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12:50 PM on 11.16.2012  

Harvest Moon: A Personal Retrospective



The Harvest Moon series (Or Bokujou Monogatari, or Ranch Story, as it is called in Japan) has been a big part of my gaming life for almost the entire 15 years the series has been out here in the USA. Considering how many games in the series I've played, and the fact that the series is celebrating it's 15th Anniversary, I figured I'd do a personal retrospective, talking about my personal experiences with the games, as close to the order I experienced them as can be. Now being a personal retrospective, it won't go into the details of production of the games, it's just my way of showing how much joy this series has brought me in an industry that seems happy shooting each other online in brown-grey shooters endlessly. Also being personal, I could get some of my facts wrong, like the order I played some games, or years when I list them, and things like that. I decided to do this on a whim and started typing it immediately when I did. Also remember, because of the personal nature of this retrospective, it is biased, so don't feel too bad if the game you enjoyed isn't on here or I say negative things about it.



Part One: First Sowing



I first heard of Harvest Moon through a friend of mine. He told me about this strangely addictive game he had rented called "Harvest Moon." After that conversation I decided to check it out, and found myself on one of the many emulator and rom sites of the time. Now I never owned a Super Nintendo, not from a lack of trying mind you, it was just back then my parents were against me having a gaming console for whatever reason. So I played a rom version of the SNES Harvest Moon. Like most I thought to myself “What is so great with this?” in the first few days, having to talk to literally everyone to forward a sequence was a bit of an annoyance, but I hung to it, and soon enough I was enjoying the game despite limitations. The catchy tunes (of which the fall theme seems to echo in my brain today) were, and still are fun to listen to in their original form (sadly the remixes that have appeared in the newer games as bonuses aren’t as good for the SNES ones).

I played through a complete cycle on Harvest Moon, having married Nina the first couple times, with Eve being the second girl to woo. I believe I also once married Maria. I would later get Harvest Moon the day it released on the Wii Virtual Console service, and enjoy it as close to the original version as is within my power to have. However, during my play-throughs of the original, I had a visit from my best friend (of almost 20 years now) and I would then learn of the game that to this day has had the most rentals from me, but I would never actually own myself…



Part 2: The Second Harvest



Harvest Moon was a fun game, no doubt about it, but when my friend visited with the game he had rented one weekend, titled “Harvest Moon 64” I knew things would never be the same. Everything I loved about the original game had been enhanced. Better graphics, sound, a rucksack to carry items in so you didn’t have to carry things one at a time, the list goes on. That weekend was only a small sample of the fun that was to come. After my friend returned the game to the rental store (I believe it was funcoland) I immediately picked it up myself. I don’t really remember much from that week, at least in terms of real life happenings, since I spent most of the time on the game. One rental turned into two, then three. One of the five total rental weeks I rented the game (before my friend got his own copy that I borrowed for a while) I made the mistake of letting my sister try it out. It was quite the fight to get the game back to return to the rental store.

I remember a few things from the game, like marrying Popuri, and befriending the then tool seller Rick. I also remember all the conversations about the game we noticed, like when night hits it gets eerily quiet, and we both swore one day we’d come to the vineyard and walk into the house one day and discover Karen’s mom having ended herself due to how depressed she was every time we saw her. The music was even better than the first game, with the summer and fall themes once again taking center stage. Back then it was a simpler time, so things like having to enter the pause menu to see the clock, and the odd delay when on the farm itself when exiting didn’t deter much from the grand experience. I also remember ignoring Elli’s grandma for as long as possible so that she didn’t pass away until I could get her recipe. Harvest Moon 64 was an amazing title, and it would be hard to beat. However it wasn’t that long after I got an N64, that I also ended up with the smaller, slimmer, and rounder PS1, and would discover one of my top 3 favorite games in the series…



Part 3: Back to Old Memories, and Nature



My experience with the playstation is…interesting. My first few games were actually played using “Bleem!” which for those not in the know, was a retail playstation emulator, the idea being that since you had to still buy the games to play it, it was legal to do. While I never heard of any legal disputes over the program, it’s update 1.5b was the last update ever, and soon it was stopped being sold. By that point however, the minor glitches involved with emulating Playstation games at the time made me get a PSone system. After a year or so with the system I was at Fred Meyer one day (one of the places I used to get new games from) when I saw something I didn’t know existed, “Harvest Moon: Back to Nature” sitting on the shelf (the only copy I found on their shelves) for 20 bucks. Naturally I convinced my mother to let me get the game and get it I did. I found out later, that the 20 dollar price tag, which I don’t believe had the game name printed on it, was the incorrect barcode for the game, it was actually for an older version of the NBA 2K games I believe. So it was luck that allowed me to get the game at such a great buy.

My mind was basically blown when that title screen came up with the waving grass, I couldn’t wait to get in and see what this version was like. The only thing that made me say “well that’s kind of dumb” was the name of the town, Mineral Town. The last village was called Flower Bud, so it was such a jolt, but I went ahead anyway. I quickly learned why gamespot’s review of the game, of which I checked later, said the words “you’ll find yourself saying ‘I’ll play just one more day’ more times than you can count.” I spent a long time on that game, even after my memory card had erased and I had to start again. Unfortunately I never DID see the ending to the basic story on that one, for my disc broke before I could finish the story. Music was again great, with the Spring and Winter songs being the highlights of the soundtrack, and a very catchy town theme. Sound effects did what they were supposed, even with the brow raising springy “pop” sound the character made when walking.

I quickly grew to love the new setting, the reimagining of the HM64 cast a great move, even if they Rick into a jerk, hating Kai for no adequately given reason besides “he doesn’t actually live here.” I have always married Karen when it comes to Mineral Town. Even when It came to the GBA port of Back to Nature, entitled “Friends of Mineral Town.” The reason why I’m not making a separate entry for the GBA title is because…well it’s the same game as Back to Nature, nothing of real importance changed (aside from the removal of the Tomato Festival, how dare you Marvelous?). The Mineral Town saga gave me the most actual in game time passed to date, having accumulated at least 9 years throughout the Back to Nature on PS1 and PS1 classics on PSN, and Friends of Mineral Town, which I purchased 2 copies of, however before I got FoMT, I got my PS2, of which I still have today, and my first game purchased for it would be the game I have the most mixed feelings about…



Part 4: Homeland to be Saved



When I got my PS2, I didn’t have any games for it for a couple weeks, sure I rented Final Fantasy X, which had come out by then and it dropped my jaw, but my PS2 was incomplete, it still needed two things, a memory stick, and a game to call my own. About a week after I got my PS2, the main water line to our house sprung a leak. After diagnosing the problem , I had to break up the concrete, wait for the repair guy to fix it, then reclose the hole. It was a lot of work, but my prize for it, a deal struck between my parents and I, was a shiny new copy of “Harvest Moon: Save the Homeland.” Even though I didn’t have a memory card, I didn’t care, I still played it, getting to mid-summer every play session. It wasn’t long before a trip to the then closing K-mart near us yielded me to not only get a memory card, but also Final Fantasy X, so I could actually see the end of the thing. I was finally able to play StH all the way through, probably going through 5ish cycles of the game’s story in the process.

The graphics at the time were great, sure some of the animations were a bit on the stiff side, but the cell shading was awesome, and the details were nice as well. To my shock, awe and amazement, this was the first game where you could get a different dog that I had played (I never played the GBC games). I always chose this second dog, because I loved it’s look. Music was good overall, with all of the seasons having strong themes, in perticular, the Summer theme when on the farm. In my mind to this day, there has not been a single song ever in the series to top that theme, even the remix, which appeared in later games, while one of the stronger remixes, was not as good as the PS2 original. It was also the first HM game I played that had the “chance” of the weather, rather than “it’s going to rain” like previous games. The setting and characters really clicked for me, Bob on the ranch from whom I got my black horse, Nexus from because I brushed him the most and first.

The biggest disappointment for me was the lack of marriage. Considering the game repeated every year, and thus, while your farm didn’t change, the relationships with the villagers did, and therefore you could not get marriage in the game, which irked me because my favorite female character to that point, Gwen was in it. There were other minor issues I had with the game, only four crops to grow kind of defeated the purpose of the whole farm aspect, and of course the whole “one year” aspect. I still enjoyed the game quite a bit however, but I was kind of vocal on the idea of only one year and no marriage. Now after getting FomT, I finally got a gamecube, and along with Mario Kart (which came packaged in) and Animal Crossing, I also got the next game in the series…



Part 5: A New Life, A Valley to Never Forget



I finally got a gamecube around…2005ish. Along with “Mario Kart: Double Dash”, which was packaged in with the system I also got a coupon that said “buy one game at 20 bucks and get another 20 dollar game for 5.” Naturally I got “Animal Crossing”, and “Harvest Moon: A Wonderful life.” AWL was a strange game at first. Only 10 days per season, having to propose before the end of the first year, weather that naturally rolled in and out, more realistic scenery, and other things. Graphically the game was fantastic, high detail, lovely looking water effects, and odd yet charming characters. Me and my friend would constantly joke about how Forget-Me-Not Valley’s doctor was a retired James Bond villain.

