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6:00 PM on 09.26.2011

Review: MotoHeroz

Wrapping up my last week of Summer, I thought I'd get one more review down the hatch. What exactly is this title that didn't get much coverage and why should you perhaps for once care about a WiiWare game? Because it's made by RedLynx, the folks that brought us the Trials series; also, it's a lot like Trials. The game's release sort of flew under the radar and being exclusive to the not so glamorous WiiWare service probably didn't help.

Release Date: September 15, 2011
Developer: RedLynx
Platforms: WiiWare
Price: 1500 Points ($15)
Nintendo Store Page

If you've played a Trials game before (hopefully you have as I'll be mentioning it way too often in this review), you have an idea of what you're in for. MotoHeroz is a sidescrolling time attack game that heavily revolves around you maneuvering your vehicle through a track to its end point. The tracks usually consist of a lot of platforms and physics based pathways making it feel more like a platformer than something like Excitebike. The structure itself is pretty straightforward with you having to complete a track by its specified time to move on to the next one with them unlocking in a linear fashion.

Unlike Trials, the game takes on a much more approachable presentation, opting for cartoony, exaggerated designs and environments reminiscent of Donkey Kong Country Returns (down to the wooden HUD, similarly enough). While the wide variety of vehicles and characters is well done, the game doesn't give many opportunities for them to be shown off, especially in singleplayer. Very early on, some of the tracks start off with dialogue that prefaces the event, but this concept is abandoned very quickly. You only have access to a single vehicle throughout the entire game (two in reality, but you'd be hard pressed to notice the difference). While the developer's rationale of allowing a single type of car's handling makes sense design wise, a simple cosmetic change to swap between the different vehicles would have still been nice.

Frankly, the WiiWare service hasn't been known for its standout titles. The few worth checking out don't usually get much attention or become irrelevant on WiiWare when they're eventually ported to other platforms. There's also the host of other problems associated with purchasing from WiiWare, although I'll avoid the trollbaitery. It is pretty safe to say though that MotoHeroz is one of those standout titles that's just plain good.

This is definitely RedLynx's most polished and well presented game. It's a small point, but while the menus are animated, they're very responsive and are topped off with glorious ambient playful music. The game runs at 60fps and manages to do so while managing some pretty complex visuals. For those not familiar with how a typical playthrough of a Trials game occurs, you usually succeed in one try or it'll take you many frustrating attempts to get by. The main thing that helps lessen that frustration is being able to quickly restart from the begining which this game fortunately let's you do. The downside is that instead of being bound to a single button as is the norm, you have to pause and select the restart option.

My biggest problem with the game is probably partly my own fault. From the cartoony visuals and Wiiware platform, I was assuming this would be a sort of Trials Light. Trials is up there with Super Meat Boy and VVVVV as one of those masochistic, soul crushing games. So I was caught a bit off guard when a large portion of the tracks I was finishing were starting to become milliseconds within the target finish time. Very commonly I'd do something like mess up on the landing angle of the first or second jump 10 seconds in and immediately restart. I like to think I'm at least average when it comes to these games, but many playthroughs of this had me having to stop altogether because I'd basically just hit an impasse and there's no way to advance until you beat the level you're currently on.


- Something good on WiiWare
- Great design, use of colours
- 4 player split screen


- May be too difficult for younger folks
- Is on WiiWare
- Lack of player customization/variation


(4.5/5 Nanas)   read

10:07 PM on 09.11.2011

NVGR: Top 3 Ponies That Ever Were

Hello, everypony.

The new season premiere of your favorite show is coming up in less than a week and I thought it would be the ideal time to lay down some words on the matter. For anypony not familiar with the series, Friendship is Magic is an animated show that follows Twilight Sparkle & co. as they live out their pony lives in the land of Equestria. Friendship is Magic has a large colt following spanning all ages and is lauded for being a show based on a brand for little girls that old people can watch unironically. But enough horsing around, time to name manes.

Princess Celestia

Celestia gets a top slot because she is the reason why all is well in the world and why ponies are the ones in control. There are lots of other species in the land such as buffalos, dragons, griffons, etc. but ponies wear the pants. After beating up her sister for her powers, she now controls day and night and that's pretty sexy.


Applejack is the only original pony from the days gone by ponies of Generation 1 meaning as they died off one by one, Applejack lived on. She is the best and only pony of the main ponies that matters. If Friendship is Magic was The Office, Applejack would be Jim, Dwight, and Karen combined. She is an earth pony meaning unlike unicorns and pegasi, she has to get things done with her own four hooves.

Derpy Hooves

Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies.

Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies Ponies.   read

5:57 AM on 09.10.2011

Improvements: Cblogs - The Little Things

Oops, rather late on this one. Had a bit I wanted to elaborate on but between recovering from PAX and all the new releases and other write ups I wanted to do, this fell by the wayside. This focuses on a lot of minutia revolving around the Cblogs section but it's also picture heavy so hopefully I don't lose your beautiful, wandering eyes.

I'm planning on throwing up a contest sometime this weekend. You might have caught my initial post detailing it earlier this week that I took down after deciding to retool it a bit. Prizes abound!

