Dec 28, 2007

Mass Effect: Navigating the Hemorrhoid Field

Commander's Log: Stardate 122807

Hard to believe it's been a month since the last Mass Effect post - December was so busy!

Well, I'm still early in the game - maybe a dozen hours or so. I've finished the quests at the Citadel and have traveled on to the frozen planet of Noveria.

The graphical glitches bothered me much, much less during my intervening playing sessions. Everything is more flawed under a microscope, and I was obviously looking too closely. That said, the shadowing effects seem to be the biggest culprit regarding my earlier misgivings. The engine doesn't seem to have quite enough horsepower to do proper on-character shading, so why implement it?

In that vein lies many of Mass Effect's problems. Yes, the game is pretty, the conversations intriguing, the plot engaging, and the combat system promising. The underlying game engine, however, can be a chronic source of posterior pain. Why, oh why were so many of KotOR's nuts-and-bolts problems not ironed out during the development of this game?

Yes, the ME combat system (like KotOR's before it) can be unforgiving and even a bit random at times. I can deal with that. What I don't want to deal with is a minute-long loading pause before resuming combat. Why are the assets for the area I was just inhabiting reloaded each time I die? Could the code not simply check to see if the player were re-playing the same area he just died in? Obviously, if a player were to load a save in a different locale, the game would have to import those resources, but in this case we're replaying the same damn room!

Loading pause aside, I am then forced to re-watch the short video sequence that takes place before the combat is triggered. Every time I die. Ugh. Perhaps I'm missing something, but I've mashed every button on my controller trying to skip the same clip featuring the same bunch of Geth unfolding, jumping up onto a wall, and posing menacingly - for the sixth time. I know they're there - they just killed me. Let's get on with it already!

Then there are the ambiguous "where the hell do I go now?" moments - those places where the quest system seems to forget what you were doing and forgoes implying any sense of direction. I was told to go talk to Guy X, but Guy X strangely doesn't have anything to say to me - now what?? I'm also supposed to go to Place Y and do something, but Place Y doesn't show up on my map. Even so, a deadline timer is still ticking down and I have to save the people at Place Y before it expires. Grr.

Finally, one last rant - this time about combat vehicles that are strangely incapable of shooting up or down. Yes, Commander Shepard - you have a groovy prototype space tank with standard features such as Hypercrystal Ceramisteel Armor Plating, Diminished Mass Effect Jump Jets, Excited Tachyon Pulse Lasers , and a Mark IV Phasing Ultra-Cannon. A weapons turret featuring both side-to-side and up-and-down movement is beyond our technological capabilities however - so sorry!

In a way, I think that EA purchasing Bioware will have a positive ending. Bioware does so many things well story-wise, but their games can be very clunky from a mechanical aspect. In my eyes, the resources that they should be able to take advantage of under EA will hopefully enable them to create the nearly-flawless game we'd all like to play. Until then, I'll continue to be dazzled by the dialog while raging about the rough spots.

Merry Christmas and a Geeky New Year!

So, it's been a while since I posted. Basically, the nuttiness of the holiday has simply been keeping me busy as heck.

We started painting the kitchen in December, and ended up racing to get everything buttoned up before the holidays. There's still a little touching up to be done, but we at least got the room far enough along to be presentable to holiday visitors and attendees to our annual post-Christmas party (which is tonight!).

My parents visited over the holidays, which was great, and everything went without a hitch. Heather had to work on Christmas, but we went in to have lunch with her and her coworkers, and that turned out to be a nice time.

The other thing that's been keeping me busy is the Great Games Deluge of Late '07. Truly, it's been a great fall to be a gamer. Over the last few weeks, I finished Portal (a simply sublime religious experience) and Halo 3 (quite fun as well), and dove back into Bioshock with the intent of finally finishing it up.

The further I get into Bioshock, the more I like it. At first, gorgeous atmosphere aside, the game felt a little rote and repetitive. As the story began to progress, however, I surrendered to the plot and began to allow the designers to lead me through by the nose ring. Great stuff, and a truly wonderful setting rife with ambiance and impeccable art direction. Fear my wrench, you dirty Splicers!

Next on the finish-me list are Gears of War and Half-Life 2. I'm a few hours into both stories and am enjoying them thoroughly. I'm enticed with the possibilities of GoW multiplayer, as the gameplay reminds me fondly of paintball, which the crummy Northeast US weather has been keeping me away from.

Then there's Mass Effect. See my upcoming diary post re. that title.

Finally, the unveiling of the grand '07 geek present pile:

  • Settlers of Catan (new redesigned 4th Ed.) - I'm very much looking forward to introducing my family to this great board game, and also getting my gamer friends together at the table for yet another enjoyable Catan session.
  • Killer Bunnies and the Quest for the Magical Carrot (card game) - Zack (my 11-yr old son) had originally seen this game at Mepacon, and then bought it for me for Xmas when he came upon it when they were buying Settlers. I've been reading through the rules and it should be a hoot. Great game to play with Zack and my gamer friends.
  • Rock Band (360) - from "Santa" to me and Zack. A definite improvement over Guitar Hero, and I'm excited to try this with a full band of four - this'll definitely get broken out at the party tonight. I've been enjoying playing with Zack, my little drummer boy, and also unlocking lots of songs on guitar Solo Tour on hard difficulty. The RB guitar is a huge improvement over the GH version - finally a neck-button design friendly to actual guitar players!
  • Super Mario Galaxy - Was on sale at Target for $37 after Xmas, and couldn't pass up dropping some of my Xmas money on it. I'm only a few minutes in, but am intrigued so far. Invokes the delightful experience that was Super Mario 64 way back when (so much more effectively than SM Sunshine, which I just couldn't get in to).
  • Call of Duty 4 (360) - Another fishhook-in-my-wallet $37 Target item. Haven't even cracked the plastic open, but am looking forward to doing so. By all online accounts, this game is sounding like a very serious contender for Game of the Year, and I simply love a great single-player campaign.
That's it for now - tune in soon for a post-Xmas-party Rock Band debriefing.