Music was used differently in this game compared to the older games in the series, and indeed is the only one (including the PS2 version released the next year) to not have dedicated season themes, instead you had a record player on the farm that would play music specifically for your farm. Other areas had their own song, like Cody the artist’s trailer, or the scientist’s lab. Most were more rhythms and less song, but I did spend most of my time listening to Quiet Winter, gazing up almost in a trance at the stars at night. Sound effects were the closest to realism in this game, so much so that many are still used in titles to this day. One of the little things that kind of got to me was how my character actually got hungry, which when starting out meant my little farmer was always hungry since food was hard to come by until ingredients could easily be gotten. Nina passing away meant Galen was always so sad, and it was a little heartbreaking to see it. I’ll admit I didn’t get too far into A Wonderful Life. It’s a great game, but something else was coming that would take more of my time…



Part 6: A Catchy Melody



When I heard that Magical Melody was incoming, and coming with characters from both the ORIGINAL Harvest Moon on the SNES AND characters from Save the Homeland, I immediately when out and pre-ordered the game. I got the plush sheep, which is now named “Wooly Gear” and picked the game up launch day. The game was like a return to the old days, but with many new features, like land ownership. The game returned to the isometric view that older titles used, and had a graphics style that could be best described as “The SNES game in 3d.” Presentation wise, it wasn’t until summer that I learned the tricks the game employed, when there was a heat wavy effect from late morning to evening in the game. The player could choose where his or her farm was, and could even buy more land to increase space for farming. The game even had a multiplayer mode, although it was just a bunch of minigames.

Music in the game was very upbeat and easily hummable. The spring theme is the one I really remember most, as well as the “event” theme. Sound effects once again did their job, even if they weren’t anything outstanding. The characters were a lot of fun. The revivals of the old characters was a very welcome sight, as were the characters from Save the Homeland. The new characters were great, and returning characters from the likes of HM64 and BTN were also welcome additions to the setting. Heck they even threw in a rival farmer. To be honest, I never liked Jamie much, she (in my game Jamie was a she, therefor I will refer to her as such, but I am well aware that Jamie is a boy when you play a girl) always was so cold towards my farmer for reason I ever got in my play time. Despite being a marriage candidate, I wouldn’t consider marrying her since… well you needed 50 notes and the game ends if you marry her.

Overall I had a lot of fun with Magical Melody. Even with some irksome things presented in the game (there’s a red outfit for the farmer in multiplayer mode, why couldn’t I wear it in the actual game?) the fun outweighed the issues to create a game I played quite a bit of. However my ending to playing the game was not due to lack of interest, or a broken disc, or a new game coming out. My large gamecube memory card kicked the bucket, and since GC Harvest Moon titles like to take a bunch of space, and I only had the memory card I got with Animal Crossing, I had to stop playing my GC HM games all-together. Nowadays I could emulate Magical Melody, I tested it out on the Dolphin emulator (and yes I still have the actual GC disc, and no I don’t have the image on my computer anymore) and it worked fine, A wonderful life on the other hand… the music was messed up. But my dad got a DS, and I was itching to finally have a game of my own on it. It was then that I surfed on gamestop’s website…



Part 7: Dual Simplicity



While surfing on gamestop’s website in the DS section, I discovered that a Harvest Moon title actually existed on the system. Like most games at the time, it was just called “Harvest Moon DS” and I soon had the game. This entry will be short, because there isn’t a whole lot I can say about the game that isn’t covered in earlier entries. It takes the main character sprite from FoMT, and shoves him into a sprite version of Forget-Me-Not valley. The only real new thing gameplay wise was having to build things like a chicken coop on your field, though limited buildings were there, and the… I’ll call it Sprite TV, which was all the normal features of a hm game done by the harvest sprites (more on them in the characters section), and special items you can hold to increase things like stamina (which replaced the, in my opinion, superior Power Berries).

There really isn’t any music that I feel really stood out in the game. If it wasn’t for the record player, the music would have been just kind of there. Sound effects were standard, and even the prsentation was just…ok. The game didn’t really use the DS’s capabilities well, but it was nice to have a regular Harvest Moon title take place in Forget-Me-Not. A silly choice was it takes place like 100 years after the events of FoMT and AWL, yet every single character is the exact same as their ancestors. The layout and look of the valley remained the same after all those years, with absolutely no real change in technology or anything. The only thing different was the Harvest Sprites. There were 101 of them that you had to find, and about 9 of them actually had personality, and they were the ones that ran Sprite TV. To be honest, I didn’t like the look of those sprites, the afros they had looked rediculous and just… I dunno.

Overall the game was just OK, I definitely place it as the lowest point in the series of the games I’ve played. What killed me from playing the game anymore was actually a glitch. In which having the sprites fish for you in winter, you had a chance to end up with 1 billion G. At that point I didn’t need to grow anything or do any work at that point. If I wanted something, I’d just buy it. Luckily this dark time in my HM history didn’t last long, with the Wii came an all new adventure…



Part 8: A Tree to Nurture



It had been over a year since I had gotten my Nintendo Wii (i.e., 2008), and it was around summer that I had actually grown bored with Animal Crossing: City Folk (it was an ok game, just it seems that series is just destined to be best as a hand held title when you can pull it out whenever you want). Eventually I managed to my hands on a copy of the first Wii outing, “Harvest Moon: Tree of Tranquility.” It was also around this time I learned of a Wii focused game reviewer on YouTube, who did a review of the game and gave it a positive review (wiiviewr for those curious). I popped in the disc and…well…

It was odd to see a 3D console harvest moon title with the slightly more realistic, though still cartoon style graphics do the semi-top down view thing. I mean you could look up at the sky, but you couldn’t rotate the camera much, if at all. Players once again got to choose their location from one of three spots, each with its plusses and negatives. It was a fairly standard HM experience, with the big new features being the tree, of which you had to craft… seven I think it was (if not, then five) special recipes to resurrect the tree. Most of these required rare and really hard to find or craft materials or ingredients, one of the items in one of the later recipes required ingredients that took a whole game year to collect. One of the choices involving this new feature was after you finished reviving the tree, would the player keep going, or would give their rucksack to the next generation, beginning the game basically anew.

Presentation wise the game was kind of hit or miss. On the graphics front what was there mostly looked fine, but the game didn’t have a widescreen mode or even progressive graphics, so it looked stretched and a bit blurry on my TV. The most stand-out thing to me was the water, it looked really…painterly, and it was indeed nice, and there were some decent lighting tricks in some areas. Music wise the actual songs for at least spring and winter weren’t bad, but the quality was inconsistent in terms of actual audio quality. Much of it sounded…muffled, with the occasional clear sound coming out. It was jarring to say the least.

Waffle Town wasn’t a bad place, the layout was decent, and while the people were good, I don’t really remember any of their names, just some of their appearances come to mind. This was the first Harvest Moon game I had that the various things about the game itself (not a glitch caused me to stop playing, and it’s the only game in the series that I’ve owned to have traded in later). I’m not sure why but it just… Tree of Tranquility never clicked for me. However I Had a PSP, and I needed a farming adventure for that underrated hand held marvel...


Part 9: I need a Hero



Having had a PSP for a time, I felt the need for some farming on it, so when I heard of “Harvest Moon: Hero of Leaf Valley” I knew I had to own it. This section is going to be much shorter than the other ones, since this is basically the same game as Save the Homeland, with some new features, I’m only going to go into the new stuff.

The first big news with the game was the fact the story doesn’t end until after 2 years instead of one, meaning the player could get married, and in a nice change of pace, the player could keep going after the story ended as well, meaning no more resetting relationships. The graphics were basically the same, the layout had only minor changes, and there were a few festivals now. It felt more like a Harvest Moon title. However there is a major story issue I came across that not only made me have to restart, but also made me once again no longer be able to play the game for any length of time. Basically there is one event in which two different endings compete for in the second year. Unfortunately the main ending is NOT the ending that takes priority. Basically if you pursue this side ending, you cannot get the true good ending to the game which is a bit silly. Otherwise the game was good, had a nice new soundtrack (though the summer theme in this game is the weakest of the bunch.

However I soon got my own 3DS, and with it I started building up my back catalogue, and one of the games I would get would be a title that was harder to find by that time…



Part 10: Raise Dem Islands!



