I'm a science fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction writer by trade, but aside from writing, video games are my biggest passion. I also write over at Gamer Limit.
The first console my brothers and I ever got was an SNES for Christmas one year. Since then, we've owned an N64, Playstation, PS2, and an Xbox 360. I got a Gameboy Color one year for Christmas, but my brothers are more into handheld gaming than me. Every time they upgrade to the latest system I get their hand-me-downs. That's how I obtained my GBA and my two DS's. Handheld gaming for some reason doesn't interest me even though I know there are great games out there. The first console I've ever been the exclusive owner of is my PS3. The first games I ever played were Super Mario World, F-Zero, 7th Saga (which I've written about), and Out of This World.
My favorite genres are RPGs (Western or Japanese), FPS, action/adventure, and RTS (even though I suck at them).
I’m playing through Prince of Persia: Sands of Time for the first time, and I’m at a really annoying part. I have to cross some balance beams while those goddamn birds keep attacking me. You know what replaying this section three times already has taught me? Birds suck.
“I hate birds. They’re so useless,” to quote a character from one of my favorite childhood (well early teenage years) TV shows Ed, Edd n Eddy. But seriously, fuck birds. So without further ado, here’s my personal list of the worst birds in gaming.
The birds in Prince of Persia: Sands of Time
Of course these are going to be on my list. They look freaky as shit with their glowing chest spot things and skeletal-like appearance. Plus they’re annoying and the prince sometimes doesn’t want to go into his blocking motion unless they’re just close enough. Fuck these demon birds.
Pidgey (and other normal-type flying Pokemon)
“Tiny bird Pokemon?” More like useless bird Pokemon, am I right? How many times are you wandering through the tall grass minding your own business or searching for a kickass Pikachu or something when bam! it's another goddamn Pidgey. Well at least you can teach these feathered sons of bitches Fly. That’s about all they’re good for. Honorable Mentions: Zubat because fuck those guys. They’re just cave-Pidgey’s.
“But Falco flies an Arwing which is totally rad!” you say. Yeah, but he’s also a giant ass. Seriously if I have to listen to one more of his smartass comments, I’m going to shoot him down myself. He guesses he should be thankful? Who the fuck says that instead of showing some gratitude? Giant, blue talking birds. That’s who.
Now there’s no way any of you can disagree with this one. Well you can…but you’d be wrong! Is a new bottle really worth the trouble of trying to catch all those mothercluckers? No. Plus these little guys are vengeful. Just try hitting them a few times with your sword and see what happens. Cuccopocalypse.
What right do these guys have to be angry all the time? It’s not healthy. Not only do they make annoying sounds but they’re pig killers, and pigs are way cooler than birds. Not to mention more delicious. Which would you rather have: bird or delicious bacon? Plus Angry Birds is super popular, so it’s got to suck, right?
Ducks from Duck Hunt
You think the dog is the biggest asshole on the planet? Wrong. It’s the birds. They think they’re so high and mighty flying around, taunting you into taking ill advised shots. These ducks reek of sheer arrogance. Ugh. It’s making me sick just thinking about them.
The above just represent just a small example of the fowl foulness that exists in video games. Let me know about ones I missed in the comments. Like I said before, fuck birds.
I’ve seen a lot of blogs lately talking about open-world games and how they give players freedom to do an almost dizzying amount of stuff. These great blogs have addressed only one side of freedom, but what about the other side? What about freedom from?
Open-world games like the Grand Theft Auto series or Fallout and Oblivion give players tremendous amounts of choices. Do I want to do side quests, level up some obscure sub-skill, or do I want to progress the main story? The amount of stuff you can do in these games is staggering. Sometimes it’s too much.
I can go pick some herbs, do side quests galore, try to finish the main quest... Too many choices!
Some gamers look at linearity as if it’s a disease. Well if that’s the case, I don’t want to be inoculated it against it. Or something like that. Lemme ditch the strained metaphor and say that sometimes I want a game to offer me the freedom from having to decide which of the numerous side quests and activities to undertake.
