Monday, September 1, 2014

Games of PAX 2014

Sorry for being a day late, but once again I went to PAX, and once again I played games. It seems like I managed to get into less this year, despite doing nothing but playing games. I'll write more next week on why I think that is, but for now I'm going to talk about the games I got in to see. Or at least most of them. I may have forgotten some...and I've left off any entries in the PAX 10, which I may talk about later.

Lords of the Fallen (http://lordsofthefallen.com/) - A 3D action style game with a strong focus on combat. It's extremely similar to the Dark Souls/Semon Souls franchises, though it has it's own art style that is somewhat similar to a cross between Dark Souls and Darksiders. The demo has you locked in a rather tight corridor fighting a few different enemy types. There's not much to say about it other than it seems to very closely following the Dark Souls formula for combat, though spells are mana based instead of use based. It seemed fun, but it also seemed buggy. Hopefully it's an older build, because otherwise they have a lot to fix in two months.

Bloodborne (http://www.playstation.com/en-us/games/bloodborne-ps4) - The new game from the developers of the first Dark Souls game. It's similar in style, though an evolution of the form. Gone are the shields and slow pace of the former, replaced by guns and quick dodging. I've heard the argument that it's less strategic, but I don't know that I agree. It seems like it's more on-your-feet thinking, sure, but it still requires that same methodology you got in the Souls series. The art direction is pretty astounding, all the human players/enemies have really long bodies, it's dark yet has a certain feel that seperates itself from the Souls series. My friends that are really into the Dark Souls games did not get as far as I did, and I've beaten both but largely due to playing online, so take that however you will.

The Order 1886 (http://www.playstation.com/en-us/games/the-order-1886-ps4) – The first thing I want to say about this game is a positive one. It's a BEAUTIFUL game. I cannot stress enough how great it looks. That being said, that's the only thing it really seems to have going for it. You can't really kill people with the machine gun you were given, as it's way too inaccurate. Several of the people that started before me were still stuck in the first area when I got up, and I spent several minutes before I realized my own strategy. The main strategy I came up with was to launch a flare and then explode it as it passed by the enemies. But otherwise, the demo we played was very generic cover based shooter. Enemies poured out of doors so I had to keep shooting at the same place, there was no variation from generic soldiers. Maybe it will be a good game, but the section I saw wasn't very good.

Axiom Verge (http://www.axiomverge.com/) - I didn't get much time with this, but it seems like a very well made metroidvania. In fact, it's so similar to Super Metroid from what I played, that's the best way I can describe it. If you liked Super Metroid, then you should check this out.

Knight Squad (http://www.knightsquadgame.com/) - A rather amusing party game. It's an overhead brawler, where you attack each other with the weaponry dropped around the map. We played a Capture the Flag style mode, where all 8 players were running around wildly trying to kill one another. I could have a LOT of fun with this...if I could get 8 people in the same room wanting to play it. Sadly, I doubt that's very realistic for me. You can do smaller matches, and we only played with a group of 4, but 8 would be best.

Speedrunners (http://tinybuild.com/speedrunners) – Another party game, featuring 4 “superheroes” running in circles around a stage, trying to force others off the back of the map. It's surprisingly fun, and I hope there's more content in the final version. The most interesting thing to me is how they handle “rubberbanding”. The player in front can eventually get so close to the edge of the screen that they have no time to react, so they are more likely to run into obstacles, allowing the players behind to catch up. It's a creative mechanic that solves a lot of issues racing games have...or at least it does if you don't have the map memorized.

Escape Goat 2 (http://www.escapegoat2.com/) - I'd heard of this title before, even have watched people play it (or the previous game). You play as a goat going through a puzzle platformer, and eventually get a mouse companion that runs through small openings. It seems solid and well made. Beyond that, the only thing I have to say is that I got a good chance to talk to one of the devs.

