Thursday, July 10, 2014

ENOUGH with the pre-order bonus black T-shirts already!

One thing that bugs me about Asian/Philippine console game pre-order bonuses --- those damned black t-shirts.

1) They're always too small [hey guys, we aren't all teens!]

2) They always come in BLACK [which makes their usability quite limited, in my humble opinion]

Enough with the pre-order bonus black t-shirt!

Xbox One - System / Games general review

We picked up a [kinect-less] Xbox One a few weeks ago and have been putting it through its paces. Overall, right now I feel pretty good about this console. But I have to admit, the first experience of buying it is not very good. I'll go with the BAD news first. But do note that it isn't all bad news....

- The first time you bring it home, the console can't work without Internet. That's because it needs an absolutely-unoverrideable mandatory update. Basically, if you get this for your birthday and it's 7PM, expect to actually play games on it around a day or so later, depending on your internet speed.

- The first patch I got for it was around 800MB. This number might have changed by the time of this writing.

- All the launch games now have accumulated patches/updates over 16+ GB in size. Not just Dead Rising 3, which has been reported widely in the media. Even Forza 5.

- My internet at home is PLDT 3Mbps; managed to get all the updates pretty quickly....that's actually the silver lining in this story. Despite the size of the updates, it seems Microsoft's server is very fast at delivering the patches.

It kind of helps that I am a big fan of Xbox from long ago, so I guess you could say I was a bit extra patient with these massive updates/patches. If you aren't an Xbox fan or are a new gamer --- this part of the experience will probably be the most frustrating/excruciating. Especially in the Philippines with our inconsistent internet. Luckily mine was wired DSL, but I can't vouch for users on LTE or wireless broadband. Your mileage may vary.

Another thing to take note is the Xbox One knows how to absolutely take over your entire home network from the moment you connect the device to it. Everyone else's bandwidth will collapse when this sucker is on. Me and my wife have no idea how the console does it. It just does. But this problem only seems to manifest if you are downloading an update or a game, or playing online.

It would have been nice if the Xbox One would let you play any game the moment you unbox it. Requiring people to get an update the moment they open it isn't really very consumer-friendly.

That said....that's just about my biggest complaint about the system.

==========

Forza 5 with rumbling triggers. Killer Instinct with dedicated servers and no lag....once you actually do start playing with the Xbox One, it's a pretty good experience. A lot has been written about the resolution of games on the console. The only game I know of where the resolution is noticeably low is Dead Rising 3. But the low resolution is likely because they threw in so many zombies and did their best to keep the framerate at about 30FPS. And the game itself is just so much fun that you hardly notice the resolution at all when you get completely absorbed in the game (the game does an extremely good job at this).

Xbox One is also pretty good for general entertainment purposes, at least if you like browsing Youtube. It streams very well from Youtube, though this can (as mentioned earlier) take over your home internet and deprive everyone else of good internet access speed. We have a Wii U as well and for some reason, Youtube HD videos on Xbox One look a lot better than they do on the Wii U.

There's a very real focus on entertainment features on the first screen of the dashboard, with Microsoft itself supplying numerous featurettes, trailers, etc, just right there on your dashboard. They even curate video uploads from gamers everywhere and compile them on a separate app on the Xbox One, which is great for just relaxing after a marathon session of games. The 'Upload' app is a very entertaining little addition to the Xbox One dashboard where you can watch other people's gameplay, and the content is normally edited with voice/narration and other effects to make them worth watching. Microsoft itself creates content out of the uploaded videos, creating top 10s of people's latest uploads and these can be pretty good since you don't have to watch everything and still get a few minutes worth of entertainment out of it. Xbox One also has a Twitch.tv feature but I haven't used it much....I recall trying it once but basically Twitch is you just sitting there waiting for something cool to happen, unlike with pre-recorded videos which are all 'cool things happening', all the time.

I've dabbled a bit in the Xbox One's ability to record game videos. It seems to be doing this all the time, in the background, and you just have to call up the Game DVR to fetch your last 30 seconds - 5 minutes of gameplay. It was pretty useful to save some really memorable moments in a game....like the other day I beat this irritating boss on Dead Rising 3 and I got to show it to my wife in the morning (who was out cold the other night because the kids were pretty exhausting to put to sleep!). I also recorded a really good replay in Killer Instinct where I made a good comeback against an opponent online. Once the really good competitive games come in, this DVR feature will be very useful for a lot of people who like to analyze their gameplay or just simply relive a cool moment in single player games, like a big boss battle or a monumental plot-twist.

The console also has a really cool suspend/resume feature that literally lets you get back in the game within seconds. This is really handy for me as a dad....when the kids need to be put to sleep i can just put the Xbox One on standby, put the kids to sleep, then fire up the Xbox One, then I'm exactly back where I left off. No more need to start a game from the very beginning, no more need to always watch my saved games. This feature is extremely useful and I wonder how we lived without this feature in the past!

