Month: August 2012

How Many Times Should We Buy Consoles?

Gazing upon my console collection this morning, it struck me that I have purchased each of the consoles that I own (and several of the games) multiple times. Some of the purchases have been through necessity, others have been through desire to own more than one for LAN gaming. Unfortunately, I have also found myself forced to sell some of the consoles as I struggled for cash, only to purchase them again, or receive them as gifts.

It started when I realised that I have owned 3 versions of the original Microsoft Xbox console – in Black with large control pads, and the limited editions in transparent white plastic and green – for use while LAN gaming on the original Halo game with my friends. I had to utilise every TV set in the house (and borrow some) in order to make the most of the gaming set up. Looking back, it was totally worth it.

My latest repurchase has been a Sony Playstation 2, as I found myself with a desire to replay the Final Fantasy games from that era on that console (as Square Enix has delayed in delivering the HD remake of Final Fantasy X and is insistent on providing a third edition of the Final Fantasy XIII franchise), along with a couple of other forgotten gems from that era, including Quantic Dream‘s Fahrenheit (as reviewed by Kirsty here). I have had  a total of 3 Playstation 2 consoles, the original large one in black, a slimline silver one which I sold to a friend, and now a slimline black one for the retro gaming.

I am also currently on my third Xbox 360 console, the previous two having been sold due to financial reasons, and I just couldn’t justify selling my 1st edition Playstation 3 console (which was the only one released with backward compatibility). Now I am more financially stable, I have decked out my current Xbox 360 with a Kinect and a multitude of games, but my Playstation 3 has recently given up the ghost so I begrudgingly had to purchase a slimline model, and hence my need for a Playstation 2 again.

I have also owned 3 PSP’s (“phat” black, slim white and PSP Go), 2 Nintendo Wii’s (white and black) and 2 Nintendo DS’s (original silver, and slim white). I currently have no Nintendo consoles in my home, and only have a PSVita as my portable gaming device.

Although not all of these purchases have been from retail establishments, a good two thirds of them have been, and Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo have made a profit (albeit small) from me purchasing their hardware, peripherals and software time and again. “Why?” you may ask, and the only answer I can give is that I am a gamer, and this is my only hobby, and my only vice.

So am I alone? Have any of you purchased a console more than once? I imagine there are a few of you purchasing new hardware due to faults like the RROD or the YLOD, but surely there are a few of you who have spent more money than is sensible on these devices of pleasure. I hope so, or I may be beyond hope by the time the next generation of consoles emerges.

Counter Strike: Global Offensive

I want you all to think back to a time before Call of Duty 4 came along and revolutionised the online shooting game. Back when games like Goldeneye and Timesplitters were the big names in multiplayer shooting. Valve is attempting to recapture those days of yore with their new game, Counter Strike: Global Offensive, available on Xbox Live Arcade and PC. Before getting into the review proper I should state that this review is of the Xbox version of the game, not the PC version.

 

That’s right, Counter Strike aims to be a gimmick free online shooter. Everything newer players to online shooting games have come to expect has been stripped bare. That means no killstreaks, no perks, no create-a-class, no interactive maps… hell, you don’t even get a sprint button or the ability to aim down your sights. It’s just you, your gun and your team, against another team and their guns. And therein lays the beauty of the game. You don’t have to worry about an unbalanced roster of weapons, unfair killstreaks dominating the sky or the fact that some was a higher rank than you so they had better equipment. If you get killed, it is because the other person was better than you, making it a much fairer game than the majority of today’s top online shooters.

 

Due to the fact that this is an Xbox Live Arcade game, the graphics are not amazing, but they are functional. All the guns look as they should and the maps all have a unique visual style, which means that playing the game feels much less repetitive than if all the levels were say, desert based. It all sounds fine as well, with the guns each having a unique sound and your team giving accurate information during matches. My only slight niggle is that although the menu music is good and fitting for the style of the game, it does get repetitive quite quickly.

