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ManWithNoName's blog

5:36 PM on 12.08.2012

Diversify or Die

Every year, there is games that seem to be made to take the number one post of other games. Some want the Call of Duty throne, others the Elder Scrolls crown. Some comes from new studios, others from studios that aren't as big as the ones making the games they want to take down. They, many and most of time, try to recreate the game they want to beat, usually just changing enough in it to don't be an outright clone. Others don't even bother in not being a clone. And often they fail to succeed, most of the time closing their doors when the high costs of the attempt to be king isn't rewarded with strong sales.

One of the reasons is simple. People play the number one games for a reason. If they can play the original, that they know what to expect, why play the clone? And specially, why play a clone that many times doesn't even met the quality of the original? So, most attempts of beating the number one by using the same weapons that it uses usually are met with defeat.

Many people complain about games being too 'samey'. But this year, if anything else, showed that unique games can be successful despite people expecting high standards from the infamous AAA titles. Telltale and their The Walking Dead game showed you don't need to be a CoD clone to be a success. Dishonored showed that you don't need to have multiplayer. Borderlands 2 that you don't need to look all brown and military. Several of the best games this year were far from being similar to other games.

I do believe that small and medium sized developers need to stop trying to make the same games the big ones make. What they need to do, in fact, is discover the games that aren't being made but that have people who will play it. It is the guerilla marketing strategy. Discover a segment that the top games aren't filling in and take it for yourself.

Since you are small or medium, don't try to make a game as expensive as the big guys make. There is plenty of people that don't care if the game don't run at 3000 FPS and that the number of pixels in the screen is a billion kazillions. Gameplay is the more important, so, instead of making ultra-realistic graphics, go for beautiful, different ones. Compensate lack of money to do something technical perfect with something original, unique.

Make your game with the money you have. And them aim to sell it accordingly. If you make an expensive game, you will need to sell more copies at a premium price to get your money back. But if you make a budget game, at a budget price, you can either sell less copies to turn a profit or you will sell more copies because the price is more inviting than the usual $60. Either way, turning profit will allow you to make more games, and even to make better games with time.

The second thing is that there is plenty of people that don't care about some of the big titles out there, or that even can't find any joy in playing them and when they buy a different title, they are searching for an experience that can fulfill their desires. Instead of aiming at the people that are mad in love with the top hits, the people small and medium developers must search for is the people that aren't playing those games and why, then making a game for those people.

Another way is finding the people that still loves certain genres and that are left in the cold by the big studios and providing great experiences inside the genres they like. Again, many of them aren't asking for big budget titles, and in fact quality, specially in games, doesn't necessarily needs lots of money to achieve.

Competing with the big wigs is hard. And in fact, most of the times is pointless. The people that play their games aren't the only players around. The gaming scene is big, and there is plenty of fish out there, if you stop trying to get the same spot in the pier and go to that calm place over the rocks.


6:04 AM on 12.05.2012

2012: Emotion from Unlikely Source

2012 will enter in my game as the Year of Emotion. This year, more than any other, showed games that weren't only great to play, but that messed with how I felt. Be either the innovative way that journey conveyed one of the most powerful and meaningful story I ever saw in a game, and that without using voice acting or even text; be it Spec Ops: The Line, making you regret being a trigger happy killer; or having to do some of the hardest decisions ever in The Walking Dead. But none of them was the most powerful experience I had this year. The one that made it was the most unlikely game ever, in a genre not well know for dealing with story and character development.

A fighting game.

Persona 4 Arena is the only fighting game I bought this generation. My love for the Persona franchise and knowing that both Atlus, famous for good storytelling and Arc System Works, famous for developing solid fighting games, made me sure I would love it. What I didn't expected is that they could make one of the most emotional, tear jerking story I ever met in fighting games, and in fact, in most games.

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

'Do you understand the words coming out of my mouth?'

When you unlock Labrys in story mode, you start discovering her back story. Labrys is created as a humanoid weapon to fight against Shadows. To properly fight Shadows, she should be able to summon a Persona, and that requires her to develop a personality. In order to do so, the scientists that created her put inside a Dusk Plume, some sort of crystal that allows her to develop a personality.

At first, Labrys is just an android (or ginoid if you are pick) with no emotions at all. But as she fight against her 'sister, androids of the same model as her and start interacting with one of them, number 24, she start to develops a personality and emotions. As her story progress, she become more and more human like and develop a strong friendship with her sister 24.

But them, the scientists kept her fighting against her sisters, making Labrys wonder why she must do it, why she must destroy them, specially knowing that they are like her. After each fight, they would upload their data unto her, but sometimes memories of her defeated sisters would slip unto Labrys. Their feeling would slip unto her, making her more and more human.

And finally, the scientists make her fight against her best friend, #24, in order to force her to summon a Persona. Believing that a strong trauma would awake the Persona, these scientists, knowing what they were doing, put Labrys to fight against someone she loved. Even after Labrys damaged #24 to the point of her not being able to fight anymore, the scientists forced the damaged android to fight, forcing Labrys to 'kill' her sister and best friend.

And them, after uploading the data unto her, Labrys discovered that #24 had dreams of her own, and that she trusted that Labrys would be able to carry on with those dreams. Labrys was trusted to carry the wills and desires of her fallen sisters. Yet, the scientists decide to wipe Labrys memories and emotions, since an emotive 'weapon' wouldn't be a great weapon.

Labrys, with the prospect of forgetting who she become, the dreams and hopes of her and her sisters, the final wish #24 entrusted her with, rebelled. Using all her power, even almost awakening her Persona, Labrys tried to escape, to protect those precious dreams. To protect the last wishes of her defeated sisters.

