Monday, June 27, 2011

Blind Fury

There aren't too many words that can describe what's going on here aside from "SHEER MADNESS" or "VOODOO" (my fanboyish linguistic shortcomings, not yours), but the fact of the matter is, Netherrealm Studios is keeping good with their promises in a way that many studios wish they were (coughCapcomcough), and the next DLC character in the form of Kenshi is on his way next week, July 5th.

My friends are on notice.

So are you.

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

The 'Tude is....back?

See that? Depending on what Sonic fan you ask, THAT is the real Sonic. A huge head, a bit of pudge, and that know-it-all grin.

It’s Sonic’s 20th Anniversary, and even though the years have not been kind to the blue blur, with Sonic Generations, something just feels different. There are no gimmicky characters, No terrible butt-rock. No nonsense plots, and for the duration of this demo featuring Classic Sonic, no terrible camera work or questionable 3D gameplay. Just you, Sonic, and what the Green Hill Zone would’ve looked like had the game released in this day and age, with the technology available, the demo seems to promise as it’s booting up.

It truly has never looked better.

It’s quite breathtaking, to be honest. Similar to the way Street Fighter IV brought its classic characters to life, The Green Hill Zone practically jumps from the screen with meticulous detail. Lush, volumetric grass sprouting from the ground, rolling waterfalls, and a background that’s filled with similar areas to the one you’re exploring. It’s literally like staring into a panorama of several Green Hill Zones, and it goes a long way into making the area feel more alive. Enemies have received a similar overhaul, being distinctive and well animated, though occasionally they can get lost in the hustle and bustle of the backgrounds.

Strangely yet not offensively so, everything has a larger-than-life effect similar to Sonic Adventure 2’s reimagining of the level, but it’s once again in the stage’s favor, as the drastically pulled back camera does much to showcase all the extra details on display as well as set the stage for some fun camera work. For example, even though the game remains fixed on a 2D plane, everything looks feels three dimensional, with platforms that feel like canopies as you run beneath them, or piranha who leap over bridges from the foreground to the background. There are even certain parts of the map that cause the camera to react dynamically, like an especially fun effect that sees the camera over his shoulder to add a rollercoaster-like effect for running down a hill! The music is something to write about as well, sounding just as anyone who has played the first would remember, but with all the instruments composer (insert name here) wishes he had when struggling with the Genesis’ sound chip way back when. Overall, the game accomplishes with gusto what Sonic 4 tried to do and failed: Making the old new again, while maintaining the same retro sensibilities.

Even the control accomplishes this. While they aren’t as smooth as I would’ve liked, with an odd stickiness that sort of tethers Sonic to flat surfaces, there’s no denying that it’s the closest approximation to classic Sonic that Sega’s been able to muster in over 15 years. I even took the time to fire up the original Sonic 1 to confirm my suspicions, and it was a smooth transition. The sense of inertia and speed you get from careening down a hill, or the gradual climb before a steep hill are present, and it makes the return to platforming all the more welcome. (Yes, platforming.) Even at this early stage, it seems that the “plaforming with speed rewards” type gameplay is back from the Genesis days, and everything from swings, to springs, to corkscrew loops are all here and well accounted for. This is another beautiful thing, as the stages are absolutely MASSIVE in scope, somewhere between Sonic 1 and 3 in terms of alternate paths and hidden areas accessible by only the finest of reflexes.

At one act, the demo is a bit short, and one can only wonder why the second act featuring Modern Sonic was excluded from the package (along with the 20-day expiry date), but I have little worry for the final product. The daytime stages in Sonic Unleashed, and Sonic Colors have been some of the best translations into 3D the series has ever seen, and if they keep that spirit intact for the full game, I have little to worry about. What I do know however, is that the part I was most worried about turned out better than I’d hoped. I loved the classic stage, and given that I've played through the demo three times and found something different each time through experimenting, I'm confident that if all of the classic stages continue in this fashion, Sonic fans are going to be in for a real treat come this fall. I've never felt so nostalgic playing a modern Sonic before.

Bravo, guys.