Below (http://www.capybaragames.com/below/) - I was drawn to this pretty game as the convention hall was preparing to close on the second day. The art style makes the game look like it was made out of all the darkest kinds of construction paper. Although top down, it seems like Dark Souls in exploration...although there are very few enemies. We kept dying, though we were rarely sure why. There was no music until the first time we died, though we were never sure why. I really got nothing out of playing the game, though I'm still open to it in the future. Hopefully they'll have a tutorial and some understanding of game mechanics upon launch, but I really have no clue on this one.

Gigantic (http://www.gogigantic.com/) - I'm going to start off by saying I didn't enjoy this, but neither did I hate it, I have no strong opinions one way or the other. However, I seem to be in the minority on that. Almost everyone else I talked to really enjoyed it, but they are mostly MOBA fans. It's a third-person MOBA where you have to spawn creeps manually. If you like MOBA's, you'll probably like it.

Apotheon (http://www.alientrap.org/games/apotheon) – This was at PAX last year, and I believe I talked about it then. The art style is cool, but I don't know how I feel about gameplay. There doesn't seem to be much to it. The story MIGHT be interesting enough to hold my attention, or it might be really weak...I couldn't tell.

Delver's Drop (http://delversdrop.com/) - This was also at PAX last year, so go read that if you want more info. It's an overhead dungeon crawler. It seems like a lot of fun.

Hive Jump (http://hivejump.com/) - This was sharing a booth with Delver's Drop. It's a co-op platforming game involving using weaponry to take out incoming enemies. It's a small team that currently has a kick-starter going on to hire another programmer. Hopefully they get their funding, because I'd like to see what they could do, but right now their game is pretty lacking in the tech department. I got a good chance to talk to some of the developers, and they seem like great guys that all have an art background.

Wander (http://www.wanderthegame.com/) - Look, I hate to be mean, at least in this forum, but I'm having a hard time coming up with good things to say. I really like the concept, and the graphics are, for the most part, pretty good. But I don't think I understand the implementation. It will be a MMO without any kind of combat and is entirely exploration based. You don't seem to be able to build, or farm, or anything else, it's just wandering around. As a Tree. Yes, a tree...you move incredibly slowly. I had a dev guide me along where I was supposed to go to progress this, but I got tired of how slow it was. I managed to get to a part where I turned into a really slow bird before I gave up. If you're going to make a game that's exploration based, then you NEED to move fast. I should note, I couldn't hear any of the dialouge at all, so perhaps it's more interesting with the story (which is the major point in the game).

RUNNER UP
Dreadnought (https://www.greybox.com/dreadnought/en/) - This is the most unexpected game at PAX for me. I'd never heard of it before, but it's being made by the same people that made Spec Ops: The Line. This realization occurred to me after I had been sitting in line for over an hour, while I was talking to one of the devs. I'm told that the game will have a single player mode as well, and we should expect the same caliber of writing as in Spec Ops.
As for the demo itself, it was a 5v5 deathmatch. You play as a space-ship, fighting it out with another team of them. You're allowed to choose which boat you want, and they are different classes with different abilities. All of them have weaponry, all of them move slowly, and all of them are heavily armored, though the extent of the three is defined by class. I chose a medic class, and went in between heavily armored ships and keeping within range of an artillery. We managed to win in a landslide victory despite much communication, playing against another set of 5. It was a lot of fun, and I can't wait to see the final version.

