Sunday, July 26, 2015

Games in 2015: Summer

June:
Heeeeere's J...urassic Park...y!
This month in Seattle was met with record high temperatures, making sitting inside playing games on a big heat-generating tv a bit of challenge. That said, I got to three of the Telltale Jurassic Park episodes. Each part is ~2 hours each, and is a nice fast gold trophy run.

Another title I started for 30 minutes was Time and Eternity, a hand-drawn, animated RPG. This game was painfully boring, and consisted of 2d jerky character movement over horrible 3d graphics, in a poor battle system. The explorable areas are separated by scenes of talking, talking, talking. Your character envies a cute little dragon because IT gets to bathe with...his wife. That's right, a husband is jealous of an animal that gets to see his wife naked. This game sucks, and stings extra hard because I actually paid money for this, and put it ahead of the 80 free games I have waiting on my PS3 hdd.

I....don't know either. Fun, though!
Lastly is a beautiful anime-sprite action/JRPG called Battle Arena Princess. The story is Japan's usual mix of crazy, cute, and inappropriate comments in some culmination of a very disengaging story. The gameplay is sidescroller beat-em-up, with certain modes where you fight soldiers in the foreground and command an army in the background.

July:
Since I'm traveling, I also started some 3DS games: Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright and Kid Icarus. Prof Layton is a mystery/thriller game with dialogue and cutscenes to power the story from puzzle to puzzle. Some of the puzzles are ashamedly easy, but others are a nice challenge. It's just that the puzzles are so contrived in the story: a character doesn't trust you until you can navigate some witches through a maze. A baker lets you stay the night at her house after you arrange bread in a certain pattern and discard the extra. In typical anime fashion, the girls are all smokin hot, but that's more of an observation than a complaint. The Phoenix Wright side of the game has you reviewing a witness' testimony line by line, and objecting when something s/he says doesn't matched up with your inventory of evidence.
It's pretty satisfying when it works!

Cheeky as hell...
Kid Icarus: Uprising is awesome except for one thing. The controls are really screwy: it's a rail shooter, so you use the circle pad to dodge and move, and the L-button to fire, resulting in hand cramps for me. You aim with the stylus. You also drop the 3DS and curse the developers for shitty controls. The music is great, the graphics are cool, and the banter between Pit and the Goddess Palutena is a hoot! There's a sliding difficulty scale that has you bet hearts (points) to get more hearts, to buy weapons n stuff. The level design is also reaaaaaaly awesome, especially when you go through Pandora's Labyrinth as the creepy, aloof entity becomes the butt of a lot of jokes. It's nice to have a hero that talks some shit!

August

Burnout is such a better game!
I caved in and bought a PS4! My first title was free: Drive Club, in all its 16GB glory. I figured a car game would be a great showcase for new-fangled current-generation graphics. Boy, was I wrong. This game looks about as good as Burnout Paradise on PS3. The cars look alright, but the surrounding environments are bland, and the racetrack spectators look horrid. I didn't have much hopes for gameplay, as Burnout Takedown and Revenge are pretty much the only good racing games that exist. Going in loops just isn't that fun if your car doesn't take damage and you can't ruin your other racers' days by nudging them into a pillar, bus, or cafe front!

Bringing the battle to Seattle.
Now, I've borrowed the super-enjoyable Infamous: Second Son. This game is a little more pretty, but everyone knows it'll be another few years before the PS4 comes out with a game that breaks barriers in technical capabilities. The story has some nice touches! Instead of a generic city, or NYC-based territory, the game takes place in a miniature Seattle, and your lead character-Delson Rowe-is Native American. It is so refreshing not to play a run-of-the-mill white character, and his loyalty to his tribe has a minor impact to the overall story. The antagonist is a woman who appears utterly ruthless until you get to the very end. Delson is able to absorb powers from people, and also learns their backgrounds and motivations. When you finally see her story, it's not really enough to deter you from wanting to get even, but it is a nice bit of depth to take in. I finished the good karma playthrough; now I'm doing Expert mode and am on the evil path.

Next on my list is Final Fantasy XIII.3 Lightning Returns. I played the prologue and it's such a different game, which I hope will grow on me.

American Airlines - no dignity, no pride, no class.

I know that we Americans are the best in the universe at hyperbolizing, but American Airlines is the worst airline in existence. Here's the letter I recently sent to their email, because agents no longer talk to you directly. Ohh, and heads up, US Airways and AA are the same company.

"I'm 22 hours late to my destination. 1) My 6pm got rebooked to 6am the next day. Then, 2) that 6AM *takeoff was aborted on the runway (USXXXX). I was rebooked to a later flight that was supposed to give me a 5 hour layover in PHI, but 3) [US XXXX] has gotten delayed over an hour so far, and the airport kiosks aren't reflecting that. There are no agents here, either.

*While I appreciate their safety concerns, a company that just pocketed $1.7bn in 3 months shouldn't be flying broken planes.

