Thursday, September 28, 2006

Guitar Hero 360, the lack of a PS2 and Tenchu Senran, DS

All right, Guitar Hero II is coming to the 360. This is very cool, now there's no pressure to finally get that PS2 I still haven't bought. However, as you can see from the link, the proposed controller looks hideous. That cannot be the finalized product.


While I'm on the subject, let's see why I still have a craving for a PS2, despite not sating my hunger years ago. I'd like to say why I don't have one yet: because I'm cheap. I haven't been able to justify paying so much for one when the technology is so outdated and Sony are being so arrogant. I know I'll have to, eventually, but I've put it off for a long time, now.

I already have a PS2 game I really want to play: Atari's Transformers.

Then there's a bunch of games I think I need in my game library: Metal Gear Solid three, R-Type Final, Gradius V, Dragon Quest VIII, God Of War, the Devil May Cry series and the platform also has the best versions of the Dancing Stage series. There are a whole lot more, but these are among the titles I'm most looking forward to.


I went to the trouble of getting myself a Japanese Xbox Live account in order to download the demo of Tenchu Senran, published at Tokyo Game Show this week. I'm sorely disappointed. It looks like a mediocre Xbox game, albeit with a good draw distance and a solid framerate. The animation is shoddy, the controls are clunky and it's still constructed from the same blocks of scenery that made up the game way back in the original Tenchu on the Playstation.

I really liked the first and second installment of Tenchu on the PS, but I did expect the series to mature and evolve by now. If the only change is draw distance, I just can't get excited. I'll stay posted for reviews, though, because this is a game I really want to like. And the trailer (pop-up warning!) was so exciting!

However, the DS ("Dark Secret", heh) version is interesting, if only because it doesn't use the same age-old presentation of the series. Instead, it takes the old Metal Gear Solid top-down viewpoint, which might fit the series very well.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

I am weak [Edit: And increasingly popular!]

I don't know how on Earth I'd missed this before, but Armored Core 4 is coming to the 360, too. Previously a Playstation exclusive, AC is pretty much the one true mecha videogame. I loved the series debut, even with its weird and difficult controls (yes, I get the irony).

The TGS06 trailer takes while to get going, but there is mecha goodness to the point that I'm exhausted. The series' mecha design has always been top-notch, save for maybe the weird hover and tracked models.

Even better is that the 360 version (it's also out on the PS3, naturally) is supposed to be all about online warfare, which suits me fine indeed. From is fast becoming a defining 360 devhouse for me.

Edit: On popularity

My post on Gundam: Operation Troy is my single most popular page. This is no surprise, as it is a relatively hot and upcoming game and I am currently on the first page of Google hits on it.

While this is not particularly newsworthy in itself, studying the page popularity rankings I also noticed that my visitor count has doubled over the last two months. At this rate, we'll hit the 2K mark in a little over a month.

I really am trying to provide useful and/or interesting commentary for your consuming, even though the focus is on my personal gaming experience. Feedback is always welcome.

On fearsome controls

While I understand that development time is limited and you have to make sacrifices, your game's controls simply cannot be at stake.

I've waited for FEAR's 360 demo with baited breath. Granted, I've only yet played it for fifteen minutes, but they have some polishing to do with the controls. There are two big problems.

One: you need to hold the left stick in to crouch. Never do this. It has to be a toggle: crouch/stand up. Even if it's intentional because they don't want you to move while crouched (I doubt), it's a pain.

Two: unless tweaking the sensitivity of the sticks alleviates the problem, the movement and aiming feel horribly off. I tried upping the sensitivity a lot, which didn't help at all. It feels to me like they've copied the PC original's control scheme directly - movement doesn't feel analogue, which it really has to be on a twin-stick setup, and aiming feels like you're using a mouse. Which doesn't work at all. You need to factor in a little auto-aim, you need to make the smallest movement of the stick to register, you need to fine-tune the acceleration until it's natural. I spent many a frustrating second trying to move my aim a head's or a limb's width to get a shot at a stationary target. I didn't have a hope landing shots without the use of the - incredibly nifty - slow-motion power.