And them she discover that she is in an island, without ways to escape. Without any chance to fulfill her dreams and the ones she was entrusted with, she gave up. But there, looking the sea that she can't pass, she desires that someone in the future, looking at that same sea, could fulfill the wishes she couldn't.

I must admit, I almost cried there. My brief description of her story don't make justice on how emotional this is. I never imagined that a fighting game, of all genres out there, could be able to have such powerful moment. Labrys story is one of the most emotional ones I have ever crossed over in games. I am glad I was able to play such story. And I hope 2013 don't shy away of trying to tell stories that aren't just excuses to shoot/kill things, but that can touch you and make you wonder.

Because yes, every game in every genre can deal with emotions. All you need is someone that knows what they are doing. And hopefully, we will have more and more games like those.

Thankfully, her story doesn't end there.   read

6:41 AM on 12.04.2012

The Curious Case of Naoto Shirogane (May Contain Spoilers)

Naoto Shirogane is one of the main characters on Persona 4, made by Atlus, a JRPG that deals with identity issues, high school drama, exploring a mysterious world inside TVs and a murder mystery. At first, Naoto is a young ace detective, that helped the police to solve numerous cases, despite being still a high school first year. As Naoto gets involved into the case, it is revealed that, in fact, she is a woman passing as a boy. And it is here that some misconceptions seems to happen.

Naoto comes from a family of famous private detectives, and from an early age showed interest in becoming a detective and carrying on the family business. But because she is a woman, and the world of criminal investigation is a male dominated one, she decide to pretend to be a boy, so to avoid the police dismissing her skills because both her age and her gender. Since she couldn't hide her age, she decided to hide her gender.

It is here a lot of people get confused. In no moment in the game is implied that her cross-dressing is sexual of nature. She doesn't do it because she feels attraction to other women or because she believes her physical gender is not compatible with the gender she believes she should be. She do it so she can receive the respect she believes her skills. In no moment in the game it is implied that she did it because she wanted to be a man.

As the game progress, after she is confronted with her hidden feelings, she start to accept that she is a woman, and that this shouldn't hold her from being the detective she wants to be. She decide to not hide her true self anymore and become a great woman detective, to get the respect she deserves, not with deceit, but with hard work.

The several faces of Naoto

Many people got angry with this, because they believed Naoto to be a transgender character and felt that she not assuming such role was a betrayal and a case of Atlus being hateful. But they forgot that in no moment in the game Naoto's sexual identity was said, even implied, to be that of a transgender. It was people searching for someone to identify themselves with that make them believe, without base, that Naoto was like them. And when the game revealed that Naoto cross-dressing had nothing to do with her gender identity, but with her need to be accepted in the job she loved, they got disappointed, even angry.

Since we don't have many heroes that aren't straight characters, many people who don't identify themselves as straight search everywhere for heroes and heroines that fits the image they have of themselves. Naoto seemed to fit the role at first, but when her true reasons where revealed, breaking the expectations, people get angry. It was their expectations that betrayed them, the image they projected themselves, not Atlus.

As the story progress, specially in Persona 4 Golden, Naoto comes into terms with her identity and her true desires. She left behind the image and expectations she had of what a great detective should be, that of a manly adult man, to understand that if she wants to be respected as a detective, she need to accept herself and work to get the respect of others, not conform with the image others created and that she impose on herself.

She accepted herself. Apparently, people can't accept her outside of what they want her to be.

Interestingly enough, many of the people that got angry at Atlus are doing exactly the same mistake Naoto's and society in Persona 4 made. Expecting someone to conform to an image they projected themselves upon others and then demanding this image to be fulfilled. Persona 4 main lesson is of acceptance of yourself and coming to terms with what you want against what others expect of you.

In this curious case, it is clear that people forget completely the lessons the game tried to teach and decided that their own expectations should have being met. Naoto's identity issues never had anything to do with her sexual identity. It had to do with being accepted as the person she is, not the person others and herself wanted her to be. And maybe that is what people need to remember.

That the main lesson of Persona 4 is not just the acceptance of yourself. It is also to learn to accept others and not let your own expectations cloud your eyes and hide the true others in front of you. Because if you let your expectations hides the truth in front of you, you will be disappointed.

We have a saying here in my country. The worst blind is the one who refuses to see. So, next time, always remember to not let the fog of your expectations hide the truth in front of you. Otherwise, disappointment waits.


11:39 AM on 11.29.2012

Novelas and Visual Novels

Novelas are Brazilian soap operas. They are very different from Mexican soap operas, since they don't have the over acting and implausible plots. When I was a kid, my family was poor, so we had only one TV in my house. And I have a mother and two sisters, meaning that TV at night was all about seeing novelas. So, as the only boy until my father got home at night, I was forced to do something else or watch novelas.

A typical Brazilian novela is all about a couple of a charming, brave and all right good guy meeting an innocent, beautiful girl and falling in love. And them the bad guys around them trying to keep the couple apart for several reasons, from the bad ones loving one person of the couple, to social status to greed and any other excuse the author could find. Then you would spend 4 to 6 months wondering if the couple would ended up together, if the bad guys would receive the deserving punishment (to save your time, yes, most of the time, to each question), who killed Odeth Roithmann (if you are a Brazilian around my age, you get it).

So, as part of how I grown up, I can't deny the novela's influence. I still love a nice love story about people's fighting to get together, to see if the main character will ended up with the person I am rooting to be the one. So, I can't deny that everytime a love story is put in a game and there is several possible endings, I get curious to see if my favorite couple will end up together.