"At least it's the weekend, but we're starting to encroach on my work and wages. To you, these are isolated events. To me and several other customers, this is one long frustrating ride from an airline that makes headlines about record profits. I absolutely can not imagine this being an acceptable business practice, and feel that I have absolutely no recourse against you, AA/USAirways. I want you to know that you can get away with this kind of treatment without consequences, but it would be really nice if someone read this and tried to make your service match your image. I see you have the big money, but from an experience like this, it looks like you could spend it helping customers get from point A to B at least somewhat closely to the times we see when we purchase tickets."

This guy knows what's up: No (au bon) Pain, no gain!
As I write this post, I overheard someone say that the departure agents at the front of the airport were told them to sit at the gate by 3 just in case they can make up time.

It's also worth noting that my originating flight from Seattle to Baltimore, via Alaska Air, was flawless. It fit the schedule precisely, and there were absolutely no hiccups, like flight should be. If this ends up delaying enough so that I can't go into work on time tomorrow, this will reach the point where it really was more viable to pay more money on Expedia to get assigned a different airline. I've already had to feed myself for an extra 2 *meals.

*good, delicious, fantastic, wonderful. I got to eat Au Bon Pain (not found in Seattle) and Popeye's (not good in Seattle).

Sorry, people. This is incredibly whiny for a relatively minor inconvenience to my otherwise stellar life. However, if no one talks about it, then nothing will ever get done about it. Accepting that businesses can walk all over us peons isn't how to get them to change themselves. Why not call them on their pledges, promises and mission statements?


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Bring it on, gaming industry!

Now that developers are delivering complex and realistic contexts for us to experience, I have a couple gripes with modern gaming.
Thanks for the three choices...

One thing that makes me roll my eyes is games that don't allow you to assign your own buttons/controls.
I appreciate the developers carefully thinking out a scheme that works optimally for most players. However, I think the characters' actions are designed before the input. This means that unassigned, custom controls are something so painfully simple to implement in control options that I can't think of a good defense for not including them. It's like only having a red house available as your option. At some point after the house was built, there was a stage where the house wasn't painted, and passing along the burden of painting it is something easier for the builder to do. 

That's what daddy likes...PS4 lets you
manually reassign for the system

Except I see at least half of the games I play with no customization. Even more insulting is when a PC game does this. To tie this gripe into something more meaningful; there was a story of a disabled gamer who was able to rig his own device to play games. The catch was that he required those games to have assignable buttons. So, not only do I look at shooters that use the shoulder button as fire instead of the trigger with absolute distaste (I'm looking at you Spec Ops: The Line, and Uncharted), this guy is getting robbed of these games entirely because game studios are taking a "Daddy knows best," approach. Well lay off the crackpipe, Dad, R trigger/R2 is the only way to fire! Lack of customizable controls doesn't bring any benefits, but including them does. Gamers who really like your control scheme will use it; others like me may lose favor; and people like the McGuyver of Disabled Gaming don't get to experience some games at all.

Yep.
The second tired thing in gaming is the white male lead. There are articles about it here, and PBS Game Show did an episode about it. That doesn't mute my voice, though. I'm tired of playing in worlds with only white people. I live in Washington State, for crying out loud, I know what white people look like. Some of my favorite games are lead by white characters: God of War and Uncharted stand out. At least God of War's Kratos was voiced by a black person, and the Uncharted series delivered really interesting, flushed out characters, and also had foreign languages.

But I knew Master Chief was white before the absolutely unnecessary face reveal, and most of the western RPGs are just wall-to-wall whiteness. Even if you can design your character to be black as midnight, usually the voice is so obviously white.

I guess only light skinned humans survive into 2100s...eesh.
There is also that core of people that love to call street black language "racist," even though quite a bit of people sound like that. It's one thing to have the only black character in a story sound like that and drop random n-bombs; it's another to have a character who speaks the language in his or her own way because of their background. Or whatever. The Mass Effect Trilogy was disappointing in this regard: all 3 games, my superficially black character sounded like Captain Janeway from Star Trek Voyager, not the Kenyan princess I had imagined. This is my complaint as a black gamer, but I imagine other minorities feel a bit peeved playing the same racial stock over and over.

My last gripe is that game development focus is all screwed up. While Microsoft and Sony are too busy converging on PCs, Nintendo is the last company trying to innovate. New IP is rare, and the last two generations are mostly franchise favorites. The difference is that Nintendo always tries to make gameplay center around the latest gimmick in their systems. For example, while PS4 games are touting 60fps and Xbox one holds the crown for awesome marketplaces, Metroid and Zelda have you using the Wii wand to aim your arm cannon and swing your sword. The Wii U versions use the Wii U pad's screen for inventory and map management, while all the action happens on your main tv. Nintendo's gameplay additions fundamentally change the experience, whereas the Sony and Microsoft counterparts simply look prettier.

smarm alert!
The Xbox One Kinect is so well-integrated; voice commands work well, motion capture is great, but so many titles don't utilize these features because Microsoft was too worried about chasing dollars to try and become its own console. Sony's Move sucks, and they should have given up on motion-capture this generation and focused on controller-in-hand games.

The biggest shame is that console gaming development is shifting in Japan to mobile games, and all that aforementioned innovation is on its way down the toilet. I cry about this into my pillow at night.

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