Sunday, October 28, 2007

Steve Jackson Ate my Brain

Alright, not literally. But the guy does seem hell bent on publishing every good idea I ever had. Have you seen Munchkin Quest? Ok, so you take the nice mechanics of Munchkin and put it on a board that randomly configures with dungeon rooms and doors, and Wham-O, you got a great game.

I knew I should have ran with that. The good news is all my great ideas are being made by a guy who I think is one of the best (if not the best) designer in the industry. The bad news is none of my great ideas are being made by me. This one only hurts because I abandoned the last prototype to play World of Warcrack.

Sigh. I hate you Blizzard. I really, really hate you.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Commence the Rebukes

All right, I signed up for face book. I couldn't help it - I wanted to view Craig's page after he sent me a clip of M.U.L.E., which we all know is one of my top ten Multiplayer Games of all time.

And then the onslaught begins... widgets, friend requests. I get why Wayne shut his account down. The email load alone is pushing me into an autistic episode. Milestone reached - First friend request from somebody I don't really want to be friends with. I honestly thought it would take longer.

"Flame shields up."

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Custom Controlers are the Work of the Devil

I mean that in the best possible way. "Ace Combat 6", for the 360 looks sweet. Everybody in the room was quite impressed when we ran the demo. And now it has a joystick and throttle. This where it all starts with the consoles. Spending more and more money on fancy bits of plastic to "enhance" your game play. On the upside, these at least look like quality controllers. (But a mouse and keyboard for Halo 3, too much to ask).

Before I rant on, I should also add that my current experience with rechargables in the 360 pads is very positive. After the better part of two plus weeks, they need a recharge. Nickel metal hydride FTW.

Anyways, the package, which includes the game, is about 120. The game is going to be about 65-ish anyways, that means for about 60 bucks you get a decent looking stick and throttle. Not too shabby. I'm very, very tempted. I also remember how this went with my custom controlers on the 2600. Bad, bad, bad...

Oh yes, Cosmic Commander, I remember your shoddy butt.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

My 32nd Cut

I keep going back to this one idea. I think it should be a great game. My wheels hit the ground spinning. I play out the inertia. I run out of gas.

Is it possible that the idea itself is fundamentally flawed? Is it ok to design games you know no one will ever get to play? Is that as crazy as it sounds?

Self doubt is a necessary evil.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Post Bioshock Note

I mentioned that I would come back to this, and I may yet again. Yes it was that good. I pulled the xBox 360 demo of Bioshock down and ran it through. I can honestly say that yes, it looks a bit better on PC, if you have the hardware. Which is what I've been saying all along. The biggest offender is the textures, which show hints of the pixelation at close inspection. Just visible. Also, I noticed the aliasing on edges a lot more. That may be the fact that I'm playing on such a large display, however.

The game still totally rocks, and when Brian finishes with his copy, I'm grabbing it off him. The controls work quite well, though the hacking mini-game is slightly harder without a mouse.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Last Days of PC Gaming

I don't mean on a big scale, I mean in my house. I'm guessing a certain amount of this is novelty. And some of it is certainly ease of use.

But my PC's been unplugged for two days and I didn't even notice. Have you seen the demo of Conan? Ok it may end up being God of War for the 360, but how bad is that. I actually spent about 4 hours playing a puzzle game. A puzzle game.

And suddenly the whole driver, windows, cd-key thing just looks like so much hassle. Guess I shouldn't have spent all that money then. If you all could just avoid mentioning it, that would be great.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

XBox 360 FTW

I am now the proud owner of a brand new XBox 360. It is very shwanky. Of course, it has also generated it's first sleepless night.

To Do:
Move TV - I put the TV a bit high on the wall, seemed a good idea at the time. It's too high. Needs to come down about 6 inches. I think we're going to re-arrange anyways, though.

Get DVI/HDMI - my TV only supports 1080i over componant. I need HDMI to go 1080p.

Get Live Gold account - I have to admit one of the real draws of the 360 is the Live Arcade. I need some of that, I mean Carcassone and Settlers!

(pwn those n00bs with the uber l33t hax...)

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The one where I prove out how I'm a gamer (yes, It's a real shocker...)

Last night I played the demo for Lionhead's "The Movies". Cool game. Because sometimes I just want to play a game where nobody is trying to kill me. I'm sure when most of the people who associate me with gaming think of the games I play, they think "Quake". That would of course be partly because they don't play games and they don't understand that nobody has played "Quake" since, like, 3d cards came out, or dinosaurs roamed the Earth.

They don't, I expect, think of me sitting down to several hours of "The Sims". Interestingly enough, it was "The Sims" that broke me out of my violent war toy shackles. I really had no intention of ever looking at "The Sims" on the shelf, let alone buying and installing it. But, my roommate at the time had a copy, and I was bored, and it was getting a lot of good press.

Two weeks later and Hank Poody was somewhat infamous. At one point my wife stopped and watched over my shoulder for ten minutes.

"What are you doing?", the tone here was giving the subtext of cautious-but-certain-you're-an-idiot. I get that a lot, so I recognize it.

"Playing the Sims." I came back. Very clever with the comebacks, I am.

"Yes. But what are you doing?!" I can sense a certain amount of exasperation. I, of course, should be able to use telepathy to discern at this point what what is what.

