Friday, July 30, 2010

When Graphics Make the Game

Usually I think gameplay is more important than the quality of graphics in a game.  Solid gameplay will hold up over time but the graphical envelope is constantly being pushed forward.  Good gameplay lays the groundwork for a game with long lasting appeal.  Great gameplay can be fun years down the line even when the graphics are totally outdated.

With that said, properly implemented graphics can make a game entirely unique.  I'm not talking about a higher polygon count or making a game that looks photo-realistic, I'm talking about style.  Graphical style can completely define a game.

Take the recently release Limbo as an example.  The game creates a haunting atmosphere by being entirely black and white.  The hand drawn style lends itself to a foreboding landscape with an oppressive feel.  The sense of isolation is palpable while playing.

The whole feel of the game is achieved through its graphics.  If Limbo had been created with bright colors and an upbeat soundtrack it wouldn't be nearly the game it turned out to be.  Limbo is the rare exception of a game where graphics do matter.

Defining a style is much more important than getting higher resolution or more realistic graphics.  Mario games, World of WarCraft, Braid, Okami, and Borderlands are a few games that come to mind when I think of a well defined graphical style.  They've all created their very own visual style through their imagery.

I can't recommend Limbo enough as an example of style done right.  If you haven't tried it yet, you should.  Limbo is an amazing game where the world is the star of the show.  The visuals encountered while exploring the landscape are simply breathtaking.

I love finding games like this.  I look forward to more developers embracing style to support their gameplay.  It's time to give the artists a chance to stretch their creative skills and create some unique visuals for everyone to enjoy.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Game Within a Game

 Poor Little Lost Viking

I'm having a lot of fun with the StarCraft 2 main campaign as I make my way through it and as you already know I love the multiplayer enough to actually write a guide for it.  I'm saving up my impressions until I completely finish the main campaign but I wanted to mention one of the fun little touches that Blizzard added to the campaign, a game within a game.

It's called Lost Viking, which is a play on words since Blizzard once made a game called The Lost Vikings.  Lost Viking is an arcade cabinet included in the bar area of the hub world in the single player campaign.  The player takes control of a single Viking aircraft in a shoot 'em up style arcade game (which is nothing like The Lost Vikings of yesteryear).

 Blizzard's Puzzle-Platformer

I like that Blizzard included this game within a game because it gives me a nice break from the main campaign whenever I want it while also displaying the power of their StarCraft 2 map editor, which is amazing.  It's a fun little inclusion that I didn't expect to find in StarCraft 2 but I'm glad it's there.  Expect more impressions as I finish up the single player campaign in the next day or two.

Monday, July 26, 2010

StarCraft 2 Guide Updates

 Awesome Image Via Joystiq

If you haven't heard yet, StarCraft 2 is coming out at midnight on the 27th!  I'm really excited and I hope you are too.  I'm hoping that more people will stumble on my site while searching for a StarCraft 2 newbie guide so I've been hard at work updating my Newbie Guide posts.

I want to provide the best information that I can for budding StarCraft 2 players and I've learned a lot since I started playing the first phase of beta, which is why I went back and updated my posts on being aggressive, learning your units, and studying replays to learn more about the game.  I've also updated the links within the guide to reflect changing over to my own domain.

The aggressiveness guide has some good battle tips and general mental attitudes that help win games.  Learning units covers the basics of unit dynamics and has full tech trees for each of the races.  The post on studying replays points out great places to start if you want to improve your game along with an amazing replay analysis by Day[9].

If you have any interest in learning more about StarCraft 2 multiplayer then visit my StarCraft 2 Newbie Guide Index to see all of the posts I've done in the series.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Super Mario Galaxy 2 Review

I've been writing a lot of mini reviews lately because I've been playing a ton of games but have found most of them wanting.  I can shoot off a quick paragraph and give you an acurate assessment of the sub-par game and then move on to more interesting topics.  While digging through all of the flash games and gamefly rentals I found a surprising diamond in the rough, Super Mario Galaxy 2.