As another random aside, I've finally gotten around to catching the Dtoid live streams and I've clearly been missing out. Loaded up some War Inc. Battlezone after getting ahold of one of the promo codes being given out (god bless you, Pico) and got some matches in. I highly suggest you play it if you're ever in doubt about your skills as a gamer, working people over is a breeze.

The first part I want to address are all the redundancies in links and the worst offender. The four sections circled above all literally lead to the same place and that's just no bueno. Starting from the bottom up

- The "all blogs" link is the one I tend to use since it's so close, but it's not really necessary otherwise as I expand on that later.

- The link in the main menu bar I think makes most sense and is fine where it is.

- The bottom header image under the Dtoid community logo I think should stay the same provided that the top header gets switched to the main logo and links back to the main home page.

My reasoning for replacing the Dtoid community logo and having it lead back to the main site is mostly one of consistency. I threw up some obvious examples for reference, but for the most part, that real estate on a website is usually the part of a site I use whenever I'm on any section of any site and I want to get back to the very main page.

I think then that justifies having the bottom header image link to the Cblogs main page and reduces the redundancy factor. I could be alone in this but I find whenever I want to head back to the homepage while in the Cblogs section, hitting the Home link along the main menu bar feels a bit awkward.

Next up is the menu bar right over the blog posts and why I think it could ultimately be removed. Going in a random order

- The "your blogs" link can be safely removed. I'm pretty sure it's been broken since forever so clearly no one finds a use for it. You can actually tell what the error is and where it's supposed to link if you compare the url it links to with the url of the "edit your blog" link at the very top of your page.

- The "comments" link I think could be reappropriated somewhere in the sidebar.

- The "your blogs" link is redundant given that there would be two more logically placed locations for it above.

- The "your friends" link is redundant with the one on the top right of your page near where your username is. I personally don't use this feature much anyway.

- Thinking about the last one makes me snicker since it took me a while to realize what its point was. Personally, I just click on the user's image blog header to return to their main blog if I'm on one of their specific posts, though I get the importance of a text link if the user doesn't have one. I think this feature could get reappropriated to the side bar as well.

There's a number of very minor graphical bugs in the site layout but the first one throws me off the most since it sticks out farther than it should by a pretty noticeable margin if you're looking straight at it. The green lines are for reference on how the different elements line up. The ad and the community header are the same height so it'd make simple sense for them to be lined up vertically.

Here's my vision of an improved page, click to embiggen! Lots of little graphical fixes and a nice side benefit of removing a lot of the clutter is saving on a good amount of vertical space which leads to less scrolling.

The biggest omission I didn't get to above is straight up removing the links for looking up tagged articles. I think they're perfectly valid on the main site (although I don't use them there either), but I can't imagine many people use them in the Cblogs section. If you're already in the Cblogs section then you're probably specifically concerning yourself with blog related activities and would then rather first return to the main site before looking up any articles.

Here's a side by side comparison, also click to embiggen!


6:28 PM on 09.07.2011

Review: Warhammer 40k: Space Marine

Leading up to its release, I had no clue on what this game had going for it. Hadn't seen any gameplay videos or previews and aside from some banners at PAX and making the front page of Steam, this probably would have gone over my head. Eventually checking out the demo, I was sold after the first 30 minutes.

Release Date: September 6, 2011
Developer: Relic Entertainment
Platforms: PC, PS3, 360
Price: $49.99, $59.99
Steam Store Page

The long and short of the game is that it's a third person shooter with a bit more of a focus on melee than the norm. The level structures are linear with you normally having to clear out an area before being able to move on. It really doesn't divulge from this formula for most of the game. It's nothing ground breaking in that regard.

Where the game shines is the feeling of the gameplay and how well realized the world is. Everything from shooting any of the weapons to swinging around the chainsaw sword feels very satisfying. Even the tiny nitpicks I have in third person games such as the speed and angle the camera pushes in when you pull up your gun to aim is all handled perfectly.

As far as the particulars of how the game plays, there is no cover system. While it sounds absurd or might even possibly be a sticking point, I personally didn't feel a single point in the game where one would have made playing more enjoyable. Anytime you do have to methodically pick off enemies, positioning yourself behind objects while doing it was no issue.

Space Marine has recharging armor, but the main way to restore health is by executing enemies. This involves either damaging them enough through any means or using your stun attack on them followed by hitting the execute button. This feature also works all well and good. One design choice I am torn about is that when you're pulling off these executions (which can get pretty lengthy), your character is still susceptible to damage (unlike Halo: Reach, for example). I understand why they do it, but I feel like more of a middle ground could be made in giving you just a bit of invulnerability towards the begining of the process.

The melee system itself is pretty straightfoward and nothing that requires a large memorization of buttons. Basically, you have a one, two, or three swing combo with the ability for the first two swings to end with stuns instead. There are a few different melee weapons, but like all the other weapons in the game, one isn't necessarily better than the others in the same class. It's a pretty good feeling to rip through hoards of enemies charging you and while the moves you pull off aren't the most elaborate or technical, it doesn't get old.

