Friday, March 11, 2011

Change Your Bookmarks

For whatever it's worth, I'm moving this blog over to Wordpress.  Everything here is already moved over there, but all the new stuff will be going up there.  Thanks!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

shootin' stuff

The floodgates are starting to open; good games are starting to trickle forth.  Let's pick up where I left off.

1.  I finished Stacking.  I'm not 100% finished with it - I still have a bunch of hi-jinks to do and a few special dolls to collect - and I hope that if the release calendar dries up a bit, I'll find the time to go back and do those things.  It was wonderful and charming and unique and clever and everything I'd hope it would be.

2.  We had company at one point over the 3-day weekend, and so we got in some 4-player You Don't Know Jack, which is really the way that game should be played.  The game can be played with the buzzer controllers from Scene It! (another fine trivia game), so if you're short on regular controllers (or if your buzzers are collecting dust), break 'em out.

3.  I'm starting to get very excited for Dragon Age 2, so I decided to dive back into my PC's version of Dragon Age: Origins, which I hadn't picked up in months.  I'd tried to play the first game on the 360, but the game was ugly and the controls were weird - it was as if the game wanted you to believe it was an action RPG, but it wasn't at all an action RPG - and gave up.  And then, of course, Steam had the PC version on sale, which I quickly bought... and then didn't play, either.  Anyway, whatever; I finally finished the prologue and now I recognize where I am from my first playthrough.  The game definitely feels better on the PC, but it's still not quite what I want.

4.  What I want, really, is much closer to what the Dragon Age 2 demo appears to portend.  I played it last night, and, lo and behold - it actually is an action RPG, where button presses correspond to real-time actions, and it looks great and plays great and borrows just enough from the Mass Effect 2 playbook to pretty much guarantee that I'm going to love the hell out of it, assuming I have time to play it.

5.  I ordered both Bulletstorm and Killzone 3 from Amazon, because I am an idiot and figured that the $20 credits I'd get for ordering them would come in handy for all the must-have titles I'm going to be ordering later, conveniently forgetting that these two games were still full price.  Which to play first?  Well, the 360 was already warmed up from the DA2 demo, so I figured I'd give Bulletstorm a go.  And it went pretty well, until the game locked up on me in the second chapter.  So then I switched over to Killzone, which is jaw-droppingly beautiful - it can seem like you're playing a first person Final Fantasy game, with guns - and that was fun, although the PS3 controller can feel like an alien artifact when it comes to shooters, for me.  And so I got up to a certain point where I kept dying, and I decided to switch back to Bulletstorm.  And as it turned out, the game had locked up for me at the exact moment before the game starts becoming... the game, with the scoring system and the craziness.  And once I started I couldn't look back.  It took a few minutes to get used to the controls again - KZ3 and the PS3 controller had messed me up - but all I can say is, Wowee Zowee.  Fun as hell.

6.  Finally, because I am an addict, I bought Bejeweled Blitz for XBLA this morning before I left for work.  I've been playing Bejeweled in some form for at least 10 years now, maybe longer, and I'm pretty good at it.  Let me rephrase that:  I'm fucking awesome at it.  I'm an average gamer in most things, but when it comes to Bejeweled I am a genius.  I generally score in the 200K-300K without boosts without really trying, I generally end a week's tournament in the mid-500Ks, and my all-time high is in the 900Ks.  So, please consider my expert opinion when I advise you to KEEP your 800 points in your virtual wallet and DON'T BUY BEJEWELED BLITZ FOR XBLA.  It SUCKS.  The control scheme is totally fucked up and unintuitive and there's no option to change it back to the original, vanilla scheme that was featured in Bejeweled 2.  I understand that playing Bejeweled with a gamepad isn't as elegant as it is with a mouse, and I further understand that Blitz places a special emphasis on speed, and as such I can at least conceptually appreciate that they were trying to make the control scheme quicker.  But it doesn't make any intuitive sense, and as someone who has played more games and sunk more time into Bejeweled than probably every other game combined, ever, I shouldn't have to feel like a goddamned novice when I'm playing a game I've already played a thousand times. 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Quick Hits: Stacking, YDKJ

Sorry I haven't posted in a while.  Also, sorry that every post I write these days leads off with an apology.  I've been super-busy lately, and haven't had very much (if any) gaming time, besides playing with my iPod to and from work.  (Flick Golf is a fun, cheap time-waster, by the way.)

