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ExpertPenguin's blog

10:44 AM on 07.05.2009

I haven't the slightest clue WHAT a "Calamity Trigger" is..

But if it allows me to do things like this:

Then it's alright in my book.

I'll be very honest, I didn't think much of the title a little over a month ago, if you check out the "Re-Evolution"post on my site I was NECK deep in hype over the care and attention to detail SNK was placing in their latest game, The King of Fighters XII. I didn't have time to care about anything else, especially since I'd played Guilty Gear almost exclusively for a year and a half, I knew what I might be getting myself into, so I shrugged.

Then I was dragged into an arcade, and I finally got to see this game in action.

All I could say

My eyes were treated to high definition sprites superimposed over detailed, colorful 3D backgrounds, with all manner of seizure inducing effects bouncing all over the screen. It's an understatement to say I was in shock when the first thing I saw was something like this:


By the time we left, I swore I had to have it. By the time it arrived in my store, the plastic was already off and it was spinning in the demo 360.

This post is actually late because I spent all of last night tooling around with ONE character.

Yeah, think it's safe to say that BlazBlue:Calamity Trigger has a hold on me.

For anyone wondering exactly WHAT a "Calamity Trigger" is (outside of context) I couldn't tell you the story if I tried, something about a beast, a great war, something else about a powerful sort of weapon called "Armagus" and how only a few people can use it, a caste system was formed, someone stole something and--ARGH.

It's absolute nonsense (That I'll probably enjoy as I get deeper into it--I can explain Guilty Gear's story at the drop of a hat), but it's a setup that basically gives you a reason to do things like the video above.

However, aside from being gorgeous, it's also a surprisingly technical fighter as well. Not being TOO removed from the formula that made Guilty Gear such a success, there are only 4 buttons, and like GG, there are basic "bread n' butter" combos that let you easily chain moves together and be flashy with a decent amount of effort. For the frame counting, priority driven tourney player, there is a surprising amount of depth contained as well, with drives (unique specials), rapid cancels, burst modes for a tactical advantage (attack increase=/=defense increase by 30%) the barrier'd take its own post just to explain every gauge on the screen in depth, but the great thing, like in SF4 with its "Focus" system, is that you don't need to learn it all in order to have fun.

I've also heard complaints about the lack of characters (ther are only 12), but I ask: Would you rather have a game with 30+ characters where the balance is all over the place (and only 12 of them are worth using) or would you rather have a game with a small, balanced cast, and EVERY character controls and feels different from the next?

Its a no brainer, I think. However I'm done raving, enjoy a small basic combo video that shows off just how flexible the fighting system can get with some basics, and hint to how flashy the moves are. You'll be glad you did.


(KOF who?...ah..I'm so fickle..)   read

10:13 PM on 05.28.2008

The Five Boroughs: GTAIV Review.

So, I'm finally finished with the story..

As usual, with the completion of something great comes that despair, that sort of sinking feeling that it's all come to an end. Of course, this is a game of almost endless potential, so that feeling is even more pronounced..but I'm nowhere near done.

In fact, I'm turning it on right home away from home.

Thanks, Rockstar.

(The game's multiplayer unfortunately won't be part of this entry, as it stands, I hold the belief that GTA is first and foremost a single-player game.)

Grand Theft Auto IV is a monster of a game, with a wealth of expectations heaped upon it. One one end, it has to live up to the multi-million dollar franchise that's it's namesake. On another, it has to raise the bar significantly because a) It's of a genre that Rockstar themselves have created, and b) It's the first "next-gen" entry in the series. Much in the way GTA3 redefined the franchise and gaming in general since it's release, many are expecting this title to carry itself out in a similar fashion. But does it live up to these expectations? Yes, and no. No, in that it doesn't completely overhaul the gamer landscape like GTA3 did 7 years ago. Yes in that it is, in my opinion the richest, most fully featured, superbly written, awe-inspiring, and downright complete game realeased this year, or in general for this generation. Keep in mind that I am making these statements, and I have yet to see how Ninja Gaiden 2, Metal Gear Solid 4, or Gears of War 2 will turn out.

Simply put..Yes, it's that good.

Part of the reason it took so long for this writeup to come to pass is that I didn't play this like a game. I treated it like an experience, and as such, I literally lived Niko Bellic. A great deal of my time in Liberty City was spent walking the streets, sightseeing, exploring every inch, hanging out with friends, running errands, perfecting my bowling arm, or simply taking a leisurely drive. I literally experienced a world that hit so close to home, that was so familiar and simultaneously so new, that doing actual story missions felt restrictve because of the sudden imposition of rules and structure. As I write this, I realize that the missions weren't just a vehicle to drive the story forward, they were actually work. Dirty work, but work that had to be done in order to get where I needed to be. Not to say that the missions themselves aren't enjoyable, they're actually varied, and very well put together, but for a game to evoke that kind of feeling, it's truly doing something special.

