Friday, August 29, 2014

#74: How Microtransactions Ruined Dead Space 3

Last week, I detailed many of my thoughts on the distressingly awful Dead Space 3. I had discussed my complaints regarding the combat, the co-op, and the story of the game. What I neglected to talk about was the microtransactions and their negative influence on the game. My thoughts on this particular subject are so intense that I feel that their inclusion in last week's post would detract from my complaints in it, making that piece far too long of a read. It is actually surprising just how deeply the mere inclusion of microtransactions fundamentally altered the game's core design.

This is because the actual microtransactions by themselves seem initially to be incredibly innocuous. Using either real world money or Ration Seals acquired through scavenging, players can purchase resources from the game to help give them an edge over the space zombies. The problem arises in that there was not much to purchase with them. Buying health and/or ammo would be far too blatant and obviously impact the game design. So something needed to be created in order to give users something to purchase. For this reason, the weapon crafting was added to the game.

Weapon crafting is exactly what it sounds like. Throughout the game, players collect weapon frames, cores, muzzles, attachments, and upgrade circuitry as they progress. When they reach a bench, they can use these collected parts to create custom weaponry or modify existing weaponry. If the player should wish to acquire more of a specific part, but do not have the time or desire to search the game world for it, they can use collected resources such as Tungsten, Superconductors, Scrap Metal, and the like to craft those parts. Now, should they lack even these basic resources, Ration Seals or real world money can be spent acquiring them. Again, this is fairly innocuous addition in and of itself. In fact, there is even some entertainment value in creating awesome weaponry to use against space zombies.

Unfortunately, it also came with some unintended side effects. The first such effect is that horror element has been eliminated from the game. Even in the early half of the game, it is entirely possible for players to create weaponry with maxed out damage ratings. The shotgun I had created that early lasted me for the entire game, up to the final boss. Nothing was scary, because nothing stood a chance against me. My partner and I died fairly infrequently outside of set-pieces, and neither one of us felt even a tinge of fear. Considering how scary the earlier games were reported to be, that is more than a little disappointing.

The other side effect is that the developers can no longer be sure of exactly what type of weapon(s) the player has in their inventory. For what I have been told, earlier Dead Space games gave players specific weaponry over the course of the game, slowly building up their arsenal. The designers can use this information to carefully control which ammo is dropped where and how often in order get the player to naturally switch up tactics based on what their current ammo count is for each weapon. In the third game of the franchise, this can no longer work. Since Visceral Games are not sure of what weapons players are using, they cannot drop ammunition for specific weapons to encourage use of them. As a result, ammo had to be universal, working for every weapon. That way, no matter what equipment is being used at a given point in the game, the risk that the player is put into an unwinnable state is significantly lessened.

And that decision, which was a side effect of our first big change, has another side effect associated with it. Since every weapon consumes the same resource when firing it, there is no way to incentivize much needed variety. Every person I know that has played Dead Space 3 made one really powerful weapon in the beginning of the game and generally stuck with it. Although there were other options like new weapons, kinesis, and stasis available to them, they all just chose to keep firing with their weapon of choice. Every fight feels the same because the same weapons are being used over and over again against enemies who use the same tactics. No variety can be added in the natural way it used to be because the tools to do so no longer exist. Furthermore, since all ammo works for all weapons, it is no longer a scarce resource. In fact, I never once ran out of it throughout my entire playthrough and my partner ran out exactly once.

To recap, it started with a simple request: Add microtransactions to the next Dead Space game. From that one event, a ripple effect occurred. The side effects from this one simple addition multiplied, affected the overall game. As a result, the combat and overall pace of the game was severely impacted. Without the necessary tools to control variety and space, the developers lost their ability to fine tune the gaming experience in the way they could in the first two Dead Space games, judging from what I have been told by franchise fans. Taking away the excellent pacing results in poorly executed combat and the inability to really provoke any form of horror.

Nothing in a game exists in a vacuum. Every single aspect, no matter how small, affects every other aspect. Despite what many would like you to believe, this is no less true with regards to microtransactions. For a game to become great, every system has to keep into each other in perfect harmony. This is what few publishers realize. It is impossible to just add “one small thing” without affecting the balance that was already there. Careful consideration is necessary. If there is anything I would have you, the reader, take away from my experiences in Dead Space 3, that would be it.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Texture Pop: Episode 5: The Late Late Late Show

You guys are probably wondering why it took so long to post this episode. That is a perfectly valid question. The reason for that is that since Sam was late to the recording session, Chris had to take up the slack and perform hosting duties.

However, since Sam is the editor as well, Chris had to send him all of the audio files and has too busy to do it promptly. Once Sam got it, his work kept him too occupied to do much with it as well. That also explains why the title isn't that great this week either.

Further, since Chris's connection is worse than Sam's, there may be a drop in this episode's audio quality. I apologize on both my behalf and the behalf of the others for this.

Also, we have a guest today. My good friend Nick joined us for this cast. We'll likely consider bringing other guests in from our friends list because why not.

Having said that:

And the MP3 version can be found here. (When it goes up...)

0:00:00 Introduction
This rather unprofessional nature of this introduction can again be chalked up to the rather scatter-shot nature of the recording. We were kinda just winging it, which explains a lot of the awkward pauses and what-not.

0:03:00 We talk about seismic emergencies across the world.
And I'm honestly not entirely sure why.

0:04:45 We talk about the upcoming Fantastic Four movie (and Marvel comic books... and Hollywood)
Honestly, the thing about making Johnny Storm/Human Torch a black man that bothers me is that if they do that, than they might as well make Susan Storm/Invisible Woman (his sister) black as well. Feels like a wasted opportunity to me.
Like I said, I am okay with movie makers re-imagining old characters and putting them in new situations. However, this just feels a bit too textbook Hollywood to me. Far too safe for its own good, despite how different it is.

