Friday, July 11, 2014

PAD #36: Brief Hiatus

I haven't been finding the time to write-up PADs or even the two new columns I've been wanting to do.  The reason is plain and simple:  I'm busy sorting things out in real life.  Namely, while I do wish to find work in writing, I need something that can tide me over while I practice my craft enough that I can feel comfortable taking-on an actual job in the practice.  In the meantime, I need a job that keeps at least some cash flow going, so I've been trying to focus on that more, which has (ironically) left me with a little less time to sit and write.

With that being said, I also plan to post a little less frequently.  I want to try and focus a little on Game 4 Thought and Spoilerific, so if that means I only post a couple times a week, then so be it.  After-all, it's GFT and Spoilerific that will garner interest in this blog, where my daily PADs were mostly for my own benefit as practice.  Simply put, I think it's time I put that practice towards something a little more productive from now on.  I'll still post PADs from time to time, even though they'll no longer be the daily effort that the name implies; perhaps I'll come-up with a different meaning for the acronym.  Basically, PADs will be mostly the same kind of thing that they have been, me just talking about recent events.  Almost like elongated Twitter posts (something that I arguably should get into).

Anyway, just figured I'd get that update out there for what little traffic I get.  My hope is that I won't be gone too long, and when I come back, my posts should be more worthwhile to read.  So I'll see you when I'm able to post again, and until then, game well.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

PAD #35: Still on the Fence About Echo

Went and saw 22 Jump Street today.  Partially for a lack of anything better being released the past week or so, partially because I enjoyed the first one and heard that this one was also really good.  Well, it didn't disappoint.  I'm honestly not sure if I want to do a Spoilerific on it because it's the kind of sitcom where I go specifically so I can just switch-off my brain and have a good laugh for a while.  Part of what makes the movies work is that they both take 4th-wall-breaking jabs at their own existence, and thus at movies in general.  The first one taking a jab at the entire concept of remakes, with this one making a gag about Hollywood's tendency to make sequels because "Hey!  The first one was good, right?  Let's just do it again and it should make more money.  Right?"

The movies were written by the same minds that took the idea of a movie about Legos and turned it into one of the greatest movies this year (or maybe it was last year?  I forget off-hand), as well as Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (which I've personally never seen, but have heard is pretty damn good).  Both movies that no one really expected to be all that great, along with the Jump Street movies, but that all managed to deliver.  Apparently they're going to be directing a TV show called Last Man on Earth, so it'll be interesting to see if their legacy continues.  Admittedly I don't often like Television as much.  Outside of acclaimed hits, I tend to find that TV shows tend to have a very samey feel to them.  It's not that they're poorly written per se, it's just that when I know how I'm supposed to feel about a specific character because they fall very directly into their archetype, it's hard to care.  "Whelp, I guess I'm gonna have to hate him, because he's the obvious jack ass who's going to be the obvious jack ass in any scene that has him, and they'll never explain his character well enough to have us know why he's a jackass (or they'll give a very shallow reason for it) because then we might feel conflicted about hating the jackasses in our own lives."  Bleh...

I started playing One Way Heroics the other day, and it's pretty fun little game.  It's an RPG with a little bit of Roguelike sprinkled on top.  You explore a world that's generated Minecraft style (which is to say that it's random, but you can specify the seed for the same world over and over if you want), with the gimmick being that the world is being eaten by an ominous darkness that's creeping over the world from west to east.  There-in lies the gimmick for which the game is named.  Every turn you take (walking, attacking, whatever), the darkness creeps a little closer, so you have to keep moving gradually East lest it consume you.  The game ends when the end boss spawns and you kill him, when you reach the end of the world, or when you die.  All-in-all, for a game that only costs $3.50 (and I got it during Steam's summer sale, so it was cheaper still) it's a pretty fun little RPG.

On that note, I think I'm gonna give it another run or two.  Thanks for joining me on today's PAD, and I hope to see you next time.  Until then, game well.

Friday, July 4, 2014

PAD #34: Happy 4th Everyone!

