Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Brutal At Last

Finally.

I'm getting around to playing Brutal Legend, the exploits of Jack Black's muscled roadie character in a world based around heavy metal. A comical, but extremely loving tribute to the songs, artwork, and attitude associated with the musical style.

Anyone who knows me (in real-life) would think my playing this game is not only a no-brainer but probably necessary to life. That's not far off. I managed to survive not playing it, but I'm not sure how. I put it off because the game is yet another major investment in time when my game playing mood is clearly bent towards shorter score-based sessions. But I've had this thing a year and figured it was high time I cracked it open. I DID play through the demo when it first premiered on XBLA.

I'm a little put off by the idea of how much real-time strategy stuff there is here. RTS games are not my thing, and ordering your army of headbangers around in medium-scale battles is a big part of this game. But I'm so enamored with the style, humor, and of course the music, that I'm eager to give it a go anyway.

This is the role Jack Black seems closest to in real life. You can just feel how much he loved doing this and that he totally gets what the designers of this game were going for. He has dozens and dozens of on-the-fly lines that totally rule. Whatever one thinks of his movie roles... his acting not really BEING acting because he's always Jack Black... here is a context where Jack's actual personality fits perfectly. The co-creator of Tenacious D has landed at his place in the universe. Near the beginning when he 'prays' to the evil powers that rule this strange world he's found himself in (while driving a demonic walker vehicle) I thought I was going to pee it was so funny. Watching Jack's promos for this game on the talk shows via Youtube (complete with him dressed in long black wig and muscle suit to match Eddie's appearance) are pretty hilarious.

There's an option to bleep out the swearing. I chose yes to that because I have kids who might be around occasionally while I play it, but as the game states it also makes it even funnier... in the same way South Park is funnier because they censor the language. The kids are totally gobsmacked too that all the weird music their Dad listens to suddenly has a high-profile, flashy presence right up there on the TV. Like, wow, there must be a world of people who listen to that noisy shit Dad likes.

I can so 'identify' with this game (except the strategy/command parts) that playing it is two-thirds nostalgic for me. And the game is only two years old!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Vanquished At the Sales Counter




Gosh damn Vanquish is an awesome game.

Anyone looking at my sidebar here or my backloggery listing might see I've shown this as 'currently playing' a pretty long time. This game is not a 50 to 100 hour slog-a-thon. To play through the entire campaign mode only takes six to ten hours. And Vanquish has taken knocks from players online for the brevity of its play time, especially as there is no multiplayer component to make up for it.

That naysaying is all asshattery as far as I'm concerned. It has been an off-and-on bitch fest for me about how so many games today just take too long to play through. I'm a working parent that makes time to play games, but I don't really enjoy becoming super-invested in the same narrative for hours and hours. That's what I have books for.

Games have been padded out the ass to increase their so-called value for money. This smacks of catering to the same cheapskate whining I used to hear working for Games Workshop. People (usually older players and fans) would complain about how the models used to be a dollar apiece and now it was just unaffordable now. Wanting to convince rather than turn off long-time customers we'd explain that the models were better sculpted, had more expensive metal in them (to make them lead-free), and that marketing and production needed to be bigger and better because we were now competing with flashy comics, big budget movies and video games for every entertainment dollar a customer might have to spend. These reasons were all true. But it really boils down to this:

Even today, with GW having brought down the price of basic plastic regiments the Warhammer hobby is still expensive. But y'know, the days of fucking selling dull grey fishing weights with rules to be found in shoddily printed one-color pamphlets are long the fuck over. Even when I was working there, there was no way you were going to lure a teenager away from their goshdamned Playstation 2 unless you could smack them in the head with serious cool factor. That means big art, big production, big marketing. And that shit costs money. The irony of course is that the old guard of miniature companies have almost all died away with only GW/Citadel really surviving unscathed. There are tons of new-ish miniature wargame companies that have come along more recently... and guess what they all do. Have expensive figures and really expensive rulebooks and modules. I'm not saying their price point stuff is exactly like Workshop's but one would have to be complete mongoloid not to see the enormous impact GW's marketing and pricing strategy has had in showing wargame companies how to survive.

I used to 'use' how much video games cost as a counter point to GW's investment expense. You'd pay 200 bucks for a console and then thirty or forty dollars for each new game. Never mind any oddball controllers, chairs or TVs a serious video gamer might buy. So a few hundred dollars for rules and a decent sized army seemed, to me, right in line with that. But it was really hard to convince some people. Not young kids so much. You just had to let them get them into a game to show them that it was like video gaming only with more imagination and more of yourself put into the characters. They were inured to paying out the ass for their colorful pastimes. That's just how it was (and is). But adults just didn't get it. Paying three bucks for each comic read in 15 minutes or less-- okay. 25 dollars paid for each movie (with concession snacks) that you experience for two hours-- okay. 15 to 20 bucks a pop for a DVD that you'll watch two times maybe-- okay! What the hell!

NOW apparently there's this perception (with the increase in new game price over the years from thirty-forty dollars on average, to sixty-plus for PS3 and Xbox 360 games) that video games are perhaps too expensive. So the game companies' answer (sort of echoing the refusal to drop prices that killed CDs) is to increase the content, including the length of the basic game. This in the face of the knowledge that only a tiny fraction of game players complete the games that they buy. Most game purchases are played part of the way through, with a lot of time spent on multiplayer aspects or getting the easiest achievements.

So padding the shit out of the one-player modes would SEEM like a wasteful answer. Why do that if most of the players (and whiners) will not stick with a game long enough to see that distant ending you've just made even more distant. And yet... here we have a game like Vanquish which is a veritable case study in distilling the fun down to a short but extremely intense experience for single players only... and people bitch. So I guess the suits have some point after all.

Here's why I've spent so much time (probably thirty hours at this point) on such a supposedly short game. It is REALLY fun. It requires a crapload of skill. It is very intense. You will die a lot. It isn't like Halo or a lot of these other modern murder simulators where you can kind of fake your way through the lower difficulty levels with your reflexes and time-honored shooter methodologies. You are going to have to learn how to control your guy really well. You are going to have to learn every enemies vulnerabilities. You are going to have learn the timing of your own 'superpowers'. And not just to be better, but to simply survive. The action is intricate and explosive. If you approach it casually like you've done it all before (it resembles Gears of War at first) you will have your ass handed to you on a kebab. The game is also score based. You are supposed to replay levels ever increasing the difficulty and refining your technique. Getting faster and cooler. Maybe I like it for much the same reason I like STGs. Short intense burst-gaming that rewards practice.

Can't really complain about weapon effectiveness either. Unlike a lot of FPS or TPS games, most of the enemies cannot take dozens of shots from the basic weapons. If you target weak spots then every gun in the game is useful and kills. And the slo-mo mechanic enables this. I can't remember the last game I played like this where I didn't feel like there was no way I could get past some group of enemies or a boss without better guns. In Vanquish, I could almost always make do. In fact, even though ammo is counted in the game, I frequently found myself well stocked on my most powerful weapons (that have the smallest magazines) because I just didn't need to use them. That isn't because the game is easy. It is because the game trains you to be good with everything. It gets its challenge from the fact that enemies have good guns too and that there are a lot of them.

The achievements in the game are all pretty fun and mostly tied in with normal goals in the game. I hate online based achievements because I really don't do multiplayer, but thankfully Vanquish has no online mode. I've heard people complain about that too. But Vanquish wouldn't work in multiplayer. One of the key aspects to the game is a slow motion or 'bullet time' mode. It is critical to the game. How would you represent this to an online opponet in real-time. If you are in slo-mo and they aren't... how do you reconcile that? You can't both go into slo-mo at the same time every time... the player controls it for him or herself to get an advantage over the enemy. If you say 'take it out of multiplayer' then you've just chopped one of the two major aspects that makes Vanquish unique. I applaud Platinum Games for not shoehorning in some broken multiplayer just to shut those people up.

But it cost Platinum at the cash register. I find the game great, and while it may not be my game of the year, it will probably be the first game I've tried to get all the achievements for. I should have done that with Bayonetta (Platinum's previous release) but I put it down with the intention of coming back to it. And of course, never really did. I'm sticking with Vanquish 'til I've done everything I want to do... which isn't far away now. My love notwithstanding, lack of marketing on the part of publisher Sega, the word on the 'net that it was short, and releasing it at the same time huge juggernaut franchises got new releases spelled mediocrity in the sales department. I don't think it flat-out tanked... it has a big budget look and polish, but was made on a fraction of the money of Halo or Modern Warfare titles. So it can show a profit with a lot less sales, but it certainly wasn't a hit. Platinum Games is kinda becoming known for making critically acclaimed games (Bayonetta and Vanquish are pretty much universally loved by commenters) that don't do so well commercially. And based on interviews I've read they seem okay with that.

So I paid my sixty bucks for Vanquish and have MORE than gotten my money's worth out of it. I've played through the campaign completely twice, once on normal, once on hard. I've used a guide to poke through each level on its own to find all the hidden statues. I've gone back to some individual levels to get the combat-based achievements. Now I'm working on the 'tactical challenges'; individual new levels set in some of the arenas from the campaign game but with many more and different enemies. These are pretty hard, but they will definitely make you work every technique and ability in your arsenal. I haven't found the game to be repetitive at all. You can do things in so many different ways. When you get some new technique down it is really cool to have a go at 'an old level' to see if you can get through it faster and easier with what you've learned.