The story is as follows: You are placed into the shoes of Niko Bellic, a middle-eastern man is drawn to Liberty City through letters from his cousin Roman optimistically promising wealth, riches, and opportunity in spades. Upon arriving, he discovers that perhaps his relative has been reading a bit too deeply into the travel brochures, and this hailed land of freedom is really anything but. Not too long afterward, and partially due to Roman and his gambling habits, they're swept up into the bottom feeding half of Liberty City's crime underworld, and the story takes off from there. While it sounds like the usual "rags to riches" story GTA's been telling for a while, it's anything but, due to a superbly written cast of characters who make you care. One of the things I enjoyed about the game was despite the fact that you may not agree with each character or their motivations, they'll evoke true emotions from you ranging from like, hate, and even disgust, something that factors heavily into the actual story of the game, where you'll have to make choices about who you want to side with. It's all very dynamic, mature, and focused, down to it's decisive and satisfying conclusion.

I would however, be remiss if I didn't mention that Niko himself, as the main character, is the glue that holds this complex tale together. Previously, when playing a GTA game, it was the supporting characters who stole the spotlight and provided a reason to push forward. Niko is a character with so much depth and personality compared to the main characters in previous games, that the formers, amusing as they were, seem two-dimensional and paltry in comparison. He's deep, sympathetic, introspective, and while he initially comes off as the grounded yin to Roman's wildly optimistic yang early on, the many layers of his personality pile on the longer you play. He's not a criminal, not an asshole or wiseguy, and despite his military history, is not a heartless killer. In fact, the killing sprees GTA players are so famous for going on actually feel out of place, and even out of character the more you get to know Niko on a whole. He's truly a likeable, multifaceted character that drives the game just based on how real he feels. Many people have complained about having to do things like hang out with friends regularly, but I found the conversations he has with the other characters in the game to be just as fascinating as the well directed cutscenes.

GTA is also a game that hasn't been famous for it's visuals, but clearly Rockstar set out to change that with this installment. From a technical standpoint, the game itself is wrapped in aesthetics that truthfully aren't the best on the system on a technical level, but are so cohesive and impressive enough that it produces a look that is visually consistent. This is not an excuse for it being a visual slouch, it's actually one that is constantly threatening to kick the uncanny valley right in the face while somewhat retaining that stylized GTA look we've come to know and love. The city looks spectacular up close, from a distance, and to this minute still impresses me whether it's day or night. Whether you approach Liberty City from land, air or sea, it's visual depth is sound. Driving a boat for the first time reveals impressive water effects, the sun reflecting off the water, and the intimidating scope of the Algonquin skyline from a low viewing angle. Taking to the sky in a helicopter for the first time is also equally impressive, as the entire game world is laid out before you with an impressive amount of detail. It's something that has to be seen in motion in order to truly appreciate the subtleties like sunlight reflecting off the sidewalk, or the rain slick tint of neon when you drive through Star Junction (Times Square) at night during a storm. This is not a game that hits you with a visual avalance upon first sight like Gears of War, but rather, one that visually becomes more and more rich as time goes on.

Control is also a breeze, and while the wealth of the genres mixed into the game mean you'll be spending quite a bit of time learning how to move, it's all spot on and fluid when it finally comes together. Every movement, every action seems to tie into this new physics system Rockstar implemented for the game, and as a result, Niko feels appropriately heavy, having subtle nuances in his animations and interactions with the environment like leaning into his turns while running or knocking into people as you run through a dense crowd. The driving has also taken a turn for the realistic, with no two cars feeling the same as a result, exhibiting real world occurrences like understeer and wheelspin. The shooting mechanics, usually the bane of every GTA title, have been overhauled as well with over the shoulder aiming, and a cover system that is surprisingly robust, but finicky. It isn't perfect on a whole, but it's the kind of control system that makes you forget you have a controller in your hands. The first time I swerved sideways into a gunfight with my car, leapt out of it, and smoothly slid behind it, using it as a shield as I switched to my SMG and blindfired over the hood without missing a beat, I smiled to myself.

Of course, all of this would be moot if Liberty City weren't such an interesting place to live. Rockstar has created a city where no two blocks look the same, no two storefronts share the same logo, and yet, each area has subtle landmarks and nuances that accurately reflect the area they're meant to represent. While people from other states playing the game will just see a well made playground to explore, it's those of us from NYC who will truly appreciate what they've done here. You'll see shades of Grand Army Plaza and Fulton Street in Broker, the not too obvious pieces of Midtown and City Hall in Algonquin, The shopping district of Newark in Alderney, it's all so well represented, you'll wonder how much of the three development years it took to conceptualize and design every street, every corner, every sign, every building of a city like this from the ground up. It doesn't seem like nearly enough time, and while the area isn't physically as large as say, San Andreas (which was actually uninteresting to me because of the miles of dead space), what is on display here is dense, tight, and still manages to feel massive in it's own right.