This does bring up a question though, why DOES Sony want the rights to Spidey so badly? It's not like he's bringing in a whole lot of money for them anymore. It would probably be best for anyone if they just stopped making Spidey movies.

The "laughing scene" I was talking about during this segment, in comparison to Spider-man 3's jazz scene, was the scene from Final Fantasy X. You know the one. My horrible voice combined with Chris's internet made that hard to hear.
Here is the picture of The Thing's look that Nick was talking about.

0:20:45 Chris's internet craps out and briefly ruins the Skype call.
Which is why Chris doesn't host often...

0:22:30 Nick talks about his week.
And we didn't really go into detail about much.
One thing we did go into briefly was Phil Fish. I hope that, for his sake, that he stays out of the industry. No matter what he says, he's going to get shit. That may be deserved on occasion, but not all the time.
We also talked briefly about X-Com and it's expansion.

0:29:30 Nick plays Elder Scrolls Online.
This goes into a broader discussion about MMOs in general.
Also, we go into an Elder Scrolls discussions briefly. For reference, the quest I'm referring to is this week. Like I said in the cast, I like Oblivion a bit more because it's quest design is a lot more interesting than Skyrim's.

0:40:05 Garrett talks about his week.
The train did come through, Chris. Choo choo!

0:40:30 Garrett plays Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer
And good god I hate this topic. I know it's been years since the controversy was a big thing, but Mass Effect 3 still gets under my skin. It was that perfect, critical mass, where everything went wrong in all sorts of ways at the same time.
The multiplayer was just a symptom of that in my opinion. While still good, it felt super tacked on. I had the impression that, like the weapon crafting in Dead Space 3, it exists only for the microtransactions. The article I mentioned (here) talks about the sliminess of them a bit more. Even worse is that it's not for a F2P game, but for a game you're expected to put $60 down for.

0:46:00 Garret and I talk about bows and archery.
I don't consider myself much of an outdoors-man, but it is fun to shoot arrows at a target. It's much more of a mental activity than a physical one, at least for me. I often think back to my physics classes when shooting.
We also went into a discussion about all the various recent games that used bows in some capacity.

0:50:30 Sam joins us.
And Chris's internet REALLY impacts the cast here.

0:53:00 Garrett talks about Clive Barker's Jericho
And likes it more than most people.

0:58:00 I played Project X Zone.
It's an interesting game, to be sure. If I'm being honest, the whole crossover thing doesn't hold my interest as much as I thought it would. It gets a little monotonous the farther you go, because every chapter is more of the same. I'll keep playing because I need something to do on my commutes, but otherwise I don't know how much I'd play it.

1:03:10 Chris, Sam, and I play Dragon's Crown.
Chris and I have even played a few matches.
This game's art direction is equal parts amazing and off-putting to me. On one hand, the environments are cool and some of the characters look really nice. On the other hand, many characters just look so disproportional that it's almost comical.
I still think it's silly that you have to unlock going online. I should like to ask the developers why they decided to do that. The answer is bound to be interesting. Other strange decisions also crop up, especially with regards to online play and pacing, which make it an interesting game to talk about.
Still, I cannot deny that the game is super fun. It's a great brawler/RPG hybrid. The animation is fluid and the gameplay is solid. Playing with friends is awesome, and the risk/reward system encourages you to keep playing as much as possible. It's a game that works in many ways, despite its polarizing art style.

1:24:50 I play Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner 2: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. King Abaddon.
What many people may not know is that the Megami Tensei series actually pre-dates Poke'mon in the monster capture. Only instead of capturing cute animal creatures, you capture gods and demons from various world religions (which is more awesome in my opinion).
Out of all the SMT games, the Raidou Kuzuhona sub-franchise is one of the better games to introduce someone into the franchise as a whole. Having said that, it is still an SMT game and has some of their usability issues.
I do like how the game encourages you to have a party that is balanced between combat, investigation, and negotiation ability. Lacking in any one aspect will cripple another aspect in some way, so keeping them in balance is the key.

1:34:50 I switch from Twitter's site to Tweetdeck.
As much as I like Twitter, I'm getting tired of all the shit they are trying to do with it. I don't care about what other people are favoriting. I don't need them to censor my feed like Facebook does. All I need is for them to do what they've been doing. It's like YouTube in that every update is making it worse and worse.

1:40:10 Chris plays Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls
It's actually really interesting to note how much they've changed Diablo 3 since launch day. When that game launched, it was an absolute mess. I mean the DRM is still on it, but at least they got rid of the auction house.
It seems like every time microtransactions enter the equation, the developers make their game worse to help justify spending money. Not to say that developers are actively doing this, just that it subconsciously breeds that mentality.

1:48:15 Chris gets a really bad acid burn at work.
Fortunately, he'll be fine. I just hope that it heals quickly and it doesn't scar.

1:52:10 Sam picked up his Vita and played Muramasa: Rebirth
And we spend a lot of time just gushing about that game (and Vanillaware in general) without saying much of substance in this conversation.
We did mention how important it can be to consider usability and other features like subtitles and rebindable controls. It's amazing how not doing small things like that make things work so much better.

1:59:10 Sam talks about how the Vita is doing well.
Compared to how bad some of those old, launch window Vita games were (like Uncharted and AC: Liberation), a lot of the ports and newer Vita games are doing so much better. I can safely recommend the Vita now, because what it does, it does very well.