That explain in part why I find Visual Novels attractive. My first contact with Visual Novels was an eroge (yes, a porn game, live with it) when I was 16. It was Season of Sakura, or Plagiarism: The Game. And it was quite fun. Would I be able to hook the main character with the girl I like most? Or will I screw up? It was quite a remarkable experience to me. The sex scenes at the end, a reward to any horny male teenager, didn't mattered so much at the end. The story, the characters, all that mattered way more.

I know a lot of you are reading and thinking that I am a lonely perv that want to have sex with underaged girls. I am a pervert, but not of that kind. I have no sexual desire for underaged girls. And I am not lonely, albeit no girlfriend right now. I work, I go out, I flirt. Not everyone is drawn to Visual Novels because they are socially awkward perverts. Some of those Visual Novels have great stories with some remarkable characters. Some of them have no sex at all.

Of course, the bad reputation of them avoid them to be localized in the West, which is a shame. I would love to play some titles like Fate//Stay Night and Stein;Gate. Yes, some of them get so popular that become anime and even entire franchises on its own. And you don't do that, for more that some people want to believe, just by being a porn game for perverts. Asks how many porn titles become franchises outside porn.

Not all Visual Novels are about scoring with high school girls.

Many Visual Novels aren't about looking girls at bath, upskirts and dating stereotypical anime girls. Some have compelling, interesting stories and unique characters. The prejudice the whole genre gets and, specially, its players, only hold up some true incredible titles to have any chance of coming West. The interesting thing, it is not the dating sim element that holds it back.

Most people loves to talk about their favorite BioWare mate, like Tali from Mass Effect or Morrigan from Dragon Age. Or even their love of titles that are heavily made around a dating sim element like Persona 2 and 4, and yet many will see any pure dating sim or Visual Novel game as unacceptable. Funny stuff. Saying that your character got to bed with a blue alien is OK but saying you was able to make two fictional high schoolers fall in love makes you a criminal.

It is a shame that due to several reasons, some great Visual Novels that I would love to play will never get a chance. Of course, my own circumstances make accepting the genre existence easier, while others simple cannot see the appeal, and it is way easier to dismiss and mock than understand and accept. Yes, I realize that there is plenty of Visual Novels that only exists for people looking for porn. But that is not the only ones that exists.

I know a lot of people are just happy with games being all about shooting things. And that they prefer games with no stories at all. But I particularly don't mind a game that is only story, neither I have a hate for any story that don't involve you trying to end the existence of something else. In the end, it is just a question that I am different. This doesn't mean I am better or worse than anyone else.

I think it is a shame that sometimes due to several prejudices something that people may enjoy will never have a chance. Probably I am not alone, and I am pretty sure someone will come on the comments and make a lot of a fuzz about what kind of lame person I am. Of course, if I cared, I wouldn't have wrote this in the first place.

But I really would love to see some of these games get a chance of being released, even if just as a digital tile. Some of them have compelling premises, others just seem to be fun stories. And after all, we all just want a game that are a good time spent playing.   read

8:44 AM on 11.24.2012

How I Would Make a Vita's FPS

The second analog in the PlayStation Vita, for many, was a correction to one of the biggest flaws of the PlayStation Portable. And specially, it would open the doors for one of the biggest, most popular genres in this generation of games: the first person shooter. Unfortunately, all attempts on making a FPS on the Vita that would fill this need, for several reasons, have failed.

Call of Duty: Black Ops: Declassified (how many subtitles a game need? Next we will have Call of Duty: Black Ops: Declassified: Carl's Duty) was a rushed effort, with an alleged 5 months development. All other attempts till now to make an Vita FPS have met mixed to negative reception. It is not something inherent to the platform, I believe, but with developers not putting much thought in it. Therefore, I put some, and here is my ideas to make an FPS in the portable system that would be interesting.

How Vita FPSes feels like now.

First, everything starts as a normal FPS. You are fighting in WWIII, with one of two superpowers that split the world's domination till that moment. You are fighting your way, following orders like any soldier, in what is basically a tutorial mode. Then, in the middle of a firefight, you hear intense talk in the comm system and look up. Several dozens of missiles past through the sky in direction of the major city in your background. Than a series of lightning like flashes happens and all communication dies. Panic start to take care of the battlefield, while everyone is trying to make the communication system works. But it is too late.

Every city in the world and every tactical military location was hit by a new weapon that decimates all human life, leaving only the soldiers in the middle of nowhere alive. Because WWIII have being so long and the cost in human lives was so high, the only survivors are all the young, inexperienced soldiers in the remote battlefields around the planet.

With the world as they know it in ruins, some soldiers decide to return to their homes to find other survivors. Others try to restore the chain of command and keep the war going. Your soldier, together with an enemy soldier and a friend of the military training days, decided that there is nothing to keep fighting for and that the journey back home is too dangerous and pointless. So, your group of three establishes a camp on the outskirts of some rural areas near the city and start scavenging for supplies.

It is here that I wish to put an unique series of game mechanics. First, the quantity of supplies you acquire establish how good your character will be. Lack of food will make your character have half the amount of health he would normally have. Lack of medical supplies would make your health regeneration take twice as long. Lack of ammo... well, let's keep that all ammunition you have would be the ammunition you find around.

Going to the cities, battlefields and other places would be basic mission you and your partners would do. Of course, the amount of each kind of supply you can take with you is limited, forcing you to choose what you need most at the moment. Choosing ammunition can cost you health if you left no space in your bag for food, for example. In you incursions, you also will met people of all kinds. Maybe insane people, soldiers still fighting a war that doesn't matter anymore and people trying to still your supplies. But also, people that you can recruit to your camp and that can add something to your overall status.

