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10:05 AM on 05.01.2011

Where did unlockables go?

DLC is either a good, or bad thing depending on where you stand. Some people argue that it is good because it gives developers the ability to add onto a game, enhancing the time you can spend with it. (Such as, Bioshock 2's Minerva's Den) Those that say it is bad argue that it is generally overpriced, or useless, and that charging someone for something that is on the disc, or should have been in the first place (A.k.a come with the game), is stupid. That are your Assassins creed 2 type of DLC.

Personally, I don't really think either way. The only DLC for a game that I have is Minerva's den for Bioshock 2, and the DLC for Dragon Age Origins, ( Came with the ultimate edition.) but I still recognize the benefits and drawbacks of it. What DOES annoy me is a trend I have been noticing in all number of games for a while. Unlockables seem to be going to way of the Dinosaurs.

The pinnacle of unlockables. THE COD OF WAR.

The reason I brought up DLC is because it seems that a lot of things that could be unlockables have turned into DLC micro-transactions. This can be seen easily with the release of portal 2. There was a big backlash to this game upon initial release because it had a huge amount of DLC on day 1. Now, I am not one of those who was incredibly angry about this. It was all cosmetic so they weren't charging you for puzzles that were just ripped off the disc before release, or done after the game went gold, (If something is done after the game goes gold, but before release, shouldn't it be Free day 1 DLC?) so you were still getting the full game. I was only disappointed with this because I thought it would be great to get those as rewards for completing a hard puzzle in just a few seconds, or for doing some trick with the companion cube, or falling a certain distance within the portals. (You get the point.)

Unlockables were great because they gave you something that you could actually use in the game you were playing. They weren't some number that got clumped together like achievements that do absolutely nothing, or a trophy level that is equally as useful, they were something worth doing challenges for. Tell me, wouldn't you rather unlock the best weapon in the game for completing it on the hardest difficulty then a simple number on your account?

Damn you!

Unlockbales can also add replay value not only from unlocking them, but for how they change the game. I remember playing through God of War 2 on Titan and unlocking all the extra costumes that had modifiers like Lower Armour with Higher strength, or Lower Armour and Strength with high money value. Those made you have to change your strategy when facing enemies because you were more vulnerable or did less damage. Unlockables can also be just plain fun such as the prize for beating Dead Space 2 on the hardest difficulty.

I fear for my precious unlockables even more with announcements like this that talk about having more DLC and lowering the price point or games. This could be a good model for certain games but I wonder if chopping out a large chunk of content to release later will be a good thing for gaming as a whole, or bad. Only time will tell I suppose. Until then I'll just keep unlocking everything I can.   read

9:57 PM on 04.22.2011

Why does stealth suck in most games?

Warning: Long read.

Stealth was one of those genre's that I've always thought about trying out, but never really get around to. I thought it sounded interesting, watching an enemies path, learning what they do, and figuring out the perfect time to scurry into that dark alley that they are guarding. (Which almost always have nothing in them anyway but now I'm getting off topic..)

There are two main reasons that I didn't try out the genre earlier:

1. I didn't know if I would truly find sitting in shadows waiting for a guard to move his fat ass away from the treasure I want for half the game interesting.

2. (Our topic of the day.) Every game I had played up until that point had had terrible stealth, which, in my ignorance, made me think it probably did in all of them.

(Stealth in most games.)

The first reason didn't take me long to brush aside. After playing all manner of action games where the only objective was to kill everything filled with a certain red liquid, (Note: Colour may vary depending on thing getting slaughtered.) I welcomed a change of pace that didn't involve killing everything that moves. Besides, if I can get through a game, such as say, (Flame shield activated) Mass Effect 1 , that feels like a work to play, certainly I can enjoy playing something a little slower paced then your average testosterone filled rampage?

The problem came when I thought about all the games I had played up until that point that involved stealth, and then I realized something. The stealth element of every single one was a wet-blanket on the rest of the game. They sucked. They were balls. They needed to take a long bath in a volcano to put it eloquently.