Halo did the twin-stick console FPS control scheme so well that each and every FPS designer needs to study it. If you can't make it any better, just copy it. There have been examples of working alternatives; for instance, I never cringed at Battlefield 2's controls. You can look past spotty graphics, but if you don't feel like you're in control, you just can't enjoy the game.

All that said, I remain enthusiastic about the game. Maybe I can learn to live with the controls, but that's really the wrong way around.

Regardless of controls, there were also quite a few graphical glitches, but I'm willing to look past that to bask in the glory of the supremely satisfying bullet-trails, particle effects and chunks blown off the environment. We'll see how it all hangs together after a couple of play-throughs of the demo.

Edit: All right, taking the sensitivity down a lot helped with the aiming. The movement still feels clunky, but I believe I can live with it, now.

Come to think of it, I shouldn't be surprised. Monolith's games have always felt weird to control, all the way back from Shogo and No One Lives Forever. Regardless, those two titles are among my all-time favorite games, which just proves that a game is more than the sum of its parts.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Epic miniatures

I came across an almost pristine copy of Games Workshop's Space Marine (1st edition of the current Epic system). I hold the game dear. As a kid, I had a good-sized Blood Angels army. I remember being humiliated by a friend's Squat (aka space-dwarves. No, really!) army time and time again.

So yesterday I evaluated the contents of the box, assembled the cardboard buildings and washed the miniatures. I set aside two vehicles and four squads. The box holds twice as many Space Marines as it does Orks and Eldars, so I thought I'd paint two varieties of Space Marines.

My first instinct was to recreate my childhood army, but frankly, the all-red force is boring, and the Ork army will most likely sport black and red as their colors. Since I always wanted an Ultramarines force but was too much of a deviant to go for the obvious choice (they're featured on the box coverart), now it's time to indulge myself.

The other Space Marine army I always wanted is the Space Wolves. Their white and grey ought to be simple to reproduce.

With these two armies selected, I began experimenting with the paint schemes. The Ultramarines were easy; just simple blue with highlights. I believe they'll look all right with little effort.

Two Ultramarines squads. These guys are really small. The scale is 6 mm, so a trooper is about the height of a regular 25-30 mm miniature's foot! Also, I'm not sure what I'll do with the base. It's a street-grey, now, but I'm thinking of making it brown and maybe adding some texture with sand.

Space Wolves Land Raider with supporting troops. This is the same vehicle that's in the post's title image. It turned out fine. You can't see it from this angle, but the doors have been accented with white, sort of like UN vehicles, with a unique unit designation - in this case, "I". I was thinking of maybe painting the guns with the chapter colors, too, instead of the usual gunmetal and black.

Two squads of Space Wolves. These are the same guys as in the picture above, but they're here in proper focus. I had a lot of trouble getting the paint scheme right. Plain grey and white looked boring. The squad on the left is the result of three attempts at a plain grey or white base, black ink and light grey highlights. Not too convincing.

The squad on the right I'm pretty happy with. I went for a straight white coat, with a black helmet as an accent, washed with brown ink, shoulders cleaned and the whole squad highlighted with white. Now they look all grimy and seasoned, as they should! The bases haven't been cleaned yet.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Helicopters attract attention in most Battlefield 2: Modern Combat games I've played.

On the one hand there is the chopper pilot with elite skills. He dominates the battlefield. There are counter-measures, but they require some patience to use. Last night our game on DeadlyPass was completely stalled by a pilot who knew his stuff. He flew low, never hovered, always struck with precise bursts, not giving you time to seek cover. I went against him in a chopper at one time. I don't think I scored a single hit before being blown out of the sky.