I'm taking the day off, but I figured I'd pop in to wish everyone a happy and especially a safe (if you're lighting-off fireworks) 4th of July! ^_^

Thursday, July 3, 2014

PAD #33: Gamers Do Love Their Punching Bags

Looks like a news post hit the gaming scene like a powder keg.  The UK's Advertising Standards Authority declared that EA cannot post their game as being "Free to Play".  To keep things short (I could easily do an entire post on this), I disagree with their assessment.  Of course, that hasn't kept the gaming community from shouting a collective "Hurrah!"  It seems that the desire for bloodlust has overwritten the sense of justice.  Like or hate the model of gaming used for Dungeon Keeper, it CAN be played without the need for purchases.  The fact that you can pay to bypass the timegates doesn't negate this, as the timegates are the core mechanic.  Remove the timegates and the game is just tapping a bunch of upgrades and then you're max-level by the end of the day.  Having to slowly upgrade your rooms and minions is what gives the game some pacing.  Paying to bypass that is mostly for the hardcores who want to tackle the game more seriously, and would rather pay to get up there than to take the time to do it slowly.  Another thing I noticed is that the ASA is taking exception to the fact that the ad in question doesn't mention that there are in-game purchases, which I suppose is fair enough.  It makes me wonder if this is the ruling that most gamers are making it out to be, and if EA will just put-out the same ad in a couple days with "Features in-game purchases" as an added disclaimer.

Looks like Extra Credits put-out a video talking about Early Access, and they presented a rather interesting spin on the whole thing.  Most complaints about the system that I've heard thus far have focused on the consumer side of things.  Discussing things like how developers can sell a game and then aren't obligated to deliver, and that some developers even seemed to be abusing on that notion.  Things only got worse when the developer of Towns scrapped the project entirely, but I digress.  Rather, Extra Credits talked about it a little from both sides, and spent a bit of time talking about how Early Access can be harmful even to the developers.  Discussing things like would-be enthusiasts getting bored by the time the game is officially launched so that there isn't any real community, or journalists getting bored of talking about the game by the time it's out, so the release comes with little fanfare.  Basically that whether you're a consumer or a developer, the whole Early Access system is something to be cautious of and to make sure that you're completely certain before you jump on board.  Definitely some great insight, though I think there's a little more to discuss.  Early Access is such a new system that there are a lot of aspects and angles to consider.

Another thing that I've seen discussed lately is the whole concept of "save scumming".  For those unfamiliar, save scumming refers to the practice of saving frequently during a game as to lose as little progress as possible when the player messes-up and needs to reload.  It also refers to using said saves as a way to by-pass what would otherwise be a random dice roll.  As an example, maybe a conversation requires the player to pass a speech check (likely affected by a speech-related stat).  If the player has a low skill in speech, then there might only be a 10% chance to bypass the check successfully.  Passing the check can mean anything from getting better items from the character, to having the character not attack you (or maybe the speech check was just the opposite and you wanted to provoke him).  That 10% success rate is no problem when you can just save scum through it.  As such, it's a practice that is often frowned-upon, and is also why many games today are largely checkpoint-based for saving.

To keep things from getting into a full-on Game 4 Thought (though I probably will do a GFT on save scumming), I've never considered the practice to be a bad thing.  Or rather, I don't think that checkpoint-based saves doesn't fix the issues that make save scumming a bad thing.  Take the above example, many would argue that save scumming is bad because it makes the speech skill worthless when you can just save scum through the conversation.  Okay, but what happens when the game uses checkpoints so that you can't save scum it?  Does speech continue to be useless because even when maxed it can sometimes fail?  The problem then isn't that the player is able to save scum the conversation, it's that the speech skill was implemented into the game in an inherently-broken fashion.  The solution isn't to remove save scumming, but rather to find a better way to execute the speech skill in such a way that players with low skill have no chance of save scumming through it, while players with high speech skill can generally make their way through the conversation with optimal results.

I think that should wrap things up for today.  Thanks for joining me on today's PAD, and I hope to see you around next time.  Until then, game well.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

PAD #32: Pleasant Surprise

Checked-out Tomb Raider's multiplayer, and it honestly wasn't bad.  I was mostly just checking it out to see if it would be possible to still earn the achievements (I'm a major achievement whore), and was rather surprised to find that there's actually a decent number of people still playing.  Sure it's hardly into the numbers of something like CoD, but this is a game that mostly sells for it's single-player mode.  It's surprising to find anyone in there in the first place.  That's when I caught myself actually having a bit of fun with it; after I switched from the controller to the mouse, natch.  I used the controller during the single-player mode because I consider the game a platformer first and the shooty bits to be a secondary feature (the sluggishness of the enemy AI would tend to agree with me).  When playing against someone who can potentially kill you just as fast as you can kill him though?  You better be bringing your A-game, and an analog stick just doesn't compensate for your aim getting kicked around nearly as well as a mouse can.