Recruiting a mechanic means that you may have someone to fix that jeep and you will be able to carry more supplies in each excursion. A medic can make you medical supplies last longer and give you health and regen bonus. A computer tech can make communications work again and enable the use of drones in the battle. A cook or farmer can make the food last longer and maybe rise its own. other soldiers can be used to scout areas for supplies, protect the camp from bandits and alternate with your partners.

Of course, I would add some hard to make choices. For example, should you storm a house and take all food from a family that is shooting at you trying to survive? Should you take with you to your camp some children that will only reduce your supplies? Also, the people in your camp would have discussion you would need to solve.

I would make it as organic as possible. Just go away of the house to let the family leave or go ahead and shoot them. Go to the side of the character you agree with or between both to get a middle ground answer.

I would also add a certain deep of strategy games here. Who should go with you in the next mission? Should you send some scouts around or keep them around the camp? The mechanic should fix the jeep, allowing you to take more supplies back with each mission or help fix the generators and make food last longer with an refrigerator? All could be done with the touchscreen before each mission.

You could also use the touchscreen to plan strategies during the mission. While you and your two partners act in real time, you could put some extra soldiers to give you cover or to block some exits so you could have a better chance at the firefight.

I would make the mission goes as episodes, each with different challenges and enemies. In one episode is a group of soldiers trying to achieve the same ammo depot you are, in other episode is a crazy guy with a tank destroying places where supplies can be found. In other, a group of religious fanatics trying to take your camp down and its supplies. Also, I would either make missions short, 10 minutes tops, or make them a mission with 3 or 4 segments, where you could take a break between each, so making it easier to play on the go.

As for multiplayer, I would use some of the same mechanics. Every mode would reward the players with supply rewards, that would give them more ammo at the start of a round, more health, fast regen and such. Only the winning team would receive rewards, making being a team player crucial to be in the top boards. Matches would be short, 5-7 minutes each, so you could play a match or two in the bus.

Of course, this is just some ideas I had. A talented developer could make this awesome. Shame I am not one. So, that sit for my idea of a Vita FPS. If you have a Vita or want one, and is a fan of FPSes, how would be your perfect game?

This is my bet about the first good Vita FPS.   read

11:52 AM on 11.22.2012

Are You Angry at Games? Stop, Breath and Think

Games are entertainment. Of all things in the world, entertainment goes way down there in the list of important things. You know, after things like health, food, home, family, happiness, money, job and other human beings. Entertainment goes after all of those. Yet, sometimes, I see people getting way too worked up with it.

I know people love games. That is an important activity to them, something that many times get their head out of their problems. That having a nice distraction is all good and important to people. But every time I see people getting to angry about something game related, I got a bit worried about them giving an undeserved importance to games. Specially when it is about something minor.

See, today on my Twitter feed, I discovered that some people is getting angry at Erin Fitzgerald, the new voice actress for the character Chie Satonaka, from Persona 4 Golden, the new version of Atlus PS2 classic for the Vita. See, Atlus changed Chie voice actress for some reason, and fans of the old voice (Tracey Rooney). See, Tracey's portrayal was weird at first, because she sounded too old for a high schooler like Chie. But with time, many people grown to love it. I loved old Chie's voice. But I also like the new voice provided by Erin, that I heard before at Persona 4 Arena. You have all the right to like one more than other. But getting angry at the new VA seems stupid.

Erin probably have nothing to do with the changing of VAs. She was hired to do a job, and while you may not like it, getting angry at her is getting angry at the wrong person. In fact, getting angry at all is utterly stupid and if you are, you are blowing it out of proportion. The changing of VAs in a game is hardly what I would call something worth getting angry about. In fact, getting angry towards videogames at all is something that is not worth getting angry about.

Erin Fitzgerald, ladies and gentlemen.

Even if your angry make some change in games, what do you get? Maybe a new ending in a game, some free DLC. And all that will really not have any meaningful impact in the world. It is not like you convinced your government to change laws for the better. Or that you helped some war refugees having a better life. You, at best, get a few seconds to feel proud of yourself for something with very little importance.

Of course, I am not saying that we just must let game companies do whatever they want. It is very health to discuss with ourselves what games do right and what they do wrong. And if you think a game is doing something you don't like, it is OK to say so, and to not give money to a company that have done something you don't agree with.

What is not OK is getting angry, demanding others to get angry and specially being awful against other people, specially people that have no power to change what you think is wrong or aren't at fault in the problem, for something that in the end have very little importance. A game is just a game, a form of distraction. I love games too, and I want them to be perfect. But I also realize that games don't deserve me stressing about them.

If you are getting to worked up because of games, maybe it is time to stop and think. Are you giving too much importance? Are they having too much space in your life? Are the changes happening to games really worth all the time, energy and heart attack rising risks you are putting into it?

Enjoy your games. If a game is making you angry, don't play it. Remember, that in the end of the day, a game is just a game and there is way more important things to do with your life.


4:39 AM on 11.14.2012

The Random: Labels, Originality in Sameness and Troubleshootings

I got tired of labels. They never meant much anyways, and now they mean even less. We live in a world were things got so mixed up and share so much in common that labels are pointless. They don't help you to understand what something is or isn't, don't define what is good or bad and certainly don't define who you are. I always defined me as a bit of nerd, geek and otaku, until I started seeing that other people who also defined them as such are completely different from me. And completely different from each other. Making the labels pointless.

The funny (well, not really funny, more of amusing) is how people defend their labels so much. The problem of defining who you are with labels is that when someone completely different from you use the same labels to define themselves you feel threatened. Not because those people are some kind of menace to the things you like, but because you fear that what define who you are is pointless, therefore losing one's identity.

When 'gamers' feel that people that they define as 'non-gamers' are playing games and calling themselves 'gamers' and they are completely different from you, what you question is not if the 'gamer' label fit that person. It is if that person so different from me is a gamer, who am I? I know it is a bit of an existential question, but we question our existence all the time.