Having gotten a 3DS at launch, one of the major plusses was be able to finally obtain and play DS games I missed out on, not having a DS of my own. I decided that, since the newest DS game at the time had already been out for quite a while, that I should pick it up before it got too expensive to do so. So after about two weeks of waiting, I got my hands on Harvest Moon: Sunshine Islands. I skipped island of Happiness because, well the touch only controls pushed me away.

The new thing was collecting the sun stones to raise the islands. Raising the islands meant more farming ground, as well as more areas, activities and villagers. Some were simple to find, like just searching the correct place, or having a certain amount of animals on the farm. Others were more difficult to obtain, and some were just frustrating, like talking to an NPC and having like a 5% chance of getting the stone. Personally I thought if these stones were so darned important, if the NPC had them already, they shouldn’t hold out, unless you had to become their friend. One other big chance was the weather prediction. Instead of having a TV to tell you the weather prediction at any time, you had to speak to the elder, Taro at the early morning to find out what the weather would be. It was a bit of an inconvenience, since you had to leave your house, head to him and talk to him to find out what tomorrow’s weather was, and then head back to do your farm chores, and he only told you once, so if you forgot… too bad.

Presentation was, again… just ok. The land looked fine, being 3D models and textures, but the sprites weren’t as good looking, and didn’t have as much animation as past games. I would have preferred low poly models to the sprites, but that’s just me. Music was…music was… uhhh… hold that thought for a second. Okay back, and man is that music so forgettable. There isn’t anything that I consider to be good. Nothing bad either, just… I already forgot the tunes and I just listened to them on hmotaku’s jukebox.

Like Tree of Tranquility, I don’t remember many of the character’s names, Taro being the exception due to his portrait. Once I hit mid-winter I heard of the next HM title coming later that year and all will to play just…went away. Even today I have trouble playing more than five minutes before going “eh” and dropping the game again. Luckily I didn’t have long to wait, as I had preordered the latest game in the series at that point, but I wouldn’t learn until later that I made what I still consider to be a $10 mistake…



Part 11: Two Towns Fighting More than Each Other



Squishy. That’s the name I gave my stuffed alpaca bonus for preordering the game. I wanted to support Natsume’s decision to port the last DS Harvest Moon title to the 3DS by getting the 3DS port. I really wanted another native running 3DS game for my system. What did I get with this? Well aside from spending an extra 10 dollars, I got “Harvest Moon: Tale of Two Towns 3D.”

The biggest gameplay change this time is right in the title, two towns fighting over who has the best cooking on the mountain. So much so that four….FOUR cooking festivals are held every season. One town, Bluebell, is a western themed village based around animals and their produce. The other, Konohana, is an eastern themed town with a focus on plant farming. The player gets to choose which town to start in, and can even move to the other town every season.

Presentation is ok, the backgrounds are well drawn and the menus clean. The fault lies again in the sprites. To me it looks like they modeled the characters, animated them, and took screenshots in the animation and turned them into sprites. It doesn’t look that fantastic in realization unfortunately. Music wise the game was pretty good, each town having a set of their own themes, as well as the standard themes for the seasons and such.

The Two Towns had an interesting bunch of characters. Friendly people even with the fact that their feud seemed to be a “just there” thing, since they can easily talk nice to each other, but when competition comes around, it’s a warzone. The two farms were also a neat feature, overall the setting was fine, and the game is fun, but it’s the technical issues that ultimately ruin this game for me. See I bought the 3DS version as stated, and there are four reasons I feel like I made a mistake. First, it cost 10 dollars more, which wouldn’t have been such a big deal if it weren’t for the other 3 reasons. Second, the 3DS version came out about 2 MONTHS after the original DS version, so now we have the more expensive game taking longer to get out even though the games are 99% the same. Thirdly, the game has TERRIBLE lagging on the players farm, and it isn’t framerate drop, it’s total game slowdown, and it brings the game to a crawl. The last issue is the random chance of having the game freeze completely while in the mountain, meaning a complete restart of the system to resume. These issues just made the game hard for me to keep playing. Soon enough however, Natsume announced that for once, they were releasing a translated version of the next game in the same year it came to Japan, and it promised to be A New Beginning to the series…



Part 12 (Final): Beginning Anew…



Natsume announced the 15th Anniversary edition on their website, and while the yak was cute, the cow plushy, which is huge, is basically the face of Harvest Moon. So when I got the cow (named Super Moo), I then got what could easily be my favorite game in the series to date…

Harvest Moon: A New Beginning is exactly as the name says. It’s a Harvest Moon game that does so much it can only be considered as a new beginning for the series, of which every game from this point on should be compared to. Allowing the player to customize everything to some degree opens up brand new possibilities of growth, both for the characters and the player.

Graphics are overall really good. The character models are great looking, with a nice amount of detail. The animations are also pretty good (even if the sitting animation is stupid with how they sway back and forth). The changes in the season aesthetically are quite nice, with winter being just flat out pretty, especially in 3D. Music wise I have yet to have any complaints for the default music, each being upbeat, catchy and just make the player feel happy the whole time.

Echo village may start small, at only 4 people including you, but the characters that move in are new and well made. Even the almost pointless dating system is a nice touch overall, making the game more fun by having the player commit to a marriage candidate before the blue feather can be purchased. A few minor technical issues aside, A New Beginning raises the bar for Harvest Moon. Feeling fresh and nostalgic at the same time.

Thank you Natsume, for 15 years of Harvest Moon fun, and here’s to many more fantastic games in the future. And thank you as well Natsume community, to reading this 12 part personal and heavily biased retrospective.




As a bonus, here's some pics from the internet of the plushies I have gotten from the series.

Wooly Gear

Squishy

Super Moo

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6:13 AM on 12.27.2011  

Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Review

Review

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Platform: 360, PS3, PC (Reviewed)

Edition Reviewed: Collectors

Release Date: 11/11/11

NOTE: Since I purchased the Collector’s Edition, I’m going to take a moment and review the package and its extra content before getting to the game itself. The review of the Collector’s Edition extras does NOT factor into the final score of the game.

The Collector’s Edition (from now on just being referenced as CE) is a beast of a package, with many components, so let us begin with the box itself. Not a whole lot of stuff to say about it, 3 sides have a picture of Bethesda’s “Dovahkiin” character staring out over the mountains. The back of the back of the box has a few screens, info, the contents of the box, and of course the requirements. Opening the large box, the first thing visible is the art book; from here I’ll be making a list with the items and what I think of them.

Art book: This is possibly the best art book I have ever seen. A presumably leather bound, 200 pages, full color book containing very high quality prints of conceptual arts for the world, characters, monsters, items, etc. The book is large, comparative to a tablet computer in length and width. This is easily one of the best items of this package. Following the art book is the case (which doesn’t need to be covered) and the Making of DVD.

Making of DVD: This is the weakest part of this collection. Other Bethesda bonus DVDs have a making of video, trailers for the game, usually from what I call the “original source (take the first oblivion trailer for instance, all the online versions ran at 24-30 FPS, while the version on the DVD was 60FPS)” maybe some posters/concept art, making it a nice piece to have. This one has JUST a making of feature, and it really doesn’t say a lot about the process that was involved in making the game. Not a lot of seeing people working on the game and talking about it. It’s disappointing to see such a lackluster, bare-boned bonus DVD in such an expensive package, but still, it’s nice to have.

Alduin Statue: The centerpiece of the collection is the statue of the game’s main villain, Alduin the World Eater. It comes in 2 pieces, the dragon and the base. The base is lower quality plastic, but being just a dragon wall, it doesn’t have a lot of detail to worry about. The dragon piece on the other hand is made from high-quality PVC (it feels sturdy in your hands) and has a ton of fine details. It’s an impressive statue, really high quality and a fine piece, rivaling the art book as the best part of the extras.

The Game Review:

Skyrim is a large game. It is a game that will take you a long time to complete. It is a game where you can choose to play in many different styles, and be your character. But how good IS it, and is it worthy to carry on the Elder Scrolls series? If you want a short version, there here you go, yes, yes it is.

Presentation: Skyrim is a decent looking game. Overall the presentation is great, but the finer details, without graphics mods, are fairly blurry up close. This is a good and bad thing, as it means more people can play the game on computers with less resource, but it also means those with beefy rigs need to download texture mods to really get the most out of this game. Little details, such as berries and plants vanishing when you pick them are nice touches, and the animations are vastly better than any of Bethesda’s other games. Combat, especially with weapons, looks heavy and kinetic; with another nice touch being your swing is interrupted when blocked by a shield.