With the launch games there seems to be a lot of focus on season passes and DLC, which is really unfortunate, but most community reaction online to this (for all the consoles, Sony/Microsoft/Nintendo) is quite negative. So I think this is a trend that will see some improvement over time. With Forza 5 for example, it's really unfortunate that a lot of the other cars are DLC. This is a matter of appreciating what you get with the full game, though. I think most of the generally 'iconic' cars are not DLC in Forza 5....they just made DLC out of the more esoteric cars, but there are some in there I would have loved to try in the game without needing to pay for it, like the LaFerrari. Last E3, Microsoft seemed to be dialing down on DLC, promising no DLC for Forza Horizon 2 at the start. I really hope they stick to it.

That said, I've been using the console every.single.day since we bought it. The last thing I have an issue with is MP4/AVI/video playback support, which it doesn't have....I can't play videos from a USB or hard drive. Really unfortunate. The PS4 has the same issue, though....I really hope they resolve this problem and let people play their own content. Overall, once you get over the download requirements and the patches....the console is really good, the controller is more comfortable than the original 360 controller....it's a great system.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

E3 2014 : Nintendo Takes Over

Instead of just having a two hour press conference for game journalists, Nintendo decides to take over E3 by creating a SERIES of events on the first day to highlight their upcoming games for both the Wii U and the 3DS. What we got wasn't a short conference but an 11 hour odyssey, focused on the games and explaining DIRECTLY to gamers the best features of their upcoming titles.

What Nintendo lacked in graphical horsepower, they made up in finesse, and they did this in spades. Knowing full well their console can't handle the gigantic textures and polygon counts of their competition, their first party games focus on providing cartoon-like graphics with very speedy animation and bright colors. Hardly a shade of brown, grey or red was to be seen during Nintendo's Digital Event.

Nintendo showed off some spectacular visuals for their upcoming games: specifically, the Legend of Zelda and Super Smash Bros Wii U were just impeccable  in quality. Their work looks to be a triumph in art, design and animation, and the best part is, their work just looks unique compared to everything else out there. Like their recently released, ultra-polished game Mario Kart 8, Smash Bros and Zelda look to be getting the same sort of care in terms of design and aesthetics, even without the same graphical power as the games coming from Sony or Microsoft. Nintendo's games hold their own, as GAMES. They aren't trying to be movies; they aren't trying to ape Hollywood in terms of presentation. These are games for gamers and it really shows.

Their most unique title in my honest opinion was Splatoon, a game where you don't just shoot your opposition; you shoot the walls, the floors, everything....to basically out-color the other team. This kind of thinking in game design is what has always put Nintendo on top. While it is true that it doesn't always work out well for them, when it does work for Nintendo, as a gamer you get to appreciate the variety in interactive experiences that this provides.

I spent a good chunk of my morning watching their invitational Smash Brothers tourney, and I thought it was very well organized and well executed. Their final match was really fun to watch thanks to the commentary of some people that Nintendo hired, i think, from the fighting game community. They even had Geoff Keighley to host and Reggie himself was there, too. They basically made E3 a huge party for gamers, and that is just fantastic. E3 is supposed to be a 'trade' show but Nintendo knows that, at the end of the day, E3 is all about winning the hearts and minds of gamers, and they took that to the next level....they took it further than Microsoft or Sony has.

So I'm at a complete loss here. I would have given the award to Microsoft for best show, but damn, Nintendo really went above and beyond. I suspect they're going to stretch this out for the next two days. They mentioned Starfox but didn't show it....why? I suspect they will show more in the coming two days. Same for the other projects they mentioned Miyamoto was working on. Overall, for gamers everywhere, pay attention to Nintendo's upcoming shows....they're really fun, focused on gaming, and they really help demonstrate that there's more to games than just running and gunning.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

E3 2014: Reaction to Microsoft and Sony Press Conferences

Just sat through the two major press conferences for E3 2014. Without Nintendo yet for comparison, but perhaps I'll write again if anything notable comes up during their 'digital event', which is a few hours from now. (It's going to be today at 12 midnight, Philippine time)

Microsoft had a strong showing. While I will admit they didn't have anything mind-blowing, or the type of 'shocking' announcements that these types of press events become memorable for....they did bring a good list of exclusive games. Most notably, the game that grabbed my attention (and seemingly everyone else's) is Sunset Overdrive. Part Dead Rising, Part Infamous, Part Ratchet and Clank....the game is very colorful and a big departure from the usual dreary, bloody games we get year after year. Yes it still has some adult-level violence but at least the presentation isn't the usual 'guy-in-military-fatigues' fare that all companies seem to be churning out for consoles lately. Sometimes I wonder if console gaming is a huge recruitment program for the US military....

Anyway, yeah, Sunset Overdrive is the most interesting game in all of E3, at least right now. I'll wait until after Nintendo's show before I say it's the game of E3 this year. But it's damn close to winning that award in my mind. 

