Friday, April 30, 2010

StarCraft 2 Newbie Guide: Be Aggressive

Newbies in StarCraft 2 are often gun shy.  I was guilty of it myself when I played the original StarCraft.  The temptation is strong to wait for just one more unit, one more upgrade, one new building to be better than your opponent.  Unfortunately, this is a good way to lose.

Your opponent has just as much time as you do to upgrade and pump out units.  You aren't getting ahead, you are simply delaying conflict.

When a player only defends it is called turtle-ing.  You can not win if you only defend.  The winning condition for StarCraft 2 is to destroy all of your opponent's buildings.  It won't ever get accomplished if you don't leave your base.

There are two main advantages to staying aggressive with your units.

Battle Control

With a constant stream of attacks you decide when to battle and where to battle.  You can be a constant thorn in the enemy's side.  It keeps your opponent off balance.  They constantly have to react to you because you have control over all of the battles.  They never quite have time to regain their footing.

I have had games where I win because I constantly attack the enemy and - even though my opponent is stronger or has a better economy - they quit because they can't stand the harassment.

They may eventually counter you, but until that time the battles are taking place in their base and messing up their units while your base is sitting pretty and undamaged.

If you push all the way into the enemy base there are two strategies on what to attack.  You either want to go for their tech or their economy.  If you attack their tech buildings they are unable to build higher tier units.  If you skip the buildings and go for their resource harvesters you can cripple their economy to the point where they will never catch up to you for the rest of the game.  Target one or the other, but make sure you have a target in mind, if you let your units attack whatever they want you are wasting their efforts.

If your enemy does attack you first and you repel the attack, strongly consider executing a counter-attack.  If you do decide to launch a counter-attack don't wait, don't recoup, take all your offensive units and attack their base right away.  Commit all your forces and you have a chance to win the game right away.  I win at least a third of my games by counter-attacking immediately after I defend against an enemy attack.

Remember, the more aggressive you are the more you are in control of the battles.

Map Control

Your other advantage with aggressive tactics becomes map control.  By constantly attacking your opponent you can keep them confined to their initial base.  If you harass them enough they'll be afraid to expand to any other base location.

It may not even be necessary to push your units into their base, posturing can be just as aggressive as attacking.  You may be able to scare them off with an initial push and then simply leave units outside their base to keep them bottled up inside.  Siege tanks work especially well for this purpose if you play Terran.

When you have your enemy trapped in their own base you can use any - and all - of the resource fields on the map.  This allows you to out-macro your opponent.  Your economy will dominate theirs.  If you simply have more resources you can make more units and make them faster.  It takes a little time to expand to a bunch of bases, but it can be the deciding factor of a game.

If you have a bunch more bases than your opponent has you should win almost every time.

Stay Aggressive

Idle units won't do you any good.  An attacking unit is a happy unit.  Even keeping units in the middle of the map or outside the enemy base can be used as an aggressive posture.  Use the units you make, attack the enemy, and - above all - stay aggressive.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Guild Wars 2 Won Me Over With a Post

The Guild Wars 2 design team from ArenaNet just released their manifesto on game design.  One phrase in particular caught my eye:
"Our games aren’t about preparing to have fun, or about grinding for a future fun reward. Our games are designed to be fun from moment to moment. "
That got my attention.  Now I'm interested in their game.  My number one complaint with MMOs currently on the market is that there is too much emphasis on grind and getting to the point where I can have fun.  I want fun from the beginning.  With those two sentences Guild Wars 2 just jumped way up my list of anticipated games.

In Guild Wars 2 they are sticking with the philosophy that MMOs shouldn't have subscription fees.  They trust in the quality of their game and expansion packs to sell boxes.  This is a ballsy move, but it worked for Guild Wars and they earned my respect with it.

They are trying to put an emphasis on the story of each individual character.  Most MMOs try to make the story about the world around the character, but GW2 aims to create a personal story for your character.  I want to experience this and see if it makes me more attached to my character.  I don't usually feel heroic in MMOs since everyone else is doing the exact same thing.  They tell me I'm the only one who can save the world, but I don't believe it when there are thousands of other players doing the same world saving. If the focus is on my character instead of world events the story might have more meaning and impact.

I'm impressed by the fact that they are rethinking combat.  Guild Wars did combat slightly different from mainstream MMOs, but Guild Wars 2 is being more ambitious.  I would suggest hopping over to the manifesto and reading the bottom section titled "Rethinking Combat."

The part that got me excited was reading about ways to use abilities in conjuction with one another.  Imagine a situation where you create a wall of fire to hold back an enemy and then your friend shoots through the wall of fire at the enemy which turns his projectiles into flaming projectiles.  Of course that is only one example, but it has so very much potential to be amazing.

From now on I'm going to keep up to date on Guild Wars 2 information.  They won me over with a post.

What Keeps You Coming Back in MMOs?

I'm totally burned out on MMOs at the moment. So, I have a question for all of you out there currently playing MMOs.  What keeps you coming back day after day?  What makes you excited to play your MMO of choice?

I need to hear some positive things about MMOs to get back into the mood.  Every time I think about them all I can think of is the grind and it's a complete turn-off from the genre.

