Monday, February 14, 2011

Early Impressions: VtM: Bloodlines

First and foremost, Vampire: The Masquerade is a horror game, and “Bloodlines” excels at this.  “Bloodlines” barely rises above its many bugs (even after the latest fan patch) to deliver a compelling new vision of an RPG. 

The Prince sends you on your way

Layered throughout run-of-the-mill quest lines (fetch this, kill this guy) are truly unique scenarios.  A fetch quest at a haunted house becomes a battle to free a trapped spirit, an investigation quest requires you not to kill guards despite how easy it could b

e, and tracking people are genuine dialogue based mysteries.  Yet even when there is a simple fetch and kill quest, but there's still care placed in how you do it and what you encounter.  As I invariably do in a lot of these, I want for diplomatic solutions, some of which are not possible (though sometimes it is, making it all the more displeasing). That being said, violent actions have consequences, and the game rewards you not by kill, but by quest conclusion. In other words, if my character sneak pasts a few gangbangers to do your job, you'll receive the same experience as you would if you ran in bearing fangs with guns blazing.

MMOs can learn a thing or two from this model.


My character went through a haunted house, was ambushed for predatory politics, hunted, killed a serial killer and blew up a warehouse protected by animalistic Sabbat vampires.  That was just the tutorial. 
 

The graphics are dated and buggy.  It won't even work in windows 7 without the fan made "True Gold" patch.  Animation is sloppy, some work seems rushed, and even on easy, combat is unforgiving due to poor controls.
 
TheresseDespite being rushed and limited, all of these characters feel fleshed out.  A lot of real thought went into them, even npcs that last less than a scene. The baron of Santa Monica is an excellent introduction to both vampire politics and the world if of darkness. A serial killer from a sidequest has his motivation and psychosis spelled out in the subtext of his first few lines.  The anarchs all have distinct identities and histories, and the Camarilla revel in being enigmatic and mysterious.  This game remains almost as deep and interesting as your average Pen and Paper session.

While I’m only a couple of hours in, at the moment, it’s recommended.

 

Cross posted with our new tumbler page.

Starcraft 2 Unleashed!

Starcraft 2 comes out today and God have mercy on our souls. The game is arguably the most ubiquitous and longest lasting since, well, chess. Competitive Starcraft has become something close to the national sport of South Korea and has endured for ten years past its release. It’s quite popular over here in the West, as well, and is poised to become even more popular with Starcraft 2’s improved graphics and state-of-the-art multiplayer experience. VGChartz’s sales projections are about two million units in the first week, so it’s likely that Starcraft will be sticking around for another ten years, at least.

I was able to sample Starcraft 2 during the open beta and I have to say I’m impressed with the thoughtful multiplayer presentation and balanced gameplay. I’m not very good at Starcraft, so it was discouraging to play the original and have an expert with a new account (most likely created to stomp noobs) come in and rush me before I could even decide what I wanted to build. Now, though, you play a series of placement matches of various difficulty and you’re assigned to a league appropriate to your skill. It was so nice to be able to have some casual fun in the bronze league while the experts in the platinum league had their serious duels of skill and talent. If you win too many games, you’ll get upgraded to the next league more appropriate for your growing ability. Best of all, it’s only one account per copy of Starcraft, so no one can create a fake account for the purpose of torturing the less skilled (a practice known, hilariously, as smurfing).

The game itself is a nice balance of old and new. There are no earth shattering changes from the original. You still have Terran, Zerg, or Protoss gathering minerals and Vespene gas to turn into death dealing units. The units are still designed with strength and weaknesses in the classic RTS rock-paper-scissors design. The design is clearer, this time around though, with each unit’s focus clearly spelled out in the tutorials and generally more streamlined for fun and exciting battles. Just as an example, they’ve combined the Terran transport unit and the medic unit to create a medivac, a flying guardian that sweeps soldiers in quickly and then sticks around to heal them during the battle. If things aren’t going well, you can pick up your remaining dudes and heal them as you make an escape. It’s a great innovation and a smart expression of the Terran’s role as masters of utility and defense. All that said, I doubt I’m going to pick up the game any time soon, a month of the Beta before it all got old for me.

I didn’t get to play the single player campaign but, after looking through the previews, it looks worthwhile. A sprawling tale told through lush cinematics, in=game moments, and, most surprisingly, between-mission point and click adventure style encounters a la Myst. Blizzard has a reputation for going the extra mile, so no doubt they’ll have some value, but without having played it I couldn’t tell you how much is hype and how much is real. Also, the story of Starcraft tends to run a little on the generic side, so I wouldn’t go running to your Gamestop without a love for balanced RTS gameplay.

The most interesting thing, to me, is that Blizzard is breaking the game into three parts. The core Starcraft II game, Wings of Liberty, focuses on the Terran chapter of the single player campaign and allows for the full multiplayer experience. Each successive expansion features a campaign from another alien races and adds units and features to the multiplayer game. I think this (and the online store that will sell premium maps, mods, and who knows what else) is a brilliant and diabolical ploy from Blizzard that will make them so much money that they’ll move Blizzard HQ into a pyramid made of gold on Manhattan Island. The multiplayer experience is the most successful and enduring element of the game and each of the expansions will be a requirement if you want to stay abreast of the scene. Yet, due to the single player element, they’ll be able to charge more for each expansion as it is more akin to an independent game rather than a traditional expansion pack. It’s true that the original’s Brood War expansion had an single player campaign but the difference is in the extra mile they ran to provide the cinematics and the in-between mission moments. I have no doubt the Wings of Liberty campaign will end in a dramatic cliffhanger that demands you shell out an extra ten or twenty bucks more than you would have for a gussied up expansion.