Despite some fairly graphic violence and a lot of inappropriate language, I've offered to let my son try this game. He is fascinated by its look... the speed and the firepower. But he won't touch it. He says he absolutely would not be able to handle it.

I'm going to apply that sentiment to a lot of the bitchy boys online. They just can't handle it. Playing through the campaign in six hours on casual is for pussies.

(image cribbed from cinedork)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Bringin' The Meat


You never know what is going to catch on with your kids.

We recently downloaded a demo of Super Meat Boy on Xbox Live. I’d heard a lot of good things about the original flash Meat Boy game, but I’m not a big fan of playing games on a PC so I had no experience with it. Mostly it seemed to be described as a 2D platformer with old school difficulty (the very idea of 2D platforming is old school now) but a modern sense of humor and up-to-date sheen. That’s pretty accurate. It doesn’t limit lives or continues like the old games tended to. It does send you back to the beginning of each level when you die, BUT the levels are very short… most not much more than a single screen for the tiny Meat Boy to negotiate. It is a very accomplished distillation of what was fun about those old games, together with the challenge… but minus a lot of the grueling aspect that could make those games frustrating. Although I’m not really in the mood for 2D platformers right now, I do recognize the greatness and will probably give it a go at some point.

What I was not expecting was for my children to think Super Meat Boy is the Second Coming.

My kids are pretty varied in their game tastes… if I compare them to what I hear about their friends. My daughter has almost no buddies that play, but the little they do, it's all ‘Bemani’ stuff like Dance Dance Revolution. She likes DDR, but she also plays singing games like Lips, the action puzzler Peggle, platformers like Super Mario Galaxy and Drawn To Life, and she’s beaten the story mode on two Naruto fighting games. She’s also deadly at Wii Tennis. She doesn’t follow video game reviews, and without input from friends she just gets what she thinks she’d like, based on the game’s artwork, if it has a license she knows, or from something she might see me demo.

My son is much more into video gaming, and he has a ton of friends who also play (Yeah duh I guess, tween boy in USA circa 2010). All his cronies however, are into the latest murder simulators or whatever edgy M-rated game has the biggest hype-fest going on down at GameStop. As of this writing, the headliners are things like Modern Warfare: Black Ops and Fallout: New Vegas (yeah I know, an RPG). Well, because he lives with a parent who restricts the shit out of his intake of video game gore and criminality, he has had to find games that break away from all headshot junk his friends play... but that he'll still enjoy. In addition, because his gamer Dad only delves into gritty FPS or cover shooter games himself occasionally, he has been exposed to much of the OTHER stuff that’s out there. So like a kid whose culinary likes can be broadened by what the parents feed them, my son casts a pretty wide net (for a twelve year old) when it comes to playing games.

The dearth of his experience with M-rated games and his love of other genres baffles his friends and subjects him to some hardship unfortunately. But fun is fun and he has managed to cultivate a they’re-just-being-dumb-and-don’t-know-what-they’re-missing attitude. On the occasion he CAN overlap his experiences with theirs he does. This time he surprised me by going seriously old school with Super Meat Boy. And then so did my daughter.

Super Meat Boy has some edgy, sometimes inappropriate, humor but it isn't much worse than anything they might see on a Nickelodeon gross-fest situation comedy... um, apart from the inclusion of the lead character from the game Mighty Jill Off. If you don't get the double-entendre of that title Google awaits. The visuals and sound effects are cute black humor of the same sort one gets watching something like Mighty Tree Friends. So that got their attention, but the play mechanics have kept them there. Short, brutal levels with tight controls and really exacting platforming perils and solutions. You'll die a million times, but restarting at the beginning of each level is so quick... and the levels themselves so short... that most of the time you won't even have time to cuss and throw the controller. That's the genius. Yeah, its tough and potentially frustrating, but the game doesn't really give you enough time to think about how much you suck. The restart is instant, effectively showing you how a tantrum thrown is just wasting time you could be spending making another attempt. And when you do get through a level, the game replays all your attempts at the same time so you get the amusing sight of Meat Boy copies all throwing themselves at the various spots that were so difficult with one loner finally making it through!

I don't necessarily think my kids will suddenly want to just jump into old school 2D platformers. They are kind of interested in Sonic The Hedgehog 4, a new game with old mechanics, but that's probably about the limit. Besides the clunky music and graphics, the old games usually limited lives or continues or had MUCH more limited (or imprecise) controls compared to Meat Boy. As I said earlier, it is a modern distillation of an old set of mechanics which can be very satisfying and enjoyable when negotiated correctly. And it's almost as far from Call of Duty and the other flavor-of-the-month FPS games as you can get. Sometimes I have a hard time explaining what was so good about those old games... and why I still play them sometimes. Meat Boy pretty much explains it for me.

And too bad for their friends who think a cube of anthropomorphic meat ain't cool. No, he doesn't wear the latest in body armor or pick off gun runners with clean headshots through a 30x scope. A little break from that shit isn't a bad idea, kids.


(image cribbed from Kotaku, the devil's very armpit for Gaming Journalism)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Correctly Assembled


Man, I am just enjoying the crap out of Avengers: Earth Mightiest Heroes on Disney Channel’s XD programming.


There’ve been a lot of Marvel cartoons over the years, usually either based around Spider-Man or the mutant X-men. Sometimes various Avengers, like Iron Man or Captain America would guest-star in an episode. If you were an Avengers fan these little glimpses were tantalizing, but unsatisfying because they’d always crunch the character’s narratives and appearance down to just what would fit in an episode. Most of these shows were pretty juvenile.

Fox’s Batman and Superman cartoons showed that superhero cartoons could be viable for adults again. Teen Titans and later, the awesome Justice League programs showed how great shows about the groups could be. Justice League in particular really got me to waxing nostalgic for the old comics and enjoying the old heroes… from DC anyway.

The Avengers did have an absolute crap cartoon a little ways back. Ostensibly, the big three of Cap, Iron Man, and Thor were the founders but the show itself was made up of stories about their successors, a mashup of Avenger characters from slightly different eras Ant-Man, the Wasp, The Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye and The Vision all wearing newfangly armor and stuff that I guess was supposed to sell toys. This show was awful.

Then there were the direct-to-video movies about the Ultimates versions of the Avengers… and these weren’t bad. It dealt with superheroes and violence in a way no cartoon really had before because they didn’t have to cater so much to a family audience.

But none of this stuff was the real deal.

Now with all the excitement over the two live-action Iron Man films, and the upcoming Thor, Cap and Avengers movies, Marvel Entertainment has pushed out a new series about the ‘true’ Avengers, and it is nearly awesome.

It has some rather obvious nods to the live-action films, like Iron Man’s voice actor sounding and acting like Robert Downey Jr, Jarvis being Stark’s computer, and a black Nick Fury (which itself comes from the Ultimates version of the Avengers). Flashbacks to Captain America show WW2 with Hydra as the enemy as opposed to the Nazis (in the comics Hydra did exist back then, but it was an underground terrorist organization separate, but associating with Nazi Germany) and preview info on the Cap movie shows that Cap will mostly be facing Hydra during that era.

My favorite old Avengers ‘event’ was always Cap’s awakening in the modern age and becoming a cornerstone of the Avengers (he wasn’t actually a founder). The new series sets this up really well. Having a few episodes with each of the founders off doing their own thing, and then coming together over a crisis they can’t handle individually… in this case a breakout of all villains from the various super-prisons in the Marvel Universe. They even have The Hulk join temporarily, as he did in the Avengers comics, and then set up future episodes with the Masters of Evil, the original Avengers first evil counter-group.

You need a scorecard if you aren’t familiar with the Marvel Universe, which I consider something of a detriment for rookie comic fans… but for old school fans this show is the bomb. Good thing my kids have me around to explain who everyone is. My son has a bit of a leg up having played the two Ultimate Alliance games! The animation is decent, the plotting okay (considering how much modern stuff they feel they need to fold in), it is quite violent, and the characterization of the heroes themselves is spot on.

I actually kinda got chills watching The Avengers find Cap, then totally underestimate him and get schooled while he thought they were Hydra agents. At one point he stuns Iron Man with his shield, grabs him out of the air, uses Iron Man’s repulsors to gun down Giant-Man, then throws Iron Man to knock Thor down. He only stops beating them up when the Wasp shows him a memorial statue of himself and the now-dead Bucky Barnes. Previous cartoon appearances had him as little more than a muscle guy who could throw a round shield. Here (and in the Ultimates cartoons) he is shown as the Marvel Universe’s ultimate combatant.

Violent as it is the show is still somewhat restrained by political correctness and considerations for the upcoming movies, but it is a thrill to finally see my favorite heroes of childhood portrayed nearly as they’ve been in the comics.

Corny but recommended.

True This...

http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/digitalfoundry-vanquish-blog-entry

Along my oft-repeated refrain that length (or so-called 'content'), doesn't make or break a game's quality. I've played through two-thirds of Vanquish, doing fairly poorly, and it has taken about seven hours.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Road To Kingship...