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Annoyances of the Mainstream - Trials and Tribulations

I generally don't pay attention to mainstream (IGN, Gamespot, et al) game reviews anymore, as I've noticed a disturbing trend in gaming; mainstream reviewers seem to be downscoring games based on increasingly frivolous things. I'm not even talking about a game having strange mechanics, something being off story wise, or something simultaneously loved and feared because of its insurmountable odds akin to a Ninja Gaiden, I'm just talking about complaints about things like challenge that seem to be getting worse as gaming moves into a more casual forum.

It's odd, as I notice reviews from back in the day heavily focused on an overall aura, a combination of graphics, sound, gameplay and overall value. Now, since graphics are at such a high as to be homogenous, it takes truly reprehensible (read: mostly last-gen) visuals to have some sort of visual discrepancy. Since every console practically defaults to multidirectional sound, a game has to have a really questionable score to be noticed outside of our increasingly orchestral norms. But gameplay is more heavily scrutinized than before, with what I feel is a misplaced focus.

Annoying Scrutiny #1 - "Trial-and-Error" in Games

One of the chief complaints of the mainstream reviewer is this, criticizing what is a fundamental aspect of design. Trial-and-error is an aspect of games that is much maligned, and in some cases, with good reason, but it's not something that needs to be eliminated.

Death in games comes often, and sometimes swiftly, but this was something we've always dealt with as gamers. The entire institution of even having "extra lives" was the notion that you would fail, and if you weren't completely up to snuff, there was always a secret code to help out in case of emergency.

These days, our games are littered with savefiles to record progress, checkpoints to cover what the savefiles don't get, and autosaves just in case you manually forgot to save. The challenging aspect has endured to a point, but now there's a ton of concessions to ensure you aren't taxed too hard. Why then does even a game like Limbo, which is literally littered with checkpoints and death spots, get criticized for its difficulty, being called a "trial and error" game with this as a negative aspect?

Trial-and-error in its purest form is a fudamental part of design. Gamers love to be punished (when we aren't, we complain MORE), and part of the discovery element of ANY game is figuring out the limits developers have assigned us. You can't find out if a bed of spikes is dangerous to your avatar without first propelling them onto it, and reacting accordingly, can you? When did this fall by the wayside? Short of putting massive signs everywhere that says "Don't try to do x, or you'll die", there will always be a bit of a trial-and-error aspect to games.

But what happens when a game (unintentionally) parodies a reviewer's desire to eliminate the frustrating aspects of trial-and-error?

You get the 2008 Prince of Persia, which was met with a massive negative backlash, due to its refusal to let a player stare at a "Game Over" screen.

I never saw the difference when people started to complain though. Elika physically pulling you from a ditch is no different to me than appearing a few feet in front of a trap that just killed you in Limbo, or mashing F5 before a particularly difficult part in Half-Life so your life is secure. It's no different than Gears of War constantly covering your ass with autosaves, and it's an amusing point of contention that when a game is lacking some sort of system similar to this, it gets pulled apart. So why complain at all? It sets in motion a needless effort by the developer to accomodate with easier modes that see no use, or a overly simplified design that, as criticisms would label it , "Suffer from a lack of challenge or sense of danger."

So which is it guys? Are the games supposed to be so straightforward that we coast through them without being challenged, or is it only acceptable if the game doesn't make it obvious that their hand is being held? I don't know if there is a right answer. I believe a game's accomodations should only reach as far as the developer allows, but to compromise their vision in some way by removing what has been a cornerstone of design is silly. A game in which you're unable to die is little more than an interactive movie (leading to complaints of unimagination and linearity), and without some sort of risk-reward system to propel a player forward, there's little reason to continue once you've started (or even revisit). My notion is, people looking for the former need to simply watch movies, people looking for the absence of the latter need to question why they're engaged in an interactive challenge in the first place if they aren't expecting to be challenged.

Some of my favorite experiences in gaming were earned after much repetition of seemingly insurmountable odds, and I can't see that changing as long as our minds continue to favor being told we can't accomplish something initially with a robust set of obstacles.

The wide world of the internet takes a reviewer's opinion as gospel at times like this, and while it's nice, I realize we have to be careful. It's easy to forget, but readers are always on top of what we say as soon as we say it. They also take what we say to heart, faux-quoting us like parrots in an effort to sound "professional". Developers pay close attention as well, and shape their next title's aspects in line with our criticisms. If reviewers like the ones I'm mentioning don't watch out, it'll be exactly the predestination paradox their complaints are trying to avoid, and a slew of linear, hand-holding games will be the future. I remember Call of Duty's campaigns being somewhat tactical and open before it became akin to a treadmill with an explosive-filled hot dog on the end.