Let me know, what do you love about your current MMO?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Split/Second Demo Impressions

First off, Split/Second is not bad.  The problem is its proximity to the recent Blur demo in release date.  This invites comparison.  It does not go in Split/Second's favor.

Split/Second is designed around the idea of a destructable race track.  Every spot on the track is rigged with explosives that can be triggered if you have enough power.  This is the only form of offense available to the player.  When you manage to save up a lot of power you can also trigger larger explosions.

Power is gained by drafting behind cars, jumping through the air, and drifting around corners.

I liked the Split/Second demo for the big explosions.  The game looked very pretty on screen.  I had some "oh shit!" moments when huge set pieces are triggered and destroyed mid-race.  At one point a plane tried to land on my car, which was fucking sweet when I managed to dodge it.  The game sets out to have a destructable environment and create action movie looking races.  In this it succeeds.

The problem I had was that I couldn't stop comparing the game to Blur.  In Blur I have to manage a stock of three power-ups at any given time and the way I use them completely affects the race.  I have to be strategic.  I need tactics to win.  I have to think about what I'm doing.  I need skill to lay mines, shoot shunts, trigger barges, activate shields, aim bolts, engage turbo, and repair my vehicle.  Each of these is a specific action that requires a different skill set.  It is extremely fun juggling which power up to use and when to use it.

In Split/Second there is no strategy.  Save power... hit the A button when you see a little icon or hit the B button when you see a big icon.  That's all there is to it.  I could write an entire post on when to use each power-up in Blur, but I have nothing more to say about the power in Split/Second than what I just said.

Maybe I would have loved this game if Blur weren't so close to it in the release schedule.  I guess I'll never know.  For now I'm going to play some more of the Blur beta.

Monday, April 26, 2010

PSA: Xbox 360 Accessories Discounted

Peripherals for the Xbox 360 are on sale through the first of May over at Amazon.  If you've been holding off on buying something, now is the time to do it.  I think I might pick up an HDMI cable....

MMO Pricing Options

MMO subscription options are lacking at the moment.  There is usually only one option per game.  Of all the games on the market there are basically only two models; either pay $15 per month or play for "free" but buy items in a virtual store for real world money.  These aren't necessarily bad options, but there could be better ones out there.

EverQuest 2 apparently feels the same way since they just released a new pricing option.  Returning players can pay $5 for 3 days of consecutive play time.

That is stupid.  It's limiting because it only targets old players who return and the three days of play time have to be consecutive.  Having an option to pay more money per hour but for less overall days isn't bad, only the restrictions on it are.

Instead, why not do a daily rate and let it be an option for all players?

I would revisit many of my old MMOs if I could pay per day instead of per month.  There a bunch of MMOs that I might play once a week if a daily rate was available for 1-2 dollars.  Games that I don't want to spend $15 each month on.  Games that are worth playing, but not worth playing every day.

At the moment I'm not subscribed to any MMO, but if daily rates were available to me I would dabble in Champions Online, Star Trek Online, EverQuest 2, World of Warcraft, and EVE Online.  Each of these companies could potentially make a few bucks from me each month, but since my options are $15 or don't play at all, I have been choosing not to spend my money on games I would only play sporadically.

I found this graph over at The Forge that shows what I'm talking about.
I'm in that bottom left quadrant right now.

With some new pricing options I would jump back on the MMO bandwagon and give all those hard working developers some of my money.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sunday Reading: Leaving the World of Warcraft

There is a very well written post by Muqq of Ensidia about why he is leaving the World of Warcraft.  Ensidia is considered one of the very top guilds in the entire game and his post is not a rant, which are two reasons the post is so noteworthy.  I really related to the post because it spells out many of my current problems with WoW.

I also want to point you toward a feature on my brother's blog.  He has started posting what he feels are the best replays for StarCraft 2.  Since watching replays is a huge part of learning the game I find his posts very helpful.  It's like having someone sort through all the crappy replays for you!  All that's left are the good ones.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

StarCraft 2 Newbie Guide: Replays

I wrote earlier that I would share tips as I learn more about StarCraft 2.  Last time I wrote about only playing one race until you master it and about plugging the ramp to your base.  In an off-handed way I mentioned replays in my last post on newbie tips.  It's time to expand on that.

Watching StarCraft 2 replays is critical to getting better.  I didn't realize it at first, but it's of the utmost importance.  To get better at anything you need to learn from someone or something with more knowledge and experience than you currently have.  If someone beats you in a game, they did something better than you did and you can learn from them.  This is where replays come in.  Reading StarCraft 2 tips, tricks, and guides is a great place to start.  They're like a StarCraft 2 101 course.  Replays are the advanced courses.

There are two main types of replays worth watching.  Your own games and players at the highest level.

I like to watch my own games right after I finish actually playing them.  That way the game is fresh in my mind, I know what I did, and I have a general idea about what my enemy did.  Whether you win or lose doesn't matter when it comes to watching replays.  What matters is learning something new.

Watch yourself for things you can improve on.  I noticed in my replays that I tend to have an abundance of minerals in the late game, but no way to spend them quickly.  I also tend to lack vespene gas so I can't build enough advanced units to use my minerals up.

I'm tweaking my play style accordingly.  I build more Assimilators and build them earlier to help with the vespene production.  I build more gateways overall so I can pump out a lot of low level units with my extra minerals.