 

The decision to eliminate a single player campaign entirely is a controversial one but it allowed the developer to focus purely on the multiplayer, and in this regard I think it is a risk that has paid off. The game boasts four different modes each of which play significantly differently and have unique maps available to those game types. The mode which appears to be the most popular online is classic casual mode. This is a round based mode where players only get one life per round and each round is won by each eliminating the other team or completing the objective, either planting bombs or rescuing hostages. You earn or lose money for various actions and you use accumulated money to buy guns at the start of each round. This is a key mechanic as it means everyone starts on a level playing field and it brings in a risk reward factor as to whether you save up for the big weapons or buy frequent, mid tier weapons. Classic competitive is like a ‘hardcore’ version of casual and plays the same way except that friendly fire and team collisions are on and it is the best of 30 rounds instead of 10. These two modes can be played on eight unique maps, which initially does not sound like a lot but each map is so well designed you will not get bored quickly. Each map has multiple flanking routes and choke points, and the bomb/hostage sites are so well positioned on each map that it creates some truly tense standoffs.

Each map really has a unique style.

The other two modes are arms race and demolition. Arms race is the only game mode with respawns which gives it a unique feel. You start with a weapon and with every kill you move onto a new weapon until you reach the final weapon; the knife. The player who gets a kill with the final weapon first wins the game for their team. This creates an interesting dynamic as technically you are part of a team but you are playing to increase your individual score and provides an interesting ultimatum as to whether you stay and help your team but risk having kills stolen or you go lone wolf, putting yourself at greater risk but potentially for better reward. Demolition plays like a cross between classic casual and arms race, whereby it is a round based game, but instead of buying new weapons at the start of each round, you get given new weapons each round based on you kills in the previous one. These two games are fun in short bursts but not as addictive as the ‘classic’ modes. Arms race only has two maps in can be played on and demolition has six. However the maps are not as well designed as the maps on classic mode and can be a bit repetitive.

 

The game does a few other things to help set it apart. Any unfilled spaces in games get used up by bots, but when you die you can immediately take control of the bots on your team, meaning you are never out of the action for too long. Also if you thought that 10 and 30 round games sounded like a slog, the spawns on each map are only a maximum of 30 seconds apart which mean the game plays at a very high pace and rounds fly by. Lastly the game offers full button mapping, which is something I have been wanting to see in shooting games for ages, meaning you can assign any action to any button alongside individual vertical and horizontal sensitivity settings which really allow you to customise the game to your play style.

 

Hmm.. which instrument of death will it be this time…?

As much as I have been singing the praises of this game, and rightly so, it does have a few issues. When the game was first released it was full of lag and it was difficult to get into a game at all. Thankfully, touch wood, this problem appears to be resolved now and the connection is much more stable. Also the aforementioned button mapping, although a great feature, has an error currently in which if you assign anything to ‘X’ it means you can’t buy or pick up weapons or open doors which is a fairly big, but hopefully easily fixed issue. Lastly, although the AI of the bots is okay, it is still nowhere near that of a real player meaning it can be highly frustrating at times if you get caught on a team full of bots against a team of humans.

 

Ultimately, this games continued success is solely independent on the strength of its community. Thankfully, due to the well designed maps and balanced gameplay I can see people coming back to this game for months to come. It is a refreshingly old school approach to the online shooting game and one that any FPS fan should buy. So go on… what are you waiting for?

King’s Quest Part 2

I realize I’ve been doing the Forgotten Franchise articles a lot lately and I SWEAR I’ll talk about a game made within the last 20 years soon. I’d love to do a review on Darksiders 2 or something but while checking on my money I realized that I spent 400 bucks on the Steam Summer Sale. It was just so easy when it was several dozen 5 dollar games! Imagine my embarrassment. Anyway King’s Quest is a long franchise and we’ve got a lot of ground to cover. Last time I mentioned we hadn’t even made it out of the 80’s yet but fortunately the next game to cover was released in 1989.

