Monday, February 25, 2013

Today I was going to make a post about Skyrim.  Unfortunately, as I was writing it, I kept getting reminded of all the ludicrous complaints I've seen about the game.  This caused me to lose interest in writing positive things.

Instead I'll just congratulate Daniel Day-Lewis on his Oscar win.  

Friday, February 22, 2013

Modern convenience is a term that has delved into the absurd in recent years, with the advent of the smart phone.  I wouldn't exactly refer to the ability to play Angry Birds while taking a shit a "convenience".  I can't say that I'm huge fan of how many people are now socially or technology connected just about every waking moment.  When it comes to me, sometimes I'm a grumpy cat and just want everyone to leave me the fuck alone.

But when it comes to modern convenience, there are some gems.  A lot of them are simple things.  (It's always the simple things.)  Allow me to give you an example.  On my way home from work last night, it was snowing and fucking cold.  But even so, I needed to stop and get gas for my car, because even though I had no desire to be out in this inconvenience that is called Winter, I didn't want to be stranded from running out of gas, either.  And, since the weather has been very wintry lately, I was low on windshield-washer fluid.  I needed to get some of that, too.

As I was swiping my cards at the gas pump, I noticed that on the screen it was asking me if I would like to buy windshield-washer fluid.  I looked to my right, and there were stacks of it sitting between the pumps.  So I selected yes and it was added to the total of my pumped gas.  I picked up a gallon of fluid and filled my car's reservoir, and tossed the jug into a bin.  I didn't need to cross the windswept tundra that was the parking lot, I didn't need to stand in-line at the checkout, and I didn't need to speak to one of those annoying things...what are they called?  Oh right.  Humans.

This is the kind of modern convenience that I enjoy.  

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Dead Space 3

Apparently, Ridley Scott was wrong.  In space, only your co-op partner can hear you scream.

In my previous post, I talked about the problems that I have with co-op games.  Let's first apply them to Dead Space 3.  Perhaps as we go through here, you'll be helped in deciding whether or not you want to try this game out.

Can I play the main storyline with my co-op partner?
Yes, yes you can.  It is certainly clear in some places where the co-op feels a bit shoehorned into things, mainly in the character dialogues.  For example, there's one place where Isaac says, "It looks like I'm the first person to walk through here in years."  Yet his co-op partner is two steps ahead of him.  So, we're not talking about anything that's game breaking or horribly distracting.  Just minor things.  On the flip side, there are plenty of places where the solution to move on to the next area of the level requires both of you to complete.  That could be something as simple as simultaneously pressing a button, or to something more complex like using kinesis on some machinery to get it to work.

What's even better is that most of the loot, aside from collectibles (text logs, artifcacts) and rare crafting materials are shared.  If you open a locker and pick up an ammo clip, it will still be there for your co-op partner to pick up, as well.

So what we have here is a game that solves both of my most common problems with co-op games.  It's off to a good start.

Can I connect to the game?
For the most part, yes.  When I first created a game, I made it private, which meant it was on an "invite only" basis.  I then invited John to the game.  Nothing happened.  I tried to invite him multiple times with no success.  And, because it was a private game, he couldn't find it to join.  So that's not so great.   But, I recreated the game publicly, and he was able to instantly find it and join.  So the answer is yes, you can connect, but it's not 100%.  So close.

On the bright side, at least I didn't have to do any silly port forwarding.  I mean seriously.  I have no more room in my router for more forwards.  None.  Stop making games that require you to do this. Seriously, just stoppit.

Do I feel like I'm actually contributing to the game?
Yes.  Contribution was something that Portal 2 got very right.  Now, honestly, in a game like that it was difficult to get it -wrong-.  It's co-op puzzle solving.  Of course you're going to feel like you're actually contributing.  This is much more difficult to accomplish in a game where you're fighting off enemies.  In my opinion, it was something that Diablo 3 didn't do very well.  I'm guessing that certainly on the hardest difficulty, that's probably not the case, but on lower difficulties I didn't really feel like I needed to be there at all, except on the boss fights.