BEST IN SHOW
Evolve (http://evolvegame.com) – Anyone that knows me will not be surprised by this. Unless the game was awful, it was probably pre-ordained that this would be my favourite. I've logged so many hours into Left 4 Dead and it's sequel that it should be clear that another game with co-op style competitive play made by the same studio would be right up my alley. They also had the most impressive display. As you walk across the sky bridge, a giant screen shows off gameplay and trailers for the game. Once you enter the annex, you can see their giant Goliath statue, an impressive 20+ feet tall statue that scrapes the ceiling. They capitalized on location to draw attention to their game.
It's 4 hunters vs 1 monster. The monster starts out on the defensive, and must run from the hunters until it levels up and then can attack. Hunters are divided into 4 classes: Assault, Support, Medic, and Trapper. I managed to get in twice, and played the Support and Trapper classes. I had a harder time with Support, largely because play as “Bucket” involves tearing off your own head and sending it shooting around, while your body stays behind, and gets left behind by your teammates. I did better as a Trapper, but we still ended up losing. The game is not without bugs, which is probably why it was delayed, so I appreciate the fact more now. Honestly, I think once I get a chance to get some practice in and learn the different characters and even have a chance at the monster, I'll get a lot better, and will enjoy it even more.
But the best thing I can say about this? The developers were there, and HELPED the players play. This is the norm in the indie megabooth, but not with larger studios, so it was awesome. It wasn't Aliens Colonial Marines where they were separate and wouldn't let players be the monsters. All 5 positions were filled by PAX attendees, and they guided us through the stages of the game through a headset. I got a chance to talk to a few of the developers, but the one that spent the most time with me as I waited in line was the studio head. I waved him down and he came over and chatted with me about the game for a good half hour, even going so far as giving me his card when he found out I was a game designer. Again, this was normal for small, indie developers, but to get this treatment from a man in charge of a large team was pretty awesome.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Far Too Personal

I started to write something for this week, but it turned out to be something far too personal for this. So, I'm taking the week off, since I'm in Colorado. I'll post next week with something.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Issues with Mass Effect 2's Opening

I’m going back and forth on how much I want to talk about Mass Effect. The first was one of my favourite games of all time, and the sequels were such a huge letdown. I feel like the ending has been talked to death, so I’m hesitant to get into talking about the games much, but at the same time I don’t feel like there’s been much coverage into what actually annoyed me. I’m going to start this off with this first post, and then maybe grow it out from there.
I recently decided to play through the games again. I beat the first ME in a few days, and have been working on ME2 for over a week now. The problem is not so much that I think it’s a terrible game, as that there’s not any real sense of flow, and that I typically want to put the game down whenever I reach a “Mission Complete” screen, which is every half hour or so. However, during this playthrough, I made note of the issues I came across during the games opening. This consists of 3 areas: The Destruction of the Normandy, The resurrection of Shepard, and Freedoms Progress. These vary in severity, from immersion/lore breaking to completely trivial items that I found amusing. These are listed in order that I recognized them.