THE MANLIEST GAME EVER

King’s Quest 4: The Perils of Rosella was actually the second Kings Quest game I played, and it was also the few games at the time that featured a female protagonist. Looking back I wonder if this was part of my mom’s sinister plan to prevent me from assuming gender roles. After all, girls can be heroes too! The story in this one picks up immediately after where the third game ends. Spoiler alert Gwydion from 3 is one of King Graham’s two children. He escaped his enslavement, discovered his origin, sailed across the sea to rescue his sister and return home to his parents. However it was all cut short when Graham had a heart attack and collapsed. Everyone’s pretty bummed and Rosella goes off to cry alone. While sobbing the famed Magic Mirror is activated and a solution to save Graham is presented to Rosella: If she helps Genesta the Fairy Queen retrieve her lost amulet she may also find a rare fruit that will save Graham . Standing in her way is the Dark Fairy Lolotte and as always the cruel dangers of Sierra games.

Now were talking! A haunted mansion in the middle of a graveyard! It’s even got a ghost baby inside!

Ok it’s not exactly the most masculine sounding of plots but you know Fantasy doesn’t always have to be The Witcher and Lord of the Rings damn it, there used to be room for whimsy! Besides, there are zombies. The graphics have been given quite a boost finally with this installment but the interface is still done by typing. This one also has a handful of notoriously annoying segments. I bet you never realized how hard it was to climb a whales tongue, or for that matter, find the required whale in the first place. Or make it through a trolls cave entirely by random chance. The game returns to the formula of the first 2 games by having you seek out 3 special items as the meat of the game, this time in the style of payment for Lolotte allowing you to live. All in all, it’s still a solid game and an enjoyable adventure. I think what makes it so good is that the villain is present throughout a large majority of the game, giving a sense of accomplishment at the end. It’s the last hurrah of the carefree days of old in the series, for the next game would become a thing of infamy…

What kind of witch gives people fair warning?

It should come as no surprise to me that King’s Quest 5: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder has seen some popularity as of late with Let’s Plays and the mockery of them. King’s Quest 5 is presented on Sierras brand new SCI engine that has done away with typing in favor of 4-5 icons with which you will now interact with the world. Gone are the days of typing profanity and seeing if it gets you a comical Easter egg. Not only have the graphics been bumped and interface simplified, but the game now has ambiance sound, a musical score, and perhaps most damningly, it’s fully voiced. Voice acting these days has people assuming quality, but for Kings Quest 5 it means the art department was brought in to read some lines. I won’t pick on the voices and dialogue too much since that freak show has already been covered much more humorously by the likes of Retsupurae and JonTron.

You will learn to loathe this useless bag of feathers and his Betty Childs voice.

What can’t be stressed enough is how stultifyingly difficult the game is to figure out. Sure the old ones took some strange thinking to finish but none were as bizarre and unforgiving as 5. Seemly minor occurrences early on have grave consequences later in the game. Did you notice the sled in town? I hope you got it because you can’t get through the mountains without it, AND you can’t go back to get it if you didn’t! Oh you got it? How did you get it? Did you buy it with the one gold coin you get in the game? I HOPE NOT BECAUSE THAT WILL BE REQUIRED TO BUY THE PIE! And don’t scoff at how important the pie is! What do you mean you fed the pie to the hungry eagle? NOW WHAT WILL YOU THROW AT THE YETI?!?! And don’t think that you can just avoid these situations, THERE ARE NO OPTIONAL SOLUTIONS TO PROBLEMS IN THIS GAME YOU WILL DO IT RIGHT OR NOT AT ALL! If the difficulty wasn’t enough the game is also buggy, as were all Sierra games at the time. Ah the halcyon days of early PC gaming! Thank god the internet came around and let people fix things themselves. At the time though, the flashy graphics, voice acting, and the fancy new CD-Rom disc were enough to win over quite a few people! (18 megabytes, how immense! Games will never exceed THAT size they said!)

All right! We’re back to the whimsical days in wacky-town!

Fortunately when Kings Quest 6: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow rolled around Sierra had gotten their act together again. Returning to the spotlight is Alexander/Gwydion from Kings Quest 3, having fully recovered from the events of the past 2 games Alexander fell in love with the last games antagonists slave girl who turned out to be a Princess herself. In a foolhardy act of a love-struck young man he sets of to her mysterious homeland in the Green Isles. Upon arrival he discovers that the Green Isles are in disarray and he in unable to talk to the Princess. With no means of leaving the island he runs amok and unravels the conspiracy behind everything.