But in Dead Space 3, it feels right.  There are puzzles, as I mentioned, that require you both.  And, when fighting the enemies it certainly feels like both of us are required to down them, whether it's both of us using the plasma cutter to slice off their arms and legs, or if I'm using the shock weapon to blast the necromorphs to the floor while John slices them up.  It's teamwork, and doesn't feel one-sided.

Is it green?
No.  No it isn't.

Is it scary?
I wouldn't use that term to describe it.  It's certainly dark.  Definitely atmospheric.  And at many times it's tense.  But I wouldn't call it scary.  That would be really, really difficult to pull off with two people.  Adding that other person changes the dynamic of everything.  You will certainly feel more at ease with a friend by your side, just as you would in real life.  But, that's okay as far as I'm concerned.  It works.

As sort of a testament to how -tense- the game can be, though, you'll notice that I haven't provided any screenshots displaying enemies or the killing of such.  This is because, as I just realized now, that any time enemies show up, I'm too focused on taking them down to tap the screenshot key.  We're playing through it on hard difficulty, so things are challenging but not overbearing.

Is it fun?
Quite.  As I've said, there aren't very many co-op games out there that I actually like.  Certainly less than I would prefer.  So finally having a decent one has been great fun.  The fact that it's a game in a franchise that I already enjoy and know only adds to the fun as well.  In regards to the story, Portal 2's was great but it still had that "secondary" feel to it because it wasn't the main storyline.  It felt like it was there for fun, and nothing else.  Certainly there's nothing wrong with that.  But with Dead Space 3, it -is- the main story we're playing through.  That alone makes it feel deeper.  It's great to be able to experience a good, dark sci-fi story with John, rather than having to experience it separately and then talk about it later.

But what if I feel like EA is Satan and Origin is His spawn?
Origin is required to play this game.  However, it's not as obtrusive as it was with Mass Effect 3.  Aside from launching the game from Origin, and seeing the "Press Shift+F1 to access the overlay" message, I really didn't even know it was there.  This is simply the world that we live in today.  EA wants to bring down Steam, and they are going to any lengths to do it, including selling their games on Uplay and keeping them off of Valve's platform.  Get used to it.  You're soon going to have about a dozen different clients installed on your computer in order to play all your games.  It's already ludicrous when you launch Far Cry 3 from Steam, and then have Uplay open up in addition to that.  But this is the world in which we live.  If you don't like it, then don't just say you won't buy Dead Space 3 for that reason.  You may as well stop buying all games and give up the hobby, because these clients aren't going anywhere, and the exclusive releases are only going to get worse as other companies try to put more pressure and take more business away from Valve.

At the end of the day, you have a choice.  You either boycott all games that require a client, or you just buy the games you want to play like you always do.  Doing anything else is just silly, and won't help anything.  For me, I'd much rather play good games than try to make a statement.  And Dead Space 3 is worth having to use Origin.

On to the basics then.  As you can tell from the multitude of screenshots I've been dropping all over this post, the game looks good.  The developers stated that the PC version of the game was a "bare-bones port" from the console version.  Either something was taken out of context, or they aren't aware of how bare-bones a port can be.  I'm looking at you, Dark Souls.

The controls feels fine, even with a mouse a keyboard.  I've heard some people state that it really feels like the game is designed for a controller and should be played as such.  But, I haven't noticed anything wrong with the mouse and keyboard controls.  All the other controls are intact and working.  You can mute the in-game voice communication, there are subtitles, you can change the resolution, and there are a moderate amount of graphic options.  Obviously, there aren't advanced options that you would see in a game that actually got some PC attention.  But it's hardly "bare-bones" as was reported.  The Nvidia console has Dead Space 3 included already, so I simply used it to optimize my settings.  It worked like a charm, and the game looks very good on my system.

Aside from the graphics, both the sounds and the score stand out to me as being above average.  The game's atmosphere is definitely heightened by the sounds and ambiance.  The score kicks in at the right time, when it should, and certainly adds to the action set pieces.  Whats even better, though, is when the music stops.  You notice it, and it tells you that something might be happening soon.  It adds to the tension to great effect.