...begins with becoming a CG facsimile.

http://blog.games.yahoo.com/blog/124-fact-checking-warcraft-fan-added-to-game/

Mark my words. Soon all of nerd-dom will be under his rule.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Rubbing My Hands Together and Chortling

So I've finished a big game and need to start another. After the mind-numbingly long slog that was Okami, I want my big game to have some meat on its bones but still be a lot less of an investment.

Also this month sees the release of, not one, but TWO Cave shooters, Guwange and Dodonpachi Daifukkatsu. So I have to be prepared to drop 'the big game' for a few days at a stretch and not feel like it is a huge chore to pick back up again and figure out where I left off.

I really need to get to Brutal Legend, but I *think* that game is going to be longer than I need right now. Vanquish just came out, looks awesome (and I've played the demo) but at about seven hours to play through the campaign game it doesn't even qualify and can just be added into rotation like it was an STG!

So I think I'm going to hit the Xbox 360 version of Wolfenstein. I haven't played an FPS since the prequel... in fact I bought the prequel specifically to bone up on the narrative and setting for THIS game. I don't think it is brutally long. And since the previous Wolfenstein had very clear objective aids, and all FPS games have pretty standard controls, I don't think breaking off for a rounds of Cave games or Vanquish is going to leave me discombobulated in my mission to off the Nazis.

I'm kind of in the mood too. After all the fluff and humor in Okami. Its time to get down to some serious killin'. The only thing that stands between Hitler and his quest for mystic power is ME. Okay, BJ Blasko the protagonist of Wolfenstein. But that's still me.

Fuck that Hitler guy.

Wolf Time Is Over




So wow. I finally completed Okami.


I didn’t try to do all the side quests or collect all the items. I didn’t just do a full-tilt run through… there’s some extra gathering and grinding because I didn’t really know what would be necessary to complete the main objectives. Now that I know what the main narrative is, and have a good idea what abilities are needed to reach hidden items, I could do another run-through, and even without looking at a guide any further, complete it with a pretty high percentage.

But I’m not going to go through the game again. And here’s why: It is just too long.

It seems odd to me that this game has so many aspects of a long RPG (that most people would probably play through once, maybe trying to complete as much incidental stuff as possible) and many aspects of a collectible-heavy action game like Super Mario Galaxy (that folks might play over and over again to get better grades on each level and find all the shit).

Okami is another in a huge array of action-RPG games, the definition of which varies from gamer to gamer….with Okami seeming to skew heavily to the action side. You move and fight in real-time… and it is possible to run from one end of the kingdom to the other without using the overworld map. Like Odin Sphere or Muramasa your characters strength and survivability are greatly affected by the RPG elements, the items and leveling up. My problem with Okami is a lot like the issues I had with Odin Sphere. Even long action games tend to be a more distilled gaming experience compared to RPGs. When an action game tries to BE an RPG… in some misguided attempt to provide value for money or something… then it overstays its welcome. Okami took me fifty hours to complete. At 25 or 30 hours it would’ve been more than a good buy (play time-wise). If I’d tried to find all the items and do all the side missions I can’t imagine how inflated my time would’ve been. And Okami is beautiful and slick, but it ain’t THAT beautiful and slick.

If you’ve read any of my posts on Odin Sphere, my feelings about Okami would read very similarly. It is very beautiful, it has a wonderful soundtrack, and the story is cool and funny at times, with a lot of characters, some of which are quite memorable. So the aesthetics are firing on all cylinders. It doesn’t recycle scenery as much as Odin Sphere did, but other aspects of the game drag on and on and on. Boss fights in particular a hugely long AND recycled. You fight Orochi, the major villain of piece three times… and none of them are quick.

The whole game illustrates the adage ‘too much of a good thing’. You can get sick of you favorite food if you eat enough of it. Okami threw new missions, new characters, and new locations at me, and I still got sick of it after the first half. There have been a number of times I’ve tucked in with a long book, or a huge game and enjoyed it. But the mechanics of this game just speak to a more focused play experience than it turned out to be. When these guys formed a different company and produced Bayonetta I think they figured out what works. Bayonetta has A LOT in common with this game apart from the style of the artwork… but is much shorter and more focused, while still having aspects you can dig into and explore. You get graded on your performance for each battle in Okami, just like in Bayonetta. There’s a lot of skill and technique involved, choosing the correct weapon and practicing enough to get good and kill the monsters as quickly as possible, just like Bayonetta. There is no method to jump right back to a sub-level without replaying the whole campaign, which is decidedly NOT like Bayonetta. They’ve got this whole action/combat thing going on, but it is inextricably woven into this GIANT story.

Ever play one of those games where the objectives, steps towards objectives, or puzzles are so obtuse you’d swear they are in there just so you have to buy the guidebook? Yeah, Okami has some of those. Japanese mentality being different and all that, there were times when some of what the game wanted from me was just impossible to figure out. It might be a puzzle, or it might be ‘where to go next’ based on some obscure hint an NPC gave out. The game keeps a log of objectives and hints but some of it was just so oblique I couldn’t manage it. I probably looked at an online guide about five times through the course of the game. I’m not proud of that, but four of those times I went ‘how the fuck did they expect me to know that?’. So there you go.

I can’t say it’s a bad game. It looks like no other game and it is obvious that the designers put their all into it. I’m a game aesthetics whore, so there is a lot about Okami that really speaks to me. But, it kind of sucks for such a huge, beautiful, expansive game to make me say that I’m glad its over.

But I’m glad its over.

(image kyped from GameFAQs)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

This Guy Wins

From a veritable sea of nerds, one stands tall and out-nerds the nerds who designed the world's most popular online nerd-fest.

http://blog.games.yahoo.com/blog/113-warcraft-fan-schools-games-makers/

If you want to know who should be crowned King Get-A-Life, the adulation and admiration from his fellow attendees points to a ringing endorsement for 'red shirt guy'.

I'm no slouch when it comes to nerdly pursuits, but I am small change, frankly... and know way too much about the real world to compare to this guy. Come up for air, dude. And get out of the house for something besides Warcraft events.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Quick Update

Quick update so everyone knows I'm still alive:

Had to put Okami down for awhile and refresh my gaming brains on a bunch of 2d shooters... a sort of palate cleanser if you will. I've picked Okami back up and am going to try to plug through the second half of this before the huge spate of great new games starts coming out. To wit:

Quantum Theory (already out)
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
Vanquish
Guwange
Dodonpachi Daifukkatsu
Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage

All shit threatening to totally derail the time I should be spending painting my Eldar army for 40K. Is it just me or is the new Sonic 4 reallly really weird looking? I tried the demo out, and although it plays fine and my old Sonic reflexes seem to be dialed in... the look of it is just off-putting. Shiny and plastic-looking and the controls are kind of floaty too. I'm not sure I'm going to play this, though I was anticipating it so much. I'm not thrilled that the levels are supposedly remakes of older Sonic levels, though I"m not sure there's a ton they could do that was totally original and wouldn't hearken back to levels from various Genesis and DS episodes.

Work on the Eldar army is proceeding but is kind of slow owing to my continually having to buy new materials since all my old stuff is packed away. I also spend a fair amount of time helping my son with his Tau force but I consider that pretty productive in spite of the distraction. Pics of this work soon I hope.

There's probably going to be some effort for me in my local shop's promotion of the GW hobby too. They're cleaning out a case for a miniatures showcase. We'll see what the response and quality level is to that.

Haven't been doing much on the movie or DVD front. When I do watch television its been to put something educational from the History Channel or somesuch in the background when I've been painting.

I'm not sure I'm going to be less boring as winter closes down around us here, but I'll make an effort!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Yike.

Vanquish is the upcoming release by the same team that made Bayonetta. There is no hot heroine as the main character but this game is so awesome it makes my thingie stick out.

Oh, there's a new Halo game out now, I hadn't noticed with Vanquish on the way.*




*Okay, this is a fib. I bought Halo: Reach for my kid's birthday, but he doesn't know that yet.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Down With The Iron Warriors

Walking in to my local comic (and game) shop last Sunday, I escorted my son back to the wargame tables at the rear. Every Sunday Games Workshop wargames, mostly WH40K, are played in an informal ‘bring and battle’ format. Usually it is pretty well-attended and the previous week my kid had met other players his own age, and that got him all fired up to bring in some of the Tau squads on which he’s been working so hard to paint.


He’s been working so hard on them because I’ve insisted that he do so, and not just show up with a bunch of drab plastic and metal guys.

In common with a lot of players (and the immediate gratification mentality they have) he doesn’t really want to get much painting done before he plays. Truth be told, he’d probably just as soon do NO painting. But having built several Gundam models he at least understands the positive aspects of a modeling hobby and putting something of your own creativity into it. We discussed this at length before the first dollar was spent: ‘Son, your Dad is a beardy old gaming git and you’re going to have to do this right if you want me to throw in with you’…or something to that effect. But he’s only twelve. Eagerness to get to the fun part and ‘aw geez’ the work part is to be expected.

We’ve gone to watch the games played a few times before he even bought his first models, and the example set by the other players is NOT helping my cause. While he does vaguely remember the ‘old days’ when he was around tons of amazing miniatures, intricately designed scenery and enthusiastic GW staff, seeing what goes on at this local shop it’s understandable (even if he wasn’t a kid) why he’d think the non-playing side of things could or should be neglected.