NPC interaction is still a bit stiff, mainly how the characters move while talking to you, but the camera stays away, and time no longer stops, making conversations more natural. The biggest flaw in the graphics is the shadows, even at the highest settings, outside they are blocky, and ugly, and for some reason, the choice in time advancement has them move along their respective movement in increments every few seconds. It’s not jarring until you’re standing still in an area with a lot of them. Inside, shadows look fine, but it’s still something that makes the game less pretty.
The audio presentation is better, melee weapons and bows sound great, impacts sound painful and weighty. Footsteps are appropriate and change depending on the type of ground you are on, and what kind of footwear you currently have equipped. Voice acting is a mixed bag in a way. All the voice acting is great, but a lot of it is done in a rather silly accent. Nothing wrong with it, just takes some getting used to. The musical score on the other hand, is Jeremy Soule’s best work, easily. Every song is fantastic, with the title theme bringing a whole new meaning to the word “epic.”

Gameplay: Skyrim has some areas of gameplay that are hard to accurately rate. On the one hand, keyboard and mouse controls work well, but the user interface isn’t quite as smooth on this control preference. The game was built to be played with a controller, and the 360 controller for windows works fantastically on the pc version. It’s really up to personal choice as to which to use since both work well. As for the rest of the game, it’s a really fun game to play, easy to control, and a large variable of ways to form to character.

Your get better at skills by using them, so you get better with one handed weapons or pickpocketing by killing things with one-handed weapons and by picking pockets, level your skills enough times and you’ll gain a level up. When leveling up you choose to raise either health, magicka or stamina by 10 points, then you can choose a perk, if you meet the requirements. You can also hold on to the perk point for later use if nothing appeals to you.

Combat feels better than it ever has, melee isn’t quite perfect, but it feels like you’re swinging a piece of metal around instead of a feather duster like Oblivion did. Magic has seen a vast improvement from constant spell to rune traps; you can do them all once you are strong enough. Then you also have shouts. Shouts are the dragon words of power, and are basically spells of immense power. You can equip anything to either hand (except shields and two-handed weapons) and use them separate from each other (in the case of the 360 pad, by using RT and LT for right and left hands respectively) or in the case of dual wielding or spells (once the perk is learned) together for greater effect.

There are plenty of quests to undertake, and all of them appear naturally. Things like reading a book and learning of a lost treasure, or hearing about a robbery in a local shop, it all adds to the experience. You’ll be sent on a variety of tasks from retrieving an item, fighting for either the Imperial Legion or the Stormcloaks, and the main quest, which involves stopping Alduin from destroying the world. Overall the game handles itself well, and keeps at a challenge, while still keeping the weaker foes around so you can feel your progress.

With all that I’ve said on the game, there are flaws in there. Some graphical glitches are there, like some places where the rocks aren’t connected and there’s an invisible gap (it’s not often and there aren’t any gaps in the actual ground) there. There’s at least one area that has invisible water, and it’s still possible to get stuck in the geometry, though this is rare. Dual wielding also feels a bit tacked on, the weapon in your left hand just pops in and vanishes when drawn/sheathed, and you cannot form combos with the weapon in your left hand. The main quest has a lackluster ending to it, it just kind of ends, and no one really talks about it that much afterwards. There are also currently some physics glitches, mostly seen so far by saber cats, in which when they die their bodies fly around, it’s a really funny sight, and a great glitch, but it’s still worth bringing up.

Final Words: Skyrim isn’t perfect; there are quite a few bugs and flaws. However a lot of these can be fairly easily ignored, as the atmosphere and sense of wonder that the world of Skyrim has is unmatched by almost nothing else on the market. There’s room for improvement, and the modding community has already gone to great strides to improve the game, and things will only get better when the development tools are released in January. Overall, Skyrim is an impressive feat. Deep, rich, and entertaining in almost every way a game should be. Needless to say this game has my Game of the Year award already.

Content Score: 9 (There’s some things that need to be patched, but even so there’s a LOT to do here.)
Verdict: BUY.

NOTE: Many of you will notice that I didn't put in a section for the story of the game. I didn't because while there are many quests, and a main quest, I feel these aren't actually the "Story" of Skyrim. In my opinion, the actual story of the game is the one you make by playing it. Your actions, where you go, who you help, what you kill, this is what I feel the story is.

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4:10 AM on 05.27.2011  

Another blog about the Space Mercenary Genre

A long time ago, I made a blog detailing how my dream space game would be. Well I figure now would be a good time as any to do another list, but this time, it's not about what I WANT in a space game, it's why this certain game is so much better than the ones I've tried previously (freelancer aside).

This game is actually an indie title, made from Star Wraith 3d Games, and it is my "Reasons Evochron Mercenary is the best space mercenary game in the last 5+ years" list. Don't get me wrong, all of the space games I own I adore, but this one, has reasons why it's different. I'm pulling these facts out of my head, so if I think of any later I'll add them.

1: It's more in depth than Freelancer, and not as deep as X3. This is a great starting point. X3, a good game in it's own right, literally has a learning WALL, not a curve. You have to have an eye on everything that game is doing at one time, as well as remembering all the blasted shortcuts the game wants on your keyboard. EM does have a lot of short cuts, but they aren't as needed here as often. All you really have to worry about is yourself for the most part. You don't need to worry about that fleet of traders you hired to get the goods for you to build a station in the middle of nowhere so you can create a resource empire.

2: Small size. Evochron Mercenary installs at about 250 megs. It's tiny on the hard drive, but does require a lot of memory if you want max detail (about 1.4 gigs free at the time of playing). Considering what's going on under the hood of this game, that 250ish install size is simply amazing.

3: Freedom. All the space games I like have this, we have games like Elite and Privateer to thank for this, but in recent years, most missions are about the same, kill this, take this there, build this, buy this, stuff like that. Evochron does more, one of the first missions you can do is a time attack race through rings, it's more varied in that way.

4: Planets. Planets in most space games are more for eye-candy (X3 especially from my experiences) than anything else, Freelancer had them as a place to dock and buy stuff or get missions. Evochron does this too, however unlike freelancer, there aren't any docking rings. You manually fly down into the planet's atmosphere, and land in the city yourself (you can even fly around the planet along it's surface if you want to).

5: Seamless experience. This ties into 4 a lot too. You can fly from one end of the universe (game universe) to the other, with 0 loading times. You can jump to other locations with 0 loading times, you can land on a planet with 0 loading times. Once you're in the game, there's no load times to bring you out of the experience, even Freelancer can't say that.

There's a lot more in terms of good stuff on display on this indie game. The graphics (especially the planets when you're flying above the surface) are pretty darned good (although being a lower budget indie title, some things aren't as spiffy as high budget games), The sounds are decent, and the game-play is fun on the main level. It's not perfect, but neither were the other great space games. If you have time (for the 80 minute totally open demo), or the 30 dollars to buy it, it's worth a look.

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4:55 AM on 01.30.2011  

Minecraft First Impressions



I’ll be blunt, I held off on getting this game. In a small way it was a mistake because I missed buying it in the alpha stage, but at the same time, I wasn’t sure if I would play it enough to constitute the price of purchase. However after a trailer, some funny vids and of course, Yahtzee’s review, in which he is actually positive of it, I decided to just bunker down and buy the game. I’ve only spend a few hours playing, so that is why this is a first impressions. So let’s take a look at Minecraft.

Presentation:
Despite having seen this game with high resolution texture packs, even the default look has an old-ish charm to it. The blocky, pixelated world Minecraft creates for you is a (somewhat) peaceful and relaxing, giving you fields, mountains, caves, lakes, snowfields, deserts, and beaches to explore and build upon. Sound effects are passable, but considering the origin of this indie title, it’s easy to let it go. The music, while infrequent, is good stuff that helps draw the player into the world. With the graphics the game has, the lighting engine is actually very impressive, you can’t see anything in an enclosed space without a torch, and even then it’s still very dim. Only sunlight is bright. The game also has a nice day/night cycle, although you can’t enjoy night until a tower or something is built so you won’t get attacked.

Gameplay:
Simple gameplay with real depth is hard to achieve and make it fun. Minecraft accomplishes this, by basically being a world of Lego bricks, this allows the imagination of the player, no matter how twisted, to create amazing structures. On the multiplayer server I play on (currently run by a temp group), the storage bank is a complete remake of the Scrooge McDuck’s money bin, with a giant 8-bit art of Scrooge McDuck himself floating over it. This is just one example of the awesomeness that can be done with the game’s engine. However there is more than just mining and building. When it gets dark, either due to night or entering a dark cavern, you could be attacked by either zombies, skeletons, or the most feared creatures, creepers, thing walking, exploding plants. The crafting system itself is well done and intuitive, to make something, simply place the ingredients in the basic shape of the object and click the new icon. It works well and means there’s room for many combinations.

