This is my blog. It's sarcastic nine months of the year and ill-informed the other three. The blogs posted here are backward and confused. The one who posts them even more so. The only upside are the links. While other places have ponies or memes this blog has...
So, just finished the demo and I'm feeling the need to write down my impressions right off the bat so apologies if this gets a little stream of conscious I'm just trying to slap these things down on paper before I do anything else. Mainly 'cos I've never done this before and I want a record of my initial thoughts, and partly 'cos I've completed the demo and the only thing on tv right now is New Girl and that never holds my interest. Yes I have no life.
First up as you can probably guess from the title this is purely an airing of my instant response to the demo so yeah don't take this as definitive. I'm intending to give it another play through...at some point...to see if I can balance this thing up a little or failing that see if my grievances are sustained.
Preamble over lets get on with the show...Oh and massive spoilers for the whole thing natch.
First up (again, I guess) I suppose the game is okay to look out, if you ignore all the lens flare thrown around in the outdoor sections and white would work as a contrasting colour (no spell check it does have a U god damn it!) a lot better if it had something strong to contrast with. Unfortunately the various shades of grey (gray?) just make the whole thing kinda washed out.
It has been said before but it is worth repeating: big, well lit open environments fail to scare. Employing them followed by a sequence set inside a dark tight corridor only telegraphs that any second now the scarey boogaboos will come a knocking. Never before did I feel that I could anticipate enemy appearances as much as I could with this thing. It killed any tension. Same goes for the moments of sudden-vision-obscuring-snow-storms-monster-go-boo!
Enter the killing fields.
Oh and I appreciate the idea of the whole "jump out of the snow" thing as an attempt to keep things fresh and spontaneous in the face of the series' reputation for featuring the designated jump scare areas but still it didn't work. Not to mention when a guy pops up and the music goes "blah!" and then another guy pops up a second later and the music goes "blah!" again even though the danger music is already pretty loud and just drowns it out...yeah...wasn't scared.
This brings me onto the various creepy (asterisk) critters on display.
Bottom line the Necromorphs are zombies. Occasionally zombies with guns. When they are a little bit more pointy and bitey they are standard DS fare except now hilariously if you chop them in half tentacled legs swarm around you. I spent a lot of the combat sequences in the demo being attacked by trousers. Trousers.
The deadliest game.
Then there are thin zombies who kinda shriek and run around you and the more lifelike recently resurrected ones that shoot yo ass. Again, all I can say is zombies with guns y'all.
Oh and there are humans with guns too. But frankly they're so slow and lifeless it feels hard to tell the difference. In firefights when Necros crash the party (pretty much all of them) the flesh monsters can't decide if they want to go for you or try some tasty NPC burgers-twice I had a big bugger crawl toward me abruptly turn around a few inches from my face and go after Joey Handgun on the other side of the battlefield. I was not impressed.
Okay I think this is where I had the most problems. The basic movement speed and control is there and yay for continuity but unfortunately with the more action heavy emphasis ol' Isaac feels lethargic and lifeless, limping around the field shooting at all and sundry-no feeling of tension or anything. Actually for the most part I felt massive disconnect when engaged in combat, I barely registered that combat had ended for most of the larger fights. When the emphasis came more on combat and firefights they really should've tweaked Isaac's movement speed and dexterity just to keep things tense or even...well...awake.
Actually it just hit what it most reminded me of was the combat in Mass Effect 1.
Big difference being that by their third game the combat was good. Funny old world.
Likewise, when fighting human enemies Stasis just made things uneven. Seriously it was kinda depressing. Even in the token giant monster battle almost half way through the demo the fight consisted of using stasis maybe four times and just standing there casually picking off the giant glowing weak points (I know that part isn't new but still it didn't help matters).
Cover system is a bit odd as well. It only seems to apply to chest high walls, flick the left trigger and he'll drop to his knees like he's just brought home 6 heaving Tesco's bags but if you're near an actual wall high wall no dice. I guess they decided that people would be smart enough to hide behind a wall themselves without having to feel like it was coated with a tube of No More Nails but it still felt kinda odd.
Also, when you can freeze time and impale enemies with the arms of other enemies a cover system is pointless.
I think for the most part those were my major gripes, not playing co-op meant that I couldn't nitpick that (I'm sure you're all so very disappointed), but we play the hands we're dealt. Oh and I only have one working 360 controller. The rest of my issues were little bite sized morsels that shall be bullet pointed below, because y'know lists are fun! For kids!
