Once upon a time I made a blog about video games. And this is what's left of it (mostly tweets).

5 November 2008

Ah fuck, GTA IV multiplayer is deserted.

11 November

12 November

Left 4 Dead (360 demo)

The introductory CG is very competently directed and paced, and quite representative of the game itself: it’s very well done and I don’t think I ever want to play it again. I was creeped out during some sections of Gears of War, mind you (it’s mostly the sound design that does me in), so I’m not going to spend time in a realistic zombie survival simulator — especially one with no shred of a plot to keep me going.

Interestingly, the first option in the menu is for online play; but I didn’t go there because I wanted to experience the game at my own pace (as in, I suck and don’t want three other players shouting at me to go faster and aim better) and in the full glory of its carefully-crafted environments (as in, without Xbox Live morons screaming and whining all around). So I can say that the graphics are good, level design is adequately confusing at first then linear once you’ve gotten to look into all the corners, and the sounds are pretty good and creepy, but I could never tell where the action was coming from (and I’m not quite sure if the fault is mine, for sucking, or the game’s). And the demo is quite long enough.

What I can’t say is how good the network code is, or how playable it is with random strangers (not much, though, I’d expect — Xbox Live matchmaking isn’t really great for co-op games), because I certainly wasn’t going to dive back into twenty or thirty minutes of dark zombie action, with no possibility of pausing or quitting before the end (without being one of those assholes who leave online games when they don’t go their way).

Fortunately, I also had the Lego Batman demo to try out and take my mind off oh my god I can hear shuffling in the stairs!

Lego Batman (360 demo)

Maybe I’m more of a Star Wars fan than I like to admit to myself: when the Lego Indiana Jones demo was a disappointment, I decided that the good writers and designers were too busy with the Batman game, but it turns out that I find Lego Batman just as boring.

I don’t know if the Star Wars universe is more appropriate to legoification, or it’s the locations that were interesting rather than the characters (while Indiana Jones takes place in generic jungle, and the Batman game has no connection with any movie), or the idea of Lego games was just more fresh at the time, but I just know that I’m not interested in this one more than I was in Lego Indy.

Plus, the messy controls and stupid co-op AI were acceptable for the first game in the franchise, but you might have expected the developers to improve on them since then.

 

13 November

A redesign for Games for Windows Live

It took Microsoft a while to figure that PC users might enjoy a PC-optimized interface rather than a direct port of the Xbox blades; but, while 360 owners are looking forward to a nice Apple-inspired interface next week with fancy avatars, Windows gamers end up with what looks like a very limited redesign that replaces the console’s visual codes with Vista style. And still no stand-alone application (which is even more jarring, now that the Live interface is Aero-based instead of coming from a parallel gaming world).

More like a “yeah, yeah, we’re still thinking about you” ping.

16 November

The Case for Used Games

A developer who worked on Spore (and Civilization 3 and 4) reacts to the latest anti-used-games initiatives of several game publishers (you can only get Gear of War 2’s revamped multiplayer maps from the first game, or Nintendo’s Wii Speak channel, if you buy the game or the device new, respectively) with several esoteric points and concluces with the one very pragmatic argument that I keep screaming at the top of my lungs every time I hear a publisher say that a used game sale is a lost sale:

The used games market increases the perceived value of new games.

Many factors come into play when a consumer decides if a specific game purchase is worth the money, and one of those factors is the perceived value from selling it back as a used game. In other words, people will pay more for a new game because they know they can get some of that money back when they trade it in at the local Gamestop. Importantly, this perceived value exists whether the consumer actually sells the game or keeps it. Wizards of the Coast has long admitted that the existence of the secondary market for Magic cards has long helped buoy the primary market because buyers perceive that the cards have monetary value.

To be fair, GameStop has extensively screwed the pooch, by actively deterring its customers from buying new games because they get a huge margin on used sales, and they partly deserve what’s coming to them; but, like in the music business, it’s always disheartening to hear the voice of reason coming from a content producer and now that the businessmen governing the industry are physically incapable to hear it.

17 November

Finally got started on Half-Life 2 and I’m gonna die of seasickness.