2:08:35 Sam talks about computer gaming accessories.
And I make fun of him. Can you tell which one of us more serious about PC Gaming?
We also talk stupid titles for PC Gaming Keyboards/Mice. I think "corporate cool" is the best way to think about these kinds of titles. It's clearly trying to look "cool" for younger audiences, but it gives off the impression of trying too hard.

2:17:45 Viewer Question
"Do you think Doom would be a better game if it stayed true to Tom Hall's vision, or do you think it's simplicity was one of the reasons it was so successful to begin with?"
Honestly, I think Hall's vision wouldn't have work. It was too ahead of it's time. In this era, it might work. Back then, it wouldn't have. I submit System Shock 1's failure as evidence supporting my opinion on this matter. System Shock 1 had something more akin to Hall's vision, and it failed. In retrospect, people enjoy it. At the time, it wasn't highly rated. As much as I don't like to admit it, the evidence supports that line of thinking.
Nowadays, that flat out would not work. Games need a story to tie them together today. As a result, the old school mechanical thinking no longer applies. Games have changed a lot in recent years, and their presentations have to change along side them.
The Super Bunny Hop episode Sam refers to is here.

And the podcast cuts off. Again, this is because of the "seat of pants" way we recorded this episode. I apologize for it and promise we'll make up for the low quality next week!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Impressions #12: Dead Space 3

There are great games that I can play over and over again. They do something so right that it is just a joy to keep coming back. Others are merely okay. Products like them are satisfactory throughout the whole of the game, but they do nothing to stand out from the crowd and inspire further playthroughs or thought on the game. Lastly, some cannot even get that right. Games exist such that they are an absolute chore to get through them. When one of these are found, playing them feels less like entertainment and more like work. What follows is a recollection of my experience with one such game: That would be Dead Space 3, which I had obtained free of charge on PlayStation Plus through their Instant Game Collection. I do not exaggerate when I say that almost every element in this game has a massive problem associated with it. Though I do not mean to say that it is the worst game to ever be invented, I would say that it is a significant step back in terms of modern game design.

The first element I would like to throw under scrutiny was the combat. Anyone who is familiar with third-person shooters will know how Dead Space 3 operates. Enemies spawn in through the various vents and openings, and up to two players shoot them down with whatever weapon(s) they have equipped. Purely in terms of mechanics, the game is functional. All the mechanics are there and they all work well. The problem lies in that the game makes very few, failed attempts to interject any form of variety into this combat. New enemy types do show up from time to time, but they all use similar tactics. No matter which form of space zombie or evil cultist is being fought, the enemy will just attempt to swarm the players with sheer numbers. Even though the cultists wield ranged weapons, their AI does not seem to take that into account all too often when moving them into positions on the battlefield. While enemies do have differences in terms of damage taken/inflicted and movement speed, all of them will charge player characters with reckless abandon. As a result, every fight begins to blur into every other fight.
One way the developers attempt to remedy this is by placing boss battles at specific points in the campaign. Unfortunately, with the exception of the final boss fight at the end of the game, all of these fights are against the exact same monster. This creature, which I can only describe as an “enormous mutant space lobster with exploding tentacles” (EMSLET), ambushes players regularly throughout the course of the game. EMSLET can be defeated by shooting it in its glowing yellow exploding weaknesses until it dies. At the same time, it will both repeatedly charge at the players and come with endlessly spawning space zombies. Like the rest of the combat in this game, EMSLET encounters begin to blur together after about the third one. Considering there were plenty of opportunities to make new, interesting boss fights to keep the game feeling fresh, this is a very quick and lazy way to add content to the game. Feeling cheap, EMSLET gives off the impression that the developers were pressed for time.

Another method Visceral Games used to inject much needed variety in the game is by peppering both cinematic set-pieces and puzzles throughout the adventure. One of the most used set-pieces is the rappel climbs/descent on a vertical plane. Though not particularly offensive, these segments do not feel like they add much to the game. Usually, it is just another form of combat with some added platforming segments built in. In my experience, other set-pieces throughout the game had an uncanny tendency to result in a lot of unfair deaths due to some fault in the way they triggered or operated. Though I freely admit they tend to be quite visually impressive, the number of glitches and poor design choices involved with their execution ultimately made them more tedious than they should have been.
As for the puzzles, they do not really add much to the game either. In fact, they generally cannot even be truly considered “puzzles”. Most of them do not take more than minor brainpower and about a minute's worth of time to solve. Though they try to break up the long slog of fighting endless enemies, none of them last long enough to really serve this purpose. Mostly, these segments serve as nothing more than brief diversions, lacking in both challenge or substance.

Another aspect that feels strange is the co-op. Unlike previous Dead Space games, players have the option of bringing a friend along for the ride. In fact, the only reason I even played Dead Space 3 was because one of my own friends had asked me to join him for the journey. On some levels, the game handles co-op well. Each character gets their own instanced drops, separate from the other character. The benefit to this is that players do not have to compete for resources, encouraging them to cooperate rather than compete with each other. Further, when a unique item is picked up by one player, a copy is immediately placed in the other player's inventory. This way, neither player can miss out on the items picked up. Also, the co-op character, Carver, does feel integrated into the story in a way that makes him feel relevant. He does affect the progression and without him, the story would be quite different, but we will get to that later.
On the other hand, there are weird ways where co-op does not work quite right. For example, there are times where when one player loses all of their health, they are downed for a period. If not resuscitated by their partner in time, they will die. This is fine, but there are also other times where that period will not trigger, and the player will instantly die. What separates instances where that time frame will and will not activate was never made clear throughout the course of the game. It always felt random. In turn, the mechanic itself felt cheap and inconsistent. And while Carver is a character in its own right, there are times when the game seems to forget this. In many scenes, Issac Clarke seems to be ambushed and thrown into the next area of the game by himself during a cutscene in a way that isolates him from anyone else. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Carver pops into existence right outside of view. Since my friend was playing as Carver, this gave him an odd sort of whiplash when the camera switched back to behind Carver after each of these scenes. Ultimately, because of these grips, the co-op feels both imperfect and incomplete.