I wasn't expecting much when I put Super Mario Galaxy 2 into the disc drive.  I've played almost every Mario game that's been released since I was 5 years old.  That's 20ish years of Mario experience.  Since Mario games are traditionally geared towards a younger audience their level of difficulty is fairly low.  This helps inexperienced gamers get into video games, which is a great thing, but it bores people like me who need a tougher challenge to stay interested.

I went into this game with my normal expectations for a Mario platformer but I was surprised - and thrilled - to find that the difficulty was ramped up.  In terms of challenge, it felt like this game picked up where the first Super Mario Galaxy left off.  That's the part of the game that I liked above all else, the challenge.

It's no surprise that all the Mario hallmarks are present too.  Jumping, coins, mushrooms, goombas, Yoshi, and a princess in distress.  All of your favorites are there but this game doesn't break new ground in most respects.

The story is the same thing it always is, princess Peach went and got herself captured again (maybe it's time for some mace on her keychain) and Mario has to save her.  The cutscenes seem out of place in a story that's so weak.  Overall they were slow and boring.  Story has never been Nintendo's strong suit and it's still apparent in this game.

 Princess, invest in one of these, seriously.

While the story may not be interesting the level design is what truly shines.  Bright colorful locations with unique twists on gravity are abundant.  New items that interact with the level designs have been added too.  The drill that allows Mario to drill all the way through a planet was particularly fun to play around with.  Nintendo also re-purposes levels later in the game by adding a comet that changes the goal of the level.  It made for some really fun variations on levels that I had already beaten.

Not only were locations and items varied but - with the exception of Bowser - the boss battles have a ton of different gameplay mechanics involved too.  I had fun fighting every boss except for Bowser.  All of the bosses use creative mechanics, but the Bowser battles are all the same.  That seems like lazy game-making to me, especially when so much effort has been put into creating the other unique boss fights.

My one other gripe is the lack of persistent lives.  When the game is exited all 1-Ups collected are lost.  This was really frustrating for me because I had a couple long gaming sessions where I had 30 or more lives saved up but as soon as I took a break from the game they were lost to me.  It seems unfair and I personally hated it as a design choice.

That's one minor issue in a game full of fun.  If Mario is close to your heart and you like challenging platformers then Super Mario Galaxy 2 was made for your enjoyment.  Based on the challenge alone I would recommend it to any seasoned platforming fans.  If you're a Mario fan too, that's just icing on the cake.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Indie Game: Canabalt

Have 30 seconds to spare?  Want an intense but easily understood indie game to play?  It's a good thing I've prepared something that meets your needs.  Go play Canabalt, it takes almost no time at all to experience what it has to offer.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

StarCraft 2: Ghosts of the Past

If you had any doubt about the story of StarCraft 2 being epic, this video should lay it to rest.  Thanks to Klelith at Lost in Neurons for linking to this.  Maybe a trailer like this could even convince Spinks to give StarCraft 2 a try.

Also, for a geek like me, it's really nice to see them building off of the world the StarCraft novels have created.  The novels have set a great scene for another epic game and I'm glad to see it isn't going to waste.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Excited For StarCraft 2?

I'm so excited for StarCraft 2!  I can't remember the last time I was this pumped up for a game release.  But Spinks isn't impressed.  She wrote on her experience trying out the StarCraft 2 beta and the reasons she wasn't impressed.  Her points are completely valid.  The beta was entirely multiplayer focused and she says that she lost every game.  I can understand how that would be extremely frustrating.  Because of her post I've decided to talk about some of the other features in StarCraft 2 that might appeal to those who haven't been impressed so far.