Final Thoughts:
Minecraft is hard to really explain. It just has to be played to get. It’s more fun than it looks, and despite some things that are bugs (nothing game breaking, which is actually amazing for this beta) it’s an impressive beta. The fact that you can change your skin by loading the template into a paint program and change it there means almost anyone can make a skin. I don’t give scores for first impressions, however I will say this:

If you are on the fence on this one, or think building whatever you want while fending off monsters at night is even slightly interesting to you, I really think you should get it, besides, once it comes out it will be more money, so if you didn’t get it in alpha, should do it now. And really, the thing MUST be good, in less than 6 months the game has amassed over 1 MILLION purchases and the game is still in beta.

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2:46 AM on 11.11.2010  

Harvest Moon: Hero of Leaf Valley Review

I know I know this is waaay late, but I have my reasons, being I have yet to get an ending (had to restart, will explain in review) I wanted to make sure I was comfortable with the game-play before I started, but here he go... *clears throat*



Harvest Moon: Hero of Leaf Valley (from now on just called HoLV) is the first original game in the Harvest Moon series that is not a spin off or direct port. Considering the series has a long history, with many greats in there, how does this newest PSP version stand to the series?

Story
The game begins with your character, for the sake of the review, we'll name him Jack, receiving a letter from his dad. This letter asks Jack to go take care of things on his grandfather's farm since he passed away. However upon arrival, Jack discovers the harvest sprites, Nic, Nac, and Flak. They inform him that the Funland Corporation is going to tear down the valley and build an amusement park over it soon, and beg Jack to put a stop to it. So it is up to Jack to stop Funland from starting their construction in two years by any means necessary.

For a Harvest Moon title, this game actually has a deeper story than most, considering the game has 16 different endings to obtain (although to "Win" the game, there are 4 possible outcomes, each with their own set of needs to accomplish). For the most part the story structure is fine, you make friends, meet requirements and if you did it in time you trigger the next cut-scene at a certain range of dates. There is one issue however, I have yet to see clarification on it, but two of the story lines, one being the main story/best ending meet at one event on the same day, at the same time, and same place, I'm leaving the info out of the review, but I'll explain in better detail below the review and hide it, so those who want to know can. Even with the issue the story is actually decent given the game it is in.

Game-play
HoLV is a simple game to play. Over the course of two years, spanning four seasons with 30 days each the player will grow crops, make friends, go fishing, mining, wood cutting, and a variety of other activities, even going to festivals or special events. Although there aren't as many scripted ones, like the moon festival or the cow festival, there's plenty of diversions to keep the game from getting dull. Each of the endings requires a different set of objectives to be completed, like befriending woodcutter and fisherman Joe, and spending some time fishing, which is presented here in one of the best systems ever used for a HM title, as it isn't just a quick button press or hold timing.

Mining also is better, as each area is actually a puzzle that, if done correctly, only requires one swing of the hammer to clear the rocks in the room. Cooking is back, as well as the playable ocarina, and even bug catching. There's also more to the horse racing this time around as there are three types of races, the short race, the long race and the steeplechase. The amount of animals goes back to a more basic model, as only a dog, chickens, cows and a horse can be owned. One would think, after a game like Tree of Tranquility where there was like 20 different creatures to own, that this would be a drawback. In reality it isn't as much, as the management of the animals is much more simple, and being a small valley farm, you don't have a lot of room.

Crops are tweaked also, you still till the soil, plant the seeds and water them, however now there's a little more to it, each bag of seeds does one square, and you can use mineral crystals (that are found in the mine) to change the crops into a new variation of crop that is worth more. There's also a seed machine that can be won in the races that will grow 2 different plants on one square. There is no shipping bin either, you must sell your goods to the shops around the valley. Another neat little feature is when your house is upgraded so you have the bath, every time you use it your character will wear a different colored outfit. There are 3 in total everyone gets, but one ending unlocks a fourth. Also, just a heads up, you can only save when you go to bed at night. At first it seems odd, but when you take in the PSP's sleep mode, it becomes almost a non-issue.

Presentation
For a Harvest Moon game, hell for a PSP game this title looks and sounds pretty good. Most textures are sharp, and some of the shading gives an almost sketch-like look to the game, which actually looks pleasing. Little details are everywhere, like a poster that is the box art for one of the Game boy titles, just without the hat. Rain looks good, even if it moves a little slow, and the fireworks, which go off in real time on the day of the Fireworks Show are good to look at, even if you can only see them from maybe two spots. There may not be a drastic change from Spring to Summer, but Fall and Winter are huge changes in graphics that bring the game a very nice change, this is the first fully 3D title that I'm aware of (that DOESN'T use a over-head camera) that actually has snow on the ground in winter.

The sound track for the game is really good for Harvest Moon standards, one of the better sound tracks in the series, and this is coming from someone who is REALLY picky about music in the series (NOTHING has come close to Save the Homeland's Summer Theme, not even the remix that appears in later games, although the sound track in HoLV comes closest). Most of the sound effects are good, some just workable, which is what is expected in this series.

The presentation is not perfect though, in some areas, although it seems to become less frequent later in the game, you can see the seams of the landscape as light blue lines. It's not a game breaker by any means, but if can be a slightly bit annoying. Also on a PSP-1000, which I played the game on, everywhere outside the farm seemed to be slower in graphic movement, not in skipping more frames. Again it's not a game breaker, since all but one area is at this speed, where the farm is slightly faster, but is is noticeable and needs to be taken note of. The load times I've heard are bad, but I don't buy it, every area in my game seems to load in maybe 8 seconds, tops. Maybe it's because I'm patient with a slow paced game, but they don't bother me. The other flaws are more design choices, but they seem like off choices, as rain, wind (for storms), fireworks, and a couple other things possibly, don't have sound effects for them. It's an issue that makes you wish they were there, but it's something that is relatively easy to look past unless you are a nit-picker.

Final Thoughts
It's OK to go into this one with the worry that it's just an enhanced port of Save the Homeland (The first PS2 game in the series), because that is basically what it is, although there's so much more to it, like being able to continue after the end and get married, that it feels like it's own game. The game has some minor flaws and off decisions in the presentation department, but overall it's actually a refreshing feeling game in the series, because it goes back to a simpler time.

Note: Turn off your pre-load cache on PSP-2000 and 3000 with the UMD version, as it can cause strange issues, however this is NOT exclusive to just this game, hence why no points will be docked because of it.

Content Score: 8.5
Recommendation: Buy

Below is the story issue I mentioned earlier, highlight the text to read, or if it doesn't work as planned, don't read below the line.

--------------------------------------------------------------------

[color=white]The story for the Horse racing champion and the main story meet at the 2nd year spring horse race. It is unknown to me whether you can still obtain the best ending (as you must defeat ALL of the robots Funland releases during the main story) if you are going for the horse race champion ending, as the circumstances are slightly changed.[/color]

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3:25 AM on 09.24.2010  

My 7 Most Enjoyable Games This Year So Far

Ok to start off with, this list ISN’T games that came out this year, it’s the 7 games I either discovered, or really sat down and played for the first time this year so far. These are the games I am glad to own, and wouldn’t want to be without ever again.

NUMBER 7:

Released: Febuary 12, 2009

Flower is a hard game to explain, in fact in actuality it can’t be called a game. It’s an experience, and downright amazing one at that. A game that truly finds its home on the PS3, it’s a gorgeous, easily controlled masterpiece with a loving, calm soundtrack, and a completely wordless, yet emotional connection. If you own a PS3 and HAVEN’T experienced the best example of gaming as an art form, there is something wrong with you. Also, do yourself a favor, pay the 3 bucks and get the soundtrack from the PSN, it’s worth it for the relaxation you get from the soft tunes.

Number 6:

Released: March 10, 2010


Having played this title no less 4 times since I learned about it on the spectacular podcast “This Week in Games” hosted by Jason “Lordkat” Pullara and Micheal “Skitch” Schiciano (hosted at lordkat.com), shows this game has staying power. Taking place “5 minutes into the future of 1988,“ this game plays out by having the player dial BBS systems from his terminal, with a GUI that is almost an exact copy of the Amiga Workbench from way back. A great soundtrack along with a stunning awesome story makes for one of the best indie games I’ve played this year.

Number 5:

Released: March 22, 2010

I’ve known of Cave Story for a few years now, having played and completely enjoyed the freeware PC version. So why does the Wiiware version, despite having some flaws (that a patch IS on the way for) make it on here instead of the original? To start with, the enhanced graphics are the best starting point, all the sprite-work for the characters was redone by Pixel himself, giving the game a vast new level of detail. The Wiiware version runs at a smooth 60FPS, which makes the game feel smoother than the PC’s 50. Also, the game just feels RIGHT on an NES style control layout.