On the other hand there is the chopper pilot who manages to crash his aircraft during take-off. You see this a lot. Why don't these people play the single player campaign enough to learn the ropes? It walks you through this stuff. I had to try the first chopper mission in the single player campaign many times before getting it right, but I did learn how to handle a helo.

The point is, it's difficult. The helicopter doesn't handle like the videogame vehicles you're used to. It takes some learning to make a clean strafe, let alone close maneuvers under fire. The battle chopper is a fearsome tool, but it really does take dedication to pilot one. And once you finally can execute a good gun-run, you know you're the shit. I've yet to experience that in an online game, but merely tagging along as a gunner feels very good.

I think it's brave of Dice to keep the helicopter handling tricky. It's much more satisfying when you know that most of the grunts couldn't follow your example. And it allows them to maintain the helicopter's power, since there are so few players who can really put it to use.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Treasure + 360 = RS3

I am not one to scream in all caps, but I couldn't contain myself after reading this rumor: Treasure might be working on a sequel to Ikaruga, also known as Radiant Silvergun 2... for the 360. Man, I've had a craving to plug in the Gamecube and play some Ikaruga after a summer-long break. Maybe it was a premonition.

Tokyo Game Show and X06

TGS & X06

I really do love Xbox Live. I like the ease of playing online games. I like the community system. I like to download demos and videos. I like the way it allows publishers to patch the games I've bought from them bugged.

Now I'm all excited about Live bringing the Tokyo Game Show and X06 to my home. No more relying on blogs and news sites to cover the press releases. No more waiting one to two months to get magazine coverage on the events. These events generate excitement on Live mainly because of their exclusivity: much of the content is for Live users only, only available through the 360 dashboard and only available for about a week.

Many new demos are expected. Personally I can't wait for FEAR. (Edit: Oh! And Gundam: Operation Troy! As I've said before.) There will also be new videos, video coverage of press events, interviews and whatnot. A great way to get ready for the coming game season!

Microsoft is yet again demonstraring that it understands the internet. This is refreshing when compared to recent events with some other monoliths of gaming.

Battlefield 2

In game journal type of things, I've played Battlefield 2 lots more. Now that I've seen some of the other maps (a total of five, I think, of the game's 16!), I understand why BridgeTooFar and Backstab are so popular. Still, I'm left wondering whether there are some more gems among the rest of the maps. I'm not convinced I'll ever find out, though, because it feels like a good four fifths of all games are played on these two maps.

There is just so much to do in BF. I love driving a tank and flying a chopper. And who wouldn't love being a gunner? And the feel of taking a flag together with a good crew is just priceless, especially if there's heavy opposition.

The game's totally worthless manual disgusts me, though. I still don't know what the "PPH" in my game stats means. (Edit: well okay, I googled it. Points Per Hour. Logical, really.)

There's also been one annoying problem: sometimes the game just won't display a friend or foe marker on some guy and when in doubt, I tend to blast away. I've killed three mates because of this. It sucks to be voted to be kicked from the server!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Battlefield Chaos

Kung Fu Chaos

I finally came across Kung Fu Chaos by Just Add Monsters (these days known as Ninja Theory). It was the first title on my Xbox want list back in 2003, actually, so it's about high time, too. Regardless of my high expectations, they were easily surpassed. The game is delicious.

You may not know KFC, since it came and went with little fanfare, despite generally positive reviews. It's a humorous beat 'em up where you face from one to a gang of opponents at a time, usually in scrolling environments. The game is set in the set of a cheap 70s kung fu flick. There is no plot; you act out fighting scenes, with the director yelling all the time. There is a bunch of minigames, too.

It's amazing how much top-notch presentation can add to the whole. From the moment the game boots up, you're feeling like you're watching a kung fu show. The interface is grainy and scratchy like cheap film, and you really can't help but smile when Kung Fu Fighting begins pouring out of the speakers.