I guarantee I wouldn't have spotted these things if I didn't take time to watch my own replays.

The other thing about watching my own games is seeing when my enemy or I make stupid decisions with our units.  It becomes apparent in the replay because I get to look at all of the units on the entire map.  I often see times when I could have won if I pushed back at the right time.  I see the opposite too, when the enemy could have won if he pushed me instead of building up more units.  I'm learning, through replays, how to better manage my units.

Watching professional level replays is important because it provides a long term goal.  Not only are some of the matches amazing to watch, but they provide high end strategies that I can aim to learn.  I see things the pros do that I'm not even close to yet, but it still helps me learn about the game.

My brother is doing an entire post series about professional level matches, I suggest you watch the replays he highlights.  One of my favorite players and strategists is Day[9].  He does fantastic daily webcasts Sunday through Thursday on his Ustream.  My favorite webcast of his is this one about improving silver and gold level play.  It's a good place to start if you're looking for some tips that apply to new players.  Another great resource for replays is HDstarcraft's YouTube channel.

The more replays you watch the better your gameplay is going to be.  It's as simple as that.

This replay is a great place to start

Thursday, April 22, 2010

New Phase of StarCraft 2 Beta?

I think StarCraft 2 is getting ready to move into a new phase of beta.  Hopefully this will allow more people to get involved and really test the new system.  Let me tell you my reasoning.

The home page of the beta client has listed an upcoming reset of the servers for about a week now. This server reset is to simulate the live release of StarCraft 2.  To do this I think they need more people than the current 10k-15k usually online at any given time.

Out of nowhere Gamestop is suddenly giving away keys to people who pre-order StarCraft 2 through them.  This makes it much closer to an open beta since anyone can pay $5 to get in.  It isn't a fully open beta, but it is creeping away from an exclusive access closed beta.

Blizzard is releasing the StarCraft 2 map editor this week.  My thinking is that they are expanding features as they expand the beta.

There was a very recent wave of bans for people cheating in WarCraft 3 and Diablo 2.  They banned over 320,000 accounts.  That is a huge number.  This is in preparation for the StarCraft 2 launch, but it may also be preparing for a new stage of beta.

There has been a lot of speculation on the beta forums about an upcoming balance patch.  There hasn't been a balance patch in the whole time I've been playing the beta and the community is chomping at the bit to get one.  I've seen a lot of posts on the forums discussing the topic.

With all the above evidence I think StarCraft 2 is moving into a new phase of beta this week.  I hope I'm right, because the farther we get in beta the closer we are to actual release!


StarCraft 2 released a balance patch along with new features today!  They are in the process of updating right now.  I was at least somewhat right.  Also, I went to Gamestop today and picked up my own beta key so that I can stop using my friend's account.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Splinter Cell Conviction Co-Op Review

I spent 7 solid hours with the Splinter Cell Conviction Co-op mode just now.  I wanted to write a post right away even though it is 3:45am and I should sleep instead.  I'm shooting from the hip with my thoughts, but here it goes.

This game is fun!  The Splinter Cell Conviction Co-op campaign is worth your time if you are interested in playing a co-op stealth game.  The campaign is only 6-8 hours but it is entirely separate from the single player campaign, which adds value in my mind.  I played the entire campaign without taking a break and I was never once bored.  From me, that is huge praise.  I get bored of games quickly when I feel like they have nothing new to offer.  Splinter Cell Conviction delivers.

Part of the reason I liked it so much may be that I could never really get into the other Splinter Cell games.  I struggled with the controls and generally got frustrated/bored.  I am coming to Splinter Cell as completely new experience for me.  I've read that Conviction doesn't play the same way past Splinter Cells have played, but I would have no idea.  All I know is that it is a stealth game executed superbly.

Another reason I had such a great time is that my brother and I played the game split-screen.  I feel that a lot of games released lately only have online co-op.  Sometimes I forget how much fun it is to play with another person in the room with me.  It really adds to the cooperation and communication.  I wish more games would leave split-screen co-op in the final version.

The star of the show is the mark and execute system which really brings the game together.  If you kill an enemy with a melee kill the execution option opens up.  Then, you can mark a certain amount of targets - depending on your gun - and once they are all marked and within view a simple tap of the Y button will kill them all.  After that, the execution command is gone until you are able to get another melee kill.

And the way executions are done as a team can be insane.  There were times when my brother and I would clear a room with 8 guys in about 2 seconds because in co-op the game lets both people join in on the execution kill.  This means that my brother could activate his execution and - as long as I had targets marked - I could use his execution to pull off mine for free.  They were definite badass moments.  I would still have my execution available and we could quickly follow it up with another round of marks and kills.  It took a lot of coordination and teamwork, but we were so proud of the payoff!

There were even times we could get away with shooter tactics.  Some of our more crazy charges on the enemy almost felt like playing Gears of War.  Charge an enemy, melee them to death, hide behind cover, reposition, and repeat.  It speaks a lot about the game that it does equally well with this play style and  complete stealth.  It takes some really smart design decisions to meld stealth and shooting.

