piątek, 26 listopada 2010

It's a trap! Buying frenzy.

I've fallen into a trap of buying too much stuff.
It's easy to do in the UK, really. Between all the Charity Shops, the Entertainment Exchanges and Steam's offers, I most probably bought more games in the last two years than I did during all my life before moving to the UK. It's awesome, but it's also scary.

This comes back to my post about the gaming regime from some time back. I should probably introduce a buying regime as well, because right now I've got more games than I could possibly play through in the next year, or even maybe the next two years. And I still feel the need to buy more.

It's a state of mind. Steam doesn't help, really. The guys over there put up different titles on sale. There's a limited number of games I'm really interested in. There's another limited number of stuff I'd be willing to pick up because they sound cool. And for some reason, Steam manages to make me an offer on one or another near every week. Damn.

Anyway, my point is, I've fallen into the trap of buying stuff because it's either cheap or I really want it. As most of you know, I live away from my home town now, and I only have a crummy laptop to play and work on. By crummy I mean that it can't run Warcraft 3 with full details, and Diablo 2 slows down when I turn on the minimap, so you get the idea. I can't hope to run anything more recent than a 2003 game (even that can't be done sometimes). And yet, while here, I bought many games from 2006, 2007 and from around these dates, in hope of playing them over Christmas.

I'm going back to Poland for a month. There is no chance that I will get to play all the games I have bought in the last year alone over that period of time. I am hoping to play around 5-10 of them, depending on how I feel about rushing through some games instead of taking my time with them. And still I am tempted to buy new games which I won't run here. Why? Because of that trap.

It gets more tricky with the used game market. You can find real treats there and some of them you won't get for any reasonable price elsewhere. I bought a copy of Kohan 2: Kings of War for fifty pence for goodness sake, and that was the only copy of the game I've seen outside the one I bought when it premiered in Poland!

But yeah, a word of advice, if you're buying new games and just can't stop. Ask yourself these questions:
- will I have time to play this with all the games I have now which await play?
- is this something I've been waiting for for a long time, or is it just something that caught my fancy?
- if I don't have the time now, will I'll be able to get it cheaper when I do have time to play it?
- if I won't get it now, will I'll be able to get it at all later on?

I find these help to determine whether you buy something or not. For example, I bought a used copy of Call of Juarez today, because I don't think I'd be able to pick it up at all, but I have the sequel (prequel, technically) to the game, so I figured - what the hell, why not? Though again, it's one of the games I probably won't have time to try out until the Summer holidays...

Seriously, anyone with issues like mine, we need help... but not if we can control it. We can do it. Meanwhile, go play something.

wtorek, 23 listopada 2010

Thoughts on Civilization III

... I don't get it.
I tried playing this game several times. I tried another 'Civ' title, Alpha Centauri - didn't get that at all. Civ III I didn't give up on that fast, but ultimately, I did give up. I just don't get this game.

It seems that I am given both more options and less options then I'd like. On the one hand, you've got your workers and city management (the latter being absolutely convoluted and unclear to me) which I don't care about that much, and then you have the turn-to-turn movement of units and research options which I think are very underplayed... Most of the game I'd spend seeing what's going on, confirming the AI's choices and checking how it develops... the game basically plays itself. It skips over turns in which I'd like to do something. It gives me the option to do something when I'm actually just skipping forward. It suggests research and upgrades that I don't know how they work, nor do I care much. It shows me uprisings in my cities which I don't know how to stop, nor how to alleviate once they're there. And all of that in the name of what? A grand history of a civilization spanning over 4000 years? Bullshit.

There's no single civilization here. You pick a character/nation, who is going to look differently over time in a weak attempt to make the game funny, but that doesn't mean shit. You can play with the Aztecs and introduce democracy sooner than the English. You can play with the Germans and build the Pyramids. Sun Tzu's 'Art of War' can be researched by whoever feels like it. When I heard about Civ, I thought that it was a great premise - to see the development of a nation over time and change history. But this is not a historical game in the least. Sure, researches are based on the age and you have to do some stuff in order, but it doesn't matter in the end, because anyryone can invent anything, and the period won't even be right.