Think about rock music. There is so much variant of music styles, that you can't just group all people that make what they call rock in one single label. Even the sub-genres have sub-genres now, like 'progressive pop rock' or such. This make the labels so pointless that the only label that can be applied, specially to a person, is 'This is me, and there is no one like me'.

So, I am tired of labels, since not only they are pointless, they just work to create dissent between people. Stop labeling yourself and just be unique. You will be happier and everyone too.

While talking about being unique, a lot of people asks for originality. Being original is hard, it is expensive and people seem to ask for it a lot, but buy/support sameness more. A lot of unique games get lost because people prefer to expend their money with something they know than risking with something familiar. It doesn't mean that you can't find uniqueness is something that looks like the same.

Take the Megami Tensei series by Atlus and their spin-offs. It is JRPGs at its core. Random monster battles, status, levels, plenty of numbers. All typical JRPG stuff. If you don't know better, you could take it as any Final Fantasy clone. But them you discover that the games works (usually) in modern day settings. That make all the difference in the world. Not only that, the story, while usually a 'save the world' thing, is much more personal, because it deal with lots of deep concepts like psychology and philosophy. A simple change in setting and tone make the games unique, while still keeping something very familiar.

Another example, more recent and maybe more familiar to many people here is Spec Ops: The Line, that at first glance is a modern military shooter, a Call of Duty with 3rd person perspective and cover mechanics. And while it is a modern military shooter with cover mechanics, it is not just a CoD clone. And they made it just by telling a unique story in a unique setting.

It is not a tale of badass US soldier fighting mid-eastern terrorists, but of US soldiers fighting themselves (in more of one way). Saying more than that would spoil the game, and I can't recommend it to any shooter fan enough. It will make you question many things you did in other games without blinking an eye and doing like that is The Line will make you feel so guilty.

So, to close my randomness, I am enjoying playing on my PC. Despite not being able to play one single game without having to go to Google and see how to fix a problem. The only game that ran the very 1st time without problems till now is the original Portal. All the rest got at least one problem I needed to solve. Some times is simple as resetting the machine. Others, like Jade Empire, I needed to mess with my registry to make it run. And this in the second time I tried to play. The first time also asked me to go do some troubleshooting to run.

So, I think consoles will stick around for a while. Not all people that play games is savvy enough to go messing around with their PC configurations and gladly will pay more so they can just pop-up a game and play. Yes, I know, there is console's day-1 patches, but it is still easier than what I have to do to make PC games run.

And, yes, Jade Empire, made by BioWare is a great game. It is like a Dragon Age: Origins set in a China-like world. I am just a few hours into it and already want a sequel. It is really good, but if you want to play, remember this is an updated X-Box game, meaning it is not quite on par with today's games. And that you probably will have to go through hoops to run it.

Well, that is it for my randomness. Thanks for staying with me in this.

I am eager to go back and play as her. I call her Ayane.   read

6:18 AM on 11.11.2012

Final Impressions VS: Spec Ops: The Line and Half-Life 2

How those two games do a lot of things right, but one does one thing way better.

Let's start with my final impressions with Half-Life 2, since I made some first impressions the other day. Half-Life 2 completely deserve the love it receive, but this don't mean it is a perfect game. Far from it, it have some glaring problems that have nothing to do with its age. So, let's, as always, start getting the bad things out of the way.

Half-Life 2 have a serious problem with pacing. It starts very, very slow. The first third of the game is basically you walking around for long stretches of land with nothing to do except walking. Some times you will have to solve a puzzle just to keep walking/driving/boating(?) forward. Getting some action is more of a relief than a reward in itself. The game gets more even with its pacing later, with more things to do, but still have some problems with its pace, making you waste too much time than it should be needed in certain segments.

Another problem I feel the game have is that HL2 never decide what kind of game it wants to be, which affects the pacing. It is, in theory, a sci-fi FPS. But sometimes it wants to be a 1st person puzzle game like Portal, sometimes wants to be a survival-horror game like Dead Space and in other times it wants to be a driving game. Maybe it is the effect of how Valve is said to work, with a very loose chain of command and structure. I feel like the game's team just added things to it because someone bothered making it. This identity crisis make the game have lots of personalities and affect the pacing.

The last problem I had with it is the puzzles. While not mentally challenging, they most of the time felt unnecessary. Just a speed bump made to waste time between the sections of the game. None felt clever or smart, just troublesome. And of course, later in the game they want you to solve puzzles while there is enemies shooting at you, which is not cool.

OK, enough with the bad things. Let's go to the good stuff.

The game is very unique. While the setting is of the post-apocalyptic wasteland it is not quite that. It is more of a dystopian future going towards post-apocalyptic. The story is not told to you directly, but implied, which is a nice touch. The alternance of environments helps to give you this feeling of a world that is very connected and real.

There is some clever weapons, like the gravity gun, that add variety of gameplay style and some fun times. With many weapons at your disposition, you can find the way you want to play fast. There is never really a right way to play it, which is great in my eyes. You don't have regenerative health, something most older FPSes didn't have, but now I see it not as a problem, nor something better, just something different. While with regenerative health you just find a cool spot to regenerate, in HL2 you just need to search around for health pack and healing stations, and all of those are fair common.

There is not many enemy variety, which is OK. It contributes a little to make the setting more striking and unique. There is not many characters to interact. Most of the time you are alone. While many would be happy with the loneliness, I somewhat grow to expect to always have some company. This lack of a constant companion make the barren world more striking, but also accentuate the slow pace.