One of my least favorite parts of Dead Space 3 was the plot. Before I talk about it, I want to admit that this is my very first Dead Space game. All of my knowledge of the lore of the franchise comes from second-hand sources, and not much of it stuck in my memory. For the most part, I came in with not knowing anything about the finer details of the story. Having said that, I do not feel that that was the reason that I was confused about what was going on with the story. Nor do I feel that the fact that I was playing in co-op was a huge contributor to my lack of understanding. The plot is a nigh incomprehensible mess, and at no point did I feel like I had a true grasp of what I was doing and why. Considering how cookie-cutter the whole affair felt, this is quite an achievement.
To me, the game did not do a good job of establishing the cast of characters and why they, in particular, are doing their part to stop the space zombie invasion. Further, the interactions between characters often do not make sense and serve only to add arbitrary drama and conflict. One particular scene springs to mind when I say that. One scene has the obviously traitorous asshole of the group betray Issac, turning him over to the obviously evil religious cult at gunpoint. When Issac Clarke kills him, he goes to his former girlfriend (who happens to be the traitor's current girlfriend). She asks where he is, to which Issac responds “I shot him”, without even attempting to explain why. Scenes like this occur at multiple points in the game, where characters behave illogically to push the plot forward. The villains are as cartoonish as the come. Despite Simon Templeman's incredible voice acting talent, the cult leader's entire character is just the personification of silliness. Nothing he does makes any sense, and he soldier's on with his beliefs despite all evidence contradicting their validity. I remember joking that if the ending was “rocks fall, everyone dies”, I would be happy with that because every character in the game takes a turn at being stupid. Nothing in this plot felt like it worked, and I struggle to comprehend how people liked it enough to approve it for release.

As a whole, Dead Space 3 feels disjointed and incoherent. For every good thing that the game does, two more big mistakes were made at the same time. Despite being a horror franchise, at no point could anything ever be remotely considered scary. The only thing scary about it is that it represents how EA's decision making can completely ruin what might otherwise have the potential to be a good game. The particularly observant among you might have realized that at no point in this rather long piece did I even mention the weapon crafting, microtransactions, and how they affected the game. That is because I have decided to spend my next article talking about exactly that. I look forward to sharing my thoughts on that with you.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Texture Pop: Episode 4: Mugshots

I said we were going to try to reduce the length of the podcast this week.

I did not say we were going to succeed.

The MP3 version of the podcast can be found here.

0:00:00 Introductions
And Garrett really hates Windows 8. He is correct in that hatred.

0:01:30 Viewer Questions
"Do you think Romero actually has it in his to make a game good? For that matter, what would you guys like to see in a John Romera shooter?"
The Warren Specter quote is one of my personal favorite quotes, because it does highlight a very real disconnect between the fact that game development houses are composed of many people and the fact that people love to associate only a few faces with games, ignoring the rest of the talent involved. John Romero, while definitely a gaming celebrity, is only a part of what this new project will be. It is very much a team effort, but people tend to forget that.
I am not someone who describes to auteur theory. I think even the best leader needs at least one person who is capable of checking their ego and calling them out. Not having that person basically explains every crappy plot every written by David Cage. Leaders are important for keeping the overall vision in focus, but they also need to both people to edit them and the ability to be malleable in that vision.

"Do you guys prefer comic book art that is more stylize or more realistic?"
I think Garrett hit the nail on the head here, it depends entirely upon the tone of the work in question. The art-style needs to match the tone, or else you get an uncomfortable dissonance between the two of them.
Also, I know $3 for a single comic is really cheap, but for someone who binges on media, that doesn't sound like a good value proposition, especially since games tend to last longer and can go on sale for super cheap. After all, I spend $8.40 on Batman: Arkham Origins.

"Does Chris ever get tired of being the only old man in the group?"
Yes, he does. And that's why I keep calling him that. XD
What can I say, it amuses me. He's only 32, but it's awesome to see him react to that.

0:26:20 We talk about Robin Williams's passing.
In all seriousness, this is still shocking to me even so long after the fact. I respect Robin Williams and hope that his family recovers soon in wake of recent events.
One of the things I've found most fascinating is that Robin Williams's characters have almost always succeeded by embracing their inner child. Given what is known about the man, I cannot believe that is a coincidence. His success can be directly traced to being a sweet and innocent man in an industry known for crushing the souls of the careless. I do not have a point to make with that. It is just an observation to make note of.
For the record, Jamanji is awesome and anyone who disagrees can stuff it!

0:39:30 Chris and Sam have played Resident Evil 6
One thing that you need to be aware of regarding Sam is that he is a gaming masochist. He will intentionally purchase a game he knows to be bad and play it for some sick, twisted form of amusement. I routinely cite this as a reason to question his judgement.
Chris has this as well, but to a much less significant extent and he would never admit to it. Also, he won't buy a bad game unless someone else will play it with him. That is the only way I can explain him playing both Resident Evil 6 and Aliens: Colonial Marines. You hear him complain about doing 4 campaigns in RE6, but you'll never hear him say he won't do it!
On the other hand, it gives us a reason to discuss the many, many ways game designers can piss us off.