Apparently Ubisoft is running damage control by boasting about the number of women that will be in Farcry 4.  "Packed to the gills" being the exact phrasing.  Between that and the way that they were quick to announce that the playable character isn't a white dude (though he is still a dude) makes it seem like Farcry 4 is just one big effort to snuff-out their current image of publishing games that are filled with white dudes.  It's to the point where I wouldn't be surprised if their next big game announcement features a female protagonist.  Not because it's a game they actually care about, but because they're concerned about shaking-off that image.  Not to say that it's a bad thing that they're adapting, just that I'd rather it not feel so token.  Still, Ubisoft announcing a game with a female protagonist.  Hm... I wonder if they have something sitting in the vaults that they could revive for just that occasion...

After long-last, EgoRaptor released a new Sequelitis, this time focusing on why he feels that Ocarina of Time was a very lackluster sequel when you really look at it.  He also used Skyward Sword as an extreme example of how homogenized the Zelda series has gotten.  Over-all, I rather agree with him.  While I never really disliked Ocarina of Time, I never considered it to be that great.  It was fair.  Passable.  It passed the time, with it's main redeeming feature being that it put an interesting twist on the story that was told in Link to the Past to put a little more emphasis on The Triforce than on The Master Sword.  One measure of a good game, in my opinion, is to ask yourself this question:  "What would I be left with if I stripped-out the franchise?"  In the case of Ocarina of Time, if you removed everything that made it Zelda and replaced it with original characters/items?  You'd have a bland adventure game that everyone would quickly forget about.  How do I know this?  Because I've played a lot of games that could easily have been a Zelda title if you just swapped-in the iconic characters and items, and most of them have been lost in the mix and basically forgotten.  I think it's part of why I never picked-up OoT for the 3DS, because deep down, I just didn't want to play it again.

Well, thanks for joining me on today's PAD.  Sorry that it had to end on a bit of a downer.  Hopefully the next one will be a bit more jovial.  Until then though, game well.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

PAD #31: It Can't All Be Good

While I'm enjoying Tomb Raider over-all, I have to admit that I do have a few gripes.  I think most of them focus around the fact that the game tries to wear a face of "realism", but then so-much about the game feels "video-gamey", so to speak.  Here's an example; early in the game Lara realizes that she's going to need to get food somehow.  The game conveniently drops a Bow on you with plenty of arrows around, but I'm willing to chalk that up to luck, so whatever.  It then has you hunt a deer with the bow so that you can get used to aiming and firing it, but also so that Lara can get some meat from it.  Goal achieved, Lara now has food, and you learn that you get experience from harvesting them.  So at this point, rather than some form of hunger system, the game just has Lara waging this one-man war against all the fauna of the island.  It stems this somewhat by sometimes saying that an area is "hunted out", and you get minimal experience for killing animals in that area, but it often quickly forgets this and you go back to getting full experience for every kill.

Another example of what I mean is in the way that you have to do certain things.  Through-out the game, you find these storage nets that you can burn-down to find a crate that can be looted for "salvage" (which is used for upgrading weapons).  Why Lara feels the need to burn these down instead of using an arrowhead or her axe, two much more rational techniques, the game never really explains.  You burn them down because that's just how the game wants you to do it.  Then there's the village early in the game where you find these containers hanging just a little bit higher than Lara can reach.  To get these, you have to light the hanging sconces that are conveniently located right next to them, then use the rope arrow to get them swinging so that they swing up and ignite the nets.  Why Lara can't just get up on her toes and reach up with the torch that she usually uses is an issue that the game tactfully avoids.

Then there's some of the barriers.  Again, you would expect Lara to just use her prying axe that's been perfectly adequate for ripping doors open up until now, but instead for the sake of barring-off areas until you have the right tool, she just won't.  Rather, you need to use things like the rope arrows to shoot doors and pull them open, or the shotgun of all things to blast-down another type of barrier.  Granted in the latter case the barrier has barbed wire, but it still doesn't look like anything that should be too difficult to take down with her prying tool.  The game does sometimes place these barriers in areas that would be out of reach, so you NEED the range afforded, but that's a case of using level design to excuse otherwise arbitrary barriers.  When you first acquire both of the mentioned "keys" to their respective "doors", you're mostly using them against barriers where the axe would be fine, or you've even gone passed these barriers and need to backtrack and now need to backtrack now that you have the arbitrary key.

They feel like petty niggles, which is why I don't let them ruin the game for me (I did already say I'm enjoying the game), but when a game seems to be trying to go for a more realistic aesthetic with everything it does, it just makes these video-gamey barriers feel rather jarring in contrast.  It's like the developers are trying to have their cake and eat it too, and the resulting paradox just causes me to get pulled out of the experience.  Again though, I am enjoying the game on the whole.

Thanks for joining me on today's PAD, and I hope you see you come by again tomorrow.  Until then, game well.