Alyx Vance. I must say that if I base my impressions of her just with HL2, I must say, she is pretty bland. you barely interact with her, and while able to take care of herself and not being the hot eye-candy token female character, I don't felt like she deserve all the praise she receives. Of course, all the praise she receives may come of the Episodes, so I will not discard her as a character until I play them.

So, should you play Half-Life 2? Well, that is a very hard question. If you like old school games, specially FPS, and want something with more personality and flavor than the old DOOM clones and WWII games of the time, I believe that you will really enjoy it. Just keep in mind that this game don't have many of the modern gameplay elements in it. Now, if you only got into FPS or shooters in general with games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and games that came after it or have no patience for old school, I would recommend to not play it. It is a great game, yes, but you need to look at it in the context of its time, not comparing it, gameplay and visuals speaking, with modern games. This is a very slow paced FPS, so if you want a roller-coaster type of game, this one is not for you.

The love Half-Life 2 receives is deserved. I can see why so many people love it and why so many put it as one of the best. It is not perfect, but many things we come to expect from modern games can be traced to this title.

Now, to our second title in hand...

Spec Ops: The Line. At first glance, it is just another cover-based 3rd person shooter. And one with a modern military flavor on top. But it is very far different than any modern military shooter out there, because this one make you question killing. And that make it one of the best games I have played in recent times.

Gameplay and visually wise, there is nothing very unique to The Line. You are in Dubai, that was destroyed by sandstorms and are searching for survivors and the 33rd, a division of the american army that volunteered into helping evacuating the city but have gone silent. I will try to not spoil any of its story, because it is here that the game shines most.

Dubai, a very luxurious city in reality, is now destroyed. There is an alternance between the shattered sites and some places that still keep the original vision of vast wealth the city have. That make the destruction of the city strikes you strong. There is plenty of unique locations and all of them gives you a different feeling.

But what strikes you harder is how the game deals with death. I talked before how most games make killing a very impersonal experience. Not here. It is all very personal, terrifying and make you regret killing. yes, I actually felt guilty by killing virtual characters. Just because of that, this game deserves a prize.

The game don't make killing like a virtual paintball match. It make killing what it is: horrific, regrettable and ugly. The game don't make death look cool or awesome. You will hear the enemies dying and they will ask for help. They will even ask you why you killed them. And there is even stronger, more terrifying scenes to come.

As a game, it is very good. The action is well done, the controls work perfectly and your AI partners, while not immortal, rarely get in the way or need to be rescued often. The soundtrack and sound effects are great and put you in the mood very fast. The major flaw I found in the game is the turret segments, since the turrets don't have reticules to help you aim, making those segments far more difficulty than they should be.

Also, the game have choices. They are very organically integrated with the game play. You will never be asked to make a button press in order to make a choice, but will have to act those choices yourself. Sometimes will have up to four choices to make and it is up to you to decide how to work about it. It all feels great and give your choices more meaning.

Now, two things that may be seem as flaws but aren't. The game is short. I finished it in 5 hours, which would make many people groan because of this. In fact, its shortness help to keep the game from stretching its story thin, and it helps to incentivate you to replay the game. It also keeps the pacing of the game even, without getting too fast nor too slow.

The second thing many people may criticize is the ending. I will not spoil it for you, but the end is one of those that you never saw it coming, but it gives you a lot of meaning and make all that you have done to get there even more weight.

So, I really think any fan of shooter should try this game. It have a very solid single player campaign worth playing it twice ( I haven't tried the multiplayer, but there is that too) with a unique story that will make you regret being too trigger happy. If you aren't a fan of shooters, specially the cover based ones, maybe this game is not for you.

Now, I have told you that one of those games do something very right. This game is Spec Ops: The Line. The thing it does very right is pacing. Albeit short, this shortness help the game to tell its story in a meaningful manner. Meanwhile, Half-Life 2 suffers from its pacing and feel like it overstay its welcome. Half-Life 2 would be a way better game in my eyes if it was 30% shorter and some segments, specially the driving ones, were less time consuming.

While Half-Life 2 have a special place in game story, a place it deserves, it is not a game that everyone would enjoy today. Meanwhile, Spec Ops: The Line, is a game that you should look for, because it shows that games can be way more than mindless fun.   read

6:46 AM on 11.10.2012

My Adventures In PC Gaming

So, after years always having a lackluster PC, when my old PC start failing on me, I decided to do an upgrade. At first, I was thinking about just going cheap, but then decided that making a more powerful machine would last me longer and I could even play a few games. So, after several discussions, inner monologues and kicks to the (other people) face, I decided to build a relatively powerful rig.

My PC now is a Pentium i5-3470 3.20 GHz with 8GB Ram, nVidia GTS450 1GB DDR5 video card and 64-bit Windows 7. Enough to run many games in ultra settings (not graphic heavy games like Battlefield 3, but games like Spec Ops: The Line). Coincidently, Steam started accepting Brazilian money and bank payments (boletos), making acquiring and playing games on my PC easier.

My old PC had trouble running this game!

So, let's put the bad things out of the way. My PC was not cheap. I spent the equivalent of US$750 to build it, which is twice the price of a Playstation 3 around here. And remember, my rig is far from being top notch. And honestly, I recommend to anyone building a gaming PC to not go cheap. There is no advantage in saving a few bucks to run games slightly better than consoles for a year or two. Try to make a PC that will last a good 4-5 years without a full overhaul.

Second, be prepared to never launch a game and play. Launch a game, discover something is not working, mess with the settings a little, go for internet help, kick some more people, get the game running and finally play. Sometimes is easy to fix the problems (a simple restart made Spec Ops work finely) or some more difficulty fuddling (The Witcher 2 required me to fuss a little with settings before running fine) and Half-Life 2 (thanks for this one, TH3MORROW) just worked fine after I bought this new PC.

