UK Dtoider in the Midlands, I spend too much time ignoring Steamtoid, and used to spend too little time "organizing" EUFNF on the forums and c-blogs. I have a good enough gaming PC, an Xbox 360 (MATTE SLIM MOTHERFUCKERRRRR) and a DSi. Sometimes I play games on them.
I dislike writing shawtblawgs, but it's been a while and there's rarely anything topical worth writing about. Hell, this was a waste of time too. I'm going to go back to bitching about the industry in private until it's good again.
Yesterday, as every extant video game journalism outlet will have let you known, Sony revealed the PS4. This shocked nobody, with even mainstream news reporting that it was exactly what they were doing. They also revealed the new Dualshock, game streaming, that share button that the hermits are already hating and... wait a minute, this all sounds like old news.
I don't care to dissect the PS4 and the announcement event. I only came in halfway through it and found it underwhelming. When you follow the gaming news with some degree of consistency, these sorts of things are just confirmation of what you already know. Why is there no secrecy surrounding these things? Is the industry like the bizarre British political parody program The Thick of It?
Another interesting thing to me about the information expressed during the event was the showing of peripherals but not the console itself. You may recall Nintendo spectacularly cocking up their Wii U reveal by making the majority of viewers unsure as to whether it was a controller or a new console. The PlayStation 4 is obviously going to be a box, but we didn't see it. Now this doesn't really bug me since it is quite an unimportant detail, but most people expected to see it and were irked to be denied that privilege. I happy because it's a good excuse to use Jim Carrey's face for a thing.
Although he is entirely right, we've yet to see how badly Microsoft reveal their hand. Consider my breath bated.
It was the winner of multiple game of the year awards and was received with universal acclaim. It was announced following a secretive update to the original game that I loved, and released 10 hours early on PC following the lucrative efforts of Steam gamers lending their time to the GLaDOS@home project. There were no online passes, no shoddy ports and no day one DLCs to be seen on any platform and those buying it for PlayStation 3 even got a Steam copy for free. Portal 2 was an example of how a game should be developed and released. But some people are never entirely satisfied.
I played the first Portal game fairly soon after release, and like most people I was able to buzz through it in one sitting. It was exhilarating, a sucker punch of dark humour wrapped around a fist of perfect puzzle gameplay and clenching the source engine in its palm. I love replaying Portal, in no small part due to the almost sandbox nature of testchambers. Although there are solutions to every room, there is no definitive way to accomplish it and you can cheat within the confines of the game. The game rarely cheats to keep you in check and is in fact going to acknowledge most situations where you break a room.
The cube disappearing from the end corridor of Test Chamber 9 if you're not also in there is the worst case of Portal cheating that I can find right now.
Portal 2 knows what it is doing from the start. The light humorous opening rapidly progresses to a somewhat familiar setting, with the instruction that you're "looking for a gun that makes holes". This is the same facility, the same chambers and soon, the same gun. The environments may have been ravaged by time, but the new version of Source being used makes them all the prettier for it. The testing doesn't really start until GLaDOS is reactivated, and this is where the cracks in the game for me, personally, start to become noticeable. There is joy to be had in solving these rooms you're being presented with. They are mostly enjoyable puzzles. They are also mostly linear puzzles, with few solutions.
Control is taken away from the player in a few ways throughout Portal 2. Assistance is given in Portal placing throughout, often where assisted placement will aid progression to keep in time with the narrative (such as the part where he kills you) but also in some singleplayer and co-op test chambers. Players are restricted from 'breaking' rooms through use of invisible walls preventing game objects (and in co-op, players) from entering certain areas. For example, you cannot throw a cube out of reach near the end of Test Chamber 7. These limitations may not hamper solutions to challenges, but they are a form of control that falls outside of good game design.
A significant amount of time in the game is spent travelling between rooms. These are perhaps the worst parts, with frustrating pathfinding and little character action to offset it. And the characters will make you forget gameplay woes. The exchanges between Wheatley and GLaDOS and their further one-sided conversations with the player make them some of the most well written and enjoyable characters that many gamers will ever be fortunate enough to carry around with them. I cannot deny that Valve have succeeded in creating a true comedy game.