The single player campaign is made by Blizzard.  I haven't played it yet (no one has) but Blizzard has a great pedigree for story in their real time strategy games.  They have a long history of polishing their games until they shine.  The single player campaign also has a variety of difficulty settings so that everyone can enjoy it, even RTS newbies.  It won't be brutal the way that the online multiplayer can be on ocassion.

Also, cooperative play vs AI.  A player (and a group of their friends) can play together against AI opponents of their choosing.  The number of opponents and their difficulty level can be changed by the players.  I think this will appeal to people who would rather play cooperatively instead of competitively.

Custom games are amazing.  Some of the variations that people come up with don't even resemble the main StarCraft 2 game but are astounding in their own right.  There are so many fun creative game types out already and the game isn't even out of beta yet.  Custom games from StarCraft 1 and WarCraft 3 have gone on to spawn new genres and I expect to see more genres emerge with the release of StarCraft 2.

Coming back around to multiplayer, I really want to emphasize that the beta player pool was small.  Not only was it small, but most of the players are people who already have a ton of experience with Blizzard RTS games, which gives them a huge advantage.  Once the game releases to the general public then the player base will greatly expand and the matchmaking will work much better.  The matchmaking system they've designed is impressive because it's designed so that every player can play against people of a similar skill level, even newbies.

Maybe I've piqued some of your interest.  I hope I have.  But, if you don't like Blizzard, PC, or RTS games then StarCraft 2 still might not be for you.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sunday Reading: Gnarcade Edition

Killed in a Smiling Accident has a post about how developers need to listen to complaints early - especially during beta - before they turn into a bigger issue.

There was an interesting article on Joystiq about how a game developer brought in a screenwriter which helped them adjust a ton of aspects of their game.  It's an interesting read for anyone who likes to investigate how movies and games intersect.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Kongregate and Achievements

For the past few weeks whenever I've had a free minute or two I jump over to Kongregate and check out new flash games.  I barely ever visit other flash game sites because Kongregate has a persistent log-in system, chat functions, and achievements which the others lack.  I love achievements and finding them on a flash game site has made me extremely happy!

Whenever I need a new game I go into the menu for badges (badges are what achievements are called on the site) and pick a badge from a game that I've never played before.  They don't give out badges to every game, so most games with badges are decent.  It's kind of like a Kongregate stamp of approval.  They aren't all winners, but it's a great way to find new games without sorting through the 30,000+ games on the site by title alone.

Not only is it a good way to discover new flash games, but I love achievements for the sake of achievements.  I know that some people think they are simply a measure of e-peen, but the reason I like them is because they get me to play videogames in new and interesting ways.  Anything that pushes me out of the box and simultaneously adds more gameplay options is a good thing.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Updated StarCraft 2 Starter Tips

I just finished updating the first post in my StarCraft 2 Newbie Guide.  It deals with the idea of picking one race and sticking with it as well as the importance of defending your ramp.  Overall it has some good StarCraft 2 starter tips.

I cleaned up some of the wording that I didn't like, but mostly I updated the information contained in the post.  I've learned a lot since I started playing the beta a few months ago and I realized that some of the advice I gave out needed updating.  On top of this I added links to some of my later posts on different StarCraft 2 subjects.  Hop on over and check out the updated post.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Rangers and Druids

My favorite two classes in MMOs have always been Rangers and Druids.  Something about harnessing the power inherent in nature and communing with everything around us really appeals to me.  Whenever I go back to WoW I always use my Druid as my main.  Not to mention the magic slinging, precise marksmanship, and dual wielding handled by Rangers.  Rangers are bad-ass and they are always my first choice of class, so this video from Guild Wars 2 made me extremely happy today.

I was interested before, but now I'm excited.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Blog List Fixed

When I switched over to the new domain it apparently affected my search bar and my blog list.  The search is only looking through posts that were originally posted on the new domain.  I can't do anything to fix that except to keep writing and build up new posts for it to search.  I'll probably try to link to some older posts to help out too.