For those of you who have played the previous Dead Space games, the biggest change I think you will notice is the crafting system.  I haven't gathered enough resources to take an in-depth look at it thus far, but what I have seen to date has been rather impressive.  There's a LOT of stuff you can do.  Lots of customization, lots of different parts you can add to weapons, and you can even craft them from scratch.  You can also trade supplies and schematics with your co-op partner.  It's really well done, and I look forward to exploring it further. There's not much more to say right now.  We're a few hours into the game with lots to go, so I'm sure I'll have more to talk about later.  Dead Space 3 is definitely a game I'd recommend, especially to fans of dark science fiction, shooters, or survival games.

Some Words on Co-op Gaming

Online co-op is not a relatively new feature in modern games, but it's one that's only recently risen to prominence over the last couple of years.  Franchises that began as solely individual experiences are now getting sequels that allow you to play with a friend, or even many friends.  You can see this everywhere, from Portal 2, to Far Cry 3, to The Elder Scrolls Online.

The advent of co-op and multi-player gaming has not been without its growing pains, and developers have struggled a bit to evolve it.  For the longest time during the late 1990's and the first decade of the 2000's, most multi-player gaming was a tacked on feature, sometimes so much so that it had a different application launcher.  That slowly began to change as the decade wore on, and now multi-player has become a standard feature in a lot of franchises, sometimes becoming the -main- feature.  And, of course, multitudes of multi-player -only- titles have been and are still being released to varying success.

But let's focus on co-op for a moment if we may.  This is something that's taken a bit longer to evolve, but it's been coming into its own quite recently.  A lot of big-name franchises have been receiving co-op modes.  Sometimes they are done well.  Sometimes they are not.  Portal 2 is an example of co-op done extremely well.  It's entertaining, engaging, and it makes both players feel like they are contributing to the gameplay.  It was also a separate mode entirely from the main solo campaign.  Usually I don't prefer this, but with Portal 2 it was brilliant.  I loved the co-op characters, and the story was great.  I didn't feel slighted that it wasn't possible to co-op the main campaign.

Other games do not apply their co-op so well.  Take Hunted for example.  That co-op would have been quite good if it was actually balanced correctly.  Unfortunately, in some parts of the game, even on the easiest difficulty, it was nigh impossible to get through it on co-op.  When playing solo, you had an invincible AI character at your side to help you.  Replace that with a player, and you both end up dead very quickly.  Bad design.

When it comes to co-op, it just seems to me that it's very rarely done well.  Either the co-op is good, but separate from the main game.  Or, it's not done well but it's melded into the main campaign.  (I would prefer the main game be playable co-op.  And, unfortunately, I prefer the main game to be co-op, which results in my choices of co-op games being very, very few.

Far Cry 3's co-op is separate from the main game.  I absolutely love Far Cry 3, but I've never tried the co-op.  I don't see the point of buying the game again at full price just so I can play that one small portion of the game, especially when I got so much out of the solo campaign.  Now, if it ever goes on sale for like 50-75% off, I will consider it.  But not until then.

Borderlands 2 co-op is melded into main campaign.  Great!  Unfortunately, I also hate it.  Loot sharing should never be implemented in a game without a means of equal distribution.  That oversight alone made me hate it, and I refuse to play the game with anyone else.

And let's not forget about the elephant in the room:  The fact that developers seem utterly incapable of making connecting to a co-op game easy.  I'm utterly amazed that in today's world the need to forward ports and disable firewalls and turn off anti-virus software and install patches and tweak settings and align the stars are all still necessary in order to simply connect to a damned game.  We put men on the moon nearly 45 years ago, but we're incapable of making a simple online connection between two computers?  Half-Life 2 deathmatch.  Minecraft.  Unreal Tournament.  Magicka.  You're all guilty of this.  That's just a few.  There are multitudes more.  It's horrendous.

I have my hopes, though, that things will only get better.  Some early proof of that is now here.  Dead Space 3 is out, and the main campaign is entirely playable co-op.  I've played some of it.  You can look forward to hearing my thoughts relatively soon.  

