Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Taking down Las Vegas (Rainbow Six Vegas)

The same night I checked out the very promising Tony Hawk's Project 8, I got to get a taste of the Rainbow Six Vegas demo. I've been a fan of the Tom Clancy's series since Rogue Spear on the PC, and especially the original Ghost Recon I played far too much of.

Put simply and based on the demo, R6 Vegas is the game I always imagined when playing Rogue Spear back in 1999. It looks so good, the animation puts you right in the midst of things, the effects (especially being wounded) are great. The action feels believable and played on the "realistic" setting, there's quite enough of a challenge. After the disappointing but popular Rainbow Six 3 on the original Xbox, I was cautious about this, but I'm a convert. (In case you're wondering, I'm not going to touch Lockdownafter the reviews it got.)

I imagine that this will be a Live hit, too, but the single-player experience feels a very worthwhile effort on its own.

It's a little hard to put your finger on any single facet of the game to explain why it leaves you breathless. The excellent cover mechanic and animation are important, the instantly spot-on controls are certainly a part of it. Ragdolls are done well and you can even collect enemy weapons, always a pet gripe of the series' fans. Facial animation is a big thing, as are the excellent weapons.

Based on demo versions, this is probably the game Ubi was hoping Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter would've been, if it had more time to polish.

Goddamn! (Tony Hawk's Project 8)

If there was something I felt fairly certain about in the videogaming world, it was that I really was not going to buy another Tony Hawk's title. Underground, in my opinion, was just boring, and its predecessor Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 really had everything I wanted.

Until Tony Hawk's Project 8's demo rolled out in Xbox Live. Skating never felt this good. Sports never felt this good. Indeed, I daresay videogames have very rarely felt this good. I noticed I was breathless after I figured out how to Nail The Tricks.

The new instalment is "next-gen"; it looks a lot better than last-gen skating titles did, but that's not a lot said about a Tony Hawk's title, which never looked that good. The physics are a lot better, but nothing exceptional. Animation, if anything, is truly good. They say the gameworld (naturally, a city) is entirely seamless, which sounds promising. It feels a lot more realistic, with less over the top air.

The new thing is the Nail The Trick mode, which is initiated during any aerial, including your most basic ollie (tap A), by clicking both control sticks. This zooms the view into your feet and deck and engages a very slow motion effect. In Nail The Trick, the sticks no longer control your spin or speed - instead, they directly control your feet, one for each stick. Then you kick the deck to make it spin and time it correctly to land with your deck upright. Naturally, you can combine half-spins and using both feet, kicking the deck into another direction in mid-spin. Everything is directed and animated to perfection.

You use Nail The Trick all the time and it feels sublime. The most basic leap down a curb feels so right when you add a perfectly executed simple spin to it. I couldn't stop doing the basic tricks.

Something comparable can be found in Amped 2's style meters, which encourage balletic, slow arcs, timed to perfection with your landing. Those felt very good, too, but Project 8 finally tops the sensation. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Phantasy Star Universe beta, Lumines Live outrage

Phantasy Star Universe

So I played one night in the PSU beta on Live. I loved the character creation. I made a chick robot. I like the setting a lot - it's so unpretentious: you have a dedicated shopping mall/lobby, you select a mission and get to it. The unplausible yet aesthetically pleasing mix of fantasy and science fiction appeals to me.

The graphics are lame. They do the job and the design is very good, but you really do expect more on a next-gen console. The visuals are basically Dreamcast era graphics moving smoothly and somewhat smoothed over with anti-aliasing. Textures are poor and the models have nothing going for them... but on the whole, it's a pleasing sight.

Based on that one evening's play, I'm not going to pay the separate online fee Sega is asking for the privilege. There isn't enough variety of stuff to do and for me, the social elements wouldn't be enough, since I definitely wouldn't be hanging online every day.

Lumines Live

Lumines finally came on Live. It caused an uproar. First there was the price of 1200 points (around 14€) and then it turned out that the so-called full game is anything but. There are mere samples of most game modes, with only the time attack and online versus modes completely unlocked for your 1200 points. I could stomach that, if the basic "challenge" mode featured more than seven skins (levels), which is really pushing it. They're going to release a lot more skins for a further 600 points, with individual game mode packs coming later, too.

I can see what they're trying to accomplish here (besides money), and I applaud it. However, the decision to ask for a record-breaking 1200 points for the demo version ("Base") is an unwelcome move. I'd buy the bits and pieces happily if the base pack was a lot cheaper or indeed free.

The game does seem worth of 14€, I really like the demo, but they should never have called it a "full game". Obviously Live Marketplace is a still evolving thing, but incidents like this don't really help people's willingness to indulge in micropayments. And, well, 14€ isn't exactly "micro" in any fashion.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Profit, weird dream, Burnout Revenge


This article sheds light on the retailer side of things on the console war front. I was surprised to see how little the retailer makes on the sale of a single console. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but certainly more than $15 for an Xbox 360.


I had a weird videogame dream last night. There was an article on Eurogamer or Joystiq (both of which I follow daily) that an Insert Credit (which I read irregularly) forumite from Finland (where I live) had declared a competition to come up with four-letter words used as combat phrases in a JRPG. You know, like "ATTK", "PASS" and so on. Can't say what was significant about that. No, I haven't been thinking about JRPG combat phrases lately. Weird. I remember my dreams very rarely.

Burnout Revenge

I got Burnout Revenge for Xbox yesterday. Based on a single sit-down with the game, it's cool enough. None of that darkness I witnessed in the 360 demo, which I dare to guess is an issue with 360 games being designed for HD displays, which are most of the time (back-lit) LCD, not CRT.

