Monday, March 24, 2014

Castlevania Lords of Shadow 2 - Agreus section....done in 45 minutes

Playing through a big chunk of this game currently and I really have a hard time believing this got scores as low as 6/10 and 4/10. The game is pure spectacle and while it is no longer the 2D game most game veterans are familiar with, it is a good if appreciated as a pure action game.

With every action beat I'm reminded of the God of War series, but I think this game just feels more fluid and smoother than that game. There's a lot more technique to fighting since there are various combinations you can do with the shadow whip, the void sword and the chaos [knuckles? gloves? can't remember it's official name]. Also, you can't just mash mindlessly since some enemies are well armored and you need to switch between weapons to do any real damage.

The game has a ton of boss fights and each one of them is epic thanks to the really nice soundtrack. I kept thinking of the first game and what I liked about that one as I played this. To think I actually ALMOST missed out on this game thanks to the wonderful paid community of game reviewers on the Internet. Konami should have sent everyone a check.

Anyway, i got through what many were saying was the most frustrating part, the Agreus stealth mission. It really is a crazy hard level, but it isn't impossible if you use everything you have to figure out the solution. Maybe Konami should have clearly spelled out what THING you have to use to get past this part. But even if you use that THING it's still quite hard, but not the kind of difficulty that would get me to quit playing. As I finished it I realized that oddly enough, the game mechanic was fair and you just really had to play it patiently to win.

Took me 45 minutes to beat that section. Took Kotaku 4 hours. Maybe they should fire the guy that reviewed LOS2 and give me the job instead.

I'm further in the game and there is another really tough boss fight---really hard to say anything because I don't want to spoil anything....that said, you really have to master character movement and use all your available tricks to win in this game. I really like Castlevania, Lords of Shadow 2. It's just unfortunate that the game is ridiculously underrated.


Monday, March 17, 2014

Retro Gaming - An Interesting Movement

Having undertaken a few weeks of hunting down my older gaming consoles, cartridges and CDs, I learned the hard way the consequences of not taking good care of your stuff, no matter how seemingly irrelevant they are at the time. It was an interesting experience to say the least. You wouldn't believe how 20+ years of ignoring an old piece of electronics can do to it.

In the case of the Super NES, it turns out that (and I don't even remember this) we had 2 SNESes in our house. Maybe this is explained by the fact that I have mostly brothers with me. So maybe, back then, there wasn't really much sharing going on with the consoles and some guys wanted to play sports games and there's this other guy (me) who wanted to play those RPGs.

I didn't find my OWN SNES games, well, I didn't find a good majority of them. What I did find were my brothers' games. It was a good thing though that some really important games like Final Fantasy III (VI in Japan) and Super Street Fighter II were recovered. It took a lot of alcohol and cotton buds to clean those 20 year old cartridges. Surprisingly they worked fine. But the problem was the SNESes themselves. For some reason, the passage of time had rendered the cartridge slots barely useable. They could read games but only after you stick a thick piece of paper on the front side of the slot just to make sure that the contacts on the cartridges actually touch the metal on the cartridge slot itself.

Other finds include a Playstation 1 (first generation, apparently), a Sega Genesis, a Sega Mega Drive and a Sega Saturn. Yeah, I was a bit of a Sega fan. Just a little bit.

The Sega stuff had lost ALL their cables and controllers, though the cartridges for Genesis and Mega Drive were partially recovered. We ended up getting the missing cables and controllers from the Facebook group "Retro Gamers & Collectors Philippines (RGCP)". A big shout out to the nice and friendly community over there.

The Sega Cartridges were in really nasty shape. Apparently a hive of cockroaches had made a lair of the box that they were placed in! We had to (unfortunately) throw away most of the plastic Genesis / Mega Drive game cases because it just didn't seem very sanitary. At the very least, I thought, best to save the cartridges themselves.

Now this is the weird part about the Sega stuff, other than the roaches. We had found my Sega Saturn CD cases....but all the CDs were completely gone! It was the strangest thing. I was literally asking my own brain to think back to my 10 year old self and think....why would I take the CDs out of the cases?? My best recollection says that I must have taken them all out of their cases and put them in a CD sleeve....and that CD sleeve is nowhere to be found today. If that wasn't what happened, the CDs must have been stolen. But that one doesn't make sense....who would want to steal game CDs and leave the console behind? Unless they didn't really know what they were stealing.