Thursday, February 14, 2013

There's a problem brewing in the game's industry.  A good old fashioned "Us vs. Them" war could possibly erupt in the next few years if we're not careful.  Allow me first to describe to you a mentality that I have touched upon before.  The average gamer is rather predicable in a number of ways.  Especially the PC Gamer.  In short, this is how it goes:

They will hate any large game publisher, and will call them greedy.  Conversely, they will love any indie game developer, and worship the ground they walk upon.

The reason for this is rather complex in a number of ways, but there are a few standard, simplistic ones that apply to my point here.  The first and major one is that with large publishers, the customer is more inclined to feel cheated in some way.  Let's face it:  When you're as large as EA or Blizzard, you have a very, very large group of people that you need to aim your product at.  This leads to people thinking your product is either dumbed down, too hard, too casual, or too hardcore.  In today's world, it's cool and standard procedure to hate the "big guys" and to root for the "underdogs".  In this example, big-name game publishers are the big guys, and the indie companies are the underdogs.

Additionally, big budget games these days have a lot of things in common that make the customer feel cheated and/or nickel-dimed.  DLC packs, pre-order bonuses, always-online DRM, and micro-transactions to name a few.  These things are becoming more and more common because they work.  You don't have to like it.  Hell, I certainly don't.  But this is the world we live in today.  As long as people support the games that do these things, and buy these extra other words, as long as they make the companies money, they will continue to exist.  And people do it...of course they do.  I do it.  I snatched up each DLC for Skyrim and Borderlands 2 that exist because I fucking love those games.  People hate me for doing that, but I don't care because I wanted MORE.  Just remember that when you are about to chastise these people -- eventually, there WILL be a game that you love enough to do the same, if it hasn't happened already.

Before I move on, I just want to point out that not all DLC is bad.  It's become sort of a dirty word now in the industry these days, and I much prefer the old types of DLC that used to be called Expansion Packs.  Those I love, and those are typically the only types of DLC that I will buy.  The DLC for Skyrim (aside from Hearthfire) and the DLC contained in the Borderlands 2 Season Pass are examples of DLC that I would actually call Expansion Packs.  There were some other DLC for BL2 that wasn't -- more skins, and an arena map -- and those I did not purchase.  I don't care about skins, extra weapons, special armor, or anything like that.  Those types of DLC can die, for all I care.

Back on topic, though.  So like I said, in today's world it's cool to love those indie devs and hate those big game publishers.  I've given you the main reasons for this already.  But there's more.  Not only do indie games come without all that nickel-diming DLC, pre-order bonuses/rewards, and all that crap, but they also have this inclination to give out free stuff.  And let me tell you, nothing draws the worship of the PC Gaming masses more than free stuff.  Allow me to provide you with some examples.

The developers of The Witcher 2, CDProjektRed, released an Enhanced Edition of The Witcher 2 for free, with additional content, added cut-scenes, and a more polished game.  They didn't charge a dime for it, and this earned them HUGE brownie points with their fanbase.  I say good on them for this, and I don't have a problem with it at all.  It's great of them to give that extra bit of effort.  I do, however, have a problem with the idol worship from the masses that this sparked.  Now, it's come to the point where CDProjektRed can basically do no wrong, and that's a very bad mentality to have.

The developer of Hotline Miami actively assisted people trying to pirate his game, rationalizing that he couldn't stop it and just wants people to enjoy his creation.  This sparked a huge amount of support for him, and PC Gamers everywhere stood up on their soap boxes and demanded that everyone that could hear them go out and immediately buy that game to show that PC Gaming loves people like him. The problem with this, obviously, is that you're supporting a guy who's saying he thinks stealing is okay.  This is horribly misguided.

Most recently, the devs of Chivalry released free DLC for their game.  You remember what I said about free stuff, so I really don't need to explain the response to this.  What's scary is that people are getting up on their soap box again, and demanded not only that everyone should immediately go buy this game, but that people should purposefully wait for it to NOT BE ON SALE so they buy it at full price, because the devs deserve "heaps of success for doing this despite the game having a multitude of bugs."  Are you FUCKING kidding me?  I shouldn't have to explain the problems with this, but fuck that, I'm going to do it anyway.