1. Normandy is seen by the Collectors despite being cloaked.
Joker comments on this, but it brings up the question...is it ok to break the lore if they recognize they are doing it? I say no.
2. Joker is exposed to the vacuum due to poor clothing.
He wears a helmet so he can breathe, but his neck and arms are exposed when he is moved to the escape pods. This is actually an ongoing issue throughout the game...characters regularly wear a re-breather but no suit when exposed to unlivable conditions.
3. Joker has a severe case of Vrolik Syndrome, yet runs to the escape pod.
Even with Shepard to lean on, this would be impossible. Shepard would have to carry him, and even then he would probably be in so much pain that he would pass out.
4. Shepard is blown into space, suffocates, is flash frozen, is burned up on entry to the planet below, and then frozen again on the planets surface, yet maintains his/her identity.
The brain is gone at this point. The body got so cold so fast that the blood boiled, and would have destroyed all the neurons. And then it melted, and then it happened again. The brain is gone at this point, there’s no amount of technology that can bring that back directly.
5. Upon waking up, Shepard’s armour and gun are stored directly next to the operating table.
I don’t really understand this one. Put it in the next room...why would you put it in the OR?
6. Shepard instantly knows about thermal clips.
Ok, lets ignore the stupidity of the entirety of galactic civilization switching to this backwards technology in two years. How does Shepard recognize that the gun doesn’t have it? Shepard has been dead for 2 years, and wasn’t around for the change. Why comment on it? Why not just have Miranda explain the issue?
7. Thrown grenades replaced by a grenade launcher.
Again, backwards technology. In the first game, grenades had mass effect fields that would let that travel in a straight line indefinitely. The grenade launcher shoots slower, is less accurate, the detonation can no longer be controlled, and grants no additional damage. There’s no reason for it to exist, within the games lore.
8. Project Lazarus has no other test subjects.
Lets pretend that Cerberus has no one else that would want to resurrect. This still means that all tests were performed directly on Shepard. If you have new technologies, this is irresponsible, and wouldn’t work. You would need corpses to test muscle, organ, personality success. Again, fixed by a single line of dialog...instead of saying “there are no other test subjects”, just say that they’re all corpses...because they are!
9. Miranda Lawson as the Lazarus project lead.
What exactly are her qualifications? She seems to be more of a Spec ops/bodyguard/secretary. It seems like she would need some practical experience in order to actually be the lead on such a project. Seems more likely she would be some sort of oversight, and the doctor would be the lead.
10. Jacob stops Shepard in the middle of destruction to say he works for Cerberus.
Hell has broken loose. Robots are killing everyone and all you have is a pistol. You come across a soldier and team up to escape this nightmare. Suddenly, he stops you, and tells you that he works for Cerberus, a group he knows you have personally busted unleashing monsters upon the galaxy, killing military, conducting genetic experiments. This is supposed to make you trust him? Bad timing dude...wait until we’re on the shuttle…
11. Miranda kills Dr. Wilson in cold blood right in front of Shepard, who just shrugs it off.
Barely a reaction on Shepards part. She says he was bad, so everyone takes it at face value. It’s never brought up again. How about checks and balances? Proof of any kind? How about shooting Miranda in response, because we aren’t even sure that she’s not going to try to kill us next?
12. When questioned about other survivors, Miranda says Shepard is all that matters, and they leave.
This may be less noticeable if you’re not playing as a paragon, but you don’t seem to be in any immediate danger. What’s the harm in waiting around for more survivors? There’s none. Instead you leave behind any potential survivors because Miranda says you’re more important than them.
13. The Illusive Man is located in front of a very distinct star.
At this point, humanity has been on the galactic stage for around 30 years. Other civilizations have been there for thousands. TIM is sitting in front of a star that that emits a very distinct light pattern, and there probably aren’t more than a handful of them in known space. How about taking that info to the Alliance so that they can capture this madman? How about going and visiting him yourself?
14. Instant Interstellar Communication via the Quantum Entanglement Communicator.
I’m going to throw out how ridiculous this technology is. Affecting 1 particle makes the other replicate it...ok, fine, whatever. Lets just talk about what this represents. The first Mass Effect featured limitations on technology. Communication was restricted because of bandwidth limitations. Council communications had top priority, then individual governments, then the rest was either purchased by re-sellers or given out for free. ME2 decided that explaining how Cerberus worked within the lore was too hard, and so it came up with a new technology instead. Sure, they tried to place limitations on it (it’s strictly point A to point B), but by the end of the game they give up on that and kinda just say whatever goes. What was inconvenient was torn out or ignored, rather than any attempt made at trying to work within the boundaries of the game world.
15. Shepard is railroaded into helping Cerberus.
This is probably the most common complaint I see about Mass Effect 2. Shepard, an elite human military Commander turned into an autonomous super soldier/spy by the reigning government body of the galaxy, is forced to work with Cerberus, a group Shepard has investigated killing military commanders and soldiers, unleashing the rachni and thorian creepers, turning colonists into husks, and possibly even killing Shepards own team on Akuze. Paragon or Renegade, it makes no sense for Shepard to work with them...Shepard would burn them to the ground, and if Renegade, would kill them all in the process. An undercover op might make sense, but that’s never presented.
16. The changing origin of Cerberus.
Mass Effect 1 clearly states that Cerberus is a black ops Alliance program that had recently gone rogue. Mass Effect 2 changes this, saying that Cerberus has been independent the whole time...at least as far back as when Jack was a child 20 years before. They are a black ops group, yet everybody seems to know them. Shepard him/herself hadn’t heard of them until bodies started piling up.
17. Tali never questions Shepard coming back from the dead.
This is more of curiousity...Tali says something along the lines of “Shepard, you’re alive!” and then has no further reaction to Shepard reappearing from the dead after two years. It’s kind of an awkward bit of dialog all around.
18. Shepard carries weapons you can’t equip during cutscenes.
Assault rifles really only make an appearance if you’re a soldier class, yet during cut scenes, Shepard is always carrying one. It’s very awkward and immersion breaking...I don’t understand why they didn’t use the weapon you had equipped, like they did in the first game.
19. Collectors change from two dozen left-handed salarians to all of the humans with no explanation.
I’m not really sure this falls into place here or later on, but lets talk about it anyways. Eventually we “understand” (and I use the term lightly) why the Collectors are trying to capture all humans. However, what were they doing before this? Why left-handed salarians? Why “pure” quarians? Why batarian twins and krogan born of feuding families? What possible relevance could this have to anything? They’re looking for genetic diversity, that doesn’t come from twins. They’ve been around for millennia doing this as well. So what were they doing before humans emerged on the stage?
20. The Alliance grounded Joker after the Normandy was destroyed.
Umm, why? He was not just the top of his class, he was the best pilot at the school including the instructors. He has a long list of commendations, he fired the shot that destroyed Sovereign. He helped organized the Alliance Fifth Fleet to defend the Citadel and was instrumental in every aspect of the Battle of the Citadel. He’s beyond a decorated pilot in his prime. Grounding him simply because he thinks the Reapers are real doesn’t make sense, unless he tried to steal a ship as a result.
21. Initially 24 beds on board the Normandy, but 27 crew...not including the companions.
Like I said, trivial, yet amusing. There aren’t enough beds for everyone, yet Shepard (and Miranda) has a full sized apartment to live in, complete with its own toilet and shower. The crew doesn’t even get dividers between the toilets and the shower...or doors on the toilet stalls. Heck, the door even opens up every time somebody walks by, so hopefully you’re not on the john while somebody is heading to bed.