Last night, though, the planets aligned; 2 games arrived, and my wife was out of the house.  So I got to sit down and play a bit of both Stacking and You Don't Know Jack.

Let's start with YDKJ, because there's not very much to say.  If you were a fan of the original games on the PC in the late 90s, then you will love the shit out of this new version.  It's pretty much the exact same experience, which, when you think about it, is an amazing testament to how great the original games were.  I hope that more people on my friends list pick this up; I'd love to get some online play going.  Or, alternately, I'd have more people over to the house. 

Stacking is the latest downloadable title from Tim Schafer's DoubleFine Productions, and as such, it is beautiful and charming and original and wonderful.  Not necessarily laugh-out-loud funny, but that's not really what the game is about; the game is about solving puzzles, and the puzzles are solved via Russian stacking dolls.  It's hard to explain without actually having the game in your hands, so just go and download it and we'll talk later.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Dead Space 2

I feel the need to apologize to Dead Space 2.  It's supposed to be a scary game, but I was never, ever scared.  But I think that's my fault, not the game's.  I think.

See, I played it on the easiest difficulty setting.  As I never finished the first game, I was more concerned about making sure I actually finished the game and saw the end of the story than anything else; but I think that because I removed a great deal of the challenge, the stakes were never all that high.  I finished the game in a little over 8 hours and aside from a few jump-scares, I never really felt any dread

The thing is, now that I've finished the game, I suppose I could go back and play it again on a higher difficulty setting; but what's the point?  I explored the hell out of the game on my first go-round, so it's not like I would see anything different.  I'd simply have less ammo, less health, and tougher monsters; that elicits a big fat "meh" from me. 

Indeed, the more I think about it, the less impressed I am with the game than I was when I was actually playing it.  The game is atmospheric as hell, and is certainly a lot more colorful than the original - there were a few sections that reminded me a bit of Bioshock, actually, and I mean that as a compliment.  But when I think about it now, I realize that there's a great deal of backtracking, and most of the city environments aren't really all that interesting, and the story never really did anything for me. 

But, of course, I never finished the first game, so a lot of what DS2's story beats focus on didn't necessarily resonate with me.  It's too soon in the game's life to start dissecting the story without totally spoiling it, so I'll just say that the main character's frequent hallucinations (not a spoiler) and primary motivations didn't really mean anything to me. 

Ultimately, though, regardless of the difficulty, a game needs more than just monsters spawning behind you in order to be scary.  DS2 does a lot of things right, but it's missing something vital.

Friday, January 28, 2011

getting it back

So it's been quiet here at SFTC, and for that I apologize.  Things have been pretty quiet on the gaming front since my last post.  There wasn't anything new to play, and I wasn't necessarily doing all that much on the backlog, Steam sales be damned. 

But then Little Big Planet 2 came out, and then Dead Space 2 came out, and now the 3DS and the PSP2/NGP have been formally announced/dated, and I find that I've got some things to say.

LBP2:  I finished the single-player campaign earlier this week, and started to dabble with some of the community-made levels.  The game is as charming as ever, and the single-player campaign certainly did its best to illustrate what the game is capable of.  And it should be noted that the game's website,, is perhaps the best game-related website ever made - the ability to look at community-made levels on the web, add them to a queue, and then have the game automatically have your queue waiting for you the next time you log in - it's so elegant and well-made that it seems downright bizarre that it hasn't been done before.  If I have a problem with the game, then, it's that I don't think I'll ever have the time/patience/imagination to make my own levels, which makes me feel like my experience with the game will be artificially cut in half. 

