wtorek, 26 października 2010

Game Boxes

Just a short post to keep you entertained while I still work on MTU Kazan. Haven't made much progress since I was sick for the past few days and writing stuff was the last thing I felt like doing.

I guess that most of you are either older than me, or only a bit younger at most. So you probably remember what game boxes used to look like. You know, the big carton ones, which took a lot of space on the shelves, and had only a CD case and a game manual inside it. They've been discontinued around the turn of the century or so I think. The last box I had like this, was from a game released in 2005, but the one before that was from 2001, with no 'big boxes' in between. I think you can still get them with low-budget games, but no 'serious' companies publish games like that any more.

When they introduced the DVD boxes, I was rather dissapointed. I really like the old boxes, I like how they take up space and look down at you from the shelve. I know they're useless and taking up space is all they do, but hey! Some games released around 2001 or 2002 in newspaper editions had a 'do it yourself' cardboard box. But the DVD boxes, well, they look like movie boxes. You can fit a lot on the shelve, they look like small books, one next to the other. They no longer look proud, instead they are shy. They don't catch your eye with a logo on the side, with an imaginative font - they keep to a simple font and only the game's name, which makes them look like stuff you'd put in a file cabinet. And when you look inside... well, there's not much space there. Only enough to fit a few CDs in and a slim booklet. If the booklet is thicker, or there are more CDs in, you sometimes have slight trouble just closing the damn thing.

And if you look at the new trend in boxes, like the ones here: http://www.nowaklasyka.com/tytuly.html Well, they look like BluRay boxes. I even had to double check if the games didn't need BluRay drives to play them... I don't really like them. I don't know, maybe I'm just a reactionist when it comes to these things...

sobota, 23 października 2010

Thoughts on Diablo 3

I was meaning to write this short article a while back, but always something more important came up. But very recently, Blizzard has announced the fifth class in Diablo 3 - the Demon Hunter. And I think that's a good time to tell you what I think of what I've seen of the game until now.

As you probably know, I'm a big Diablo fan. I played Diablo for the first time around 1998 or 1999 I would imagine, and seen it earlier than that - and was very impressed. When Diablo 2 came out I started playing immediately, and never really stopped for longer than a year or so. Diablo 2 is possibly the game I played THE MOST out of all the games I ever played, just because of how often I came back it in the last 10 years. So when Diablo 3 was announced, I was hyped. The hype, however, withered away immediately after me seeing the first gameplay trailers, and was replaced by cautious optimism.

I had the same gripes with what I've seen you probably heard many times now. The graphics were too colourful. The light effects were too colourful. The enemies seemed like coming from another, less gritty and gothic, and more high fantasy universe. Weapons has glowing spheres around them, and nearly all special abilities had lightning effects to them that simply didn't fit. The Barbarian wasn't that bad, but I despised the Witch Doctor - not only does he have skills that used to belong to THREE different classes (Necromancer, Sorceress and Druid), and some of those are simply put, very silly (undead wall? Please.), but he also simply doesn't fit in with the rest of the world.

Then came the Wizard. This class isn't bad, it's just too over the top. Desintegrate allows you to emit a killing ray... Really? Plus, some abilities really look pointless (Slow Time is one, and Teleport... who's going to run away from enemies in this game?).

And then, the Monk... Do I really need to say anything? What good could have come from adding a Street Fighter / Dragonball character to Diablo? His presence in the game is a thorn in my side, because this basically meant that Blizzard decided to throw away what was left of the great atmosphere and ambience of Diablo 1 and the somewhat thematic Diablo 2. Instead, they opted to cater for the needs of the console crowd (I'll get back to that in a minute) and twelve year old anime fans who, when they see a Monk beating the crap out of deamons and zombies with his bare fists can only say 'Awesome'. But it's really more like 'Lame'.

And finally, Demon Hunter... again, in an attempt, apparently, to do everything bigger, more shiny and more over the top (without actually thinking if it's a good thing for the game), they gave the character some abilities which just look plain silly. The fact that the class can shoot crossbows as if they were machine guns. A skill which allows you to throw a bola which sticks to the enemy and then explodes... and the one which simply boggles my mind - Fan of Knives. If you played Warcraft III, you should remember this skill's spiritual predecessor, as used by the Night Elf Warden. There, even on the highest level of the skill, it still looked like the character could potentially have all those knives underneath her cape and throw them all around. And that was bloody Warcraft, a game which doesn't have to care for her feel and atmosphere, because it's high fantasy - plain and simple. And in Diablo 3? Visit their website to see why I think that ability is absolutely out of place. I don't even mind grenades, though that's an obvious 'inspiration' by the Assasin character from Hexen II (who also had a crossbow, and grenades). I don't mind that the Demon Hunter looks more like a Warhammer 40K character than a Diablo character. But the over-the-top abilities which make the whole affair silly, I do mind.

