Monday, January 30, 2017

Game EXP: For Honor (Closed Beta)

Over the last weekend I managed to get in some time with the new online multiplayer hack-and-slash video game from Ubisoft Montreal, For Honor during their closed beta testing.

Now, I have participated in my fair share of beta tests now over the last couple of years (so technically seven, being: The Elder Scrolls Online, Dead Island: Epidemic, EVOLVE, Mirror's Edge: Catalyst, The Elder Scrolls: LegendsGWENT, and now For Honor), so I have a somewhat good idea about what to expect from the beta testing experience, in that I am not expecting a 100% flawless game.  If anything, I expect the game to function in a way that gives me an idea about how it will play once the game is released.  And well, despite my eight attempts I have, at the very least, an idea about how the game should feel come February 14th.

Before we get into too much, this was the game screen I was greeted with after the downloading process and I booted up the game on Friday January 26th:

What is important here is the blue box up in that upper left corner, which reads (if it is too small to read on your respective device):

Warning: Your system is below the minimum requirements. For optimal performance please refer to the supported hardware list.*

So after this warning was given, I figured that I would probably have to lower all of the graphical settings to low if I even wanted to be able to think about testing this apparent beast of a game.  So I booted the game up, watched a beautifully rendered intro movie, set up which faction I wanted to join, designed my shield.  I decided to side with the Vikings (should not be too much of a surprise to people who know me) instead of the Knights or the Samurai.  Upon reaching the first non-menu screen, I optioned up the option screen and before I did anything else, I inverted the Y-axis mouse camera, clicked over to graphics settings and the game crashed.  Slightly perturbed but far from deterred, I started the game up a second time and was pleasantly surprised to find that my shield design had been saved, so I quickly proceed through those menus, and into the game where I quickly tried to look through the settings and the game crashed again.

My third attempt in under 15 minutes was a lot more productive as I was able to find out that my graphical settings were already set to low, the y-axis had maintained the inversion that I previously told it to do and I was able to not only engage in the opening tutorial stage, but actually fight a computer controlled enemy!

As you can probably tell, there seems to be a bit of Windows 98 Solitaire victory animation going on with the background, except that is not supposed to be happening.  It was shortly after killing this fellow that the game again crashed, but this time it was after about 5 minutes after starting the tutorial.  My last attempt that day got me to shortly beyond my last crashing point and I had just killed the second person I was introduced to, then the game crashed a fourth and final time.

Now, on to what I was able to experience with the combat.  If you look at the game's logo over the Viking I was playing, you will notice that it is made up of three identical bars, here with the right side highlighted since the axe blade is on the right side with an attack prepped for the enemy's left side.  In the game, you are able to switch your attacking side to either left, right, or above simply by shifting the mouse in that direction.  Additionally, if your weapon is already on that side when an enemy attacks from that same side your weapon is facing, you will (at least for me) automatically block that attack.  If you click the LMB during their attack, you are able to parry that attack and repost, which is pretty cool to watch.  From what I gathered, the combat system here is pretty intuitive and the tutorial helped get that ingrained.  The only issue I had was that moving the mouse to switch positions of the attack was pretty sensitive, which could be a good or bad thing, probably depending on your particular play style.

Jump ahead now to Saturday morning where I had slightly better lucking giving the beta test a go.  The first attempt though happened to crash after selecting Vikings and the game was on the loading screen.  The second attempt had me playing for about 15 minutes before the game crashed, but whoo-boy was that a mostly exciting 15 minutes!  I fought the dummy, and the two Knights then was prompted to "Capture Zone A", or something to that effect.  In this, I went up against another Knight who was slightly more difficult than the previous two that I fought, but they still went down pretty easily.  Then I went out in the "yard" and fought back a small army of Knight grunts who apparently pose zero threat to you?

What I noticed about these guys was that they went down with a single hit and were unable to damage me.  I do not mean that they could not hit me, they did, by their hits caused no perceptible damage to life bar.  This made me believe that these guys are only around to act as distractions while you fight either other real life players or if there is an higher level fighter that you are going up against.  Either way, mowing through these grunts was pretty satisfying but it started to become repetitive and not as interesting as the one-on-one combat, by the third wave of them.

Immediately following the capturing of Zone B, I was instructed to "Capture Zone C" which pitted me against another single Knight and introduced directional dodging/rolling.  And let me tell you, this Viking fella does not so much dodge-roll as he somersaults hard on the ground and rolls to stand back up; think heavy-roll in Dark Souls.  And then, within seconds after killing this even slightly harder than before Knight, the game crashed.  Because this is an online multiplayer game, I was hoping that some of my progress would have been auto-saved, but upon starting the game for a third time that morning, I was forced to start the tutorial from the very beginning all over again, this time making it to the second objective in the tutorial area (which was hitting the dummy).  The fourth and final time I was able to "lock on" to the dummy (part of Objective 1) and the game crashed.

