Saturday, January 17, 2009

Ramalinga Raju pleads innocence, blames videogames for fraudulent activities.

They'll blame videogames for just about anything these days. Here's our sister blog's take on what might happen.

An excerpt : "

“Yes yes. It's all Niko Bellic's fault”, said former Satyam CFO Srinivas Vadlamani. “ If not for GTA IV, my pristine and lamb-like innocent mind would never have been corrupted, and I would never have agreed to aid and abet India's largest corporate fraud.” However, Vadlamani has admitted that GTA did give him some useful ideas on how to deal with the 'jerks who ratted on him and Mr.Raju'.

Read the complete post on Son of Bosey.

Fallout 3 is not just Oblivion with Guns.

This article first appeared on my weekly 'Game Invader' column for The New Indian Express

Since Bethesda Softworks announced that they would be picking up and reviving Interplay's revered Fallout franchise, I've been hearing the term 'Oblivion with Guns'. And, now that Fallout 3 has been finally released to great critical and commercial success, I hear the term bandied about even more.

This is not only unfair to both games, it's fairly ignorant, and I believe that anyone who uses these words to describe Fallout 3 doesn't understand either game's true nature.

Fallout 3 and Oblivion are only similar to the extent that they share the same engine, but are very different experiences from a role-playing and combat perspective.

Of course there are similarities – both games share the same engine, and hence are bound to feel similar at a surface level. The way people move and talk, the on-screen compass, and some terrain features feel similar, natural for games that run on the same technology. But nobody ever says Left 4 Dead is “Half Life 2 with Zombies”, do they?

Nothing is more significant than the fact that both games are based on completely different role-playing systems. While Oblivion uses Bethesda's famous Elder Scrolls system where your character develops and improves skills simply by practicing them, Fallout's more traditional system forces you to manually distribute skill points to determine your character progression. The difference this makes to the role-playing aspect of the gameplay is profound.

If you want to be a good swordsman in Oblivion, you'll have to actually fight with the sword all the time, and eventually you'll get better at it. Fallout is just the opposite – you decide that you want to be a small guns specialist, put points into that skill, choose the and you'll be pwning headshots at those creepy super-mutants instantly. The sense of choice and character development is so dramatically different that I cannot believe how anyone who has played both games extensively can fail to recognize it.

The good / evil scale and how the game responds to your choices are also significantly different. Oblivion maintains a separate relationship level with each individual in the game, which is a complex calculation influenced by a range of factors such as your relationship with the individual, your alignment, race, guild memberships and the like. Fallout sticks with its far simpler 'Karma' system, which is again a rather simplistic angel-to-devil incarnate scale, which reflects a sum total of your good and evil deeds. And your Karma determines how characters of good and evil alignment respond to you. That's it.

Both systems have their appeal, undoubtedly. Oblivion's system is, in my opinion, more organic and complex, offering a better fleshed out role-playing experience with more evolved politics, economics and interpersonal relationships. The multiple races, more varied environments, numerous interesting guilds, and the spellcasting system make Oblivion the more epic in scope of the two.

Fallout, on the other hand, appeals to the traditionalist in me, giving me the number-crunching, stats-heavy, strategic approach to character development and combat that I love so much in my RPGs. It's a tighter, more detailed game than Oblivion, and offers the more interesting of the worlds to explore, thanks to the ability to reference pop culture and pack in familiar elements. It's genuinely funny as well, never taking itself too seriously, and the characters, story and setting are all superior to those of Oblivion.

So there you have it – these are two fantastic games that share some similarities, but have differences so fundamental that they would be obvious to any serious RPG player. Try calling Oblivion 'Fallout 3 with Swords', and see how ridiculous it sounds. So why should the other way round be any less stupid?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The replayability factor.

This article first appeared on my weekly 'Game Invader' column for The New Indian Express.

From all the bullet-points on the box, the online reviews, the fanboy raves, the developer bluster, you'd think replayability was where it's at. Infinite replayability. A different experience on each playthrough. No two games ever the same.

But seriously, is it THAT important in single-player ?

I've been playing videogames since their infancy, and I can't rememer too many single-player games that I replayed after finishing. After spending many long hours enjoying a great role-playing adventure or action epic, I don't want to play the same game again. I want to move on to the next title, something new and different. After all, there are so many games to play, and so little time. And I'll wager that the vast majority of average gamers are with me on this one.

Sure, there will be truly hardcore genre-specialists, academics and champion gamers who would play the same single-player game multiple times to see how it pans out each time. But for every one of these, there would surely be twenty who just want to move on to something else?