I mentioned catering to the console crowd ealier. As you might have noticed in the videos, orbs pop out in the game which regenerate health and mana. Will this mean that Diablo 3 will do away with mixtures, a vital element of the hack&slash genre since the original Diablo? No, apparently they stay, but will not play as big a role as earlier. And the whole graphics revamp so that it looks more like a jRPG than a dark, gritty and gothic euro RPG as it should?

Of course I will still play the game when it comes out. I would be silly not to. What I'm saying is that the direction they took with this game is crap. It may be a good, even great, hack&slash game, but it's probably going to be a very shitty Diablo game.

I will still pay attention to announcements, to see how the game wants to innovate, and how it wants to be played. But I can't stop from feeling dissapointed that after more than 10 years the sequel we get is going to be something so alien to the last two parts of the game that it barely feel right. Hopefully they won't do the same to the franchise as Rockstar plans to do to Max Payne 3... but that's another story.

wtorek, 19 października 2010

New Project

Just a heads up - you won't probably see much of me this week, because I'm working on a new project, a SF horror/thriller Choose-Your-Own-Adventure game called "MTU Kazan". You'll be able to play it, hopefully sooner than later (ETA around the middle of next week), via a flash-based website created using the software at www.wix.com.

I'm around 1/4 of the whole thing right now, after I finish I'll have to test how long it actually takes to finish, and if I find it's too short, I'll add some stuff here and there and then launch it.

So stay tuned.

Also, I came up with a brand name for my 'company', or basically a logo which is going to be included in all my future projects. Have a look and try to guess why this is what I picked.

piątek, 15 października 2010

The RPG Geek / Introducing people to RPG's

Yesterday, due to sheer chance, I ended up playing a short RPG session with a group from a nearby city. The game was Dragon Warriors - I've never heard of it before, apparently it's a UK-specific thing, a more-or-less generic fantasy setting with a similarly more-or-less generic d20 mechanic. As the name suggests, and what I gathered from a brief look at the character sheet, this is one of those old-school RPG's which tend to the D&D type players' needs. The GM introduced my and my friend's character to the game right before a standoff with the groups' antagonist from a previous session. We didn't really have any time to role-play (though Jack was able to throw some funny stuff in after the battle) or to even introduce our characters properly - we dived right into the fight. And it took more than an hour to resolve, while in in-game time it took less than a minute. This is a topic for a separate discussion, but it's my personal feeling that if any battle of any type (apart from really big battles and perhaps end-campaign boss showdowns) lasts longer than 30 minutes, then there's something wrong with either the players, the GM, or the system. But this is not what I wanted to talk about here.

My gripe was with the players. Sorry to say this, but when I came to England I was almost certain that the players here are not your stereotypical geeks - you know the type: overweight, socially inept, possibly low hygiene. I won't say it was as bad with this group, but it was pretty bad. I don't really get it. From all the people I ever role-played in Poland, there wasn't ONE player who fitted that description. All my gaming buddies were always highly aware, physically 'in the norm' (some of them quite fit, actually!) and with a good understanding of what is usually considered to be 'strange'. Sure, they were geeks, nearly all of them. Our conversations would often wander off to SF tv series or movies, or comic books, or fantasy novels, or video games. We had a lot of inside jokes nobody else would ever get, and every single one of us had his or her's quirks. And I could easily categorise 95% of my players as 'odd' in some, albeit usually positive, way.

This got me thinking, because I really NEED to roleplay now. It's the withdrawal syndrome, a physical urge to play or GM. I just love this hobby so much, and I can't get my fix for how many years now? At any rate, my point is - I want to play, but I don't want to play with these people. And by these people I don't mean this particular group, but rather a category of people. I encountered them before, when I wanted to join an RPG/Board Game group at my University - one of the reasons I didn't were time constraints, the other however, was how that group was constructed. I just don't feel like I can communicate with these people on a level I would like, and this means I have no interest in playing with them - because what's the point of spending time with people you don't really feel like spending time with?

I just want to touch on a different topic here for a minute. Jack, the friend I went with, has not role-played before in his life. He was a spectator, and knew what the hobby was about, but hasn't played it. And I won't lie when I say that he's a person I would REALLY like to get into the hobby, as I would seriously enjoy playing with him. But after yesterday, I doubt he's any closer to being interested in a session than he was before.

How should you go about with introducing new people to the hobby? I managed to run a mechanic-less session in a generic fantasy system during a convention in July, for an almost 100% noobie squad of four/five (two players shared a character) gals (a personal first), and I was hell-bent on showing them what the hobby is so I could interest them in it. I think it worked, as general opinions afterwards were positive and I heard from other people the girls were quite happy with the game and talked about it afterwards. Not only does this fill me with great pride and satisfaction, but I also think I know what kind of adventure one should prepare to show people how the hobby works.

What I did was simply throwing in a lot of different elements. There was something of an intrigue, I gave a lot of space for role-playing and inter-player dialogue, role-played several NPC's myself, there was some mystery, some tension and threat, and finally two skirmishes. And I think it worked quite well. If I wanted to improve on that, I'd probably throw in some intrigue sub-plot for any schemers interested in that sort of stuff - and then use it more or less depending on the interest.

Now, what I'm saying here will probably come across to some of you as an obvious thing, not worthy of discussion. But apparently, it's not that obvious even for people from the industry itself. Have a look at this series of videos:

This is a D&D writer GMing a session for the writers of Robot Chicken (a great TV show, if you don't know it: shame on you, go watch it), most of who are total newbies. How does his session progress? There's a short introduction, some roleplaying (he doesn't seem to try and 'drag' the players out to do it, though), a short comic-relief / riddle interlude (which is actually done quite well, even if sloppy and obviously unprepared) and then a battle. Which takes them the next several videos (each video is around 8-9 minutes). And then they have another skirmish, which takes them two videos. May I ask, what the hell? Is this what the creators of an RPG think a good introductory session is? Seriously, NOBODY who had no previous experience of the hobby is going to leave the session in awe or even impressed after he spent the last few hours rolling dice! In the videos, you can actually see one of the writers as he's apparently bored to tears with the battle and he only really has fun when they're cracking jokes outside of combat... Also, during the combat rounds there is NO roleplaying. They just focus on picking the right combination of skills to kill their foes, adding no description to anything, and the GM does the same, and doesn't encourage them to do otherwise.

So what I'm saying is - how are we supposed to throw away the whole social stigma if even the creators of triple-A titles are the source of the problem? Am I alone on this, am I just waaaaay too fanatical about the need to role-play and diversify problems in, you know, a ROLE-PLAYING game? Share your thoughts please.

wtorek, 12 października 2010

Post-Hastings / Age of Empires 2: The Conquerors

So, I've been to Battle, a small town in southern England where the Battle of Hastings took place. I joined the reenactment on the Norman side, and although I was initially discouraged (I'd prefer to stand with the Anglo-Saxons against the invaders), I enjoyed it in the end. Though mostly a set-up battle (meaning it's scripted and only at the end do people actually fall down and 'die'), I found it to be a good introduction to the ambience of 'how it's done' and also it gave me a few things to think of in terms of my stamina and need for hydration over a period of 30-45 minutes during a sunny day. Food for thought. Needless to say, I enjoyed the thing immensily and I'm looking forward to more events with my group, the Milites de Bec - and here's hoping I'll actually stay in England long enough to participate in upcoming shows (the earliest one is in February). Given that I also want to go back home (for many different reasons), I will either develop a split personality, or perhaps will clone myself to cater to all my needs. Life doesn't stop sucker-punching me in the balls for some time now. But that's not what you came here to read.

So, AoE: The Conquerors. No Short Review, because it deserves none. In a nutshell:
- additional factions. Yeah, so what, they still play EXACTLY the same. Ok, the American civilisations actually have a different building design. Wow.
- additional units. Would be good if they introduced any new strategies. They don't. Plus, some of them just don't fit the game's period at all - see Hussars, which, for example Celts can use. Hussars, for those of you who don't know, are a XVI/XVII century cavalry unit originating in Eastern Europe with characteristic 'wings' attached to the back of their armour. These wings are reproduced in the unit model in The Conquerors, but there is no Eastern European faction at all to be found.
- additional upgrades, including Faction-specific upgrades. Again - they don't change anything, not even the Faction-specific stuff which ranges from semi-useful to useless.
- additional game modes. Cool, but they are very limited in customisation - didn't even bother to try most of them out because I just didn't like the settings.
- additional 'real world' maps. Gimmick. Played a game on the map of the British Isles. Ummm... yeah, doesn't change the gameplay the slightest bit.
- new campaigns. Why would I even bother?
- they removed ALL individual units' orders. So no Stance, no Formations, no Guard options, nada. What. The. Hell. This makes the already irritatingly stupid units even dumber and controlling big groups of units nearly impossible. Nice way of improving things, Ensemble Studios.