Now, having not gotten very far in any of my attempted playthrough, I should have wanted to try and get farther, but having a game crash on you four times in less than half an hour kind of takes it out of you.  I was unable to have a third go at the game today before it was taken offline with the option to buy the game replacing the "Play" button, thus ending the closed beta session.  Now, I do not know if there will be an additional beta testing session before the game's official release date on February 14th, but based on my limited experience with For Honor, I would feel that I would wait a while to see how other people experience the game for themselves.

Based on what I was able to play, I would say that Ubisoft Montreal has a pretty good game on their hands with a more than decent fighting mechanic, at least one that I have not come across before.  It would also be interesting to actually go up against a real life person using this type of combat and also a little terrifying as the rest of the world becomes significantly better before those late comers join in.  Match making will also be pretty interesting to see how balancing is pulled off.  And based on the Wikipedia article, which mentions "feats" can be learned, how that factors into one-on-one combat.  And for that matter, is it only one-on-one, or could you end up having three Knights going up against five Samurai who are fighting two Vikings?  These were aspects of the game that I was not able to determine for myself, partly because I was only able to put in less than an hour total over eight attempts with the game crashing each time.

I guess I will just have to wait and see about stability issues, be it me or the game and most definitely, for the price to drop as I am not in the market to buy any game at full price. . .at least until sometime after March.


P.S.  One other thing that I noticed, was that the game was only playable in windowed mode.  I saw the option to put the game into fullscreen, but that button was greyed out and I was unable to select it, which would have been my preferred style.

P.P.S.  A couple more screen shots that did not fit within the body of the article:

Seeing as how I rarely saw the front of my Viking fellow here, I wanted to know what the enemies were facing.  I believe the color scheme was part of my selection process too since it is at least somewhat similar.

I really like this picture, which has Mr. Viking tossing away the limp body of one of the grunts.  If the group in front was large enough and you performed a strong attack, you were able to kill a bunch, with the most I was able to take out in a single swing being three.  Pretty satisfying, but again, it became a little old after pushing back wave after wave of these guys, especially since they were not doing any damage which took away any sense of urgency.  But at least the animations were entertaining.

*I never actually checked out the supported hardware list, so I don't have those specifications either.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Game EXP: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Ultimate Edition (PC)

Well, I had about 60-70% of a complete article written and believe it or not, while sitting on my lap, my cat was able to somehow delete everything that I had written.  I cannot exactly explain how it happened, but it occurred in a way that made my go-to "Ctrl-Z" command not work.  Maybe he saw that I was having a hard time with trying to get a picture integrated into my document and was not able to do what I have previously been able to do, so he thought that starting over was a viable option?

So, rather than try and recreate everything that I had written, I will attempt to give you the highlights of my time playing Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Ultimate Edition on my laptop with a corded Xbox 360 controller (if only because I felt that Castlevania games should be played with a controller).  I am also going to inundate it with pictures because of how beautiful I found this game.

Oh, and there might be spoilers on some level, so just be warned.

Before we get down to silver tacks (eh!?), I should say that Sir Patrick Stewart was absolutely amazing as the narrator for the game.  I wish that I could listen to him read a novelization of this game because holy hell it would be fantastic.

Okay, I must admit that I played the majority of the game on either Squire (the easiest difficulty level) and Warrior (the next highest) as I felt that that was challenge enough for me.  I started the game back in January 2014, but after hitting a brick wall in the form of the first major boss fight against the first Lord of Shadow, I stopped.  Jump ahead 1040 days later to November 2016 and I picked the game back up again to give it another go, and after watching a YouTube video as a guide, I learned that certain boss fights have checkpoints and that I apparently had not been actively using the "dodge/roll" ability like I should have been by that point in the game.

So once that boss was taken down, it took me about another month, playing on-and-off, here-and-there before I finished.  Overall, the gameplay reminded me a lot of God of War, although having only played God of War: Chains of Olympus, but I say that in a good way.

Something that I loved about the reboot, was that there was a lot about the game that just felt like Castlevania, despite the fact that it was not a side scrolling game or developed by Konami.  The monster design was somewhat similar to previous iterations and it was pretty exciting running into re-imaginings of classic monsters like weak-ass zombies, flying heads (not Medusa heads here, but they seemed derivative), and animated armors.  Some players might have been upset with the sub-weapons being limited to daggers and holy water flasks, but how they were integrated into the game felt very natural and honestly, in this type of game where you have two different buttons for strengths of whipping, activating two different types of magic which have their own associated combos, having a limited number of sub-weapons felt more than enough.