The rest of the weapons are all great to use with none of them really feeling like wasted opportunities. You can carry up to four weapons being a pistol, rifle, and two speciality weapons. In a lot of other shooters that have loads of guns, you typically find the few you like and cling on to them. In Space Marine, you'll seldom run into a scenario where a particular loadout you have might make it more difficult than if you went with something else which frees you up to experiment as you wish.

The structure of the levels is pretty standard in terms of third person shooters. Not that there's anything inherently wrong with it, but you are essentially making your way from point A to B occassionally having to interact with objects in the process. One thing about the level designs that did disappoint me is that there is very little in the way of memorable setpieces. Most of the memorable events are front loaded in to the game with most of the second half of the game's environments all sort of running together.

Another issue I had with the game is that the checkpoints can get rather tedius and cruel. It's not so much that there are hard sequences where checkpoints afterwards that aren't there should be, but they're set up in a way that you can spend a large amount of time before hitting the next checkpoint and that sheer amount of time can be a bummer if you die at the last moment. They're also occassionally paced awkwardly and can place you all the way at the start of a level making you run for quite a while before getting back to the action.

One of the biggest draws back when first playing the demo is that the graphics are rather lovely. The way the metal armor and orks render and never have that overly shiny, glossy look to them is very groovy. All the crazy ornate decorations and objects hanging off the space marine armor keeps it very interesting. I'm suprised they pulled the aesthetics of the space marines' huge armor off at all as it always seemed to me to be proportioned that way only to make it easier to recognize on the table top.

The multiplayer is pretty much what you'd expect. There's a team deathmatch and a control point mode along with a hefty number of weapons and armor pieces to unlock. They've also announced a free DLC game mode which'll introduce 3 person co-op hoard mode. The game does the typical loadout system and you can select different ones in between lives. It plays pretty much like Gears of War on steroids given the wider variety of abilities. Given how well Relic's first shooter did, it's a suprise they pulled off such a competant shooter and hopefully this brings the WH40k universe to more people (as it did for me).


- Great PC port
- Good length
- Satisfying combat


- Wonky checkpoints
- Lack of evenly placed set pieces
- No custom control binding
- No push to talk in multiplayer


(4.5/5 Nanas)   read

11:20 PM on 09.04.2011

PAX 2011 Cosplayers: Favourite Five

As I sit here twiddling my thumbs waiting for Space Marine to unlock, I thought I'd squeeze one more PAX post out before shutting the books until next year. Not as attention grabbing as "Top 5", but there's a few cosplayers I couldn't find any photos of on Flickr that weren't all rights reserved so concessions had to be made. Checking out the recent Dragon*Con photos coming out, I'd say the west coast totally trumps in terms of dressing up as fictional characters. Step up your game, Georgia.

credit: arukasa

Pretty rad Ulala. Nailed the normal outfit aside from the gloves lookin a bit loosey goosey on their fit. Very groovily had an entire alternate outfit as well. Nice to see slightly more obscure characters getting quality outfits.

credit: Juuc Box

Loads of Chells this year and an interesting amount of abstract Aperture Science themed outfits. This cosplayer had the best Portal gun from what I saw. I had another Chell in mind to choose before realizing that it was because their jumpsuit consisted of orange tights with an orange shirt wrapped around their waist.

credit: dejaandyroo

It was a tossup between this MK group and another, all of which were crazy elaborate. I mean, look at those masks. How do you even do that. The other group had a pretty rad fem Scorpion and Sub-Zero which were decked out better than a lot of the official booth models.

credit: Slightlynorth

Pulled off the fairly complicated outfit of Vanille with all of its little knick knacks. Bonus points for being the only cosplayer I saw do a bunch of the booth photo taking promos in costume. More bonus points for being one of the few cosplayers to actively have an online presence.

credit: Juuc Box

Great, believable take on Peach. Wig gets across those hair poofs pretty elegantly. Also avoids the two things that are usually off putting on Peach cosplay in that the colours aren't super saturated and the materials aren't reflecting the sun (shiny fabric usually comes across as cheap, Halloween costume looking to me).   read

11:33 PM on 09.02.2011

Source & Sorcery: Zeno Clash

Zeno Clash is a weird game. When people bring up examples of games that do first person melee, the list usually reads as Dark Messiah, the Condemned series, and Zeno Clash. I haven't tried out the Condemned games before, but I assume in terms of just fist on fist action, Zeno Clash goes the most indepth with its systems. I also thought it'd be nice timing to look at this game as well since the developer's other project, Rock of Ages, comes out in a few days.

This will probably be the end of these Source game write ups for a while. If you haven't been following, Source & Sorcery are little looks at third party Source games that usually try to include a focus on their Source engine merits. Garry's Mod is the last Source game I have and the way it automatically installs other Source games you own to fill out its models section is a turn off.

In other news, I've updated the list of PAX galleries from my last post, so if you need photos of a lady dressed up as Peach to make it through those lonely nights, them Flickr links are your oyster. I also just ran through the Space Marine demo and I have clearly been missing out (it's not too shabby).

