Tuesday, September 25, 2012

FTL: WTFs at the speed of light

Alright, another long gap between this post and the last one. I haven't really been playing any new or exciting games, so that's the reason for that. Recently, however, I ended up buying FTL: Faster Than Light on Steam. Let me just start off by saying this; if you are the kind of person who does not enjoy difficult games with lots of randomized encounters, this game is not for you. It will be incredibly rage inducing. Trust me on this one.

Anyways, on to talking about the game. The game itself is relatively simple in concept as well as in mechanics. The premise of the game is that you are a star ship crew trying to get to your base to deliver some vital intel, all the while being chased by the rebels. To progress through the game, you go through various sectors, with each sector containing a randomized map of locations that you can travel to. Each of those locations can themselves have a randomized encounter, dealing from rebel scout ships, to shops, to friendly bases that will provide you with supplies.

Speaking of supplies, everything in the game depends on a single currency; scrap. Scrap is required for pretty much anything you need to do in the game, from upgrading your ship, to buying weapons, ammo and repairs at shops, as well as purchasing new crew members (your initial starting crew consists of three people). The main way of getting scrap is by encountering other ships and killing them, or if you have the proper equipment, boarding the ship itself and killing off the crew, which will net you a larger reward. Other methods of gaining scrap are by randomly encountering a friendly vessel which might happen to provide you with scrap, or selling unwanted weapons at shops.

On to the ships. Initially you start out with a basic ship with a crew of humans and a few weapons. As you progress through the game, you have the potential to unlock additional ships if you manage to meet the proper conditions for it. The ships themselves have various room layouts, some of which contain your engine room, shields, weapons, cockpit, and so forth. You are able to man some of these systems with your crew to gain some small boosts, depending on what system it is. For example, having someone man your weapons room will have your weapons recharge at a slightly faster rate. Having a pilot in the cockpit will give your ship a better chance at dodging incoming fire. Some of the rooms will be empty, to allow for addition systems to be added if you so desire. Each room is connected to another by a door. Why is this important? It is important due to the fact you are able to open and close each door individually, allowing for several things to happen. If you upgrade your doors to blast doors, you can isolate an enemy boarding crew and open the connecting rooms to the vacuum of space, eventually suffocating the intruders. This can also be used to deprive any fires that may start of oxygen, thus putting them out without endangering your crew members.

Over all, this game is very much about micro-management and strategic thinking. You need to be constantly making decisions and thinking about any potential consequences of your decisions. One small slip is all it takes in this game for your journey to be over. Decide your routes and your gameplay carefully, as you can very easily find yourself at a disadvantage, either through coming across an enemy that you weren't prepared for, or by running across a dead-end route and needing to backtrack, potentially running into the rebel fleet that will slowly make its way across the sector. I must say, that even though this game has many WTF moments, some of which will possibly make you say, 'Fuck you FTL', it is still an enjoyable experience, especially for those who really want a challenge in their gameplay.

Monday, July 30, 2012

What makes a game?

So, this time I've decided that I'll talk about what I actually prefer in a game. This will give a little more definition as to what kind of gamer I am, my views, etc. As I said in my little About Me box, I got started playing video games on the NES, when my dad got me playing Super Mario Bros. Oddly enough, I haven't really turned into a platform game type. That would probably due to the fact that most of the games I've played since have included, as stated in my previous post, such games as the Legend of Zelda series, the Metroid games, as well as a mixture of racing, puzzle, action/adventure, strategy games.. I've pretty much ran the gamut of video games basically. Over the years I have, of course, favored certain genres and/or certain games over others, as any usual gamer will. As right now, my main genres that I enjoy playing are action/adventure games (so long as they have a decent story, I love going out and exploring places like that), strategy games (i.e. Sins of a Solar Empire, although technically that's a real-time-strategy/explore, expand, exploit, exterminate type game), with a few racing and puzzle games tossed in for variety. Oh, I almost forgot that I do play some FPS games now and then, but I don't feel like I got exposed to those types of games early enough to have the same reaction time as those who have been playing it for years, so I tend to get a little frustrated.