Everything single one seemed to suffer from the same problems. Either your dead the second that your caught, despite deciding that you are going to use stealth you still have to kill half a small country to get to the next checkpoint, or its the kind that lazy developers use to flesh out their lackluster RPG elements (Looking at you Alpha Protocal.) Lets address each one of these, and my problems with them, on an individual basis.


If I am in a room with a single guard, maybe two, in the middle of the night with noone else around, shouldn't I be able to, I don't know, fight him? I'm not saying it should be easy too either kill, or get away from them, but I should have the option. That is what made the stealth sections of Beyond Good and Evil a joy to go through. If you mess up on your timing, or don't plan effectively, you can still fight the Alpha sections. Sure, they may be what seems to be metal with how much of a beating they can take, but it's very possible. You also have the option of running back to these underground area's that allow you to get away. Basically, an instant game over simply ruins gameflow, and in stealths game it shouldn't be there. (Yes I am aware that BG&E has these also.)

Forcing the player to constantly kill enemies in a stealth game is bad simply because the whole point (Not to mention fun) of stealth is to not get caught. Sneaking into a castle shanking everyone from behind, and waltzing out with the money over their dead bodies is a whole lot less satisfying then creeping your way in, slowly drawing the guards attention elseware, creeping by them as they turn away (Pickpocketing them if your feeling especially ninja-like), and then sneaking out with the treasure in hand, and no one the wiser to your presence is a great sensation. Killing in stealth games should be an option, but certainly not required.

The final one is the one that pisses me off the most, but this is turning into a short essay so I'll keep it brief. What I mean by lazy stealth is when all it is is essentially having a power that lets you turn invisible throughout the levels. All you have to do is turn it on, walk by the guards ( Or kill them), find a safe corner, let it recharge, repeat. Lazy! LAZY I SAY!

*Foams at the mouth*

If you want to know what I consider a good stealth game, check out the Thief games, especially the second one. They feature great writing and level design, as well as being open ended (Not so much the third on the last point.) They are definitely the best the stealth genre has to offer, at least in this gamers mind.   read

5:56 PM on 03.22.2011

Graphics: Artstyle vs Technical wonder

With the release of Crysis 2 I thought it would be a good time to bring up something that many people seem to overlook. Something many people seem to think is that for a game to have great graphics its characters need to be made up of X amount of polygons, and that textures need to have X level of detail. This is untrue. It simply needs to look good.

Most of you reading this probably just gave a resounding 'Duh!' to that. Many people who play games such as Braid with its beautiful 2D backgrounds and sprites, Zelda Wind-Waker with its cel-shaded world, or Okami would say that they have great graphics. This is not because they are some graphical powerhouses, but simply because they look good. This is due to their art-style.

Games such as the aforementioned Okami utilize cel-shading, an interesting colour palette, and textures that make the game look more like a painting then a typical game. It gives the game a unique look and can help to capture a players interest right off the bat. Even games with simple graphics such as VVVVV (I think it's 5 V's...) manage to look good by utilizing a simple 8-bit esque look, though you could argue that was chosen for this game due to it being a one man job and therefore needing a simple art style to make it feasible to be made.

(Why did this game sell so poorly D: )

Games with a unique or well done art style almost always stand the test of time better then games that go for a more realistic look to things. For example, a game like Far Cry which, while boasting fantastic graphics at the time, has not aged well at all due to it going for a realistic look. Having a realistic artstyle makes a game not age well because due to graphics constantly improving, a tree that could be made of, lets say 100 polygons one year, could then be made of 500 two years down the road because of technological advancement. At that point the tree made of 100 will look bad. compared to the new one. Now if you utilize a unique art style, the game can still look good down the road because it was never trying to look realistic, and instead went with something different.