The Lord of the Dead actually looks pretty badass

Kings Quest 6 isn’t nearly as brutally unforgiving and bizarre as 5, and like the 4th game the villain is present throughout the game and the goal is so-close-yet-so-far. Solutions to problems make a bit more sense and the setting and hints are tied together well enough to let you figure things out yourself much easier. This could have been due to what was going on outside of Sierra, mainly that they were having competition. Lucasarts was churning out quality adventure games thanks to Tim Schafer and Myst was skyrocketing in popularity and redefining what adventure games were. Some of the Lucasarts games even had a feature where you couldn’t enter a no-win situation which made the games more accessible. Sierra took notice but not quite in the way expected.

Oh God I don’t like where this is going

Kings Quest 7: The Princeless Bride was almost a complete overhaul from previous games. The art style was lifted somewhat from Lucasarts games and instead of realism the games tried to look like an interactive Disney movie. If you’ve ever seen the Legend of Zelda CD-I games you’ll get the idea. Even the item interaction was done similar to Lucasarts, except without the 9 options for ways to interact. This game would bring back the star of Kings Quest 4, Princess Rosella, and for the first time her mother, Queen Valenice who had mostly been in the background of the previous games since 2. The game was divided into chapters and featuring short sequences switching off between the two protagonists.

I always wondered what it would be like if Queen Elizabeth fought a giant scorpion.

Whoops, I forgot to mention the story. Like the previous game, the other child of King Graham sought love too, or rather to avoid being forced to marry at first. While arguing by a nearby lake after a peculiar musical number, they are whisked away by an evil witch/queen person to a fanciful realm not unlike Disneyland. Separated and confused, Valenice awakens in a strange desert temple with a rather large scorpion nearby. Rosella on the other hand is in the Kingdom of Trolls having been transformed into one herself. Of all the Kings Quest games this is the one I’ve played the least (8 doesn’t count but more on that later). Mostly because the art style and animation are fairly unlikable and while some aspects of Kings Quest are there the game feels seriously lacking. Maybe it’s the inconsistent and poorly made movements like the Clutch Cargo style mouth movements, or that EVERYONE at the time seemed to think that the CD-I style graphics were the greatest thing ever despite the gameplay suffering for it. For better or worse, the game wrapped things up for King Graham’s family. His kids were married and moved on and all was calm and peaceful without the previous games subtext being explored.

I don’t want to spoil whats in store for the final installment but it involves skeletons.

Sierra would churn out one more Kings Quest game that had very little to do with the previous titles. However, I wanted to save it and a few more games related to Kings Quest in the next and final installment. Don’t worry, I’m almost done milking this cow dry.

Kings Quest Part 1

Pretend you are listening to a MIDI version of “Greensleeves” here

Last time I gushed over beloved Sierra franchise Quest for Glory and while those games hold a special place in my cold black heart they were not my first games. That honor belongs to Sierras flagship franchise Kings Quest, a series known at first for breaking ground in pc gaming as a real adventure game. As time passed, gaming grew and improved upon the genre while Sierra continued to crank out 7 more Kings Quest games that progressed down the path of complexity and cruelty. While the game taught puzzle solving skills through methods like trial and error and trivia knowledge of classic fables, it also taught you that death was waiting everywhere for you and needed little excuse to cut your adventuring short in ways that still boggle my mind. I’ve decided to split this article into two parts because the series it 8 games long and splitting content is the hip thing to do. The Hobbit Movies and Starcraft get away with it so why shouldn’t I? Probably because they have something I don’t; fans.

IT BEGINS! Prepare to die and return to this screen shortly.

Kings Quest: Quest for the Crown came out about a year before I was born, making it alarmingly difficult for me to play. Truth is I didn’t actually play the first game until 1989 and by that time the series was up to its fourth installment. Nonetheless, I started at the first game. The game was enthralling to my puny toddler mind and in order to play it I would have to learn 2 things; 1: how to read, and 2: how to write. Until I did my playing consisted mostly of my mom playing it and reading the game to me while I offered bizarre possible solutions to the games problems, some of which actually worked, eliciting much giggling and squealing in joy from me and surprised praise from my mom. When I finally learned how to play it on my own I quickly learned how to spell things correctly, as the game would demand perfect spelling to even its most esoteric of words.

