Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Titanfall - the closest to a 'Halo' like multiplayer shooter experience on Xbox One

I will admit, I was initially doubtful of Titanfall. Having tried the beta last year, it didn't feel right to me. I tried it on PC at the time and I had a few minor gripes:

- Your Titan went down pretty quick in the beta. 
- There was this weapon called the 'Smart Pistol' which shoots enemies without aiming
- The parkour didn't feel very critical to the gameplay (at the time)

Couple that with the knowledge I had that it won't have a single player campaign, and I ended up dismissing the game entirely. 

So when it finally came out on Xbox One  I wasn't the first in line to buy it. In fact, I bought Titanfall during the recent Black Friday sale where it cost $13 to buy the game, the season pass and all the map packs together. It's a huge steal at that price, so I went ahead and picked it up.

Now note that I picked up this game after I had played the much hyped Destiny from Bungie Studios, Battlefield 4, and Halo Master Chief Collection. These other FPSes were good in their own way, but each one irritated me a bit with their multiplayer implementation:

- Destiny - requires you to grind to be formidable in multiplayer. You can't really have several characters that are viable for multiplayer UNLESS you play all of them religiously....it's a huge time sink and with my priorities to my family and job, I can't give the amount of time needed to have a character worthy of multiplayer. You always have that niggling feeling your character is dying because of equipment or lack of skills. Which is pretty irritating. And the netcode is just OK; not terrible, but not the greatest either. 

- Battlefield 4 - quite laggy when I tried it. Maybe it improved now but I've already sold the game. 

- Halo Master Chief Collection - the single player is excellent, but the multiplayer...oh the multiplayer. Why doesn't it work!!!?? This is a true tragedy for FPS games. This is like the granddaddy of all the multiplayer games we have now on console. And 343 really botched it by overpromising and underdelivering. The list of issues for multiplayer for Halo MCC never ends and it seems to me that it only favors players in the USA right now (in terms of getting you connected to other matches). Maybe I'll blog about this in the future but I'm not very pleased with 343 Studios right now. 

Now, back to Titanfall. This little game that I thought I would just spend around 10 minutes with (for the price i got it for) has now spent about 20 or so hours of my time. And it is glorious. 

This is, i think, the BEST ONLINE MULTIPLAYER SHOOTER ON CONSOLE today. And there's only one reason for this:

The netcode.

Titanfall's netcode is possibly the best netcode I have ever experienced on a first person shooter for consoles, ever since Halo 2 or Halo 3 on the original Xbox. I don't remember feeling like the fights are unfair, or that lag is making me die faster than the other players. 

Titanfall boasts that they use dedicated servers to accomplish this, and once you experience it, it's something else. It's the gold standard of the multiplayer FPS experience. You shoot something, it will get hit, and it will probably die when you expect it to. You get shot at, and you won't die so quickly if your connection is terrible. In my case, I don't really live in the best place for internet connectivity (Philippines) so my bar was set pretty low for a multiplayer-only FPS on console. That's actually the reason I didn't even consider it when the game launched. How would I enjoy an FPS with no single player in a country that has terribly bad internet in the first place? 

And after having played this for 20 hours, with netcode this good, they've made a believer out of me. The netcode and the dedicated servers completely change the game and make this far, far better than the games I've already played now on the new current-gen (Xbox One). 

Other things I love about the game:

- The titans don't die as easily anymore. 
- It seems the smart pistol isn't as strong as the beta version. 
- Parkour-ing genuinely feels right and very useful for handling various situations. 
- the ridiculous amount of action on screen when there are titans, pilots, grunts and all the effects going off everywhere at a smooth, consistent 60FPS. 

I feel pretty sorry for not buying this when it was still 'hot' now. That said, it still has a healthy user base. Probably not as huge as Call of Duty AW's installed base, but enough to get in a game in seconds. 

Yes, seconds. I am so amazed at how they handle matchmaking. They get you in a game very, very fast, and there's practically no waiting, even in a server that's not very populated. I'm not sure how they did this, it's almost as if they warped the time-space continuum to accomplish it but it's brilliant. They get you in any game if they can't get in you in a start section for a match, and once you get in, it just works. 