Because The Iron Warriors dominate.

This references an old joke when I was employed at GW. At that time when our staff were going around to game stores trying to promote the hobby, they were constantly confronted with players using armies of unpainted or barely-painted figures. And in those days almost all the models were made out of so-called ‘white metal’, which is a silvery alloy consisting largely of tin. In Warhammer 40,000 there is a chapter of Chaos Space Marines called the Iron Warriors whose predominant color is, as their name suggests, iron or steel. So the preponderance of bare steel-colored models eventually generated a running gag about how all these different players had all these loads of models but at the end of the day they were all using ‘The Iron Warriors’. So everywhere we’d go there they’d be… more Iron Warriors. Progeny of lazy or ignorant players everywhere. They might be shaped like Eldar or Orks or Tyranids but still…

Iron Warriors.

I think the joke is outdated now. Since that educational crusade by GW it has become common opinion that you at least need to get a basic coat of color on ‘em. While the overall effort is still pretty lackluster, in general it seems most players do at least the minimum so that the won’t look totally lazy if they wind up against someone who did a good job. And so many of the models are plastic, the whole ‘iron’ descriptor doesn’t really fit as well.

As Jervis Johnson is always going on about in White Dwarf magazine, immersion is a huge part of this hobby. Like books, films and video games, with any of our diversions we want to be drawn in to a created world, even if that world is largely the same as our own. We want to experience the drama or the humor as closely as possible and the more effective the break from the real world around us the better. Tabletop wargaming is no different. Immersion in the battle is important to the experience. But with gaming of this type, there are so many rules to follow, so many discussions that need to take place, and so much potential distraction (if you’re gaming away from home especially) that it isn’t an unbroken entertainment experience like reading a book in your favorite chair or watching a film in the theater. Wargaming has to generate its atmosphere and color, its ‘hooks’, from the models, the scenery, the narrative behind the battle and the personalities of the players because it is a competitive pastime. It requires a lot of communication that isn’t WITHIN the game’s world.

If you think it’s okay to just throw the unpainted models out there on a flat surface, then why don’t you just play chess? Or one of the tabletop wargames that doesn’t require figures (think Avalon Hill style cardboard chits)? Or in this generation, play a strategy-based video game? They even got ‘em based on the WH40K universe, the Dawn of War series.

Why not pursue other strategy pastimes that don’t have so much manual work involved? Because those pursuits don’t have little toy soldiers you get to push around miniature battlefields. That’s why.

The tactile aspect is a huge part of the attraction. At GW, as much as it was believed that the painting is important, it was also understood that the actual doing of it is a lot of labor—daunting in fact. But no one expected every soldier to be a masterpiece and no one expected the whole thing to be done before you start playing or even to have been done quickly. At the actual GW stores, staff insisted that you get started on painting your models before playing with them in the shop, and that every time you brought them in they showed a bit more progress.

My town, as removed as it is from civilization, appears to have a population of wargamers who have no idea what paints and brushes are for. At least not why they are sold in that very shop right next to the figures. Watching them play presents a laundry list modeling yuck I thought had been driven out back in the 90s. They’ve got unpainted or primer-only model. Models not glued to bases or vehicles (constantly falling over or off). Wrong weapons on models. No weapons on models, including vehicles. Substitutions galore, that is ‘my marine seargeant model here is actually a chaplain’.

That doesn’t even touch on all the wackiness play-wise like not having a list prepared (flipping constantly through the books) or not using counters so the players can’t remember wounds taken on big models or weapons lost on vehicles.

The players spend so much time backtracking, looking shit up, and reminding each other just what the hell they are using on the table… I couldn’t see how it was fun. These games are complicated enough as it is. Further crap that takes you out of the spirit of the game is something to be avoided. Having a painted, correctly assembled and modeled army doesn’t just help with the atmosphere and coolness… it helps the game move along more smoothly. There’s no question what the guns are on the tank. No argument about which model was the hero or heavy weapons trooper in the squad. No struggle to remember that this group of shuriken catapult armed guys are actually carrying shuriken pistols and power swords…. THIS time around. For all that these players (and others like them) seem to think the PLAY is the thing, they sure don’t do a lot of the shit necessary to keep the focus on the play and not on all the exceptions and goofiness spread around their rag-tag ‘army’.

And assuming someone DOES show up with an army with a decent paint job, the Iron Warriors player is doing that guy a disservice by being pathetic about the hobby end of things. THAT guy made an effort and he wants a cool, immersive, atmospheric game. He wants to fight a ‘believable’ force. And you bring the equivalent of an expanded Civil War Chess Set.

Nice.

What happened to making it look cool? People think the art looks cool. The sculpting of the models is cool. This is entertainment in which the consumer gets to participate. What happened to their contribution?

I know a lot of these players like the background. They discuss the troop types and name their forces (I’ve heard ‘em). They must be buying the novels and art books because I frequently need the next one in some series and it is sold out. So why shouldn’t a player do their best to capture this color?

Trying to convey this to my kid is difficult but seems to be working. He showed up with two fully painted squads and third halfway done. And everything was as depicted on his models (and he had some little unit cards with him so he didn’t have to flip through rulebooks!). He knew the game less well than his opponent but his own turns went much smoother and faster.

I don’t actually want to be a snob about it…. But I am. And I want him to be a snob about it too within reason. We can’t make our local shop do what GW does with their must-be-painted policy. But we can try to encourage and be an example. My son should still play against unpainted armies and be a gracious player, but I really hope his work rubs off vis a vis the painting aspect.

I have seen some regular Warhammer (fantasy) players in there too. And they seem more resolved to do the work correctly. While I saw a lot of unpainted or primer-only models, the ranked up nature of Warhammer units kind of forces the players to be more organized, and get those weapons correct and get everything glued down.

I find it staggering that it takes ‘convincing’ to get players on board with this. I see them over in the miniatures racks picking up boxes or flipping through books with ‘wicked’ or ‘those look badass’ spouted all the time. So don’t you want your shit to look badass? I mean you spent all that money (things are NOT cheap) and you’re just going to leave it an Iron Warrior instead of trying to make it look like what attracted you in the first place? And these players have the internet. There are kajillions of online examples at all skill levels that this shit is done and, in fact, MUST be done. You don’t get a fucking bye just because you live in the sticks.

I need to take the word to the heathen.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Something to Offend Everyone

The recently-created eight episode mini-series Kids In The Hall: Death Comes To Town is like a reunion with dear old friends. Only they're a bit older and paunchier (as reunions typically deliver), but with better makeup and an even bigger disregard for political correctness and social taboos.

One of the lead characters a grossly fat, high-voiced man played by Bruce McCullough is an abortion survival.... from out of the doctor's discard pan.

I've only seen about a quarter of the series, but it has me laughing in places probably from shock as much as humor.

Oh yeah. Leave your sense of offense at the door. Brain Candy's Cancer Boy was only the beginning apparently.

The Other Type of Gaming Nerd


The color scheme and first guys for my Eldar force for Warhammer 40,000. I have four soldiers painted and the pic above is more or less showing them actual size if on your screen the round bases are one inch across.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Little True Life Story

So a couple of weeks back I’m in my local Gamestop. I went to put a copy of Halo: Reach Legendary Edition on pre-order for my son’s birthday. I go in, make my request, plunk down the deposit and then do a little looking around the store. I have some time to kill and I might turn up some hitherto unneeded video game gem in the used racks.
I’m at the bottom of the Xbox 360 section having to pick through the unalphabetized titles when I overhear this snippet of conversation between a recently-arrived customer and one of the pale, paunchy salespeople… and NOT paraphrased either:

GS Emp: So how about E3, huh? Excited about anything coming out?

Cust: Not so much. A few things maybe.

GS Emp: What about that Sony move? That’s going to be amazing!

Cust: It looks just like what the Wii already does.

GS Emp: But the Wii is a failed system.

Cue customer shrug.

So I stand up from where I’m shopping, turn to face Lord Dork of Gamestop and say:
‘On which planet of idiots is the Wii a failed system?’
Then THIS snippet of conversation took place:

GS Emp: Well… it just isn’t doing, uh, good.

Me: By whose standards? Where are you getting your information?

GS Emp: Well, if you go on the internet you can see it is failing.

Me: Where can you read that? Every ‘official’ source, online or in magazines, will tell you that the Wii is the runaway bestselling console. As a gaming unit, its sales are only exceeded by OTHER Nintendo products. The top selling spots for software are routinely occupied by Wii games. What the hell are you talking about? I’d really like to know.

GS Emp: Well, uh, in THIS store the Wii doesn’t do, um, good. We sell more Call of Duty.

Me: And you sold NO copies of Mario Galaxy 2? And you expect to sell no copies of Metroid: Other M? This single store in this podunk town is the yardstick by which Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo measure success?

GS Emp: Well, no, but customers I’ve talked to don’t like Wii games.

Me: Then if the Wii has FAILED at anything, it is catering enough to some specific gamer tastes like yours. And THAT my friend is what you will read on the internet when you read fanboys bashing the Wii, if you’ve got an ounce of discernment. That THEIR tastes in games don’t seem to be well-represented on that console. And maybe yours aren’t either.

