaimed Galactic Civs 2) got off to a somewhat totally crappy launch when they released this week. Apparently, according to a lot of players the game is nigh unplayable with its loads of showstopping bugs. PCGamer went as far as to warn players to absolutely stay away from the game in its current state. Harsh.

Loyal fans who preordered the game and found it to be a mess took to forums everywhere to cry foul, understandably. Then the outspoken CEO of Stardock, Brad "Frogboy" Wardell, doubled down on the newly generated hate for his game/company by saying ""...please stay away from our games in the future. I consider it ready for release and if others disagree, don't buy our games."

In all fairness, Brad knows a lot of the guys over at the Q3 forums where he made the comments. His comment was directed more for them, and not so much at gamers at large. Still, it didn't look good. He later apologized, and blamed his comment on lack of sleep and frustration about how his game was being judged based on pre-day zero code. By pre-day zero code, he means that retailers broke the game's street date (again). Even so, this doesn't totally wash because, broken street date or not, the game that came in the box was still a mess.

So here we are, two days later, and every single gaming news website is absolutely piling on Brad Wardell and his game like it kicked their dogs. They do this even when most of the journalists writing haven't played the game, in its buggy form or otherwise.

But why? Why the hate? Are gaming journalists, like the ones at Rock Paper Shotgun, really all that concerned about a publisher putting out a less than finished game? Or is it something else? That is when I started reading comments from players that gleefully talked about showing Brad Wardell a thing or two because of his "backwards" and "nazi-like ideas". My ears eyes perked up upon seeing that.

A little google-ing turned up this, Brad Wardell's personal political blog. Now I understand why Brad and his games must go down in flames: It turns out that Brad is a *gasp* conservative! That's right folks, when he isn't writing about Elemental game design he is writing about how high taxes are crippling the economy, how the health care bill sucks, and how global warming is hooey.

Could it be that this is why the gaming journalists are twisting the knife so hard? Hmm...
... Yes, actually.

Okay, okay, so I can't back that up with a bunch of links. What I can say is that in my opinion, based on all of my many years of experience reading gaming journos, I can safely say that I wouldn't put it past them to do such a thing.

For my part, my reluctance to get on the hype train to any Stardock game stems from how they burned me with Demigod. Demigod, as noted earlier, had its street date broken as well. This led to rampant piracy, which led to the matchmaking servers getting swamped, which in turn made it impossible for legitimate players, like myself, to actually play the game in multiplayer (and in a game like Demigod that is kind of like having Quake 3 Arena without the multiplayer). Still, Stardock always promised to make amends and patch Demigod into a non-crap state and... Well, I'm still waiting for that to happen. The game is still a total mess, and all Stardock ever did was give me some half-assed coupons for %50 off of more Demigod so that I could trick my friends into buying the unplayable game and share my fate or something, I suppose.

Still, there is no denying that Stardock has a good Turn-Based Strategy pedigree, even if I am not a fan of GalCiv myself (always seemed like an Excel Spreadsheet game to me). I figure that if anybody can do a sweet update to Warlords 3, it is Stardock. For this I am on board with the game, if maybe not for day one. The game sounds intriguing, is being built by people who know the TBS genre, and Brad Wardell is the effing man. Not to mention that the author of the Viridian Games blog (and damn good game designer in his own right) works for Stardock.

Multiplayer is coming in a patch next week, so get out there and support the game.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

System Shock 2, the FatMan, and me

Recently, an Internet reviewer that I love, admire, and mostly agree with, antisocialfatman, started a great commentated playthrough of System Shock 2. I made some comments on the vids about how certain aspects of System Shock 2 rub me the wrong way (or just plain suck), and he responded. Somewhat angrily.

Now, fair enough, I should have kept in mind that System Shock 2 is clearly one of his favorite games of all time. I know that if I was doing a playthrough tribute to one of my favorites of all time, like Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, and some douche started in about how atrocious the combat is and how the level design in the sewers is mind numbingly bad, I would probably be pretty pissy too.

But that wouldn't make the criticism any less valid. The combat in VMB really is spectacularly bad, and the sewer level is a true test of the player's patience.

The fact is that I actually like System Shock 2. It isn't in my top ten list, but I consider it a damn good game. Yet it is definitely flawed in a number of areas. A lot of the flaws are a bit anachronistic to point out, to be sure. For instance, the melee combat is really dreadful, but then it still is in most first person shooters to this very day. I suppose that isn't a true anachronism, but whatevs. How about this: The graphics look like ass. Anachronistic enough for ya?

My issue of choice when I commented: The PDA/Audiolog storytelling dynamic, which I believe System Shock 2 may have pioneered, is terribad game design. It sucks in System Shock 2, it sucks in Doom 3, it sucks in Bioshock, and it is downright cringe-worthy as a storytelling device in Valve's otherwise excellent new freeware game Alien Swarm. My biggest problem with the device is how it grinds all gameplay to a halt while you listen to some non-character give his schpeel, and then probably throw in the combination to his weapon locker for good measure at the end. It is hard enough to believe that everyone in the future starts keeping a space-diary for fun, let alone that high tech security protocols allow for keeping the access info to your space-shotgun in there for anyone to get at (provided they listen to your boring dribble first).