Now of course, having a unique art style is not always a good thing, especially when that artstyle is done poorly. The easiest game to pick on in this case is Gears of War. (Also probably 50%+ of Unreal Engine 3 games.) You know the one, men with hunchbacks, huge shoulders, INCREDIBLY brown? I knew you did.
Everything about this games art-style irks me. The colours, the character design, the environment design...Oh gears, if you didn't play so well I'd throw you out the window. The artstyle simply makes the game look unattractive and bland. I know they did it because they were trying to have a gritty look, but c'mon at least Killzone had SOME colour.

So, on a final note, Unique artstyles are awesome, realistic graphics age poorly, and gears of war is very brown.

P.S. I am not a graphics whore despite what writing an article about graphics may suggest

P.P.S The art style to Alice: Madness returns looks awesome!   read

11:17 AM on 03.17.2011

The importance of sound in horror games.

Horror games and I have what you could call and odd relationship. I love them, and in return they scare the piss out of me. Not many things can claim to beat playing silent hill late at night, the atmosphere so thick you can almost feel it as a weight on your shoulders, and then your dog walks in, or a poster falls off the wall scaring you half to death. When something like that happens, you are playing a successful horror game because it has done enough right to have you on so much edge that even the slightest bump in the night will send a shiver up your spine, not to mention a monster coming near you.

Look at the perrrrrty atmosphere

There are many elements that go into making a great horror game, and building the atmosphere especially. The main three (At least in my mind) would be subtlety, great sound design, and making the player feel afraid at every encounter. Judging from the title you can probably guess which one I've decided to talk about today.

Sound design is important to a horror game for many reasons. A truly creepy sounding monster can already make the player scared of it before they have even seen the thing. A good example of this is the regenerators(?) from Resident evil 4. They breath very loud and creepily (Didn't know that's actually a word. Thanks spell check!) that already starts to scare you , and that combined with the fact that before you get the item that lets you see their weak spots, there nearly indestructible. If you blow off there legs they'll even hobble towards you to bite you. The combination of a creepy sound affect that gets under skin, with a great enemy design and that they are very hard to kill, make every time the regenerators show up very creepy. Too bad it was the only real scary thing about Resident Evil 4, not to mention the entire franchise (Oh snap!) but I suppose you take what you can get.


Another reason sound design is important to horror games is music is integral to the development of the atmosphere. On its own, the music the does this effectively generally doesn't sound great on its own. This is because it was designed specifically to creep the player out and not allow them any time to feel safe. This music is generally made up of long drawn out notes or repetition of harsh sounds mixed in with soothing ones. (At least from what i remember of the soundtracks of the effective horror games I've played.) That type of music mixed in with disturbing imagery or enemies that look or act scary (Not the kind that scream at you while jumping out of a closet. Don't worry I'll be getting to THEM at the end...) helps to build an atmosphere that grabs onto your nerves never lets up.

Case and point:

Overall the best example of how to do sound in a horror game correctly in my mind would have to be Silent hill 1 or 2, and the system shock games. Both included many enemies that both looked, and sounded (Especially system shock) scary. Though I will admit to never finishing System Shock 2 because of its ball busting difficulty. I know, I know, but I've beaten demons' souls and that game is still hard...

Now is the time when you ask what happens when sound design is done poorly in a game. I answer not with words, but by pointing to the game dead space sitting on my shelf. Overall dead space is a decent action game, but fails horribly when it comes to scaring you. The game doesn't even attempt to build an atmosphere. Every time the game wants to try to scare you it puts a hole in front of you, or above you, or somewhere that's convenient for a necromorph to jump out of and Go BOO! While an orchestra sting tries its best to kill your speakers. Its bloody annoying and incredibly repetitive because that is all that ever happens, over, and over, and over. It doesn't even succeed in the much *cough* loved jump scare because every time it does one of two things. The aforementioned jump out of closet routine with a orchestra sting, or it puts a necromorph on the ground that looks dead but is just waiting for you to walk over them.

Protip: Shoot anything laying on the floor that looks dead, that you didn't shoot yourself.

This was my first article after being a lurker on this site for a year, so be nice!   read

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