0:46:39 Chris (and I) played more Dead Space 3 (with different people)
Chris and I have spoken one-on-one regarding this game, and we cannot agree on this game. He is willing to forgive Dead Space 3's problems. I refuse to give this game any mercy!
I do not wish to go into much detail hear, because I have a few articles coming out on the subject in time. Yes, "articles", as in plural. In a Press Start to Discuss FIRST, I have to breakdown my dislike of a game into TWO ARTICLES in order to keep them from being too long. I have been maintaining this little section of cyberspace for three years now, and this has never happened before.
What I will say, since I did not mention it in my article, is that it's BULLSHIT that Carver three sentences's worth of character are hidden behind co-op. He already does not have anything more than a typical macho-man soldier character arc, and even that is hidden away from the average player.
The story itself is also a completely convoluted, vapid mess. Nothing with any sort of meaning ever happens and every single person in this cast is stupid. I WISH every single one of them died.
I hate this game. I'm glad I got it free on PlayStation Plus, because I would have NEVER paid money for it.
I hate this game so much that I do not want to play the first two JUST TO SPITE THIS GAME. When Chris says he likes it, I just do not understand.

1:20:15 I finished Batman: Arkham Origins.
I feel so bad for the developers of this game. Released in a vacuum, this would be seen as both an excellent game and an amazing Batman game. In light of Arkham Asylum/City, it is inferior to both. Still, even inferior Arkham is great Arkham, and they should be proud of their accomplishment. I look forward to further games from this studio.
Having said that, those are two very tough acts to follow, and the developers hands are tied. They couldn't top the twist of Arkham City. Like I said last time, Shamus Young wrote a detailed, multi-part post explaining how their hands were tied.
The gameplay is still on the level of previous Arkham games, which is ultimately all it needed to do.
The new voice actors for Batman and the Joker should also feel proud of their performances. They did great jobs and captured their respective characters well.

1:33:00 I played a bit of Dragon's Crown
Having played a lot of it, I still haven't fully gotten over how ridiculously exaggerated all of the characters in the game are. It's actually very distracting. Fair, but distracting and not really necessary to the game.
But the actual game is pretty fun on it's own. It's a really great callback both to classic RPGs (in its storytelling style) and old-school beat'em ups (in its gameplay). I look forward to getting to the point where I can play online.

1:36:55 I purchased a 3DS XL.
I also purchased three games with it: Project X Zone, Shin Megami Tensei IV, and Bravely Default.
I've been playing a lot of Project X Zone. I still don't have many strong opinions on it aside from that it's cool to see all these characters put together in one project.

1:38:30 I started coding something.
There's no way to build skill at designing games than to actually start doing it. Since I'm better at coding myself than using a program to do it, this will be my best bet. Again, I have not made much progress, but I need to start somewhere.

1:40:10 Garrett is getting ready to start Game Development in college
And it's exciting!

1:40:40 Garrett dyed his hair (and we all see each other's faces in motion for the first time)
And, to be clear, this is the very first time we have ever seen each other "in person". We usually just stick to our respective avatars. After this cast, we all went on webcam and kept talking a bit, sharing our gaming swag with each other. It's a strange feeling, to be sure. We might even consider doing it again.
I'm just glad that we don't do video podcasts. Nobody needs to see my face that much. My voice is already grating enough.

1:47:20 Garrett played Thomas Was Alone and Metro: Last Light
And we don't talk much about either one. Which is a shame, because they are both great games to talk about.

1:49:00 Garrett found Grim Grimoire.
And I urge him to keep playing, because that is an amazing game.
Then, we take a detour to discuss Okage: Shadow King. This is both one of the most hilarious, and most difficult RPGs I have ever played. Any hardcore RPG fans who have not played Okage are missing out. I take this time to fanboy over it because I rarely ever get the chance to.
Sam would love it, because it's just weird enough to appeal to his inner anime-fan.

1:56:25 Sam played Counter Strike... again
Not much to say there.

1:56:55 Sam played Diablo 3.
It's a great podcast game, no pun.... oh who am I kidding. OF COURSE that pun was intended.
In all seriousness, it's a nice game to do mindlessly while something else is happening. I played the demo on PS3 and thought that was enough for me, but I do see the appeal.

2:00:40 Sam played Mount Your Friends.
That game has been getting around. To be fair, it looks incredibly fun.

2:01:20 Garrett talks about Five Nights at Freddy's.
This is another one of those game's that have been floating around. Then again, out of all the "PewDieBait" games out there, this is probably the best one after Amnesia.
The conversation here devolved into a conversation about horror games as a whole, and how stagnant they became before this game's release.

2:10:20 Conclusion
This podcast was way too long.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Texture Pop: Episode 3: My Favorite Apartment on the Citadel

Before we start, I would like to begin by noting a very interesting trend. One of the more fascinating things I have noticed is that while the annotations for the podcast get tons of views, the podcasts themselves do not. There are several possible reasons for this.

1.) The 2-hour+ length of the podcast is off-putting.
2.) The lack of an MP3 format is a hindrance to our audience.
3.) My particular viewership would rather read the annotations than listen to the podcast.

We'll be experimenting with way to address some of these potential issues over the next few episodes. Today, this starts by giving out an MP3 version of the podcast on top of the YouTube version. Out of the people I've talked with, this has been a major issue for several people. It's totally understandable, as most people probably just download these onto their iPods and listen to them in the car.

Though we did not do so in this episode, we will also try to reduce the length of these podcasts as well. Ideally, we'd like these to be less than 1 hour and 30 minutes. The actual content of the cast won't change, but we're trying to find ways to let us have our usual discussions in a more reasonable time.

Having said all of that, the podcast is available below:

And the MP3 version can be downloaded from this site. The link should also be on the YouTube page.