18 November

First details about Halo 3 Recon

It’s nice to see Bungie taking this opportunity to try a little something new: Recon, the Halo 3 expansion pack that’s actually a complete game and takes place during Halo 2, will have a semi-open world that sounds more like a multi-linear hub world with a few enemies in it, from where you can access four “flashback” missions to investigate the disappearance of your team-mates.

Nothing revolutionary, of course — and Bungie already tried the idea of changing characters mid-game in Halo 2, after all — but it’s still an interesting idea. Judging from the few details we have, it doesn’t sound like it would make sense for the main game to have co-op multiplayer, but the flashback missions could (along with the finale, where presumably all characters come together or something).

And, if the story is delivered through four 30-minute flashbacks, it’s really hard to imagine the game selling full-price. Which is a good thing, unless Microsoft really wants to screw Bungie and sacrifices the game.

19 November

New Xbox Experience

Well, the new Xbox 360 interface is here, and it’s… horribly, literally painful. Not the installation — which was surprisingly quick and straightforward (I originally hesitated to rush and install it, but there have been so many people invited to the preview, with little or no complaints, I figured it must be reliable) — but the interface itself.

I don’t know if it’s my brain, or my screen (I’m using a 17-inch 1280x1024 computer monitor), or my sustained caffeine overdose, but I’m having a tough time with my console right now: Half-Life 2 already made me cower in the darkness and claw at my brain with an ice pick (that’s a known feature, apparently due to the game’s unusually narrow field of view), and now the 360’s interface itself makes me howl in terror.

Once again: literally.

Can’t describe what’s going on exactly, but when I’m scrolling horizontally through panes, there’s something in the way they move that my brain perceives as just wrong — it’s not so much seasickness, like in Half-Life 2, as witnessing a rip in the space-time continuum. Simply something that makes my eyes and brain explode. It’s most evident when scrolling through tall panes (e.g., paging through game details in the marketplace), and I have yet to find anyone having the same… eh, Experience in the blogs and messageboards.

So I’ll just move on to my other nitpicks.

Before I got to screaming and having to look away from the screen whenever I navigated through the interface, the first thing I encountered (dismissing the very pretty intro video that a menu item helpfully offers to replay at any time) was avatar customization… and that was also a disappointment. Or more like a return to my original impressions.

First, the music: considering how much Microsoft has been mocked for imitating Nintendo’s miis, you’d think they’d try to steer as far away from them as they could; instead, the music that plays when you’re customizing your avatar is blatantly, shockingly Wii-ish. I can’t imagine how anyone would have decided that was a good idea.

Second, customization: much more limited than I imagined. As low-tech as the system is, mii faces are almost infinitely customizable because you can move, resize and rotate each feature; no such thing on the 360. It makes sense for the nose and ears to be more limited, because they’re more complex 3D models, but you can’t modify the eye or mouth placement, and you can’t play with textures. Even hair colors are limited to natural hues (although that part will undoubtedly be “fixed” with marketplace downloads), and while you can change your avatar’s height and weight, you can’t make it more or less muscular — not that they could be any less muscular than they already are. And, yeah, that’s both the whole point of the idea, and the biggest flaw: they definitely don’t look Xbox-like at all.

I mean, they’re launching at the same time as Gears of War 2, for crying out loud.

Not to say that I don’t like the new interface: I always thought that it looked good, and I still do (here’s hoping my brain and eyes will eventually get used to it); it looks much more approchable and attractive, although it isn’t that much better organized than it used to be (but it’s more responsive, and you see more of what’s around at a glance, which is good).

I can’t say how good the new party system is, because I don’t play online that much; installing games to the hard drive doesn’t do much for loading times, but I already knew that from Eurogamer’s benchmarks (and at least that means I can be content with my 20GB hard drive); custom theme previews are still amazingly insufficient in the marketplace (the coolest feature is the special backdrops in the friends list, and they’re not previewed); and you’re now able to schedule marketplace downloads from the web, but it doesn’t work right now (and I’m not sure whether it’ll require Silverlight, or that’s just a home page animation).

In conclusion, the new dashboard may bring more disappointment than satisfaction for existing users; but I think it makes the Xbox prettier and friendlier to new users, by removing much of its computer-ness (now they only need to have a downloadable patch that makes the box nicer, too). A clear win.