Games, like in good film, should adhere to the old script writing rule that the audience should be shown, not told. Portal did this fantastically well. The entire story of Portal is told by the levels themselves, in the way they look, clues left behind by earlier test subjects, and little hints dropped by GLaDOS herself. This sort of charm is missing from System Shock 2 because it is too busy telling you the meat of the story through the diaries of characters that you neither know nor care anything about. 'Tis garbage, my lord!

FatMan argues that an audiolog beats a cutscene. First, I reject the premise that the storytelling accomplished from listening to a PDA can't be done in any other way than a cutscene. I mentioned Portal earlier as an example. Hell, any game that has ever had a character physically talking to your character in game has accomplished the same thing as those PDAs, and they did it without having to be nearly as contrived as finding a space diary. But even if I agree to the premise, is it even true that listening to a PDA beats watching a cutscene? At least cutscenes involve acting and actions beyond just purely spitting out dialogue.

And game designers need to realize this flaw in System Shock 2. Sure, recognize that it is a great game, but when you cannibalize ideas from it DO NOT take the PDA storytelling technique along with you. It deserves to die and rest in peace as an interesting but failed alternative storytelling technique.

The FatMan also took issue with how I called the writing sci-fi garble. To be sure, I only added that bit out of spite. Not that the writing isn't sci-fi garble, it totally is. Still, being a fan of sci-fi things, I know better than most that any book/film/show/game set on a future space station is going to be chalk full of "we need to put the neutronian flux constrictor into the sharpleton bolt tube", and System Shock 2 doesn't do it particularly badly (most of the time).

At any rate, I heard that the FatMan may be putting together a website along with HotLesbianAssassin, so I want to kiss a little ass so that maybe I can get a writing gig there.


Monday, July 26, 2010


Did I say I would put up the second part of the review?

Why did I say that? I hate this game!

Whatevs. I'll get it out, 'cuz I love you all so much.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


Real life is getting in the way of things a bit. Family emergency stuff. It is going to be rough for a while and posting will be slow. However, I will still be releasing a new game next weekend, and I'll finish my playthrough/review of No One Lives Forever
in the following week when things hopefully start to get back to normal around here.

In the meantime, I'm hoping that working on the game and the NOLF review will be sort of therapeutic for me.

Take care, care takers.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Deadly Premonition, and why you should buy it.

Simply put, this game is genius. It is so utterly unconventional that a jaded old gamer like me just can't help but love it. It is quirky and Japanese, involves copious amounts of absurdest humor, is self aware on a level that is almost baffling, and unlike anything you have played before.

Shitty critics were quick to dismiss the thing as a cash in on PS3's very popular detective drama Deadly Rain (note that I never called it a game), and a poorly executed and woefully budget feeling Resident Evil 4 clone.

And actually, both of those things are true. The game's opening hand presents both of those types of gameplay, which happen to be the weakest cards in its deck. I can see how, based on the first hour of play, you could believe that that is what the game is all about. But after that first hour the game opens up into what it does best: Open world crime solving (and the occasional meaningless public service quest).

The majority of the game has you moving around in an open world (ala GTA), and observing the inhabitants of the town (IE: suspects of the murder case) while trying to solve the case. The game town is on a real schedule, so in the morning some suspects go to work, they have something to eat in the evening, and then they go home to sleep, etc... This means that you have to observe and interact with suspects based around their real schedule, sort of like the old Ultima games.

Getting information from the town folks usually involves doing some side quests for them. The side quests, which are of your usual RPG side quest variety (fetch this, find that, talk to them, fight this thing, solve this puzzle, etc...) net you some fancy additional gear, as well as further your knowledge of the crime and the suspects. And since the game plays out on a schedule, this means that if you fail to talk to a certain town person early enough in the game they may wind up dead later and you will be missing a key piece of the puzzle. It really makes you feel detectivey in a way I haven't experienced in a game before.

The game plays out in chapters, where you start in the open world gathering info on people (doing sidequests and the like), and then typically is book ended with the not-so-great RE:4 style gameplay. While the RE:4 gameplay isn't the greatest, it at least serves as a nice breakup to the open world game and occasionally even has some interesting and tense moments, such as when you have to hide from the super powered serial killer.

But as decent as all of that is, what really makes the game special is its presentation. No, not the graphics - this game is PS2 ugly. But the writing, the audio, and the speech.

Deadly Premonition has all your typical Japanese wackiness to the story, but somehow they do it in such a self aware way that you won't hate it. You play as FBI agent Francis York Morgan... Kind of. Really, you play as Detective Francis York Morgan's best friend, who happens to be the schizophrenic voice in his head, Zack. Throughout the game Francis will start talking to you, or Zack. He often does it right in front of other characters, who just sort of go with it because they chalk it up to a genius crime solver's eccentricity.