Killing some weak-ass zombies.
One aspect of the game that pleasantly surprised me was the puzzle solving in the second half of the game.  Often times you are given the option to be told the solution to a puzzle, or you can solve it for yourself which results in more experience points.  As I recall, there was only one puzzle in that I actually had to look up the process to, not the solution as the entire level was a puzzle, not just a particular section.  The rest of the time, I was able to figure out the puzzles using my own brain power, although some took longer than others, while others were annoying as they could be solved by trial and error, while other still felt that I done them a dozen times by the end of the game.

One of the extras in the game that became unlockable by cashing in small amounts of experience points (usually between 5 - 25) which would otherwise be used to purchase combos (which could cost anywhere around 1,200 and 25,000), was both concept sketches and artwork.  This I absolutely loved, but I tend to love special features that are included in movies and while all of the extras included in this game (that I was able to discover anyway) was artwork and concept sketches, but as I was surprised by even this, I was more than happy.  The only way this game could have had better extra special features was if there had been writer/director/developer/actor commentary.

More artwork because damn it, I say so!
Before I head back in for the evening, I will say that almost without fail, nearly every time I played for more than 45 minutes to an hour, the game would "break" in a similar way that happened when I played Resident Evil 5; I will take the blame for that though because I have not come across many people online complaining about this happening.  Sometimes this splintering of a character would become distracting enough to either restart a stage or just give up for the day/night, but more often than not, I could finish the stage, then turn the game of and then back on again.  It was annoying when it happened, but not much more than that.

One other complaint was that while almost every level was linearly built, there were a few times where I felt genuinely lost, either not knowing how to proceed through the rest of the level, or confused by a gameplay mechanic that was not well introduced.  It was not until about half way through the game that I found out that I was able to perform a dash move that could break certain walls.  I also did not that there were a couple of specific ways to use magic in combination with certain button combinations and combos.  This could be chalked up to having not played the game for nearly three years, but these required actions felt like they came out of the blue like I was expected to have been using these abilities since they were first acquired.

As I wind down here, I also felt that MercurySteam's handling of Christianity was wonderfully handled.  Gabriel being a member of a holy order called The Brotherhood of Light.  Not once did I feel that Christianity was being mocked in a way that would be typical with modern horror stories.  To me, it felt that there was a level of respect for the religion that I could appreciate.

Lastly I wanted to gush a bit about the  music that Óscar Araujo composed for the game, which I previously mentioned in a MIDI Week Singles post a few weeks back.  With the exception of one track, everything was completely new and while it sounded more grandiose compared to most other Castlevania soundtracks that I have heard, it felt like glue that held the world together.  The game could have been created exactly as is had been, but if the music did not have the same scale, it would have felt very underwhelming.  I would highly recommend listening to the soundtrack in its entirety the first chance you get.

You know, just hanging around.
If you could not tell by now, I had an absolute blast playing Casltevania: Lords of Shadow - Ultimate Edition.  Even the two DLC stories, although short were pretty decent and definitely made me feel a bit better about how the main game ended.  I will say though that I ended up going through both DLC stories on easy because bloody hell a number of those fights were fantastically difficult and even with checkpoints during battles, I do not know how I would have been able to beat anything beyond Squire difficulty, let alone thinking about even attempting the Paladin difficulty level.  I guess I just don't have the stamina, mental fortitude (or fingeral dexterity?), or time to get that gud.



I wanted to share this scroll I found on a knight (something that happens throughout the game), but I very much appreciated this "shout out" to Monty Python, even if it seemed kind of out of place where it was found in the game.


And one last time, more concept art.  I don't think you ever get close enough to any of the windows to see this level of detail, but the fact that it was done during the pre-production stage of development shows that MercurySteam was coming up with practical details that both help flesh out the world and make it feel more lived in otherwise.


I also forgot to mention that while I did take some time backtracking through levels to find the hidden items that upgrade your health and magics, I did not gather all of them.  It kind of felt that some of these items, which could only be gathered after you had a specific skill or weapon were placed in earlier levels in order to pad out the game a bit, but they are not necessarily required to beat the game (although they probably were for me even on Squire difficulty).  Plus, I did not mind the backtracking as it gave me an excuse to go back through levels after I felt I was a bit better at the game; and I had more life,  magic, and zombie ass-kicking combos in my arsenal. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

MIDI Week Single: "Harbor City" - Risen (PC)

"Harbor City" from Risen on PC and XBox 360 (1998)
Composer: Kai Rosenkranz
Label: Deep Silver / GOG
Developer: Piranha Bytes

I have not played Risen, although I picked up the game and soundtrack a few years back from Humble's Deep Silver Bundle, so any commentary about the context of the song or further in depth analysis will have to wait until after I start and finish the game.  This is also my first foray into Kai Rosenkranz as I have not come across either his name in the currently short career in the video game music realm.