The area is quite active as well. People go about their daily routines, stop and talk to each other, answer their cellphones, get into trouble, get into car accidents, take the bus, take the train, it's all so dynamic and well alive/ that you can spend a great deal of time just watching them interact with each other. Case in point, one day, I witnessed a cab driver sideswipe another in the interest of making a fare, and they both got out of their cars and started fighting each other in the street (much to the chagrin of the other drivers on the street honking in annoyance). Being the good citizen I am, I pulled out my cellphone, dialed 911, and watched as the police came to arrest the both of them. This wasn't scripted, nor was this a part of the story, it was just an event in many where the city gives off a genuine vibe of marching to the beat of it's own drum, rather than waiting for some sort of interaction from the player to move forward. Your options are completely open. Take a long cab ride or one of the helicopter tours through the city, you'll be glad you did.

Audio wise, I'm comletely blown away. The game's soundtrack is another strong point. Far from being a randomly assembled collection of music however, it seems that each track was picked for how well it carries over the modern New York City theme of the game, and in that it succeeds admirably. From Jazz, to Progressive, to R&B, and even some public radio spread across the game's 19(!) stations, there's something for everyone. The detail paid to each of them is impressive as well. Each station well fleshed out, with it's own unique DJs, commercials, and shows to balance out the relative weath of music you'll encounter. Radio stations like The Beat 102.7, the game's rap station, sound so close to obvious real life-counterparts like Hot 97 (even going as far to feature the same DJ's!) that it's uncanny. Listening to DJ Mr. Cee passionately declare his allegience to Broker (Brooklyn) to his audience sounds incredibly authentic and shows that everyone involved took the project as serious as they possibly could.

I cannot conclude this without stating that Rockstar has also set several landmarks in technology, the most notable being the fact that all of this fits on a DVD. In one fell swoop, Rockstar not only spat in the face of every other 360 developer using multi-disc games, but also in the face of Sony, who swore up and down that gaming would show that it sorely needed the 50 GB space of a Blu-Ray disc to advance the medium in a necessary direction. If this game isn't the single greatest feat of compression and data management in gaming history, then I don't know what is. It even makes Hideo Kojima look ridiculous, who has been quoted in saying that his team was having trouble fitting Metal Gear Solid 4 on a Blu-Ray. How? I can guarantee you, MGS4 doesn't have nearly as much content that this game contains on a whole, and it's certainly not on an open platter like it is here. The bar has certainly been raised going forward.

All this having been said, there are many complaints to be had, like the somewhat repetitve nature of the story missions, the way the cover doesn't always work as it should, the way the driving has drastically changed (I think for the better, most think worse), and yes, your friends can come off as incredibly needy at times, lending itself well to the repetition issue. But in my opinion, when so many other parts of a massive game like this come together as they should, it's just nitpicking. What has been accomplished here is nothing short of amazing.

Not only is this a game that everyone should play, but if you enjoy games on any level, be it entertainment or art, then this is something you definitely need to experience.

And experience it you must. This game is fantastic. Rarely do I ever use those words.   read

7:41 PM on 12.21.2007

Me, the Wii, and the Burnout Paradise demo.

So that's what it's been, eh? Give and take. I do admit, amidst grueling shifts and my one class that I barely mention (embarassed?...maybe. Final was tuesday and I killed it.) I have been playing my Wii a bit too much, showing it way too much love, as if I'd just bought the system and hadn't had it since launch at all. Weird..

Every so often I stop back to the high-definition systems for a spin, something that's become harder and harder to do since they almost wholly represent shooting men in the face for me now. It's strange. Perhaps playing my Wii has given me wind of this, but it seems that when you can pump out realistic visuals and Unreal Engine-assisted textures on a whim, the only thing you can figure to do with all that horsepower is create an endless parade of "these men/creatures/things are here, please shoot them" games. However, when you can't do such, and your representation of humans is decent at best, like on our low def unavailable-system-that-could, the push seems to be toward actually being creative, and making games that are

Granted, these games are very few and far between, but then are the titles on our beloved 1080p pushing systems. It takes several MoH: Airbornes, Jerichos, Timeshifts, and Soldier of Fortunes before we recieve a Call of Duty 4 or Bioshock.

That having been said, I popped on my 360 one day after a delightful session of Super Mario Galaxy, and was surprised to find out that a demo of Burnout: Paradise had snuck it's way onto the marketplace. Having invested, literally, hundreds of hours in the last two installments, it was a no brainer for me to download. I had been deliberately straying away from reading details, seeing videos of the game in action, because I wanted to be completely surprised by what I'd seen, and I was certain that the prospect of an open world burnout would be thrilling. Crash anywhere, do anything? No limits? Should be heaven, right?

This is what I found out:

I don't like Burnout Paradise.

I gave it one chance, I simply assumed I wasn't in the right state of mind, or I was distracted, so I reserved my judgment. I played it again, and I had the exact same issue I had with it before.

It's simply too much.