Now, Detective Morgan is a HUGE film fan, especially of 80's B-horror, and when he is alone in his car he will start waxing poetic about his favorite B-films and actors and directors... And it is great! I swear that there was an occasion where Morgan started describing a movie to Zack about killer moles starring Billy Zane, and he paused for a moment and I instinctively shouted out "Critters!", and then he goes "That's right Zack, Critters from 1986!" as if he had just heard me answer him. It happened a few weeks ago so that I can't remember it all word from word, it might not have been Critters but some other 80's movie, but the point is that it was a great moment of fourth wall breaking where it felt like I was really there just shooting the shit with an FBI Detective. And this happens all the time.

Other great moments include the wonderfully obsurd music, which, during conversations where Morgan's mind is wandering, will start to BLARE through the speakers to the point that you can't really hear what is being said. A lot of reviewers chalked this up to being a cheap game flaw, but personally I feel that this was done intentionally for humor. Then again, I can't really say I know myself for sure.

I think that is the real genius to the game. It walks a razor thin tightrope between being a shabby budget game with actual inadequacies and being so incredibly self aware that it can actually pretend to be shabby for comedic effect.

I have actually come up with a test to see if someone will or even can appreciate this game. It follows:

This is the driving controls screen. If this looks confusing and frustrating to you then you won't like this game. If this looks confusing and hilarious to you then you will like this game.

That one screen full of Madden-like red lines sums up the game. Either the game is clunky and awfully put together, or things like this are part of the big joke between the developers and the player.

Simple as that. I really could go on and on about how the game surprises me at every turn, but I'm getting bored of writing this and everything really important to be said about the game already has been.

So yeah, pick this game up.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Red Dead Review

I hate this game.

No really, I do. I don't even want to write about it, much less play it. I'm about half way through, and while I am determined to see this pig through to the end, it is going to take every ounce of will power to do so.

Where to start? Well, I guess I should bring it all back to GTA4 and how much I hated that game.
  • The story was so pretentious and annoying, filled to the brim with angst and Tarantino wannabe dialogue.
  • The driving was terrible, with each car handling like there was no such thing as power steering in Libery City, even at the lowest speeds.
  • The shooting was wonky as crap, with a wacky lock-on system that snapped right to the worst possible target in the room. Basically, if there was any baddy within ten feet of you it was game over, as you were never going to be able to target them as they pumped round after round into your stupid Russian face.
  • Even the on foot controls were wonky somehow! A lot of the animations in game seemed to be procedural, which meant that walking up and down stairs, over objects, and leaping over fences and the like all looked pretty darn good. Unfortunately, it wasn't perfect: Your guy controls a bit like a car himself. Niko Bellic was no acrobat, as sometimes it was a struggle just to get him to accurately get through a door. It reminded me a lot of Pagan: Ultima 8, where you had to really take your time and line up with a doorway or staircase in order to progress.
  • The multiplayer was full of potential and promise, but ended up being terribly pointless. You are plopped down in a city full of nothing to do, with 16 other people, and you just mess around. Sure, this is sort of the very definition of sandbox. Yet a sandbox is only as fun as the toys inside the sandbox, and GTA4 gave you none.
Okay, so that is why I hate GTA4. So why do I hate Red Dead Redemption? Copy that list and make a few slight changes.
  • The story this time around is pretty worthless, but not near as annoying. Sure, the game doesn't even bother to tell you who you are, why you are in the West, and what exactly you are doing until several hours in (and I'm still a little hazy on exactly what is going on), but at least I haven't had to hear "beeg American teeetiez". Yet.
  • Obviously, there are no cars in Red Dead Redemption. Well, technically I have seen a model-t looking thing during the intro, but I don't think you ever actually get to drive. Instead you have wild west horsey antics. Let me give you a rundown of the horsey controls: Tap A repeatedly to get your horse to go any faster than molasses. Left Bumper to slow down or stop. Hold-A if you want to maintain a speed, although it always feels slower than I want. X to jump over obstacles. Hold the Left Shoulder button to aim, and Right Shoulder to fire. Simple as that. If you want to do something as simple as ride and shoot at the same time - which, incidentally, in a cowboy game is something you should be doing just about all the time - you have to be holding the left shoulder, steering with the left analog stick, aiming with the right analog stick, pressing the right shoulder to fire, and all the while tapping the A button. Piece of cake, right?
  • The shooting is slightly better this time around. In the singleplayer I can't say that I've ever gotten killed by the aiming system like I did in GTA4. This is probably because the auto-aim default is off, and on my machine that is where it stays. Unfortunately, in the multiplayer the option to go auto-aim always remains, and boy do people ever use it. There is no penalty for using it, and no reward for actually lining up your shots like in every other game out there. So why wouldn't you use it? Oh right, because that might actually be fun! But this is competitive multiplayer, and in the land of competitive multiplayer it isn't about fun but about kill count. So be prepared to either die a lot while standing for your no-auto-aim principles, or just not ever play the multiplayer like me.
  • The on foot controls are still wonky. Getting through doorways and up narrow staircases is still a frustrating exercise. On the bright side, walking into NPCs until they procedurally topple over like drunkards is as hilarious as ever.
  • The multiplayer, as I have already mentioned, is crap. More great potential, more great disappointment. The free roam could have been something special: Posses of players marauding the lands and doing evil bandit stuff like robbing trains and banks, and another group of bounty hunting players coming to put an end to it! This is pretty much what every article and Youtube clip promised, and I was stoked. Unfortunately, in action the free roam is the exact same as GTA4's free roam: A big sandbox with little to do. There are no banks to rob, or trains to capture. Which means there are no posses of bandit players. Which means there are no posses of bounty hunting players to bring them to justice. Which means everybody just runs around an incredibly sparsely populated game world and just mucks about, occasionally shooting each other. The action very much reminds me of early Ultima Online in that it is everybody versus everybody. And in everybody versus everybody, the noob is the big loser. Like early Ultima Online you have no disincentive to smoke the brand new player. In fact, you are incentivized to do it, as Red Dead Redemption has a leveling system that rewards you with bigger, better guns and equipment. That noobie literally doesn't have a chance with his shitty level 1 revolver as you pick him off a mile away with your high powered rifle (using auto-aim, naturally). However, this time around there are a few toys in the sandbox. There are (a couple) bandit camps filled with baddy NPCs that you can raid for extra XP, as well as hunting and foraging challenges. And yes, hunting and foraging is just as boring as it sounds. Still, it is nice that they are there if you are into that sort of thing.
So yeah, I hate this game. And I'm a little pissed that I paid for it. I don't even want to talk about this anymore. I'm done. When I think that reviewers love this turd I just want to... No, I'm done.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Coming Attractions