Release Date: April 21, 2009
Developer: ACE Team
Platforms: PC, XBLA
Price: $14.99
Steam Store Page

Zeno Clash is a really weird game. Not in terms of gameplay, but the universe it's set in and the aesthetics. It doesn't make any qualms about trying to be grounded in any sort of logic or have some kind of recognizable societal hierarchy. Things and characters appear and behave in certain ways and you just have to accept their oddities.

At its core, the game consists of small arenas that pit you against a small number of opponents you primarily deal with with your fists until you can move onward in a linear fashion. The meat and potatoes comes from how you vary up the combos you have while fighting and positioning yourself around enemies using the lock on system.

This is by far the most visually unique game on Source. Every character you fight against has a unique character model and as far as I can tell a unique species. All the environments, structures, and weapons look very alien to the point where it may be offputting. Technically speaking, this is also one of the most visually impressive Source games.

There's a heavy emphasis on DOF and motion blur and it seems to be more convincing than the cheaper variations you find of it in Source games like GMod. A lot of the creatures you'll run across are huge and nicely idly animated in the background. There's a level where they tie a dynamic light to your view so any place you look, shadows are constantly being cast which is a pretty impressive effect that's usually tied to events and objects in the environments instead.

One area where the game lacks is the voice acting. All the straight voice acting feels like the actors are literally tired or unmotivated. Any of the dramatic voice acting sounds either forced or like they're acting too hard and contrasts oddly with the straight voice actors. The VA audio doesn't mix in well with the rest of the game and has a too close to the mic sound. Another area lacking in the game are all the camera movements during the cutscenes. They try to play around a lot with using dutch angles but panning cameras in Source games never animates smoothly and usually just looks really stilted.

My problem with the combat is that the pacing feels at odds with how deliberate they've designed the moves to be. Every single action you do feels like it takes slightly longer than you'd like. From when you throw a punch and it doesn't connect, to your punch being blocked, to the stun you get when your punch gets interrupted, to when you miss a kick. Even after every "successful" action, you're faced with a delay that breaks up any sort of flow or momentum you build up on top of them already implementing a stamina system to try and further limit you.

Another odd design choice is them only allowing you to look a certain angle downwards. I imagine they did this so it'd be easier to find the correct spot to look at (kicking involves the regular attack button looking downward), but this really breaks your ability to quickly (and normally, in a lot of cases) pick up items and weapons off the ground in a hurry.

I'm not so sure I'd pay $15 for it at a time like this when digitally distributed games are much more abundant than they were in 2009, you could probably do better for your money. It is definitely a game worth checking out though on sale if only to see the ridiculous art and world they've created.   read

9:55 PM on 08.31.2011

LTTP: PA: The Series - Season One DVD + PAX Musings

28,940 steps, 3 quarters of a tank of gas, and 12 hours of sleep just about sums up the damage inflicted from PAX 2011. My camera decided to go on the fritz the one day I remember to bring it so I don't have many fruits to share with this obligatory post PAX blog post. To make up for it, I've been scrounging Flickr for people's PAX galleries and built up a list of 'em. I starred my favorites and/or the ones with the Bioshock Infinite Elizabeth model.

Lord Moon Friday *Saturday Sunday
*Giant Fire Breathing Robot Friday Saturday Sunday
Cliff Nordman Buttoneers
itsamusething *Cosplayers Sights
Juuc Box x2
Xymon Saturday Sunday
*DTJAAAAM Friday Saturday Sunday
*SquareEnix Cosplayers Pink Hat Invasion
Brian @ MorningStarPhoto
SEGA of America
*Irrational Games
The Gamers' Temple
I Am Adam
SeattledrinkNOS Day One Two Three
*andy liang
Trey Oppa Halofest
Darkain Multimedia
Darkain Multimedia
Tim Dorr
Andrew Maiman
*William Doran

Not a whole lot to report on the swag end of things. I picked up an OnLive console which I may do a write up of. Unlike any other person I ran into in line, I did already have an account with games on it (thanks to the Humble Indie Bundle) and an odd game or two thanks to random promotions. The CS: GO booth gave out some nicely fitted shirts along with a beta key. God bless Valve for not only hiring normal looking people to run their booth but also having about an equal ratio of male to female staff.

As far as official merch goes, none of the shirts available were really calling out to me (which is a bummer since the featured shirts on their store right now are pretty bumpin). I'd been meaning to pick up the Astro A30 for a while now and fortunately the special edition ones there were $30 off the regular price and tax free. I did also finally pick up some merch I've been meaning to buy for a while now in the form of the Season One DVD of their show and thought it'd be relevant chronicling my time spent with this four disc epic.

For the unitiated, Penny Arcade: The Series is a web show that documents their office antics, writing process, and other significant events such as Child's Play and the occassional ping pong match. The entire show is available online in HD with the second season having finished a good while ago. So why exactly would one purchase a show that's available online and in a better quality format?