What I hear, seems to be pretty typical of a town theme in a fantasy setting, and there is nothing wrong with that.  Within the thirty seconds, I feel like I could easily transition into the soundtrack from The Princess Bride (specifically, for me at least, "The Friends' Song" and "Guide My Sword") without any question about tone or setting.  This theme in particular also reminds me a lot of Paweł Błaszczak & Adam Skorupa's score from The Witcher,which came out in 2007, a year before Risen.  To me, the music feels new, yet familiar enough that picturing the location is pretty easily done, just throw in a few docks and a larger harbor to accompany the name for which the song is titled.

This is one of the problems with listening to soundtracks to games that I have not yet played, It makes me want to play them.  But I just do not have the time I wish that I had to help put context to this beautifully familiar score, but there will be a time, and hopefully coming soon.


Monday, January 23, 2017

Game Review or Game Experience?

I began today's article and after a few paragraphs, I stopped.  I looked up at the "Post title" box and read, and re-read the "Game Review" title I had and felt that what I was writing was not so much a conventional review, as it was my own experience playing the game.

A Game Review article, I feel is something that is looking critically at a product, how that product plays, looks, sounds, with the intention of convincing people that the game is either worth purchasing/renting/playing or not worth anyone's time.  Often, a score is also associated with said product.  

Compare that to an article where we talk about how we played the game, possibly even a game that we may not have played very well.  And that is kind of the point especially regarding games on PC, which is what I use when I play video games about 67% of the time[citation needed].  Unless two people play the exact same game on the exact same settings on the exact same machine, those two experiences may be different.

Moving away from rig specs, sometimes one of us here might play a game differently than either the developers had planned, or by someone else out there in the Interspherenet.  For instance, in Dead Space, I used primarily the Plasma Cutter and the Pulse Rifle, although I didn't use the secondary function on the Pulse Rifle because I misunderstood what its function actually did.  Therefore, my experience would be different from someone who experimented a lot more with the other various weapons in the game.  In Resident Evil 5 (Game Experience/Review article to be on either Friday or a week from today) I did not play co-op at all even though that game felt like it was specifically designed to be played with another real person.  Each time I started I turned off online co-op

The ultimate point here being that because I have a real world job and am beholden to no one, I do not have the amount of time I would like to put in for game review articles that would normally grace the binary encoded pages of sites such as Gamespot, IGN, or Polygon.  What I can do is talk about my own individual experiences playing video games in the way that I find both enjoyable and easiest for me.  And that is my plan as of the moment.

Now, this does not mean that we are going to completely stop writing Game Review articles as was in the past, and as far as I am concerned, this half-assed declaration will only pertain to myself as I cannot put words in Dr. Potts' mouth or make such a sweeping change to the way we do things here, it is just something that I was thinking about while typing out my words for what will be Friday's article.


P.S.  Something else that I typically think about every time I write what we have been calling Game Review articles, is that I am either forgetting something about the story/game play/music/etc. that I feel I need to apologize just in case I did in fact forget something that another player would view as integral to their own gaming experience.  Such as, I typically do not play multiplayer functions of games so that whole side of a game is not going be covered because that is how I choose to play a game.

P.P.S.  I am still not 100% set on using the title "Game Experience" in place of "Game Review" for articles where I talk about games after I have "beaten" them.  I have also thought about "Game XP," "Game EXP," or some other as yet to be determined title that may or may not be similar.  The need to come up with something witty and appropriate is strong.  We will just have to wait until Friday, or Monday, or a week from Thursday, or Sunday, Monday, Friday, Tuesday, Saturday, or Monday.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Let's Call It The Netflix Effect

Top notch image editing this is!

Okay, maybe "Netflix Effect" has already taken, but the definitions are varied depending on which site/source you are reading, so until I come up with something a little catchier, we will stick with what I have here.  But honestly, if someone had not already coined the term "The Netflix Effect," I would be very disappointed with the state of the Internet having already landed on Boaty McBoatface before "The Netflix Effect."  But it has already happened and we are going to stick with it, so moving on.

So what I specifically mean by "The Netflix Effect" is more an observation that the criticism that it could very well come across as.  