Dead Space 2Finally got this via Gamefly yesterday, and I'm about an hour in.  I never finished the first game, though not for lack of trying, and so my first playthrough of DS2 is being done on the easiest mode, because I'd really like to make it all the way through and see where the story goes.  As the game is apparently very friendly in terms of incorporating previous playthroughs into new ones, I can see myself giving it another go on a higher difficulty level.  I'll say this - I'm loving the hell out of it.  I do scare pretty easily, when it comes to movies, but games don't really scare me - sure I'll get startled (like when the dogs jump through the window in RE2), but there's a big difference between being startled and actually being creeped out and scared.  So, then, no, I've not been scared.  And I wasn't scared in the first one, either - I never finished it because there were sections that were just too hard, or I didn't have enough ammunition, and I got frustrated and gave up.  The first hour of DS2 has been thrilling, however, and certainly startling, and there's been a few times where I've said things out loud that I normally wouldn't say.  I'm very much looking forward to diving back in.

As for the new handhelds...

I'm certainly intrigued by the 3DS, there's no doubt about it.  But I'm not really all that excited about the games that have been announced, and ultimately that's the most important factor.  Hell, right now I play my DS maybe once or twice a year, if a good puzzle game comes out, and I can't justify spending $250 on a snazzy piece of tech that I'm never going to use, especially since I'll be getting a Verizon iPhone 5 later this year.  And I really don't want to spend $250 just to play up-rezzed ports of N64 games, no matter how snazzy the ports are. 

Similarly, I'm very intrigued by the new PSP - very snazzy tech, and a more hard-core lineup of titles (I'm especially interested in that new Uncharted title) - but I don't know that there's any one must-have title out there that can help me justify the purchase.  And I'm already wary of Sony's ability to sustain a handheld - I was excited to buy a PSP, sure, but I got bored with it and sold it back within 8 months, and I haven't missed it at all.  And if the plan is simply to port over 360 and PS3 titles, well, that's not necessarily what I want out of my handheld experience.

I generally play handheld games either on the subway or in bed.  I never have the sound on, and I'm not really all that interested in narrative.  I want something to do for a few minutes here and there while I'm unable to do anything else.  My iPod Touch has been excellent at filling that void, and the $1 - $6 price point is very appealing.  So, again, it's hard for me to justify $300 + $50-60 per game, when the games they're offering are games I'd rather play on my HDTV. 

I still think I'll end up with a 3DS, eventually.  I think I can wait for the inevitable redesign and price drop, though.  The PSP2, on the other hand... I don't know.  The PSP2 is the machine I'd rather have, frankly, but I need to know that Sony can maintain a healthy game library for more than 6 months.  Otherwise, I'm just going to stick with the iPhone.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The 2011 Lust List

If, after reading this list, you still need further proof that 2011 will be one of the best years in gaming history, then, well, I don't know what to tell you.  Get a new hobby.  2011 is going to be ridiculous.

The GOTY Front-Runners.  If that's not a murderer's row of kick-ass, I don't know what is.  That's five (5) highly anticipated sequels with impeccable pedigrees, and if these games follow the pattern of their previous installments - i.e., the sequels are leaps and bounds ahead of the original, already-incredible games - then we're all having nervous breakdowns by the end of the year. 
  • Uncharted 3
  • Portal 2
  • Elder Scrolls 5
  • Mass Effect 3
  • Batman: Arkham City
The Must-Plays.  Look, something's got to miss the top 5, and I had a hard time putting any of these games on this list and not the list above.  I fully expect all of these games to be amazing, and I'll most likely start pre-ordering them after I'm done with this post.
  • Gears of War 3
  • Dead Space 2
  • Rage
  • Forza 4
  • Little Big Planet 2
  • Deus Ex: HR
  • Ico/Shadow of the Colossus HD 
  • The Last Guardian
The Definite Rentals: I'm curious, and I want to know more.  I'm a little wary of the SSX title, as I'm hearing rumors that it will incorporate similar thumbstick controls to "Skate", which is the exact opposite of what I want an SSX title to be
  • Bulletstorm
  • Killzone 3
  • Crysis 2
  • SSX: Deadly Descents
  • Test Drive Unlimited 2
  • You Don't Know Jack
  • Brink
  • L.A. Noire
 The Great Excuses to Fire Up The PC:
  • Torchlight 2
  • Dragon Age 2
The Game I Am Very Much Afraid Of:
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic
If These Games Make Their 2011 Release Dates, I Will Be Impressed:
  • Max Payne 3
  • Duke Nukem Forever
  • Diablo 3
  • L.A. Noire