There were really only two negatives that stuck out to me.  The story in the co-op game was lacking.  I don't really know what we were doing except that we were chasing EMPs around.  Hopefully that changes in the single player campaign.  The other problem is the way waypoints are displayed.  They aren't differentiated enough from the symbol above an enemy when they have been marked.  If my brother and I both have 3 enemies marked the screen is full of little white arrows and I have no idea where the next waypoint is.

Aside from my very minor gripes I absolutely loved the co-op experience.  I may even play it through again on a higher difficulty in the next few days.  If you are a fan of co-op and stealth games I would highly recommend Splinter Cell Conviction.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

In Tilt to Live you Tilt to Live

 Tilt to Live is an iphone and ipod touch game by one man left.  Its snarky loading screens, 60 second gaming qualities, and Tarintinoesque music have drawn me in as of late.

I've been reading a lot of books lately and mainly sticking with StarCraft 2 during my gaming time, but if you know me you know that I am always up for a new 60 second game.  Tilt to Live is one I stumbled on and quickly came to love.

In Tilt to Live the player is given a ship and tilts the ipod to move the ship around the screen.  The ship has to avoid all the red dots on screen while picking up power-ups to destroy the dots.  Dots are sometimes static, but often chase the player or create interesting shapes on screen.  It falls somewhere between Geometry Wars 2 pacifism mode, a dual stick shooter, and a game with motion controls.  It is a simple but addictive game.

The sense of dodging, weaving, bobbing, and making insane escapes is intense and fun.  I'm getting good at luring packs of red dots near me and then picking up an explosive power-up to destroy them all and build up huge combos.  Mostly, I'm having fun in 60 second self-contained packages.

As I play more games I am slowly accumulating achievements which unlock new weapons and expand the game experience.  Every new weapon changes the way I play the game and makes me want to keep working toward the next weapon.  I'm having a great time playing the game, especially in small bursts.

I would highly recommend Tilt to Live to anyone looking to pick up a new casual or quick game for the iphone or ipod touch.  It is easy to understand and most of my sessions last between 1-2 minutes.  For $2 it's a steal.

Monday, April 19, 2010

StarCraft 2 Newbie Guide: Starter Tips

Zealots defending like pros

I've been playing the StarCraft 2 beta more than anything else recently.  The game is slowly making more sense in my mind.  There are so many levels of complexity that are hard to grasp, but I love the challenge of trying.

I played the original StarCraft when it came out, but that doesn't necessarily put me at an advantage.  It was released in 1998 which means I was 11 years old at the time.  I didn't have a grasp of complex strategies.  I was never very good at StarCraft, but I thought it was fun and I played it with friends.

This time around I'm trying to learn strategies.  I'm watching replays.  I'm talking to people who understand the game.  I played a bunch of games with my brother sitting over my shoulder verbally managing me until I got better.  All of my efforts are helping.

As long as I play StarCraft 2 I'll try to post my insights on this blog.  Consider this the start of my StarCraft 2 Newbie Guide: By a Newbie, for a Newbie!  I hope it helps guide your way.  I'd like to start with two good pieces of advice that have made a world of difference in my first week of playing.

Only Play One Race

Some people in the platinum league can play random competitively, but most people can't.

I decided to stop playing with all three races and concentrate on Protoss.  I'm good at setting up my economy and thinking big picture, but I have trouble controlling a large group of diverse units.  Protoss tend to make less units total, but each unit is more powerful.  This suits my strength and weakness.

I was completely overwhelmed playing Zerg and dealing with their massive unit count.  Picking Protoss over Terran is more of a personal preference for the way the Protoss tech tree works.  I like not worrying about upgrading the Terran command center or adding on to their buildings.

By all means experiment with the race choices, but in the end make sure you pick one race and stick with it.

Defend Your Ramp

In StarCraft 2 each starting base is elevated and has a small ramp leading down to the rest of the map.  Since early units for every race are ground units you are able to effectively defend your base at the chokepoint created by your ramp.  You can dissipate their strength of numbers if someone rushes you with more units than you have.  It's important to be able to defend your ramp, especially if you aren't playing aggressively.

For Protoss, build a pylon near your ramp and then two gateways to produce units and position them to block all but one lane into the base.  The Protoss strategy is the most straight forward and it has served me well ever since I started using the technique.

With a Terran build you are able to block the ramp completely with a barracks and one or two supply depots.  You can also make Terran ramp blocks with a bunker in the mix.  Terran have the ability to sink and raise their supply depots whenever they want to, which is a huge advantage because they can completely block their ramp and hide their units behind their structures while defending because marines have ranged attacks.  Then they can lower their supply depots whenever they need to move units out of their base.

I've found it's much harder to plug a ramp with Zerg.  It's more important to simply defend your ramp with units instead of trying to block it off with structures when playing as Zerg.  Set your rally point for aggressive units to the top of the ramp so that they accumulate there while defending the entrance to your base.  As long as you can keep your opponent from scouting your base you will have an advantage in the game.

I'm no star player, but I hope to get better and post my findings here.  I know I won't be helping the pros at all, but maybe my fellow newbies can pick up some tips from this on-going guide.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sunday Viewing: Games Make a Better World

There is an amazing TED talk by Jane McGonigal about the power of games.  In it she talks about how much time people are currently investing in online gaming, what this means for our culture, and where it can lead us.  Here are a few statistics she presents:
3 Billion hours each week playing online games

5.93 Million years playing World of Warcraft so far.

Average gamer spends 10,000 hours playing online by age 21.