Growing up in the 1980s and '90s was the golden era of VHS rental stores (Blockbuster, Mr. Video, Hollywood Video, Placer TV/Video, 49er Video) who would often receive copies of movies four to six months after they were released in theatres and up to six months before they were released to the greater public at large.  I recall back in the fall of 1991, the local Blockbuster selling some of their first rental copies of Terminator 2 for $99 since the movie would not be released until after Christmas and $99 is (about) what studios/distributors would charge to movie rental agencies for each individual VHS copy that they would rent out.  The prevailing mentality at the time was that, at least for me and probably my family, was that if you wanted to rent a movie more than once (being anywhere from $1.99 - $4.99 for a single rental) then you would just go out and buy the movie once it became available.  Plus, buying a physical copy of the movie was the second best way of telling a studio that you liked the movie and wanted more media in that vain.

Jump ahead to the Fall 1999 when The Matrix was released on DVD (and the video store I worked at thought that Titanic would be a better option to determine if DVD rentals and sales would be profitable rather than getting The Matrix) and DVD rentals would cost usually a dollar or two more since the format was more expensive than VHS; plus DVDs were the in-thing.  This meant that being able to view all of the special features (back when DVD rentals were not designed to be special feature free, and you had to specify if you wanted the "Formatted to Fit Your Screen" or "Widescreen"), assuming that the DVD even had special features that did not require reading, would often mean renting the movie more than once if you did not live in a household that had more than one TV and more than one DVD player.  This again meant that buying the DVD would, in the long run make more sense than trying to rent the movie more than two times; around this time, DVDs were typically between $19.99 and $29.99 for a single disc film/TV show.

So buying VHS and DVD movies was very much a thing in my house, especially since we did not have cable (therefore, no On Demand videos either), so if anyone wanted to watch a movie at that moment, it meant putting on a movie that was already in our collection and if you did not want to watch the same ten movies over and over, it meant having a library of movies to choose from.  This mentality is something that I have maintained over the years, buying movies (now on Blu-ray) if I like the movie enough to want to rewatch it, and assuming that there are a significant number of special features (or just a commentary would suffice too).

Jump ahead to now, 2017 where we have Netflix, Hulu, YouTube Red (not RedTube, which is something somewhat different, although the format is pretty similar), Amazon Prime Video, or any other movie streaming service that I have failed to mention.  If Conklederp or I want to watch a movie, our first go to is Netflix Instantwatch.  Unless there is a specific movie that I already have on the shelf, we will go looking online for a film that one of us has yet to see.  Netflix puts out new movies (maybe not new new movies, but updates their library) each month which gives us new options for what to put on at night.  Additionally, with so many older-ish TV shows that either Conklederp or I had never seen until recently we find ourselves with literally hundreds of hours of programs that we want to start/finish and by the time we are done with one series, we will either find a new show or Netflix/Amazon will release a slough of movies/TV shows that we have not seen.

Because of this infinitely increasing amount of content, over the last couple of years I have pulled back from buying movies in part because I know that I am not only less likely to re-watch them, again partly because of Conklederp's tendency to not re-watch movies with a significantly less frequency that I tend to do, but also because of the vast array of options we have for watching movies.  Sure there are times when I just feel like watching a particular movie or TV show and it is just easier to pop in a NewsRadio Season 2 disc 1 rather than trying to find out which streaming service has NewsRadio.

I thought too about how The Netflix Effect affects CD/music purchases, but that one might be a little more complicated and probably hearkens back to something more akin to The Napster Effect, so let us not linger with music and stick with movies, TV shows and the like.

So I would define The Netflix Effect as the slowing down of buying physical movie and TV show discs in place of  a massively expanded library to choose from as a direct result of the many streaming options currently at the public's disposal.

That is all I have for today.

To Become The Pagan They Would Hunt

Thursday, January 19, 2017

MIDI Week Singles: "Vacant Lives" - 1080° Snowboarding (N64)

"Vacant Lives" from 1080° Snowboarding on the Nintendo 64 (1998)
Developer: Nintendo EAD

I landed on "Vacant Lives" partly because of how much time Dr. Potts and I (and the rest of our household) put into playing 1080° Snowboarding back in the early 2000s.  It is also because there is still a pile of snow outside of our house here in the Portlandia area more than a week after it dumped just about a foot of snow in less than 24 hours.  To note, we typically only receive one to two inches of snow each year.

I thought I would showcase "Vacant Lives" by Mr. Kenta "gon" Nagata because it is the opening/menu theme that plays when you first turn the game on, and honestly, aside from the "Let's Go!" at the beginning of the song, my brain never registered the rest of the lyrics, presumably because they are sung in Japanese.  Except that is isn't "Let's Go!" and it's not sung in Japanese after all.  This could be an artistic choice by illustrator Wataru Yamaguchi, it could be the type of distortion used on the vocals, or it could be that the Nintendo 64 sound chip just didn't want to digitize the sound of the human voice into something that would be perceptible to the human ear.  Except I do not believe that last one.

So in these final days of snow covered city streets, I would like you all to enjoy "Vacant Lives."  Or don't, it's not everybody's bottle of Tequila, but it does really wish that my N64 was still in working condition.