Not every game cartridge and CD was recovered. I think only 40% of everything was found. I had a Sega Steering Wheel (the official one), an Arcade Stick and one of those Virtua Guns for Virtua Cop. All gone. I had Strider for the Genesis. Gone. I had Altered Beast. Gone. There's probably more but I never found all of them.

One time I'll update this post with the entire list of what was found.

The Genesis / Mega Drive themselves, after cleaning, were in surprisingly better shape than the SNES. They could read games a lot better than the SNES after cleaning and the only problem I encountered is some looseness in the video port of the Mega Drive. Not bad for an item that was buried for 20 years.

Playing something that old feels like getting on a real -life time machine. You can somehow appreciate the effort that developers back then must have put into games because they had so little to work with. Also it seems to me that the good old games were a lot brighter and more colorful than today's AAA titles. There seemed to be more variety in the themes and characters. Overall gaming looks really fun, with my nostalgia glasses on.

I would probably write more (and probably will soon) but i just want to say one more thing about this retro gaming "activity". I feel like there's a lot of people out there who are probably going through this same thing. It's been more than 20 or 30 years since the NES and many of the hardcore players who are still playing, like me, are rediscovering the value of older games. Today, everything is controlled by the publishers. There was no concept of 'downloadable content' before. Usually extra stuff is kept in the game as a secret 'easter egg' you can find (or never find at all). Now, developers usually sell extra little stuff like costumes and levels. And they control ownership of it more than we do. Why? Because it's all digital. You don't have an actual disc or cartridge anymore....well there are still disc based games, but notice how there's a big trend towards digital downloads. All it takes is for your hard drive to get corrupted and BAM! You've lost all your games. Yes, you can argue that you can download them again, but it's just extra hassle and imagine if your favorite game company decides to stop offering some of those games for download anymore. They can simply turn off the servers that have those games or not offer some of them if it isn't commercially viable. This 'digital' future of gaming is really troubling and while I do know there isn't much to stop it from happening, i guess the only thing I could do is to appreciate how it used to be. When you bought a game back in the 90s, it feels like it is yours. You don't have to worry about pre-ordering or buying extra stuff like cars or levels or costumes. You just pay for it once and enjoy it forever; well, as long as your media doesn't break.

Once digital becomes the norm, i wonder what will happen to old cartridges and CDs? Will they increase in value? Eventually physical media will become strange to people, and maybe it will increase in value. But I didn't get into retro to get rich.

I just turned 35 a month ago, so I think i get to indulge in a little nostalgia.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Stay awhile, and listen to my tale of woe... Be more careful with your consoles and games, lest you regret it a few years later.

When I was young I had all these games and systems from SEGA and Nintendo. I didn't really think much of them, so occasionally I'd misplace them and never really kept things organized. I'd toss a controller here, an old game there....I'd ask someone to move them to another spot to make room for other things. I didn't think that about 20 years later, I would end up looking for those old things. 

Now the problem is, the people who moved around my stuff are no longer around, so it seems they're all scattered somewhere in my old house (I've since moved out since I got married). There are a few stock rooms in my place and as you can imagine, 20 years is going to build up a ton of junk in those places. Who knows if my old stuff is still there! Maybe the maid threw out some of them! 

So why am I obssessing over classic games? http://classicgameroom.com , for one thing. I just turned 35 a few weeks ago, too. That and seeing how everything is going digital now, makes you realize that the physical game might be a dying breed in today's world. 

And emulation, honestly just never cuts it. The controls never feel right. The way the game looks is just not the same as when you saw it back in the 90's. The original system and its games still have some appeal. 

Remember game manuals?

Yup, those are pretty much dead now. Back then, game manuals were tomes, with a lot of useful info and art. Now while I do care about the environment and understand that's why companies are cutting costs, it really reduces the 'art' side of gaming and it makes today's games feel less valuable. 

And digital games...you can't hold them in your hands. Which is really something that the people of the future are surely going to miss out on.

So tomorrow I'm going hunting for old Sega Genesis, Saturn, Dreamcast and Super NES games at my house. I hope I find something substantial.

And for today's PS3/Xbox 360/PS2 etc. owners....try to keep your stuff organized! One day you'll be like me and completely regret not being more careful.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Thoughts on the current Console War at this early stage

It's good to see a lot of ads for Playstation in Metro Manila. There's this gigantic streamer over at Glorietta today with details on their upcoming PS4 launch tomorrow. I guess if you're a big Sony fan here in the Philippines, times are good. Almost every bit of news out of the gaming press and forums is positive for the Playstation brand, but most of it is positive because of its potential for great games. Great games have not YET arrived for the PS4 but because of things like theoretical perfomance measurements, and comparisons between multiplatform games, it seems the Playstation 4 is winning.