Number 4:

Released: March 23, 2010

The first Direct X 10 only game I have ever played or owned, Just Cause 2 gives you a kick ass physics system that throws realism out the window for “OMG!!! That was awesome!” Along side that is a beautiful island to explore by way of vehicle or parachute/grappling hook, and all the exploding and shooting toys you could ever want. Blow up whatever you want, that’s what you are there for!

Number 3:

Released: August 24, 2009

This title is harder to find since it’s no longer being produced. Featuring Metroid Prime, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, and Metroid Prime 3: Corruption all on a single disc, with the flawless Wii controls. Add to that enhanced textures and a steel book casing, and the art booklet that comes with as well and there is no reason not to own this if you are a Wii owner. This is a must have.

Number 2:

November 12, 2009

I bought the Gold Edition of X3, which comes with both, X3: Reunion and X3: Terran Conflict, however I have only really played the latter. A space simulation game in which you can do what you want, when you want, the game is a lovely game to set eyes on, with it’s graphics pushing huge numbers of polygons at any given time, along with the great shading work, you can’t believe how good this game looks until actually seeing it running live. The game is complex, which is the biggest drawback, so expect to spend a lot of time learning what things do. The game can be enhanced with a cockpit mod, and a mod that allows you to save anywhere. By default you can only save while docked, but are able to save in space with insurance, that costs 3k credits for one. Originally I thought it was awesome, but once you start getting into missions that call for long travels then combat that you can lose (pretty easy if you aren’t careful), then you start to wonder why saving anywhere isn’t there. Even so it’s a brilliant game, with a HUGE soundtrack (over 100 songs) and quite a few of them are very well done and make you feel like you’re floating in the huge emptiness of space.

Number 1:

Released: October 30, 2003

This is a game I feel guilty about. I feel guilty about it because I had the opportunity to play it long ago, but never did. I played Oblivion for quite some time, until Steam’s Winter Sale this last year, when I got Morrowind for 5 bucks. I’ve pumped 55 hours into the game so far and still feel guilty about passing on this game all those years ago. With a superb storyline, a diverse and lively world, and the whole werewolf thing, it keeps bringing me back. With texture and mesh enhancement mods, as well as the “it’s totally needed now” Morrowind Graphics Extender, I have distant land draw distances that make Oblivion blush, and water that is some of the best looking in any game, oh right and sun rays, like in Crysis.


Honorable Mentions: These are games that I have played, but haven’t gotten quite the enjoyment or playtime out of as the listed games:

Vindictus
X3: Reunion
Broken Sword series

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6:10 AM on 09.21.2010  

I feel cheated in a way.

So I got bored about two hours ago, and decided to make my own cover for "The GAF Collection." I'm no artist, but in 2 hours time I came up with something. I should have noticed the TOS first on the "no free email" for signing up on NeoGaf (a stupid thing I think but it's not my call.) So instead of posting it there, I'm going to post it here in my blog. Before seeing it (and yes I made it a printable size) note three things:



I used Paint.net, so there aren't any real fancy tricks here.

The images and even the font were found with a google search, so aside from the layout and that kind of thing, the pictures, the font, even the template don't belong to me.

I am NOT an artist by any means in the form of visual art. My artistic nature seems to come through stories and such (as seen by my in progress RPG MAKER XP project.)

Enjoy Destructoid community, my 2 hour creation, if you want me to upload the full printable version of the DVD case cover, ask in the comments.


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4:58 PM on 09.14.2010  

My Dream Space Game

So about a week ago I found a game on amazon.com that made me turn my head. For a while now I've been trying to find a modern day take on the open world space game, similar in style to games like Privateer, and I had heard good things about this game, so I picked it up. The game is X3: Gold Edition, and even though I haven't, and will probably never touch X3: Reunion (I payed the extra 3 bucks for the soundtrack disc), X3: Terran Conflict has quickly become a newfound joy for me to play, despite it's complexity (the manual being 112 pages of fairly small print English), and after finding a mod to fix the lack of cockpits for all the ships, I found a guilty pleasure in flying around this universe the game set me in, despite running basically on no ideas on what to do. The game got me thinking though...

What features would be in my dream space game? After some thought, I came up with the following things, they are not numbered by any kind of importance, they are just numbered for organization's sake.

1: A large game space that feels connected. Freelancer did this the best so far, having each system have a few points of interest to the player, and having those connected via the trade lanes. Switching systems through the warp gates, even with the 2 second load time of white screen, really felt like you were heading to a new area. I'd like to see that kind of experience in more space games. X3: Terran Conflict gets close, but it's not quite to the degree of connectivity that Freelancer has.

2: A user friendly interface that has enough depth to please most if not all space sim junkies. I understand this is really hard to do, having an interface that is streamlined and easy to access, yet having all the commands of like building a space station to your specifics, or setting up a legion of traders under your command, but it can be done. It would allow new players to feel like they aren't being overwhelmed by the amount of interface options, but can also learn now to send those three wings of fighters to escort your trading ships to the planet Oculous VII. This is X3: Terran Conflict's biggest issue with me (and Reunion even more so), there is a lot that must be learned with just the UI before you can hope to really get anywhere.

3: Open ended mission variety. X3 has this in spades, not all missions need to be hunt this person, destroy these ships. Maybe I want to smuggle contraband to other planets and get payed by the employer to do it. While I have yet to know if X3 does stuff like that, I know there are plenty of mission choices beyond killing.

4: The circle of factions and their radius of power. Freelancer was somewhat on the right track with this. Space is stupidly large, and you can bet that in a game where there is a huge area to explore that not only where there be factions like the military or pirates, but that there will be branches off those those factions, and other third party factions. I'd like to see the radius of power of these factions shift depending on actions taken by the player, like if a player decides to do a mission for pirates, but near the end sends a communication to the military to launch an attack on the pirates to attempt to seize that sector of space, that if the pirates then lose the coming fight, their radius of power shrinks, and they would have to launch a new offensive to take it back. This of course would work the other way too.

5: Let me customize my ship, from weapon load-outs to shields, enhancements and for goodness sakes let me customize the paint job. I want my ship to have hot rod flames for a short time, I don't think custom paint jobs would be hard to put in, would it?

6: Show the current situation on the trade routes. Show me what's the safest or more risky routes at the time, and show me what planets are currently doing good rates on what product, I know this kinda falls into number 2, but I felt it should have it's own thing.

7: When in cockpit view, make me feel like I'm in the cockpit. This is more of a little polish touch thing, but if I'm in a cockpit, and the sun glares on my viewing glass, let there actually be a little graphic touch, like a bit of reflection of the cockpit onto the glass, Evochron Legends does this, and it really adds to the immersion. Also, have it sound like it, let the hum of the instruments sound, the beeps, the various systems check themselves. When the ship is close to going boom, let warning sirens go off, let me hear my mighty (or puny) engine whirr and rumble.

8: I want to see the surface of the planet myself, let me fly into the atmosphere and fly above the surface of the planet, scan some foliage, and maybe find some rare collectibles to be placed in a display room on my HQ space station that I can view at anytime I'm docked there. Evochron Legends did the part of being able to fly yourself down to the surface, but didn't seem to do anything with that.

9: So let me get this straight, in all these space games, we have the technology to self sustain ourselves in space, in a small craft for who knows how long, reaching the farthest stars in a matter of minutes, and have the weapon technology to blow other star ships up... yet we don't have a built in music player in the ships...why? I mean really, this is something that always got me, the tech is so advanced yet in very few if not none of the space games, we can't use our own music selectable from the ship's computer interface. Maybe I WANT to be blasting space pirates to the sound of "Livin' on a Prayer."

So there you have it, 9 features I'd like to see in a space game, of course there's a lot more to it than that, like controls and such, but most space games now have basically the same layout for things like that. If you think of a feature you'd like to see in an open world space game, go ahead and post in the comments.

As for X3: Terran Conflict, if you have a rig that can run it on high settings, and like space games, definitely check it out, it has my seal of approval.

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7:54 AM on 08.09.2010  

Earth Eternal isn't so eternal, a farewell to Sparkplay Media

Have you ever had the feeling of losing a good friend? Or a feeling of something you enjoyed, that was always there to enjoy, then one day you learn it isn’t going to be around anymore in a few days? You know that if it ends up somewhere else, it will still be around, but won’t be the same? That’s exactly how I feel after reading the recent post on the home page of the free to play MMORPG “Earth Eternal.”

“Dear players of Earth Eternal,

There’s no way to disguise what I’m about to tell you as good news, so I won’t try. Unfortunately, Sparkplay has hit hard times and is not going to survive. I had to lay off all of our staff except for two people (one of which is me) on Friday, and it’s likely that by this time next week neither of us will be with Sparkplay any more either. The simple fact is that we’ve run out of money. I’ve been out trying to sell Sparkplay or get further investment for it for the last 2 months without success, and our last hope crumbled this weekend.