I haven't done the actual math, but I imagine, even discluding the copious amounts of commentary, that all the extra features surpass the amount of content found in the regular show itself. The first three discs have over a hefty, chunky hour's worth of content each that may have well just been included in the show.

It's really just a matter of whether you want to indulge yourself more into the world of PA, as this definitely provides a good amount of the extra amount of content you'd expect regardless of whether you've been keeping up with the show online. The production quality on the DVD menus are also worth noting as these are pretty much the best, most responsive ones of any DVD I can think up of off the top of my head.

Show Available Online Here   read

6:52 PM on 08.20.2011

First Impressions: Xenoblade Chronicles

I have a bad history with JRPGs. Starting and getting used to them is fine, but the part that gets you to keep going until you finish tends to lose me. I've never actually finished a Final Fantasy despite getting into a few. Dumped at least a dozen hours into FFXII, really liked it, eventually just stopped. Went at least a dozen hours into XIII, wasn't too particularly fond of it though. Dropped only a few hours into The 4 Heroes of Light, loved most of it, but it inevitably just kind of lost me. That said, I figured I should do some kind of write up now incase this suffers a similar fate.

Also, no spoilers past anything you would've picked up if you were following media coverage of the game.

There are a few major backstories to the game that they immediately set you up with and they're all pretty awesome. The overarching premise that sets up the world is that basically two big 'ol robots fought it out and eventually locked up during battle. Big as in human colonies have formed and the game takes place traveling along them. A lot of times RPGs provide backstory that sets up some kind of on going conflict and lineages that ultimately don't have much relevance to the game itself. This, at least, explains why the environments are shaped and laid out as they are and gives meaning to your journey getting from point to point (or body part to body part).

I also love the fact the game actually portrays this epic event as an ingame cutscene. Giant scale isn't something played with in games too often. There are instances such as Chibi-Robo! and Katamari, but other than Shadow of the Colossus, not many that take less cartoony approaches.

The main character is named Shulk and is a pretty typical, reserved RPG hero. After a bad turn of events, he's got destiny leading him by the hand to save the day along with friends and people he meets along the way. Fortunately, what enables your awesomeness is given to you pretty early on in the form of the Monado, a sword with mystical powers. This sword is especially effective against the main enemies, the Mechon, a bunch of robots originally thought to be dealt with in a war long ago.

All the characters are fine and I haven't found anything really inherently wrong with them otherwise. That said, their faces are occasionally a bit off putting. Something about a combination of the shape of them and their eyes in particular throw me off. To get off on a pet peeve, the game does something I loathe in that the moving animations in no way resemble how they're actually moving. JRPGs seem to be the main offenders of this and it always comes off to me as absurdly lazy, especially in this case when the game is full of well animated cutscenes.

They made an interesting localization choice when doing all the VO in that in the process of giving them English accents, they also threw in a 'mate' and 'mum' here and there. Nothing really too sticking, just an interesting aside.

There are elements of friendship building that are made up by a combination of doing well together during battles and activating certain points around the world that cue a scene between the two characters. These scenes go through a conversation where you pick the ideal response to whatever they're saying. So far I've just kind of been too lazy to use this feature as the requirements to activate most of the points are usually just out of reach. Fortunately it doesn't really affect the game too much and I never get the sense I'm missing much content skipping past them.

The combat occurs in the world (ala FFXII) and has been pretty swell with no big complaints. One neat thing they do is make many of your special attacks especially effective when you're at a certain side of enemy. While games like Dragon Age allow you to move about the area while fighting, aside from dodging ranged attacks or avoiding being overwhelmed, it never really plays a big part of your offensive strategy. This feature makes something like aggro in Xenoblade more important since if an enemy is focusing on you, you can't attack its backside.

It really feels as if they've streamlined many of the menus that other JRPGs have lagged behind with. For example, you never have to go more than a level deep into a menu to do something and a majority of all you're going to use in combat is available as a row of icons. Another welcome piece of streamlining is that the only points you pump into your character deal with the effectiveness of a specific attack or spell without you having to worry about your character's own stats.

One of the biggest draws to the game (outside of it being a competent RPG for the Wii) are all the environments. There are loads of enormous vistas that surround you while traveling and allow you to admire without having to get to a certain point to enjoy. A great design choice I've noticed was that you're never forced to go through the same environment more than just a few times. Wherein something like the opening of FFXII had you running back and forth across the city seeing streets over and over, around the time you've had enough of an area you're ready to move on to the next.   read

8:32 PM on 08.18.2011

Source & Sorcery: Nation Red

The first (and off the top of my head, only) of the Source games that I'll be looking at that isn't first person, but rather a top down shooter. This is also also the least amount I've been able to find out about a developer as their main site redirects to the game's site. The developer is listed as DiezelPower, but the copyright info also lists KaosKontrol which may just be the publisher or another name they go under as their site also leads to the game's site.

Doing a bit of Googling, I found another one of the developer's games that mechanically bears a striking resemble to Nation Red called Legion of Man. It was only a demo available on a download site and unfortunately I don't know if it's able to be bought anymore (as the game's site unsuprisingly redirect's to Nation Red's).