Friday, January 13, 2017

Obligatory Post About The Nintendo Switch Presentations

Last night, Nintendo held their Switch presentation in Tokyo (last night being here on the West Coast in the US, 1pm Tokyo time), and I was pretty excited, in that Conklederp and I put off watching the most recent episode of Vikings until after Nintendo's presentation had finished.  Additionally, the Nintendo Tree House folks had their own hands on presentation where they showcased a number of games, although I noticed no mention which games would receive a physical release and which ones would be sold only via the eShop.

Now, I am not going to be going into speculations about the system, the specifications of the hardware or what frame rate it looked like games were running at, this article is basically stating my impressions of the system, the presentation itself, and probably what games I would like to see based on the developers who were advertised as working on games for the Switch.

All of the main information about the Switch can be found on Nintendo's website, so if you are in fact looking for concise information, it would probably behoove you to go over there and take what you can, a lot of which I will talk about in my own rambling sort of way over here.

Overall, I thought that the presentation was very well handled, in that it was more of an announcement about the product than an event that was more about the speakers, music, and noise than the Switch itself.  If there hadn't been any wide shots of the audience, you might have thought that the presenters were on a stage talking to an empty room or a blank wall.  I actually preferred this to the typical presentations that you would find at E3.  Basically the presentation was mainly information and less hype, at least from my perspective.

You know what, there is so much more out there that will have a better consolidation of this information, especially from the first presentation, the Tree House event, and from Nintendo's own site, so I will just briefly ramble about what about everything that I liked.

The Price: $299
I find this price to be about on par with what I was expecting and so much more reasonable than either the PS4 or the XBox One, which retailed at $399 and $499 respectively.  With this in mind, you could surmise that the Switch is a less powerful gaming machine, and you could be correct, mainly because I have not put together a spreadsheet comparing and contrasting each feature.  By comparison, the Wii U first sold for $299 for the basic unit and $349 for the deluxe system.

The System
The system only comes with one set of controllers, either grey, or neon blue/red.
Because of my cynical approach to businesses, I had figured that the Switch would only be sold with the console, dock, the two Joy-Cons, adapter, and HDMI cable, even though the Joy-Con Grip was pictured in the advertisement, so were games and I just assumed that the grip would be sold separately.  I was equally surprised to find that the Joy-Con Straps were a thing and that they too would be included.  The Switch Pro Controller though is sold separately.  Still, for $299, I find this price to be very reasonable, if only there were games of sorts included?  No word on included or pre-loaded games.

The Games
The games showcased during the initial presentation on Thursday night (Friday afternoon in Tokyo), I had mixed feelings about, possibly because I never owned a Wii or a Wii U and therefore have no invested interest in a new 3D Super Mario Bros. game (I also recognize that I am probably in the minority that did not like Super Mario 64, which also turned me off to all 3D Mario games), or a Splatoon game.  I however fully recognize the market is there for a 3D open world Mario game and a non-violet team shooter, those just aren't my cup of coffee.

The games that did pique my interest was a new Shin Megami Tensei title from Atlus (seeing as how I loved SMT: Strange Journey, but never really got into Persona or Devil Survivor); The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (partly because I love The Elder Scrolls series, but also for the opportunity for Bethesda and their like-properties and subsidiaries to develop games for Nintendo); Project Octopath Traveler from Square Enix, which is a mouthful and a title that could only come from Japan or a Finnish black metal band, but I really like the art style which reminds of a mix between Final Fantasy Tactics with a more traditional JRPG battle system; and of course The Legend of Zelda: The Breath of the Wild, which looks so much like an Elder Scrolls game with a Legend of Zelda skin.

Since last night presentation, there have been a number of other games announced, some of which sound interesting which include: Puyo Puyo Tetris, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Snipper Clips: Cut It Out Together, 1,2,Switch, Has Been Heroes,  Super Bomberman R, I Am Setsuna, and Steep.  Again, no word though on which games will receive a physical release and which ones will be digital downloads, some of which definitely feel like they should be digital only (Snipper Clips, 1,2,Switch, Has Been Heroes to name a few).

During the presentation, Nintendo officially announced the companies currently developing games, along with 80 games currently in development.

There are a handful of independent developers that I would like to see Switch games from, ATOOI, InfitizmoPlaytonic Games, Frictional Games, The Chinese Room, DrinkBox Studios, and Shiro Games, to name a handful, although I understand listing primarily AAA title developers during the official product announcement and presentation.  I am still hoping for a Castlevania game from Konami seeing as how they have been named as a developer, but I am not holding my breath since they announced back in 2015 that they will be focusing on mobile games, but the Switch could be viewed as the perfect in-between?  A Mega Man or Resident Evil (Just not Resident Evil 4 all over again) game from Capcom would also be nice too.  