For me, videogames are an intense experience. A game like Oblivion, GTA 4 or Fallout 3 is something I don't merely play. I actually live through them. I let myself be drawn into their worlds, often thinking (and sometimes even dreaming) about the in-game situations even when I'm not playing. Even a stellar single-player shooter like Bioshock is an involving and emotionally immersive experience that takes a lot out of an average gamer.

So I always find it difficult to consider returning to them shortly after the first play through. I will sometimes revisit games many years after I first played them, but by this time I don't quite remember all the details of the first time anyway. And I never play through the entire game the second time around – it's usually a few hours to check out some specific thing as opposed to an evaluation of the overall experience.

Also, there are just so many great games that come out every year, that it's hard to see how anyone can resist playing them in favour of replaying games. Just last year, I missed out on titles like Mirror's Edge, Lost Odyssey, The World Ends with You, Left 4 Dead and Fable 2 to name a few. If I had the time, I'd have picked up one of those as opposed to spending another 30 hours on Fallout 3.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating on-rails experiences that are the products of rigid game design. Games that are designed with replayability in mind always offer choice and unpredictability – two critical components of quality single-player experiences. For me, making choices in Fallout is far more interesting when I'm playing in the knowledge that my choices have an implication on the game – and that things would have panned out very differently if I had chosen other courses of action. So the limitless choice built into the game design, while doubtless adding replay value, also greatly enhances the single-player experience.

I'm not saying that replayability is useless, it certainly is crucial from a design perspective, and is important to many gamers. But I don't believe that games like Grim Fandango, Indigo Prophecy or Sam & Max are any lesser because they lack it. I just think that it gets far more importance in the hype-o-sphere than it actually deserves.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to move on to my next game. And it certainly won't be GTA 4 again.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Cannibalism is alive and well.

At least, according to our friends at Chitale Bandhu Mithaiwale.

Here's the relevant detail :

I can't help imagining opening up a pack, and seeing a whole bunch of far-side-esque little people come tumbling out. Short eats. Hyok.

The greatest films of all time - Narasimma

Narasimma is the greatest film ever made. No, really.

It's got everything. Things that explode ( bombs, cars, oil tankers, buildings), things that don't explode (Furniture, Pigeons, Nasser) and things that look like they might explode any minute (Gabtun's jowls, Rahul Dev's biceps, Anandraj).

Set in an alternate reality where terrorists jump off ledges on being shot at, a hottie like Isha Koppikar can achieve orgasm by merely stealing a glance at Gap-tian, and Raghuvaran isn't the main bad guy, Narasimma is a film that everyone must watch. At least thrice.

The film kicks off in grand style, when Gapton suddenly appears to assist the cops in apprehending some terrorists, along with his 'Dog Squad' – a random assortment of Alsatians equipped with wireless headsets, in order to help them obey Gabtian's hi-specialty orders meant specifically for commando canines- such as 'Go', 'Come' and 'Sit'. Vijaykanth (I'm just calling him that to improve google results) then stuns everyone by gunning down the cops, blowing up some colonial-looking buildings, and being captured because, even when being chased by cops, he brakes for schoolkids.

This is followed by some sequences (made famous on YouTube) in which the cops torture Gabtun, and the audience simultaneously, by, in no particular order, stripping him, and exposing him to electricity, fire and some really big ice cubes. If you ever yearned to see a semi-naked Vijaykanth chirpily perched on a large block of ice, Narasimma delivers in spades.

During the course of the next two hours or so, Gaptian performs feats such as cunningly changing his contact lenses from blue to green to throw off pursuing investigators, reviving a drowning Isha Koppikar by rubbing her inner thighs, disco dancing, kicking ass, and demonstrating that he cannot be betrayed by carrier pigeons named 'Vallarasu'. All of this, even the last bit, is absolutely true – ask anyone who has seen Narasimma if you don't believe me.

Radharavi reacts on seeing the bomb that Gabtun has planted in his heart, conveniently indicated by a blinking light on the X-Ray! This movie is awesome!

He also proceeds to kill some evil guys in three different states, kidnap some other evil guys, bash up their evil underlings, expose some evil plots, and outsmart some evil plans using gadgets that look like Chinese toys made in Bangladesh. All this while managing to seduce Isha Koppikar with his Gabtun-ness and Gaptianity. He even saves her life on her deathbed, by marrying her – thaali, kumkumam and all. The complete man.