Now, why do I like the games I do? Well, I'm of the personal opinion that if a game has a story, it should be told well. Hence my preference for action/adventure games. Even though a lot of them can tend to be linear in their gameplay, the story is usually decently written. I admit that some action/adventure games can have really horribly written stories though. What makes a good story? Generally speaking (and again, this is my opinion), it is one that engages the player in the story itself. There should be a connection between the player and the characters in the game. If there is a character in the game that ends up dying, the player should either feel happy or sad that they are gone. Happy that they're gone because the person was a 'villain' and was causing horrible grief to the world/whatever setting the game is in, or sad because the person was highly useful and had a great character. As far as I'm concerned, a player should never just feel 'meh, no big deal' whenever a major character dies in a game. What else makes the story good? When the world the game takes place in is properly fleshed out. This is one of the few things that I have against one of the games I love, Fable. There is the world, and the world as it is because of events that happened long in the past, but that history is never explored. The only tidbits that we, as the players, ever get, is that such and such event happened in the past that still has an effect on things happening in the timeline of the Fable series. That's it. Nothing else is said about why these why these things happened, who or what caused them to happen, or anything like that beyond little bits and pieces here. Now, I know that a little more information has been given in various websites, but they are still just little pieces that don't really flesh out the world of the Fable series.

An example of a game with a rich story? Darksiders. Not only do you get a feel for the main character, but you also get a pretty good idea of why things are happening in the world. The rest of the characters also feel really nicely thought out, with well done personalities as well as reasons for their actions. They also did a good job of giving players the impression that something in the world just isn't quite right, and in the end confirm those impressions solidly. Since the game itself takes place on Earth and not some fantasy realm, they didn't have to delve too deep into history and instead simply had to focus on a bit of history for the characters and events happening in the game itself. I will have to admit that the gameplay itself is a little simplistic, but hey, it's kind of to be expected from a game that's mostly hack-and-slash. That's not to say the game isn't fun, because it is. And I think I need to stop here on this post, because my brain seems to have died out on me. Just one of those days. I'll try to continue this in a future post if I can, probably dealing with gameplay mechanics or what-not.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Long time no see.

Once again, I haven't posted in quite some time, partially from playing a few games that I've already talked about, partially because at least one of the games I'm currently playing is in closed beta, and partially because I just don't have much to talk about. I figured I'd use this time to just talk in general about games and the like.

Currently, I'm just a little disappointed with the way most developers seem to be going in terms of what games they are pushing out lately, although there are a few exceptions. One of them being Planetside 2, which I am very much looking forward to. From all that I have seen and heard, SOE seems to be doing a pretty good job of pushing out what will (hopefully) be a really great title that also happens to be free-to-play (henceforth referred to as F2P for those who might not have known the gamer vernacular) with a micro-transaction business model. Yes, I said micro-transaction business model, and in this case I don't think it will be a bad thing. As far as has been shown, it looks like the majority of things that will be available for purchase using real cash are going to be cosmetic stuff, like camo for your character and weapons. Personally, I'm perfectly fine with that kind of business model on a F2P game. It allows the business to potentially pull in a decent amount of cash while at the same time not alienating those who wish to not purchase things with real money. I've played plenty of F2P games where they have failed on that part through allowing purchases of things that are obvious (and sometimes huge) upgrades to anything that someone who plays the game completely free could ever hope of attaining.

Anyways, enough about Planetside 2. There's plenty of youtube videos for that, which would be far better in explaining it than I could in written form. What else have I been doing besides drooling over previews of PS2? Mostly Smite closed beta with a sprinkling of Tribes: Ascend here and there. I've also taken to the habit of going back to my Wii to play some old SNES, Nintendo 64 and Gamecube games, most of those being the Legend of Zelda and Metroid games. I've always loved how well the story-telling is in the LoZ series (although I'm still a little iffy on the official timeline bit..), and how you can just go and explore and find all the hidden secrets. Even if there isn't an outright story told in Metroid, the gameplay itself is in a way it's own story-telling. Here you have Samus, a silent protagonist, going through these various worlds (up until recently with little or no contact with anyone to talk to her), killing all of these alien Pirates to ensure that their plans for domination never come to fruition, all with the ever-elusive and mysterious Chozo haunting the background, in the form of their ruins as well as their technology. Even the Metroid Prime games still have heavy overlays of the Chozo in them, even when the missions don't take place on worlds that the Chozo themselves didn't inhabit. Yet, despite all of this, we still know so little of this star-faring species. I think it would be pretty cool if Retro Studios were to make a new Metroid that explored them in more detail. I suppose part of the reason this hasn't happened is that there may simply be too small of a demand for it.