But until we actually see more 'must-play' games, the PS4's success isn't guaranteed yet. At least, in my humble opinion.

On the Xbox front, locally it looks tough for them because of the higher price tag, but out of the gate they have some games considered as 'AAA' by most gamers. Games such as Forza 5 and the latest Dead Rising are pretty high profile in the sense that their past iterations did very well with both game reviews and sales. In the Philippines, though, i think the Xbox is gaining a little traction not because of those games but because of Kinect games like Dance Central. This is purely anecdotal, but mostly I see people here buying Xboxes for games like Dance Central which have a lot of family appeal. It's hard for me to tell if people see the Xbox as the console for FPS games, considering that the same FPSes are on the PS3 already. But then again, it's hard to conclude without any numbers on this.

The Wii U might not be doing very well, at least from my observation, simply because the stores here don't even stock the latest major Wii U releases. I purchased Assassin's Creed 4 a few weeks ago for the Wii U. Thing is, the local shops didn't even stock the Wii U version even if they import from the USA and the game has been out for the Wii U in the US for a long time since then. They only stocked it around after December 25 which is a bit strange, considering that if they want to sell the Wii U hardware units they have in stock, they OUGHT to have had AC4 stocked as well, if only to give people a good reason to even buy it. A lot of people say that Nintendo players only buy Nintendo games on Nintendo platforms, and maybe that is true, which is why Wii U is not doing very well everywhere; the third party support just isn't there. But first party releases from Nintendo for Wii U continue to show that the system is worth buying, because Nintendo games provide an experience you just can't get anywhere else.

The console wars are underway, though there's just too few 'next gen' games on all the new platforms to decide any real winner. You will see a lot of people rooting for one side or another, and that's just the way these things start out. The best part is only probably going to happen after one or two years, when we finally see a more solid lineup out of all three platforms.

I'm severely tempted to buy an Xbox One because of Forza 5 but part of me doesn't want to get it yet because it's so expensive, and there are really just a few games for it. And being a family man doesn't make it any easier to find time to play more games. I guess we'll have to wait and see, then.

Friday, December 27, 2013

So I Went To E3 2013, Saw The New Consoles In The Flesh, and STILL Picked The Wii U.

A year ago it was pretty clear to me that the Xbox 720 (now the 'Xbox One') was going to be my choice going into the next generation. The Xbox just has the better first party series with Halo, Gears, Forza and various other MS only franchises, and it has all the third parties behind it, so I know I wouldn't really be missing out. I've been pretty loyal to Xbox for a long time and while there was a period where I gamed primarily on PS3, the reason for that was I couldn't afford Xbox Live anymore with the changes in my life (with having a kid and having even more bills to pay). I was generally OK with paying for Xbox Live for a long time but there are occassions when I wonder why I am paying a yearly subscription when I am playing multiplayer just for a few periods in a year, or only when a game has working multiplayer for a guy like me living out here in the Philippines where the Internet is just not very well structured locally.

Then, a lot of stuff just happened between that time, and here I am making the choice I never thought I would make. Man, 'the story of my life' is pretty much "I planned to do this --- I ended up with this". And this is the story of why I ended up with the Wii U by the end of 2013.

A very generous person gave me the opportunity to go to E3 2013 this year. It's probably one of the craziest things that has every happened to me (put that up there with "getting all my stuff flooded out because of a typhoon" along with a lot of other life events I can't bring up in this blog; maybe next time). That 'thing' i used to read about in gaming mags and wished our local game conventions would be like....I actually got to experience BEING there. It's crazy. It only dawned on me when I was cleaning up our room and remembered I had all my E3 stuff stashed in this paper bag near my cabinet. As insignificant as this 'stuff' was (it was the free swag they give out at the event), I should really get around to putting all this stuff in a time capsule somewhere, just to prove to myself after 50 years or so that, yeah, I got to do something incredible that probably a lot of other gamers will never get to do. I'm very thankful to the guy that got me to go there. I wish I could talk more about him but maybe it's better to leave it as mysterious for now. It was really an incredible, amazing, fantastic experience to get to go to E3, and if ever you get the chance to somehow go, GO and DO IT! It's totally worth it just for the experience of the thing.