GS Emp:…

Me: You can like what you like and you can hold your opinions. But just blanket badmouthing makes you look stupid and it certainly isn’t what the suits up at Gamestop Nazi Central want you to be saying, is it? IS IT? The biggest segment of your customer base… and you’re badmouthing the system they plunked money down for? Whether you like it or not, what kind salesman does that make you?

GS Emp:…

Me: It makes you a shitty salesman. It makes you a great frothing fanboy, but a shitty salesperson. It’d make my day if this guy (pointing to original customer) was a secret shopper for Gamestop Nazi Central. Dude, turn in your gamer card and go back to nerd school.

Cue me walking out of store with the other staffer, the one who took my deposit, just staring slack-jawed.

Jiminy Christmas people. It is the games that make the systems. Even for the hardcore, the Wii has great games on it. But if you don’t think so, keep yourself from sounding the fool by acknowledging your bullshit is opinion and not fact.

If there’d been some Mom with her kid in there, shopping for a Wii game, when this dork had spouted off, then I probably would’ve gotten mean.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Apologies

Between kids going back to school, the wrapup of summer doings, and various medical or health-related shenanigans I have not been making time to update this blog.

On the video game front I haven't progressed much owing to the above-listed time killers but also because I'm just bogged down in Okami. Almost bored with it you might say. It isn't that it is a bad game, it is just so long. I'm having similar problems to my play-through of Odin Sphere awhile back. What little time I do manage on my consoles is mostly dicking around with the digital pinball games from Kaze. About as far from Okami as you can get. The only thing video game wise that really has me excited is all the shit Cave has announced at their August Matsuri festival. Just about every old STG they've ever designed seems scheduled over the next year.

If anything my pastime-time is taken up with getting back into GW stuff. I've been reading a lot of Black Library novels set in the Warhammer and Warhammer 40K universes to get hepped up, and I've made some progresss in buying and starting an Eldar army for 40K. I don't get anything like the great deals on this stuff that I used to so I have to be a lot more strategic with my purchases of figures. Most of my old paints aren't good either so I have to rebuild that setup. My son has gotten inspired and is beavering away on a Tau force. I've got an infantry model done to completion so I could figure out my army's color scheme and three more troopers following on from that. I'll post pics soon. I like my ideas, but my son hates it! Ha.

He'll double hate it when my force rolls over his.

I'm actually more of a Warhammer (fantasy) player. I will be firing up a force of High Elves before long and dividing my painting time between the two. I'm working 40K earlier because that, of course, is what the boy is into. Even my daughter is getting in on the act. She knocked out a decent Space Marine, but really wants to paint some Wood Elves.

Nerdy nerdy family.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Wow.

No, not WoW as in World of Warcraft. 'Wow' as in the exclamation.

I haven't been doing much new gaming that's worth writing (ploughing through the very long Okami) so there hasn't been much in the way of updates. I could post articles about other nerdly things, but apart from reacquainting myself with GW products I'm not doing much new there either. I probably will talk Warhammer, etc at some point but I ain't there yet.

I got this awesome new 'wave lounger' that is a semi-portable chair/pad that is just perfect for plonking right in front of a plasma screen and having a joystick set in your lap. I gave Ketsui a go with this setup and it is the cat's ass.

The MAIN reason I'm posting though is this link:

http://www.boingboing.net/2010/08/10/yakuza-3-review.html

I haven't played this game and have no intention, but this is one of the greatest game-related articles I've read all year and maybe ever. I think the concept of 'game journalism' is a crock... BUT. If there was ever a piece written that was not about the business/financial aspect of videogames that could be called actual journalism, this might be it. I have some exposure to the Yakuza through film... particularly those of Takeshi Kitano so a lot of what is talked about in the article really dovetailed with my continued fascination with Japanese culture.

Thanks to Sketcz at HG101 for pointing this article out.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Doing a Double

At the time of this writing I've finished (re)reading Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five from 1969 and just (re)watched the film made three years later by George Roy Hill.

Both are good, in my opinion, with the book holding an edge in terms of just how good. The story is an idea or concept driven piece with a huge moral (but cynical) undertone. If you are looking for something character or even plot-driven really you'd need to look elsewhere.

But the book was short, so even if you found the jumpy non-linear aspect to be annoying it doesn't go on for very long. The film is pretty true to the book including a lot of lines lifted straight. About the only 'era' the movie doesn't track is the time/impressions for Billy after he dies.

Given all the jumpy time-frame stories that have come after Slaughterhouse-Five, both literary and cinematic, it might not seem so unique or even interesting, but put in perspective it can be seen to be hugely influential.

I'm writing this mostly because I haven't posted for awhile and want everyone to know I'm still alive, but also it is not all that common for me to read a book and watch the film at the same exact time. Thought maybe that moment should be marked somehow.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Two For Tuesd-- uh, Wednesday



I've gotten behind on my music buying, but have taken steps lately to remedy that. Looking through the various artists that are staple bands for me, there aren't that many releases I seem to have missed over the last several months... most have albums that just came out or are still future. Still my want list for music is still quite a bit bigger than it has been for a while. With the death of ALL specialist music stores in my area, I'm pretty much limited to itunes, but that service has gotten a lot better for the wacky music I consume.

Two of the albums I purchased recently are rather genre-bending so that makes them, to me, interesting enough to note briefly.

The first one is Architect of Lies by Mercenary. This is a metal band from Denmark that have have a lot of talent and are all over the map musically. They seem to mostly get labeled melodic death metal, the genre that includes In Flames, Soilwork, and Dark Tranquillity. If one were to go off this most recent record that would probably be sort of accurate. Architect of Lies mines the attributes of melo-death more than any other style and it is more prevalent here than on Mercenary's previous two albums, The Hours That Remain and 11 Dreams. Maybe that's why this album seemed to be less well received, from what reviews I've read, than the previous outings.

I like the melodeath style. For some fans it is a bit tired... very mid 90s. That was when everyone and their little cousin Edith was forming a melodic death band or changing their sound to fit the subgenre. Y'know, back before metalcore did the same thing at the turn of century. Apart from the aforementioned core melodic death bands I didn't really just buy and buy and buy it til I could puke.

Mercenary have a huge sound, epic really. Melodic death bands tend to alternate between harsh and clean vocals, but this band is kind of in a whole different league. Their clean vocals can match almost any other rock band and at times absolutely dominate the songs. The guy can get way up there. They also feature frequent intensity and tempo changes (though no odd time signatures) to the point I'd probably lump them in with progressive bands actually. This most recent album is not as varied... it is more of a one-trick melodic death pony, but I don't think that's bad. Sometimes bands, even crazy eclectic ones, need to focus. Sometimes they benefit and the fans like 'em and sometimes they don't. Architect is NOT a lot like other melodic death albums. It is still pretty progressive in places, and the vocals rock out with their cock out like one would expect if you have any experience with them. Shout out to their drummer too. Their drums seemed to be miked up a little to much at times, but the guy is a rhythm god.

So I liked Architect of Lies. No, it isn't 'just super' like The Hours That Remain, but I think anyone hating on this album was just put off that they weren't all over the map quite as much as usual. If you want heavy music, like heavier than anything on the radio, but you want variety in the music and vocal styles EARLY Mercenary is a surer ticket, but even the latest is money well spent. I'd actually like to see these guys live. Soilwork shows are incredibly energetic... almost dare I say 'danceable' for a metal concert. I wouldn't go so far as to say Mercenary would have the same effect, but I'd bet you'd come out of one feeling pretty jazzed.




Second up is a total left turn with Rotersand's Random Is Resistance. Described as electro, EBM or Futurepop by reviewers and fans, if you listen to VNV Nation or Covenant you are somewhere in the ballpark. Dark, usually danceable electronic music that's frequently in the rotation lists at goth/industrial clubs.

But here's where Germany's Rotersand is different: they like Pink Floyd. A lot.
I mean Ronan Harris of VNV Nation might like Pink Floyd, but you don't really know it from his music. Rotersand is like Ronan and David Gilmour having a love child. I know that's gross, but the listener benefits.

Not all the songs are Floydian. Rotersand's strength is in the variety. They have expansive quiet Floydian numbers, they have more typical EBM dancefloor anthems, and they have songs that would almost be straight up radio pop if it weren't for the squalling electronic underpinnings. I really like these guys because even when they do a 'typical' electro song they pull from a much bigger library for their instrumentation and melodies. Acoustic guitar in an industrial club? Rotersand'll do it. And make it work really well more often than not.

It's a little like Juno Reactor's mixing in all kind of world music, chants and percussion and still being 'cool'. Apart from being pretty sure you are going to hear something like Pink Floyd on the record, anything could be in the mix in the next song thought the band doesn't stray so far out of the EBM/Futurepop box that they are unrecognisable. They could've just done whatever crazy shit they wanted and just thrown in one or two 'clubby' songs to make sure the EBM fans keep buying them, but they aren't that nutty.

They just do the Futurepop thing really well because they aren't afraid to pull stuff from outside and make it work. Any album of theirs is highly recommended, though the first one, Truth Is Fanatic, has less variety as they were still working out their strengths.