The game is entirely in Finnish, which is hilarious. The voice-over doesn't much impress, but otherwise it really brings another level of absurdity to it all. As to why I chose the Xbox version over the 360 version, well, you can't say no to 10€.

It's weird how fast I've become accustomed to the 360 being online all the time. I was so let down that I didn't get to see global leaderboards after a race in Burnout Revenge. And I got no Live achievements for my time investment, what's up with that?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Online fees (Phantasy Star Online)

I'm completely happy with paying for Xbox Live Gold. Around 7€ per month is not much and I get a lot for that money.

However, paying for the service makes me extremely wary of paying more for individual games. I was super excited about Phantasy Star Universe, but I find it highly unlikely that I'd pay the further (around) 7€ they're asking. I do understand that online RPGs require money to operate, but publishers (Microsoft included) should understand that the consumer view of things is that they're already paying for the online experience.

In the case of PSU, I'm quite skeptical about the publisher's need for the money, in any case. It's a very simple game. I don't have a clue as to how the load is spread between Microsoft's infrastructure and Sega's (the publisher in this case) - for all I know, they could be just asking for more money for the sake of it. It's not like PSU requires ongoing development, new storylines or whatnot - it's a social dungeon bash.

I predict that the game doesn't sell very well and the community ends up being too small to really sustain itself. I do hope all the best for the game and I'm not saying I'd be immune to its lures despite the additional cost, but the threshold for taking part has suddenly gone way up. Let's just say that without the additional "GUARDIANS License" monthly fee, I'd likely pick this up without a second thought.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Introducing: The inner nerd

We've talked about it for years, and finally I got a domain with my wife. It's called mcMuumio.net per our shared Live Gamertag. There isn't a whole lot in there yet, and I don't know what I'm going to do with the space, either. But it's there. A friend helped us settle in, I'm not at all sure whether I'm tech-savvy enough to do it all on my own. We chose Dreamhost.

This notification is merely to let you know what the new link in the sidebar is. I'm actually pretty enthusiastic about this, just to know that I have a technological playground when I need one. There have been many times in the past when I've wished I had one, and now I do.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Online leaderboards (feat. Doom), 3D platformers (feat. Sonic), Defcon


I purchased the 360 version of classic Doom at 800 MS points (roughly 9€). It's a no-frills conversion, exactly what I wanted - no tricks done to the original graphics or sounds, all four episodes, controls work very well. It's a great game. I have one thing to complain about: the map is utterly worthless on a non-HDTV. Really, you need to take the massmarket (like all of Europe) into account when designing your game views.

A couple of things came up during playing the first episode through in one sitting.

First and foremost are the online leaderboards, viewable per level. All games need this feature. It plays straight to my competitive spirit. It feels so good to be the best player among your friends and to, say, finally break the global top-1000.

Leaderboards are what keeps me playing Geometry Wars, too. It bugs me that I'm sitting right on the average level (according to MyGamerCard.net). I need to break that half a million to get above the crowd!

Then there are Doom's controls. As per the original version, there is no Y-axis; you don't aim up and down. The character automatically targets monsters above and below you, provided that they line up with your gun. I'd really like to see a modern shooter do the same. Sure it needs some clever level design (Doom's essentially flat), but it would keep things much more free-flowing and immediate.

I recall the makers of the original Unreal Tournament's Xbox version attempting something in this vain, via level design. I don't know how that worked out, though.

I didn't buy Doom merely because I loved it as a kid. I imagined that it would be a great game, period. And it is. If anything, provided you can look past the low-res graphics, it's even better today. It absolutely wipes the floor with so many modern shooters, despite being released in 1993. The lighting is very effective, the level design is engaging, the overall aesthetic design hasn't aged at all.

Oh, and like reviewer Kristan Reed on Eurogamer put it, this game features bodies which do not disappear. Thirteen years ago. Get with the times, shooter designers.

Sonic: The Hedgehog next-gen

I've said it before and this latest offering only enforces my position: platform games should never have made the jump to 3D presentation. It doesn't work! I tried and tried and tried and simply could not hit the lines of rings with any confidence. The automatically aimed spinning attack does work, but as usual, the camera is worthless (you wouldn't believe how slowly it spins).

There's been a single instance of 3D platforming working well - Prince Of Persia: Sands Of Time - but even that one stellar example of the genre had some problems with the camera.

So in a nutshell: kill 3D platformers, kpls.

Allegedly the original Sega Megadrive/Genesis Sonic is coming to XBLA in the near future. That's an almost guaranteed sale right there and I imagine it will work much better than this entirely competent, but by its nature, awkward offering.


I've liked Introversion ever since I found Uplink, the awesome hacker game they released in 2001. Their latest release Defcon has generated a lot of hype. The game was released a few days ago and the demo is now out, too, go get it.

I had trouble imagining how the game would play out in practice, but having played through the tutorial, it's all clear now. I've yet to try a full-fledged game, but it's pretty safe to say at this point that it's a sure sale for me (PC hardware permitting, my home machine's ancient). At 14€ for a brand new game, I really can't complain. Although I might go for the boxed copy, which is priced a little higher, but even that's a ridiculous 21€! And it feels good to know that you're paying straight to the developers themselves.

It's also interesting how cool and distinctive Introversion's games look, despite the authors claiming that it's all "programmer art". Their soundscapes are thoughtful, too. I hear that Defcon sports "situation room ambient" consisting of cigarettes lighted, coughs and so on, which is really a magnificent idea. Can't be witness to that myself, yet, because I didn't have audio on the laptop I tried it on.

Update: Defcon runs just fine on my 900 MHZ/512 MB RAM home system. I've taken a beating from the computer twice, now. Well, at least it runs fine with only two players, that is.