Based on two sessions with the game, KFC is pure feel-good. Even when you're losing, it's funny, and there's an abundance of neat stuff, like the minigame where you have to throw a difficult princess at the other contestants to make them fall of the poles you're all standing on. So far the stages haven't repeated themselves at all. The basic gameplay is more varied than the old-school scrolling beat 'em ups this game is based on.

I don't even like the character design, but the game still holds a huge appeal. Catching falling stuntmen is great fun, there's no way around it!

Battlefield 2

Battlefield has always sounded like a lot of fun, and with the 360 and Live, I'm finally able to take a bite. I've now played around five hours of it on Live and a couple of hours of the singe player campaign.

It's a great game with a couple of really nagging things, more on which below. It's a shame there are only two online game modes - Conquest and Capture The Flag - but BF really seems to be built on Conquest, anyway.

The game looks good - I've been impressed by most of the maps. The physics don't feel right, which is a shame. Seeing a helicopter blown out of the sky is neat, but when the pieces tumble on the battlefield, making little sound and ricocheting all over the place with no weight to them really takes the edge off the experience. "Oh right, we're playing a game here." I also can't understand why tanks can't overrun small trees and fences. Surely it can't be that hard to implement?

For a Live-game, it' crucial that there are players on the servers. I haven't played in a game with fewer than 17 participants, with most up in the 20-24 category. There have been zero issues with lag. The game has been downscaled from the PC version, but the scale feels just right, at least with mostly full servers.

I like the way the armies speak their pre-recorded reports in their own languages. It's no roleplaying, but it does add to the overall feel a lot to hear Chinese in your headphones. On the whole, though, the audio becomes tiring due to the constant bass-overloaded explosions and shots. The music fits the bill rather well and gives some structure to the cacophony.

There is one thing I'm really irritated about. Electronic Arts has completely neglected us poor people with old-school, standard-definition TVs. BF2 uses tiny type and interface elements. which are nigh-invisible on my 32" SDTV. Thankfully there's an option to switch the interface colors to colorblind-friendly choices, which makes the essential data a little better visible.

Related to this is the fact that you can't adjust the game's brightness, contrast or gamma. This is a shame because I need to crank my TV's options quite a bit to make the game playable - it's very dark.

Also, I can't use my whole 4:3 ratio TV screen. The game forces itself to a wide-screen format, which does bug me.

Iä! Iä!

Along with Kung Fu Chaos, I also bought another secondhand game - Call Of Cthulhu: Dark Corners Of The Earth. I'm a fan of Lovecraft and especially the pen and paper roleplaying game on which this videogame is based - at least I think so, based on the game's logo.

Also, Konami is bringing a Marvel trading card game to the DS. This is the kind of shit I've been waiting for on the DS. Which begs the question of where's Pokémon, though?

Oh and speaking of Cthulhu, the Mythos collectable card game, based on the Cthulhu Mythos, is good fun. I haven't checked out the newer Cthulhu CCG, though.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Introducing: Life

I've set up a new blog, Post 1978, to cover my life. Yes, the kind of blog every kid has these days. I've been trying to avoid getting one, but after much deliberation, I've come to think that I might be able to better handle some issues through it. So it likely won't be a "dear diary" type of everyday journal, since I don't have time for that kind of thing, but a distillation of stuff that is affecting me.

This also means that the blog you're currently reading will be more strictly about gaming. Hooray! Being on topic must be a good thing.

Friday, September 08, 2006

New languages to be humiliated in

I finally hooked up my original Xbox to Live. This wasn't as easy as I'd hoped, since I had to use the Gamertag recovery function to get set up and I found zero instructions on how to do things from 360 to Xbox and not the other way around. (In the end it was all logical, I just felt like groping in the dark.) We'll see if I have to move the Gamertag back to the 360 once I'm done. If so, well, that sucks. However, I discovered something so good on the Live-enabled Xbox that I just might be willing to suffer the pain of the gamertag recovery again.

(Edit: no additional hassles once the ethernet cable flew back to the 360. Go Microsoft.)

