Monday, October 17, 2011

Gamer Journal : Deus Ex, Rage and From Dust

A weekend spent fighting the evil forces of socialization and trying to get in some game time. Moderate success.

Here's the report :

Deus Ex : Human Revolution

Finally got to spend some quality time with the augmented edition I bought. Mixed feelings.

It's Deus Ex - so we do have an interesting story. The augmentation system seems interesting and well thought-out. The stealthing is pretty decent. The conversation / persuasion mechanics are also pretty cool.

But here's what I didn't like :

  1. The gunplay is all over the place. The game bumps you into third person view when you're in cover, and back into first-person when you pop out of cover. This makes for some very awkward moments during firefights and leaves you scurrying about frantically. The whole cover / shooting system is poorly implemented, and the level design doesn't help - forcing you into situations where you can't play purely as an FPS, nor purely as a cover shooter. The entire combat experience is frustrating and clunky, and also unavoidable. Sure, if you're really, really good, you can sneak through entire levels - but you'll eventually come across a boss fight that you can't avoid. It's pretty bad design - directly impacting the core experience.
  2. I'm about seven hours in, and the gameworld is unconvincing. Walking around Deus Ex's Detroit, I never got the feeling that I was exploring a city. It felt more like a movie set. Wandering around a gameworld, you need to feel that the world around you is real - the places and people should feel like they've been here for ages before you arrived, and go about doing their thing even when you aren't around. A living, breathing world. And there are plenty of games which do it perfectly well - Red Dead Redemption, New Vegas, GTA to name a few. But Human Revolution fails here. I never got any feeling other than the fact that I was exploring a game level with game characters. Perhaps sacrificing the free-exloration in favour of separate levels with loading screens may have lent a sense of distance between locations and fleshed out the illusion better ? But as it stands, Detroit in Human Revolution is simply too small and claustrophobic to be a convincing open world.
I'm about seven hours in, and I'm staying with it in the hope that it gets better. 


Boy Oh Boy! I'm enjoying this one.

Got it running on my desktop - runs beautifully with everything maxed out on my Core i9 powered rig with a two-year old GTX 295 2Gig card, on Vista (yes, yes, I know). Sure - still has some random pop-in (but not nearly as much as on the lapop) and occasional tearing, but nothing that breaks the game.

It looks great, the world seems huge, and the gunplay and vehicle combat have a nice, solid (and slightly old school) feel to them. Which is kinda why I like it. RAGE isn't the most thought-provoking or innovative or cleverest of games, but it nails the fun factor. Driving around and killing things is great fun in RAGE, and isn't that what a shooter should be? It's the exact opposite of Deus Ex, in that it's a game that doesn't try to do too many things, but keeps it simple and does it well.

Five hours in - just reached Wellspring and completed a few quests. Loving it so far. Oh - and Wellspring actually feels like a real place - with personality, a history and a sense of life. Again, nails something that Deus Ex fails to do. Plus - RAGE has a (barely) hidden tribute to Fallout. \m/

From Dust

Just got started with this one - on XBOX. It's rather beautiful to look at, and features some interesting terraforming mechanics. Reminded me of an ultra-modern Populous variant. But I played only past the first tutorial level, and so can't really comment on how good the actual game is. More soon enough - plan to spend more time with this by the next weekend.

P.S. Stopped numbering the episodes. It was foolish to begin doing it in the first place. So hence. Er. Ah.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Humble Frozen Synapse Bundle is here

What are you waiting for? The best deal in gaming returns. The Humble Frozen Synapse Bundle is here. Pay whatever you want and get three great Indie games - two of which [Frozen Synapse and SpaceChem]  are among the most critically acclaimed titles of last year.

Frozen Synapse is like X-Com meets Chess meets Tron

SpaceChem. Like Chemistry, but harder. And more fun.

ShadowGrounds : Survivor - a nice looking top down shooter with plenty of blood.

Trine - three character puzzle action with gorgeous graphics.

What's more, pay more than the average price, and get the Humble FrozenByte Bundle for free - it includes the brilliant Trine, Shadowgrounds and Shadowgrounds : Survivor, an interesting prototype of a game called Jack Claw, and a preorder of the upcoming Splot thrown in, too.

Hurry on up and grab it.

Gamer Journal Ep 5 : Rage Update - What do you know? It runs! On a laptop!.