In my opinion, Burnout has always been that fast paced, arcade racer that is indeed, fast in every aspect. As soon as you pop it in, explosions are heard. You spend no more than 30 seconds in the menu readying yourself for a quick burst of action, and if your hunger for speed and destruction isn't sated, you jump into another race, just as fast. Then another. Then another. It's this addictive quality that makes Burnout so endearing in the first place, and what fuels it's balls-to-the-wall World Tour mode. That feeling of "one more race" that has you going and going and going until you realize it's 3 am and you have to be to work in a few you do one more for good measure.

It's lacking here. Namely because of something I've named "post-GTA syndrome". Remember the 1-2 year period after Grand Theft Auto 3 came out, when every game simply needed some kind of ridiculous "hub world" to sustain itself? When every developer thought it'd be a good idea to have everything from fighting to racing games involving you running from one place to another to do even the most basic of funtions like you're in some kind of RPG?

I remember reading countless articles on how introducing an unnecessary open world format can kill your game. This game exemplifies this.

Even though the presentation is full-on Burnout, and does a great job of preparing you for what's certain to be an off-kilter experience, the game immediately becomes an exercise. You're forced to drive to "repair shops" in order to fix your car, "paint shops" to change the color, "auto shops" to get boost refills, and search for traffic lights in order to be involved in races. Basically everything that was handled by a menu or button press is now several blocks away, and it serves to drag down the experience rather than enhance it. I thought it may have just been me, perhaps I'm too lazy, but no. Burnout has always been about speed, and it seems that in that aspect, the game drags. Factor in that the demo offers only a slice of Paradise City, and it seems as if those extended driving sessions may become even more tiresome.

When you actually do manage to find a race, the game becomes Burnout again. It's never been faster, visceral, or more intense. Tweaked physics give the game a more realistic, but still arcade-like feel, and with the addition of a E-brake to the controls, you have a lot more freedom with how you work your car. Traffic checking has been toned down, and taking down opponents actually feels very rewarding this time around, with spectacular crashes happening all around you. The AI is much better this time around, and it seems like they're interested in taking out anyone around them, not just you. The Midnight Club style race structure is welcome as well, with an open city, your only mission is to get to the end, and it's up to you how you'll get there. There are tons of shortcuts, makeshift ramps, alleys for you to take advantage of, and an onscreen map and GPS do an adequate, but not perfect job of pointing you in the right direction. This is probably done so you will feel more inclined to learn the city, as experience with a game like Saint's Row has shown me, if the GPS is too well done, you'll end up following it instead of your surroundings.

Fortunately, they happen to be surroundings that are quite well done. Paradise City genuinely looks like one of those cities where you can go anywhere and do anything at any time, and has tons of things to uncover underneath the initial impressions. In fact, I have a very good feeling that by the time someone becomes a seasoned player at the game, it'll be in a very different shape than it was before.

This is my problem with the game however. As nice as Paradise City is, and as great as the races are, it's the sections inbetween that get me. What makes GTA feel so free is the fact that you are a person with ability. A person, who can do a great many things. In Burnout, you are a car. Imagine what Grand Theft Auto would be like if you couldn't leave the car, and you have a pretty good idea of what being inbetween races feels like.

Actually, I have a question for anyone who has ever played a GTA game: Remember those missions that required you to stay in the vehicle, and how restrictive they felt as a result of it? It's the same here. Your orientation is strictly horizontal with few exceptions, and the game itself actually seems quite bland because of it. In the midst of speeding around, I uncovered a shortcut, and it was meh. I bobbed and weaved inbetween traffic while looking for ramps, and it became boring because I wasn't in a race, it was it was aimless. I caused a few pileups, (bringing the excellent damage system into play) but again, it was for no particular reason. The demo has a great deal of it's events blocked off, and that could be why I'd been doing so much wandering around in my car, but it further drives home the point that whenever you're not caught up in an event, multitude of events or not, paradise is truly lost.

There are also a great deal of co-op and online options that I didn't have the opportunity to test, but given how fun Burnout can be as a party game, I'm sure it's well done in it's own right. Online however, is an addition, and not a replacement for the foundations set in the singleplayer. The same problems remain.

I genuinely want to like the game given our history, but I can't help but shake the feeling that this new unnecessary addition, one the entire game happens to be based on, is going to ruin it for me, and many others.

We'll see.   read

2:06 PM on 12.05.2007

My god, Hayabusa is angry.

"Oh my god."

" god."


-- Scene by scene ExpertPenguin excerpts from watching the video below.

While there are many mysteries that confound humanity and science as a whole, not one of them is more unsolvable than the question behind what exactly makes Ryu Hayabusa so angry.