Basically, I think I just want to relive my '80s and '90s childhood through this system, what looks and feels like a great blend of DS portability with Wii U capabilities (kind of).

We Bleed For Ancient Gods

P.S.  Yes, I know that my article made no mention of a Super Smash Bros., game, or of the online properties as far a co-op gaming goes, but since those do not interest me, and since we do not have any sponsors, we do not have to appease anyone but ourselves.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

MIDI Week Singles: "Ice Cave Chant" - Donkey Kong Country (SNES)

"Ice Cave Chant" from Donkey Kong Country on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (1994)
Composer: Eveline Fischer
Developer: Rare

I find it interesting that the two songs that we have now posted from Donkey Kong Country on MIDI Week Singles, that they both have been composed by Eveline Fischer. I chose "interesting" since I feel it is David Wise (who composed the music to Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest, Donky Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble, Diddy Kong Racing and practically every reitteration of the Donkey Kong franchise developed by Rare), but it is Ms. Fischer who we have featured now three time, with the first being "Simian Segue" and the second with "Base" from Ken Griffy Jr.'s Winning Run.

I chose this song mainly because of the 12 inches of snow outside here in the Land of Doors city in the Pacific Northwest.  It was briefly a toss up between this and "Northern Hemispheres," but since "Ice Cave Chant" is a bit more melodic, both Conklederp and I thought that this would work better as a stand alone track.  What I like about this track, is that it is fairly cheerful in tone for how deadly the the one stage this beautiful track was used (Slipslide Ride) and it is a little sad that this song was not used beyond this single stage, but that is why you can replay stages to your hearts content in this game.  OR, you can just visit this here article and replay the track all you want.


Monday, January 9, 2017

First Impressions: Resident Evil 5 (PC)

Hmmmm, where to begin.  As of this writing, I have put in 4 hours into Resident Evil 5, which puts me at just finishing Chapter 2-2.

Now I knew before going into Resident Evil 5 that I was not going to be getting a grade A survival horror experience that I would have gotten from playing the first Resident Evil or even a more recent game in the genre like Five Nights At Freddies or Amnesia: The Dark Descent.  What I felt that I was undertaking was the next iteration of what Capcom believed the public wanted after the phenomenal success of Resident Evil 4 and games similar to Call of Duty and Gears of War; I am of course speculating based on my perceptions of those games (which I have not played) and the changes I have seen in this series since 2000 (when I first started playing the Resident Evil series).

If you have been keeping up with the articles that I have written over the last 30 days, you will know that I am coming into this game after having finished Resident Evil: Revelations on the 3DS mainly because that is the order of the games in their in-game chronology, and because I have a backlog of 3DS games that I have not played since I first purchased them; so RE:5 was put on the back burner until after I finished RE:R even though RE:5 was released three years before RE:R.

Which brings me to Chris Redfield and his bulging biceps on their safari into West Africa. . . I've never been a fan of Chris in the RE series, not because of his visual aesthetic as he seems to have bulked out over the years, but because I started out playing as Jill Valentine (I liked the extra inventory slots and the ability to pick locks) and I guess I just picked a side, and Chris Redfield wasn't it.  To me, he just seems like the all around American action hero, especially the way that he is depicted here; his background even includes being an Air Force pilot who had a bad-boy/penchant for disobeying orders (but not so much to be slapped with a dishonorable discharge).  I mean Jesus Christ, look at those guns!  If that's not a Commando physique, I do not care to find out (or watch Commando again for that matter) what is.  Okay, okay, I will stop body shaming Mr. Redfield and just leave it at him being ever so slightly ridiculously designed.  So  moving on.

My biggest gripe at the moment with RE5 is one that has been voiced by a number (of tens of thousands?) of people, being that the game operates more as an action oriented game with zombies/infected rather than the survival horror roots that the game originated from.  Any horror that is present in the game, at least to me, seems to stem from being overwhelmed by the infected Majini trying to kill Chris and his new partner Sheva Alomar, a native African whose history is tied to misdeeds by Umbrella Corp.  The abilities of the infected are not particularly effective with the majority of them (so far) which consists of unarmed, melee, and crossbow armed individuals, with the occasional exploding head, infected dog and flying creature-thing.  What makes these encounters terrifying is the lack of being able to do anything while moving.  Possibly as a response to RE5, at least in RE:R the characters were able to reload while moving, which was a favorite tactic of mine.  Imagine playing Left 4 Dead 2 and only being able to fire and reload while being stationary.  This being, at least for the moment, the sole source of fear and horror for me, do not constitute a mechanic that a fun and successful game should be based around, Resident Evil or otherwise.  BUT, I acknowledge that I am a sucker for this franchise, so I will continue on.