Look, mermaid. I’m a king and I’m on a Quest. I don’t have time for prepositions!

I’m neglecting to tell the story of the game. Fortunately as it was made in 1984 its not a particularly complicated one. You are Sir Graham of the kingdom of Daventry. Last of the knights as the kingdom has fallen on pretty rough times. The current King, Edward, is old and near death and has just endured a chain of terrible events that have left the kingdom in shambles. The most important of which are the loss of the 3 treasures: a shield that can deflect any harm, a chest of gold that never empties, and a magic mirror. Your task is to retrieve these treasures, become the king, and restore Daventry to its former glory. Taken at face value the kingdom is rather puny! The only other people are a woodcutter and his wife and I supposed technically a roaming wizard whose only concern is casting a paralysis spell on you and running away. Other than them the kingdom has numerous monsters ready to kill you, and even if you are familiar with the game they will definitely kill you at least once per play-through. The quest itself is pretty simple by todays standards, or maybe it just seems that way to me because I’ve got it committed to muscle memory at this point. New players can look forward to weeks of frustration and confusion most likely. And that holds true for all the games in the series.

For the first time in his immortal life Neptune helps a mortal instead of screwing with them.

Kings Quest 2: Romancing the Throne sends you on a quest to find a queen. The lady in question just happens to be a beautiful maiden locked in a tower that your magic mirror showed you. So its off to the far off land of Kolyma to seek her out. The only path to her lies behind 3 magic doors near a canyon that you will need to find 3 magic keys to unlock. Once again you are subjected to cameos from famous fairy tales. Fortunately the game isn’t quite as harsh on you as the previous one. There seem to be slightly fewer monsters out to kill you and while your possessions can be stolen by a speedy local dwarf you can get all of it back, no harm done. Graphically it’s a slight improvement over the first game. Slight in that they seem to know how to work the 16 available colors better to make things look nice. Gameplay-wise nothing really changed quite yet. Graham would still take anything that wasn’t nailed down and stuff it in his bottomless trousers and then apply the items to everything that was nailed down.

Ah the wonders of indentured servitude. That’s what the hip youth of today want!

It wasn’t until Kings Quest 3: To Heir is Human that things would really change. Now Graham was nowhere to be seen, nor his new wife. Instead you are given command of a pink and blue suited youth named Gwydion who is a slave to the evil wizard Manannan. Hes a big jerk who makes you do chores when he’s around. He has pledged to kill you on your 18th birthday which is quickly approaching. Your task is to wait until he takes one of his numerous naps or trips to figure out a way to dispose of him and escape to discover your origin and fate. The game has a rather powerful sense of urgency by installing a timer at the top of the screen as a reminder of your impending doom. You get about 15 minutes or so of time when Manannan isn’t a threat to figure things out and explore the land searching for a way to stop him. If you are found outside the house or in possession of certain items you will be killed on the spot by him, so you have to do things quickly and allow enough time for you to return to your slave post, make sure nothing is out of place, and then hide the forbidden items before he sees you with them.

If by “could” you mean “will”

The pressure is pretty heavy and almost maddening some times, but in a way its also a big part of the fun. To make it even harder, you have to cast spells that require you to input commands quickly, and without spelling or phrasing errors, AND type out the incantation from the manual perfectly or you will be killed by your sloppy magic. To be honest this might be my favorite of the series for its unique playstyle and challenge even on repeat playthroughs. The timer is especially handy for speed runs. Other than the timer and the spells, the gameplay still hasn’t really changed, and the graphics are again only slightly improved.
The next game in the series would finally improve the graphics, but that will have to wait another week until I write Forgotten Franchises: Kings Quest Part 2: The Search for More Readers. We’ve got a ways to go in this franchise and we aren’t even out of the 80’s yet!

Games of Movies vs Movies of Games

Movie-goers and gamers often have differing opinions on what actually makes for an entertaining version of the media they enjoy. When companies attempt to combine the two, we often get an unholy mess regardless of which franchise existed first.