Other than all that, not really too much to say. Still having the usual daily cussing bouts at the gameplay of the various teammates I end up with. Playing MMOs, especially of the like of Tribes and Smite, has definitely compounded my opinion that tactics really are a virtue, and a dying one at that. I leave that particular post (read; possible major rant) for some other time. And if anyone who reads this is lucky, I shall forever spare you from ever having to read it.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Tribes: Ascend

Well, I know it's been a little over a month now since my last post, but there's actually a reason for it. I've been playing a lot of Tribes: Ascend lately, and wishing that more people had an understanding of even the most basic of tactics. Now, for those of you that don't know, Tribes: Ascend is a game that had it's full release around mid-April of this year. It's made by a company called Hi-Rez Studios, a small place that started up in 2005, according to Wikipedia. Considering that this is only their second game published, I'd say they've done a decent job.

While I do know about the Starsiege: Tribes games, I have not played them unfortunately, so I don't really have a frame of reference to go by when comparing Tribes: Ascend to any of the older games. That aside, the gameplay of it is fun and engaging, and does require at least a certain amount of skill to be decent. I know that some veteran Tribes players are unhappy with there being a class system, but personally I like it, at least to an extent. I do agree with some of the veteran gripes that starting out naked would give the generator a much higher importance than what it currently has (which is not to say that it's useless, it's just not all important, and letting it die isn't make-or-break for a team). As it currently is, newer players just starting Tribes: Ascend tend to appear to be under the assumption that the generator must be kept up at all times, which can have the disastrous result of having nearly half your team down there when they could be helping guard the flag.

Which brings me to another bit, which is teams. Teams on Tribes: Ascend are divided between Blood Eagle and Diamond Sword, with each team getting a maximum of 16 people. Lately it feels like most games are running with around 12-14 people per side, but even then it's still fun. It's when you come across the times when there's only about 7 people on each team when the rounds are not really worth playing. One issue that tends to pop up is team stacking. For those who don't know that term, it's basically piling all the good people onto one team (intentionally) for an easy win against people of lesser capabilities. Doesn't happen too often, but it can be annoying when it does.

Time to get into a little greater detail, and also explain why the generator isn't all important anymore. Tribes: Ascend has a leveling system, with you get experience points every match based upon your performance. The experience points are then used to upgrade the weapons, armor, and perks of the different classes you have unlocked. Currently, the classes you have unlocked initially are the Pathfinder (generally used as flag capper/flag chaser), Soldier (the one that's supposed to be most balanced), and the Juggernaut (mortar spammer extraordinaire). Each class falls into one of three categories of armor. Classes like the Pathfinder are classified as light armor classes. They're lighter and have more maneuverability, but they also have less health. They're weapons also tend to do less damage. Medium armor classes, like the Soldier, have more health and only a bit less maneuverability, but their weapons hit harder than a Light armor. Juggernauts and other classes like it fall into the Heavy armor category. They have the most health and strongest hitting weapons. The downside is that they tend to be called fatties, and for good reason. They tend to be very plodding when it comes to movement. Now, when you join a game, you choose which class you want to play as at the beginning, and you spawn with your chosen payload. You can change classes in the middle of the game by going to the class menu and accessing an inventory station, but you can also achieve the same thing simply by dying or committing suicide and re-spawning as your new class. Herein lies the reason why the generator is no longer all important. Yes, it does run things like base turrets and player deployables such as shields and light turrets, but it isn't necessary for changing your class or your payload. So you can let your generator stay dead if it becomes apparent the other team is set on keeping it that way, and just go with classes that aren't dependent on a running generator to be effective. Many people seem to be unable to grasp this simple concept, even when it's bashed into their faces multiple times.

I suppose next I should discuss the movement itself. There's three basic modes of getting around. Walking, 'skiing', and jet-packing. Walking is the slowest and most likely to get you killed within a very short span of time. Skiing is a mechanic whereby your character basically gets frictionless shoes. Using this you can use slopes and mountains to gain large amounts of speed, something that's usually necessary if you want to be a good flag capper. Jet-packing is kind of self-explanatory. You have a jet pack that runs off of an energy pool that allows you to fly about for short periods of time. The energy doesn't last long, so don't expect to go halfway across even the smallest map on it unless you're already going fast from skiing. This is the part where I admit that I still need a little practice to get to the top speeds. Speed is measured in km/h on Tribes: Ascend, and currently my fastest is only around 230 km/h. Some of the really good Pathfinders I've seen easily reach over 300. So yeah, I still have a ways to go.