Warning: on Random Is Resistance the song War On Error crushes all!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Holding It Correctly


Wanna know something that drives me nuts? All the American comics and movies and stuff that I see where 'samurai swords' are being used, but the user holds 'em like a baseball bat.

You'd think if all the creative people involved were such fans of the jidaigeki or chambara genres they'd have noticed this glaring detail. Ever since I started watching Kurosawa films or reading manga (and I was a kid at that point) I've noticed this error and it is just embarrassing. Like the oafish American who upon meeting someone from the UK has to blather on about 'saving your ass in WWII'. I'm embarrassed that the loud cocksucker can't be bothered to get the facts straight before shooting off his mouth. Same thing.

I've just gotten done re-watching The Hidden Fortress and am partway through a rewatch of Yojimbo. Toshiro Mifune pictured above is not the greatest swordsman technique-wise in samurai films... he was an actor foremost. He gets the job done through attitude and dedication to the role more than anything else. But as you can see in the pic above, he is NOT holding the weapon like a bat. Practicing iaido as I do, the correct grip on the sword is second nature to me, but this has NEVER appeared as a subtle detail even when I was a kid jumping around with plastic blades in the back yard. I always held my 'ninja sword' with a palm-width distance (approximately) between my hands (unless holding it one-handed).

I always have some kind of jidaigeki film in my rotation. Hideo Gosha's Bandits Vs. Samurai Squadron is up soon. But for some reason watching these two Kurosawa films recently, made me think back to some Marvel graphic novel of recent vintage. Now I love me some Avengers of course, but this was a story set partly in Japan and full of ninjas. Lone Wolf and Cub has been published over here in the USA for years now, along with a good deal of other samurai period manga. And LW&C is not obscure. It is a major influence and inspiration for comic writers and artists today. So there was no excuse for the Avengers book to be full of katanas being held like baseball bats.

I'm sure my attitude is aggravated by the fact that I have personal involvement in this archaic weapon art, but its a real wince-inducer. Even the barely-past-teen girls in Japanese movies like Princess Blade or Azumi get this grip correct-ish, so it seems almost like blinkered American superiority at times that we keep choking up on the tsuka, the sword's handle.

Okay. I'll be quiet now and go back to watching my little movies and stroking my weapon.

(pic taken from FilmWeb)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Redundant Moi

I got my copy of Electronic Gaming Monthly last week and was planning on doing an issue number two comparison between EGM and the Gamefan I'd gotten not too long before. Both mags have legendary status in video game history and have seen recent relaunches. I compared their first issues in a previous entry.

I said I was PLANNING to, but prolific member Sketcz already beat me to it, posting a side-by-side for both issues that details very similar points I was going to make. I would've written almost the exact same article apart from quite a few less pictures and probably a few more f-bombs.

http://blog.hardcoregaming101.net/2010/07/gamefan-2-vs-egm-2.html

Its some sort of virtual mental plaigarism I tell you!

At any rate. Good stuff. I guess that saves me some effort!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Shameful Pegging





Yahoo! News today had a headline about Bejeweled's 10th anniversary being 'celebrated' as of this writing... and the ONE guy who has managed to beat the game.

http://videogames.yahoo.com/events/plugged-in/five-things-you-didn-t-know-about-bejeweled-/1405499

Now if you've read any of this blog you know I have a love/hate relationship with Bejeweled 2 for the Xbox 360. I find it as compelling as the bazillion other people that play it do... there's a copy sold every 4.3 seconds... but there's something that misfires between my brain and the strategy needed to do well at the game.

I shouldn't care. This game is the casual game of casual games. Grannies and babies play this game. The hardcore gamer card in my wallet heats up and starts to smell like diarrhea every time I start Bejeweled 2 up. At least that's what I'd  tell anyone in the same room with me. Squeezing some off under stress? Not me! Nooooooooo.

Anyway. Sucking at Bejeweled has me under an ongoing questioning about my abilities at strategy or puzzle games in general. I've never been a big puzzle game gay-- I mean guy-- in the first place (not that there's anything wrong with that), but I like to RELAX with a not-too-taxing easy matching game or somesuch just like a lot of people. Except that Bejeweled is not fucking relaxing. NOT TO ME!

So I finally managed to give the damn thing a rest for a while. I think the monotony of the music and the announcer eventually helped me kick it where my frustration at massive suckage was unable to.

Maybe two months ago on Waxing Erratic I gave ECM some crap about liking casual games (a joke... even though he does like casual games. Maybe likes 'em too much) and he then reeled off a litany of other games for which he probably has to hide out from the hardcore police. One of them was Peggle.

Now if you are a Peggle player you know this game is at least as addicting as Bejeweled if not more so. But it is from THE SAME COMPANY. I'd heard a few people say it was their favorite 'puzzler'... but a lot of people say Bejeweled is their favorite and like, FUCK those people! So when I downloaded the demo for Peggle and the PopCap logo came out I fweeped a smelly... I mean my hardcore card began to heat up again... and I almost deleted it on the spot.

As it turns out, ECM has pretty good taste in secret shames. This game requires skill of a different order than Bejeweled, and for some reason I can get my head around it. It is more action-oriented in that you shoot a little ball to hit and clear glowing pegs. So the game combines some eye-hand ability along with strategy in how and when to use special powers or go for bonus points. I had pretty good luck playing World of Goo because the puzzles were grounded in consistent virtual physics. Peggle is the same. It doesn't hurt that the game has a fair amount in common with pachinko, for which I own two real machines. A lot of people probably wouldn't even call Peggle a puzzle game, I suppose.

I like this game enough to wear I'm really dividing time between this and Okami. I haven't put it up as currently played in the sidebar or my Backloggery because, y'know, I have my rep to maintain. But in reality I've almost beaten every challenge in every mode of Peggle and I even have a decent win/loss record starting up with online versus games. As I have lots of other games to get to and have only a few challenges left to complete I will probably wind down my time on this game.

That is if I can summon up the supreme act of will and NOT buy that Peggle Nights expansion pack. Either way, Peggle has been sublime considering it comes from the same company that packages rough prison sex as a sweet little pastime about matching colored jewels.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Bonehead

Right. So I watched Quarantine last night and watching the end credits I realised I'd done something uncharacteristically dumb. I mean I do dumb stuff all the time, but this particular oversight isn't one I usually fall prey to.

I watched a remake before seeing the original.

Somehow in the hurly-burly I missed the fact that Quarantine is a remake of a movie called REC. When I pick out movies for my NetFlix queue or when I order DVDs to collect, I usually make such decisions based on a little research. I rarely just pop something onto my 'watch' list just because the trailer looks good or because it has a flashy ad on Yahoo! I dig up a little something. No spoilers obviously... and I don't necessarily regard reviews (especially on extreme films) as a deciding factor but enough info about plot or director to give me some idea that the film is worth my time.

Quarantine WAS worth my time. I thought it was done pretty well and some effectively creepy or shocking moments. It had a very downbeat ending uncharacteristic of Hollywood.

I should've known. Hollywood didn't come up with that ending, a group of filmakers from Spain did. The American group gets the credit for not lightening the ending up at all. But I DID see the trailer in the theater, was intrigued and so when NetFlix put it on there as a suggestion, I said 'what the hey' and added it to my queue.

Now after seeing 'based on the film REC' in the end credits and then looking into REC, I REALLY wish I'd been less impulsive. Looking around, most genre reviewers didn't think Quarantine was bad, but they almost universally consider REC better. Quarantine actually fares better than most remakes when compared to the (usually foreign) original. See Pulse, the Grudge or any number of J-horror movies. I hear the French film Martyrs has been bought for an American remake, but I can tell you right now there is no way that any theatrical cut of that movie will come anywhere near the original, which is one of the most disturbing movies in recent years. In fact, that's pretty typically why you want to see the original of anything Hollywood remakes. If there's a compelling story there it is often a much better experience if you remove big studio gloss, name actors, or test screening-directed edits.

Moral of the story: if you are into genre films, especially various transgressive genres or horror it really pays to look into what you watch before you watch it. I still put REC on my list because I do want to see 'the better one', but Quanrantine was made only two years after the original and is almost a shot-for-shot copy apparently. I'm going to now know everything that happens in a film that puts a lot of weight into the unknown.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Yep.

In a year with a lot of good games... many of which I probably won't get to PLAY this year owing to my extensive backlong... Sin and Punishment: Star Successor is at the top of the running for my Game of the Year.

My son recently got Lost Planet for a bargain rate at Gamestop. It has all the flash and sheen of a typical shooty Xbox 360/PS3 game. He's really liking it especially since he hasn't been allowed to have all that many violent games... and y'know, he's an eleven year old boy so he likes him some violence.

Anyway. After he'd had a round of THAT, I put in Sin and Punishment for the wii. Now everyone knows the wii isn't going to match the Xbox 360 graphically, but what Treasure has managed in this game is still pretty damn amazing. There's ten times as much shit being chucked around at any given second compared to Lost Planet and it still has a lot of polish and detail, especially the bosses.

It isn't about poking around at your own pace amongst uber-realistic sets, it's about running and flying through stages where with all the incoming attacks you are shooting, dodging and slashing (sometimes all at once seemingly) 'til you're hand cramps up around the wiimote.