One other problem that I have at least once every time I play is that the world will break with bits "splintering off" and extending into infinity.  I do not know the exact terminology for when this happens, so let us just look at some evidence.

What is happening here is two-fold.  First and most obviously, there was a problem with a post (or something that Chris is standing in front of) and is "splitting" off to the right causing a blending/melding/vomiting of color.  Then, there is a piece of Chris' hair that is extending down and to the right.  While this does not technically make the game 'not-playable,' it certainly makes it more difficult in some areas.  In one instance, I was convinced that there was a break that was extending through a wall, which turned out to be an exploding tripwire.

In this area, which was pretty early on in the stage (2-2 I think), part of something with a green, yellow, brown, and black palette extended and looked like waist high sludge.  It became very distracting while trying to find where enemies had fallen and dropped items  lay, and eventually I had to give up as even rotating the camera to look at the ground did not result in a better view.

Another aspect of the game that I have noticed is how linear the level design is.  Using the map from the same area as the above picture, you can see that the level is built in a linear manner, and this is something that is found in every level that I have played so far.  Now, I do not have a problem with linear built levels or levels that funnel the player in a particular direction with environmental features used as impassible barriers with Left 4 Dead 2 being a great example of creating the illusion of agency, that the player is deciding where to go.  Maybe this is just an effect of having a map showing the stages area at the beginning of the level, and I could probably just as easily turn off the map, which I have done a few times, mainly because it takes up a decent portion of the screen, even if it is semi-transparent.

The last thing that I am going to complain about, is the AI for your partner Sheva.  While I do somewhat appreciate having an active partner, especially with the game being more action oriented than all other previous numbered games in the RE series, I am frequently annoyed with Sheva's aiming capabilities.  Often when we have found ourselves in tight alleyways and rooms, Sheva will fire at the enemies, even if I happen to be blocking her line of sight.  Thankfully friendly fire is not a thing here otherwise I would have died a lot more by now and I might have even given up after the first hour.  Sheva's inability to recognize the fact that I am standing in her way, never intentionally in her way mind you, makes me not want to give her ammunition if she is just going to unload her gun into my back, when I could have used the bullets myself and actually had a beneficial effect.  However, if she is not armed, then is likely to be killed, which has the same effect as Chris (being the player) being killed.  In an opposite manner, I have found that when I use my "run away, turn and fire" tactic, Sheva is typically standing between me and whatever monstrosity I am attempting to kill, so I will sometimes accidentally end up shooting her while she is trying to move out of the way.  And along the same lines, I have sometimes found that she will run a few steps ahead of me, especially in tight corridor areas which makes aiming at face-exploding-demon-dogs all the more difficult.

The other action that Sheva does, which is still AI related, is that her philosophy when it comes to healing is much different than mine.  Since the first Resident Evil, I will frequently hold onto green herbs until I come across a red herb in order to combine them (which allows me to then heal for 100% instead of just 25% with one) and hold off healing myself until I am a hit or two away from death.  Sheva's AI on the other hand is often what I consider to be wasteful in her handling of green herbs.  If she has two individual green herbs, she will always combine them (which is not as effective as it would then only heal 50%).  Or, she will be very liberal with her application of green herbs and health sprays (aerosol that heals health to 100%), often using them if I am at a point that using one (or two combined green herbs) will bring me close to full even if I am not worried about my health.

For the two above concerns regarding AI in the game, I really wish that there was some way to change the way that your partner acts.  Maybe Capcom developing a significantly less than ideal AI was meant to encourage people to play co-op (which is doable, but I choose not to because I am an introvert and do not want to have to schedule time to play a video game with another online person), but damn it Capcom, your tactics will not work on me!

So you might be wondering, dear reader, why I continue playing a game that I obviously have so many issues with?  My answer to you is because I am more interested with the overarching story being told throughout the entire series rather than what Chris and the BSAA have going on in this fictional area of Africa.  I anticipate that even when I work my way to Resident Evil 6, that I will have some additional concerns and annoyances equal to (or surpassing?) those that I have with Resident Evil 5.  But then again, I ended up liking Dead Space 3 much more than Dead Space 2 despite the fact that it was a more action heavy game than the second installment.  I guess we will just have to wait until 2017 (or possibly 2018 depending on my ability to work my way though my ever expanding back catalogue) to see the end result of the next games in this series.


Whad'ya mean the neck needs to be reinforced!?

I will say though, that although completely impractical and obviously inspired by Silent Hill, the character design on a number of the bosses that I've come across is pretty bad ass (and absurdly large) in a way that is fitting in the Resident Evil universe.