It's really all about the shooting, whether you shoot at AI grunts, enemy pilots....this game just looks and feels right as a multiplayer shooter. And the Titans add a lot of depth and complexity to encounters since you have to watch out for them and use the environment to your advantage. It seamlessly moves between indoors, outdoors, high elevation, low elevation....just amazing. And a lot of epic moments can happen while you play. Even ejecting out of your titan after a heated fight can be exhilirating every time it happens, because there is just so many possible interesting scenarios that can occur. There was one scenario where I was shooting another titan, we both ejected, then i chased after the pilot in that titan, then won the firefight with him. There was another where the titan i was fighting had ejected, and as the pilot was in the air, i shot him down and got the kill. There's many moments just like this and when it happens to you, it feels cinematic, it feels good, it feels like something you cant get out of any other game right now. 

Unfortunately, Titanfall came out in March 2014, and because of this, a lot of media outlets are going to ignore nominating this game for shooter of the year. I think this game deserves it. It has set the gold standard for multiplayer shooters in terms of netcode, performance and sheer excitement / FUN you can get out of every game you play. Destiny shouldn't win the honor of shooter of the year. Yes you get 300+ hours out of it, but what exactly are you doing in those 300 hours? Grinding for items and you don't get a good item every time? Diablo handled that better. Destiny doesn't deserve recognition for bad design in extending game longevity. Titanfall, however, does deserve it, for the consistently amazing online experience, and I doubt any new player is going to come off playing Titanfall without enjoying it on their first run, or without getting some awesome experience they'll never forget.

Titanfall IS the best multiplayer shooter of 2014.




Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Xbox One does NOT require Internet; local Philippine stores spreading false stories about Xbox One

I read online that (unfortunately) most people are still not aware about all the changes that MS implemented for the Xbox One since E3 2013. As we all know, E3 2013 was a disaster for Microsoft and it permanently tainted their reputation with a lot of gamers.

I do follow the news daily and I know that Microsoft has made amends. I think more people have to know that a lot of their policies were already changed, even before they actually released the Xbox One in the marketplace.

What irritates me a bit is how one of the local stores, Datablitz, seems to be promoting these false notions. I heard that their clerks would tell potential buyers that the Xbox One requires a patch every week, and, in native tagalog, they would say "yan ang sakit nung Xbox One"....which is a really stupid, incorrect thing to say. Do their sellers know the products that they are selling? Do they even want to sell them and make any money? Regardless of what platform they favor, it's a pretty stupid thing to say when you're trying to make a sale, when you spread false information.

At the very least they have to keep updated with what's going on in the console game business. I find it ridiculous that they're still spouting these falsehoods long after most of the more informed gamers have read about these facts on the Internet. All it takes is a simple google search.

Sadly, there would probably be a lot of players who don't follow the news on games daily and will be misled by what Datablitz store clerks would tell you. So in an effort to get the word out, I'm writing this blog post.

http://news.xbox.com/2013/06/update

- Xbox DRM is no longer true - you don't need an internet connection to use your Xbox One daily, but you DO need to connect it for the first time, when you first buy it. This is because it will download a patch that will make your console's firmware updated. You can't immediately play the Xbox One when you get home after buying it. You need that first download. After that, you can go offline and play your games offline if you like.

- You do NOT need to download a patch weekly on Xbox One. You only need it when you first unbox the system/bring it home. Firmware updates for Xbox One exist but the release timing is not periodic. Sometimes there's an update, sometimes there isn't. If you don't have an update, it doesn't matter; your games will still work offline.

- The Xbox One does NOT require you to be online all the time to play games on it. The Xbox One completely works OFFLINE (unless your game is Destiny, which requires Online and is not really Microsoft's fault but is the basic design of the game itself)

- You can buy/sell used games. Proof: my copy of Dead Rising 3, Ryse and Shadow of Mordor are all used games and they all work, online or offline.

 - Yes, the fact that you have to read this is Microsoft's fault. But what's done is done. At the very least, consider that they actually listened to feedback and overturned ALL of their horrible policies even before they released the system officially.

- Xbox One will work outside of supported regions - proof: I'm playing it.