The blog list, on the other hand, I can easily fix.  So I have.  Make sure to check it out on the right hand section of the screen (scroll down a bit).  Those really are my favorite blogs and I check for updates on each blog every day.  If you have never heard of Systemic Babble, Bio Break, Professor Beej, Tobold, Lost in Neurons, Joystiq, Massively, or Copyblogger you are really missing out on some great content.  I follow a lot of the bloggers on twitter as well and they are all great people.  If I forgot to add anyone to the list I apologize in advance.  I'm sure it'll hit me in the next day or so and I'll add you back in.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Gaming While Tired

 I know how you feel Sleepycat.

Last night I sat down to play StarCraft 2 and I just couldn't do it.  I was completely exhausted from my day (and week) at work and I had crammed a study session for an upcoming interview into my schedule after work.  I wanted to play something to relax but I realized it wasn't StarCraft 2.  Although I've talked a lot about it lately, even going so far as to write a series of newbie guide posts about it, the game requires a lot of mental energy which I don't always have.

Instead I got out my ipod touch and started playing little games on it.  Doodle Jump, Tilt to Live, Words with Friends, Robot Unicorn Attack, and Lux just to name a few.  They were all laid back games without a lot of pressure to perform.  It was perfect for my mental state.

Today I'm still dragging, so I started playing Bloons TD 4 and a couple of other flash games on Kongregate.  It got me thinking that my state of mind really influences what I want to play.  Most "hardcore" games are too overwhelming when I'm absolutely exhausted but tons of casual games are still relaxing and fun.  Keep in mind this is coming from a lifetime gamer, but I think casual games are a lot more relaxing.

What games do you find to be enjoyable no matter how tired you are?  Do you know of any high quality gaming activities to do when you just need to zone out and not think?  Let me know in the comments, I would love to check them out.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sunday Reading: Where's the fun?

"Why wasn't level X or opportunity Y presented to me earlier? If this thing is so much fun that it's going to cause me to bleed candy from my tear ducts, why haven't I done it yet?" -Seraphina Brennan

That was my favorite quote in the last couple weeks.  Read the article, it's great.

Systemic Babble wrote about steam as it relates to piracy prevention.  He makes some sound points about making the benefits outweigh the hassle of DRM.

No more healers in Guild Wars 2.  Everyone is going to be accountable for their own healing, and I think it's a good thing.  Also, check out the massively article on the same subject.

If you have any interest in SWTOR then you should read this hands-on preview from a bunch of different perspectives.  It covers many different classes and situations as well as talking about including better AI in MMOs.

For your Sunday viewing pleasure, I present Super Mario Bros graffiti speed run.

As always, enjoy your Sunday.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Real ID for Real

I was going to write an insightful post about the way I actually feel about Real ID today.  Yesterday I was playing devil's advocate and today I was going to counter some of my own points.  Then Blizzard went and canceled real names on the forums.  I'm going to write my post anyway.

I love the in-game features that come with Real ID, but I think the idea of real names on the forums opens up too many security and privacy issues.  I'm glad Blizzard decided to change the forums but to keep Real ID features within their games.  That was exactly what I was going to suggest that they do.  Good job Blizzard.  Bravo.

I meant everything I wrote yesterday about the facebook connect options.  I think it's awesome that I can click a few buttons and populate my friends list with all of my facebook friends who play games.  I really have reconnected with people that I didn't know played PC games.  It's pretty sweet.

I also like that I can track my real life friends across multiple games and characters.  It's a convenient and worthwhile feature.  It can really help cut down on the amount of characters that need to be stored in a friends list.

All that being said, I'm not going to give my Real ID to anyone that I don't know.  I don't think you should either.  Be safe with your personal information when you're online.  Exchanging character names with internet friends will still work just fine.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Real ID is Awesome

I'm here to play devil's advocate.  Tons of bloggers I respect have been complaining about Real ID for the last few days.  Blizzard is making a change to their system and creating the ability to link with real life friends through Real ID.  They're also making it so that if you post on the forums then your Real ID will be the name you post under.  I think the changes are great.