1. If the amount of health/ammo/crafting supplies/assorted stocking fillers available in the demo reflects their availability in the finished product I highly recommend playing on the highest difficulty you can afford. I spent a good minute rounding up all the dropped items after one section involving a big drill. It was embarrassing how untidy the place got.
2. Uncharted-esque quick time events in Dead Space are just as fun as the Uncharted-esque quick time events are in Uncharted.
3. When using 'kinesis to turn a switch or whatever I do not need a little helpful reminder literally leaning over Isaac's shoulder telling me what button to press or how to press it.
4. Big monsters fights have never been scary. Making the monster bigger does not fix this.
5. Go away tutorial lady nobody likes you!
6. Love that in the little ad at the end no mention of fear or being scared is found. Fighting and shooting is apparently the only part of this game worth marketing.
So yeah, thanks for making it this far through this little exercise in instant fanboy bile spewing. Let me know if you agree/disagree with any of this guff. I'd love to hear about some positive stuff to focus on when I give it another go.
Unfortunately however for me it feels like the original tagline is spot on. In Dead Space 3 there is definitely no space for fear.
Unlike this. This is fucking terrifying. The wings people. The wings.
Hope you're all having a corking new year so far, full of fabby fun and marvelisimous larks. Here is to all the celebrations and good cheer! Drink drink, fan fan, rub rub.
Now, onward to other things. It being a new year and all I've decided to actually DO THINGS this time around, so far avoided using the dreaded "r-word" but am coming dangerously close to making some. Damn it all.
One of them is to get back into art and the creative stuff in a big way, work with a few friends on a few endeavors and just generally get back to making things and enjoying it. Whilst piddling away reminding myself which end of a pencil you jab in the other guy I've been throwing together a few pixel-y things (I know we're probably all sick of them but...well they're fun to do, so what the heck!). Haven't done it for a while and would love some general feedback (good and bad-particularly constructive bad) on styles, development and general peer assessment goodness. I certainly hope you're amenable to having a quick gander and maybe dropping of a suggestion or comment time permitting. I would be deeply, deeply appreciative.
Cheers and I hope somebody likes it!
Latest attempt, made it last night after receiving SH: Downpour for Xmas (loving it so far). Thinking about rendering all the protagonists like this or something similar, maybe even try recreating scenes/moments from the games.
An older one from when I had dreams of being a Tumblr.
Likewise, a product of far too much time thinking about the 90's.
So that's just some stuff I was willing to broadcast to other human beings, hope it isn't all awful and again any and all feedback keenly sought after.
Thanks again and to Everybody now, may the next twelve rock your body right (See? Too much 90's).
Yahtzee's latest will have you loving spiders and hating sandwiches.
All right, so the internet's favourite non-Sterling shaped curmudgeon has released his difficult second album-sorry, novel- to (it would appear) little fanfare. Thus, it was a pleasant surprise when I came across a copy in my local Waterstones.
Naturally I snapped it up before some one far less handsome could be alerted to my growing coos of manly delight and prize it out of my soft warm trouser-hands!
Sorry, just finished it and trying to get out all of my thoughts before they ebb away into the dank, malnourished U-bend of my critical appraisal lobe. Apologies in advance for any wandery, floaty, stream-of-conciousness type stuff within. Ooh an owl.
Now as far as I'm aware the obvious (if not "required") manner of reviewing any of Messr Croshaw's emissions would be through the format of short video (say approx five minutes) with a yellow background, limited animation, speaking quickly with the British accent on full display. However, this won't be happening here as this is a text review and I fear for the safety of the world's few undamaged dead horses.
Naturally this review is gonna be all kinds of spoiler a-go go. So right away throwing up a big ol' SPOILER WARNING for those inclined to avoid such things. I do try to keep things vague but preventative medicine and all that blah de blah de blah. Standard Disclaimers, viewer discretion, you have been warned.
Synopsis! Well it's an apocalypse. Specifically a jam-themed one and the party is going down one morning in central Brisbane. A group of hapless nobodies awakens to find their fair city blanketed with sweet, sticky, flesh-eating preserve (the nature of which is played refreshingly straight) and they-faced with the possibility of being mankind's last hope-must venture forth to seek out new life and new civilisations, to boldly go where no one has gone before (may be remembering that wrong) all the while trying to avoid being eaten alive-to death!
The Terror Is Spreading!
Right off the bat let's eliminate the negative so we can accentuate that positive. Partly because that's how these things tend to go and more importantly because I feel that the bad is dramatically out weighed by the good on this one; with most of the minus points being fairly simple ones that can be forgiven by the pluses.