- Xbox One DLCs work and can be downloaded outside of supported regions - proof: i bought the Dead Rising DLC which turns the game into a brightly colored arcade game.

So there. Spread the word and get your facts straight.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Forza Horizon 2 Review: Automotive Nirvana

There is a place where you can drive endlessly for miles, as fast as you want, as much as you want. Where you can purchase expensive sports cars relatively easily because of all the money you get just by driving around for fun. Where you can go off the road in your McLaren P1 and not worry about the consequences.

This is Forza Horizon 2. And as you can probably tell by now, I'm absolutely smitten with this game. 

Every car fantasy that inspired classics like Daytona USA, Ridge Racer, and even Gran Turismo has culminated into this one ridiculously amazing racing game. You're put into a huge, open world where you can drive wherever you want, and participate in various types of races in different sorts of weather and all kinds of road environments. You've got the choice of over 200+ cars, and can tune, upgrade, and customize their look all you want. All sorts of colors, paints; you name it, this game has it. This game has all kinds of environments --- city type environments, countryside type environments, beach side, mountain ridges, hills....it's just all so overwhelming.

I've been playing this for almost two weeks now, and it still blows me away when I fire it up. This game is using some mezmerizing spell for its graphics; I can't explain it, it looks real but it doesn't look real --- it's a midpoint between game graphics and full on CG when you're driving. We've come very far in video games, my friends. Hard to believe Microsoft managed this in their second year. They've built Forza Motorsport 5, which does turn heads and is still a very well designed racing game, then they released THIS game, Forza Horizon 2, the year right after. Even if it took them more than a year to make Horizon 2, that's incredible project planning right there.

The multiplayer works. The single player works. I got about 3 game crashes and that's about it when it comes to game 'bugs'. The driving physics is Forza 5 - lite but it's realistic where it counts. It's definitely an arcade racer but it's the best kind. Subjectively speaking, the controls are perfect; they give you a challenge when you go off-road, and they still ask you to work for your wins. The game has a 'rewind' feature which makes things easier but not using it or turning it off gives you bonuses, so you can go all hardcore and enjoy it as it is meant to be played. If you're a guy like me and you have a life and responsibilities, the rewind feature is welcomed and appreciated.

Whoever directed the teams that made this game deserves a raise, a vacation, a garage with all 200 cars from the game and a palace. It's just so good and have a hard time putting this game down. Granted I'm a racing game enthusiast (somewhere between arcade racing fan and sim fan --- not either of the two extremes) but this game just wins me over and I can't help but gush about it. 

I feel sorry for the ones who have not played it. You'll never get a taste of virtual automotive heaven.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

My take on the never ending resolution debate

I generally don't agree with most gamers when it comes to having games always be 1080p. 1080p is nice to have, but it's not something I need for my game to feel worth it. I'd rather be sure that a game plays smoothly, or that a game has a sound gameplay mechanic, than be actually counting individual pixels on my screen. 

That said, I believe that Digital Foundry is doing a huge disservice to gamers by creating ridiculous expectations for game graphics. I just find it a bit irritating that most game discussion now boils down to resolution debates, and whether you're getting value for your money or not. 

If you're still doubtful that your spending on a new console was a waste of money, it probably was. You move on to a new generation of systems to get to play the games you want, not to count the pixels and declare one company a winner over another, or get to trample down on another person because of their choices. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Destiny: A Review after Level 20

Destiny is the hot topic of the week in the games industry. A lot of people are saying that basically it was overhyped to be this fantastic, large-scale game, only to turn out to be a shooter with MMORPG elements. I have to agree with some parts of what most are saying: advancement in Destiny requires that you play the missions over again. Finishing the game is a good thing to go for, and when you do finish it, you'll notice the whole single player campaign is about 16 hours long (or even less, if you're good as speed runs). But the impression I got from the 'end' of the game is that it isn't the real end, and that this game is something like a TV series or a saga that you would have to follow for a few weeks or months to get the most entertainment out of.

So, in the time that Destiny is asking us players to wait for them to release more story content, they're asking us to play the missions over again, with different play mechanics or harder challenges. From this point forward, a lot of people are going to tune out and begin their complaints. But I'll never understand what is the true worth of that $60 that you spend on a game. Is it supposed to be 40 hours every time? Is that even a justifiable request of any game developer?