So, that’s what I got for right up until you get control of the ship. Technically, there’s actually more, but I think this is good place to stop. I may continue talking about my opinions on the franchise some more, but I haven’t decided on that yet.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Orchestral Music

It was never really my intention to disappear as long as I have. School during the spring was something of a nightmare, I ended up working on it 7 days a week for nearly 20 hours a day by the time it was over, and it was pretty mentally exhausting even before that. After it ended, I started taking summer classes, which were a considerably lighter load. For the next month, I don't even have that much. My goal is to start writing here more often, even as I move into the next semester. Even at times I don't have time to write a long thing, I'd like to at least make a post about something...so expect that to happen more regularly.

For this week, I'm going to post some of my favourite orchestral/instrumental music from video games.

Jack Wall - Jade Empire Theme
This theme remains one of my favourites due to its excellent use of instrumentation. The game takes place in a fictional version of China, and the song uses Eastern instruments extremely well. There was a time when I would load up the game just to have it play through this song over and over again.

Jack Wall & Sam Hulick - Mass Effect - Vigil
I actually had a fairly hard time choosing just 1 song from the Mass Effect series. The theme songs are always a great choice, Uncharted Worlds is amazing, and there's hardly a song that isn't absolutely inspired. Ultimately I had to choose the one that appears when the game is loaded up. It's a calm number that inspires a sense of wonder, and the perfect number for the title screen, and is used to great effect later on when it appears in game.

Greg Edmonson - Uncharted 2: Among Thieves - Drake's Theme 2.0 
This music invokes the best of the series. The sense of adventure and heroism. It sounds like it's a modern day take on an Indiana Jones theme. It fits the game perfectly. Seeing it performed at Video Games Live earlier this year was the highlight of the show for me.

Gustavo Santaolalla - The Last of Us Main Theme
This is probably the most powerful theme on the list. It gives a rather profound sense of longing and despair. However, I think it fits its game worst. The song has a noticeable Latin style to it, while the game takes place pretty squarely in the US. It leaves me a bit torn on it...but ultimately, it's a great song for a great game.

Jesper Kyd - Darksiders 2 - The Curruption
This will stick out from the rest. However, it's my go-to title as a reference for great ambient music. It doesn't overpower what's going on in the game, but assists with the atmosphere. I wish I had access to music like this during my own game development, because it would make choosing a song so much better. It's also a great song to listen to on its own.

So that's it for now. I'll probably do something similar to this during the school year, when I don't have time to write a full post. However, it will probably be scaled back in that case.