My gaming addiction has kept me pretty quiet lately, I apologize. I've bought three games in the past month, two of which I will write about. I picked up the running gaming joke Deadly Premonition (Xbox360), Medieval 2: Total War (PC, on Steam after watching Anti-Social Fatman's great video review), and now Red Dead Redemption (Xbox360, shortly after jumping on the hype train).

I'm going to do some writing about Deadly Premonition and Red Dead Redemption mostly. Deadly Premonition, because, oddly enough, there is actually some borderline genius game design hidden in this super low budget gem (which, of course, most gaming media misses by a mile when reviewing the thing). As much as it gets pounded for the PS2 graphics, and for the odd dialogue (by idiot reviewers who miss the joke by a clean mile), there is actually a pretty novel and decent game here. It took non-mainstream gaming humor sites like Destructoid and Something Awful to see that the game actually has some serious merits, which says a lot about how crappy mainstream game reviewing has become.

The other writable game, Red Dead Redemption, I feel I have to write about because it is from Rockstar, a developer that I love to hate. Once again they have shipped a game to glowing reviews, and while I can't say that I'm not having any fun, the fact remains that there are some GLARING game design flaws in this thing. Want a taste? Try lock on auto aim in the MULTIPLAYER! Now, I know why they did this, it isn't just pure madness. That said, once in practice it ruined GTA4 multiplayer and here it is again ruining Red Dead Redemption's multiplayer in an even worse fashion. And no, I'm not talking in hyperbole here. It is tremendously bad game design, and I will explain why in the post (Hint: It has to do with open world PVP, a level progression system that awards high level people with infinitely better equipment (and thus a huge advantage in battle, especially against newbies equipped with pea-shooters), and an auto aim that snaps to targets and follows them around the screen without any user input - I know, face palmingly bad game design).

Stay tuned, tune stayers.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Net Neutrality post

I'm going to be honest: I really didn't want to have to write this post. "Net Neutrality" has always been one of those super charged and politically loaded catch phrases, and with a controversial court decision this week it has become only moreso. Getting into a neutrality argument is akin to a PS3 versus Xbox 360 fanboy argument. Both sides just throw out straw man talking points that barely have any connection to the truth.

You can't even research the subject of net neutrality all that well, as virtually every source out there is
loaded with a view point and only gives you a tenth of the counter argument. It is, without a doubt, the most annoying and ridiculous subject to have to write about.

I mean, just look at the name of the issue: "Net neutrality". What kind of loaded crap is that? Who wants to be against keeping Internet access and content fair and neutral? But that isn't even close to what the FCC was trying to do here. In fact, "net neutrality" kind of sounds like the "fairness doctrine" that regulated broadcasts. Who wants to be against "fairness" on the radio? - Except that it didn't promote fairness in the least. It was just a huge overreach by the FCC, and a government power grab that
crippled political free speech across the broadcast medium.

But it is political and, tangentially, it has to do with games, so the damn thing falls into my blog's jurisdiction.