Further to the basic game, Portal was released with six "advanced" versions of the more substantial test chambers in the game and the option to do the vanilla versions with an aim of completing them in as little time or using as few portals or footsteps as possible. Less than a year after it was released with the Orange Box, Portal: Still Alive was released as a standalone game on the Xbox Live Arcade. This release boasted 14 new maps and achievements providing additional challenges to players. Portal 2 has a stunning array of co-op testing chambers but nothing to match them for the solo player. The Peer Review content pack only added time and portal counters to the single player levels, which do not complement the linear maps; With them they become an exercise not in innovation, but in perfecting a known solution.
Portal 2 has a significant focus on cooperative gameplay (quite possibly because there is a "two" in the title) and one might say that the element of gameplay I enjoyed so much in the first game has reappeared there, but it suffers from the same lacking of solution flexibility if not an even more acute onset of it. Once the test chambers for co-op are figured out, the main challenge will come from the coordination of the players in time and space. This can be really difficult if you're playing with a Brazilian.
I really enjoyed playing through both games again whilst writing this. Portal 2 was as worthy a sequel as there could be, rather than playing off the strengths of the first game it developed its very own and is very much better off for it. The technical changes since the first game favour a less technically able game for puzzle platforming but ultimately work in favour it. As much as I love Portal 2 I can't forget the disappointment that a part of me felt over it, and rationalising it as I have tried to doesn't make it any less irrational. If Portal 2 had not made me feel this way, it would not have been such a great game.
Since the main meat of Mass Effect 3 is going to remain a touchy subject for the foreseeable future, I would like to take some time to discuss the multiplayer component. I was one of the people who laughed at the the concept of multiplayer in this series, and I laughed even harder when it was confirmed. It just seemed so typical of a game developed under EA to have a pointless multiplayer mode to justify inclusion of an online pass! Contradicting my bias against the publisher and the developer, I got the game on release with the intention of playing it with friends and have spent a fair bit of time doing so. With no further delay, here follows the thoughts on it that have accumulated in my head space.
Some problems with this mode are only apparent through playing it, others require more obscure trains of thought. A small one is that the keybinds for the PC version cannot be different for singleplayer and multiplayer, this annoyed me since Q and E are ideally used for Team member commands in the campaign but are without function on the multiplayer mode and I am terrible at hitting the number keys without looking at them. I accept that this is largely a problem for me as a terribly uncoordinated PC gamer, but I have a similar issue with the Xbox 360 button mapping where one cannot change which of the three buttons (Y, RB, LB) individual powers are mapped to in the multiplayer, a function that is in the campaign mode. It's not ideal for powers mapped to Y which you'd ideally have aim control up to the last moment with, or for characters where you may choose to ignore a power altogether and have a functionless shoulder button.
Talking of buttons, as we were, you had better hope your A button, cross button or spacebar is prepared for some punishment from this game because it only does bloody everything. This is less of a pedantic gripe than most problems I have, as anybody who has gone to revive a squadmate or interact with an objective only to take cover would surely agree. Or anybody who has attempted to run from a scene only to take cover yet again. There are two analog sticks on the console gamepads and an insulting wealth of buttons on a standard keyboard without worthwhile or any assigned function. For example, the ability to run without fear of becoming intimate with the nearest wall should take precedence over moving around corners whilst in cover (the default function of the left thumbstick). One button should not rule them all.
Cover is important on Mass Effect games, it is essentially a cover-based shooter by this point in time! But the multiplayer maps are small and globular, not many areas of cover will be useful for long before flanking attackers force you to reposition. The enemies and mechanics were designed for largely linear missions and not entirely befitting of this hoard mode, and I for one would not hate to see the co-op developed further with potential DLC expansion or even a whole game into a more linear and narrative-driven feature, perhaps included like the three named multiplayer missions were in GTA IV.