Release Date: August 23, 2009
Developer: DiezelPower
Platforms: PC
Price: $9.99
Steam Store Page

Not even remembering why I owned this game (which tends to be the case long after stocking up during sales), a quick glance at SteamPrices reminds me that this was 3-4 dollars at some point. Looking over the update news, despite the game's 2 year birthday coming up next week, they've continued updating it all the way up to now with the last one coming out only a few weeks ago. One thing I find a bit humorous is that the game's banner on Steam says 'With Exclusive Steam Content' and the store page lists a good number of features that are apparently exclusive, but I'm fairly certain that Steam is literally the only place you can purchase it anyway.

As for the game itself, it's a fairly straightforward dual joystick shooter with zombies and perks. There are keyboard and mouse controls but I could never bring myself to use them (despite the fact that I believe some perks are only usable with the mouse). The perks are one of the big driving points to the game as they come very often (sometimes seconds apart) and there are loads of them. You can choose between 4 characters that have different stats and have have a few, expected modes to play in in several fairly small, typically square shaped arenas.

It's the only Source game off the top of my head to use leaderboards and definitely the only one that uses OpenAL. One thing I find impressive is that past the initial loading screen before the main menu, there are no more loading screens. I could wrap my head around the game loading in all the assets for zombies, characters, weapons, etc, but the levels themselves too is very nifty.

For being one of the many top down, zombie dual joystick shooters however, there isn't much to say. The perks really do make it unique, not only because they vary up the gameplay with new abilities, but because they provide breaks in between the action which can get pretty hectic. Much like in the way when you take down someone in Burnout the camera slows down and focuses on the wreckage giving you some time to regain yourself, this allows you to take a breather.

This is one of the hardest Source games to recommend so far, not because it's not a well made game or anything, but because there's a lot of other similar games available on Steam that I'm not very familiar with. $9.99 isn't quite the impulse purchasing price, but if you ever do find it on sale it's worth a pickup.   read

3:55 PM on 08.16.2011

Creating Enrichment: A Portal Level Design Process Pt 1

This piece was originally going to be a series about a Portal 2 level I was designing from beginning to end but then I realized how much of a horrible time sink that would be instead of just continuing to design whenever I had the time. So now, here are the fruits of my journey into creating my first level for a game (ever!) and some nuggets of info surrounding it. I delve a bit into some technical talk and there are shots of editors here, you have been warned.

Feel free to scroll between the walls o text to see the level, save for the editor shot.

Maybe it's just splitting hairs, but games like LittleBigPlanet and Minecraft frustrate me not because I feel I don't have the capacity to eventually make something that'll hit a million views on YouTube, but because I know how arduous the journey getting there is. There's a great quote by Ira Glass that warrants quoting a good chunk of it:

"What nobody tells people who are beginners ó and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and itís just not that good. Itís trying to be good, it has potential, but itís not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you."

The nice thing about level design is that you know the software you're using is on an even playing field with everyone else's and discussion between enthusiasts is easier to spread. Whereas if you're getting into something like web design or video editing with GIMP and Vegas, you have at the bare minimum the psychological disadvantage of knowing you're not using PhotoShop or Final Cut.

The barrier to entry in creating content for Source is pretty low, that is, owning pretty much any Source game. Wikipedia is giving me conflicting info about whether the F2P version of TF2 nets you it, but for shame on you if you don't own at least that already. The big selling point to the Source SDK is the Valve Hammer Editor, aka Hammer, which is the level editor.

You basically have a grid and create blocks (called brushes) as surfaces with each of the faces having the ability to have a different texture. In Portal's case, any surface that fits the minimum size to hold a portal and has the cement / test chamber wall texture let's you shoot a portal onto it and so forth. You also have the ability to drop entities which control and make up just about everything else, from the lighting and fog that takes up a level to the logic behind the moving panels and buttons.

Portal is a great game to start off designing for since there are numerous, established mechanics to use but more importantly that all the elements have very specific sizes and uses to them so you aren't immediately dissatisfied creating blocky looking rooms. The notion that levels are test chambers mean that they don't have to functionally make sense like a town square would since they serve the explicit purpose of being puzzle rooms and can be as abstract as wanted.

I've messed around with Hammer in the past (trying to create HL2 single player scenarios) so fortunately I could navigate around the UI a bit, but never really focused on making something with a coherent flow and proper beginning to end. One element (I believe introduced in Portal 2) is the brilliance which are 'func_instance's. These are entities that reference premade level elements to place into your own level. For example, to place the observation room in the shot above, all I had to do was cut a hole out of the wall and place a func_instance that points to the file for that element. Traditionally, I would have had to manually texture the inside walls, place all the props, and set the lighting each and every time (or copy and paste it from another level, which is still a hassle).

This leads to another interesting aside in that even elements which seem like they're something you simply place into a level are in fact made up of multiple pieces working together. The aerial faith plate, for example, is made up of 3 diferent parts with several more needed to have it looked spiffy. The model itself, the sound played when activated, and a special type of block which is what's actually in charge of the throwing. When the block is triggered by a player entering it, you then tell the special block's i/o to tell the model to trigger the animation and the sound to activate at the same time giving the apperance a single event occured.