Kujikenaikara2X : hmm
irthtonetweed : this looks fun.
Kujikenaikara2X : it is.
Kujikenaikara2X : it looks gorgeous
Kujikenaikara2X : I don't even mean on a technical level
Kujikenaikara2X : I mean
Kujikenaikara2X : Like Hayabusa got jealous that Kratos was dismembering and disemboweling people
Kujikenaikara2X : So he decided to up the ante from mere decapitations
irthtonetweed : lol he just creates steak.
Kujikenaikara2X : and now he's just freaking all over the place
Kujikenaikara2X : tenderizing anything on the screen that isn't a ninja
Kujikenaikara2X : my stars
Kujikenaikara2X : I've seen this video several times this week
Kujikenaikara2X : and the arms and legs flying all over the place still astounds me
Kujikenaikara2X : at some point, he summons a tornado
Kujikenaikara2X : and everything on the screen was dissected
irthtonetweed : blood spray in the sunlight
irthtonetweed : like knocking 6 fire hydrants off the street
Kujikenaikara2X : that's another thing
Kujikenaikara2X : this is in BROAD daylight
Kujikenaikara2X : He is officially no longer a ninja
irthtonetweed : yea its rather interesting.
Kujikenaikara2X : the outfit is for fun
irthtonetweed : you mean it took it until now to discover this ? not in the ending in doa when he fought jets and helicopters ?
Kujikenaikara2X : yes, but before, he at least had the common decency to commit his atrocities at NIGHT.
Kujikenaikara2X : lol now he just doesn't care
irthtonetweed : lol
irthtonetweed : they woke him up I guess
irthtonetweed : he usually wakes up at 1 pm
irthtonetweed : gets his day started at 7 pm
irthtonetweed : causes a massive explosion around dawn
irthtonetweed : hits the bed
irthtonetweed : repeats
Kujikenaikara2X : yep
Kujikenaikara2X : I don't even know WHAT the motivation could possibly be for this
Kujikenaikara2X : He's just been bored
Kujikenaikara2X : stretching his legs a bit
irthtonetweed : action is his reward.
irthtonetweed : there you go.
Kujikenaikara2X : lol
Kujikenaikara2X : WHAT could the motivation be?
Kujikenaikara2X : WHAT?
irthtonetweed : action

Action, indeed. 2008 can't come soon enough, no?   read

1:52 AM on 11.15.2007

We are all Cavemen.

I had a woman walk into my store the other day, talking about how much she hated the fact that her son played videogames. Ironically enough, she was trying to buy her son a Wii at the moment, so I said nothing to her. She did however, make an offhanded comment about how "terrible" she thought GameStop employees were because they played games. When I told her I played games just as they did, she looked at me like I was crazy, and I guess in her warped mind, she took my comment in the past tense, because she said to me "But you're here! You got out! Look at you, you're smiling, vibrant, nothing like..THEM."

I shut my mouth. Didn't say a word. I wonder why she thinks like this. Is there some sort of unwritten rule that states that all gamers have to be sunlight depraved, anti-social, violent, moronic shut-ins with no dreams or aspirations beyond "reaching the next level"?

Could it be because when she turns on her television, she sees nonsense like this?


I don't get this, it's stupid. Why are games portrayed like this 9 times out of 10 in the media? It's no wonder people think we're nuts. Or that it's a brainless, colossal waste of time with no substantial value. Tell me something, when was the last time you played a game, and were spazzing out all over your controller as much as this guy? It's silly.

I suppose, one could argue, that the actual sight of someone who is actually playing a game isn't very exciting unless you can see the screen, but this can be easily circumvented by NOT HAVING YOUR CHARACTERS PLAYING GAMES IN THE FIRST PLACE. If you're not going to portray it right, then why do it at all?

Problem solved.

I cringe every single time I see a primary or supporting character in a movie playing a game like an idiot while Atari-level sound effects bloop out of the TV. The only thing it shows me is that the medium STILL isn't any closer to having the respect it deesrves, and that ignorant writers are continuing to lampoon a culture they know nothing about while simultaneously perpetuating the "gamer" stereotype. You know, the ones that parents like the customer above are so fond of making a reference to when trying to dissuade the children from their hobbies.

It's no wonder this show is getting slaughtered by reviewers and the public alike. I mean, what better way to show a lack of creativity: "Hey, we have a pathetic character, let's sit him in front of Halo!" Great job. Between this, and every other network on TV doing the same thing, it looks like we'll have a ways to go before this trend has any hope of dying.

I just hope it's known. These people, and everyone like them, while they're sitting there in their brainstorming sessions, yucking it up amongst their colleagues, they've only proven one thing; that they are just as immature as the image they're attempting to typecast and stereotype onto us.   read

12:30 AM on 10.29.2007

Subtle as the detailed scars on Marcus' face..

I'd had a discussion with my friend the other day, one of many that revolved around graphics and their relevance. The friend in question is a self proclaimed "graphics whore", however, I don't really have a adjective of my own, other than to say that I usually tend to appreciate a game on every level that makes it what it is, and not simply on the quality of it's textures alone. This however, is not speaking of a game's entire worth, but it's more of a measure of a game's visual fidelity. Other aspects of a game's design, playability, art direction, length, remain untouched in our sporadic debates. They're a given, and no harsh debate ensues. Either a game is good, or it's bad, natch.

However, I've wondered slightly if my views are too forgiving.