One thing I almost forgot to mention are the perks. You get two slots for perks, and what perks basically do is give you different abilities or protections. The ones I use most on my pathfinder are Reach and Egocentric, which allows me to grab the flag from further away as well as take less damage from my own weapons when 'disc-jumping', respectively.

I'm sure some people reading this will be curious as to how much Tribes: Ascend costs. The answer is; zero. It's a free-to-play game with a cash shop business model. You can gain VIP status with your first cash purchase, which will give you a 50% boost to your experience gain for the duration that you have an account on Tribes. The types of things you can buy currently are weapons, any classes you don't already have unlocked, as well as any perks you don't have. This may sound unfair, but those same weapons can be gained simply by playing the game and using experience to unlock them. Admittedly, some weapons take a lot of experience to unlock, but they are attainable regardless. Not only that, but the only way you can upgrade a weapon, even if you bought it with gold (which is what you buy with cash), is to use experience points, which you can gain through playing the game. You can gain experience by referring people to the game and such, but you kinda need friends and/or fans of some sort somewhere who want to play the game.

Overall, I think that Tribes: Ascend is fun and has a lot of potential. It does have its issues, but not enough to put me off of playing the game. That would be the players doing that. Not that the players are rude or anything, I just get a little annoyed at the lack of tactics and team play on a team based game. I'm sure I'm missing a few things in my post, but I'll probably think of those later and maybe edit them in.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Overlord! Ruler of all that is Evil, as well as... pretty...flowers?

So I just finished playing Overlord for Xbox 360, and I have to say I am surprisingly pleased with it. My initial reaction upon playing it for the first hour or so was kind of neutral, and I really wasn't too sure if it was a game I would like, but as I played more and more, it started to have faint similarities to the Fable series, which, while not exactly always great, is a series that I still enjoyed overall. The main similarities between Fable and Overlord is the humour and the sometimes over-the-top stereotypes used for the peasants, elves, and dwarves of the land. The peasants are somewhat idiotic, but not so much as to be annoying. The elves, on the other hand, were incredibly annoying with their pretentiousness, which in a way is fitting with the stereotype. Of course, the dwarves of the game are obsessed with, what else, beer and gold.

The Overlord himself is, in this case, the silent anti-hero/villain. You aren't really forced into make good or evil decisions, leaving it open to personal preference upon whether or not you want to be a badass Overlord who reigns through terror, or you can just sorta be a somewhat neutral/kinda good guy by just killing off the main enemies of the story, who, ironically enough, are fallen heroes who killed off your character's predecessor. So in a way, you are killing these guys for revenge of a sorts, but you are also doing the world a service by ridding the land of them. Hence why my title is as it is. And for the first time in a long time, I was actually satisfied with the ending of the game. I'll have to play it a couple of times to see if there are various endings depending upon how good or evil you are (I would actually be a bit surprised if there weren't).

The game play itself is rather straight-forward after the short tutorial, and it's relatively easy to remember the few spells that you get. There is an upgrade system in terms of your armor and weapons, but it's also fairly simple, giving you the option of using a sword, axe or mace as your weapon, along with being able to upgrade your weapon, armor and helmet to give various effects. Upgrading your items with effects does cost you, but it actually becomes fairly easy about halfway through the game to be able to come up with the cost to do multiple upgrades at once. The use of Minions, what amounts to a small army of what look like halfling-sized imps, makes combat fairly simple as well, especially once you learn how to use each of the four types of Minions to maximize their effects.

Overall, I thought the game was well done. It did feel a little low budget at times with the graphics and the fact that most of the characters are voiced by about 4-5 people in total, but that really didn't take away too much from the experience of playing the game itself. To summarize my thoughts on it, it has the Fable feel with a bit of tongue-in-cheek humour to it, with some elements of hack and slash games, mixed in with a touch of an RPG element. In the end, it was a fun game to play, and I would definitely recommend someone to play this if they wanted to play something that was easy to get in to and had good humour in it.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

PC vs. Console, who will win?