Compare this to 10,080 hours a child in the U.S. will spend in school from 5th grade to high school graduation with perfect attendance.

Watch the full TED talk below.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

StarCraft 2 Beta So Far

I'm enjoying the StarCraft 2 beta, but have run into a few problems.  The most immediate is I'm not very good at SC2.  I'll keep putting in the time and effort - and phone calls to my brother - and hopefully I'll improve as time goes on.

My other roadblock is that I'm borrowing the beta account from a friend.  The person using the account before me was really good at SC2.  Because of this, the account is in the platinum league for 1v1 games.  Every time I play a 1v1 I go up against the best of the best and end up losing.  It makes for some very insightful replays, but it isn't much fun to lose every time.  I'm looking forward to Blizzard resetting the ladders soon.

As a result I have been playing a lot of 2v2 games.  They are really fun when I get paired with a decent teammate.  Even if we lose it is still a great experience working with someone and not just against them.  One map in particular has teammates essentially sharing a double sized base, instead of being in different areas of the map.  It is my favorite 2v2 map so far.  I hope that more of my friends get beta keys soon because 2v2 games with a real-life friend would be even more fun.  It helps when you know the person on the other end of the internet that you are playing with.

The main thing for me right now is to think of SC2 as a learning process.  It is like extremely complicated video game chess.  I'm still learning the tech trees and slowly figuring out what unit is a good counter to other units.  I'm refining my build order at the start of the game.  I'm learning new strategies from replays when I lose.  But, mostly I'm trying to keep a positive attitude.  Overall, I'm really enjoying finding my way in StarCraft 2.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Underwhelmed by Bioshock 2

Bioshock was a great game.  The mood and tone evoked was something magical the first time I experienced it.  I uncovered the city of Rapture slowly and discovered it's mysteries.  One of the most powerful scenes I have encountered in gaming was the meeting with Andrew Ryan in the original Bioshock.  Bioshock was new, innovative, and did all sorts of interesting things in engine without taking away player control.

The problem with Bioshock 2 is probably that I have already played Bioshock.  I know Rapture and its secrets.  I have killed these enemies and seen these sights.  Bioshock provided a comprehensive story arc with a solid ending but going back again seems like a ploy to milk the game for more money.  It evokes the same tone and feelings as the original, but I have already felt them and they are much less interesting the second time around.

Bioshock 2 is more of the same.  The same game engine.  The same enemies.  The same powers.  The same guns.  The same tactics.  The same city.  I think you get the idea.  Some of these things are reskinned, but they don't seem different at all.  The guns - for instance - are all Big Daddy weapons but they feel like the weak weapons from the first game, they simply look different.  The main character is supposed to be a Big Daddy - which is a huge powerful creature in the city of Rapture - but controlling the Big Daddy felt weak and ineffectual.  It is explained away by the plot, but I wanted to play as a Big Daddy not as a puny version.

I was really hoping Bioshock 2 would offer something new, but - at best - it is an expansion pack.  It doesn't deserve to be a sequel.  It doesn't refine or innovate.  It does more of the same.  Maybe it would have been better suited as DLC for the original game.

My hopes were high for this game and they were not met.  I hope that 2K games gets away from the Bioshock series when it creates its next FPS.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

FFXIII Isn't All Bad

I did not hate Final Fantasy XIII.  My final impressions were how I felt upon completion of the game.  Although I don't think the game is worth the 45 hour commitment, there were still a few things I enjoyed about it.

The best part of the game took place when the whole crew - 6 characters - were divided up into teams of 2 in separate areas.  There are 6 total jobs that the characters can have and they can only equip one at a time.  For this part of the game each character was limited to 3 jobs total and each team had overlap in their jobs.  This meant that in every team there was a job or two completely missing and only 2 jobs could be used at any given time.

Why was this my favorite part of the game?  Because I had to think.  Unlike my overpowered set-ups of 3 people with the perfect jobs in the late game I had to make sacrifices and make do with what the game gave me.  It was much more challenging and involved juggling jobs and set-ups to find something that would work.  Once I found something that would work I would very soon run into a fight where it wouldn't work any longer and have to go back to the drawing board.  This was fun!

When actual combat involves mashing the A button and having the characters automatically do the best action the fun moves away from combat and towards the drawing board.  I got to create, scrape together, barely make it through, and innovate.  I had a blast!

Then the characters met up again.  I could pick anyone with the jobs I wanted and put them into a team of 3 to power my way through the rest of the game.  I quickly grew bored.  I wish FFXIII had continued the trend of not having the right people/jobs all the time.  I would have stayed engaged much longer.

More FFXIII Bashing

Apparently it is rip on Final Fantasy XIII day.  Penny-Arcade has a new comic up that you should take a look at.

PSA: RIP Original Xbox Live

Today is the last full day to play original Xbox games on Xbox Live.  On Thursday the 15th the servers are being shut down.  Respect should be paid to a great service that paved the way for what we have now.

Xbox Live in it's current state (on the 360) and PSN (on PS3) wouldn't be around in their current form if not for the original Xbox Live.  If you have any itch to play an old Xbox Live game, now is the time to do it.