On the next installment, actually starting the level itself!   read

5:15 PM on 08.13.2011

Source & Sorcery: Dark Messiah of Might and Magic

Back for another dip into the Source engine game catalog. Aside from just being the most enjoyable game so far, this took me longer to get around to as I've been working on some other game related stuffs for later.

There was something really off putting about the whole package I felt while trying to look up info on this game. Not being a big classical RPG person, I literally couldn't tell whether this game's universe was based in an already existing one because they never really make the effort to make any licensing connections apparent (aside from the fat logo on the box art). Before this game, the co developers seem to have pretty sparse back catalogs and came out of nowhere. Ubi doing the publishing also feels kind of left field.

Another oddity is that this is the first game I've run into that doesn't have any walkthroughs on GameFAQs.The one single walkthrough I've found was done by GameSpot who ironically gave it fairly middling to low scores.

Coming up after this (but hopefully not the next thing I write up) is probably Garry's Mod and either Zeno Clash or Nation Red after that.

Release Date: October 25, 2006
Developer: Floodgate Entertainment / Arkane Studios (acquired by ZeniMax)
Platforms: PC, 360
Price: $9.99
Steam Store Page

For the unfamiliar, you may have heard this game's name brought up during discussions of first person melee combat. It's fairly appropriate as this is pretty much the best sword on sword action you'll find in a game. The Might and Magic universe is a straight forward fantasy/orcs/wizards/castles/goblins type affair. You play as a dude and do heroic things while cutting up a bunch of bad folk and giant creatures on the way. There's some pretty neat and well incorporated decision making in the game which affects the ending you get.

As with many of the Source games of yesteryear, the game got fairly panned for it's optimization and buggery. The 360 port in particular got blown up by GameSpot for being unsightly and found it to be the worst looking Source game to date. I don't have any experience with it, but looking at the screenshots it does look like a different monster than on PC. Based on this screenshot though, the reviewer clearly never played Vampire: The Masquerade. The port came out in 2008 (2 years after the PC release and 4 years after Vampire), so he had his chance.

The character you play is named Sareth, who you actually hear respond to others while playing. The other big characters are Xana, a demon female spiritually bound to you, and Leanna, daughter of an important person you run across during your journey. Being immediately wrong from my last write up, this game does have disembodied voices speaking to you with Xana doing most of it. Much of it is in the form of not so subtle gameplay hints to the point where there's a mod out there removing a good chunk of it.

Dark Messiah has some of the best and numerous vistas of any Source game. Some great looking cliff sides and castle exteriors to wide open underground caverns. When HL2: Lost Coast came out, Dark Messiah has pretty much been the best realization of a lot of that vision. There's a certain quality and consistancy to all the character and enemy models that's much higher than usually found on Source, even compared to Valve stuff currently. Little touches like the hairs on spiders' legs and really accurate looking chain mail on armor bring all of it together.

The biggest shining point to me is the combat, although it requires a bit of qualification. I'm not sure of the terminology for when the camera and first person animations try to simulate the feeling of actually being a person (ala Mirror's Edge), but the game does it fairly well. One thing that's bugged me a lot in first person games was the lack of relevancy of whatever the first person animations were doing with whatever they were coming into contact with in the rest of the game world. An easy example of this is Oblivion wherein swinging your sword for the most part just deals damage to the area in front of you. There's obviously still skill involved, but I could never get a visceral feeling of sword fighting because the fact that I'm using a sword at all always felt besides the point. Whatever you were holding felt like it could be interchangable with another melee weapon.

In Dark Messiah, all the animations are relevant to how they deal damage. If you do an overhead blow that kills, their body crumples and crashes straight into the ground. If you do the special two swing combo to finish off two enemies, their bodies fly in the direction your sword was flying. If you do any of the special finishers, the first person model interacts directly with their model which leads to some satisfying poking of cyclops' eyes out and fallen enemy impaling. Often times encounters occur in (pretty deliberate looking) combat arenas which are another highlight of the game. They usually have a good number of traps you can spring, items you can throw to catch enemies off guard, and spiked walls to kick enemies into.

At the risk of blathering too much about just the combat, it does warrant bringing up how their implementation of it really ruined much of the late game for me. As mentioned earlier, the qualification for the combat being excellent are that it be against other humanoid, usually melee based opponents. The problem being that some loon developer thought variety was inherently a good thing and threw a number of other enemies at you. Spiders are an absurdly common enemy, which in hindsight gives the impression that the entire world is just covered in the things. They just aren't fun to fight and way too many are thrown at you in almost every scenario. Another downfall that also ties in with the undead enemy are that poison attacks happen much too often. When poisoned, your character constantly loses health all the way down to 5hp. The problem here being that the only real defense outside of the one attribute you can level that makes you less suceptible to it is staying eagle eyed for antidotes around the world, of which there are a relatively small finite number. There's a later sequence in the game where you're swarmed with ghouls and they are pretty much the epitome of bad design.