20 November

Mirror’s Edge PC

The PC version of Mirror’s Edge will be optimized with the PhysX technology NVidia bought; the visual improvements, with particles, smoke, and plastic curtains, are of course a little gimmicky, but very cute — and they give the game’s universe a little of the depth and authenticity that it tended to miss.

I’m not quite sure whether the improvements will be available to all NVidia card owners, or only gamers with a second, dedicated NVidia card on their system (or PhysX card), but I’d assume the latter. And methinks the PS3’s CPU must have had a couple unused cores that could have been given the same task. That’s what the Cell processor is supposed to be good at, after all.

Some info about the GTA IV DLC

For some reason, the long-awaited information is coming out through USA Today — and there isn’t much to go by. (Oh, wait, I know why: because Rockstar can get an article in USA Today, so why the hell would they not?)

First, a date: February 17th. Which is close enough that you could expect development is advanced enough the DLC won’t be more than a month late.

Second, a price: not. Of course they’re not going to tell you yet.

Third, the contents: basically, we don’t know anything beyond the confirmation of a long-standing rumor (actually, I’m not so sure — was it a rumor or officially confirmed?), and the first screenshots; the DLC will abandon Niko and focus on a member of the biker gang “The Lost” (which was encountered in the GTA IV story), and… well, and that’s pretty much all we know. But there are pictures and, at least, he’s not a bearded cliché of a biker. More like a leather-wearing Niko doppleganger kind of cliché.

Oh, and there will be new multiplayers, which, duh. Here’s hoping you can finally choose not to end up with aim-assist enabled in ranked matches.

22 November

More colors for your Xbox avatar

If you remain on the “Change my features” menu long enough, the hair icon will rotate; select it immediately and you’ll hear a chime and be able to choose from a dozen additional hair colors.

Wuh?

Okay, it’s taken me a while, to figure out what was going on: Microsoft thinks the avatars are a cool functionality (most people seem to agree to disagree). And that additional hair colors are a cool treat (more interesting facial features or clothes would be much better). And that the combination of both makes waiting for a minute in front of the avatar screen, doing nothing but listening to the dreadful Wii music in the background, ready to pounce on the “A” button when the icon rotates, a cool Easter egg.

I’d posit that it’s not.

And the colorful colors are dull.

 

By the way, Microsoft has confirmed that the forthcoming avatar updates, bringing new clothes every two weeks until the Avatar Store is available next spring, will be free. As you could already have inferred from the fact that there would be new clothes, but no Avatar Store yet. Hence the “confirmed.”

25 November

Dead Space (360 demo)

Um… yeah. That doesn’t look like a level cut from the beginning of the game; I’m getting mauled, killed, and frustrated by the weapons, although maybe I’d have gotten used to them if difficulty had been ramping up more progressively.

So no rating from me here; I’d say it’s a bad demo that doesn’t say much about the game itself, but then it’s never been a game I actually wanted to play, so I wouldn’t know.

PC gaming still has a thing to say

First, Bethesda’s announcement of a free “Garden of Eden Creation Kit” (which I know is a clever name from reading about the history of past Fallout games) that will let owners of the PC version of Fallout 3 “[build] landscapes, towns, and locations [along with] writing dialogue, creating characters, weapons, creatures, and more.” Not that the concept is new (I needn’t tell you that the modding community is pretty strong… and wasn’t there something similar for Oblivion already?), but it’s enough to make some gamers regret buying the console version (in which case, they should probably have known better from the start).

 

Second, a demonstration video of GTA IV PC’s video editor, which seems quite full-featured and streamlined (the only drawback being that I don’t think you can record more than 30 or 40 seconds of footage at a time — from everything I read, you can’t just say “start recording now,” but only save a buffer to disk, which is more appropriate for FPS post-game debriefing than a machinima creation engine).

There are going to be a lot of “home movies” taking place in Liberty City next year. And I’m wishing so very hard right now I had a PC. A good one. (Although I’ve been disappointed by the few editor-made videos Rockstar released last week; the graphics don’t seem any better than the console at all.)

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