I pondered the possibility, after all, it isn't like games initially came out of the gate looking like Gears of War. But I realize that as a gamer, I've usually been more concerned with the point a game was trying to get across with it's visuals, rather than focus on a single pop out and "wow" moment.

I've played some ugly games in my time.

Case in point, Shadow of the Colossus.

From a technical perspective, it's impressive, the way it has the entire world laid out for you at your disposal, with nary a loading screen past the initial one. The way the engine handles the wide variety of environments and conditions within (caves, deserts, sandstorms, rainstorms, forests, etc) is nothing short of astounding, considering that many other games take several shortcuts to achieve the desired effect. The particle system is above par, and the world is also bathed in a subtly warm, almost dream like glow, the result of a full bloom lighting engine, the likes of which has never been seen on the system itself since it's release in 2000. Its skeletal and animation system is superb as well, with every movement, every interaction exuding an eerily realistic portrait on screen, no matter what you're doing.

Have I lost you yet? Allow me to ease up on the jargon a bit, and move on.

From a graphical perspective however, it looks terrible. Textures are flat and lack depth. The ground is literally one massive green blah, brown blah, grey or tan blah, depending on where you are in the world. The game is terribly aliased as well, with stair stepping and terrible ridges occurring on everything on screen. The framerate, which isn't terribly stable to begin with because of what the game is pushing, drops frequently, especially during boss battles. The best looking thing are the colossi themselves, and it seems like everything else took a hit because of their implementation. I mean, didn't-two dimensional plants and bushes die out in the PS1 era?..

This is more than enough for my friend to condemn this game, no matter how much he actually likes it as a whole.

Then why is it, that I think it's one of the best looking games I've ever played?

It's a mixture of things. The animation I mentioned before is unparallelled. It's seamless, and transitions from one movement to another with nary a hitch. It's so detailed and fluid, it's almost evocative in it's beauty. Think I'm sounding pretentious? I can't think of any game released today that has me completely involved to the level where I've felt a tangible sense of fright when my character falters. When I make an error and Wander (the main character of SotC) is falling a great distance, I feel a tangible sense of fright not because it may mean game over, but because simply the way he moves, the deliberate, tangible steps he takes makes me worry about him as I would myself in a similar situation. The sigh of relief and slight pain I experience when I realize that he isn't dead, but hurt from the fall in question speaks worlds of what this game accomplishes. He doesn't have perfect form. He doesn't land perfectly from a leap, and cannot stop on a dime. He stumbles while running, and even moreso if the ground is unstable. Experiencing a Colossus in the game is just that, an experience, and left to it's own devices, you can observe one as it lumbers around, each of them have their own nuances, one in particular having a slow, lumbering gait that's at once a testament to it's timelessness and a tribute to it's size. Visually, though it isn't sporting a relative ton of polygons, it looks believeably made of earth, stone, and fur. Agro, as a sidekick and secondary character, manages to carry just as much of an emotional investment as the main character himself. From the way he runs around of his own accord to an intelligence that allows you to simply let go of the controller and have him guide you, even games based around Equestrian events don't have this much detail applied. It's something that goes way beyond his rendering.

It has something do do with the way the light bathes the landscape. It has much to do with the way the game looks almost ephemeral, like a painting come to life. It's so many parts adding up to a cohesive whole, that dare I say, when I come across a physics or graphical gaff in Bioshock, it stands out so much more because now that I think of it, SotC has none of those problems. It gets it's point across so well visually that it doesn't need a bumpmapped texture. Or it's edges smoothed. It would certainly look nice if they were, but would it enhance the experience in the same way that Bioshock's visuals enhance it?

I don't think so.


I think there is a time and place for games of a Gears or PGR like nature, because they are gorgeous. And we certainly at this point, have machines capable of pushing them. In fact, there is no reason our machines shouldn't be pushing them at a constant. But I'd implore anyone. Mind you, I'm not asking you to think like me, but I implore anyone to simply look at everything a game is trying accomplish with it's look before judging it visually, and ask yourself if it's being pulled off. Sometimes, the beauty is in the details.

Because I've seem some beautiful games technically with subtle flaws that can ruin it simply because it takes just that little bit to destroy a game's motif.

Like how I believe Halo 3's water is better looking than Bioshock's simply because, as stunning, as amazing, as beautiful as the water looks in Bioshock, you can't interact with it. Running through it or firing at it only produces a 'ripple' or 'splash' texture over the water. Run through Halo 3's water. It bends. It curves. It splashes, and it never stops moving after something has broken it's surface. Go on. Stand in it and look down. Take a vehicle into it and slide around. Then let it sit there. Go underneath it and listen to the way the audio changes.

Sometimes, the beauty is in the details.   read

12:53 AM on 10.21.2007

God of War: Chains of Olympus Impressions

Must be some kind of contract that says Kratos has to stare menacingly into your face on every title screen, just to remind you how ANGRY he is.

I hit the start button and was IMMEDIATELY plunged headfirst into the action with nary a loading screen.