Just to lump all the rest of my thoughts into a single paragraph, the combat variety from your side is pretty wide and aside from swords allows you combat staffs, daggers, archery, and a good amount of magical spells that all feel super satisfying. The cyclops battles are handled great (albeit they straight up have too much hp), and the one off bosses are pretty nifty. The ending boss is kinda horrible though at the risk of spoilers I'll restrain from getting into it. The actual ending cinematics are pretty bad and have a strong, clearly outsourced, afterthought aftertaste. The lack of new game+ is a bummer since you only really have enough points in a single play through to only advance any one of the main weapons.

It's a bit unfortunate to end this off focusing more on the negative aspects, because for the most part I enjoyed it and easily recommend it for the $10 it costs.   read

2:30 PM on 08.07.2011

Source & Sorcery: Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines

Continuing down my trip through the Source engine memory lane is Vampire. If I recall correctly, this may be one of the last physical PC games I purchased at a retailer. Also the first and only PC game I've come across that didn't have a CD key, which is still a bit boggling. A combination of me not knowing where my original disc is and Vampire having what I believe is its only sale ever just a while ago is what prompted me to run through this.

Like SiN Episodes, this brought about another unfortunate outcome for the developers, Troika Games (made up of key folks from Interplay of Fallout fame). Vampire is the first Source powered game to come out, finished even before HL2 came out and as a result had to have a postponed release until then. The game reviewed fine but is/was notoriously bug ridden with unofficial patches still being updated to now. I'm pretty sure the game doesn't even boot on modern systems without the use of unofficial patches (it didn't the one time I tried).

Next on the list is probably either Garry's Mod or Dark Messiah of Might and Magic (really can't wait to be done with these longer titled games).

Release Date: November 16, 2004
Developer: Troika Games (defunct)
Platforms: PC
Price: $19.99
Steam Store Page

The long and short of it is that it's a first/third person RPG set in contemporary LA with all manner of supernatural beings around. You have the ability to choose between gender and one of seven clans all affecting dialogue choices and responses. There's also the typical character sheet where you can build up stats and allow for new abilities or traits that open up different dialogue options.

First off, the game feels rather buggy and unstable. The game doesn't even support widescreen without some extra modding. The main menu has some unnecessarily long transitions and the save system's autosaves make a mess of your save list. The way the crosshair moves in third person feels broken, especially compared to how well third person is handled in TF2/Portal 2.

Probably the biggest bummer about the game, I'm sure due to a lot of different factors, are all the load screens you'll be facing. Almost every single building in the game you enter through the hub cities is essentially loading a new map. If you want to hit up the NPC who sells weapons, outside of the time it takes to run there, you'll have to load up the building and then afterwards be faced with another loading screen when you exit.

The quality of the assets is very inconsistent. Some of the level design is genuinely great and makes good use of fog and features like displacements while other rooms you'll run into are most literally a box with really basic primitives making up the entrances. Some of the character models look very detailed down to the wrinkles on their forehead while others look like their skin is textured with a single colour.

The ranged combat is all over the place with most guns and hit detection feeling like they're just kind of broken. All the melee combat occurs in third person which seems more like a cop out of not having to model/animate the weapons in first person rather than being a beneficial mechanic to the player. There's a pretty heavy stealth element which works fine early on, but turns into a chore in the later parts of the game unless you've heavily invested points into those stats. Movement also feels kinda janky with one of the worst feeling jump arcs I've seen in any game.

With all the bad stuff out of the way, this is definitely one of the most ambitious games on Source. It's a very lengthy story with multiple endings and there's a pretty impressive amount of voice work to be immersed in. The way characters animate while being in conversation with have a wide range of motion and blows the current Fallouts away. There's good use of hand gestures, shrugging, swaying back and forth, and facial expressions characters go through.

One impressive feature they implemented that's a bit hit or miss are the cloth/hair physics. Some of the things they're applied it to like dresses come off pretty sketchy, but when it's used as hair on other characters it comes off well and is something you seldom see in Source games.

The writing is appropriately well done and does a good job of making your own responses varied depending on your character. The clan I chose speaks very eccentrically, so one piece of dialogue in particular I had was 'My pockets desire things they do not have.' in response to not being ready to go yet. It was pretty fun to simply try and make out what your own dialogue options really mean while having the characters you're conversing with point out the intricacies of how you're speaking.

Vampires provide a really interesting universe to work in and are a nice change of pace from other RPGs. It allows for a darker imagery and tones not usually associated with RPGs. Unlike SiN Episodes, another game set in an already existing universe, the game takes its time and introduces you to the Vampire: The Masquerade universe in great detail, typically with even more if you so care. This is also the only Source game I know of that really tries to simulate bustling cities with citizens walking around about their business and hobos lining the alleys.

Vampires: The Masquerade - Bloodlines just doesn't really hold up too well unless you're willing to put up with a lot and the asking price on Steam is a bit much otherwise. It's a shame there's so many technical bugs and concessions made to be more reasonable with computers at the time since it'd be a lot easier to recommend if it weren't the case.   read

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