I know this means that I'm just a shitty Civ player and that it puts this entire article in the rubbish bin, but by 2050, when the game ends, I was still at the Industrial age and my cities were still producing Swordsmen for some reason. Sure, I had Ironclads, and Cavalry and whatnot, but I was only going out of the Industrial researches, not even entering the Modern age yet. As I said, I know this is due to my ineptitude and all, but this just didn't make any sense.

Alternate history is cool. I really dig Medieval and Rome, the Total War games. Spreading the English influence over the whole of Western Europe, or creating a great Gaulish empire to combat Rome is all good. The thing I don't like about these games is that, at some point, your empire will strech throughout the whole world. I'm a history geek, I really like history, listening and reading about. I hate the premise of 'What if one nation dominated the world', because it NEVER happened and as such is a really stupid premise. That's why I prefer the Viking Invasion in Medieval: Total War - because it actually does look somewhat realistic if I conquer the whole British Isles with a single faction.

The scale in Civ is epic, but the gameplay isn't. They want me to believe that I am forging a Civilization, but they show me Queen Elizabeth in a toga. Bismarck in a mongol outfit. Joanne of Arc as a cavewoman. It's like "Here, you have the history of the world in your grasp, feel free to rewrite it. Oh, also, here's a bunch of clowns so you get annoyed once in a while". I'm not feeling this.

So yeah, if there are three main things which bug me about Civ III and are the reason I gave up on the game, it's these:
- History. What history? Germans building the Great Wall isn't history, it's bad fanfic.
- Control. What control? Stuff's happening, I don't know why, the game doesn't make me care, I have no idea what I'm doing. Which brings me to...
- The Point. What point? I really have no friggin idea what I'm doing. I'm trying to control stuff, but the game won't let me. When I don't give a damn, I suddenly find myself asking - why am I just skipping to next turn? I could turn off this game and play something else... sure, there is the allure of the "next turn", but while in some games the "next turn" may bring something interesting, here it's always nothing worth mentioning.

Sorry, Civ. The premise seemed like a dream come true, but the implementation has left me dissapointed on every possible level. I wanted something in between the Europa Universalis games and Medieval: Total War in complexity. I got something... well, different. And served with a sauce I hate and sides I won't eat. For me, Civ III is a 4/10.

Also, I know the game deserves better. Which is why this isn't a review. I don't feel competent to write a review of this game. The worst thing is, I feel guilty for not liking this game. I know it's a posh thing, it's the high-brow thing to play and be good at Civ. But you know what, screw this. I don't care. I'm off to play something more fun. Call me a simpleton if you wish, there's games and then there's games. I've got better things to do than waste time on skipping turns or trying to understand a complex game which doesn't even have a proper tutorial explaining what it's about and how it works.

I was thinking about buying Civ IV, but now I don't think I'll bother.

niedziela, 21 listopada 2010

Short Review #11: Grim Fandango

Finally, after a looooooong playthrough, I finished the game earlier today.

For those of you who don't know, Grim Fandango is considered by many to be one of the best, or even the best adventure game ever made. Its creator, Tim Schafer, is a legend among game designers, a guy who co-created the Monkey Island games, and is responsible for several other classic LucasArts adventure games, as well as Psychonauts and Brutal Legend. The game has been released in 1998, and was one of the first adventure games to feature 3d graphics.

The game has a very specific South American feel to it. The characters you meet belong to the Land of the Dead, so most of them are skeletons. Many buildings have Aztec and Mayan features to them, while the colour scheme and indeed the whole design on the characters is directly inspired by the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) tradition. The music comes in two flavours - Noir style Jazzy tunes and Mexican/Spanish soundings tracks. Both are great - Grim Fandango features one of the best, most original and most memorable soundtracks I ever heard in a video game.

That Noir bit needs some more attention. While the surroundings are definitely south american, the plot and some of the locations has a very noir feel, and by that I mean you will, at times, be reminded of movies like Casablanca or The Maltese Falcon. This mix of '30s era USA with the near-tribal Dia de los Muertos tradition could seem strange or out of place, but it works great.

The game has a lot of humour. I haven't laughed very much while playing a game for a long time now, and Grim Fandango didn't bring any tears to my eyes with its witty dialogue and jokes, but it sure did bring a smile often. I wouldn't say the humour in the game is a reason to play it, but it does a good job of keeping you entertained and in a good mood throughout the whole thing.