Somewhere along the way, Nasser and Anandraj attempt to shoot Gaeptun, believing him to be a terrorist. Of course, he dodges the bullets in Neo-fashion, and then allows Raghuvaran to look eerily into the camera and reveal the truth – Gabtun is in fact not a terrorist at all, but a government secret agent who is gifted with a mix of the various talents of Batman, The Atom Bomb, The Flash, The Silver Surfer and God.

After a truly stunning detective scene involving elements such as Adobe Photoshop, some glaciers, a leering Rahul Dev, the 'Enter' key, and Anandraj managing to mispronounce the word 'clue' twice in eight seconds, Gaptian launches the final onslaught with the stirring war cry - “Let us Start The Missen', and leads his troops to storm the ancient fort that Rahul Dev (Akthar Rasool, the terrorist) is using as a hideout.

Anandraj pulls off a Resident Evil-style headshot! Pwned!

The greatest action sequence that cinema has witnessed follows, with inerruptions only so that Gaptian can reform a terrorist, and yell “Staaaaaaaaart the Countdownnnnnnnn!”, before continuing to use twin revolvers to take down hundreds of Jihadis. Eat this, Johnny Rambo. Plus, this is probably the only recorded instance of Nasser wielding a rocket launcher, so afficionados take note.

Then, a one-on-one ass-kicking session with Rahul Dev, and a short and tender scene where Gabton snatches a revolver away from a six year old boy and throws it into a nearby fountain, Narasimma draws to a close. Trust me people, this is a film that everyone must watch – easily one of the greatest cinematic experiences in history.

Verdict – Narasimma is teh_pWnZorrrrrrzzzzz. Gaptian is teh_r0xx0rrzzz.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Game Invader : Will Dragon Age Remove Bioware Blues?

It's been five years since I played a great Bioware game.

Star Wars : Knights of the Old Republic was a classic role-playing game that did everything right in true Bioware fashion. Great writing fleshed out one of the greatest videogame stories ever, and brought to life a cast of unforgettable characters. And it was an unqualified success, selling over a million copies since release.

Before that, Baldur's Gate 2: The Shadows of Amn marked Bioware's most triumphant moment yet – arriving as a role-playing epic that was quite unlike anything gamers had seen. It remains one of the finest games ever made, and, in my opinion, no other game, except possibly the recent Grand Theft Auto IV, has achieved the scale of storytelling and character development seen in BG2. It was THAT good.

However, of late, it's been disappointing. Jade Empire was a decent enough game, but as a follow-up to KOTOR it was underwhelming. The much hyped Mass Effect was an even greater disappointment. Although it was undoubtedly a return to form for Bioware in terms of storytelling, the role-playing experience was nothing short of woeful. The combat was so-so, the character advancement system was uninteresting, and the less said about the awful items and inventory, the better.

But now, there's Dragon Age : Origins. And I have a good feeling about this.

With Dragon Age, Bioware returns to the fantasy setting they haven't done since Neverwinter Nights. However, it will be a wholly original universe that the creative team is creating from scratch – an exciting new twist on regular fantasy staples, we hope.

My concern is not with the quality of the universe, however – Bioware has that part of it down pat, and we're certain that Ferelden will be a great place to adventure in, full of thoughtfully created characters and terrifying beasts.

Indeed, my attention is focused squarely on role-playing and combat, and there's precious little information available on these aspects as yet. But the information that is floating around the interwebs is extremely interesting.

Firstly, you choose a specific 'origin story' for your character, which impacts where you begin the game. A dwarven commoner would start off on the city streets, and a human prince would start off in a castle. You would then follow your own unique path through the gameworld, your fates criss-crossing with those of other characters in the game. This idea of 'multiple viewpoints' for the same story excites me no end – and if anyone can pull it off, it's got to be Bioware.

The 'Spell-Interaction' feature seems cool as well, where the effects of spells actually influence one another. For instance, you could actually extinguish a fireball by casting an ice storm, or protect yourself from a meteor shower by invoking a force field. This, if it makes it into the final game, will make for some spectacular and wholly new strategies in mage battles.

Bioware has also promised that the combat will be a 'next-gen evolution' of the pause-and-play tactical combat systems from older games. Of course, with a 3-D camera that can zoom into and out of combat, you could line up your orders, and then zoom in to catch the action up-close. Old Infinity Engine die-hards, I can see your mouths watering now.

Here's hoping that Dragon Age will mark a return to classic PC fantasy role-playing for the hardcore faithful, instead of the oversimplified cakewalks that we've been getting of late.