Yahtzee Feels My Pain

I will get away from embedding videos next post, I promise.  But, I was just catching up with Zero Punctuation and watched Yahtzee's review of FFXIII.  He feels my pain and is hilarious in doing so.  I played the whole game while he only managed to make it through the first 5 hours.  Enjoy his rant, I know I did.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Final Fantasy XIII and Leona Lewis

The first emotion that I felt toward the characters in FFXIII was at the very end of the game.  It was entirely because of the music during the last cutscene and it's been stuck in my head for a few days now.  I looked it up and it is My Hands by Leona Lewis, an emotion piece of vocal work.  Listen to it if you have a few minutes.

Final Impressions: Final Fantasy XIII

Ugh.  Man.  Final Fantasy XIII had so much potential when I started playing it.  What went wrong?  I really don't know where to start.  Oh, yes I do.

Don't buy this game if you aren't a Final Fantasy diehard.  You won't like it.

Ok, that's a good start.  There is no way I would have finished this game if the Final Fantasy name wasn't attached.  I've beaten Final Fantasy 7 through 12 with a handful of others thrown in for good measure.  So, I finished 13, but won't be picking it up again ever.  I come to this conclusion after investing 44 hours of my time in the game.

Besides little annoyances, the things that I hated the most about this game were the characters, situations, and battles.  They all had potential, but it wasn't realized.

Let's start with the characters.  They are one dimensional.  Where are the character flaws?  Where are the little things that make them feel human?  Where is the character growth and development?  Not in this game, look elsewhere.  I've been reading a lot of good books lately and if FFXIII were novelized no one would want to read it.

The characters rarely do anything in cutscenes.  Most of the time they stand around complaining about life or confessing about horrible things in their past.  There are a lot of boring monologues that drag on far too long.  I was surprised how much pointless yelling the characters do too.  If I hear someone scream, "SERAH!!" again, my head might explode.  Stop whining characters.  Stop being annoying.  Grow up and get some human attributes before you attempt to entertain me.

Not only are the characters themselves boring but 90% of the game they have no idea what their goal is.  They are being chased and they are pissed about it.  Boring.  Give me something compelling.  They sit around debating what to do but end up doing nothing.  Yeah, they run around different places, but it is never their decision.  Someone else is pulling the strings from start to finish.

And the battles.  My god.  There is a really interesting combat system buried in this game, but it isn't used.  The first half of the game I used the "Relentless Assault" set-up.  The second half I used "Bully."  There was strategy in coming up with these two Paradigms (the party set-ups) but once I figured out which ones were good I could essentially mash the A button and win every battle.  The boss battles weren't any more difficult than normal fights, they were just longer.  That isn't a good thing.  As the player, I shouldn't feel bored in every single boss battle in the game.

I'm not lying when I say I would walk out of the room with the controller while mashing A, go do something else in my apartment for a few minutes, come back and have won the battle.  That isn't difficult.  It isn't gripping or engaging either.  It is a bad battle system.  I really wish there would have been more unique challenges that required me to use my mind to come up with new Paradigms and battle solutions.

I've hit all my main complaints.  Let me get to the little annoyances.  The camera is slow and unresponsive and even though I thought I would adjust to it, 44 hours in it still drove me crazy.  The game is extremely linear and feels extremely linear.  That is, except for the one spot - 30 hours in - where the game threw me into an open area and basically said, "grind on monsters for 4 hours or else you can't continue the story."  The weapon upgrading is tedious and it is hard to tell what components to use for best effect.  Throughout the entire game the menu constantly had flashing little exclamation marks denoting new items to look at.  These were super annoying.  I'm sure there were other annoyances as well, but I'm already suppressing my memories of all the time I wasted playing this game.

Feel free to compare this to my initial impressions, but in all honesty you should use the 44 hours you would have spent playing this game to go read a good book or two.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Gaming Limbo: FieldRunners

I'm in gaming limbo right now.  I still haven't finished FFXIII, haven't started Bioshock 2, am still loving the Blur beta, and haven't played enough StarCraft2 Beta to write about it yet.  So, what am I going to write about tonight?  Fieldrunners.

When I'm in gaming limbo - or just don't have much time to play games - I like to play quick games on my ipod touch.  I do a lot of 60 second games, but I have a few others that take more time that I really like.  One of them is Fieldrunners.

Fieldrunners is a simple tower defense game that is executed very well.  The creeps try to get from the entrance of the level to the exit of the level while the player places and upgrades towers to kill them.  If they exit the level you lose a life and when all lives are gone you lose the game.  Pretty standard fare.

I'm a sucker for tower defense games, but the thing about Fieldrunners is that it's formatted well for the ipod touch.  When I pick up a tower it floats directly above my finger until I place it.  Pull and pinch zoom in and out respectively.  There are only 4 towers and each only has 3 levels of advancement.  This might detract from another tower defense game, but on a handheld system that is used for pick-up-and-play the simple design helps players from becoming overwhelmed.  Each tower has a specific task, without much overlap between tower types.  I really enjoy the graphics of the game too, although the sound effects aren't all that interesting.

