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Archive for October, 2010

Three posts in a row about console gaming? Guess this is now officially console gaming week! After  yesterday trashing of Force Unleashed 2 I felt I owed you all a good review about one of the best action game to come out recently, Castlevania lords of shadow. I’ve said before I’m pretty much a Castlevania fanboy and that it affects my perception of these games. That said, any fan of Castlevania will tell you that over the 20+ years this franchise has existed it hasn’t produced only masterpieces, it has more than it fair share of bad games. However, I know this is one of the better titles of the series and the critics seems to agree with me.

Once again, this post is full of spoilers. More after the break!

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Before launching into all out rage against SW: The force unleashed 2 (SW:TFU2) I wanted to bring up what little positive I can say about the game. It boils down to this, if you’re looking for a good rental game where the goal is to beat a ton of generic enemies while making light saber noises  and you don’t care much about having a plot that make sense, this is the perfect game for you. It’s mindless fun in the Star Wars universe.

Monkey rage and plenty of spoilers after the break

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Random console games update

Besides MMOs I’m also a huge console game fan as many of you must probably already know. In no particular order, a quick overview of the past few weeks of new games and what I’ve been up to.

Castlevania: Lord of Shadows: OMG, I’m such a complete fanboy of the Castlevania series. I have played every last one of them (except the old Gameboy ones) in at least one version when it’s not multiple and have finished most of them (Damn you Castlevania 1 and your evil Death boss!).

All of this to say that my views of the new Castlevania are totally biased. Even if the combat is a lot like God of War I believe LoS to be one of the better titles of the series. Smooth control, kick-ass storyline and some of the most epic environments ever! A definitive must buy!

Dead Rising 2: Who doesn’t love to kill zombies? I know I do! This game is not original when compared to the first one and it certainly takes a bit longer to get the hang of it but it’s probably the greatest zombie sandbox game out there. The crafting system is just plain awesome and allows you to dismember zombies in all sort of new and interesting ways.  If you’re looking for a fun game where dismembering the undead is the goal, this game is for you. This goes too for zombie movies fans.

Halo: Reach: Yes I know… it’s a Halo game… bring on the frat boy jokes. Halo name aside this one actually takes us back to what made the game great in the first place. Cool firefights, engaging story and epic music. If you love the Halo genre, I strongly recommend this game.

Professor Layton and the Diabolical box : The Professor Layton series is awesome for those of us who like brain teasers and have to spend time in commute every day. The third installment is out but I’m still not done with Diabolical box(2nd game). If anything the puzzles are a bit harder toward the end and I discovered I suck at sliding puzzles but it’s all good fun!

As an aside they are making a Layton vs Ace Attorney game, finally uniting two loves of my life.

Civilization 5: Still playing this one, especially after the latest patches which fixes the eternal peace bug. I’m currently trying for a space race victory on Prince difficulty and I feel this one is in the bag. Gandhi met his end so I should be in the clear.  On a darker note I’ve stumbled into the ICS (Infinite city spam) strategy like many others and it does make the game a lot easier. Simply do as many cities as you can by boosting your happiness and the rest falls into place.

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Knowing when it’s over

Feeling down? You’re looking at the new Cataclysm changes, the new patch and it just doesn’t seem to relieve the intense boredom your feeling with the game? You look at these and keep thinking that Blizzard is missing the point, that they are rehashing old content with a new look and are only interested in your money?

Have you ever tought that these might all be symptoms of something a bit deeper. That your general dissatisfaction with the game might be a sign that something more profound is going on…

That you might be simply done with WoW?

I’ve asked myself that question a few months ago and at the time I wasn’t sure but I was leaning toward being done with WoW. I’ve reconsidered my position since then and figured out I wasn’t done with WoW but I was in fact done with hardcore raiding and the play style it imposed on me. But I could have very well said I was done with it. What I distinctly remember however was that before I asked myself that question I was showing all the above symptoms. I was angry with Blizzard, felt they were trying to rob me and I was feeling they were constantly rehashing poor content.

Back then I played a little game to figure out where I was with all of it. If Blizzard was to fix all the problems I felt I had in the way I wanted them to, would it make me excited to play WoW again?

The answer to most of my questions was that it would make things interesting for a short while but I’d go right back to being bored. Class changes, bug fixes, new content would only alleviate the boredom for a while. In the end, WoW remains the same and no amount of new stuff will make it seems like a new game. But that’s also exactly why they call Cataclysm an expansion and not WoW 2. It’s new content but with the same old mechanisms at its core and if your problem is that you’re tired of those mechanics there’s no expansion that will fix the game for you. You’re playing on borrowed time.

I was lucky in a way and found out the cause of my boredom was not the game itself but rather the way I was playing it, something I can change. But you can’t change the nature of WoW. So before explaining again why WoW fails at everything, take the time to ask yourself if the problem doesn’t lie with you first.

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Let’s pretend you show three fruits on a plate to a five-year old and tell her that she can choose only one of them for her snack. On the plate there’s the following:

-An apple
-An orange
-A rotten apple

She could pick either the orange or the apple and you would agree without any problem. Wich one she picks could be because of any number of reasons. She prefers one over the other, she likes one color better, she tried one before and now want to try the other one. No matter the actual reason it’s a personal choice and you cannot be angry with her because she didn’t choose the one you  would have actually chosen. It’s a matter of taste, simple as that.

Now, if she chose the rotten apple you would stop her. And when she asked why, you would tell her that’s because a rotten fruit is not good to eat.

If your asking yourself why you offered the rotten fruit in the first place then ask yourself why game companies does the same with us. Since the first day of video games, there are companies out there who have no qualms about offering us a rotten game, hoping we won’t recognize it for what it is. But what’s truly amazing is that some gamers will defend the rotten fruit and call it an apple and say we have no right to call it rotten because in fact it’s all apples and oranges.

Sorry but I will never buy that crap. I am against this line of thinking that I see so often that people have no right to comment on others because it’s all personal taste in the end. When I see something broken I call it broken.

This doesn’t mean that every game I play is perfect. WoW for example suffers from numerous problems and when people point out there’s a worm in my apple I agree with them and I try not to eat it.

How do I got about recognizing a rotten apple?

The golden rules of an unbroken game

I’ve searched high and low all week for insight on what rules game developers use in order to help me identify clearly a bad game. The problem is not that I’ve been unable to find anything but rather that I found way too much information. There are hundreds if not thousands of pages/blog/videos of developers, game designers and all sort of people who each have a different opinion on what makes a successful game. What follows is my attempt at summarizing what I felt where the three elements that came back most often and that covered most of what designers were saying.

1. A game must have a unique and compelling setting

This one took me to summarize but it’s probably the most important and thankfully, the one where games stumble the less often. Basically this says that a game must not be a duplicate of another game and that it needs to take place in an interesting setting. developers leave a ton of tips on how you should create your universe, on how to inspire yourself and how to make your FPS #354 a bit different from all the rest.

It doesn’t need to be a huge difference either but the player must not think he’s playing WoW simply with another skin on it for example. A good example of a game that succeeds at this would be Lotro. Most of its mechanics are taken straight from WoW with little variation but it’s setting is completely different and turns it into a different game.

2. A game must not fight itself

This, I feel, is the most interesting rule. When developers create a game they set rules and gameplay mechanics that define how the game is played and the experience the player will have. For example if I make a MMO about  exploration, I will have mechanics that encourage exploration and actual places to explore. My world will also probably be vast so my players have a lot of space to explore.

A game has the right to set for itself all the rules and gameplay it wants. It’s up to the players to decide if they like that particular gameplay or not. Continuing the above example, someone might love long travel times as it simulate an experience of travelling to far off place while another player might feel it’ s a waste of time. This is where I fully agree with players who comment that it’s pointless to rant on a game that was not designed for you. After all, why the hell are you playing a PvP game if you have Pvp?

However some games fail by fighting themselves. If you make a game about PvP your mechanics should be there to encourage PvP and allow players to experience it. If you set rules that say that only max level characters can participate you are killing your own game and people are justified to call it broken.  To finish my exploration example, FF14 has exploration has a core component yet use the same repetitive terrain features everywhere wich kills the point of a new place to explore.

3. A game needs to be playable

Simple enough but funny how often that rule is dismissed. If I can’t play or complete your game, tasks or simply play as it was intended because of bugs, lag or missing features then the game is broken. A game breaking bug is game breaking, simple as that.

So there they are. If I feel that your game is breaking these rules I will be unmerciful and call them out. Not because I hate you but because when I see a worm or a rotten fruit I will call it for what it is. The goal of this is not to nitpick to death to find out that a particular game break or follow the rules. I’m pretty certain you could make a case for any game if you spent enough time. This is about common sense and calling things broken when they are.

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Falling in love with WoW again

It’s weird, it’s hard to explain, and even as I write this I am unsure of why it has happened. I am actually having a blast in WoW right now. Not just a bit of fun or that feeling of victory once you down a boss but fun like I was having when I started to play WoW over 5 years ago. I was certain that magic was lost and there I am, finding it again in the same old zones I know by heart and I tought I was so sick of I would kill myself if I had to go through them again. Just as everyone is awaiting the new content I am rediscovering the old. It feels like the first time all over again and I’m savoring every second of it.

At first I tought I had finally caught the fabled Alt-itis. After years of resisting the disease maybe I had succumbed to the lure of playing multiple characters without never really going all the way with any of them. But no, I’m mostly playing my Warlock and barely touching my other characters. Nor do I feel a burning desire to create a ton of other characters.

Maybe it’s nostalgia then, enjoying something one last time before it disappears forever. Maybe it’s part of the equation but I don’t believe it to be the main factor. For one thing, every time I’ve had bouts of nostalgia it never lasted more than a few hours before I was quickly reminded of exactly why I stopped in the first place. So for nostalgia to keep me this happy for over a week is unheard of for me.

I believe I found the answer however, I am free.

Not since I’ve first picked up WoW have I been this free when it comes to what I want to do when I play. I play how I want to, when I want to, my goals are my own and raids and achievements be damned! I’ve tried that in the past but every time I would go to a “free” play style I wasn’t in my mind. I was always thinking of getting back into raiding, of doing a particular achievement or I was playing the game according to some accepted standard.

I’m still setting myself goals, but they are my goals. I still do thing some would consider “unfun” but I do them because I want to, not because I have to in order to reach some standard. I could be out there farming justice points but I’m not  because I’m tired of the 80s heroic. The other day I could have signed for a random dungeon but I wanted to do Deadmines and I chose that one even if I was missing out on the random reward.

We might not be realizing it but that magic everyone talks about when we play our first MMO might not be so mysterious after all. I’m starting to believe it’s because when we pick up our first MMO we play it on our own terms and not according to what the game or other people tell us we should do. Since I’ve started to play according to my own rules and not others the fun factor has exploded.

The idea hit me yesterday as I contemplated the field of corpses I left on Fenris Island as I was farming linen and wool cloth. I had just farmed for close to an hour and that was more fun that a  lot of “fun” stuff I’m supposed to do at endgame. I’m rediscovering a game that was always there but that I didn’t allow myself to experience.

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This is why I play horde

I, for one, welcome our new overlord!

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