Suffice to say, I was right about my preliminary thoughts on the expansion. 5.5 - some improvements, but ultimately not one bit more worthwhile than the basic game.

poniedziałek, 4 października 2010

Short Review #9: Tales of Monkey Island

I can remember the first time I played a Monkey Island game. It was a demo of the Curse of Monkey Island, and I immediately loved it. The great graphics and music, and Murray, made me play the demo at least several times over some years. Then I got my hands on the full game, and enjoyed it a lot – the Pirate Song, the Banjo Contest, Fencing with Rottingham and many other great puzzles were really fun and funny. I missed out on Escape from Monkey Island (played a demo for a little while, but didn't enjoy it at all), and never played either Monkey Island 1 or 2. But, thanks to Talk Like a Pirate Day, I managed to play the first episode of the fifth game in the series – Tales of Monkey Island last year, and then my girlfriend bought the whole game this year using the same occasion. We finished it last weekend, and so here are some of my thoughts.

The game focuses on a zombie plague which Guybrush Threepwood, Mighty Pirate (TM) unintentionally started when he defeated LeChuck again – this time however, LeChuck has been returned to human form, while Guybrush notices that he's becoming afflicted with some sort of a voodoo pox. Needless to say, he's going to need some time and a lot of effort to deal with healing the Caribbean, while dealing with pox-inflicted pirates, a mad scientist, a pirate hunter who pursues him relentlessly, and a old crazed explorer who had a romantic relationship with the Voodoo Lady...

Tales of Monkey Island is rich in interesting characters, and the overall plot is good, with a nice twist at the end of the fourth episode, and another post-credits twist at the end of the entire game. Music is really enjoyable, but the graphics need some more commentary. On the one hand, they are really nice to look at – a cartoonish full 3D style fits the series perfectly, and the face expressions and gestures of some characters (the protagonist in particular) are very well done. However, you cannot help but notice that the graphics engine is sometimes glitchy. This is most easily seen with facial expressions of some characters, when their chin suddenly sticks out in a strange way, or the eyebrows don't behave like they're supposed to. It's a minor flaw of the game, but it kind of ruins the entire very positive effect. Another problem the graphics have is that there is a pretty small variation of character models – many of the pirates you encounter are going to look exactly the same, with little to none difference in their looks. It's not tiresome or irritating or anything like that, but I can't help but notice that it could have been done better.

What's an adventure game without good riddles and puzzles? While Tales of Monkey Island has some less-than-logical puzzles, most of them are actually quite easy to work out. To some people, especially the older, hardcore adventure gaming fans, this may seem like a bad thing, but for those of you who enjoy casual adventure games (such as myself), the difficulty of ToMI should be just right, with some headscratching at points. There are some rather tedious sections of the game where you're supposed to walk back and forth between several locations, but they are a few and far between. There are some very enjoyable puzzles as well, and some highlights include a 'make a scary face' duel, using voodoo cards to enforce magical effects on people, the Feast for the Senses and Diet for the Senses quests, using basic phrases from a Manatee dictionary as pick-up lines, and fighting two enemies while taunting them so that one of the feels offended, while the other feels complimented. There are really fun to play through, and funny to see in action.

The game is divided into five episodes, and they are of a somewhat varying quality. The first one sets the scene and is quite fun, but nothing too special. The second introduces some interesting things, but feels a bit slow. The third and fourth are equally good, with some interesting puzzles, plot twists and characters. The fifth and final one is very uneven, starting off slow, getting more interesting in the middle part, and finishing off with a somewhat unsatisfying ending. It really seems that the final episode of the season was rushed – there are a number of characters who are clearly underdeveloped, and there's a lot of items which seem like they were meant to be used, or used more than they did, but some of the puzzles didn't make the final cut. The ending itself fails to be memorable, but it is somewhat redeemed by the post-credit reveal teaser.

Tales of Monkey Island is a well done, though not exceptional, adventure game. If you're looking for a major challenge, you may come away somewhat disappointed. If you're more into casual adventure games, I think that ToMI is a very good title in that regard, especially if you played the earlier Monkey Island games and liked them. For the hardcore fans of the series, this fifth instalment may seem like a pretty weak game, but I really think everyone should give it a try. The humour is there, even though it'll more likely make you snicker than laugh out loud, the characters are really likeable, and the voice acting is excellent (apart from Elaine's voice actress which I found quite uneven – sometimes she sounds just right, sometimes it seems something's just not entirely right with the voice). It is, overall, a job well done, worth at least a 7/10. Quite enjoyable, not really irritating, with only some minor issues which do not influence the overall enjoyment too much, I can easily recommend this game to any adventure game fan, and to most non-adventure gamers out there.

PS: during this year's Talk Like a Pirate Day, I also bought the Special Editions of the first two games in the series, as they were available very cheap. I've yet to play them, but can hardly wait to see those classics in action.