Now I bring up E3 because going there really changed my perspective on this big console launch that happened this year. Couple that with all the information that came out this year about the Xbone which really ruined my perception of Microsoft and the way they're handling this new generation of systems. They almost made their console require DRM. They were going to force us to not buy used games, which is crazy, because not everyone is that rich and not every game is worth buying new. Then there was that short period of time when unsupported countries couldn't even USE the Xbone, which is even crazier. The mere fact that you need to connect it and patch it DAY ONE is not the friendliest way to treat your customers. By default, Microsoft sees their customers as THIEVES, and I really don't like the decisions they've made. Maybe in a few months or so, Microsoft will iron out all the issues they have with the Xbone. Already I've been reading about 6GB patches, and requiring daily updates that are upwards of 1GB each. It's really not appealing to buy an Xbone right now with these kinds of issues.

So while it looks easy enough to get into a store locally and pick one up, I just couldn't do it. I don't want to spend my holiday season installing patches and staring and a 'downloading' screen. I want to play games now and I want the system to work if I'm going to put so much money into buying one.

It doesn't help that this new console doesn't have Backwards Compatibility either. I have a library of 360 games and they'll all end up requiring me to leave the 360 plugged in just to make sure I can still play them.

Now, onto the Playstation 4....specs wise and in terms of public relations, Sony wins hands down. They have what is being touted by developers as the 'best console to code for' with friendly developer tools. In terms of 'power' a lot has been said about the 8GB DDR5 RAM that is installed in each PS4. That's a lot of headroom for future development. They also seem to be fixing all their problems with their Playstation network.

Locally, I really like the fact that I can get a 2 year warranty now if I buy from an official Sony store. That's a huge bonus to avoid any hardware problems the system may have if purchased at launch.

I do have three major concerns about the Playstation 4 which is why I haven't bought one yet.

- No backwards compatibility. This is a big deal to me since there are still some previous gen games I want to play, like the upcoming Castlevania LOS2.

- No major first party releases on launch. I was never a big fan of Killzone and when I saw it at E3 it was the most boring first person shooter I ever watched. It's really, really pretty but once you get past the visuals it seems extremely generic and no different from what the PS3/360 have had.

- Paying for online. I switched to the PS3 at some point in this gen, not just because of the hardware issues of the 360 but also because playing online was free on PS3. I know the PS4 now requires payment to play online. The slightly good news for PS4 though is that the fee doesn't seem as expensive as MS's Xbox Live fee.

So the last choice left is the Wii U. I wasn't a major fan of the controller when I first saw it at E3 2012. But seeing it on Youtube and actually getting to USE it at E3 2013 really changed my mind about it.

The screen on the controller itself is pretty good. A lot will bring up the fact that it's a resistive touch screen, lacks multi-touch capabilities and is playing in lower resolution than most tablets/phones. But honestly, when you see some games running on it, it does look pretty good and does a fair enough job when you want to play off screen.

I saw this console at E3 2013 for the first time in person, running Super Mario 3D World. At the time it was the most different looking, unique game I've seen on all these new platforms. Here I was at E3 2013 spending more time in the Nintendo area than in the Sony or Microsoft areas, because of this very game. It also helped that Nintendo's console had bright looking games that were pleasant to look at, and different greatly from their competition. Gameplay didn't just consist of shooting or stabbing guys everywhere. I've got nothing against that gameplay mechanic, but with today's games it's really common and it's growing stale with me. Practically every game this gen involves you playing as a soldier, saving the world with your AK47, shotgun and rocket launcher. I guess I felt that Nintendo's offering just felt like a breath of fresh air. Maybe I'm just getting old and getting more concerned about what games I can play with my son watching. I can't help it. I do like violent games but sometimes I need a break from them. So Wii U really provides this sense of variety and diversity that I think you can't get anywhere else. And Nintendo's games have great personality and art style, too, so they're very nice to look at and play. They focus less on texture sharpness and putting as much dirt and grime as possible, and focus more on whimsical, entertaining visuals, a literal escape from the drudgery of real life. So realism isn't what they aim for in games---they focus more on gameplay mechanics; less 'Press X NOW!' gameplay (referring to QTEs in most action titles) and more 'hmm, what should I do next' type-of-scenarios in their level design. I saw this with the recent Legend of Zelda Wind Waker HD, where the dungeon design reminds me of Skyrim but is a lot more involved with the puzzles. Less dialogue with NPCs (though they are there as well) and more focus on exploration of big levels teeming with secrets.