My son seeing this said 'enh, it's okay'. So I sent him to bed with no dinner.

Agree with me or starve.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

New GF

Picked up the new GameFan and it looks like improvements over the first issue are already moving in. I haven't done a side-by-side but this one definitely looks like it has more content and the nerdy-niche quotient is even higher. There are write-ups on Deathsmiles and Monster Hunter Tri both considered hardcore enough to probably get trashed in the mainstream reviews (I know DS did at IGN), but loved to death by this magazine.

They love the big stuff like Super Mario Galaxy 2, yeah, but they give the same space to Cave Story.

Putting Sin and Punishment's decidely non-macho protagonists on the front cover pretty much tells you all you need to know... although S&P is a decidedly over-the-top crazy shootfest. American gamer tastes (FPS and sports games) are NOT being catered to.

Next EGM arrives soon too I hope.

Over It

Ugh. I know I'm not the only one who dislikes all the coverage that E3 gets. It looks to all be winding down now, but for three weeks it just dominated every site and magazine... and owing to the delays in publishing will probably still permeate some of the print mags still to come.

The almost universal best-in-show would have to be the Nintendo 3DS... about which I'll admit some curiosity. I really don't dig handhelds, and have very few games for them... but my kids love 'em so this is probably going to be on Christmas lists and I should be properly informed.

I finished Marvel Ultimate Alliance, managing to overcome by distaste of the aesthetic choices to see the game through twice. Since it splits into two narratives in the middle section owing to Marvel Comics' Civil War storyline there's a few different levels and bosses and two different endings for doing so. At the end of the day, the game was fun, if a bit repetitive. This stems from the game being so much like the first one... and the first one didn't come out all that long ago either... and from the fact that a lot of the enemies and bosses just require the same techniques to overcome regardless of their variety in appearance or weapons. Frankly, I just liked to play as my favorite heroes the most, and only subbed in the others to earn their boosts and constumes, so I sort of aggravated the repetition.

So now I'm on to Okami. This is a game I received as a gift like two years ago, and never got around to. It threatens to also be repetitive in the combat area (I'm six hours into it) but it has a cool, detailed narrative, and absolutely amazing aesthetics. Almost everything about the game is either cool or breathtaking... if one enjoys a stylised version of the Japanese watercolor (sumi-e) tradition. But... and why is it lately that there is always one rub to my highly anticipated games... the 'brush' control is really difficult for me to use.

In Okami, there are quite a number of times you are called on to use the wiimote to 'draw' on the screen. In theory this is a really neat addition. You have to use heavenly powers imbued into your brush to create bridges or bombs, slice away gates or boulders, or bring new life to dead trees. At times you even freeze the screen in mid-combat and slash an oppenent, like some painterly version of bullet time. Originally released for PS2 this aspect of the game was accomplished using the analog sticks on the DualShock controller, but it screams for motion control. But in practice it just isn't that simple. At least not for me. The wiimote seems accurate, but the lack of tactile feedback and the vertical orientation of the screen (and therefore the plane on which you paint) make this frustrating. Particularly when the game wants a straight line in a specific spot with a small window for timing. I've done certain 'quick slash' sections a dozen times over and it makes a cool idea just bog you down. If I could turn off the brush sections I'd seriously consider it at this point.

I didn't realise how big Okami is. I thought it'd be sort of 20 or so hours like most action games with leveling up mechanics. Apparently not. Reviews that I've re-read put it at closer to 50 hours. That's more of an investment than I was looking for in my current 'long' game, but I'll try to stay in for the long haul.

If the brush thing doesn't piss me off too much. But if I can get through MUA2's ugmo heroes and Skies of Arcadia's random encounters, I should be able to manage this.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Food For Violent Thoughts

http://www.gamespite.net/verbalspew/archives/entry_1604.php#comm

This article in large part reflects my own feelings.

Anyone who knows me knows I'm about as far from an advocate of actual censorship as you can get. Given the nature of the sorts of films, books and music I subject myself to, pushing envelopes is pretty much standard operating procedure.

Still. I don't ENJOY every bit of this transgressive media I consume. Much of it isn't designed as a positive, uplifting experience. It pushes emotional boundaries.

I maintain an awareness, as the article attempts to define it. Personally my fears I have about my children and media violence is distilled down to the idea that I don't want them to join that burgeoning demographic that doesn't seem aware of any lines.

I want my kids to realise that fucked up is fucked up... whether presented humorously or not. And the video game community seems to continually buy, buy, buy the fucked up stuff. So that's what the companies produce-- or out of all their offerings at least, that's what they promote.

Read the comments, if you have the patience, for a pretty good example of different takes on the topic and how to keep an online discussion civil.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Monster Ending

Finished Urasawa's dramatic manga Monster! a few days ago.

If one isn't familiar with some of the conventions of manga, reading this you'll find a fair amount of over-emoting and a lot of drama-injection over ultimately small plot points, but this mostly owes to the episodic nature of the material. Like most manga this was released bi-weekly for years, and when you read it in collected volumes (tankoubon) like this it compresses the dramatic scenes together and their frequency amps up into melodrama territory.

Nonetheless, this is a first-rate dramatic story. Apart from the above caveat, other scenes (and the emotions therein) are handled with deft subtlety. Urasawa's artwork is a real grower. You'd think at first glance it was just sort of workmanlike, but as the story moves along you realise how talented the guy really is. There's a huge cast for the type of story it is, and his ability to keep everyone distinct and well-characterised with both art and writing is pretty admirable. His talent also shows how a topic normally consigned to film or television really can make a good manga... a medium characterised by the phrase over-the-top.

The last few volumes really dovetail everything together well. In the final book I actually found myself getting a bit choked up in two or three places, and the last revelation to the reader, though it wouldn't seem like such a big deal out of context, was pretty devastating from within the story.

In some ways you get a lot out of it that you might've from Death Note, but more believable (of course) and without any supernatural aspects... though the villain, Johan, is inhumanly evil.

At any rate, take a break from robots, battlesuits, and lolis and give Monster! a go.

These Guys Are Insane



http://us.wii.com/iwata_asks/sinandpunishment/vol1_page1.jsp

...and they make insane games. I cannot wait to finally be able to play S&P 2.

I've had to wait because I don't have a Japanese wii... though there's some temptation to get one since Milestone's Ilvello was canceled for US release.

Bring on the Sin and Punishment!

(pic from Play.tm)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Trying Stuff Out- The Waxing Erratic Edition


Earth Defense Force 2017

Final Fight on XBLA. Don't like this game any better than I ever did. Streets of Rage improved on it.

Magic Sword on XBLA. Love it. Always have. Smooth graphics option is blech-y.

Metal Slug XX on XBLA. Love it. I want to have its baby.

Spending some time going through Earth Defense Force 2017 on other difficulty levels. Only one of the best games EVAR. Moar EDF!

Okay, post over. Don't want ECM going to sleep on me!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Fugly


Having finished Skies of Arcadia (59 hours put into it) I was casting about for my next 'big' game.

I usually have one sort of long-commit game I play (big racing game, RPG, or FPS) surrounded by several shorter games (STGs, fighting games, etc). While I'll still plug away at Keio and Ketsui as the 'small games', I think I've settled on Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 as my next biggie.

Hyped up from seeing Iron Man 2, and the continual coverage about the various Avengers movies in the future, enthusiasm is high for me and my children to dig into this game. We played the PS2 prequel and despite all the knacking around with the characters that must be done to make a playable game, it was really enjoyable.

There's just one problem.
MUA2 is fucking ugly. I mean seriously fucking ugly.
The environments are alright, but the in-game characters are borderline grotesque. Wow.

Originally I wrote a version of this post prior to my ever having booted the game. I went on a rant about the manual and guidebook artwork. I allowed as to how that might have nothing to do with what was presented in the actual game, but having played the game now I know that I was wrong. So I've rewritten this to bitch about ALL the character art associated with the game, since all printed illustrations are just shots of the in-game models, sometimes treated with Alex Ross-esque effects for the printed page.

I'd like to think I'm not the total graphics snob (read whore), but the visuals DO matter. Even to really old school shooter players who say dumb shit like 'the play is the thing, not the graphics'. The truth is that if graphics did not matter at all to shmup fans, then one game with nothing but a square ship shooting different size triangle enemies against a black background would suffice. I'm not saying visuals all need to be cutting edge. Some genres can benefit from older-style sprite-based graphics, or there are games where abstract objects are aesthetically pleasing. And intelligent players put the graphics presented in the proper chronological context, or the era being emulated if it is a current but retro-styled game. 8-bit games can have great visuals, but they need to be judged by the standards of their day, not some new PS3 game.

Simply put, graphics offer interest (and possibly immersion). And that frequently leads the player to wanting to experience the 'nobler' aspects, the mechanics. Shadow of the Colossus wouldn't be nearly the game that it is if it was just an exercise in climbing up moving towers of Lego-like blocks. Anyone who REALLY believes graphics have no bearing on the quality of a game is a soulless asshole. It is possible for a great game to have merely serviceable or even shitty visuals-- MUA2 may be such a game-- but it still has a deleterious effect on your game experience even if only in providing a distraction that you have to get around to find out the game is actually good.