Fieldrunners is, by far, my favorite tower defense game for the ipod touch.  If you have a touch or an iphone the $3 investment is well worth the money.  It has provided me with hours upon hours of entertainment.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sunday Reading: Proud Gaming and Pixels

Tobold had one of the most interesting posts I've seen in months.  He asked his readers if they were a "loud and proud" gamer.  The question centers around how often people talk about their gaming hobby with those around them on a daily basis, be it friends or colleagues.

Also, some Sunday viewing.  Enjoy this pixel Armageddon.

Uploaded by onemoreprod. - Independent web videos.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

An Influx of Games

Suddenly I have games to play!  After complaining about being in a gaming lull the other day I have since come into a wealth of entertainment.

I wrote about how much I like Blur.  I'm still playing it frequently.  I convinced my brother to play it too and we've been having nightly Blur sessions for a few days.

My friend wasn't using his StarCraft2 Beta account, so he's letting me use it.  SC2 is great!  I'm still trying to learn the new units and everything, but I'm having a fun time figuring it out.  I'll write up some impressions once I've played it more.

I'm so close to beating FFXIII that I just want to finish.  At this point I wouldn't recommend the game to anyone who isn't a hardcore Final Fantasy fan, but at 40 hours into the game I do want to complete it.  I'm far into chapter 12 - out of 13 - in the storyline for FFXIII.  I hope to get a final impressions written once I'm done.

My first Gamefly rental is sitting next to my Xbox 360.  I have Bioshock 2 waiting to be tried.  I'm excited to check it out.

I'll stay busy playing.  Expect some thoughts on the above games soon.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Nintendo and the Dominance of Mario

I don't know the last time I touched my Nintendo Wii.  Good games aren't released for it that often.  Almost every game I want to play ends up being for the Xbox 360 or the PC.  I wonder why?

I think one of the main problems is the lack of solid third party games on Nintendo systems.  Nintendo itself always releases good games, but third party developers take a look at their systems and decide to develop for one of the other consoles or PC.  On top of this there is so much shovelware on the Wii that it is often hard to find a game that is even remotely decent.

The first party games that Nintendo creates and releases are great in comparison!  This results in the dominance of Mario on the system.  I only own one non-Nintendo created game - Boom Blox - for the Wii.  Of all the Wii games I have 75% of them have Mario as a character.

The benefit that comes out of this for Nintendo is that they have little competition on their own system, so they can dominate the market.  In the latest Game Informer I noticed that Mario Kart Wii has been in the top 20 games list - all games, all systems - for 22 weeks.  That's crazy.  But, with so many people buying Wiis and the lack of competition in the Wii game market I guess it isn't that surprising.

With the other consoles there are AAA games released on a regular basis.  It makes for a lot more competition in the market and a lot more playtime on those consoles.  Do I want to try the latest and greatest or should I play Mario Kart Wii... again?  Guess which one I pick.

Nintendo will keep on churning out Mario games and I'll keep buying them, but they need to do more to lure third party developers to their system.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Blur = Mario Kart - Cartoonish + MW2 Xp System

An equation to help sell you on Blur!  It's so fun!  A day after complaining about not having anything interesting to play, I found something interesting to play.  Funny how that works.

Blur is like a grown up Mario Kart on Xbox Live.  They also stole the experience and advancement system from Modern Warfare 2.  I love that advancement system, so I think it's a great thing.  I especially like all the challenges that give bonus experience upon completion.  I don't normally like driving games, but I'm making an exception for Blur.

Every level has power-ups to pick up on the track.  These are weapons, shields, and turbo boosts.  There is a weapon called the barge that makes me feel like a badass every time I activate it.  It's a huge concussive blast that radiates out from your car.  Perfect for shoving people off cliffs and into walls.

As I leveled up I unlocked different cars, modes, and mods.  Cars and modes are exactly what you think they are.  Mods are like perks from MW2.  They are subtle ways to alter your car depending on your play style.  There is a lot of potential for unlocking future content in Blur, but at the moment the level is capped at 15 (out of 50 in the final game).

And did I mention the races with 20 people!?  They are insane.  It's fun to have that many cars on track at the same time.  Just like I wish FPSs would allow more players per game, I always hated being capped at 8 or 10 people in racing games.  20 person racing is a blast!

I haven't bought a racing game since Mario Kart Wii, but that will change when Blur comes out.  The multiplayer beta demo is free and on Xbox Live Marketplace right now.  Try it if you haven't.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Gaming Lull

I've noticed that we're at the point in the year where gaming has a lull.  In the thick of winter games release so they are out before the holiday season.  In the middle of summer there tends to be a stoppage of game releases.  That is coming up quick.  There are a few games coming out in May and June that I'm interested in.  After that there is a long gap until Sept/Nov when games start coming out for the holiday season.

Maybe I shouldn't complain since there are games coming in the next few months that I want to try.  But, for right now, I am bored.  The last game I bought was Final Fantasy XIII, but I am not enjoying it as much as I hoped I would.  So, the last game that was worth buying for me was Mass Effect 2.  ME2 came out on January 26th.  That was a while ago.

The Blur multiplayer beta comes out tomorrow for the public, but a beta isn't a game.  StarCraft 2 has a closed beta going right now, but again that is a beta.

I tried a free trial for Everquest 2, but was not impressed.  Everything felt generic.  I am jaded on MMOs at the moment.  The UI drove me crazy with not enough clear information and the graphics looked all smooth and plasticy in a bad way.  Anyway, EQ2 wasn't doing anything for me.