With a slew of ill-informed criticism favoring easier, more straightforward games, they just may be undercutting the most fun aspect of our medium. Which leads to a better question for the next segment:

Why are they complaining about visuals too?

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Monday, June 13, 2011

Gonna take a lot more coffee than this..

Master Chief can't get a break, can he? Always facing insurmountable odds, his trilogy came to a close in late 2007, and gamers were for the most part, satisfied. Why not? Despite some questionable narrative choices (and I maintain thatHalo had a great story, just bad execution), the Halo will always be remembered more for it's multiplayer strength and how it brought console gamers together with a sense of community to rival PC offerings. I remembered it for a different reason.

The original Halo will always have a place in my heart for that other reason it rivaled the PC. Like Unreal had for PC gamers circa 1998, Halo had shown me that we were able to move past the endless metal corridors, castle walls, and dungeons that had defined most FPS games up until that point. It provided a lush world with a tangible visual history, and a sense of discovery and wonder that gave me the impression that though I wasn't the first to traverse the land, my journey would be significant. From the mystery of the seemingly connected man-made structures littering the planet,to the threat of an alien menace trapped deep inside, and discovering the true purpose of Halo itself, it took me on a journey so compelling, the opening moments of the crash landing that started it all are still burned into my skull.

Then there were candy colored aliens spewing gobbeldygook who needed to be shot with a vast array of weaponry, and it satisfied on that front too.

I digress though, as I tend to do. My point was that even though the Halo series would eventually lose itself to repetitious, yet addictive multiplayer,the advent of the child internet scum movement, and an ultimately unsatisfying ending to close a surprise trilogy which ultimately choked the story's potential, (inhales), the original still stands as quite beloved. From series fans telling stories of the old, to newcomers wondering what the series was like before the internet took over, at the very least, a not-so-small demand for an Xbox Live Arcade version of the game has been one of the industry's pipe dreams. Even the excellent Halo: Reach, story driven and true to the original spirit as it was, only made the want greater for an actual Halo 1 remake. Could it really be so difficult to do?

...I guess not.

Consider me robbed for words. Which is nice, because this trailer says just about everything I could've, and then some. The only thing I can coherently state out of this stupor is that it'll be around November 15, 2011, which is right in time for the series 10th anniversary. While a new Halo announcement is always nice, it's almost refreshing that they're going back to when the series has seen better times than going with a full fledged -- oh wait.

They aren't kidding. Much like Solid Snake, reports of his death have been greatly exaggerated.

....but what am I surmise from this trailer? Well...aside from 343 Studios' Bungie-like approach to storytelling, which seems to tell everything while saying nothing, I have my suite of questions. What's attacking his ship? Why? What was that weapon he used to breach the hull? WHAT is that planet he's flying towards?

Looks like cryo-sleep isn't enough of an implicated death to bring this one down.

As part of a newly announced trilogy, I'm sure we'll find out MUCH more before 2012.

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Monday, June 6, 2011

Guess I'm ineligible for that free 3D Excitebike..

Eh, Nintendo? I mean it's not like getting hacked by LulzSec would delay matters any, right?

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Thursday, June 2, 2011

There will be blood!

Challenger Appears!

As if the announcement of the "Klassic Kostume Pack" for June 7th weren't enough (seeing classic versions of Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Kitana, Mileena, Jade, and Ermac plus fatalities), another reveal came yesterday in the form of Skarlet, a red kunoichi who looks one part Elektra, one part BloodRayne, and all badass.

Some trivia for ya: Similar to Ermac and the infamous "Error Macro" glitch that gave him his unique red color, Skarlet was originally a bug in MK2 which caused a red palette version of Kitana to appear, fueling rumors of yet another mysterious ninja character. Sparing no chance to once again give us fans what we want, after years of speculation, she's finally a reality, and as you can see in the video above, she has her own unique moves and fatalities. No pallette swaps here!

Currently, she doesn't have a date, but her formal in-game reveal is set for E3, which starts June 7th. Some hacking revealed a few of her normals, combos and X-Ray, ahead of the official reveal, so if you want a bit of an in depth preview ahead of time, hit the video below.

Hopefully the next reveal will be out of sight...

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