Third and last, if you don't grew up gaming on PC, the keyboard+mouse will feel uncomfortable and non-intuitive (calm down, Ram, I will get to that point). The keyboard specially was never planned to be used in games, and it is not anatomically comfortable or easy to use. Sure, most PC games will let you customize the keys, but most of the time it feels they expect you to have three hands with six fingers each to correctly play. So I bought an XBOX controller that have filled my needs perfectly. Sure, keyboard+mouse IS more precise, no question here. And if you are the competitive type, getting the hang of it may be a good idea. I just feel way better with the controller.

Now to the good stuff. Gaming is cheaper, yes. I bought The Witcher 2 and Spec Ops: The Line for under US$50 (not each, both). Haven't tried to play on-line yet, so I can't say anything about this. And yes, the games look better than consoles. Not incredible better mind you, but noticeable better in some cases. But I will say you this: it doesn't really influence on how much enjoyment you can have with a game. On the other hand, not having frame rate drops at all really make enjoyment better.

Thank you, Steam. Wait, no, you are making me poor!

Also, you have lots of games that aren't available on consoles, so having a gaming PC means I could play great games otherwise I would not play. Certain genres only works with keyboard and mouse (like RTS and MMOs). Also, the flexibility is quite nice. I am using an XBOX controller AND the Sony Wireless Headset on my PC (what about that, fanboys!), meaning I can save some bucks and use the hardware I already have.

So, I am pretty satisfied with PC gaming for now. It is not easy, cheap or better as most PC hardcore fans want you to believe, but it is not as hard, expensive or irrelevant console fans may believe. Again, if you are going to buy a new PC anyway and have some extra cash to spend, building a gaming ready PC is a good idea.

Now, excuse me while I try to beat Spec: Ops The Line. Great game, expect a blog about it tomorrow.

Because this game is awesome.   read

10:52 AM on 11.07.2012

Why I Like the Games I Like?

I bet a lot of you never asked this. Everyone have their own tastes and probably never asked themselves how come they like what they like and dislike what they dislike. So, today while talking at Twitter, I came across with this question. How the place you grow up influenced your taste in games? And come to the conclusion that this have a greater influence than we may ever think.

I am from Brazil, and the Brazil from my childhood was a very different place than it is today. When I was young, life was way harder. My family was very poor, we had to deal with hyperinflation and a country that was generally terrible. This made didn't made Brazilians gather a pessimistic look at life, but a hopeful one. We always spoke about Brazil turning up as the 'country of the future', so we always expected that things would become better. In a way, we still expect.

So, as I was a child, I was growing up on the promises of better days to come. That reflects in my taste on games because I hate games (and any other media like movies and books) with depressing, hopeless ends. I always expect for a good end, and it is specially bad in games when you got a bad end, because you, technically, is under control and should be allowed to do things differently, or at least supposed to be. A bad end, despite all you do, crushes the hopeful view of life I grown to have.

Other things that changed how my game taste is today is that different than many countries, I grow up with a different number of cultures around me. Not only Brazilian culture, but also American and Japanese culture were very present in my younger days.

TV had cartoons and shows made in the US, but also it had plenty of Japanese shows when I was young. I not only grew up with The Smurfs, Disney cartoons, Dungeons & Dragons, Thundercats and other American cartoons. I grew up with anime like Macross, Zillion, YuYu Hakusho and tokusatsu shows like Dengeki Sentai Changeman and Kamen Rider Black. And with Brazillian shows like Os Trapalhões. All that left a mark in me.

I grow up in a multicultural environment, making me more receptive of different outlooks in life, of different approaches and philosophies to the same problems. Brazilian shows usually relayed on thinking smart, not hard work. It makes me appreciate games that offer several ways to approach problems. American shows came into two flavors. You are either a badass to the core and are way skilled from beginning or you are part of a group and following the group. This reflect in my gaming tastes as I always hate games were you are underpowered and to appreciate games were creating a united group is key to victory. Japanese shows usually showed that there is always someone stronger than you, but you should not gave up and must keep trying and specially to think out of the box to surpass a challenge. This make me love games that always allow you to try again easily and games that offer creative ways to solve problems.

Not only that, the reality of gaming in my country changed how I approach games. Games here were always very expansive. That made having tons of games nearly impossible at first. In my Atari and Master System days, I had just two games. I never bought games for them, in fact, just played the ones they came with. So, I played them to death. Not only that, every time I was able to rent a game, I played them the most I could before having to return them. So, I usually don't jump from game to game with frequency (something I am doing a lot this month). So, I would most of the times stick with one game till I beat it. And since games still are expansive, I still do that.

But now with PS+ having some sweet deals, and I having a job, it made me buy more games and play more, yet I usually will play them for a few hours until I find that one game I will keep playing till I got tired of them, which sometimes would take days of playing.

I am, tough, an exception in Brazil's game preferences. Most Brazilians prefer simple games where no English knowledge is necessary, because our poor educational system make most gamers have zero knowledge of English. My own English, as many of you probably know already, is very bad, but is way above average when you compare with the knowledge of English most people here have.

Most Brazilians will play mostly games like FPS, racing games, soccer games, fighting games and nay other genre where understanding what the characters are saying in the screen is unnecessary. Me, on the other hand, prefer games with actual stories and enjoyable characters. This come from my time with the PS1 and its JRPGs, which were in their golden years at the time. Because I grow up with lots of Japanese shows, I also grow up to appreciate the way they made game stories and developed characters.