Although the maps may be lacking in variety of scale and complexity, there is significant difference in the three enemy factions. The Geth are underwhelming and pretty manageable, Cerberus forces are bolstered by a few challenging units and the Reapers bring the hardest enemy to abide to the table in the form of the Banshees. They, along with the other formidable enemies, are capable of engaging close enough players in an automatic kill animation that sadly invalidates them as targets for close-quarters combat. As one would expect from the series the player classes also offer significant variety in gameplay. There are different strengths and tactical advantages strewn across them and between the different races available for them, and for somebody such as myself who has not experimented with classes in the series beforehand it can be quite an eye-opener! Stealthy infiltrators can accomplish objectives and revive squadmates whilst invisible to enemies. Soldiers can wipe out groups of cannon fodder enemies with grenades. Human Vanguards can charge, then nova, then charge, then nova, then charge and then nova until everything is dead. Turian Sentinels can nullify or weaken enemy defenses whilst hammering them with a trusty rifle. Adepts can use dazzling arrays of powers to defeat opponents. Krogans can headbutt the shit out of everything. It's pretty good fun if you're lucky enough to play with people who are competent enough to work with their character's strengths in how they are equipped and leveled... and if you're lucky enough to best the unlock system.
I would not expect these guys to be free of charge.
The unlock system is perhaps the most distasteful thing about the multiplayer mode to me. It has not changed significantly since the demo, and on the PC demo I manipulated the system (coalesced.ini modifications) to get an idea of how unrewarding it can be. Items are purchased in packs from a "store", with packs being increasingly expensive in proportion to what possibilities they offer of getting rarer items. The packs are bought with credits earned from completing games (as well as the experience points that go towards character progression). It wasn't clear in the demo, but this system seems to have been used in favour of simply awarding random items with mission completion so that there was a platform for microtransactions within the game. You'd need to have more money than sense to do it, but you can use your Microsoft points, Bioware points or real money (thanks Sony!) to purchase these unlock packs at a completely unrespectable rate. The silliness doesn't even end once you have bought these packs, as they are completely random (with the solitary exception so far of an equipment pack, at a stupid price for purely common items) you have no control over what you are unlocking. For a mode based on games with character building, you sure don't get a choice about what weapons, upgrades or characters you might be unlocking. You're just as likely to unlock weapons you would never want to use as the ones you would. Your chance of getting any particular item doesn't improve well with time since every weapon unlocked has 9 ranks to potentially unlock, every upgrade has 4 ranks and every character has three or four customisations followed by unlimited experience point boost packs. You may think I am being silly, but blow it your your ass because I still don't have a Krogan.
That's twice as many crushed balls for every Krogan.
The multiplayer is not without its fair share of bugs. Most notable to me are the poorly designed maps which will permit players and AI momentary HUD targeting through walls. Players will barely notice this but enemy AI can often be found attempting to shoot through the scenery. Imperfect game connections seem to be responsible for characters losing their firm grip on the ground and potentially ending up stuck above or below the map without any way out, this may however also be associated with Vanguards being incredibly free from the laws of Physics. Joining games through invites will often cause players to be returned to the front end menu if they are already in multiplayer, which seems unnecessary. The use of EA servers are likely for no more than ensuring that they're making money, and requiring a constant connection to them can be frustrating when you're kicked out of a game for nothing other than losing connection to them. It would not be so bad if rejoining the game you had left returned your previous score, total score for all players is a key factor in how much experience (and credits) everybody receives for a mission. The experience points awarded for missions are the same for every player, which makes playing with high-scorers rewarding if you can bear the shame of your pathetically low score. During missions, points for defeating enemies are fairly distributed between players regardless of who got the killing shot in.
A small praiseworthy aspect of the multiplayer implementation is the minimal impact it makes on the achievements, with only a couple of them requiring the playing of it but with several encouraging the player to try it out. On the flip side, playing the multiplayer is required to get story endings that may be considered more preferable. This would be required every time one wished to replay the game since Galactic readiness decreases over time and during development it had been promised that this would not be the case.