I have some time to kill so I'm going to boot up FFXIII.  I have had trouble staying engaged with it for more then an hour at a time.  I'm slowly working my way through it.  I have about 30 hours invested in the game so far.

Maybe when my first Gamefly game arrives I will feel better.  Until then, does anyone have game recommendations to get me through this gaming slump?

Monday, April 5, 2010

PSA: Geometry Wars 2 on the Cheap

Geometry Wars 2 is one of the absolute best Xbox Live Arcade games that has come out, ever.  If you don't own it then now is the time to grab a copy.  It is only $5 to buy it this week.  Next week it will hit normal price again.  Go! Buy! Enjoy! Become Addicted! Other things as well!

Games to Play With Girls

I have already suggested that Rock Band is the best game to start with when you want to get a girl to play video games.  After she adjusts to the idea of playing on a console you will want to play more games with her.  The question becomes, what games will girls play?

The trick to getting a girlfriend to play video games with you is to pick your games carefully.  Girls are much more discerning with games and will reject them fast if they aren't having fun.  The key is to choose games that are easy to pick up and play.  Pick something that is easy to understand and control.  The worst possible thing to do is to put a console FPS in front of a new gamer.

You want them to become familiarized with the controller before adding games with complex control schemes.  Mario Kart is a great place to start.  It has some layers of complexity but at the same time it isn't hard to understand.  The controls come pretty naturally.

Another good game is Plants vs Zombies.  It starts simply and slowly ramps up the difficulty.  Really, any puzzle game usually works well.

Although I highly recommend staying away from console FPSs I have found that the same rule does not apply to PC FPSs.  Chances are your girl is already familiar with a keyboard and mouse.  This translates well to PC FPS playing.  I suggest Team Fortress 2 as a place to start.  Let her try the heavy, medic, and engineer roles.  All of them are conductive to long life spans, which will keep frustration away.  If you have her try a heavy you can even heal her as a medic and really play the game cooperatively.

There you go, a handful of recommendations for the next step.  Mario Kart, Plants vs Zombies, Team Fortress 2, and puzzle games in general.

Good luck getting the significant other to play with you!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Sunday Reading: On Escapism

There were two great posts by Syp this week.  The first discussed escapism.  He slants his post towards Lord of the Rings and LOTRO but I think the same concepts apply to all gaming.  Very worthy of your time.

At the very least, take a look at his arguments for investing in a fantasy world.  It will give you some ammunition next time someone says playing video games is a waste of time.

The other post is about explaining a MMO to a non-gamer.  Syp's mom asked him to explain what he does with blogging, which in turn led to an explanation of MMO gaming in general.

Spinks had a rant which turned into a really interesting analysis of where social gaming is taking us.  Spinks' posts tend to be longer, but they usually have a unique take on a given situation.

There you go, some Sunday reading for this week.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

How Do I Get My Girlfriend to Play Video Games?

The answer, my friends, is Rock Band.  If you want to know how to game with girls there is something you should know.  Rock Band is a gateway game.  It opens girls up to the possibility that the video game consoles may actually hold something of interest for them.

The key here is that all girls sing.  Whether they sing at parties, in the shower, or top-of-their-lungs in the car, they most definitely sing.  Give that girl a microphone and she's ready to go.  No need to explain the scrolling notes, star power, song ratings, or anything really.  The girl just wants to sing.  Let her.

Next step, wait.  Something magical may happen.  After seeing you play guitar and drums in her peripheral vision she may - one day - ask to try it.  This is when you know you have won.  The gateway is open.

Now it is time to add more games to the mix.  I'll write more about that soon.

Friday, April 2, 2010


I decided to re-subscribe today.  I am not re-subbing for an MMO, I am reactivating my Gamefly account.

I canceled my Gamefly account last September when I had literally played all the games I wanted to try.  Now I have a little bit of a backlog to catch up on.  I'm excited about a bunch of games releasing in the next 3 months that I want to play but don't think are worth $60 to keep forever.

Gamefly reactivation is about $10 for the first month and $15 each month after.  That is around the same cost as most MMO subscriptions.  It's a good deal since I get to play 3-4 games per month and not have to spend $60 on each one.  That is a savings of $225 each month if I play 4 games through Gamefly.

Here are the games I won't buy, but am excited to try:

Bioshock 2
Just Cause 2
Splinter Cell: Conviction
Red Dead Redemption
Lego Harry Potter
Super Mario Galaxy 2
Prince of Persia: Forgotten Sands
Crackdown 2

These are all games that will be released by the end of June.  That's a lot of gaming for $15 per month.

The other thing I love about Gamefly is that I don't feel like I have to slog through a crappy game when I get bored with it.  Sometimes I play a game for 10 minutes, realize there is nothing new to see, and send the game back.

I would highly recommend Gamefly for anyone who wants to try a lot of console games in rapid succession without paying full price for each game.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

April Fools Day

Keep your eyes on the news carefully today.  Gaming websites love to throw out fake game news on April 1st every year.  It is always interesting to see what they come up with and if people actually buy it.

Sometimes good game ideas end up coming from fake announcements on April Fools Day.  We'll see what happens this year.