So here is Ultimate Alliance 2, an action game drawing on one of most visually dynamic fantasy worlds ever created, and it looks a bowl of sick. WTF Activision?

Like the movies, the Ultimate Alliance games seem willing to hit up the Ultimate line of Marvel comics for a lot of their inspiration, or recent innovations and experiments within either line of books to update uniforms, ie the Captain America of MUA2 is clearly inspired by John Cassiday's visual update to the character introduced a few years ago. Also like the films, there have been some alterations to distance the heroes from 'mere' comics and make them seem more substantial and badass. Film's track record with this is really hit-or-miss. So it seems really odd that Activision (or developer studio Vicarious Visions) would even think that this was necessary given the considerable latitude for graphic style that video games have... almost as much as comics frankly. Do they think Marvel vs Capcom games should've done it this way? And the first MUA, that looked more comic book accurate, was just fine anyway.

It isn't just the costumes. The figures themselves are either bland or repellant. Like they stuffed any old schmoes in the costumes. Or they tried to use life models like Alex Ross, but have no sense of tuning the looks of the images to make them larger-than-life as Ross does. I'm not expecting incredibly lifelike figures in this game. Hell, no film has managed to do CG humans in full roles and make them believably real (the technical reason the natives of Pandora are huge and blue). People are just too complex and we are all too familiar with them for our current tech to manage this yet. So maybe not lifelike, but characters in games don't have to be distorted and gross either. These are. Whether this was an effort to real it up, or just some sort of stylistic decision it really rubs me the wrong way. They have an incredibly serviceable example of a realistic superhero in the Iron Man films, but the one in MUA2 is as grotesque as all the other characters. He wound up resembling some sort of vinyl model of a man-shaped insect. Or a Guyver. He's recognisable as Iron Man, but only because of the iconic red and gold coloring.

Whatever the reason the choices blow. I think whoever had final say on the visuals had their judgement impaired by thinking this was a chance for them to stamp their imprint on these beloved characters. Y'know really make a difference, and show something inspired. They shouldn't have bothered.

Fortunately, during actual play, the characters onscreen are rather small. Even on a big screen TV you don't really see tons of details in the heroes. Its an angled top-down view with the camera backed quite a ways out, to encompass lots of enemies attacking your party. You see their shape and coloring, and their moves are still pretty cool. You only see the yucky details during the menu screens and when the camera zooms in for the cutscenes and story sequences.

THAT's when I'm going to have to fight down my gorge.

(image cribbed from someplace on IGN)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Ghosts


In case anyone is interested in what I used to do. The above photo is for a Thousand Sons Space Marine, what are now called Rubric Marines in the current edition of Warhammer 40,000. The photo above comes from the second edition rulebook, but I cribbed it from the current online fan standard wiki for 40K lore, the 40K Lexicanium site.

The link for the Lexicanium page:

http://wh40k.lexicanum.com/wiki/Rubric_Marine

This is my marine. I painted it and set up the photo for it. It is part of a set of four chaos marines that Jes Goodwin originally sculpted and the designs became the standard by which all subsequent marines dedicated to specific Chaos power were based. In the same way that Jes's designs set the stage, this is MY interpretation of the text-described blue and yellow scheme for this troop type, and it became the standard. I expect my 'blueprints' for the other powers are probably also still floating around out there.

My day in/day out job there was not to paint miniatures, but getting involved in the hobby end was pretty standard for staff, including some fairly high profile stuff like this. I was first out of the gate with painted versions of this set of four models, and GW liked them so much they were figured pretty prominently whenever Chaos Marine stuff came up.

Painting models is so much more obscure than being a writer, painter, or filmmaker, but I'll admit to quite a bit of gratification that something I did is STILL relevant even if it is in a really nerdy niche corner of the universe. Most of my models are packed away, but I was kind of missing them the other day. I don't have any of the photos of them handy either. So I looked about on the internet to see if someone else had pics.

Yes they do apparently.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Lolis Gonna Pass Me By

So it is looking more and more like the US localisation of Cave's Loliween horizontal shooter, Deathsmiles, is going to be region-locked to this country. That sucks because my Xbox 360 is Japanese.

I already own the Japanese version of the game, but it'd been nice to get the goodies that are being made available in the American limited edition, and to be able to see the in-game dialogue in English.

Info on the teh intarwebs is conflicted because no one will own a retail copy for another three weeks as of this writing, but I think some staffer from Aksys, the US publisher, has been quoted as saying USA-only.

That being the case if I decided to buy it to get the LE extras, I probably would have to wait until it showed up on Games on Demand to actually play the English version. No intention at this point of buying another 360.

For the Xbox 360, as usual it appears the smaller publishers are the ones to region lock here in the USA. Which is really odd considering how copy-protection in any media is usually considered to be 'big corporate stupidity'. In my collection the USA games that are not region-coded are either the American ones or the ones from big Japanese companies, like Capcom and Sega.

I just find that interesting and paradoxical. The companies that would benefit the most (seemingly to me) are the least likely to make their games region free in this country, ie Koei, Genki, and D3 Pub. So if I want to play a 'little game'-- one that could probably use all the sales it can get-- like Dynasty Warriors Gundam, Kengo Zero, or Earth Defense Force 2017, I have to get the JPN one. But if I want to play Super Street Fighter IV or Sonic Unleashed-- games that were never going to lack for sales no matter what restrictions they might've had-- I can just have at it on any region's console.

WTF?

Mind you, I'm not complaining about Capcom and Sega's choices. Its just how often do the big guys stand up as the exemplars of customer convenience? I don't think they made a conscious choice, they probably just can't be arsed to deal with it, 'cause they'll sell so many copies no matter who buys it where.

The thing with Deathsmiles is a little different and even more paradoxical. Given US company Aksys' track record they don't region-code (see BlazBlue or Agarest), yet THIS game, designed by one of the few small JPN companies that HAS flirted with all-region discs themselves (Cave) IS probably locked.

Double WTF?

This sort of bullshit used to be a big problem with DVDs in this country. You'd have to buy an all-region player or hit the conventions for fansubs or fan versions. It can still be kind of a hangup if you're an anime fan who wants the latest shit currently showing over in Japan. But nowadays most foreign films can be had on USA region discs if you are patient or know some good gray marketeers on the internet. I want to get the big fat five hour version of Red Cliff, released in theaters in Asia but not here. So when I went shopping for it I half expected to have to hassle around like I did in the old days when I built my kaiju/tokusatsu film on VHS. Who'd release a five hour chinese historical film here? One of the HK distros like Tai Seng or Meh Ah could have a fully subtitled one, but they are frequently expensive and of dodgy quality.

I needn't have worried. There's a US-printed Blu-Ray available on Amazon, all five hours-- nineteen and a half dollars. There is a network of publishers of all sizes, keenly aware of fanbases and snapping up all sorts of properties. There's frickin' competition to get these weird, obscure things released here these days.

Boy, I wish video gaming was like that. If it was, even with region coding there'd be no need to buy overseas versions. I wouldn't even have had to buy a JPN Xbox 360.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Skies are Endless



The 'Currently Playing' list on the side looks like it might be stuck for a while, because Skies of Arcadia is taking forever.

I know I've spent a lot of time looking for Discoveries in the game, and the game's encounter frequency just makes this an exercise in frustration and tedium. A game about exploring and yet you can't walk or fly longer than fifteen or twenty seconds before you're halted by another fight.

If the game was just 'straight lines' between towns or dungeons, then the encounter rate wouldn't be all that bad. BUT. They want you to find stuff. Not just secret stuff scattered around the map, but you often have to search out your next location based on the plot or dialogue. It isn't usually super far away or hidden to any real degree... but any looking around you have to do AT ALL will be utterly plagued with random encounters.

Actually, the word 'random' is kinda stupid in this case, because the frequency of them is all too predictable. Choose one; a) as soon as you think you're going the right way, b) if you are impatient to advance the plot, c) right now. Any one of those criteria filled seemingly triggers another battle. I'll tell you one thing. I have yet to enter a single boss fight where I didn't feel completely comfortable with my items, spells, and levels. Y'know why? Because the game basically makes you grind, grind, grind, just to get anywhere. You don't have to force yourself to do it to make sure you are powerful enough... it's going to happen to you anyway. You are going to fight and gain levels and gold whether you fucking well like it or not.

There are six major treasures (plot-crucial items) and therefore theoretically six chapters or stretches of the game. But that doesn't take into account a sort of 'prologue' stretch, a separation from your shipmates stretch, and a earn and crew your own ship stretch, that are each about as long as one of the basic six. So I've plunked in about 35 hours and I'm just getting to area of the third treasure, and I've had the second one for umpteen hours now.

The plot and cutscenes are fun and interesting. I really do want to see how this is going to go and have scrupulously avoided all references to the narrative or the battles coming up. I've used a FAQ once. When something I was navigating to find was just not appearing to me, and I got tired of all the fights while I tried to find it.

50 hours my ass. How would this game be 50 hours long (DC version) if you actually hunted out all the discoveries? Honestly.

I still like the game, but this sure as shit reminds me why I've long since gotten stuck on the idea that I 'don't have time' for RPGs.

And I want to play Baroque at some point in the future. I must be insane.