"Well," I said, not really able to resist a chat about my new favorite game, "Hank here needs to get these dishes done. His Need for Clean (that how I said it: Need for Clean. Like Need for Speed in "Top Gun", but no F14s) is getting in the way of his next promotion. And I really want to get the plasma TV. For Hank I mean."

There is a brief pause. "If you want, there is a whole sink full of dishes in the kitchen..." Lesson learned. I now do dishes almost every day.

So, "The Movies". It's like "The Sims", except you're building a movie empire. I like the empire bits, too. And that's what makes me a real gamer. I just really like to play games. Even games about doing the dishes.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Bioshock Complete

I am done. I give it a 9.5 out of 10.

Graphics (Technical) - 10 out of 10
In spite of my shader woes, I have to say this game utilizes some of the prettiest effects I've ever seen. And once you have a competent card (current midrange cards), it runs quite without a hitch, even when everything was on fire, and shooting electrical sparks, and partially under water to boot. Yes, I have seen all three on screen at once. With a fog effect. And shadows. And dynamic lights.

Graphics (Artistic) - 9 out of 10
The artistic design is top notch, with a couple of things I still take exception too. The period and Art Deco design of the levels was very cohesive and consistent. However, on the (many, many) occasions when I could see the standard bad guys (called Splicers) up close, they had a tendency towards a waxy-ness in finish. I'm not sure if this was deliberate or not, but I personally found them less believable than say Half-Life 2, with it's almost photo realism. It is important to note that this may be because I'm only running DX9, not DX10, as I refuse to install Vista. Looking at some of the comparison screen shots, I think this effect may be less on the DX10 implementation.

The bulk of the textures, however, are quite remarkably well done. I never once thought "Boy, upclose, that's not so good." I should note that there was at least one configuration of "Splicer" that I thought was very like the design and styling of characters System Shock 2, the legendary previous project of Irrational. It stood out, and may in fact be an homage, but looked a bit of place where I noticed it. That may have been intentional.

Sound (Ambient and Vocal) - 9 out of 10
The sound effects and voice acting is spot on. The folly sound bits, though a bit repetitive, help to set the stage, offering plenty of cues to the story and game play. The active sound effects (weapon noises, power effects, interface alerts) are all consistently well played. I did notice a few places where I would have an audio log be interrupted by a scripted voice over, but as you can replay any voice over you hear from you journal page, thats more an inconvenience than an issue. I am curious to see if the sound supports surround and the like, but on both my analog and USB headsets it was all high quality.

Sound (Music) - 10 out of 10
The soundtrack is a mix of period music and original orchestral music. It is somewhat sparse, but when used is used for excellent dramatic effect. The music has been recorded at a reasonable quality, but has often in the case of the period music been modified to sound like the device on which it is represented as being played back on. Music from an old phonograph, for example, is suitably scratchy and tinny.

Gameplay (technical) - 9 out of 10
The standard shoot controls are evident, and the mechanic for swapping ammunition and between weapons and plasmids (your special magic powers in the game) works well. I found the controls to be reasonably intuitive. Certainly if you have played any shooter before, the movement and combat isn't going to be hard for you to pick up. As a Battlefield fan, however, I missed 2 things that I consider standard. One is double tap to sprint, the other is zoom-aim.

The menu interface, though artistic, actually has some minor difficulties. In at least two places the only way to go back to the previous screen is to press escape. There should always be a 'go back' button. In spite of this, the interface is clear and otherwise precise. Options are labeled clearly and organized logically.

In fact the only out of place bit of information as I saw it was the markers for Little Sister/Big Daddy pairs in a map. This information is only displayed on the 'esc' menu, not anywhere on the 'Map'/'Hint'/'Goal' screen, which was a bit odd, but easily over looked.

The game has a goal arrow implemented which is fairly useful. I believe it only actually confused my twice. And there was only one spot where I was certain there should have been an arrow and there wasn't.

Gameplay (Story, length and artistic merit)
Hands down, this is a well crafted game. The story is worth following. And deep and dark. Irrational (ok, 2k Boston, if you insist) has not failed to live up to it's reputation established with System Shock 2 as crafters of great, immersing stories.

Length, a long standing issue of mine, is about right. I'm sure a hard core shooter type can rocket through in less than 10 hours, but you're only experiencing about half the game if you play it that way. If you spend the time digging into the environment, sussing out the audio logs and things, you will, I expect get closer to 20~25 hours on a single run. Your millage will vary according to skill, ability and difficulty setting.

Re playability, on the other hand, is not high. It is after all a story game. Once you've seen it, you've seen it, and I have to expect you're not going to want to go through it again right away. I'm not, at least. I will try a run through at the hard setting at some point, but I would not be surprised if I did not play all the way through.

Final Sums:
You should not hesitate to buy Bioshock brand new if you have the PC horsepower to make it work. If you don't have the PC horsepower, you may want to consider the 360 route instead. I have yet to try it on the 360, but will shortly (if that should impact this statement I will update), and have it on good authority that the differences are minor. All reports in, after you settle into the controls the experience is highly similar. At a bare minimum you owe this one a rent with a console, if that's your shortest path to the goal, the down side being it probably represents a solid weekend of fending off the partner to get it done.