Because when you create something, inevitably you will have to make compromises. Either you get your game out in 3 years or you get your game out in 10, and be dated, like Duke Nukem Forever. Maybe sometimes gamers are just too entitled when it comes to what they expect out of their games. While publishers can do a lot of nasty things to players, like endless paid DLC, on this front I think it's the players that are being unfair already.

But I suppose where Activision / Bungie made a mistake was with their ridiculous marketing promises. "More than a game!" their trailer said. That's just too far out of a promise to make, and when you give that kind of a statement, players are going to remember that. I think Bungie could have been more upfront about the kind of game they are making instead of overpromising like that. They have done it in the past (remember Halo 2 and their E3 demo?) and I'm surprised they never learned from that experience.

So, on both fronts, there are mistakes on both sides which are cause for the disappointment with the game. I just say that, take Destiny for what it is. It's a really good shooter that handles combat very well. It has a good item system which can be as addictive as the Diablo series. It isn't really an MMORPG, even if some of its mechanics feel like it should be. If you're thinking about buying Destiny, know that it is a shooter with action RPG elements; don't go into it expecting Mass Effect, because it isn't that way at all. Know that you will be asked to play the levels over to make the most out of developing your character. And, subjectively, replay of the missions can be fun (because of the level design, the enemy placement, enemy variation, and their artificial intelligence). I'm enjoying jumping between replays of campaign missions, strikes with other players, and competitive multiplayer matches. Getting new items is a nice bonus to keep on playing the game, and watching your character get stronger and stronger over time is also enjoyable as well.

Of course I know that eventually I'll move on from Destiny; there are more game worlds to conquer and I don't know how well Bungie has really planned out their weekly 'updates' to this game. But as a single product, if you managed to avoid all the ridiculous marketing somehow, it's a good game that has some really enjoyable moments. It does lack extra characters and mission variety, that is true....but the gun battles and the level design is just fantastic, and I wish more FPS games would do it the way Bungie does.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Toxic Games Community. Is there any hope left for it?

Gamescom 2014 just happened and there's been a lot of anger over the Rise of the Tomb Raider going exclusively to Xbox One. That was yesterday. Today we found out that it's not really a true exclusive but a timed exclusive.

So in the past 24 hours, all I've been reading on Neogaf is just page after page of vitriol loaded posts. It's pretty upsetting. Personally, it doesn't bother me that ROTR is going to be exclusive to any platform at all. It's just one game. It's a great series, and we all know how iconic Lara Croft is. But still, the level of anger and the stuff people are saying online about it is kind of ridiculous. In the first place, if the game was fully exclusive to Xbox, it's not like Playstation owners don't have enough games to play anyway. They've got practically every multiplatform title coming for them, supposedly in full 1080p so they already get the best versions of everything. They've got Uncharted 4, which is probably going to be out at about the same time, and will be practically the same game (with the same level of respect and pedigree that it always gets)

So why are Playstation people so upset? Hell, I even saw PC people upset, which is really stupid, because usually anything Xbox exclusive is practically Windows exclusive, so if they exercised JUST a little bit of patience, I'm sure they will get the game eventually. At first I thought it was a bit funny to watch the rage but at some point it's just too much. I can't imagine being someone at the marketing departments of any game company or at Sony, Microsoft or *gasp* even Nintendo. The level of anger and hate they're getting on a daily basis, it must be tough to read that all day. And it's not even about something that important. It's Video Games, man. It's entertainment products. It's expensive, luxury items, hell it's about toys. But people were calling out Microsoft and calling them the Great Satan of our time for doing what is essentially a simple business decision.