First of all, it's entirely optional.  You don't have to use it.  If you have a problem with it... then don't use it.  What's so hard about that?  Seriously.

Secondly, forum posters are the minority.  The majority of players will never post on a game forum - most won't even look at them - but the vocal minority that does is up in arms.  Blizzard knows this.  They know that all the people who are whining have a huge internet presence but only represent a (very) small portion of their players.  They aren't going to listen to you.  Blizzard has made up their mind and they're sticking to it.

Third, if you don't want your name displayed in the forums then don't participate.  It doesn't detract from actually playing the game in the least.  Hopefully it will actually improve the forums by making it so that trolls can't get in and start a flame war with a level one character and then disappear into the ether.  Even if your name is displayed it still doesn't give out your social security number and all your passwords.  They aren't throwing all of your information out into the wild, it's just your name, you've had it your whole life, deal with it.

Fourth, I've used it and I like the ability to add facebook friends.  StarCraft 2 beta has had Real ID integrated for over 2 months now and it's great.  I use my in-game name to add friends I don't know in real life and I use my Real ID tag to add my real life friends.  This way only my real life friends have my real name, which is something they knew anyway.  I think this is how most people are going to use the system.  It's also nice to reconnect with people who are my friends on facebook who also play StarCraft 2.  There are people I would have never suspected who play StarCraft 2 that I wouldn't have found if I didn't have the facebook friend connect option.

I guess my main point here is that you don't have to use the Real ID system.  If you have a problem with it, don't use it.  But, if you're willing to give parts of it a try then you might just find some more gaming buddies via facebook.

If you are totally against it then here is how to opt-out.

PSA: StarCraft 2 Beta is Back

I fired up my StarCraft 2 client this morning and it worked!  Blizzard is troubleshooting a few server issues, but the beta is back and hopefully will be running smoothly soon.  If you have a beta key it's time to jump back in and have some fun.  See you online.

If you need some help with your multiplayer match-ups why not check out my StarCraft 2 newbie guide?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Get to the Fun Faster

Yesterday, I tried to play Singularity.  I gave it my best attempt but I just couldn't do it.  The game is supposedly about getting a glove that can manipulate time but I wouldn't know, because I never made it that far.  I was looking forward to making new things old and old things new, turning enemies into babies, restoring structures to their former glory, and making people crumble to ash before my eyes.  Unfortunately, the first 20 minutes of the game were so bad that I waved the white flag and gave up.  The game played like the world's most generic shooter and a lot of the design decisions (like not being able to open doors on my own) pissed me off.  I dropped Singularity in the mailbox and it's headed back to Gamefly as we speak.

I've talked before about jumping into the action of a game but it's also important for the game to throw the player into the fun right from the start.  If your game happens to be about an awesome time manipulation device then you should give it to your players within the first few minutes.  Think about games like Portal where the main character is playing with portals right from the start.  It wouldn't have had the acclaim it did if there was a generic FPS to play through before ever touching a portal.  Why do so many games wait so long to induce their "sweet" game mechanic?  Players want awesome gameplay right away.  They don't respond to a game that feels bland.

Ever find that a lot of people claim game x is amazing but when you play it you can't stand it?  Often they'll say that you just need to give it more time before it really gets fun.  That's not a valid excuse at all.  Games are about gameplay.  If they were about anything else they wouldn't be games, they would be music or books or movies or another form of media that we already have.  If the player isn't having fun then they have every right to say that a game sucks.  Developers should strive to make their games fun from start to finish.  There is no reason players should have to wait to have fun with a game.

My Very Own Piece of the Internet

Same site, same content, new URL.  I'm still running everything on Blogger but now I have my own domain name.  The old blogger address should direct to here now as well.  I think I have the feeds and analytics switched over correctly too.