Let me get the controversial part out of the way first: I am anti "net neutrality", and I'm glad that Comcast got the better of the FCC recently. There you have it. If you have a burning hatred for me now, so be it. Go read another blog.

I can see why it might seem like a good idea to not allow broadband service providers to limit bandwidth to certain customers. In fact, as a gamer it certainly seems scary and unfair that my cable company could decide to knee cap my speed just because my games suck up so much bandwidth in comparison to other people who just browse the interwebs in their off time.

But here is the thing: They haven't actually done that. Not yet anyway, and we don't have any real proof that they are even thinking about it. What they have done is
put a cap on bandwidth in response to Bittorrent users. Bittorrent users, who suck up unreasonable amounts of bandwidth at all hours of the day, while they aren't even at the computer, and who are more than likely downloading something illegally. I'm all about protecting the rights of the consumer... But these consumers? Fair enough, my hatred for software pirates burns so brightly that I say f*** those particular consumers anyway.

And here is the most important part that EVERYONE seems to miss: This whole thing was just a big FCC power grab! You may not totally be in love with the idea of the ISPs being able to cap bandwidth, but how can you POSSIBLY think that it is better to put the government in charge of that? I trust Comcast WAY more than I trust some government bureaucracy. Comcast may try to cap certain activities based on the wasting of their resources, but the government will try to cap certain activities
just because they get it into their stupid heads that it is somehow bad for us.

Eff that, says I.

And for all those
the-sky-is-falling doomsayers who came out in response to the court decision last week: Don't worry so much, political hacks bros. Again, us normal bandwidth consumers have nothing to worry about at the moment. And even you bittorrent pirates don't have much to fear. ISPs will likely come out with a tiered access plan for you. You want to suck up a load of bandwidth by downloading movies and leaked game betas? Fine, just pay a little extra per month for premium access.

So everyone calm down. It may be hard to see, but the good guys lesser evils won.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

March Round up

Review Round Up for March:
  • Mass Effect 2: The core gameplay doesn't suck quite as much as in the first one, but that still isn't the reason why you come to play this game. The story is fun and full of good Trek style space drama. And you get to sex up Tali (in the worlds most disappointingly tame sex scene ever). Unskippable, long intro cut scenes, along with not particularly inspired gameplay (uninspired, but not at all painful like in the first Mass Effect - worth noting) keep me from replaying the game now or ever. Buyer's remorse? I borrowed this one from a friend, so no. Even so, I'd say it was fun enough to be worth $40.
  • Blade of Darkness: I have to come back to this classic 3d hack and slash platformer every couple of years. This game is everything Price of Persia 3 was supposed to be, and on top of it it has a very innovative and brutal combat system that rewards strategic dodging and precise timing. On top of on top of that it has graphics that were drop dead gorgeous at the time the game was released and a realtime shadow system that holds up pretty well even today. This game, from Euro developer Rebel Act Studios (now defunct), should be in every PC gamer's library (but isn't in many).
  • Die by the Sword: I picked this one up on a whim from Good Old Games last week. You can't help but love the wacky, wonky, and novel as hell control scheme that basically lets your mouse directly function as your sword arm in-game. Who would of thought that a studio that has for the last several years (and CoD sequels) been so creatively dead, Treyarch, could have come up with such a novel and fun approach to hacking and slashing. The downside to wacky, wonky combat is that it makes the single player extremely tough and random. Now, I'm sure there are some Die by the Sword masters out there who can fight two Ogres at a time and dissect them like insects with their precise mouse movements... But that isn't me, or likely most other players who can't do anything more strategic than flailing their sword arm around like a spastic tard and hope to get a random decap on our Ogre boss foes. Also, the game at times has some really awful level design that is so bad that it makes you wonder if it is some kind of sick joke. But in the end, getting your leg cut off and then hopping-and-flailing your way to a victory decap is still one of the most satisfying hack and slash experiences that can be found. Buyer's remorse? For 6 bucks? None at all.
  • Lead and Gold (beta): This offering from newly formed small timey Euro developer FatShark which, if word on the street is correct, is comprised of a lot of ex-Grin employees, has just hit Steam this past weekend. The game will premier at $15, but you can preorder now for 10% off and an entrance into the beta. Basically, this is a 5 on 5 team class-based shooter set in the wild west. Now, for the scary part: It is an Xbox Live Arcade port. Now for the even scarier part: It is really damn good. Yes, I said it. This is an Xbox Live Arcade port that doesn't allow (at the moment) for dedicated servers, doesn't let you change any graphical options, and doesn't even have chat implemented yet because it is such a bare bones port... And yet the game is just so damn good at what it does that I can't help but love it. It is the next best team shooting game to Team Fortress 2, and it is only $15. It gets the shooting almost completely right, with just a few small balance issues that are acceptable for a beta. It nails the presentation with great graphics combined with a unique look. It gets the team part of team shooter right by adding the class "synergy" feature (basically, it is an aura unique to each class that buffs nearby teammates, thus promoting sticking together in groups). Plus, how many other wild west themed games are there? Buyer's remorse? Not on your life.