Finally got Rage to run - on my wimpy laptop with a 512 MB NVS 4200 graphics chip, no less.

It ran surprisingly well - looked pretty good at 1900 x 1200 at what seemed to be medium settings with no AA. It ran at a rock steady FPS too - didn't measure it but I'm sure it was 60 or more.Yes, the world-famous texture pop-in was there. But it only bothered me while sightseeing - I barely noticed it during gunfights.

And I played through the first few minutes - completed the first mission. Quite fun - ID clearly knows their shooter basics, so the gunplay feels pretty solid, visceral and satisfying. Nothing brilliant in the first few minutes, but nice, familiar shooter ground. I enjoyed using my reasonably well schooled shooter ploys and tactics to get rid of some garden-variety pesky bandits and stuff.

Will install it later on my desktop PC and check out how it looks and performs on a real graphics card. And play a few more hours to see if it offers anything more.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Gamer Journal Ep 4 - A tale of two FTUES

First Time User Experience, for those of you unfamiliar with the term.

Spent some time playing Animal Crossing : City Folk on the Wii. It takes about fifteen minutes to get through all the game's exposition and actually start playing. And a further twenty or so minutes doing mundane, boring stuff until the game finally lets you get on with it. Weird design decision for what is, once you get to play it, an engaging and entertaining game with tons of stuff to do.

Why wouldn't you show the player, right up front, all the cool things the game has to offer? The only explanation I can think of is that they designed it for children, and decided that young players need a little time to get used to the controls and other things before venturing deeper into the game. I can't help but feel that if this is indeed the case, then the designers grossly underestimated children's ability to learn.

However, my son did play, and didn't seem to get bored at all, staying with the game for many hours and enjoying it thoroughly. So maybe there's something in that.

While on the topic of first experiences, something I've been doing a bit of last week (and generally enjoy doing in general) is getting people to play Uncharted 2 for the first time, and watch their faces. Never fails.

In start contrast to games that start off slow and pick up momentum, Uncharted 2 simply throws you into the deep end (seemingly) with nary a word of exposition, and leaves you to fend for yourself. The first ten minutes is an exhilarating, thrilling experience that takes you right to the heart of the core gameplay within seconds of starting up, and sets a cracking pace that doesn't let up until the game ends.

Games like Uncharted 2 and the unforgettable Shadow of The Colossus (which starts off with a fight that would be an end boss in most other games) are pitch-perfect FTUEs - taking the player to the heart of the game within minutes of starting off, and showing off what the game has to offer so that players will be itching to see what comes next. These two games are perfect for introducing people to gaming - I've been using them for years, with very good results.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Gamer Journal Ep 3 : Everlands HD is a deceptively deep strategy game.

Spent a couple of hours playing Everlands HD on the tablet. It's a brilliantly addictive little strategy game - with gameplay that is far deeper than its cutesy animal fiction suggests.

Gameplay proceeds by placing pieces on a hexagonal grid and capturing the opponent's pieces. Each piece (animal) has an attack and defense power, and some additional properties like bonuses, initiative and powers. Based on these simple rules, Everlands HD offers an engaging and addictive experience. If you have a droid or iOS device, well worth a try.

A few design takeaways :

Fiction layer
Like most games, the fiction layer in Everlands HD has nothing whatsoever to do with its core game mechanics. If, instead of cute and colorful animals trying to rescue the forest, it featured marines, tanks and aliens in a bleak wasteland, the game would appeal to a completely different audience with absolutely no change in gameplay. Designers sometimes get too caught up in the fiction-gameplay dynamic and end up making games that lack tight focus. My take ? Nail the gameplay and you can always rewrite the fiction.

Everlands HD is challenging but fair. You will lose repeatedly but always try again - because the game clearly demonstrates that :

1. You lost because you made mistakes, not because the game is unfair.
2. If you play more, you will improve.
3. If you play skilfully, you will win.

It's a design principle that makes for great games when followed.

P.S. This is the first reasonable length post typed out entirely on my tablet. Typing on the Xoom is pretty neat if you're using a cool little app called Thumb Keyboard.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Bigfatphoenix's Gamer Journal - Ep 2 : Cave Story, NOVA 2

Caught up with an old classic last week - Doukutsu Monogatari's astonishing platformer, Cave Story. It's an all-time classic, and the PC version is completely free, so you have no excuse not to try. Grab it here - and don't forget to install the English translation.