Dec 14, 2007

Take Me Down To (Burnout) Paradise City

After my friends' weekly Halo 3 session last night, I had a chance to try out the recently-released Burnout Paradise demo. I was so impressed that I had to do a quick write-up.

For previous fans, note that I'm new to the Burnout franchise, so view my comments in that light. Criterion has created this wonderful driving sandbox. They have lovingly crafted over thirty square kilometers of city landscape for us to race through, and the implementation is truly impressive.

The demo reminds me of GTA3 (minus the violent crime of course) through the sense of free-roaming exploration I feel navigating the expansive streets of Paradise City. Note that only one section of the city is available in the demo - the red section of this map - but even this small portion of the city is huge!

The city is littered with ramps, secret shortcuts, and spectacular, subtly-hidden superjump opportunities. Add to that a positively supreme damage model and cringe-inducing, jaw-dropping slow motion crash sequences and you've got one incredibly enjoyable urban racer, my friend.

Best of all, the car control is spot-on. In a racer like Burnout Paradise, players are challenged to both precisely control one's vehicle when hurtling through oncoming traffic at Ludicrous Speed, and also to execute outrageous, stuntman-style maneuvers when drifting and skidding around tight 90-degree downtown turns. The control here is a perfect balance of fishtail-happy arcade-racer and technical driving sim, and the degree of cornering traction control via throttle is perfect for a game like this.

Note that I haven't even started playing with the built-in racing events - I've simply been careening around the city, soaking up the rubber-smoking, octane-guzzling sandbox thrillfest that is eastern Paradise City. The sense of speed this game provides needs to be experienced first-hand. I can't wait to try out all the actual racing events.

I also hear that multiple players can explore the city together in free-roaming mode via Live, and the opportunities for screaming steel mayhem stretch out tantalizingly before me.

BP is being developed by Criterion Games for EA, and is slated for a January 22nd release. If the game sounds intriguing, be sure to check out Criterion's Crash FM Podcast.

Dec 9, 2007

Weisman Regains Rights to FASA Properties

Many fans will be delighted to hear that Jordan Weisman's new company Smith & Tinker has licensed the rights for the Battletech, Shadowrun, and Crimson Skies properties back from Microsoft. Here's a link to the press release.

Go Jordan! Can't wait to see what his next move will be.

Dec 7, 2007

Gerstmanngate: GameSpot Editors Talk

During my commute this morning, I listened to GameSpot's "The Hotspot" podcast. This week, the GS editors addressed what issues they could involving Jeff Gerstmann's firing, and tried to defuse some of the community's perhaps misguided ire.

After hearing their take, I'm not sure I am entirely convinced of CNET's motives, but the GameSpot editors have allayed my concerns about their end of the business. They seem genuinely shocked at both Mr. Gerstmann's firing and the community's torch-and-pitchfork reaction to last week's events. It is clear to me that this team remains true to their goal or providing the ethical coverage that's kept me coming back to their site for years, and I'm glad to hear it.

The question is corporate CNET's motives aside, I'm going to continue to frequent the GameSpot site. In fact, I renewed my subscription this morning to show my support to what seems like a group of highly dedicated, genuine game journalists. I wish the GameSpot team good luck in regaining any lost trust from their readers, and Mr. Gerstmann the same in his future endeavors.

Dec 5, 2007

That's a big Twinkie...

IGN AU just posted a big writeup on the forthcoming Ghostbusters game after being treated to some hands-on time and a tour of the Terminal Reality studios. The more I hear about this game, the more my Twinkie grows.

You see, my family and I are huge Ghostbuster fans. I mean, my son christened our cats Gozer and Zuul. That should tell you something right there. As such, I'm super excited about this game - especially after hearing that Aykroyd and Ramis are intimately involved in the project. An interactive version of Ghostbusters 3 would be very welcome in my Xbox.

The probable lack of co-op play is a potential bummer, but on the flip side, we get a collateral damage score at the end of every level. It seems this game is in good hands.

Dec 3, 2007

Bioshock Patch - 2K Plugs Up Some of the Leaks

2K recently announced that we'll receive not only a patch this week, but also some new DLC for their excellent, wonderfully atmospheric shooter. Both PC and 360 platforms will receive these updates.

I'm quite glad to hear this news, as I'd stopped playing Bioshock in anticipation of some fixes. The game control had been designed with a gamepad in mind, and the acceleration Irrational had employed for the mouse movement made one feel like an intoxicated bovine in a Waterford crystal outlet. Hopefully some more precise mouse control is part of the patch, because it was a shame for such a minor oversight to mar such an incredible game.

Now if I can just finish painting the kitchen so I have a little free time... Splice away, citizens!