As said above Jam is very much an apocalypse scenario novel. It says so right on the jacket and that means that the book follows much of the expected formula for these kinds of things to a tee, without much in the way of great twists or curve balls narratively speaking. The survivors are an assorted mix of clashing personalities; the conspiracy nut, the cynical snarker, the survivalist and the cypher protagonist. Much of the book focusses on their interactions to the new emerging status quo; there are misadventures in a shopping mall, hysterical fanatics and cryptic secret agent governmental types who provide adversarial forces and propel the plot ahead in several small ways. All fairly familiar territory.
For the most part the characters all stay within their designated remits, providing the sort of reactions you expect and going through the prerequisite character arcs. Yes the survivalist capitalises on the situation only to ego trip the light fantastic, the conspiracy nut learns that her digging is ultimately pointless in the wake of such events and the cynic...well remains a cynic but (reluctantly) gains a heart of gold by journey's end.
Right here is where I draw the book's biggest criticisms. On the surface everything is just a bit too well worn, many sequences play out pretty much as expected and the survival chances of major characters can be accurately deduced (even down to the where and when) pretty much from their introduction.
Likewise, the book's moments of satire and pointed observational jabs feel somewhat underwhelming through their being a tad too broad or just a bit too obvious. A mall full of teenagers and twentysomethings all acting "ironically" without any concept of what the word means devolving into a fanatical cult with silly names and nonsensical pandering with a society heavily skewed toward what is "cool" gets branded as being just like an internet forum. Whilst an office building goes stereotypically grass skirt, body paint tribal yet still rigidly adheres to it's initial bureaucratic regimes (down to departmental regulations and management meetings). Each scenario is presented entertainingly enough don't get me wrong, but they just lack that spark of originality that separate them from the kind of set ups you might find in something by Terry Pratchett or Douglas Adams. Not a bad bunch to be associated with mind, but Yahtzee could do with finding a bit more of his own voice.
Saints Preserve Us!
Furthermore, and this really is a case of your mileage may vary, but some readers just might not find this one as funny as they were expecting. Oh sure there are jokes to be found and laughs to be had but they definitely feel few and far between in some parts; instead relying on the overall humorous nature of the scenario to pick up the slack, making it less a comedy book but a book with comedy in it. Not strictly a bad thing, just a little caveat emptor for those expecting a wall to wall knee slapper of a thing.
Wheew, now before you guys and gals get the feeling that I didn't like this thing lemme remind you of what I said up there (I mean, I'd hate for anybody to call me a liar here) and move swiftly on to the good stuff.
First up as I'm sure some of you are probably thinking (maybe), that it doesn't really matter if the narrative is a bit old hat you yourself said that this kind of thing is all about the character interactions and the way people react when thrown together in such alarming circumstances. Not that silly old plot. Pfft I say Pfft! Frankly, in this case I couldn't agree more and thankfully this is the area in which Yahtzee shines.
Yes characters are in many ways archetypes but they are sprinkled with enough interesting quirks and foibles to keep them lively and entertaining.
For example, agent "X" is your typical woman in black, Dana Scully type who Knows More Than She Lets On. But she is saved from being a one note excuse in lazy crypticism (even a word?) by being so appalling bad at hiding this fact from everyone (attempting to keep it from characters to further and further more ludicrous extremes) as well as being constantly undercut by other agents, scientists and even survivors that she becomes a wonderfully embarrassed and flustered personality that makes her simultaneously infuriating and weirdly endearing.
Similarly, credit must go to Yahtzee in his construction of resident cynic (and games developer) Don. Here he shows considerable restraint in not making Don an author insert one-liner machine. Instead his pig-headed myopia regarding the recovery of his "life's work" despite the danger and the good chance that there might not be any "life" to go back to ensures that he never drags down the momentum of other characters or becomes too self aware. Nice work Yahtzee, nice work.
I hold my biggest round of applause however for the creation of Goliath Bird Eater Mary who steals the show with some of the funniest moments in the book, as well as pulling double duty as both a sounding board and pseudo love interest (trust me, go with it) to narrator Travis.
Travis himself is another example of where Jam triumphs. One of the oldest straws in fiction is that a good character-particularly a lead-should always be an active one, never reacting to others and being led around by the plot. He has to be the type that can take charge of a situation, or at the very least make some kind of impact. Travis breaks this rule spectacularly. An unemployed no-hoper Travis drifts from scene to scene often at the behest of other characters, and is by his own admission too nervy and well spineless to ever take a stand. Even after some smaller sequences toward the end he never truly becomes what we would consider a leader of men and doer of deeds-he (alongside damn near everyone) never really has a big damn heroes moment.