What does this mean for Earth Eternal? The answer is that it’s hard to tell. We’re putting it up for auction today and are reasonably confident that someone will buy it and keep it running. There is, however, the chance that nobody will want to take on the cost of running it. If that happens, Earth Eternal will go down when our internet and hosting provider pulls the plug for non-payment. It’s hard to tell when that could happen, but it’ll certainly be here at least another week, at minimum.

I know this comes as a crushing blow to many of you, and believe me, I and the rest of the former Sparkplay staff share those feelings, times ten. Some of us have been working on Earth Eternal for over four and a half years and have poured our hearts and souls into it and Sparkplay. We worked our asses off and through the long hours, frustrating bugs, and occasional problems so bad we had to laugh, we became a very tight team as well as good friends. It is incredibly disappointing to everyone that it’s come to this.

I’m sorry. I’ve failed you despite my best efforts. I’ve never worked harder in my life, but it wasn’t enough. Things that we planned on happening didn’t, and things we didn’t plan on happening did. I don’t want to go into a lot of detail and I don’t want to try to shift responsibility to anyone but myself. There’s really nothing I can say other than I am very very sorry to have let you down.

I’ve turned off the ability to buy credits now or earn them via offers/surveys. I’m also going to set all non-permanent items in the credit shop to cost nothing so that everyone can have some fun, though won’t be doing that for a few hours.

I will keep you updated as to what is going to happen with Earth Eternal, but in all likelihood we won’t know until late on Friday whether someone is going to buy EE and keep it running or not. Let’s hope for the best!

Until then, enjoy yourselves and help yourselves to the forthcoming free credit shop items.

Sincerely,

Matt Mihaly, CEO (not for much longer) Sparkplay Media”

For the people who didn’t know, Earth Eternal was a fully 3d mmorpg that could be played by client or in browser. The game featured 22 player races, none of which were human, elf, dwarf or orc. It had a lore back-story that was available in pdf format, and it was over 120 pages in length. The game had 4 classes, with a second tier of skills for each that all characters could learn. A couple unique features that were in the game was the armor re-fashioner, where you could keep your armor’s appearance, but get the stats of later armor sets, and the groves, player homes that were instances that could be sculpted by the player, so someone could have a waterfall in a forest clearing with a small building on it. The feature will never see the light of day though, since it wasn’t completed before this awful news.

I’ve been with EE since closed beta, I’ve got the gear from the events they held during that time. So seeing this game go is painful, but I am sure the poor folks at the now dying Sparkplay are even more so sad. After all, they spent 4 1/2 years developing this game, it had tons of potential, and now all of that is for naught. I know this is the the fate of many games, but this one really had potential, and it showed. What other game do you know that has a broken moon, with all the pieces in rings surrounding it?

To the folks of former Sparkplay Media, thank you for the experience I was given on this game. Hold your heads high, and don’t look at this as a failure, look at it as a learning experience, and something to be very proud of. Despite the end of the project, this game made a name for itself, it has ground breaking technology for an mmo in it (browser play for a full 3d mmo), unconventional races, and a fascinating lore. You people have earned my respect in every way possible, and I hope your lives stay bright.

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1:09 AM on 04.30.2010  

Harvest Moon: Hero of Leaf Valley: First Impressions

Harvest Moon: Hero of Leaf Valley is an enhanced remake of Harvest Moon: Save the Homeland. The game features new crops, new characters, a larger area to explore, and some new activities. But how is it compared to other harvest Moon games as well as the original game it's based on?



Design: Harvest Moon: Hero of Leaf Valley has a very simple design. It is basically the best that Harvest Moon: Save the Homeland had to offer, as well as adding other traits from the ohter Harvest Moon titles to it. The game has you start on empty farm, with no animals, a few bags of seeds, and some basic tools in which you must use to bring the farm to its former glory. As well as this, you must create relationships with the townsfolk so that hopefully you can keep the Funland Corporation from tearing down the town in two years.



Gameplay: You control your character using the analog nub, the L shoulder button is used to call either your dog or your horse, the R button is used to go through your rucksack. The camera controls are mapped to the left and right directional pad. It seems clunky at first but you will eventually be used to it. There are many activities to do in the valley you can go mining, fishing, do a part time job for bob on his ranch, cut down trees, attend various festivals and horse races, or just make up your own fun scavenging the land. Overall the game seems to play very nicely and loading screens while a bit on the seemingly lengthy side of around 5 seconds did not gain the way of this slow paced game.



Graphics: This game is easily not only one of the best looking PSP games, but also one of the best looking Harvest Moon games. Most of the textures are amazingly sharp and almost seem to have a sketch artistic style to them. The models are nice, the animations are decent, and the 2D character portraits have variety in their emotions and are high quality drawings. One of the better things about this title is, unlike a lot of its counterparts including some of the console variations, that the camera is a full 3D rotatable camera instead of a fixed, lightly moving camera. The only real flaw is occasionally you can see seams/tears in the land geometry. It’s nothing to really gripe about, but it is noteworthy.



Sound: The sound effects in the game do their job nicely, although some seem slightly out of place like the harvesting sound. It's nothing game breaking, just an odd choice that you get used to after a short while. The other odd choice is the lack of a sound effect for rain or any body of water, again this is nothing game breaking but it just seems odd that they're not there.

The music however, makes up for the few faults in the sound effect department. Based on this first impressions, the music is some of the best in the series history. Everything from the title screen, to the spring theme (which sounds similar to Zelda's lullaby, but is in fact its own song) has a nice relaxed tone and pace. I cannot wait to hear what other musical choices were made for the leader seasons.



Final thoughts: if the game stays as good as it has been, Harvest Moon: Hero of Leaf Valley, could take the throne of best "Harvest Moon Title" from Harvest Moon: Back to Nature/Friends of Mineral Town. Everything from the setting, to the characters, to the activities, to the presentation are some of the best I've seen in my many years of being a fan of this series. And the fact you can take this wonderful game anywhere you go is a big bonus. For anyone on the fence for this title, do not hesitate to pick up Harvest Moon: Hero of Leaf Valley.

A full review will come in the future.

UPDATE: I have played farther, and have seen some new things I would like to share. The first is the horse races. They start at 2PM and run until 4PM, but you can show up early (to register your horse of course). There are three races you can bet on (I don't know about actual racing with your horse, I don't have one yet), the short race, the long race and the steeple chase. Also if if like your dog or chicken gets sick, the first time a friend will heal it for you, and yes you have to feed your dog every day, this is like save the homeland, so just use those very berries.

Also there is no shipping bin, you sell your goods to the shops, there a plethora of house upgrades (one in perticular you can't get apparently until AFTER the storyline is done, which will allow you to wear different colored clothes), you have an ocarina that you can use to train your dog, with 4 playable notes on the d-pad, you can catch bugs, though I've only found that you can give them to Tim. And the fishing is enhanced, and a lot better than in previous games, though I won't spoil all there is with fishing. ;)

I also forgot to mention the HUD, you have a stamina bar (although you won't collaspe and lose a day if it drains, you just can't work anymore) a "wellness" meter (if this circle around your portrait gets too red, you will be sick the next day, I found out the hard way) there's a clock and a minimap that shows what way you are facing and other characters in that area.

One important note to those of you who aren't used to the console series from.. around magical melody maybe? You can only save when you go to bed for the night, no mid day saves, however this isn't that much of a problem because of the system's sleep mode, as well as minutes pass at slightly faster than one minute a second, I'd say it's like 1.3 minutes in game equals 1 second real time. So you have all the time you need to get your work done for the day.

And saving is almost instant, It's been a while since I've seen a harvest moon game save as fast as this one.

The tv has 4 channels, and they are thus:
Channel 1 (Up on the D-pad): News - tells you of the upcoming festival/event
Channel 2 (Left on the D-pad): Weather - Shows what tomorrow's weather will be (no percentages this time)
Channel 3 (Right on the D-pad): Variety - A different show everyday, from a ninja story, to a cooking show... to ads of shows on channel 4...
Channel 4 (Down on the D-pad): ???? - I don't know, the tv you start with doesn't get this channel.

So there you go, some new updates on my experiences, this game continues to impress me, and I'll keep updating until I hit the end of the story and marriage, which I will then compile my impressions blog and write my final review.

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10:24 PM on 03.26.2010  

Cave Story WiiWare Review

Title: Cave Story
Platform: WiiWare
Developer/Publisher: Studio Pixel/Nicalis
Price: 1200 Points
Release Date: March 22, 2010

Cave Story is an enhanced port of the free-ware PC game created by Daisuke Amaya, who goes by “Pixel” for his art name. The game on PC took him five years to make, and did all by himself. Nicalis took it to port this incredible experience to Wii. Is the 1200 Wii Points a worthy price for admission on the better graphics and new goodies? Continue reading to find out.