2010 VGAs: why they invented DVR

I got conned into watching the VGAs, again, but at least I didn't have to watch them live.  No, I waited until after they were over, and then fast-forwarded my way through announcement after announcement after unnecessary band performance after announcement, until I realized that there weren't any awards given out.

I don't know why I keep allowing myself to believe that this year, it'll be different.  For shits and giggles, I went back and read my 2008 recap, and I might as well just cut-and-paste my main point into this year's model.  Like so:
I really wish I didn't have to be embarrassed about watching this show. It's clear that Spike is really trying to make this award mean something, and I'll admit that having all these major announcements during the show is a pretty convincing incentive for me to stick it out. But the writing is terrible and the emphasis is everywhere but on the actual game designers, which is unfortunate.
That's the thing that's so annoying about it; Mr. Geoff Keighley goes out of his way to promote the VGAs as something important and valid and authentic, and instead it's a series of commercials for next year's games, sandwiched around lame skits and pseudo-celebrities who've clearly never played a game in their lives, and I think they only give out 3 or 4 awards on TV, out of 20 or so categories.  It's dishonest and misleading, at best. 

Which is not to say that the announcements aren't awfully exciting.  2011 is already looking like the best year we've had in a long time, and that was before the announcements of Uncharted 3, Mass Effect 3, Forza 4 (!!!), SSX, and Elder Scrolls V.  My 2011 Lust List will require at least a bib upon reading.  I admit it:  the announcements were enticement enough for me to tune in.  I am a whore.  This is not news.

Look, Spike, I know I'm not the target demo for this show.  I'm not 15 years old, I'm not a My Chemical Romance fan, I don't like Dane Cook nor would I ever think of Dane Cook if I were thinking about or playing a videogame.  But humor me just once.  Please.
  1. Let us know who's on the voting panel.  If you want us to think of these awards as meaningful and authentic - and we'll get to what the plural form of the word "award" should mean in a bit - you can at least let us know who's choosing.  Considering that every inch of this show looks bought and paid for by PR and advertising, it would help give some credence of authenticity.  I would wager that most of the audience for this show is not the stereotypical Madden buyer - we are aware of the game journalism industry; we read magazines and the internet.  If you have game journos on your panel, let us know.  Maybe we'll go to their websites!  Maybe we can have some synergy!
  2. Stop giving stage time to Television Personalities.  I don't give a flying fuck about Denise Richards or whoever the fuck that was on stage, and all the people you put up there look uncomfortable and out of their element.  Here's an idea - let the game designers present the awards.  Let us, the game-buying public, put faces to names.  
  3. SHOW SOME FUCKING AWARDS ALREADY.  There were 20+ categories and we saw, like 5.  And nobody gives a fuck about Best Performances by a Human Female.  We all know you're going to be like Monty Python's Summarize Proust competition and give it to the girl with the biggest tits anyway.  
  4. Stop with the skits, the bands, the montages.  I get that the product placement and the trailers need to be in there; somebody's got to pay for this madness, and we all like the trailers.  But anything that's not actually related to the literal handing out of awards grinds the show to a halt.  I've been saying this for years, and nobody listens.  So at least hire a decent fucking writing staff already.
I could go on, but I can't waste any more of my life thinking about this nonsense.  Get it right or stop doing it.