When I first played Fallout 3 I made it through the relatively linear opening sequence in the Vault with no problem. But then something peculiar happened when the glare faded from my never-seen-real-sunlight-before eyes. I was paralyzed. The pure freedom the game shoved in my face made me unable to do anything. The game sat on my shelf for six months after that until I finally forced myself to play it again. That was two years ago, and now history repeated itself when I tried to play New Vegas two weeks ago. Guess how much time I put into it? Not much.
My first taste of freedom from Vault 101. Now what?
Open-world games have their place, and I enjoyed my time with Oblivion and even Fallout 3 when I finally got into it. Sometimes I want Big Brother Game Developer holding my hand. A guided experience (when done well) can be more intense than a diffuse one riddled with endless freedom.
That’s the real trick isn’t it? How are games supposed to create guided experiences while still offering some illusion of freedom and choice? Because even though I want the freedom from being paralyzed by choice, I still want the freedom to have some choice. Contradictory? Absolutely. Do I have any concrete suggestions on what games could attempt? Not right now, no.
Picture is unrelated.
Gaming is a unique hobby because it gives us the opportunity to take in all these different types of experiences. Some people want games with more freedom to, and others want games with the other kind. The truly amazing thing is that all of us have the freedom to play what we want.
That veered somewhere cheesy. Cock. Balls. Okay things are back to normal now.
I borrowed Pokemon HeartGold from my brother to see if I could relive those carefree days I spent in Johto as a child. Sadly, those days are gone forever. My 60+ hours spent with HeartGold taught me one thing: Pokemon is broken.
Pictured: Pikachu, cool lightning. Not pictured: broken mechanics
There’s always controversy every time a new Pokemon game comes out. People complain that the series doesn’t innovate enough. They bemoan that each game is basically just like the one before it with maybe a new coat of paint and a tweak or two here and there. I’m not going to delve into those complaints. That’s not where I think the Pokemon series has problems. I want to delve deeper into the actual, somewhat bullshit, gameplay mechanics.
Maybe it was the innocence of youth that blinded me to Pokemon’s faults. But after 60 hours with HeartGold, I’m not sure I’m going to play another Pokemon game ever again. Here’s a couple of reasons why:
The endless grind – As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized I have less and less patience for grinding, and Pokemon is all about the grind. This isn’t a trait that’s unique to Pokemon; many JRPGs suffer from the need for almost incessant grinding.
Price of admission: one soul
Pokemon wants you to “catch ‘em all,” but what they don’t tell you is that once you catch ‘em you have to raise ‘em to high enough levels to fit in with the rest of your team. And that takes forever. Battling wild Pokemon and battling other Pokemon trainers are the two ways you earn experience. But the problem is you never seem to earn enough.
Por ejemplo: I was going to tackle one of the gyms in HeartGold. The gym leader’s Pokemon were all in the mid to upper 30’s. I needed to level up a few members of my team so they could hold their own in the coming battle. However the wild Pokemon available to me at the time were only level 25, and I was out of other trainers to battle. The game forced me to spend hours battling weaker Pokemon just to scrape a few level ups together. It was soul crushingly monotonous. And it happened all the damn time throughout the course of the game.
I hope you all lose your jobs
Healing – The second problem I see with Pokemon is related to the first one. Undoubtedly your Pokemon are going to get hurt during all that time spent grinding. You have two options for healing them: take them to a PokeCenter or use an item. PokeCenters are free, but they’re only located in cities. It’s a huge pain in the ass when you have to race back to the nearest town after every fight to heal your team. Items really aren’t a better option either. Wild Pokemon don’t drop potions or other healing items like in other RPGs, nor do they drop money. You only earn money from battling that finite number of trainers. There’s a finite amount of money you can earn in the game. Therefore your ability to purchase healing items is severely limited.
The fact that healing your team is such a hassle only makes the grinding that much worse. While Dragon Age II was criticized for aspects of its battle system, I think that the auto-heal after a battle mechanic would work wonders within the Pokemon universe. Sure it’d put PokeCenters and all those identical looking Nurse Joy’s out of work, but I can live with that. If I never had to hear that “healing melody” ever again I could die a happy man.
I just thought this picture was funny. That is a truthfact.
