Obscured View

A few chosen words on the world of video games

Archive for July, 2008

Who keeps a masturbation journal?

Such a huge fan.  For those of you not in the know, the original creators of MST3K have gotten back together for Cinematic Titanic, up to their old tricks yet again.  August 7th for this new one.

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List of Game No-No's

So, like I said I would,  I’ve started a list of things I’ve found in games over the years that have annoyed me enough to remember them long enough to make this list.

I’ll expand the list as I find more or remember more of them from the years I’ve spent playing games, or any good ones from comments made on the page.

You can find a link to the list up top, or just click here.

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Devil May Require Camera

First, let me say that I absolutely hate and love my 360.  I hate it because it’s cheaply made, I’m on my second one already, and this one has the same problem of just out of no where having “disc can not be read” messages pop up, typically when I’m in the middle of enjoying myself.

Or, sometimes, it’s after not enjoying myself that it hurts the most.  Twice now, the little gremlins inside the machine decided that they’re going to make my 360 explode right after I finish a boss battle in DMC4 and a cutscene is playing.  Great reward.

Also, since Capcom decided that saving mid-mission wasn’t cool or something, since it crashed before I could save, I have to do the entire level over again.  Yay.  No, really — let me put more feeling into that…


So the annoying shoddy console aside, the real issue that DMC4 has as a game is that the camera angles make no sense from transition to transition.  There’s a very reasonable rule in film that you learn very early on in any film class, and that’s never, ever cross the line of action from camera angle to the next unless you move onto the line first.

It’s like Capcom wanted to break that rule on every occasion they could.  So you are pushing down on the controller, and when the scene changes, you’re now running “up” on the screen.  This happens in games from time to time, but what most do is that until you let up on any movement, your controls stay relative to how you were moving before the scene change.  Not so in DMC4 — you switch angles, and if you make the slightest adjustment in movement vector, the controls immediately flip to what’s relative to the new screen.  This ends up making you immediately turn around and run back onto the other screen that you just left.  This can chain several times if you’re not completely steady on the controller.

I think I’m going to start a list of things that you just don’t do in 3D games, and that’ll be the first one on it.

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The iPhone apps store needs to take a lesson from XBLA

There’s a lot of crappy games on XBLA.  There’s some good ones, too.

The one tool that allows the consumer to make an educated choice on which games are crap and which aren’t are the demo versions.  Sure, you have to deal with annoying “BUY NOW!!!!1!” screens and such — especially in any Sierra game — but you can check the quality of a title quickly without paying for it.

Apple seems to have completely missed this whole “try before you buy” part.  Sure, they’ll claim within the next few days that they’ve made $$$ from apps already (and that developers have made $$), but the point is that most of that is money people are going to regret spending.  Apple seems to be treating the app store not like they’re making product for a game service — or even a PC / Mac service — but for a phone company that just wants you to buy off of a name rather than sample what’s available.

I can’t help but wonder if this was intentional.  Hell, I can preview songs on iTunes… but I can’t preview apps?  Free apps, sure, but apps you want me to pay $10 for?!

Epic fail, Apple, epic fail.

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Repitition's Creed

I don’t really know why I played all the way through Assassin’s Creed.  It’s great to look at, and very fluid to control, but after visiting each of the towns once, you’ve done everything the game has to offer to the very end.  I realized this when I first bought it and played it only to about that point.  I guess because I’m doing some research for something else (more on that soon!) that I went back to it.

I’m a big fan of games that have a simple premise and carry it out well.  AC does a good job with that for the most part.  The controls are easy to get, most of the dexterity is handled for you, and the weapon selection is limited enough (but not diversified enough, IMO) that it’s graspable.  I think perhaps the issue with AC is the number of missions you had to go on that didn’t offer you any real differences in how to complete them whatsoever.  Sure, there’s an achievement for silently killing all your marks, but what I mean is that I was never forced to do one mission completely brute-force, another relying completely on avoiding jar carriers, another that had to be done only from range, one where I had to make the enemy kill themself, etc.  And although the informant missions were of two variations, I groaned whenever a timer popped up.  I understand the PC version has even more mission types, but boy, none of them sound like they’re more fun… likely because they’re side objectives and you don’t need to even bother with them in your investigations.

This I think is the danger of creating games that are built around a very open-ended sandbox experience, and that is that the game creators begin to rely on the open-ended world to create interesting scenarios for them, rather than creating ones that are hand-crafted from beginning to end.  Perhaps the creative people on the project were new to the idea of directed storytelling, or perhaps the schedule called for it to be shipped sooner rather than later.  I don’t really know, but it’s a bit disappointing in the end that the best they could come up with was really just different placements of walls / obstacles and enemy NPCs from job to job.  I was never trapped in a market by guards and forced to leap through stalls.  I never found myself looking for a jar of poison amongst a sea of jar carriers, nor chasing a thief that lifted something from me across the city in order to recover it.

I was delighted when there was a mission on the harbor (although why Altair can’t swim is beyond me) with an archer boss, as that sounded like a fun dodge / retaliate kind of fight while you chased him across the piers.  Alas, no.  It was just a setup for a ground chase, which ended in a leaping kill or a massive sword fight (depending on your dexterity)… as did just about every other kill in the game.

You could say there’s a purity of focus to the game, but perhaps that focus was just a bit too pure.  They stuck with making scenarios that used only the mechanics that they created, but they never forced one mechanic to be dominant in any mission over the others, so in the end, they’re all the same.

The story, by the end, is all right; that the apple that got Adam and Eve kicked out of Eden is some kind of alien data / mind-control device is interesting, but the game ended before it actually got anywhere good.

I’ve heard they’re not in any rush to revist the franchise, and I’m glad for that.  If they’d just cranked out another sequel, chances are it would have played just the same as this one, and that’s not a good thing.  They’ve got plenty of tech on their side, but really need some more scripting and setup to the kills, with more involvement and planning on the part of the player in order to create a more rewarding experience.

On a side note, not until I had finished the entire game did I realize that the notes and diagrams you pickpocket from people can actually be read and analyzed.  Had that information directly overlaid into my HUD / Radar so that I can see these weaknesses, guard positions, and such, it would have made the recovery of them a lot more rewarding, and the leveraging of them that much more interesting.  As it was, you had to stop the action to read stuff that you don’t in the slightest have to bother with.  See that X on the radar?  Just get to that and kill the target.  It’s not any deeper than that.

So the moral of the story — just because you have a sandbox to run around in doesn’t mean designers should rely on it to generate exciting content for the user.  GTA’s team knows this, which is why missions are still hand-crafted experiences within the sandbox world.  Ubisoft’s Creed team could use a lesson in it.



Can’t wait.

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