Something I don't feel so strongly about is the inclusion of daemons in the world of Grim Fandango. They serve as a working class of sorts, being mechanics, drivers etc, but they aren't really explained (as in why they are there, and how they work). What's worse is that they have a completely different character design, one which doesn't really work well with the game's early 3D graphics. Their models simply look unattractive and blocky. They are funny and all, and your main character's companion, Glottis, provides a lot of quality comic relief, but they just seem an odd fit in all this.

Speaking of graphics, they're aged, obviously. They are not ugly or painful to look at, but being an early 3D thing, they aren't real beauties either. As mentioned before, the design on them is great, and most locations look good. If anything, it's fire and light effects which haven't really passed the test of time. I'm not a big graphics geek, so I'd say it's a 'take it or leave it' thing, and I took it with no problems.

Grim Fandango is clever, beautifully designed and interesting, but is it a good adventure game? Well... no, no it isn't. Don't get me wrong - most riddles are alright, though I had to use a Walkthrough much more often than I'd like, but the control scheme is atrocious. The game boasts 'A smooth, seamless interface' which 'puts you smack in Manny's world', but that's a darn lie that is. You control the character with the arrow keys, but the camera is static, changing if you walk to a particular edge or point on a static background. What this means is that sometimes you get stuck, and no amount of fidgeting is enough to get out of a place you weren't supposed to end up in. Othertimes, you will struggle to reach the place you want to get to, or to have the main character look the right way.

Manny looks around with his head to indicate stuff you can Examine, Use or Pick Up. This sucks because there is no indicator of what stuff can be used, and what stuff is just there as background. This had me miss several important doors and I couldn't further the plot without checking a walkthrough which told me that there's a door in this one wall that I can't really see because of the camera! Or that the doors I tried to open but it seemed Manny can't be bothered to try are supposed to be opened, but I have to stand REALLY close to them.

Finally, the inventory isn't much better. When you open it, you have to browse through every Item to find what you need. And then, some items have animations when you take them out - this means downtime. When you take an item out of the Inventory, you can put it back, but you cannot choose to not take an item out of the Inventory. This is all very irritating and takes a lot of time - especially if you're at one of those classic 'use every item on this thing to see if something will happen' moments.

What's my final mark, you ask? A 7+/10. Sorry, Grim Fandango. Your great story, theme and atmosphere can't make up for the shitty controls which at times nearly ruined the whole thing for me. While the artistic vision gets an easy 9/10 from me, and the story a strong 8/10, the controls - and hence, gameplay - can only receive a measly 4/10 at most. You should've sticked to the Mouse, people, instead of trying to innovate before you actually had the technology to do that.

Still, Grim Fandango stays a very interesting game, well worth checking out. I wouldn't recommend it to players unfamiliar with adventure games, as it can get pretty hard (unless you want to play through with a walkthrough in hand), but if you like what you read about it here or elsewhere, I'd definitely try to play it. It may be hard though - I got my copy from a second-hand store, new copies are either unavailable or insanely overpriced, and not many people let this one out of their grasp, if only out of sheer nostalgia. And if you don't want to play it, at least check out the screenshots and listen to the music - those things alone are worth doing for Grim Fandango's sake.

sobota, 20 listopada 2010

MTU Kazan completed... finally.


Well, this is it, people. MTU Kazan - the project with put all my other projects on hold and took more than a month to complete is here.

MTU Kazan is a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure game translated into the internet/website format. It is free to play (there is an option to donate some money though and every little bit is very appreciated!), requires the newest Macromedia Flash, but other than that all you need is some free time on your hands. A fast computer is a plus, but not a requirement.

Please play through, and comment on the website in the Comment section. I need all the feedback I can get, though with the amount of stress and frustration this project alone put me through, I probably won't be doing another game like this anytime soon, at least not using the Wix format. If MTU Kazan is popular, however, I'm planning to create more games like this, probably a bit more complex and definitely longer. But those are plans for the future.

For now I'm taking a breather. Just to tease you a bit, here's a list of project I'm planning to focus on after I take a short break:

- a video, or maybe even a video series, on the basics of the RPG hobby
- learning the Game Maker software
- finishing a two-player board game
- designing a second board game
- writing short bulletpoint reviews for Videogame Geek (the first few of these can be found here: http://videogamegeek.com/geeklist/61009/lord_kristofs-bulletpoint-reviews-vg-side )
- and, of course, playing more games and discussing them here

So stay tuned, there's stuff coming up!

czwartek, 18 listopada 2010

Short Review #10: Half-Life

Half-Life is one of the games I played a while back, but haven't enjoyed and decided to give them another go when I found a used copy at local entertainment exchange places. The first time I played it, which had to be around 2000, I quickly dismissed it. And to be honest, after this playthrough, I have no idea why!