Tiny Previews:

  • Just Cause 2 demo: B-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-boring. There was a time when "sandbox" meant something special, but now it seems that sandbox games are almost a majority, and Just Cause 2 does nothing to stand out from the crop. Basically, this is Mercenaries with a grappling hook. Now, I admit that I did get a big smile on my face the first time I grappled a civilian to a moving car and watched as she got dragged down the street and swung into the side of a house. But everything about the core gameplay - the shooting, the missions, the weapons, the bad guys - everything is just so bland that I can't imagine anyone enjoying this thing. The demo is limited by clock, and I found myself bored and completely done with the game long before the short timer ran out.
  • Splinter Cell Conviction demo: This blew me away. First off, just so everyone knows, I hate stealth games. I just hate stealth. I even hate games that aren't stealth games but make me do it for just one level for a diversion from the main gameplay. That is how much I hate stealth. I hate having to crawl instead of run, and having to plan out my movements precisely, and having to reload just because I was spotted and that screws everything up. And the Splinter Cell series was like the king of hardcore stealth. Sure, there is Metal Gear, but that has always been Stealth Lite in comparison. If crap goes down in a Splinter Cell game, you are almost always toast. If ! goes down in a Metal Gear game, you just hide in your box and wait for the bad guys to forget about you. So yeah, I've never liked Splinter Cell. But Conviction seems to have been made for me. Don't get me wrong, there is plenty of stealth. You are still totally rewarded for careful planning, and thoughtful movements. But the rewards are for gamers like me. See, for every carefully planned Splinter Cell Conviction stealth execution, you are rewarded with a Sam Fisher Super Move(R). The Same Fisher Super Move allows you to pick any three targets in a room and just destroy them with your pistol, in a method so cinematic and satisfying that I will never get tired of seeing it. Finally I have a real incentive to be a stealthy shadow of death: If I am, I am allowed to briefly be an action movie hero and get a "get out of any sticky situation free" card. Truly, this is a stealth game made for me. I, for one, can't wait.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Rebel Rousers

Have we all played the new AvP yet? Good, so we all know of its mediocrity. Everybody who has played the thing has been able to figure this out instantly. It must go without saying that the UK developer Rebellion, who presumably have played the thing more than anyone, must also be more aware than anyone of just how mediocre their game is.

That is why a Gamespy article about Rebellion and AvP really caught my eye. Actually, it caught my eye in a few ways. First of all, in the UK AvP is now the fastest selling game of 2010, despite having a Metacritic rating of 65 (for a little bit of context, Xbox Live Arcade game Polar Panic has earned a Metacritic rating of 69). That is worth a double take right there.

But if that is worth a double take, what came next is worth a spit take. When confronted with the clear evidence of the not-so-great critical reception of his game, Rebellion CEO Jason Kingsley counters with: "The reviews have been mostly good."

...Buh? On the outset this seems to fly completely in the face of the facts. Maybe he clarifies his statement, so we read on: "We've had three totally shit reviews by some Americans, which is a bit odd. Some of them were inexcusably bad. If you discount those poor reviews AvP is averaging high for us."

Ah, I see. So basically, if you ignore all of the shitty reviews for your shitty game, the game is actually a critical success. By that logic you can say that if you ignore the 5 bad reviews for Polar Panic, then Polar Panic is actually a contender for game of the year.

Now, I have to admit that my initial reaction was to get all pissy at the way he seems to try and play the victim of the bigoted anti-Brit, American game journalists. And to be fair, he really does seem to be trying to do just that. But if you look a little closer, you can see what is really happening. I mean, even IF you discount those three reviews, the average only goes from 65 to 68 (and yes, I really figured this out by finding the average of all the reviews with the exception of the three worst). You can hardly call a 68 average a "critical success", and Rebellion knows it. So why would they say otherwise?

This is when I remembered a little something that happened in the gaming community just a couple of years ago. FASA had just released its Xbox 360 game Shadowrun to tepid reviews (66 on the Metacritic). That is when the head of FASA jumped on a gaming podcast show and started ranting about unfair reviews. In particular, he was bothered by the way so many reviewers touched on the $60 dollar price tag. For my own part, I loved Shadowrun as a Counter-Strike clone with a twist on the 360. Yet there truly was not enough content in the box to justify a purchase. How can you not factor that into a review, which primarily exists to help consumers figure out if they want to buy the game or not?

Anyways, what happened next is that the game undersold, and then FASA was liquidated by Microsoft. The whole "these reviews are crap" thing was just FASA trying to justify its existence to Microsoft. FASA was blowing smoke and trying to stay alive as long as possible.

Fast forward to the present day, and we see developer Rebellion trying to tell everyone that everything is a-okay despite bad sales in the US and bad reviews everywhere. Blaming bad American game journalism is just Rebellion's way of spinning the situation so that SEGA won't liquidate them in the same manner that Microsoft killed FASA.