Now normally this kind of apathy can be a death knell but here Yahtzee turns it into something brilliant buy using it as an example of what Jam is all about. Which is a book, not about what makes people tick, but about what they do to keep themselves ticking.
Jam is the story of coping mechanisms and the ways (often incredibly stupid) that people will try and remain in their comfort zones. For Travis this is allowing himself to be led-to not let himself be fazed or involved in the situation. Instead he stands slightly to the side, not as a cool headed observer, but as someone just desperate to keep it together. This extends to each and every character we meet-for the central cast their defining attribute is also their main defence against the sheer lunacy and terror of the situations they face in the "jampocalypse" from Don's hard drive, to Angela's filming to Tim's goal of a sustainable future,
Throughout the book we watch as our heroes (for lack of a better term) and those around them do their absolute best to keep it together any way they can and Yahtzee is at his absolute best when he shows us just how stubbornly humans will cling to any shred of control and comfort in trying times. And this stubbornness, and sheer refusal to accept reason is another point in Jam's favour.
Never before can I say that in any apocalyptic or disaster movie, tv show, game or book have I encountered such honest and believable accounts of human stubbornness, insensitivity and sheer bloody stupidity in the face of social collapse as I have in this book. Characters are constantly brutal, cruel, irrational and absurd, rarely (if ever) having the presence of mind to stop and question their actions and those around them. Everyone is caught up in the madness that is survival. Most of the book's middle sections are filled with mistakes and dumb decisions upon dumb decisions upon dumb decisions. Often in ways that could be avoided if they just shut up and listened to one another for five. Frigging. Minutes. Yes it is infuriating, yes I did want to beat my head against the book's spine at the sheer unrelenting bloody-mindedness of it all but never have I found myself agreeing with the reactions and decisions presented. Not siding with them oh Christ no, but dear sweaty Jesus could I see each and every event happing in real life-even down to the friends and family members who would be the instigators.
This is where Jam excels. It is in it's brutally cynical, yet undeniably accurate presentation of society and the steam roller stupidity of panicked mob mentality. Bravo Mr Croshaw you cynical son of a bitch, Bravo.
My final thoughts are simply that, despite some minor narrative issues, Yahtzee shows us that he knows exactly how to make characters that are utterly believable and furiously compelling-often in the worst kind of ways.
Final Score: High arbitrary numbers out of arbitrary number scale.
I love dragons. Let's just get that out right off the bat. Love em. Not in a scary internet way of course, in a kinder, gentler, more awed and excited socially acceptable way. I'm writing this as I glance over to the pre-owned Spyro Skylander my boyfriend tracked down at a local Gamestation, whilst the disc for How to Train Your Dragon spins for the umpteen billionth time ( soundtrack of the mugglefuckin' ever by the way).
So yeah, love 'em to bits. Have done since I was knee high to a grasshopper, and I'm not alone in this. Dragons manage to capture people's imaginations in a way that few other pieces of our collective mythology and folklore have; they're endemic in our stories, our pop culture and of course, our videogames. I for one think that this everlasting appeal is down to one very simple notion:
Dragons are dinosaurs that are magic.
Seriously guys. Dinosaurs. That do magic. Fuckin' A man. Fuckin' A.
Now as I said and as you're all aware dragons are all up in our vidjagames. All up. From the colourful Saturday morning cartoon of Spyro through to the hack-o, slash-o, monster mash-o business of Skyrim.
However, despite such far-reaching saturation I can't help but feel that game play wise-much in the same way that sword fighting hasn't ( for now)-dragons have never quite been served as well as they could be. So, as a thought exercise I've recently been pondering over how games could really deliver ways to do dragons justice for anybody who loves the damn things.
First up lets consider some of the ways that dragons tend to show up in games. Not exhaustive obviously, but in a lot of cases.
A) Mythical flying machines. You know the type of thing; game play pretty much devoted to gliding around shooting fireballs at all and sundry. For the most part the dragon is just a vehicle, without much point than flapping and fragging. This is games like Lair, the Panzer Dragoons and so on. Sure, these can be fun but for me at least these types of games are at best shmups with fireballs and at worst scaly flight simulators.
B) Spyro games (or similar). Again, these provide plenty fun to be had (still some of my fondest PSOne memories are to be found in Spyro and the sequel Gateway to Glimmer), and it's great seeing the dragon take centre stage, but ultimately they don't feel much different from any other cartoony, mascoty, platformers.
C) The collectable battle monster. Here dragons are just critters to catch/trade/win and smack around in cage fights. Obviously you've got your Pokemons, the HTTYD tie-in, and games such as Combat of Giants for the DS. Obviously it's great to have your own stable of flying murder lizards and to be able to mush enough beasties to become the biggest toughest mutha around; but for the most part dragons feel pretty interchangeable with other monsters on parade.