I won't bother to get into much details with the plot, just because I'm probably one of the few people over the age of 20 who haven't played this game till recently. But the basics are this: you're Gordon Freeman, an engineer working in a facility called Black Mesa, where physics research of different kinds is being conducted. After you participate in an experiment, all hell breaks loose, putting the whole facility in danger, and, apparently, beginning an alien invasion.

The game starts off slow, with a long action-less introduction during which you get the general feel of the facility and your role there. Then, after the event which sets the whole thing in motion takes place, you are without any weapons for a short while, after which you get the crowbar – a symbol of the series in a sense. Your weapon arsenal is quickly broadened, and by the end of the game you can use mundane every-day weapons like a Pistol, Revolver, Shotgun or SMG (with a built-in grenade launcher), some more heavy stuff like a bazooka and C4, a sniper's delight – the crossbow, as well as experimental weaponry and even an alien gun.

The game offers a quite long single player campaign, ripe in dexterity puzzles and fighting enemies of two basic kinds – aliens and the military. It's very fun to play, and from today's perspective feels quite fresh. This is because Half-Life introduced some gameplay elements which are almost a given in modern FPS games – stuff like places where you can regenerate health and armour gradually (instead of only picking up First Aid Kits etc.), advanced enemy A.I. (the soldiers will make you change your position with grenades very often), mines, reloading guns, turrets... Neither Unreal nor Quake 2 (the other two big FPS games if the same period) had these, so HL was a definite innovator in this regard. This is probably why it still feels fresh, though obviously the graphics are quite dated by now, and it does not offer as much as some modern day shooters.

If there are things which I found lacking about Half-Life, it's the small number of music tracks, not a big variety of enemies, somewhat too many dexterity puzzles (which can be a real pain in a FPP game) and the lack of subtitles. The music was great when it came on, but it happened very seldom, and that's a shame because I really enjoyed it. The enemies... well, you just fight the same soldiers and quite varied aliens all the time, which is fine for the most part, but becomes tiresome by the end of the game. The game seriously needs subtitles – NPC's will often talk to you, but sometimes there is so much background noise that you can't hear them properly. I had trouble figuring out what to do next at times because I didn't hear what the Scientists or Guards were saying.

The ending to the game could have been better, as it is obvious it's not as good as the Black Mesa levels, and also, at one point, the game strips you off all of your equipment. Now, I have nothing against stuff like that, if it makes sense in the long run. But the lack of weaponry didn't add much to the levels which come after your 'pacification', because they are composed mostly of dexterity puzzles anyway, so your guns wouldn't be much help here. Seemed a silly thing to do, not needed at all really.

So, to sum up. Half-Life is a really good FPS, and I can see why it was such a big hit in 1998 and why it was so influential. It added a lot of depth to the genre, and it doesn't come as a surprise to me that it received the high praise it did. That said, it's not a perfect game, not in today's day and age anyway. Some design and plot choices seem a bit off, and while the whole game is very enjoyable, its age starts to show. At any rate, my final rating is an 8/10. I really enjoyed myself, and if any of you haven't played this yet, you really should. It's such an important milestone, that you should at least give it a go to see what the fuss was about 12 years ago. Even if only for educational purposes, get this game and play it through. It's well worth your time – more than some newer, but still 'old' FPS games I could mention (Return to Castle Wolfenstein being one example).

sobota, 13 listopada 2010

L.A. Noire

As you may recall, I made a list on games I wanted to play a while ago ( http://lets-talk-about-games.blogspot.com/2010/06/not-yet-published-games-i-want-to-see.html ). There, I put the game L.A. Noire on the third place, so quite high (second, if you count the fact that my No. 1 was never actually announced). The good news? They just released a trailer for the game and it looks pretty awesome ( http://www.rockstargames.com/lanoire// ). The bad news? IT AIN'T COMING OUT ON THE PC!