With the movie version of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney being reviewed by movie sites all over the net, I felt it was a good time to take a long hard look at movies based on a successful movie franchise, and when the opposite happens, when a movie gets a “tie-in” computer game to appease fans.

The worst Game to movie translations:

Lara Croft – Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life

While strictly not a direct interpretation of a game, it represented the game franchise, and while the first movie was passable as a weak introduction to the series, this movie did little to represent Lara as a credible character, and it lacked the adventure, grace and wit of the archaeologists’ gaming series up to that point.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

Again, not strictly a version of a single game, this used the Final Fantasy name to create another universe (as the game has done before), but removed anything that made the games special. There was no magic, no summons, no epic battles, and worst of all, no soul.

Bloodrayne

A female vampire in leather fighting with blades should automatically be a hit movie. Basing it on a relatively successful game series should only solidify that fact, however in the wrong production hands, this turned into a horrible, and virtually unwatchable mess.

Street Fighter: The Movie

I shouldn’t really need to comment on this. It was just cheesy and painful to watch, and made me fear for the future of gaming movies when this was released. Fighting games do not make good movie plots, as they rarely have one to begin with. It’s only highlight? Kylie as Cammy and kicking ass!

Super Mario Bros.

The cartoon world of the games that still attracts fans of all ages was not presented in the movie. Instead, a dark, realistic world of New York and a parallel universe which has a different evolutionary strand than our own. If you are a fan of the games, please do not watch!

There are more that could be mentioned here if I had the time, such as Hitman, Mortal Kombat and Dead or Alive (DOA).

The worst Movie to Game translations:

Thor: God of Thunder

Thor is potentially the least believable of all of the Avengers characters, and the movie chose to go down the intergalactic alien route, rather than the traditional Norse God mythology, which left the game without a strong story to create. Despite this, the game tried its hardest and became the least amusing hack-and-slash game imaginable. The Nintendo DS version was marginally less painful to watch or play than the home console versions, but still made me want to burn the game card with a blowtorch.

Catwoman

While arguably one of the worst movie experiences anyway, the game of the movie is painful to play. Enemies can only be disposed of in special zones on the screen, the combat on foot or with the whip was unresponsive, and the voice acting was worse than the acting in the movie.

The Green Lantern

Another mediocre movie makes it onto the gaming consoles, and tries hard to make a lasting impression. It does, but I fear it isn’t the right one (unless it was aiming for repetitive and dull).

Ironman 2

A weaker sequel movie = a weaker sequel tie-in game. Although it looked pretty, and handled reasonably well, it was like they weren’t even trying to create something fun!

Saw

Finally, a non-superhero themed game in the list! The movies are a bit of a guilty pleasure, and cleverly linear in design. The game was also linear, but less cleverly so, although the visual style of the films was faithfully retained.

Again, this is only a brief list, but most of the truly terrible releases tend to be superhero themed games, as that is where the tie-in market is usually targeted, and also most James Bond games (except the original Goldeneye on the N64).

So, how hard is it to move between the two forms of media? There have been some successful transitions, and while not always faithful (or loved by fans of the series), movies such as Resident Evil, Prince of Persia and Silent Hill proved that box office success could be garnered from choosing the right franchise and the right plot to go with. Failing that, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children proved that making the movie into a beautiful (if shallow) sequel will be more than enough to win over the fans. Fan-made movies are often more enjoyable for other gamers, such as the fan-made Tomb Raider: Ascension or the Metal Gear Solid themed short film, “Philanthropy”.

The hardest transition appears to be from creating games of the blockbuster movies. There are the odd few games which are enjoyable, faithful and worth the time and money invested (Batman Begins, Alien Trilogy and the Die Hard Trilogy), but often they either tend to be short and unimaginative, or ugly and virtually unplayable, and this is often down to the time scale involved. When a movie is announced and a game contract is won to produce the tie-in, a timer starts that is rapidly counting down to the movie’s release date. Movies seldom get delayed, so release dates are often very rigidly set, but with game creation there are more steps, more things to consider, and more potential pit-falls, so people often end up just trying to make the easiest game they can within the time constraints.

Unfortunately, this means that it is almost always the gamers that suffer.