My purchase will depend on seeing how the first player campaign feels. If it’s as grand and compelling as the hype, It might be worth it but I think I’d prefer to indulge in the inevitable Starcraft 2 collection at a reduced price so I can experience the story without feeling I’m paying extra for multiplayer that has already grown boring. Still, it cannot be argued, it’s a big day whenever a new Blizzard product is released.

Still unaddressed: at what point do you actually start crafting stars? Giant plot hole.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Writers Guild Awards: Video Games

Video Game writing has become legitimate (although it really always was), as evidenced by their inclusion in the Writer's Guild Awards

VIDEOGAME WRITING 

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, Story by Patrice Desilets, Jeffrey Yohalem, Corey May; Lead Script Writer: Jeffrey Yohalem; Script Writers: Ethan Petty, Nicholas Grimwood, Matt Turner; Ubisoft

Fallout: New Vegas, Creative Design Lead/Lead Writer:John Gonzalez; Writers: Chris Avellone, Eric Fenstermaker, Travis Stout; Additional Writing: Tess Treadwell, George Ziets, Jason Bergman, Nick Breckon, Matt Grandstaff, Will Noble, Andrew Scharf; Bethesda Softworks

God of War III, Written by Marianne Krawczyk; Additional Writing by Stig Asmussen, Ariel Lawrence, William Weissbaum; Sony Computer Entertainment

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands (Wii), Writer:Benjamin McCaw; Story Dialogue Editor: Marianne Krawczyk; Ubisoft

Singularity, Written by Marc Guggenheim, Lindsey Allen, Emily Silver; Additional Story and Writing: Jason Henderson, Adam Foshko, Michael Cassutt; Story and Script Consultant: Adam Foshko; Activision

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II, Executive Producer-Writer: Haden Blackman; In-Game Script: David Collins, John Stafford, Cameron Suey; Additional Writing: Tid Cooney, Ian Dominguez, Tony Rowe; LucasArts

You may have noticed some of the best writing from last year missing from the list. Why?  You kind of have to participate.

Now the general process of video game writing is very different from that of a screenplay or teleplay.  In most cases, the gameplay, level design, and story is already decided.  The writer is usually employed to add dialog and make sure everything hangs together.  The scripts are also much, much, longer.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Nintendo shows off Super Mario Brothers Design Doc

Press D-Pad to Junp and the world was changed forever.

Rock Paper Shotgun DC Universe Online review

When you get to the quests themselves… well, this brings us back to what I said at the start about MMOs. DC Universe disappoints me most because it does so well at being different, only to end up shrugging and shovelling out stuff we all know is crap, simply because it can. Seriously. In a game with so much great content, so much imagination, so many options and so many things to do… why in the name of Superman’s crimson pants are the vast majority of the open world missions, “Kill 20 of this. Use 10 of these. Oh, and collect 10 of those,” type stuff?

Yep, I had this impression of the Beta, and told them as much.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

"Almost Art" - Tale of Tales lets us know what video games are not.

Michael Sermyn, one half of Tale of Tales has already sparked a lively discussion on the Escapist. I find the entire piece interesting - not specifically "anti-game" and certainly NOT "pro-game", but a call to look at the potential of the interactive experience.

This link isn't an endorsement, but a discussion I simply found interesting.

Global Agenda on Sale at Steam

DIY Gamer has a nice profile on Global Agenda.  It's on sale for $7.50.  Thanks to the "Friends with Benefits" promotion, I joined the game for $15 myself, after the generous free (up to level 12) trial.

I write the following as a genuine fan, and not a journalist or promoter.

Hi-rez studios is a small MMO that's has no subscriptions.  They offer some standard freemium offers such as booster packs and the like, and the initial software purchase is normally $30.  It's a small little MMO with a great community of players.  Rarely are there players with an anti-social attitude.  Indeed, the game encourages the formation of guild-like "Agencies" that can be made up by friends made early on in the game.  

Global Agenda is set in that typical post-apocalyptic world of which other Unreal sci-fi games are so fond.  It draws from so much science fiction to create a nicely fleshed out sandbox of an MMO - there's a war between robots and disparate human mercenary gangs known as "agencies".  That's it.  Everything beyond that is player driven. 

Levels 1-19 is a tutorial of sorts.  It introduces the mechanics of the game, the basic conflict, and the desert that surrounds Dome City - many players' base of operations.  

After this, there are selections of Player vs. Environment missions, Player vs. Player, raids, and the like.  However, where the game shines is in Agency vs. Agency (aka AvA).  The meta-game is a risk-like game in which agencies compete for territory.  More territory means more power, of course, and hen struggle goes on ad infinitum.  

Despite this competition, the community is largely friendly and open to teaching newcomers.  Largely this is due to their desire to recruit and train good future agents.

It's an excellent design, and fun to play.  However, there are some slow periods, as with most multiplayer games. 

Note:

A friend of mine and fellow Zircon agent wrote his own review of the game.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Extra Credits on ME2 and Moral Choice

I haven't finished covering Mass Effect 2 and its Moral Choice system. For the most part, it falls short of what I would personally want, but Floyd and Co. below illustrate a place where it (mostly) works: