24 November 2012

Taste #9 - Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis (PC)

Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis

Developer: Frogwares
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Released: April 2008
Time played: 90 minutes

Notes:
  • Original title is "Sherlock Holmes versus Arsène Lupin". Simpler "Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis" title was chosen for the US and 'some parts of England' release according to WP.

Observations:

  • Runs nicely at high resolution in Win 7 64 bit without any problems. Textures generally sharp, world a little bare and rigid.

  • Voice acting acceptable, strange pronunciation of a few words including a reference to the Medici.

  • Directed to go get a hansom. No idea what it is, no hints given. Turns out it refers to horse drawn carriages of the time (1800s). They could of at least said hansom cab surely? Maybe this is assumed knowledge from either previous games or the source text.

  • Puzzles are solved through a mixture of pixel hunting and reasoning. Asks players to perform some basic deductions and piece together clues in order to provide key word answers which must be typed. Surprising to see a modern game take this approach but it serves the genre well and forces the player to engage rather than just going through the motions and clicking everything they find.

  • Extensive in-built hint system is also provided. Clues can be revealed slowly with more subtle hints initially. A great idea in the age of the internet where designers must assume people will  search for walk through guides rather than bang head against wall until solving puzzles. The balanced approach here is to require engagement for progression but provide unrestricted tools to remove road blocks. It is then up to the player to determine how long to spend trying to solve puzzles before seeking help.

  • Worth another look at some stage. Slow and a little dry, but an enjoyable distraction.

14 November 2012

Taste #8 - Gish (PC)

Gish

Developer: Cryptic Sea
Publisher: Chronic Logic, Stardock, Steam
Released: May 2004
Time played: 20 minutes

Notes:
  • Indie title co-created by Edmund McMillen who went on to create Super Meat Boy, The Binding of Isaac and others.



Observations

  • Bland. Some basic platform mechanics and physics combined to create a simple platform/puzzle game.

  • Controls are simple with 4 direction buttons, buttons to turn sticky/slick/heavy, and a jump button. Activating these abilities took some getting used to, maybe partly because I'm so used to playing this kind of game with a gamepad rather than keyboard.

  • The theme and art design really didn't appeal to me. Very bland palette and simply animation. Some fluidity in the movement of Gish himself, but the world is very lifeless.

  • Couldn't keep going passed the first few levels.

  • Interesting contrast with Super Meat Boy which I've played for 2 or 3 hours. I found the controls of that game much more comfortable and direct, and although it is another example of simple art design the presentation had more weight and character. I can see links between these games though, and it's interesting to see where a now well respected designer started. Good luck to him.

11 November 2012

Taste #7 - Shining Force Neo (PS2)

Shining Force Neo

Developers: Neverland and Amusement Vision
Publisher: Sega
Released: October 2005 (NA)
Time played: 90 minutes



Observations:

  • Voice acting is ordinary, but not excruciating. The game is apparently known for extremely bad voice acting in this English release.

  • I've never played a Shining Force game until now, despite a strong connection with early Sega and having access to the original games via various compilations.

  • The game is best described as an action RPG with hack and slash Diablo style combat mechanics.

  • It's a well designed game given the platform constraints. Comes across as quite polished and reasonably stylish.

  • The game shows large outdoor areas and seamlessly transitions to indoor environments without interrupting play. Building roofs fade into transparency as the character enters revealing the building interior. This is impressive, and very rare for a game of this vintage, and probably still not a given some 12 years later. I'm curious about the engine used in this game and whether it was used to power any other games.

  • Story is about young hero returning home, family mystery, protection from ancient power that has re-emerged etc etc. Nothing particularly novel, but competent enough from the looks of things. Mystery and betrayal used to drive things along and retain player interest in the story.

  • Combat mechanics seem simple, but further systems are being introduced as the game progresses. Loot drops from items in the environment as well as enemies.

  • Straightforward but competent real-time action-rpg mechanics make a nice change of pace from obtuse turn based systems iterating on tired decade old ideas.

  • The cut-scenes are well done and very manga-like. There is a bit of a disconnect between the art in these cut-scenes and the art used during the many talking head conversations in game. Differences between in-game character models and pre-rendered cut-scenes is expected but for whatever reason the art used in the conversation talking heads is different again - surely this could have been created to match the cut-scenes?

10 November 2012

Digital Library

The store is your digital library. Just as easy to install from store page as library page in steam. Psychology of ownership is a hangover that is unhelpful. At the end of the day, the experience of playing (probably) is all that matters. So:

Purchase games when ready to actually play

Do not purchase games unless ready to play. Do not purchase games as an expression of the intention to play at some future point

These same rules apply when it comes to all consumptive media. Why buy DVDs unless ready to watch them? (actually you should probably never buy them at this point)

Experiment:
  • Write script to determine cost of games actually played rather than owned.

  • Unplayed but owned is meaningless, particularly for digital items.

  • No shelf to admire (although GoG/Steam try to replicate this to an extent - GoG even provides a wooden shelf to arrange titles on)

Taste #6 - Railroad Tycoon II (PS1)

Railroad Tycoon II

Developer: PopTop Software
Publisher: Take-Two Interactive
Released: February 2000
Time played: None



Observations:

  • Couldn't get it to run.

  • Sad - was looking forward to this one.

Taste #5 - Shift 2: Unleashed (PC)

Shift 2: Unleashed

Developer: Slightly Mad Studios
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Released: March 2011.
Time played: 1 hour

Preface: Thank goodness for the standardisation of the Xbox 360 controller for PC over the last few years. I couldn't even attempt a game like this without analogue control these days. I remember playing so much of the Domark F1 game on the Sega Master System back in the day. That game probably didn't need much subtlety in control though.


Observations:

  • Awesome dude. You did really well. (thanks random racing man)

  • Here's some XP. You'll earn it by (blah be blah be blah)

  • Control felt detached and lagy. Tried reducing game resolution to bump up frame rate but nothing changed. Not sure if this is just a reflection of the handling model or whether there was something introducing extra lag into my setup. Using 360 controller which was natively detected and supported so that shouldn't be to blame.

  • Although controller was supported, the on screen key mapping prompts don't reflect this choice. Even though they have nicely remapped menu navigation through the controller buttons you need to figure it all out by trial and error.

  • The Shift series has advertised and emphasised the in car driver helmet perspective camera. In car views have been common in racing games for a few years now but the Shift series tried to stand out by introducing fancy effects to mimic the motion and forces on the driver's head as opposed to a fixed camera placed within a car. I stuck with the default in car view for this reason and could see some of these effects in play when hitting a wall etc, but it didn't do much for me. Responsive controls meant I was already a bit detached from the experience and so this sort of immersion wasn't adding anything.

  • Overall it came across as a competent game, maybe a little generic. I dislike the dude bro presentation and prefer a more restrained/slick approach of the Forza or Project Gotham (RIP) series.

  • Incidentally, I have the Xbox 360 Wireless Racing Wheel that Microsoft sold for the first 3 or 4 years after the 360 was released. I've used it quite a bit with the 360 and it works quite well. I mention this because it's a USB device that can easily plug into a PC and should really be supported by Windows - BUT - Microsoft abandoned the product and never implemented drivers for the wheel although they had previously publicly stated that work on Windows support for the device was underway. Logitech seems to rule the low/mid end of the PC wheel market now (the fool in me looks at G27 prices from time to time)

Taste #4 - Shadow Hearts 3: From the New World (PS2)

Shadow Hearts 3 - From the New World

Developer: Nautilus
Publisher: XSEED Games
Released: March 2007
Time played: 2 hours





Observations

  • What an odd game.

  • Dialogue is very slow and painful

  • Main character is a strange kid/private detective.

  • Locations pretend to be 3D areas ready for exploration, but are extremely walled in with very little to see or do.