0:01:30 Viewer Questions!
"Did you ever play a game that was bad, but still seemed to have a good game deep down trying to get out?"
This is an interesting question, because it's there are a lot of games that are bad because of a few key decisions.
Alpha Protocol is a special game for me, and people who know me already know that. The actual playing of Alpha Protocol is mediocre on Easy and terrible on either Medium or Hard. At the same time, the fact that character decisions have measurable impacts on the story. Everything you do in Alpha Protocol has some effect on something.
Thief (2014) is also another interesting game. All the mechanics are there. However, the game is let down by both the level design and the nonsense story. It's a shame that Square-Enix probably learned the wrong lessons from it. Since nobody is talking about it anymore, there's no one to correct them on it either.

"Have you guys played Brutal Doom yet?"
This brings up the topic of old school shooters and their recent reemergence in things like Wolfenstein: The New Order. Everything I have heard about the new Wolfenstein has me intrigued. I'm honestly not sure why I haven't played it yet.
I will say that it's amazing how just adding modern FPS controls to an old game can really breath new life into it. I might not have played Brutal Doom yet, but there is always a chance I will in the future.

0:19:43 Sam and Chris played Firefall (and hate it)
Hearing all of there stories about how terrible the game is to play with friends, I'm almost in shock. These are all really, really basic things an MMO HAS to get right in order to do well.
There is no reason to have quest-important objectives not instanced to each individual player.
There is no reason to make it difficult for friends in the SAME PARTY to be on the same instance.
There is no reason for each player in the same party to have to instantiate the same quest individually.
There is no reason for a game on Steam to not work when selected through Steam.
There is no reason to only allow for one quest to be activated at the same time.
And this game doesn't even have the shield of Early Access to defend it. It is just a bad game. I mean, I've never played it, but I don't want to after hearing these guys talk about. This kind of crap is inexcusable.
Were it an Early Access game, and if they provided some indicator explaining that this was necessary, there MIGHT be a valid excuse here. But this is literally as bad as it could get beyond that game just not working properly.

The discussion here also led to us talking about other MMO flops of recent history like The Elder Scrolls Online and The Old Republic. It's actually sad how far that particular genre seems to have fallen. Even WoW isn't doing as good as it used to.

0:38:32 Chris beat Shovel Knight
And didn't say much about it.

0:39:45 Chris and I played each other in Injustice: Gods Among Us
As of the time of writing, my Impressions article on Injustice just went up yesterday, which is the day AFTER we recorded the podcast.
For those of you unaware, Chris has a tendency to lose to me in games we play together. This was basically his chance at revenge for my beating him in X-Com and Persona 4 Arena.
It seems to me that both Deathstroke and Batgirl are really top tier characters. Deathstroke's guns come out really fast and Batgirl has a really good attack throw that rarely ever misses.
Speaking of Batgirl, we talk about Batgirls for a bit.

0:43:06 Chris played Dead Space 3, and so did I.
And I hijack his turn to rant about all the things that suck about this game.
The more I played the game, the more boring it gets. It's even worse because playing co-op with a friend is terrible and feels completely tacked on.
On top of that, I am never scared because my weapon is completely overpowered and has been since I could start customizing my weapons. The enemies jump out and I just blow them away with my shotgun whose damage is maxed out. Going up against cannon fodder isn't scary. In fact, when I get into an encounter in DS3, I don't get scared, I get annoyed.
The set-pieces are also insufferable, because they feel stupid and are the result of many cheap deaths. Every single set-piece in this game, without fail, has something wrong with it.
As for the story, I have absolutely no idea what is going on or what exactly are the relationships between the cast of characters are.
It's not a bad game, but it's not a good game. It's exactly in the middle: Completely mediocre.

0:56:00 Chris and Sam watched the Rocket Raccoon movie.
And I still need to see it. Don't worry. I will in time. It took me quite a long time to watch the Avengers as well.

0:57:15 I use the fact that the N7 Armor is in Dead Space 3 to relentlessly mock Issac Clarke and make Mass Effect references.
Which is how this episode got its title.

0:58:37 I played the story mode of Injustice: Gods Among Us
The way NetherRealms has begun to present the story of its fighting games is something I want to diffuse to other fighting games. Too many fighters use walls of texts to explain their stories. It works, especially for a comic book-based plot.
Another fun fact, Chris is a very old school comic book reader. Where Sam and I are okay with a more grey-on-grey morality, Chris would much rather it be black-and-white, like they used to be. Personally, I dislike when complex moral conundrums are made too simple, but there is merit to the old school "truth and justice" approach to comic book writing as well.
Overall, Injustice is a really well done story, and was pretty faithful to the source material.

We use this as a springboard to discuss DC Comics in a more general sense several times as well.
Chris also does a great job of filling me in with details from the tie-in comics published by DC.

As for Injustice's combat. I talked about it briefly in my impressions piece, but it feels a lot more rigid than I'd like it to be. I'd rather more fluidity personally, but that's just me.

1:13:02 I played Batman: Arkham Origins.
Arkham Origins occupies an interesting position. I do not envy the developers in making Arkham Origins. Living up to Rocksteady's Arkham games is HARD.
Shamus Young did a fascinating five-part analysis on Arkham Origins that discussed this very issue. Considering the expectations that were on this new developer, and the fact that they were going into this without much experience in creating Batman: Arkham games, it's actually really impressive how well they did. They really should be proud of the product they released. This is more the fault of the publisher than the developer in this case.
This game is good. In fact, it's awesome. It's just that it feels like an off-brand Arkham game. At the same time, seeing Batman in his early days is really interesting. He's still an expert in his chosen fields, but he lacks the experience and refinement of his older counterpart. It gives this one a bit more of an edge.
I do feel like the new Arkham Knight game would feel a lot stronger in the absence of Arkham Origins coming out last year.

1:20:16 I bought the Transistor Soundtrack.
And I spend a few minutes gushing over it.