There's nothing immoral or unethical about buying exclusivity for ROTR on the Xbox One. In fact, I'd say it was a smart move on Microsoft's part to help move consoles. They're clearly losing against the Playstation (though compared to Nintendo, they're doing just fine). So what's wrong with digging into those coffers and buying exclusivity? It's also a good move on the part of Crystal Dynamics. Tomb Raider, over time, has lost a bit of luster and is not really as big a deal as something like the Uncharted series. I think they wanted their series to get more attention by associating with a specific platform. In many cases, that does work. Look at how Gears of War blew up by associating with the Xbox. Originally that game could have come out on everything, but if it did that, I don't think it would have been as special as it turned out to be today. Also, focused development has its perks where a game developer doesn't have to make a game work on every platform available. One hardware for one game can make the game be the best it can be. Just look at Nintendo's exclusive games and how they all just surpass what is on the PS4 and Xbox One in terms of art style, polish and flair. Exclusivity does have its benefits.

I really don't see what's wrong with the whole ROTR exclusivity deal. This thing has been happening since time immemorial in this industry, and usually it doesn't really do that much damage when one game is on one platform and not another. I think, the worst that can happen to any major game console maker is to lose multiple third parties, like what is happening with Nintendo right now. Playstation losing Tomb Raider would not have caused much of a dent to that console's installed base.

But the level of anger on forums is insane. I read one theory that Microsoft was out to 'destroy console gaming' by doing this, which is a hell of a stretch. I read another one about how Microsoft doesn't care about gamers....well, maybe that is true, the truth is they only care about money. But that is true of all of them. That's the other thing I don't get. People think these developers do this because they 'care' about gamers. Well, the truth is, they are doing this to put food on the table. It's all about money and that isn't going to change anytime soon. It's just strange how some people associate games companies like their family members or like their 'friends'. They aren't your friends, guys. They're there to take your money. So treat them as such. Try to be objective about what these companies are doing. They're in business to make money. So instead of losing your cool and posting so much anger online (which you'll just share with everyone else and just make everyone feel miserable), the solution is simple: if you don't like something, don't buy it.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

RYSE: SON OF ROME - A worthy tribute to 300, Troy, and Gladiator

I got this game a few weeks ago and I'm really enjoying it. As a showcase for the Xbox One it definitely works; it demonstrates what 'next-gen' visuals should be all about. Great art direction, extremely sharp CG level graphics...this game is just beautiful. And it's a first gen game! Imagine how good Xbox One games will get after 2-3 years. It's mind boggling to think about after seeing this game.

The combat reminds me of old games like Golden Axe but with hyper-realistic graphics, great voice acting, sound effects and music. This game is a like a big tribute to major films like 300, Troy and Gladiator...it just has a lot of great moments that make you think back to those films, but---this game manages to have a character all its own. A lot of the action involves button mashing and good timing with QTEs...it just feels good to play. Maybe some would say it's repetitive because there are just a few enemy types but I don't know....have they played Double Dragon? Final Fight? Enemy types in those games are also repetitive and taking them out is always done the same way, but why didn't we complain about repetitiveness back then, and we're complaining about it now? I think the button mashing part --- it is gameplay, so long as you feel that the game gives you good feedback. Compare this game with something as mindless as, say, Dynasty Warriors. In that game, the enemies just literally stand in front of you while you turn them all into Chop Suey. In this one, the enemies fight back and they put up a good fight (perhaps i picked a higher than normal difficulty level, though....but still, I am really enjoying it and it never felt poorly balanced even with the higher setting). 

This game is pure entertainment, it's watching a film but really being a part of it, too. There isn't any story branches or decision making, but that's a different genre, this is all about action, action and more action. Maybe don't play it all in one night. Play one chapter a night and you will enjoy the experience. 

I read in the news that the developers of this are having rough times financially. Which is a real shame. It isn't their fault....actually the failure of Ryse in the marketplace is what is causing their financial woes, and that failure was really due to Microsoft bungling their launch last 2013. A lot of really good games (include Dead Rising, Forza and this one) were ignored by many gamers because many were really angry with Microsoft and their ridiculous DRM plans. Including me. 

I'm glad Don Mattrick is so fired. Ok, he resigned....but still, it's his damn fault that the Xbox brand is messed up right now.

Ryse could have been the new 'Gears of War' for Microsoft. As a first gen game this is far better than Kameo or Perfect Dark was for the 360 way back when. It's well polished for the genre that it's in, and it's really entertaining. I highly recommend this game to anyone considering an Xbox One. 

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.

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.