Don't ask me the plot, I have no idea. Kratos is angry. A hoard of Persians on a religious campaign are plotting to "cleanse" the city, the gods don't like it, Kratos is sent to deliver this message in the only way he can. However, there is a rather large monster roaming around the city. Hmm.

On a technical level, it's incredible, running at a fairly smooth 60 frames (it's really hard to tell since the PSP's refresh rate is so rubbish) with all sorts of effects and madness going on in the background. Case in point: As soon as the demo begins, you're fighting about 6 people at once while a massive sea battle (heh) rages on in the background. All of this is done with nary a hitch in the framerate. It really LOOKS like God of War, which is the best compliment I can give it because the PS2 game looked so superb.

Being too lazy to either reach over and grab my headphones OR plug it into my reciever, I cannot however, comment on the game's score in detail. If it's any consolation, it sounds quite epic even through the tinny, bassless speakers on the PSP.

Control is buttery smooth, and being used to the PS2 controls, I adjusted rather quickly. Anyone wondering about the scheme since there are quite a few buttons missing, it's really no different, most of the actions like opening doors has been mapped to the circle button, using magic is as simple as holding R and pressing one of the face buttons, and as for the largest concern, due to the lack of a right analog, rolling is now done by holding L+R and moving the nub. It's something that sounds awkward on paper, but becomes entirely second nature within minutes.

The demo is fairly lengthy (it took me about 25 minutes to finish), throwing you straight into the madness and hardly letting up. You traverse rooftops, the insides of buildings, fight several bosses, solve a puzzle here and there, and it ends with you wanting so much more. For some reason though, even though all this is great, and it's even all the more impressive that it's running on the PSP, I have a small concern.

It's very GoW esque, of that there is no question, but that in itself may be a problem. The game has a formula that works-- massive environments, impeccable art design, organic puzzling, exciting setpiece after setpiece, but as the third game in the series, it seems like starting off on such a high note with the first has trapped the designers into a very strict formula to follow. As much as I enjoy it all, don't get me wrong, it's starting to feel very by the numbers. It also doesn't help that Kratos' movelist has barely changed these past 3 years. Whether it's the small screen or just me being used to it all, even Kratos' barbaric nature during the fights and QTEs doesn't really surprise me anymore. While I was thoroughly entertained, it just doesn't really "wow" me any more. It makes me wonder if they've run out of steam.

Don't take this as me bashing the game though, I did enjoy it, the above was just a small concern of mine, and this is just the demo, so the actual game still has the potential to blow everyone (including me) out of their seats.

In fact, I'm going to play through it again right now.

While continuing to stare at and admire my personalized demo casing.

Here's hoping..   read

6:11 PM on 10.20.2007

So I get this thing in the mail from Sony...

It is, of course, the God of War: Chains of Olympus package for the PSP, that I expected.

So I tear this beast open, and look for my swag.

Omega insignia doohickey -- check.

Best Buy Coupon -- Check

Demo? -- Check.

What I didn't expect, however, was this.

Dear Lucien,

Enclosed you will find your God of War--

I stopped reading. The rest of the letter became irrelevant.


Does that say my NAME?!

Mind you, this is printed on the packaging itself. Not some slip in letter, not some email, My name is on the fucking demo packaging.

Holy shit.

This means that while this particular packaging was being printed en masse, my name was SPECIFICALLY printed on THIS package.

I'm never throwing it out.


Impressions soon, along with a few other things I've been doing.   read

7:30 PM on 08.20.2007

Blender: Dynasty Warriors: Gundam.

This is some delicious repost from my other blog, anyone who has read it already has my sincerest of apologies..(Not really, it just means you caught me in the act) But this is part of something new I was trying out where I would sit down, play a demo, and literally just write whatever I thought, without editing, proofreading, or otherwise double checking what I'd written. Now, it's being thrown at you guys. Here goes..


I'll be honest, I've never really given Gundam Wing a chance.

I never saw the huge draw of the series.

Maybe I'm not a fan of the whole Japanese fighting robot scene..or maybe it was the fact that in my teenage years, Cartoon Network kept trying to shove every convoluted plotline and side story of Gundam down my throat to the point where I was not only lost, but uninterested because I couldn't tell what from what. It didn't also help that due to my relative ignorance of the series, all the robots started to look the same. So out the window that went. I'll never understand the craze, and I don't care to.

However, the best way to my heart is through a video game.

Gundam Musou attempted just that. I'd never liked Dynasty Warriors, it always seemed to me like it was a "Hey, look at how many enemies we can fit on the screen!" kind of game than one of actual progress, the unevolving button mashing gameplay was a testament to that...but after playing Ninety Nine Nights, I had somewhat of a renewed faith in the whole "kill all 500 of these thingys on screen" genre. So with a heavy and somewhat hopeful heart, I downloaded the demo for "Dynasty Warriors: Gundam", or as I refer to it because I heard it this way first, "Gundam Musou".

*starts up the demo*

The game gives the option of English or Japanese language, eh?....At least they're not forcing me into it.