I feel like I've missed out on games like this during the past generation. Nintendo seems to still make games in the same style as they are on the SNES or even the NES. Very gameplay-driven and not off to make a game that will rival a film's storyline. You play Nintendo games to 'play' them, not watch them. This is very evident after a round of Mario 3D World or Wind Waker HD. These types of games look harder to design because you have to think a lot more of different scenarios for players to actually 'play' in. Writing a good story is its own challenge and we've seen how most developers really can't do this right, because the story will have a degree of dissonance with the gameplay (example: Tomb Raider 2013 where your character starts out unwilling to kill, then a few minutes later are gunning down every armed thug just to get through each level). There's a certain spirit of 'fun' in Nintendo games that's very difficult to quantify. You know its there and you can't really put your finger on why it's 'fun'.

Other reasons I really like the Wii U right now:

- Backwards compatibility. There are a lot of gems in the Wii library that I haven't played yet, and this gives me the chance to experience them. It should help with those periods where there are no games coming out on any platform i currently have.

- Free online play. Let's hope Nintendo keeps their stance on not requiring players to pay fees for online play.

- Incredibly strong first party games.

***

Reading on NEOGAF there's still a lot of negativity going for Wii U and I can't blame them. Third parties seem to have abandoned the platform so the worry now is the only games you'll get to play on Wii U are Nintendo games.

At the same time, you look at PS4 and Xbone and the truth is, there are no games worth playing on those two platforms yet. Perhaps Forza 5 but from what I've read it lacks features that Forza 4 had and it focuses more on In-App Purchases --- essentially making you pay more after you already paid $60 to play it. I'm not a big fan of this future that Microsoft wants to introduce to console gaming so I really hope they listen to people's feedback and be more thoughtful with what they sell on their online marketplace. I do doubt they will pay attention to people's opinions on the matter, though....they will probably just see people buying the DLC anyway, and think, 'people are fine with DLC!'

So basically , my position on Xbone / PS4 right now is, I will buy them when they have more games to play. Right now it's just 'cool' to buy them, but that isn't a good reason to invest so much money in a console. Nobody cares what console you have at home. The only person that should care, is you. Are there any games, RIGHT NOW, that you want to play on one platform over another? Promises of future games are not good enough for me. Knowing how long next-gen games take to make (usually upwards of one or two years!)...it's really not worth it to buy Xbone/ PS4 now. Also, all the videos/pictures of Xbone / PS4 multiplatform games look no better than their counterparts on 360/PS3. It's just easier to buy the lower spec game for a platform i already have, than to pay more to buy that ONE game on next gen that just has sharper textures.

So yes, I am going to buy a PS4 or Xbone some day. Just not this year.

Wii U is a great investment right now. It wasn't a great investment when it launched. But now, with all the games it has, I think it deserves a push. Hopefully more people bought one this holiday so the third party situation gets better. Already in Japan the Wii U is doing pretty good this holiday season. So at the very least we can probably expect better support from Japanese companies like Capcom, Konami and Square Enix.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Philippines now has XBOX LIVE (based on Major Nelson posting)

I was informed recently that the Philippines is now an Xbox Live supported region. The odd thing is, it's based on a posting by Major Nelson all the way back in October 2013:

http://majornelson.com/2013/10/01/xbox-live-free-gold-weekend-this-weekend/

Starting this Friday (4, October)  through Sunday (6, October) we’ll be unlocking Xbox Live Gold for the below regions. If you are not a Gold Member yet, it’s a great opportunity to try Multiplayer on your favorite games.
Regions include: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Malaysia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Portugal, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Slovakia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Vietnam
Your region not listed above? We’ve got your covered with the following dates:
Oct. 11 – 14: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico
Nov. 7 – 10: Japan
Have fun and I’ll see you on Xbox Live.

Eventually I checked on the net (don't have an Xbox Live enabled 360) and it says that you can pick the Philippines as your country now. I don't know the extent of the support yet (is there a marketplace? Does this affect matchmaking in some way? Can you buy DLCs in pesos?) but apparently this is real, because of Windows Phones and Windows 8 support for Xbox Live. So we kinda got it thanks to some technicality.

This is still good news, so letting everyone know. Give it a try. Maybe it will help with matchmaking with online games.

*****

On that note, there is NO PSN SUPPORT yet for the Philippines.

Sony? Please throw us a bone!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Adam Sessler's Very Strange Comment For Forza Motorsport 5

...is the part where he seems really fascinated by the 'winning credits every time you race' game mechanic.

Seriously, Adam?