I Hear You Man

Dammit, Bears! In bit of a crotchety mood after that loss, but hey, let’s talk DotA 2. Better time than any, right?

And before we go any further, join me as I raise a glass to Basshunter and this momentous song.

I often get into this groove of rarely acting on things I’m interested in; take DotA 2 for instance. I’ve been watching streams, reading guides, and visiting threads, but I’ve yet to put an iota of time in the game. I guess you could say all of this is required, considering the complexity of the game; but I just think my time could be better spent–like playing the damn game. But to be fair–for the game’s sake–DotA is a newbies worst nightmare. There’s a plethora of information and strategies a player must consume before even running the game’s executable. I’m still in the middle of reading one of the guides–”DotA 2 for Dummies”, if you will. I’ve gotten a decent grasp of the game, which is saying nothing because like I said before, 0 playtime hours. It’s like someone proclaiming that s/he’s knowledgeable about the rules of basketball and now he’s ready to destroy all existing competition. If there’s one person who’s accomplished this feat, it’s this man, and this man only.

Hopefully I’ll finish the guide in the next day or two and finally have my shot at the game…against the bots. Ostensibly, the core players don’t want beginners like me on their team; I know, right? Absolute hokum!

In all seriousness, after witnessing the religiously dedicated community at The International, I’ve promised myself to at least understand the game–which at this point it’s become easier to dissect the meaning of life. I would like to also point out that the crowd was rowdier than Safeco Field–home of the–never mind, ugh…

Your future DotA pro/coach/waterboy/mascot,

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I Hate Super Hexagon..But I Love It So Much

Game Over. A phrase that we’ve come to dread and accept as an admission of failure. But hearing it repeatedly in Terry Cavanagh’s new iOS game Super Hexagon has never been more enticing and provoking to the player. In Super Hexagon your main objective is to navigate around a hexagonal shape while avoiding incoming lines. Sounds simple, right? Well I keep clouting myself with that idea, which is why no matter how many times I’ve mindlessly made the same mistake, the more I tell myself I can do better. Super Hexagon has a simple concept, but it’s not your ordinary iOS game in terms of difficulty. From the get-go, the game offers 3 set difficulties: hard, harder, hardest, and 3 others that are unlocked as you progress. Mind you, the game’s default difficulty is hard…there’s no easy, or normal difficulty–just hard. And you’re goddamn right (BREAKING BAD SPOILERS) it is.

I think I lasted about 2 seconds on my first attempt and gradually got better…in every 10 or 20 tries. But hey, my current high-score on hard is 73.51 seconds! Can’t say the same for those other difficulties, though. Those lines are just too brutal…and fast. I don’t even think my brain is capable of processing patterns that quick and far ahead. I’m not sure if that says more about me or the game.

Even with its steep difficulty, I surprisingly don’t hate Super Hexagon. The way that the game is designed, it’s not one that arouses a sense of frustration or anger. Sure you’ll fail…a lot. But because the game has an efficient “retry” system, the more you forget about your failures; you’re in and out super quickly. And let’s not forget about the robotic female voice–it’s as if she’s wants me to continue playing…which I do. It’s all I’ve been playing, really.

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Those Were The Days…

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There are only a few games that carry tremendous nostalgic value, regardless of how ancient the game has become. Recently I tried revisiting some of my past favorite games but my eyes couldn’t handle it. It would only take a few seconds before they would repudiate the pixelated polygons and lead me to never touching the game ever again. It’s hard to imagine how 10 year-old-me had the patience to adapt to the controls, gameaplay, and visuals. Granted, technology has evolved exponentially over the years but it’s mind boggling to see how reliant and dependent we’ve all become within video games.

A few weeks ago I attempted a play through of Final Fantasy 6–an epic I’ve yet to complete. With a game like this, I can get by the visuals as I think the 16-bit art style is still relevant today. But what I couldn’t get by was the discordantly slow-pacing text and plot. Understandably the series is usually a slow-burn but time is valuable and I don’t have the patience for a 5 hour exposition of textual dialogue. I’m sure it’s a worthwhile RPG but considering how conservative I’ve become with my time, I’ve got better things to do. And let me also come out and say I had the same exact experience with Xenogears.

However, there has always been one game I can go back to: Metal Gear Solid. It comes with great hubris when someone asks me what game I would wed if I had the chance (a bit exaggerated, sorry). Few games rarely capture story and character immersion hand-in-hand so well. With Kojima and Metal Gear Solid, it’s not just another stealth-espionage game for me, it’s my childhood. I’m somewhat relieved my parents were clueless about ESRB ratings because I would have not had the chance to play the game that helped mold my perspective on video games. For every “SNAAAAAAAAKE” and every codec alert, the more I wished all games were as accessible as Kojima’s masterpiece.

For me it’s very sentimental when it comes to personal games like MGS, and we all have games like that. Whether if it’s Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out or Borderlands, the efficacy that video games produce is an experience encompassed around nostalgia and memory; which is probably why I didn’t enjoy FF6 and Xenogears–nothing to drive that experience.

In other news, this blog has now become a one-stop acrimony for all crazed RPG fans.

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PAX Prime 2012

I’m back. After a 2 week hiatus from writing anything that stimulated my brain, I feel more refreshed than ever. Although I can’t say the same for my aching legs that are still recovering from PAX.

I like to think of PAX as a 3 day party where all nerds and geeks alike gather in the heart of Seattle to celebrate everything from video games to even weddings. It was my fourth PAX and every year it still feels like the first. However this year it was a little different–a lot more personal and memorable. Why?

After spending nearly 2 hours in line for the MGS: Ground Zeroes panel, I frantically made my way to the queue room to spend another 2 hours in line to meet Kojima himself and get this little baby signed. It doesn’t get much better than this. If there was any developer I wanted at PAX, it was Kojima-San. Considering that I spent most of my childhood playing Metal Gear, it was unreal to meet the creator himself.

Outside of the convention center, Valve was hosting the DOTA 2 Internationals. I’m not a DOTA player but from what I saw at the finals, I’m convinced enough to start playing this worldly popular game. Furthermore the vibe and energy during each match was incredible–much like an actual sports event.

At this point, I’ve experienced most of what the expo has to offer. Panels are usually rest stops for my group to recuperate from all the tedious walking; the swag show floor is mostly a spectacle of what the booths have to offer. Although most utilize the show floor as a haven to play unreleased games, I was never one to stand in line for hours to play a game that’s coming out in a few months–unless it’s game I’ve been absolutely sold on. But don’t get me wrong, for me it’s not all about the games or panels–it’s the vibe and environment you’re surrounded by for 36 hours. Regardless of how many League of Legends cosplays I see every year or the lack of proper hygiene of 70,000 attendees, it’s what makes PAX, well, PAX. And with the expo now being extended to 4 days, I get to experience extra dosage of body odor I’ve become oh so accustomed to. Can’t wait.

Bastion

Just when I was about to abandon all remaining hope on finding my next favorite game, Bastion comes along. I’m a bit late to the party, but for the idiot I am, I finally delved in to the world of Bastion … a year later.

Bastion is a beautiful game. It has an immersive world that complements every facet of the game; from one of the most memorable soundtracks this generation, to the masterful and distinct storytelling, Bastion is game that warrants a retail release.

The game is extremely reminiscent of early JRPG’s–you know, the good ol’ SNES and PS1 days. It has its standard weapon upgrades/customizable system and always-favored plot; but where it really preens its RPG panache is through its level designs and the overall atmosphere of Caelondia, the world of Bastion. You play as The Kid, who is formerly a prole of Caelondia’s main defensive line–The Rippling Wall.The story takes place immediately after The Calamity, a disastrous event that rippled Caelondia. Through the guidance of Rucks, the western-voiced narrator, your job is to retrieve Cores to help restructure the world. As you’re venturing to find these cores, you encounter a variety of levels that inhabit a great sense of mystery and potential. As you discover the levels, the world around you unravels–with tiles of blocks for your next steps and voracious enemies fading around The Kid. Bastion isn’t the typical game that simply renders all of its secrets to the players. It experiences the game with the players, as they attempt to fully structure the once empty-laden world. The levels in Bastion initially may appear empty and stark–but in truth, with each step you take, there is a veritable amount of significance and value.

For someone who has a patience of a 10 year-old, it’s often relieving to have a game that is conservative with its dialogue. In Bastion, the writing is brief and concise. It doesn’t overburden the players with too much information; or too less, for that matter. But considering that the crutch of the storytelling is told through the convivial narrator, it’s fitting that the dialogue outside of Rucks is somewhat stark. Furthermore, the storytelling itself is extremely compelling. The combination of a first-person narrative and an unspoken hero greatly magnifies the plot of the game. The significance of a silent main character is that it puts the aspects of the plot in perspective. Rather than having a hero that is able to think and express their thoughts, a silent one allows for players to interpret the plot for themselves–disregarding any outside source.

Bastion was a great surprise that left an expression of astonishment and amazement. It’s a game that does so many things right with its gameplay and its intangibles that many developers rarely consider nowadays. It’s hard to explain what kind of emotions were evoked out of me while playing this epic, yet short, adventure, but one thing is for sure: I haven’t had this much fun since Fallout 3.

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The State of Games

It comes with great shame to admit that I’ve yet to finish Chrono Trigger. At this point we’re all aware of how transcendental this game was to not only RPGs but to video games in general. With it’s legendary soundtrack composed by the great Uemtasu-san and Mitsuda-san, and it’s masterful storytelling through the means of time traveling, Chrono Trigger is the full package that many games today sadly lack.

I’ve lost count on my attempts of finishing the game. The farthest I got was the Pre-Historic time period– unfortunately I don’t remember what made me stop playing. But considering my age-old habits, I most likely got stuck in a dungeon and called it quits. It’s not to say that I wasn’t enjoying my time with the game, however. It evoked a sheer amount of nostalgia that I’m constantly trying to find in current titles. Everything from the music to the world of the game was something unique to that generation.

With a lot of games today, most of the attention goes towards the gameplay and visuals. Although these are two very crucial facets of any video game, many developers are straying from the crux of any worthy adventure– the story. In the beginning of the current generation, when we had new technology and hardware, it was the norm to extraneously push the limits and produce jaw-dropping visuals. But at this point we’ve seen it all; aside from the current consoles, PC’s are far more capable of pushing more frames per second and developing visuals that exceed all our expectations. Slowly but surely more developers are realizing the significance of a well-structured story, but are still lacking the proper delivery.

Games like Chrono Trigger, Half Life, Super Mario 64, and Grand Theft Auto III all executed on the basic framework of a video game– and at the same time familiarized gamers with new mechanics. I’m not proposing that developers recycle previous mechanics– as most games do that already. But it’s important to notice the ambitiousness some of these developers went through to produce such games. With big budget titles and so much money and many jobs on the line, developers and publishers are fearful and toiling in the thought of ambitious ideas. Unsurprisingly, indie games are beginning to take this initiative of introducing fresh breathes of air. Games such as Sound Shapes and Journey kept the fundamental formula of a video game but formalized a specific facet of the game and developed something enjoyable and distinct.

I’m not trying to convince anyone that games nowadays are trash or unenjoyable, but I am saying that developers need to start being bold and assertive. There is absolutely nothing wrong with recycling old gameplay but the very least they can do is attempt to progress the age-old formula we are all familiar with.

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Driver: San Francisco

The crutch behind Driver: San Francisco is one that’s difficult to explain. The other day I was attempting to explain the game to a friend but all I got was a flummoxed expression. I don’t blame him; it’s not everyday you get a game that confers freedom in such a distinct way. You’re John Tanner, an undercover cop, who has the distinct ability to Shift into other cars — in other words, you can instantly take control of any car in the city. Your task is to re-capture his arch-nemesis Jericho, who escaped prison with the help of an RPG missile and a helicopter … seems reasonable, I guess.

The story is comprised of 8 chapters — 2 events for each chapter. There isn’t much to highlight about the story itself. It’s a typical premise of stopping the enemy from destroying the city — predictably by defeating his henchman and ultimately confronting the antagonist himself. It’s not to say that the journey along the way wasn’t unmemorable. The game has it’s witty writing with John Tanner dropping one-liners that had me chuckling– despite being a bit cheesy. The game also offers a long list of cars to drive; from Alfa Romeos to Aston Martins, you’ll find your dream car somewhere. The driving mechanics felt great and right. Often a lot of driving games exaggerate the drifting and speeding but with Driver: San Francisco, although not a driving simulator, it has an ideal mixture of reality and fantasy with its feel behind the wheel.

Aside from the main missions, there are also additional side-missions available — although they don’t vary a whole lot. The game starts seeing its repetitive nature here; with typical racing and stunt missions, it lacks both variety and satisfying rewards; I don’t see why anyone would complete any more than 2-3 of these missions.

The game has an awkward combination of utilizing both in-game cut-scenes and actual gameplay to portray the screenplay. It was interesting at first, but eventually it just got annoying and monotonous. Furthermore, the graphics weren’t impressive; it looked like a high-res PS2 game. I played the game on a PC, so it could possibly be a port issue; but regardless, it wasn’t pretty — surprisingly the cars looked great.

It seems that a majority of driving games have this inherent DNA of carrying the same kind of motive: racing, cat and mouse, take-downs, etc. Driver: San Francisco doesn’t shy away from this age-old formula, but with its unique Shift mechanic, it allows for players to have this sense of freedom that’s rare in many open-world games. If it wasn’t for its whimsical writing and hectic — yet controlled — driving mechanics, Driver: San Francisco would be buried in its own grave. Fortunately, the game maintains a perfect balance of seriousness and frivolity that is extremely reminiscent of the old Burnout series. If you like Burnout, you’ll like Driver: San Francisco.

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