Gah! The voices are terrible. How do Gundam fans put up with this crap?

...Graphics are decent, not bad looking, but definitely has that PS2 in high res look (which really isn't too much of a knock, the PS2 Gundam games usually looked better than decent) but heck...this is a 360....bleh..

Controls are Jump is assigned to the right bumper (?!), A is to dash, X attack, Y fires laser and modifies, B button unleashes special move...hmm...where's the block button? Ah, nevermind.

GOD the voices are terrible. If a standard episode of this show has an actual flow like this, I'm never watching it. Oh god, I can't. Could Heero be any MORE generic? Could Master Asia be any LESS of an archtype? Nope. Can't do it.

The engine manages to throw a ton of enemies on the screen, which is somewhat impressive, but at what cost? These guys aren't DOING ANYTHING. I feel like I'm beating on mannequins. Or cosplayers in Gundam suits. Their AI is so basic that I can run through a crowd of them, and funnel them to me in a straight, single file line like they're in the Hot Gates of Thermopylae. What the hell. Is this really what they've been playing for years? I can't stomach this.

(Does it look like ANYONE is fighting besides him? Also, note the enemies actually looking AWAY from their friends being beaten to pieces.)

Hack,hack,hack, slash. Slash, slash, slash. Special move when gauge fills. This is boring. In fact, I'd even go as far to say that it's insultingly boring, for a number of reasons.

First, the overall visual style is dry. There are suppsed to be these massive battles taking place, but there's no noise. No activity on the screen. No desperation or feeling like I'm on a battlefield. How can this be? I'm stunned at the fact that several at Koei basically made a huge map, tossed groups of enemies into the level at random intervals, and then sat down and were completey satisfied with what they'd done. The sporadic banter of others on the battlefield doesn't do anything for the mood either. They just feel like filler to distract you from the fact that you're engaged in something incredibly BLAND. There literally are no explosions, crossfire, sound effects, ANYTHING remotely resembling conflict, except when I was bashing the brainless AI into submission, which brings me to my next point:

I'm not fighting enemies. It's at the point where it almost feels cruel doing this. I run into a MASSIVE group of robots, and all they do is stare at me. I break the silence and start pounding them into smithereens, and they stare at me as I tear their comrades a new one. Occasionally a "boss" character will fly onto the screen, apparently pissed at the mass genocide of their subordinates, and starts throwing down chain combos in patterns. As in, they'll throw down a combo, and then STAND patiently, as if waiting for the counterattack. I oblige them, and suddenly, actual combat takes on a repetitive, but annoying dimension. Attack, block combo, attack, block combo, attack. They are literally, the ONLY thing capable of killing you in a mission, and therefore, the only thing that'll keep you from falling asleep. Every so often, weapons will clash and some Anime panels pop up on the screen and the characters exchange cheesy lines. Then it's back to the grind. Woo berries. This of course, leads me to something else:

It's repetitive as all hell, and BORING because of it. Experimenting with the controls, I found a total of five different combos to use, and of course, the special attack. Out of those five combos, only two were actually useful. Do you know what that means? Of course you do. Every battle, large or small, boss or not boiled down to me doing the same 3-4 hit combo over, and over, and over, and over again to the point of madness. Midway through the demo, I was intent on finishing it not because I was genuinely interested, but because I wanted to see it through, just in case something awesome would happen to make up for all the bad gameplay I was slogging though. (Protip: It didn't happen.) All this was punctuated by the realization that I didn't even feel like I was piloting a Gundam.

Whenever I tried to do ANYTHING even remotely Gundam like, the game denied me. There's a limit on dashing and hovering that only allows you to do so for about 3 seconds, so any attempts of dash slashing, flying around, hell, even FEELING like you're piloting a high powered mech are immediately squashed. This stood out for me especially because you spend an AWFUL lot of time in these stages, and the realization that you could potentially spend 25-30 minutes in these stages walking (yes walking, I don't care if I see a run animation, even Jackie in The Darkness moves faster than you do through the levels) around, beating on braindead enemies with an incredibly shallow fighting system for hours at a time is enough to drive someone insane.

I've purposely avoided Ninety-Nine Nights comparisons while writing this, but I will say this: For all it's faults, the one thing it DID do right was give you the feeling you were a powerful soldier taking place in a massive war of thousands, and this in turn gave you, the player, a feeling that you were actually ACCOMPLISHING something great. In Gundam Musou, not only do I feel like my character has had his legs cut off for the sake of "game balance", but the entire experience felt like I was wandering through a desert (if N3 had this problem with it's environments, DW:Gundam has it in spades) beating on mannequins in order to make minibosses show up. Unbearable.

However, any Dynasty Warriors fans reading this have already made up their minds, so why should I bother? The Church of the Repetitve Mashing of the Square Button would surely strike me down because of my blasphemy.

I will, however, calmly go back to my indifference towards BOTH series, and curse myself for thinking that them joining forces would finally change my mind.   read

7:09 PM on 08.20.2007


Hi :)   read

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