  • Went through first dungeon which was to explore an old Theatre looking for someone for a client. Story opens up once you complete this. Very bland design simply involving exploration of a bunch of corridors back and forth until events trigger.

  • Had always been curious about these games after seeing copies of them in the later days of the PS2 era. Now I know why they were hanging around as discount titles - they probably couldn't sell through the first print run...

  • (I refuse to taste any more Shadow Hearts games)

7 November 2012

Taste #3 - Radiata Stories (PS2)

Radiata Stories

Developer: tri-Ace (Well known developer famous for other titles like Star Ocean and Valkyrie Profile)
Publisher: Square Enix
Released: September 2005
Time played: 90 minutes


Observations:

  • Real time combat. Party based but player only has direct control over main character Jack. Basic pattern is hitting targeted enemy, dodging attacks, and managing special meter which fills over time and provides power moves.

  • The game looks nice and supports progressive scan 480p. This game like many PS2 titles only supports the progressive scan mode via a button hold at boot. I have no idea why Sony decided support progressive scan only via a (mostly) undocumented button press at boot rather than an in-game menu.

  • There is a sense of humor in the game, nothing overt but enough to convince you that  the game doesn't take itself too seriously.

  • The game includes loads of NPCs. It is possible to recruit any one of something like 180 of these into the party.

  • A noted feature of this game is that you can kick anything. World items wobble when kicked sometimes dropping items. People generally react but accept a certain amount of kicking, after which they'll challenge you to a duel if you persist.

  • The field/exploration portion of the game is presented in full 3D but constrains player movement to a restricted area providing a 2.5D path ala double dragon. There are established roads with branching paths allowing players to explore the map. During this exploration enemies will appear along the road providing random battles that can be avoided by avoiding direct contact. Wonder when this was done first? I recall reading that this approach was also used in Final Fantasy XII - not sure when it was established first.

Taste #2 – Okage: Shadow King (PS2)

Okage: Shadow King

Developer: Zener Works
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Inc
Released: October 2001
Time played: 2 hours


Excerpt: Chapter 1- Boy Meets King

"I am a super mom
I am a super wife
A stupendous chef
A doting mother"

[voice over - which sounds an awful lot like James Spader]

This story starts with an ordinary conversation by an ordinary family...

We need bread...

(brief observation here - there is a loaf of bread rendered on the table next to her)

Observations:

  • Turn based combat with a small party.

  • End game objective: wipe out 7 rival evil kings.

  • Within minutes the game shows some character through a strong sense of humour. The dialogue is comical and very self aware. The evil lord is called "Stanley Hihat Trinidad XIV". A shop in the first town is called "Other One" in the town

  • The game uses a close level of zoom with characters appearing large on screen. The models look polygonal by todays standards but were undoubtedly advanced for the time period. I suspect the zoom level was chosen to emphasis this - not afraid of polygons - proud of how many!

  • The game engine is capable of showing huge outdoor areas but (as is typical with this era) can only display single rooms indoors and requires a short load from disc when walking between them.

  • The game seems to actively make fun of the fact that it presents you with choices that are meaningless and have no impact. In response to a question by a the father character I answered "no I won't" and he responded "aw, thanks son" as though I'd agreed. (this may have been a mismatch in the scripting but I doubt it)

  • Early in the game there was an opportunity to buy some ground beef. This is at a point before there is any context for food or the value of money and so no context had been established for making sense of the decision. I went ahead and as expected it paid off and was recognised by the game with offer to buy the ground beef back from me. I'm not sure how I feel about this sort of interaction as it is entirely out of context with the game world and character motivations. The effect of this design choice is to reward players who are willing to test every interaction and explore every room regardless of the appropriateness within the context of the game. This may appeal to younger players (and probably appealed to me in the past) but it represents pointless busy work that takes the player out of the experience. It could be argued that these issues don't matter in a comical game of this style but even then I'd argue that the game is simply wasting players' time.

Taste

  • Unusual.

  • Worth a chew.