On the bottom of that list of mine, there's this gem:

Honourable Mentions
Alan Wake and Heavy Rain. Both have been released more or less recently, both are games I would REALLY LOVE to play, but chances are that I won't play either of them. Why? Alan Wake is X-Box exclusive, while Heavy Rain is PS3 exclusive. God, I hate those people. And no, I won't be buying a console for a single game, so screw you, you assholes!


So, yeah... Given the fact that between then and now another game I would really love to play was omitted on the PC (Red Dead Redemption), I can only find hope in the fact that my current No. 1 and No. 2 most anticipated games (The Witcher 2 and Batman: Arkham City) are both coming out on the PC... And I sure do hope they won't get cancelled!

Anyhow, I'm still working on MTU Kazan - finished the story, but putting it all on the web is a pain in the ass. It will take me more time, so you have to be patient with my blog updates. On the bright side, I'm planning another video soon-ish, so that should mix things up a bit.

wtorek, 9 listopada 2010

General Update #2

Me again.
Still working on MTU Kazan. As was to be expected, there's no chance of it going live tomorrow, but there's a slim chance I'll be able to publish the game on Friday, and if that fails, I will finish it over the weekend and publish it on Monday with a 95% certainty. I'm almost finished with the plot (somewhere between the 90% and 95% mark), so all I hope will be left come Thursday afternoon is the linking of paragraphs. But that's going to take hours and hours.

Wychurst was fun, though I hardly had any sleep Saturday/Sunday night because it was freakishly cold and I couldn't focus on falling asleep. Plus different noises made it extra difficult, so I ended up rekindling the fire and keeping it up for the whole night to keep myself warm. Needless to say, I got back home early and slept for most of the day. Due to my service I was dubbed the 'Midnight Stoker', so that's always something!

I have decided to leave Tomb Raider on the side for now, especially since I was able to buy a used copy of Half-Life, and I'm playing it now. I was also able to pick up GTA: Vice City and GTA: San Andreas at a bargain price from Steam. I can't wait to play and finish GTA3 and then Vice City. San Andreas, I'm not so sure. From the videos I have seen it's waaay too gangsta for me. GTA is fun as long as it's tongue in cheek, and San Andreas takes things too seriously... I will share my views on that at some point, probably when I finish all three games.

Shortlist of stuff I'm hoping to finish soonish to make way for more games:
- Grim Fandango (no progress for a second week now)
- Disciples 2: Guardians of Light (more specifically, the Empire's basic campaign + the Empire's GoL campaign)
- Civilization 3 (still not sure what to think, have to toy around with it some more)

Also, Board Game Geek's and RPG Geek's Secret Santas start next week. Can't wait to get my target, and I'm hoping somebody nice will send me something cool so I can enjoy some new stuff.

PS: played Descent, the board game, last week. Quite fun, actually more fun than I thought! Looking forward to playing some more this week or the next.

środa, 3 listopada 2010

General Update

Hey guys. In case you're wondering, I'm still here.
I'm still working on MTU Kazan and I have reached about 90% of completion on the plot, which means that the whole project is around the 80% mark. I'm hoping to reach around 85% today, and finish off tomorrow and Friday. I'm then leaving for the weekend for an Arts and Crafts event in Wychurst (an Anglo-Saxon site replica, complete with a longhall). I'm hoping to finish all the work on MTU Kazan around next Wednesday, which is the, very introductory, day for the 'premiere'.

I haven't been playing much recently. I've done some Civilization III, but despite several attempts I still don't really know what I'm doing. Going to give it a few more goes, but it does seem it's not exactly my kind of game even though, in theory, it's all I could ever dream of in the strategy department.

I'm also struggling with finishing Disciples II so I can go ahead and play some other strategy games (yes, my playing regime is still in effect and will probably stay that way for a longer while). It'll take a while longer I'd imagine, as I'm pretty tired with the game at this point, and I still have three missions to complete with the basic campaign, and then another three from the expansion pack to call it a finished game.

I almost finished Grim Fandango at this point, but I have the last chapter to complete and I haven't had time to sit down and do it, and neither had my girlfriend (with whom I play and finish most adventure games).

And finally, I tried installing and running Tomb Raider (the first one), but it doesn't work too well and I can see myself throwing it out and installing the second part instead. Also, it didn't really grab me. May be that's another sub-genre of games that I should like in theory, but in practice it falls short of my expectations. We'll see about that.

Okay then, back to work.