To this day, I prefer games with stories and development of characters. part of that is because I was and still am a loner. I moved a lot during my life, not living more than a year in a city till I was 14. And even after that, I never stayed in the same school more than 2 years, making creating lasting relationships a problem to me. And games, in a way, helped cope with that, since I could see other developing relationships in the games.

That is why games like Persona and Mass Effect are specially great in my book by allowing me to work out creating relationships. And why I prefer way more games that story revolve around the characters and their relationships with others than games made out of set pieces and epic events. And to prefer games where working in group to win are more fun to me than games based on lone wolfing to victory.

So, that is why I like many of the games I like. My childhood, how I grow up and where I live are all key components to understand why i like the games I like.

And you? have ever wondered why you like the games you like?   read

5:45 AM on 11.04.2012

A True Assassin

How Assassin's Creed III: Liberation finally achieved what their predecessors failed to.

One of my main grips with the previous Assassin's Creed games I played is the fact that, for a member of a secret order of stealth assassin's, you surely was a lousy assassin. Altair and Ezio were hardly able to accomplish a mission without having all city in alert, leaving a trail of bodies in their way. And this was hardly their fault.

Ubisoft somehow believed that secret assassins are no different than any action hero, with them being forced, even after avoid detection for a long time, to fight hand to hand the twenty or more bodyguards their target have. A target that was always expecting you to come. Trying to approach them silently and stab them when they least expect is something you only did in the first or so mission. All the rest of the missions was you fighting dozens of guards to finally being able to engage in a length fight with your target.

Wait, now that I think about it, yes, it is all Ezio and Altair's fault. they walk around in broad day light with their trademarked assassin's hoods and weapons. Of course everyone would know who they are and what they intent to do. They hardly behave like the members of a secret society, but as members of some kind of ancient biker gang.

And that is why Aveline and her multiple personas make her the first true assassin in the series.

Many people criticized the Lady persona because she is the less combat competent persona, but this is the one I love most till now. There is an utter satisfaction of having this identity, hiding in plain sight. Using her charm skill to lure a guard from a door, luring him to a secluded place and stabbing him is very rewarding. It makes you finally feel like you are a secretive assassin.

Aveline dual life, of the daughter of a rich merchant and of a member of a secret order, add to the fact that she is a member of a secret order. You will not see her outside mission freely walking around in her assassin's gear, but as the lady. All this make you feel you are finally playing a game where secrecy and stealth is important.

I am still in the very beginning of Liberation, having completed the two first missions. till now, my main frustration with the Assassin's Creed series, the fact of no really being able to choose a more stealth route to kill your targets not being a real possibility, is not here. You still have to fight the bodyguards that your targets always have, but you only fight them in the very end of the mission and you still can kill your target first. And your way to the target is way more satisfying.

Using the blow gun to silently poison the guards around the house is very satisfying. Either killing them or making one going crazy so they start fighting each other is what you expect an assassin trying to remain hidden to do, not having to fight dozens of enemies at the same time.

I think somewhere in the middle of creating the Assassin's Creed franchise, someone at Ubisoft decided that the combat system was awesome and that players would prefer to use it than just walking on roofs and trying to sneak around, but when they decided to create Liberation, a spin-off, they decided they could try a different approach. And in my opinion, it was a very good decision. Liberation feels different and more of what I want to do in a game like Assassin's Creed.

Aveline feels like the first assassin to really live to the role. And I hope that Liberation sells enough to Ubisoft see it is worth trying this approach more often. Because Liberation have being a great game all around, and if you have a Vita, it is worth trying.


12:05 PM on 11.02.2012

Pandora's Forbidden Fruit

Probably everyone here must be familiar with the Greek Myth of Pandora's box. In the most popular version, Pandora receives a box from the gods, that warn her to never open it. Pandora goes and opens it anyway, her curiosity allowing all that is evil escape the box and plague the world with all the evils, like despair and fear. The only thing that remained in the box is hope, that humanity kept. it is interesting how this tale is similar with Eve's tale and how she disobeyed god and ate a forbidden fruit, costing her and Adam paradise.

It is an interesting tale, warning humanity to leave some things alone. And in fact, one driving point that many games have taken before. think about it: how many games have you played that main plot is the antagonist trying to do something that nature, gods or basic common sense, that would damn all the world and now it is your job to close that box and expel the antagonist from 'paradise'?

It is an interesting dilemma. Humanity always strive to do better, to improve, but at the same time fear the consequences of improving and what could happen if they go too far. In searching for immortality, we could create undead hordes. In searching for perfection, we could create heartless monsters. In searching for divinity, we could destroy creation itself. The fear of advancing while striving to do it.

Meanwhile, many times the heroes use the exact same mechanism the antagonists search for, sometimes with similar intents. They fight against the immortality seeker because they fear death. They perfect themselves with training, equipment, sometimes even with alterations of themselves because they need to defeat monsters that are changed creatures themselves. They try to fight a god-like opponent because they fear he will destroy the world the previous gods created.

This kind of duality is really interesting. To gain hope, we need the worst evils to exist. To gain knowledge, we must open hand of the bliss of ignorance. In many games, the only difference between heroes and villains is whom you control. Many times, the villains have the same desires than your character(s) have and are just more eager to make it happen.

I don't remember by now any game were the heroes motivations (except maybe by Shadows of the Colossus) ended up doing more harm than good. this is something interesting that more games would do great in exploring. What if you are in the wrong side? If what you seek for will ended up releasing monsters and destroying the world? If the box you open and the fruit you eat would be better left unopened and uneaten?

We like to assume that the side we are with is always the right side. But we all fear to discover that we have being in the wrong one all along. This is a kind of fear that is very real, very human, and that I wish was more explored. Because there is no more difficult question than this.

What if I was wrong?


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