Is it deceptive? Yes. And annoying. But I guess I can't blame them much. They are just trying to hold on to their baby. With that in mind, I'll even root for them a bit. Rebellion doesn't have a terrible pedigree (they made the first AvP, after all), and maybe they have a good game left in them if they are given the chance to make it.

As for the initial double take, the game outselling all others in the UK. This stat is just as bewildering as ever. If I had to guess, I would say that this doesn't so much indicate that the game is flying off of the shelves in the UK as much as it indicates that nothing is flying off of the shelves in the UK. The total game sales numbers must be crap, and AvP has just managed to become king of that extremely small hill. But since I can't find any total sales numbers anywhere (and I barely bothered to look), I can't really back this up.

But I'm probably right. As always.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Game Review: NOLF Part 1

So I watched the newest James Bond installment this weekend. I think it was called "Quantum of Solace" or some such, but it doesn't really matter. What matters is that it sucked. And that it got me into a frisky spy mood.

So I immediately ran upstairs to my stash of old games and dug out a popular gem from the year 2000. "No One Lives Forever", developed by Monolith on their Lithtech engine (which powered other great games like Aliens VS Predator and other bad games such as Shogo: Mobile Armored Division) and was published in Y2K by Fox Interactive.

For the uninitiated, NOLF is a first person shooter set in a 60's spy environment. The story and all of its characters are equal parts spoof and homage to all things good and bond. You play as sexy spyette Cate Archer, a low tier agent in the British Secret Service who is struggling to gain attention and credibility in a very sexist environment. You should probably be aware that the game was released to solid praise, and is often cited as one of the better games of all time, including recently in a 10-best-games-in-the-decade list compiled by one of my favorite (NSFW) video reviewers "HotLezbianAssassin".

You should probably also be aware that my first playthrough ended after about two hours of boredom, whereupon I uninstalled the game and never looked back until last Sunday. Yes, I first bought the game while everyone else was singing its praises, and immediately hated the experience and quietly shelved the thing.

But now I am coming back. There has to be something to all the praise, hasn't there? Maybe now that I am ten years more mature the game will appeal to me in ways that it couldn't before. Of course, game design has also advanced ten years since the release, and with it my standards. But supposedly the game has withstood the test of time, and I will endeavor not to be too anachronistic in my criticism of the thing.

After having completed the first mission my thoughts are thus: Yup, I still hate this. Part of the reason for my blogging this review is that I don't think I can muster the will power to keep playing if it isn't for the blog.

But before I get to that, my initial thoughts were "holy crap there is a lot of exposition in this game". This is, in all fairness, some of gaming's (at least FPS gaming's) first stabs at trying to make a movie-like experience and tell a real story. But instead of bringing the player into the experience and telling the story around him with scripted sequences (like in Half-Life), this game opts to go with ten minute long cut scenes, wherein two or three characters stand in a room and talk to each other. The dialogue isn't particularly bad, and sometimes is even quite witty, but after the five minute mark I find myself struggling not to hit the skip button.

As for the meat and potatoes of the gameplay, NOLF likes to be something of a stealthy shooter. You are encouraged at all times to sneak around and cap enemies from the shadows. I hate this mechanic every time it is tried. And while it is integrated here better than in most games, I still would rather run around and blast things. Unfortunately, you really can't do that here because baddies are ridiculously good shots, often hitting you through the damn walls, and your health never recharges throughout a mission (though you can get new body armor) so conserving it is imperative.

Also, because of the stealth element the level design is more open than your average corridor shooter. Usually this is a good thing, but not ten years ago. Ten years ago there was no Halo, and so nobody had yet thought that if you have an open level design you should put indicators around the level that tell the player which way to go. In Halo, this was something as simple as green lights on openable doors and some arrows on the floor. But NOLF is before all that, so you are forced to try every door to see if it opens, and I often find myself running around the level looking for that one place I haven't gone yet. Again, to be fair a lot of games from this time have suffered from that, Half-Life included.

The palette cleansers, ah the palette cleansers. I could be wrong, but I think NOLF may have even invented these little devices. To explain: A palette cleanser in gaming is when you do something completely different for a small level of the game, and it is used to break up the monotony of the game's bread and butter gameplay. For example, in Gears of War this was the vehicle segment. So far NOLF has thrown a sort of gallery shooter at me and it was just sort of interesting to note that I can't really think of other FPS games at the time that did this sort of thing.

There will be more to come as I play through. I will probably only update the review on weeks when there isn't anything particularly fun to write about that relates both gaming and politics. Weeks like this one. Also, screen grabs.

Until then, have fun you sexy secret agent readers.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Olympics Take Gold Medal in Irrelevance

It was tough to pick this week's topic. On the one hand, I had found an interesting news story that has to do with gaming and the people who don't get it clashing yet again. On the other hand, the people who don't get it are this time played by the Olympic Committee, and who really cares about them anymore?