The other notable game on Microsoft's roster is Forza Horizon 2. It's notable not just because it's a pretty, pretty game....it's the fact that MS has been able to churn out two quality racing games in the span of two years. That's pretty fantastic if you ask me. Today's game development cycles are ridiculous, spanning years on end and numerous delays. Microsoft being consistent with the release of games in the Forza series really shows their pedigree in game development in that genre. I recall Forza 5 (at E3 2013) was a really well made racing game compared to Driveclub, and for them to have no delays compared to Sony with their 'launch' racer is quite an accomplishment. 

Lastly, there's the Master Chief Collection. Largely spoiled by the internet, everyone knew it was coming but hearing it from MS is pretty fantastic as well. You have every Halo game, remastered in one big package for 60 bucks. It's a great deal. Looking forward to getting that when I pick up an Xbox One. 

Now, onto Sony's show. They put a lot of money into 'the Order 1886', which is a really beautiful game. But I can't help but compare it to the reveal for Gears of War way back in the days of the PS3 vs. 360. The Order feels like Gears of War in terms of what they want to accomplish. But in terms of delivering the pretext, the storyline, why you're playing the game.....Sony didn't do a very good job with that. What they showed is a very beautiful, photorealistic game....but they didn't add more to the message. They should have explained who this moustached-guy is, why it has to be in 1886....what's the point of it? Yes there's a zombie-werewolf thing over there, but why is that? I recall with Gears MS went out of their way to say the monsters in Gears were these things 'that came out of the ground and destroyed most of the world...' Yes, it's rudimentary storyline, but what is good about MS's presentation for Gears is that they do a good job providing the backdrop for everything. I wish Sony did the same with the Order, but they didn't and that leaves The Order feeling like a very generic shooter game. 

Then there's Bloodborne....it looks like its going to be like Dark Souls. So count me out. The game's too hard. I'm a father now and I ain't got time for that....

Finally, Uncharted 4. This is a 2015 game. I bet it will be delayed to 2016. 

The other games they showed were indie games and multiplatform games. I hate it when these guys show multiplatforms. (i mean, i hate it when BOTH MS and Sony show multiplatforms in their press conferences). Why? Because these type of games don't really add more value to their platform since you could always buy it on the other console. The third parties that are pitching these multiplatform games are already sending out a good message on these games; i don't think the console makers have to show them unless the game is exclusive to them. 

Anyway, Batman Arkham Knight was really interesting. The gameplay with the Batmobile looks like fun and the city feels much larger than in previous installments. It was a good showing for that specific game, but in terms of adding more value to the PS4, it doesn't do much. 

Overall, I want to be more positive about the Playstation 4 than I ended up being after watching their E3 2014 show. I think right now if you want great multiplatform games, get a PS4 to get the sharpest version. But if you want great exclusives, get an Xbox One. Thank God they got rid of their DRM policies....

Nintendo's show is a few hours from now. I hope they show something worth talking about. Otherwise maybe this would be my last posting about E3 2014 this year. 


Monday, June 02, 2014

Mario Kart 8! ... !

Mario Kart 8 is the Wii U's strongest title to date. Based on my three days of play with the game over about a dozen or more hours, both in single player and multiplayer....this game is an absolute blast. The graphics are gorgeous and everything about it screams good design and art sensibility. I can imagine some people might be turned off by the cutesy graphics and Nintendo characters, but underneath all that is a well designed GAME.

Multiplayer is the absolute star of the show. With my Philippine-quality internet I get into races in literally seconds. With past games on both Playstation Network and Xbox Live, matchmaking can take 15 minutes or longer. I don't know how Nintendo did it. Maybe Mario Kart is just simpler to code for since it just involves race cars? This game doesn't have the usual issues with driving games on laggy connections. Things like teleporting cars, cars going much faster than you....I have seen none of this happen while I was playing this game, and quite frankly it's shocking. I'm pretty much used to having problems when playing ANY networked game but Mario Kart 8 seems to have none. You can play against nearby opponents in Asia, or opponents in the US and Europe, and none of the matches feel any different. It's like they're literally in the room with you. No weirdness. No lag. No slowdown. 

It. Just. Works.

That feature alone sells this game. If you have only five minutes to play, this game lets you. If you want to keep going for hours and be sure that you're always racing, you can do that too. Mario Kart's multiplayer is pretty incredible that it manages to do this with 12 players all at once, and you can even bring a friend to play in split screen, VS. online opponents, who can do exactly the same! You get into full rooms very quickly, and you get to enjoy some great action every time you fire up this game. 

Yes, the single player is there when your connection is down and you need your racing fix. It's barebones but at 150cc (the highest setting) it can be pretty challenging too. Track design is spectacular and no two tracks feel the same. There's a lot of really cool stuff in the game's 32-track roster (that is a LOT by racing game standards....). 

Overall, this is a game that's pretty hard to ignore. I only wish that the Wii U had more frequent releases. But this game, along with Super Mario 3D World, make the system a must own for anyone who truly loves games.   

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.