Without addressing the overarching complaints that surround Pokemon – the lack of innovation – the issues I talked about above are the two biggest ones that break the Pokemon games. Maybe I’m not hardcore enough to slog through the games without complaining. While I love the fact that Pokemon is a surprisingly deep series – I don’t go near the breeding and EV stuff – I think it would take a turn for the awesome if it showed just a little more accessibility. If that happened then my time spent training my critters wouldn’t feel like such a dreary, mind numbing chore. So come on Game Freak and Nintendo, forget about creating new batches of Pokemon. Fix your gameplay mechanics and I’ll be first in line to throw more money at you.
On this week’s edition of Under the Radar I want to once again venture back in time to 2005. However we’re moving away from the action RPG genre and into the Wild Wild West of FPS games. Combining the Wild West, vampires before they were cliché, and FPS action, Darkwatch is a game that slipped under the radar for me. Of course, the question remains: was it worth my time to play it?
Title:Darkwatch Developer: High Moon Studios
Release Date & Platforms: August, 2005 (PS2 played, Xbox)
Disclaimer: I wasn’t able to finish Darkwatch because the game kept freezing at the end of the eighth chapter, “Baptism of Fire.” It froze during the loading screen between chapters eight and nine. Then it froze again every time I tried to load my saved game. Still I got a little less than halfway through the story, so I feel like I got a pretty good grasp on what the game had to offer.
Darkwatch is a FPS game set in the 1870’s and has the player step into the spurs of outlaw Jericho Cross. The first mission has Jericho robbing what he believes is a treasure train. Instead of finding gold inside the vault, he inadvertently frees an evil vampire named Lazarus and unleashes him upon the West. However instead of killing Jericho, Lazarus decides to bite him. We all know where this is going; Jericho starts to turn into a vampire and develops some interesting powers as well as an affinity for blood. Jericho joins the Darkwatch, a centuries old organization that protects humanity from vampires and the like, in order to help take down Lazarus.
When viewed from 2011, it looks like Darkwatch is full of every horror movie/novel cliché out there. But at the same time, it came out in 2005, long before things like Twilight (both the novels and movies) and True Blood made vampires un-cool. So taking that into consideration I just had to roll with the game’s campiness, and strangely it works for the most part. I mean Undead Nightmare wouldn’t have worked if people didn’t have some desire to shoot zombies in the head while on horseback.
The game is available on PS2 and Xbox, and while I haven’t played the Xbox version, I doubt there’s a big difference between the two versions in terms of graphics. Darkwatch looks like a pretty high end PS2 game, not on the same level as say Final Fantasy X but not terrible either.
The controls were among the biggest issues I had with the game. I found the default setting, 5, to be way too sensitive. I ended up turning it down to 2, but I never felt like I truly got a handle on the aiming. I’m not a FPS noob or anything. I went into the game expecting to be able to handle myself without too much effort.
The button configurations were strange too. I messed around with the control schemes, but couldn’t find one I was completely satisfied with. One had reload in a weird spot while another would move melee to somewhere inconvenient. The original Halo came out in 2001, and I have to think that it helped codify a somewhat “standard” set of FPS button configurations. Why a game in 2005 wouldn’t offer something resembling a “standard” set is kind of strange.
The other biggest issue I had (aside from the freezing and not loading my saves) was the characters themselves. Jericho never speaks, but I dug it. He’s supposed to be the stoic gunslinger type character. But the rest were just a walking mess of clichés. Your partner Tala is hilarious with how stereotypical she is. Apparently she’s Native American so she wore a feather in her hair. Plus I knew she’d end up evil; no “good” character is able to pull off that “leather and tits” look quite right. Shameless is the perfect word for her character design. (Don’t even get me started on the Playboy spread.)
I didn’t attempt the competitive multiplayer because I figured that a) the service wouldn’t be available, or b) nobody would be playing it anymore. The game does have a co-op mode too, but I didn’t have anybody to test it out with. My girlfriend isn’t very big on FPS games.
I can’t help but walk away from Darkwatch feeling unfulfilled. The game is serviceable, and if you’re looking for a quick PS2 era run and gun shooter you could do a lot worse. Darkwatch also did the whole undead West thing before Undead Nightmare so it gets some points there. However the weird controls and constant use of arena sections where you have to fight off waves of enemies really slowed down the game’s flow and sapped its energy. I can’t say I’m truly sad that Darkwatch flew under the radar for me.
Next up on Under the Radar: I had to scratch Dead Space off my list because I wasn’t enjoying it. It felt like a chore to play. C’est la vie right? Instead I’ve been playing Pokémon HeartGold and I got some things to say about it. Stay tuned!
This is the start of a new series I'm experimenting with. I can’t promise that it’ll be a weekly, biweekly, or even a monthly series; it all depends on when I can get games for it and when I finish them.
Tons of new games come out every month, and after a while some rise to the top and others fly under the radar either due to a lack of sales or because simply they aren’t very good. This feature will celebrate, for better or worse, these kinds of games, the ones that I’ve passed by until now. Some of them may or may not be well known, but that’s not the point. The point is to give these “under the radar” games a chance. If you think I’m crazy for not playing some of these sooner, then let me know in the comments.
Title:Jade Empire Developer: BioWare
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Release Date & Platforms: April, 2005 (Xbox, played), February, 2007 (PC)
First up on my list is Jade Empire, an action RPG developed by BioWare for the original Xbox and released in 2005. Does this semi-critical darling still hold up just over six years later? No, but Jade Empire is worth a try because it’s useful for showing how far BioWare have come in recent years.
Jade Empire is set in a fictional world heavily inspired by Asian martial arts. Think along the lines of Avatar: The Last Airbender and you’ll kind of get the picture. The player chooses one of the preset characters and embarks along an “epic” journey to discover their destiny and stop the evil spirits that are plaguing the Jade Empire.
Suitable fighting attire? Not so much.
I put epic in quotes because unlike some of BioWare’s other RPGs, I can’t say that Jade Empire’s story is that engrossing. Maybe it’s because I have very little experience with wuxia style fiction. I couldn’t get into the story and again unlike other BioWare games—Mass Effect, Dragon Age II—I didn’t care about any of the supporting characters at all, which incidentally made it easy to play as an “evil” or Way of the Closed Fist character.
Combat is handled in a third person action game style, but there were issues with the camera—mainly in the fact that it was hard to keep track of enemies sometimes. Players utilize normal attacks, charge attacks, magic attacks, and attacks enhanced with chi, but rarely did the fights require much strategy. I was able to use my long sword or my basic martial arts style to get through most of the game without problems.
As the game goes on, you leave the small hamlet of Two Rivers and venture out into the kingdom. In traditional RPG fashion, you arrive at a larger town and are given the opportunity to partake in a variety of side quests in order to gain gold, XP, and karma points. While the cities of Tien’s Landing and Imperial City (chapters two and three respectively) have a bunch of side quests, starting with chapter four, the game takes a turn for the linear.
I’m not complaining about linearity just for the sake of complaining. It just felt like Jade Empire wanted it both ways. It felt like BioWare wanted to have a sprawling RPG, started to run out of time and/or money halfway through, and then had to scale back their ambitions. The problem is for the most part the story isn’t interesting enough to carry the game without some of the freedom the earlier chapters provided.
Towards the end of the game I was confronted with the game’s “big choice,” you know that one big decision that can completely change your karmic alignment? I stuck with the evil route, and that was the only time Jade Empire’s story felt engrossing. My character’s actions and the reactions of my party members were fascinating. I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite as “evil” before.
Hint: it involves this guy.
As might be the case with this series, it could be that I’m looking back too harshly on a game that came out years ago. Maybe in 2005, Jade Empire was considered cutting edge with a riveting story. Maybe I just don’t “get it.” However, I can’t help but think that’s not the case, especially considering Knights of the Old Republic came out two years earlier (there will be an article dedicated to KotOR in the future—once I actually play it).
For better or worse, Jade Empire flew under the radar for me. I remember hearing about it, but I never gave it a second thought until a couple of weeks ago. Still despite the missteps with the story, the slightly lackluster combat, and the sudden shift toward a linear gameplay experience, Jade Empire illuminates how far BioWare has come as a crafter of top-notch RPGs in the past six years.
Next up on Under the Radar: depending on when I finish it, Dead Space. While it’s a mainstream game that’s only a few years old, it flew under my radar because I was too scared to try and play it…until now.
On March 8, my copy of Dragon Age II arrived. Little did I know that this title was going to change my life.
Dragon Age II is not a perfect game. It’s not even close to perfect. But since it came out, I haven’t taken it out of my PS3’s disc tray. I’ve sunk hour after hour into Hawke’s story and the city of Kirkwall. And as I continued to play, something peculiar happened. My trophy count went higher and higher. Then I realized what was happening. I was on my way to earning 100% of the trophies. Before I knew it I was in pursuit of platinum.
Ellie Hawke--the most badass 2-handed warrior Kirkwall has ever seen
Right off the bat, I have to say that I don’t care about gamer scores or trophies that much. I know how other Destructoid writers feel about them and that's fine. I like earning the points/icons/what have you, but in no way do I think that they mark me as a better gamer. If somebody has more points than me, it just means that he or she has probably played more games than me. Simple as that. My gamer score is not how I measure my e-penis. (True story: I do that with an e-yardstick, ‘cause it’s e-normous.)
I enjoy getting trophies and achievements because I treat them as little extra challenges the games throw at me. Beat a level and find all the little collectibles hidden inside it? Okay, will do. I’m a completionist anyway, so these kinds of tasks appeal to me.
Dragon Age II wove a spell over me (Chantry approved of course. No blood magic here). Unlike Mass Effect 2, which I believe to be a superior game, it forced me to role play. I wasn’t choosing dialogue choices because I wanted to max out my Paragon or Renegade scores. I was choosing the dialogue options that I wanted, usually the “smartass” responses because that’s how I respond in a lot of situations. Say what you want about Bioware “dumbing” down the game and the conversation choices, but I had to think more about what I was going to say in this game than I did in both Mass Effect’s.
Towards the end of the game I did a brutal companion quest for Merrill. Not because it was hard, but because of what was happening on the screen—things my character, my Hawke was doing because of my actions. I couldn’t change them. Merrill had decided her fate, and for better or worse, I was a part of it. Hawke had to reap what she sowed, and by extension so did I.
I’d never felt like that from a game before. I’ve seen things from all ends of the spectrum—from touching to horrifying. For example, the twist in Bioshock really hit me because even though I played it for the first time in 2009 I managed to avoid spoilers. Dragon Age II actually forced me to feel for the characters and experience the consequences of my actions.
After I beat it for the first time, I willingly dove back into the rapidly deteriorating city of Kirkwall for a second playthrough. I wanted to do things differently. It was only by accident that I saw that I was only a handful of trophies away from obtaining the platinum.
I’ve gotten close to platinum before, once with inFamous and once with Assassin’s Creed II. But I really only kept playing those games to satisfy my completionist tendencies. Dragon Age II is a game I wanted to play again so I could experience everything. And if doing everything gets me a platinum trophy, then I had to go for it. This flawed, rushed game compelled me to conquer it. This wasn’t a chore like some other games I’ve played. This pursuit of platinum was a joy.
(Note: I’m 80% of the way there, but I only have 6 trophies left to get. I’m in Act III right now and will easily get them before I beat the game again.)
(Note 2: As of 1:02 am on Saturday I beat the game for a second time. The trophy is mine. Now hopefully I remembered to keep saves for both sets of clear data.)
Addendum: Apparently this is not meant to be. The trophy “Epic” is known to have bugs. There are other threads where people are having the same problem. You’re supposed to get it if you either: beat the game once and import a save from Origins or just beat the game twice. Since I don’t have Dragon Age Origins, I went the beat the game twice route. I guess I’ll have to wait for a patch. It really doesn’t matter in the long run. I know that I got 100% of the achievements. I know that I squeezed every single drop of entertainment from the game. That’s what matters more than a little icon in my trophy list. I just would’ve liked to see the little thing pop up, but that’s life.