1:21:17 I don't play Marvel Puzzle Quest anymore.
I had some fun times with that game, but with recent updates making it harder to keep up without spending several hours per day playing it, and the recent drama that was dominating my "alliance", it was no longer worth it. Free-to-play games really attract the oddest sorts of people.
And no, I am no longer in the market for any F2P games. I'll just stick to Solitaire and Threes.

1:24:05 We talk about Twitch's new content ID system, and Google in a more general sense.
If our explanation isn't sufficient, here's Twitch's official blog update on the matter. After the failure of their new system, they released an update the next day.
I find it funny because when it was announced that YouTube/Google bought Twitch, something like this would happen. It's honestly extremely shameful.
I also do not like how Google basically dominates the internet space. Most internet-related things are controlled by Google to a certain degree. It's probably okay for now, but history says that monopolies aren't good for consumers, if not now then somewhere down the line. After all, I'm sure you remember the whole issue with Google+ on YouTube.

I also take this time to personally apologize for my thoughts and behavior when Anita Sarkeesian first locked down her YouTube comments. I admit, I don't know WHAT I was thinking back then. Nowadays, I'm of the attitude that if a channel owner locks down their YouTube comments, you should say "Thank You".
So please like, comment, and subscribe to our YouTube channel! XD

Speaking of Twitch, I should also give a shout-out to the Diecast. In the latest episode, Shamus Young and Chris "Campster/Errant Signal" Franklin made the point that any one of those videos in the Twitch archives isn't valuable. However, they BECOME valuable in aggregate. As an example, any one of my articles on this blog isn't that valuable by itself. Together, the form a very rich repository of video game editorials.

This became weirdly political, but I think it's a conversation that should be going on. Just be sure any discourse of such a nature is civil.

1:41:41 Sam plays Trials: Fusion (and hates it)
Sam brings up an interesting point in that it took 2-3 hours to beat, and its cost was $20. Now, I have repeatedly said that length in games should not be the "end all be all", but that might be a bit ridiculous, especially since a lot of that game is grinding the same tracks over and over. For that kind of game, the price likely is a bit too high.
I also am somewhat amused by Sam hating the difficult tracks, because he's a huge Dark Souls fan.

1:45:20 I ask Sam a question about replaying old games.
Honestly, I sympathize with people who feel like they NEED to tackle that backlog, if only to justify buying the games. However, gaming is supposed to be fun. Props to my friends Alan DeHaan (@Aulayan) for reminding me that games are supposed to be fun. Playing a game because you feel you have to is work. Don't turn your entertainment into work because you feel like you have to. This message isn't just for Sam, it's for everyone who is reading this right now and/or listening to the podcast.

1:49:25 Sam played the Nosgoth beta.
I wonder how people will react to the game when it comes out. It looks cool, and it's an interesting way to resurrect the Legacy of Kain franchise.

1:51:30 Sam rapid-fire lists of all the games that he played.

1:51:55 Chris and Sam played DOTA 2 together.
And this takes us back to our tutorial discussion from before. DOTA 2 seems to take advantage of the player made guides in its game. That is very smart on Valve's part and helps guide players without holding their hand. MOBAs in particular have a tough time of it because they have a lot of working parts, but every game has this problem to a degree. It's interesting to see how they try to solve it.

1:57:40 We close the podcast.
And you can see my Injustice article here.
I'll also promote the Vlog Brothers, PBS Idea Channel, and PBS Game/Show here, since we mentioned them.
The Wimbly Womblies joke is a reference to HankGames (without Hank) where John Green plays FIFA.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Impressions #11: Injustice: Gods Among Us

This may come as a surprised to people who only follow me here, though that appears to be a distinct minority, but I sometimes play fighting games when the mood strikes me. Not that I am any good at them, but I do have a certain fascination with the genre. At the same time, I also adore superheroes like the ones from Marvel and DC. How do those two facts come together? Well, Injustice: Gods Among Us: Ultimate Edition was $8.40 on PSN a while back. For such a low price, I had to purchase it. Though I have yet to play it with a friend at the time of writing, I have played through the entire story mode. And I feel that I have sunk enough time into the game that I can make an adequate judgment call on.

When it comes to presentation, most fighting games are stuck in this rut where either the whole plot is explained by crawling text, or each character only has one “plot” scene when beating their Arcade mode. Injustice works differently. Rather than use the standard text blocks to explain the story in between battles, Injustice uses cinematics to great effect. The biggest draw is that there are no loading times between cutscenes and fights. When a fight begins, the characters take their combat stance, the black bars on the top and bottom of the screen vanish, then the HUD appears.
The transition is not always completely seamless, as there are some instances where the pre-rendered cutscene graphics and the in-game graphics do not completely match up in terms of quality. The transition from fighting back to cutscenes also suffers a similar problem, but is otherwise of as high quality. Fans of the most recent Mortal Kombat game should recognize this, as it is the same style used in that game. I personally thought that this presentation improved the overall flow of the story, and I would encourage more fighting game developers to use this style. It is much more entertaining than simply having to read tons of text to understand what is going on. Because of this, the player is much more and the fact that a fight could break out at any time, players are much more engaged and attentive than they might otherwise be.