I'm happy to have my own domain name.  It ended up being pretty painless with godaddy and help from my brother.  Nothing is changing except for the domain name, which is exactly what I was hoping for.  I really like that Blogger works so well with a custom domain name.  I didn't need to pay extra (to Blogger) or do a whole lot of work to get it set up correctly.

That's my big news for today.  Back to gaming posts tomorrow.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Mini Review Monday: Of Mario and Frat Boys

Initial impressions and quick reviews is what mini-review Monday is all about.  Here we go!

Super Mario Galaxy 2:
Challenge in an Mario game?  Amazing!  This is the best Mario game that I've played in a really long time.  It may be the best Mario game ever.  I started playing platformers when I was 5 years old and since Mario platformers tend to be accessible to new gamers they are pretty easy games.  This was great when I was 5, but now I can blast through a Mario game in one day and have no trouble with any of the levels.  Mario Galaxy 2 changes the formula because it doesn't pull any punches.  It threw me into difficult platforming sequences from the 2nd level onward and I loved it.  Challenge is a nice change of pace in gaming today and I'm having a great time with Mario Galaxy 2 because of it.

  Eat Mushrooms, fly with dinosaurs.

Army of Two 40th Day:  
No.  Just No.  This game has a button to do stupid frat boy interactions with your partner.  The GPS system can identify what rank the enemy soldiers are... somehow.  A player can grab aggro and basically let the second player be completely ignored.  The field of view is strange when played with two people and the controls don't feel very tight either.  This is a generic shooter that doesn't deserve any of your attention... unless you want to make fun of it while you play, then by all means, go ahead.

Risk Factions:
Based on the 2008 updated Risk formula and distributed on Xbox Live, Risk Factions brings Risk into the digital age.  I especially like the new objectives and key points on maps.  Capturing cities counts as 2 territories, get enough crypts to gain the ability to freeze a territory, hold enough barracks and control of the missile becomes yours.  Things like these help change up the game.  Risk Factions finds a nice middle ground between classic Risk and fresh ideas.  With the free demo on Xbox Live there is no reason to not give it a try.

Factions include cats, zombies, robots, and snowmen. Seriously.

Alpha Protocol:
In this spy-action game there are some interesting ideas but the execution misses the mark.  The confusing conversation system, boring story, loose controls, weak mini-games, and badly implemented upgrade system all lend themselves to a mediocre game.  If you are interested in a stealth action game or a good conspiracy storyline then your time is better spent playing Splinter Cell: Conviction.  Both the single player and co-op campaigns in Splinter Cell: Conviction are fabulous.

CS Source:
Counter-Strike Source recently patched in achievements which inspired me to go revisit the game.  It's still the same old Counter-Strike, but that's a good thing.  Counter-Strike is the pioneer of modern day shooters.  It was doing terrorists vs counter-terrorists when Call of Duty was still covering WWII.  If you like multiplayer first person shooters and have never tried Counter-Strike then now is a good time to go back and visit it.

 The grandfather of Modern Warfare


Saturday, July 3, 2010


 Not a video game.

The real world has been taking up all my time this weekend.  I haven't had much - if any - time to game.  That's unfortunate but I like to think I have my priorities in line.  I've been getting things in order for the new baby and I've had a bunch of 10 hour days at work.  I work in television and cover events, so when the rest of you have time off and vacation days I have extra work.  Since it's the 4th of July weekend here in the United States I've had my hands full with work.  I usually like the odd hours but this weekend has been really crazy.

Anyway, I think it's important to prioritize real life over video games.  I think too many people lose track of their real world responsibilities when they dive too deeply into a game.  MMOs seem to expound this effect even more because of the online communities that spring up in their virtual worlds.  It's sad to see stories about people who devote their entire lives to one game.

Every once in a while do a priority check on your life.  Gaming is a great hobby, but it's unhealthy to let it take precedence over the important things.