Design:
Cave Story contains multiple modes, most new to the game and exclusive on WiiWare. The original mode “Story Mode” now has three difficulty settings, easy (placing the main character in a yellow outfit), original (retaining the red getup) and hard (wears a blue outfit). Other modes include a Sanctuary Time Attack mode with challenges the player to complete a hellish section of the game that is used in Story Mode to lead to the best ending (fair warning players, this section is HARD, it WILL kick your ass). Also included in the release is a boss rush mode, allowing you to fight all the bosses in the game one after another, and the option to play the story mode with a different character, though little is different, it’s a nice add-on that will warrant another play-through to see what has changed.

Cave Story is a 2-d side-scrolling adventure-shooter. The game has 3 levels for all of its weapons, with EXP gained from fallen crystals dropped by foes. Take note however, the levels don’t last forever, as being damaged by anything takes away some EXP. Most weapons (only 3 don’t) have unlimited ammo, so you are free to blast away. At points in the game you can trade one of your weapons (The one called Polar Star) for different weapons, each has a plus and a negative, and these points are strewn across the story, it’s a nice touch that adds tactical thought into the game-play.

Story:
Cave Story puts the player in the shoes of a amnesiac character (named Quote in the PC release) who has no idea where he is or what is going on. After exploring a bit Quote runs into some colorful characters, mainly a crew of bunny-like creatures called Mimigas, and slowly begins to unravel the mystery surrounding the whole affair. The story may be a bit short (an normal play-through usually takes around 6 1/2 hours to complete for the normal ending) but it is engaging with well written characters, and great little hidden secrets (one example, folks, sleep in the bed of the purple Mimiga when you first get there, I won’t spoil anything, but you get a useless item that is just amusing because of it’s existence.) Overall the story has great moments throughout and shows that both Pixel, and Nicalis took great care in making sure the translation was a good effort.

Game-play:
Cave Story can be played via two ways, the Classic Controller or the Wii-mote turned sideways (NES Style). Both forms work very well as the controls are tight and responsive. Quote does have a bit of a floaty jump, but once you are used to it jumping, shooting and running in the game become second nature and are not a problem. This isn’t to say the game isn’t difficult, far from it. Cave Story is a decent challenge on the normal difficulty setting. An example of this, without spoiling anything, is the section for the normal ending, in which the player is tasked with fighting four bosses, with no saves, and a very minute amount of healing in between (the healing is remedied if you managed to save a very specific item), and even then the healing occurs between bosses 3 and 4. Health capsules are scattered through the world that increase your max health of course, but all of them are in fact optional, and some are hidden. No matter how much health you have though, the stage leading to the best ending will beat you into submission. Instant death traps are everywhere, and it will take serious skill to beat, we are talking Mega Man 2 + difficulty here folks.

All in all, the game feels right at home on Nintendo’s console, as if the PC release was just a test to see how well the game would be received before being released on it’s native console.

Presentation:
While the added modes bring substance to an already stellar game, the presentation got a major overhaul. All of the spites were redrawn by Pixel himself to have more detail and resolution. The backdrops and effects got the higher resolution and detail love too, and the game looks much better than the PC version, without losing any of the charm expressed. Plus it all runs at 60 frames per second, unlike the PC version’s 50.

Not all of the presentation change in the game is flawless however, some sound effects have been altered or changed, whether it’s intentional or a glitch is unknown, but it is easy to notice these changes, and although not game breaking in anyway, just seems a bit strange. Music fairs the same, the remixed tunes are great in their own right, but not all of the songs (albeit most in fact do) meet the great soundtrack from the original version.

Luckily, the original graphics and music are in fact in the package as an option from the title screen. However I noticed a strange flaw in the original music, aside from being lowered in sound quality (most likely to conform to Nintendo’s stupid size restriction of 48 megs), in at least one case (could be more, I didn’t play with the original tunes that long) the song didn’t loop correctly, instead stopping about 3 seconds short of the end and starting the whole song over. There is also a half second pause in the music when switching rooms. Again most of this isn’t game breaking, but they are legit bugs.

Final Thoughts:
This is the definitive version of Cave Story, the new graphics, most of the new music, and the new modes prove this, adding in the 60 frames per second and the game is golden. This is quite possibly the best WiiWare release yet. It definitely has the most longevity of any other game on WiiWare.

Content Score: 9
Recommendation: BUY/DOWNLOAD

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3:28 AM on 03.20.2010  

A Look Back at the Golden Days of a Good Free Shooter...

I wanted my first blog to be special, unfortunately this is as special as I could come up with. Anyway..

There is a game that floats around the internet, around seven years now, this shooter has been quite popular in all that time, and with a sequel coming out later this year I thought I would look back at the original game, back in it's golden days. This look back will be in two sections, Service/Modes and Community.

Before I begin the more in detail bit however, I would like to point out that I am not far in it after all these years, so some of the things listed here may still be true. Now then, it's time to take a look back at:

GunZ: The Duel

GunZ is a third person shooter that combines light bits of RPG elements, matrix style wall running and jumping, with gunfights and sword fighting. The game is almost entirely PVP based with at least one mode for a team against cpu creatures. The game is currently hosted on ijji, where the game is in it's most complete form, however this wasn't always the case...

Section One: Service/Modes

Before Ijji, GunZ ran on the "GunZ International" service during it's beta and for a short time after that. During that time only four game modes were available, which will be listed below.

Deathmatch: Use all your weapons to gain the most EXP in the match. The match ends when someone reaches the kill limit or time runs out.

Team Deathmatch: Two teams fight a specific number of rounds to see who can win more rounds. A round is completed when all members on one team are defeated.

Gladiator: Same basic rules as Deathmatch, except players are restricted to blade weapons.

Team Gladiator: Same basic rules as Team Deathmatch, except players are restricted to blade weapons.

Each of these modes had its ups and downs, with stages that both were/weren't good for either mode (Island stage, I'm looking at you, cheap death city) that were fun anyway.

GunZ had a great swordplay system, by default left mouse button was attack, holding it down charged the blade. Right mouse button would do basically a throw move, but more on that nightmare later, and shift would block. If a player blocked an attack, for a split second their blade would get the charge attack. I'm not sure about knives but swords could block gunfire aimed at the torso. There were 3 types of blades, Katana, Kodachi, and Daggers, with the latter being the cheap weapon.

Daggers had a nasty problem of playing the stabbing animation when rapidly using it, and a lot of the time there was no recoil from a block, plus, unlike the katana/kodachi throw, this one simply knocked the player down, which was harder to recover from, and left you totally open to be shot and killed (you can't do jack squat when thrown without recovering until you get up, though usually it's too late for that).

The nightmare of throws with the katana/kodachi throws is when near a pit, the arena and island stages are the two most notorious of the bunch for this, but if you were thrown over a pit, even if you recover you couldn't do anything and would fall to your death. The reason behind not being able to move or attack or save yourself (a blade with a hold of a right click in air would stab your sword into the wall you are near, allowing you to climb back out) when recovering from a throw until you touch ground isn't known to me even today, but aside from these issues, the game is still my favorite free online shooter.

Section Two: Community

I miss the community from the pre-ijji days of GunZ. Aside from the K-stylers (Players who use animation cancels/weapon switching/blocks to basically fly along walls while pulling off shots at you) have always been there, and some who use the overly cheap knock-down/shoot combo too much, there was a player respect back then.

In many matches it wasn't anything out of the ordinary to see two players, fresh on health and armor stare at each other, bow (using the /bow emote) and proceed in a 1 on 1 duel, this was more-so true in gladiator modes, and other players wouldn't interfere with the duel. Oh sure on occasion there was a prick who would, but for the most part these duels would just happen, some games even making it the core rule of the match. Every fight would begin with a bow from both sides, the fight would ensue, and the victor would bow to the corpse of the fallen, usually followed by a chat post of "good fight" or something similar.

I am not far into my go at it again on ijji, but so far, I haven't come across this, all I see are double/triple teams, clutter-fights and at least one person calling everyone who killed him noob before talking in another language. It's much less mature than in the old days. Maybe in the higher level channels that respect is still there and such duels exist, I hope so. The game is much more fun when the fight's victor wins by skill, and not from a third fighter. Of course the duels (unless specifically mentioned in chat before the round) are off in team games.

Conclusion

Anyway, those are my musings on a game I used to play all the time with a few friends. If you spent all this time and actually read through my thoughts, I wish to give you a thank you.

As my final statement: I cannot wait for the sequel, GunZ: The Second Duel.

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