The scoop is that some competitive gaming advocate is trying really hard to bring LANs to the Olympics (presumably with medals for which team plays the best Counter-Strike, not who can chug the most Mountain Dew: Code Red, or who can get laid the least), but the Olympic Committee is having none of it. I would quote the exact arguments for you, but they are so weak that it is sufficient to say that they consist of "Gaming IS a sport!" and "Nuh-uh!".

Personally, I still wouldn't watch the Olympics if they included gaming. But with half of the sports on the roster being so niche and rare that nobody even knows how they are played (what the crap is "skeleton" or "nordic combined" anyway?), why not add a place for one of the fastest growing competitive diversions in the popular culture?

As an aside: I know a lot of people want gaming in the Western world to be treated with as much pomp and celebrity as it is in places like Japan and Korea... But why? Gaming is for nerds, and I am happy with that. I don't want to watch jazzed up tournies of nerds who think they have a skill worth being idolized about, being idolized by sheep audience members, all for playing a game that is ten years past its expiration date (*cough* Starcraft) with such a science that the fun is entirely sapped from the game play experience.

But maybe that is just me.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Dante's Inferno: Rich in Iron(y)

So Dante's Inferno (the game) has finally hit the streets and I've had a chance to give the demo a spin on Xbox Live.

I want to make it clear that I haven't played the full game, so it is possible that some of my opinions based on the demo may be wrong.

I also want to make it clear that I don't really need to play the full game to form my opinions on it, as it is a shameless derivative of God of War, and thus it is most likely that my thoughts are correct. As always.

The game is comfortably mediocre, but the sheer averageness is not what I want to make a focus of in my writing. I want to draw attention to just how hard they have tried, nay struggled, to make a game that is offensive to Christians (Catholics, in particular). I find it interesting because, from a game design perspective, this is the most extreme example that I can recall of taking a AAA budget game and spending every penny on marketing instead of making a good game.

You may recall the mock protests over the game that EA put on (tastelessly, even for them) at last year's E3. The initial idea was to make fun of christian groups that the media likes to popularly portray as always being loud and angry about something or another. In an odd twist of fate, the people most fooled by the mock protest were many in the mainstream media who, in a stunning display of ignorant prejudice, couldn't help but jump at the chance of making fun of those ignorant, prejudiced religious folks.

I should point out that, to their credit, many gaming media websites, like Gamespot, actually got it right. Maybe they hate EA more than they hate religion.

I also can't help but find it amusing that they should try so very hard to craft a Christian bashing game, knowing that of all major religions the Christians are the least likely to try and kill you over your insults. What they were counting on was some angry blogging to generate buzz, and none of the more unpleasant things that can happen when a certain other religion gets insulted (I'm looking at you, Zarathustrians). Fortunately, no religious groups took the bait and the only insulting thing about the game is its own shallow gameplay (and, if you are well read enough, the butchering of a classic work of literary art).

The game itself has you in the shiny metal boots of a Christian crusader who dies and, obviously, goes to hell for his part in the war. Then you kill Death, and something something something, your constantly naked wife is murdered and for some reason she goes to hell too (possibly for never wearing any clothing) and, yadda yadda yadda, the poet Dante Alighieri teaches you magic spells and helps you traipse your way through hell and a series of images and landscapes straight out of the Subversion for Idiots guidebook.

As a final note: The gamer in me can't help but add this bit: The game of Dante's Inferno is, after all, worth a rental. I look somewhat forward to button mashing and quick time event-ing my way through this thing on some boring weekend. Also, they clearly hired the same people who did the Heavy Metal cartoons to do the cutscenes for the game. That, for me anyway, is a small plus.

Still, I'll probably have to roll my eyes a bunch along the way to the end.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Back with vengeance so fiery!

Expect updates once a week on both this blog and my Stingy Hat game dev blog( Speaking of which, check out my up and coming game over at Stingy Hat. It should release within a week, as soon as I add a HUD and figure out how to get SDL to build in release mode.

Anywho.... Game Politics!

This week's topic of discussion: Venezuela? More like VenezGAYla! Am I right?

Basically what happened is that Hugo Chavez took to his popular weekly radio show this week to uncover games for the evil, capitalist brainwashing tools that they are. During his show, which I believe is called "Listen or Die with Hugo in the Morning!", Chavez made the sinister connection between games, violence, and drug use.

As it turns out, "Some games teach you to kill." Furthermore, these games are all made by (evil) capitalists for (evil) capitalist reasons. What else is made by capitalists? Drugs.

Ah, now you see. Clearly, video games are full of evil subtext that tries to lure our youth into violence and the fair market system. Drugs can lead to violence and are also bad, erego drugs = videogames.

Confused? Well I've drawn up this handy diagram for you using MSPaint technology. Enjoy.

Read more about this story here.

Also, check out my new review of Army of Two: The 40th Day at, kindly posted by fearless leader and all around foxy lady Tara Jayne.