D) Finally (and quite possibly the most prevalent example) dragon as enemy monster to be killed. Pretty much ubiquitous in rpgs and the like as boss fights, road blocks, or even ultimate villain forms. Now often in such cases dragons are used because they're a great shorthand for big brutal sumbitches that will tear your self up six ways to Sunday. Unfortunately beyond the instant moment of "Holy hell that is a big fuck off dragon" I find it hard to get excited. If you've killed one once you've killed one a million times. Just keep wailing on it, maybe dodge the fireballs and use some water/ice magic to bring down the sucker-occasionally spicing things up with a palette swap and holy shit guys this guy is blue and shoots bubbles at yo' ass! Shit's getting real!
Now don't get me wrong, I love seeing dragons in my games-not every game natch- but when, for the most part, the experience can be summed up as just one of the above I can't help but feel that a trick has been missed somewhere down the line. Hell, between those types of encounters I think are the ingredients for a really great and exciting game with dragons at the core. It's just a case of figuring out how to mix things up to make a more involved and in-depth dragon experience.
Okay, so lets talk ideas. So far I've been spit-balling mechanics and game play elements only not really considering plot or setting or so on. I want to get the dragons down pat before starting to build a story around them. With that in mind I'm throwing up standard disclaimers for anything that makes very little sense, isn't all that different from what currently exists or just sounds down-right stupid. What can I say? I'm a broad strokes guy, kinda just throwing ideas at a wall. Not so much good with the nuts and bolts.
For the player character I couldn't decide between playing the rider/trainer/breeder/whatever or the dragon itself. I think there is potential for both so I decided "why not both?" letting players switch between the two on the fly could really help expand the feel of a dragon game plus provide an interesting variety of game play.
Right off the bat I think an rpg style development system should be used, but preferably one with less of a traditional fight/exp/level set up. Rather it should be something more active and fluid along the lines of the Elder Scrolls games or even the original Digimon World for PSOne.
Digimon World, for those who never played, featured a player with their own personal monster trained from birth through maturity at each stage developing and training it's skills. Training and development was achieved through a mix of diet, environment, battle and exercise. A gym wherein various workout regimes yielded different stat increases was key to developing your monster into different evolutions and forms. The system wasn't perfect to say the least; but I do think there is merit in the concept of physically teaching and training your dragon to have different skills and abilities, in a similar manner as you would a real life pet.
To my mind this is where the human/dragon switching could come into play. As the human trainer you could hatch your dragon and feed it, keeping it healthy and fit (I think that poaching the notion of having to manually give medical attention and aid to your dragon such as described at one point in The Last Guardian could be great here). Alongside this, you could set up exercises and obstacle courses for it to develop new and existing skills.
For example, dummies or targets could be placed to hone fire balls or breath powers. Say you want it to breathe further or more powerfully? Different targets could be placed at long distances or be made of tougher, more resistant materials. Then, by switching to the dragon you could run them-bringing in the gradual skill progression of the Elder Scrolls series (of course this could go far beyond training courses into the wider world with survival skills such as hunting and tracking or camouflage and so on).
Likewise with flight, start off with small jumps then glides until you can finally soar through the skies to your heart's content. I think that the idea of really earning and working for these skills could be a lot of fun and really engage players beyond just grinding exp until ding! You can now shoot lightning for some reason (Not saying that there isn't room for that, I'd just prefer more organic development or at the very least some more imaginative abilities-say swimming or digging underground, or even climbing ladders).
Beyond training there could be opportunities for breeding and customisation. Abilities and traits from parent dragons could be passed down. You want a dragon with massive wingspan that can glide for miles? Shack up a mummy and daddy with high flying stats! Hardly ground breaking concepts I grant you but could still add that little bit extra to the whole shebang. You could have dragons of all shapes and sizes! Imagine a litter of tiny mole lizards, or a long sleek wyrm perfect for underwater exploration? They're fantastic beasts why limit yourself to the same tired tooth and claw blueprints?
As I said way back when these are all just things off the top of my head hardly a gold star design document. Heck I've probably given this far more thought than most ever would but hey, I like me some dragons and I'm preeeetty sure there are a few more of you out there that do and maybe you too would love to see a game that shows you the same level of love for the scaly buggers.
So, thoughts? Suggestions? What would you want to see? I'd love to hear what people thought or would want in their ideal dragon game. Lets bring that dragon love right in. But not in a scary internet way of course.