The reason being that playing Dead Or Alive Ultimate online was even sweeter than I'd imagined. Playing in the "winner stays on" mode and watching the others fight it out before my turn was really damn near the best online experience I've ever had. It felt just like the arcade! I didn't win a single match (rounds, though), but I've never had so much fun getting my ass handed to me (I'm at C- rank currently.)

I got to play several Japanese guys. It felt really weird to hear realtime Japanese in-game. I don't have the slightest idea of what they were saying, but you know, the language of buttkicking is universal. I was rather surprised to discover that the only time we had trouble with lag (I was hosting) was when playing with Americans. There was some lag, yes, but I didn't find it a problem.

Dead Or Alive 4 on the 360 is a no-brainer for me, now. Of course, it plays a lot differently than Ultimate, but I never was any good at Ultimate. I've played DOA3 lots, but it can be argued that it has a broken system due to far too easy countering. From my DOA3 experience, my favorite character by far is Hitomi.

There aren't too many things as pure as playing real humans one-on-one in a beat 'em up.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

In-game advertising had an article on in-game advertising. It's a quick read on where we're at, now.

I know that most hardcore gamers react very negatively to in-game advertising. I can see the problem of advertising seeping into ever more facets of our lives, so I can't say that the critics are wrong, per se, but additional income is sorely needed to fund next-gen games. (Or so they say.)

It looks like the publishers want to do this right. Was anybody ever bothered by the ads in sports and car games, where they're placed on billboards, like in the real world they emulate? Probably not. The only thing that bothers me about the ads in, say, Burnout 3, was that they're static and look dated very quickly - apart from the Axe ads perhaps, which are timeless in a sad sort of way.

When advertising came into Anarchy Online, we could see what could go wrong. The first ad was an animated billboard for Alienware gaming PCs, which was absolutely spot on for the context. The next ad, for Mötley Crue's new album, was not integrated to the game world and thus it stuck out. I can imagine there being a Mötley Crue in the far future of the game world, but I have trouble with the "out now" slogans; stuff which breaks my suspension of disbelief and connects me with the day to day real life.

In sports and car titles, I actually like the presence of real-world brands. It brings an air of authenticity, as long as there's a believably large number of brands present. Need For Speed Underground gained lots of atmosphere due to every tuning part being a licenced product. Not just any neon, Streetglow neon!

If I'm going to be affected by advertising anyway, I'd like that advertising to be really targeted at me and those influences to come from stuff I actually like (games), instead of the mass market bombardment. Every banner I've ever clicked on has been on a fringe or community site, heavily targeted at that site's audience. Penny Arcade has stated that they only display ads on products they feel they want to endorse, which lends them immense weight - the stuff feels like genuine recommendations, not just blind advertising. The guys have even drawn many of the ads themselves to better integrate them into the PA experience.

I trust that the videogame publishers know they need to treat their end-user relationship delicately and that they'll handle their advertisers as carefully crafted partnerships.

There are some larger issues at hand, though. If in-game advertising becomes as big as I think it might, what about games which cannot incorporate real-world advertising in a natural manner?

How do you go about putting real-world brands into World Of Warcraft? Some have speculated about sponsor messages in loading screens, menu screens and the like, but I'm afraid that they would still detract from the user's enjoyment of the fantasy theme.

If in-game advertising becomes a commonplace, substantial part of a game's budget, what happens to games which can't benefit from it? Or are we destined to have fantasy worlds swamped by branding, drinking our mead at a fantasy-themed Starbucks and using Snap-On tools to fix our equipment?

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Are videogames art?

End of discussion.

This is amazing on so many levels. Gentlemen, I salute you.

It is an exciting time to be into videogames. People are doing things that go far beyond the original intended use of the games. This video could be up in a museum and nobody would think twice about whether it's art or not.

(Yes, yes, of course the accepted answer to the question is "well, they can be".)