This mode is being supported by the developers with tweaks, challenges and perhaps more. There is chance for improvement even if there is little hope, if there had been more thought and effort thrown at this mode I think it could have been a real dazzler. But then I could say the same about the singleplayer. I guess the multiplayer missions at least have conclusive endings.
(My Header image for this was lost during the October 2012 site update, blame Niero!)
When I was a kid, I had an older brother. I still do, but I used to, too. He was a teenager when South Park first became a thing, and having not-terrible tastes, he was a fan of it. He had the first season on VHS. Being like nine years old I was not allowed to watch it and, as you do when you're a kid, I wanted to watch it more because of that. One night back in the early noughties I was left alone in the house with the bad parent and managed to watch the South Park movie like three times in a row. The point is, South Park has been with me for quite a while.
South Park hasn't gone anywhere since then, and doesn't appear to be leaving any time soon either. The show has varied in quality and popularity and has (in my opinion anyway) settled into a formulaic yet watchable (if a bit preachy) show for now. After 15 seasons there is an immense wealth of characters and locations based in the fictional town of South Park yet there has never been a game that could take advantage of it, no games that have been the right genre. The early games didn't have much to go on, and were genre mismatches; the more recent release of South Park Let's Go Tower Defense Play! was a tower defense game and the upcoming South Park: Tenorman's Revenge is a platformer. And now set for release in 2012 is the inventively titled South Park: The Game, a fully sized RPG for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Windows!
This game is promising to be everything a South Park game should be, and that's because it is a labor of love from Matt Stone and Trey Parker who have been writing it, voicing it and directing the game based on their personal gaming preferences. If I have learnt anything about these guys over the years it would be that the TV series is one of the least amusing things they have produced, and so I have high hopes for this game. The setting is, as you would expect, the small Colorado town of South Park. However, it appears to be based in the town as imagined by the characters during their fantasy role in the episode titled The Return of the Fellowship of the Ring to the Two Towers. The brilliance of this being that you'll be playing a character in a game who is playing a character in a game. Shit's meta. You'll also be playing as your very own silent protagonist which is unsurprising when character generators like this this (or this if you're a Limey) have been around for over a decade.
All the information that has been released since this was announced late last year points to it being the South Park game we deserve and it's exactly the sort of project that we ought to see more of, tie-ins that are made with as much love as the thing they're tying into. Hell, if the game should fail there is at least a place it can be sent to etch out its days free of reviewer mockery...
All images used were taken from the show and not from released game assets. Deal with it.
I don't particularly play games with mods, I haven't been a PC gamer for most of the years I have been gaming and in that time I've played with maybe a handful of mods. I'm really more of a PC tweaks kinda guy! However, earlier this year a game was graciously gifted to me, and I found I couldn't play it my way without a modification or two. That game was Sid Meier's Civilization V.
Civ V is a strategy game or something, and the latest installment in a games series that's as young as I am. More importantly, it has Nuclear warfare and Empire building. There is a comprehensive range of options for the game, from graphical to geographical. You can have any combination of Nations on landscape variations but when the maps get large and the AI players number too many the game can chug a little so it's a good thing that you can knock the graphical settings down a great deal, I can barely tell the difference anyway! On top of all this vanilla fidelity there is an in-game mod browser and management system with several hundred community made mods, which is really rather useful should you develop a niche niche in need of scratching.
When I was starting to play the game and learn how much I sucked at it, I was disappointed that there was no option to have realistic starting locations for nations on Earth maps. Luckily, I was pointed in the direction of the Mods and eventually found a simple little one called Yet (not) Another Earth Maps Pack (v.9) and an even more up-to-date version of what I have been using can be found here (eep).