Let me give you a taste of the hypocrisy of the average PC Gamer.  Dead Space 3 was released to good reviews, with the universal opinion basically being that it's a very solid game with great combat.  It's not blazing any trails in innovation, but it's slick, smooth, runs without any problems, looks great, has great co-op as well as single-player, and is all-around just a very good game.  Yet the masses pound their chests and say "NOT PAYING FULL PRICE!  WON'T BUY UNTIL IT'S UNDER $10!"  And then you have a game that, to me, doesn't look that great, and apparently has a multitude of bugs, yet those same people are standing up on their soap boxes yelling "BUY IT BUT DON'T GET IT ALL SALE!  FULL PRICE TO SUPPORT THE DEVS!"


So here's the potential problem that I see looming on the horizon:  Eventually, someone is going to catch on to this mob mentality, and they're going to take advantage of it.  They're going to use the average PC Gamer's penchant for rooting for the underdog, and use it to make some quick money off of their gullibility.  Because you know what?  All that free stuff doesn't mean shit if the product is irrevocably pisspoor and unplayable.  

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

My Precious Pixels

Yesterday, I had a discussion with John regarding video game graphics.  I made the argument that I wasn't particularly thrilled with the success of such games as Minecraft, Faster Than Light, and Hotline Miami because they look like shit.  The age-old argument to that is simply "Graphics aren't everything; it's the gameplay that matters."  To this I have two things to say to you:  You are entitled to your opinion.  Also, go fuck yourself.

The truth is, though, that I certainly agree that gameplay is very important, but to me graphics are just as integral to the whole concept of enjoying a game.  This is why I have a very, very difficult time understanding the endless amounts of Minecraft maps that are recreations of other games.  Why in the name of Zeus' butthole would I want to play a Fallout-based Minecraft map?  Fallout 3 is a few years old now and quite honestly looks a bit dated to be sure, but it still looks light-years better than Minecraft.

But let's be clear here:  I totally understand why someone would want to CREATE such a thing.  It'd be a nice accomplishment.  The person who created it should be proud of their work.  But to actually play it?  I don't get it, and I never will.  To me, that's like going to a restaurant, having the choice between the same dish prepared either by an award-winning chef or a three year old, and choosing the three year old's.  And getting salmonella because it wasn't cooked properly.

But PD!  People are entitled to play what they want!

Sure.  But that doesn't mean that I have to understand it.  I would like to think that there are only two types of people who would do such a thing:  Either people like the Yogscast who play it probably because their fans requested they do so, and Internet trolls who simply says "Item X is better than Item Y" simply because they want people to disagree with them.  I can do the same thing.  Here, I'll show you:

I liked Dragon Age 2 better than The Witcher 2.

Though, admittedly this isn't trolling.  It's truth.  It's just that everyone THINKS I'm trolling because obviously if I don't worship the ground the CDProjekt walks upon, I'm clearly an idiot.  Yeah?  Fuck you.  I found the Witcher 2's story boring and disconnected, the combat to be stupid, and the game crashed repeatedly on me even almost 2 years after it was released.  I actually gave the game another chance last week.  I played about 4 hours of it.  And stopped.  I just wasn't having any fun.

I'm trying to decide what my point is, here, because I think I've sadly lost it.  I came here to talk about graphics, and this was prompted this very morning after reading an article on RPS regarding an interview with Bethesda, in which one of them said they are focusing on graphics.  I was pretty happy to hear that.  SAID NO ONE EXCEPT ME, APPARENTLY.

I was actually shocked at how much hate that article prompted.  But, while a lot of what I read seemed utterly nonsensical to me, I suppose that same could be said for the rant that I just had in the ensuing paragraphs above.  A lot of people loved The Witcher 2, and they would think that liking Dragon Age 2 more than it is nonsensical.  That's human nature, and opinions are like assholes:  Everyone is one.

Oh.  I mean everyone HAS one.  I mis-typed.


The truth is I just need something to be angry about, because being angry about what's really bothering me is pointless.  This is why I haven't posted here in a few weeks.  It would have just been counter-productive, just like this whole article has been.  But hey, writing angrily is a lot better than throwing things.  


Holy smokes.  The last post I wrote for this blog was on October 18, 2017.  Through the little more than  two years since, this blog has be...