The answer to the title, in my opinion, is neither. As anyone reading this may have guessed, this post is all about the (sometimes heated) debate over which is better for gaming, PC or console. From a personal standpoint, I like both. Each one has their pros and cons when it comes to gaming. Usually my preference is determined by the kind of game that I'm playing. For FPS I usually prefer a PC, mainly because I prefer the accuracy that one can get from using a mouse. For Adventure/Action style games, I usually prefer to use a console. One of the reasons for that is the fact that with a console controller, you have every button within reach of one of your thumbs or one of your index fingers, making selecting items relatively easy. Now, I know that most, if not all, games on PC these days give you the ability to re-map your hot-keys to whatever you prefer, but considering that most games also use WASD keys for movement, I simply find it easier to not hassle with it and just go console. This point can be remedied by getting a controller for use on the PC, but frankly, I don't feel like spending an extra $30 U.S., give or take, just to get a controller that looks and functions exactly like the controller I already have... that happens to function just perfectly well with the console it came with. If you don't already have a console, then I would say that it could be a worthwhile investment

Graphically speaking, consoles are perhaps still lagging a little behind PCs, but when you take into consideration that the average PC bought at a store costs around $700 U.S.+ for even a moderately decent one, which usually comes with a graphics card that needs to be upgraded to something better, and compare that to the $200-400 U.S. (approximately and depending on the system) price that consoles are at these days, I would say consoles aren't doing all that bad. Add in the fact that you usually don't have to wait for anything to load onto a console to be able to play the game right out of the box, and consoles start looking just a little bit better.

Sound-wise, they are comparable. Both are dependent upon the quality of one thing or another, in the case of consoles, the TV the game is played on and how good of speakers it has, for the PC, it's how good of a sound card and speakers/headphones the user has. Either way, that particular bit is dependent upon how much a person is willing to spend on the quality of the product they're using.

In terms of variety, I would say there really isn't that much of a difference. These days many of the games being released onto consoles are also being released onto PC.

I would say that the only major advantage that a PC has over a console, is that a PC game will run in any computer that has the necessary specs for it, whereas a console game obviously needs to be played on a specific console. This can lead to someone needing to buy several types of consoles, which then runs up the cost of console gaming to about comparable to what a PC would be. However, if a person only wants games from just a single console, or even two, then it's still cheaper than getting a PC good enough to play games with graphics as good as a console.

In then end, it's really about preference. Many people will continue to argue which is better, but for myself, I will continue to enjoy playing games on my PC and the consoles that I have. For me, it's about the fun of playing games, and if people want to lose sight of that simple little concept, then there's really nothing anyone can do to stop them from doing it.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Ah, daylight savings... the ban of my punctuality. Now, I know some people may wonder why, of all things, I am making a post about daylight savings on a blog that's supposed to be about games. Well, in a way, it does deal with games. How, you may ask? Simple really. MMOs and MMORPGs. Most people probably wouldn't take this into consideration, but it actually can affect certain things about games such as Warcraft and other similar games. This is mostly due to the fact that Europe and pretty much the rest of the world, to my knowledge, does not have the same form of daylight savings time as the U.S. Not only that, but apparently Russia is always one hour ahead of the rest of the world during non-summer months, and two hours ahead during summertime, so that's an even bigger headache for anyone trying to coordinate an online event.

From my own experiences on various MMOs, this can cause a certain amount of confusion when the time switches occur, mostly dealing with in-game events that are recurring events, such as a weekly battle that starts at a specific time, or tournaments that happen on a regular basis. For most people this wouldn't seem to be a big deal, but for those who enjoy doing such things, it can range from being a slight annoyance to being a rather large hindrance, depending upon how many people are involved, the time-zones involved, and their personal schedules.

So far, the studies that have been made concerning the benefits of DLST has shown mixed results, most of them showing that the benefits are barely worth the headache of trying to synchronize all the varying time-zones with each other with their varying versions of DLST. Why the practice hasn't been eliminated is beyond me. From my own point of view, it seems rather ridiculous that anyone would think that changing a clock backwards or forwards is going to change human behaviour. If you like to rise with the sun, then you will rise with the sun, regardless of what your clock says. You may have to change the time when your alarm goes off, simply due to the rotation and tilt of the earth, but you'll still be up with the sun. Anyways, I'm finished ranting about the seemingly asinine practice of DLST, and I have new inspiration for a Minecraft creation that I want to build before I forget about it, so I'm off for today.