I enjoy this Mod because although I find the game fun in general, I think the homeland of the nations is important and being able to fight Napoleon for control of France or nuke India because Gandhi is a dick adds a level of excitement to it. It's worth mentioning that I really don't play the game for a challenge and that this Mod will let you know where every enemy is (assuming you know basic geography, sorry America) so you can avoid them or attack them with ease as well as colonising huge areas of the World because you know they'll be vacant. As the in-game warning informs you, using mods in this game can be tricksy and for this one in particular you are advised to have a computer with the recommended specifications for the game. Having multiple mods enabled at once can make everything even more unstable too.
The mod is great, it lets me enjoy a genre I don't even like all that much. The latest version of the mod has a Europe-only map. Hot damn I wish I didn't have a hot date this weekend otherwise I'd be rewriting that European history the way it should have been.
I'm going to end on the most indispensable wisdom that has been shared with me regarding this game in the hope that it may help out other people when dealing with the menace of Civ V...
"The biggest thing that stands out about Gandhi is that he has a nuke rating of 12. This is 4 points ahead of the closest leaders (Catherine, Montezuma and Ramesses tied at 8) making him hands down the most nuke prone leader." -- A Brazilian, 1st July, 2011.
I shall preface this by stating that I am in no way an MMO gamer, nor a fan of them. The few MMOs I have played have not offered up gameplay that I find particularly scintillating and have only really been able to appreciate the ease with which one can play with a group of friends, which is of course how this all began...
The Lord of the Rings Online went free to play around this time last year, and when January came several Dtoiders including myself took an interest in it. The game was free-to-play, not requiring of a powerful machine and set in a fictional world that we were all acquainted with through various degrees of being terrible nerds. We deliberately chose a variety of classes to bolster any teamwork that might happen. I played as a Dwarf Champion, despite how disappointing the lack of female Dwarf characters was to me. The Guy with the Hat played as a Hobbit and spent way too much time tending to root vegetables and making stews.
Over the course of a few weeks we started playing and moved towards coordinating our play sessions and trying to keep at similar levels, most early outings were predominantly spent with people walking great distances just to find one another. The size and faithfulness of the Middle Earth recreation on the game is incredible in my opinion, and one of the most fun times I had on it was in travelling to Rivendell despite being vastly underlevelled just because it was goddamn Rivendell. We even set up a Kinship on the server we were playing, that's how much sheer fun we were having!
Carnies. Circus folk. Nomads, you know. Smell like cabbage. Small hands.
On this ominous day, we coalesced in Bree. The Bree area in-game has early story quests found in the Prancing Pony, and it is one of the more interesting places in the region for the amiable atmosphere within. Those who, like us, were hell bent on showcasing our ability to copy files from the Internet into a folder on our computers found a place to do so here. Since the Inn itself was crowded and noisy we eventually went outside to showcase our musics at each others faces.
Outside the Prancing Pony... there is a rock.
And on it, we played.
And we saw everything that we had played, and, behold, it was very good.
However, we were not the only ones who favoured this polygon podium. A handful of members of a certain Kinship on the server were also present and after a while a discourse broke out between our parties in the local chat. It was a lackluster battle of the bands if there ever were one. Despite the amicable nature of the situation, the interlopers were genuinely displeased with our presence there. Sexual advances were made and improbable implications were made, yet these so called gamers would not warm to us. They went running to a moderator and got one of us banned. Clearly, bias and a surgically removed sense of humour and of social grace were on the cards that day. We found the whole situation funny as hell and haven't really bothered with the game since.
Enjoy your rock, assholes.
I know this isn't much of a story, and it has been so long since the event that we can barely remember it, but it has nonetheless left an unfortunate impression of MMO gamers with us. These games must rely on and facilitate interaction and cooperation, and promote friendship between players, more than any other genre of game. I am sure there are less sucky players for every group such as we encountered, but I'm not going to waste a single iota of time looking for them. For me personally the most illuminating and important feeling to take away from this is the contentment in not need strangers to play with. As annoying as it can be when a group of friends only have a few games in common, I'd rather have those games and friends than deal with people who can't share a fake fucking rock.