That being said, the most important thing in a fighting game is the actual combat. To that end, the combat is Injustice: Gods Among Us is solid. Most players of Mortal Kombat and other fighting games will be familiar with the basic elements. Each fighter has their own moves, both basic and special. The key is for the player to look for openings in the enemy's movement and attacks in order to capitalize with their own combos. Generally, it requires some time to practice with and against all sorts of characters to learn their unique command lists and the properties of each command. None of this is new to anyone who has ever played a fighter before, so it is not worth going into much detail.
One of the features that does separate Injustice from its contemporaries is the way the game handles hit points. Most fighting games separate fights by rounds, and the player who wins the most rounds in a best of 3 (or 5) wins. In between rounds, health is completely refilled and fighters reset to a “neutral” position so that the playing field is leveled. In this game, the situation is different. Instead, both combatants have two health meters on the outset of a fight, a white bar on top of a red bar. A round of combat ends when one of the health bars is depleted. Further, damage and player position are carried over between rounds. As a result, while it may be easier for a defeated player in the first round to win the second round of combat, they are left at an overall disadvantage because their opponent will still have an entire health bar in the final round. This system makes the fights more interesting to watch, as comebacks are much more impressive. Having said that, the game, for better or worse, becomes much more tense for the loser of the first round, while the winner has a less stressful time. This one change does affect the overall flow by giving an even greater incentive to play carefully and manage the risk/reward of making bold moves.
Injustice also separates itself from the rest of the crowd with its Clash system. Like other games in the genre, fighters in this game can build up super meter by both giving and receiving attacks. This can be used to fuel special variations of moves and each characters super move. More importantly, this meter can be wagered in a Clash. When one combatant is on their red meter (meaning they have lost a round already) and they have super, they can counter an enemy attack by instantiating a Clash. During this event, both players wager a portion of their super meter discreetly. The one who bet the most wins the Clash. If the one who initiated it wins, the enemy's move is nullified and the victor recovers lost health in proportion to the difference between gambled super meter. Should the attacker come out on top, the defender will take damage dependent of the same difference. What this system does is force players to better judge how they use their super. Players might not necessarily want to use up all of their super to perform powerful moves because the enemy might capitalize on their lack of super to outmatch them in a Clash. Having some saved up for such an occasion is a much more understandable concept. I do not know if it is enough to really affect the overall flow anyway, as often the damage from pulling off a super is greater than the recovery from a Clash, but it is an interesting attempt at doing so.

One of the biggest things I felt when playing Injustice, and I do not know if this just a personal complaint, is that the fighting felt a bit stiff. It could be because I am used to games like Soul Calibur or Persona 4 Arena, where animations seem very fluid and flow into each other, Injustice feels a lot more rigid. While combos can be developed on the fly in a Soul Calibur game (based on their properties), the combos in this cannot. Any combos were ones completely designed and intended by the designers. Combinations that feel like they otherwise should connect will whiff if they were not one of the predetermined combinations. Whether that is a good or bad thing is dependent on the person playing the game. Some people will adore it, while others like myself dislike it. I do not know if I can call it bad, but I do think that some fluidity would have been nice.

Overall, Injustice: Gods Among Us is a solid game. The DC characters are represented well and the fighting mechanics are solid. Though I did not talk about the story, it is interesting and holds up over its entirety. Bringing in new health and Clash systems helps separate Injustice from other products in the genre. Lastly, the presentation of the game's single-player campaign gives it a sense of cohesion and spectacle that other fighting games generally do not equal. For fans of Mortal Kombat and/or the DC universe, this is an easy recommendation. Otherwise, you would be okay in skipping it.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Texture Pop: Episode 2: Too Proud For Trophies

Another week, another podcast. Sam, Chris, Garrett, and myself get together to talk about pretty much whatever we want to. I also didn't realize that I sounded so weird until I listened to it myself. Some people just love their voice, but I hate mine sometimes.
For the record, whenever Chris says he needs to shut his windows, there is a reason for that. He lives really close to train tracks. He hears them quite clearly, and assumes we do as well. Luckily, his microphone is good at ignoring those sounds.

0:00:00 Introductions.
Every single time we do an intro, it ends up like this. It's just something we do, we can't help it.

0:01:40 Chris immediately goes into the Deadpool footage leak.
Although I didn't see it, all the descriptions of the footage sound really awesome. It's a shame that I don't really have faith that Fox will be able to pull it off, or even want to.Even still, it's nice to know that some people are getting Deadpool right.
This conversation quickly turns into a discussion of Deadpool and how he is in the comics. I do wonder how they'll keep his tone while keeping the movie PG-13.
Then, we discuss Call of Duty for reasons that escape me.
Garrett's review of the Deadpool game can be found here.

0:10:10 We have viewer questions.
For the unaware, the four of us used to do another podcast before we formed The Texture Pop (and we stopped it for various reasons). Adonisus is an old friend of ours who regularly sent us listener questions. I'm glad he decided to follow us to this new podcast as well. :)
When it comes to remembering old games, I'm not all that great because of my youthful vigor. On top of that, I didn't own an N64, my cousins did. I'd just play it over there.
I've also not read many Image comics. Although I have always wanted to get into comics, it always seems intimidating to get into them. There is so much lore and backstory that they expect you to know that it's a little overwhelming. On top of that, my time is more and more limited as I get older.
Yes, I am named after Brandon Lee. That's not a joke at all.
It is actually a bit interesting how Destiny can use some of the same tropes of Shadowrun Returns, and just move them into space, and it's just so boring.

0:24:15 Garrett bought Guild Wars 2
I don't really know enough about Guild Wars 2 to add anything here. Part of why I don't play MMOs was because WoW was the first, and WoW's subscription model always turned me off. After that, I got so into single-player games that I never really looked back.

0:27:28 Garrett has been reading Sandman: Overture.
As we've already established, I don't know much about comics, so I'm useless in this conversation.
We also go into a conversation about Joseph Gordon Levitt and Looper. It's amazing how often we change topics like that. I've also noticed that both Chris and I tend to do most of the derailing.

0:33:00 We talk about all the game's we NEED to play together.
For those not in the know, Chris and I have a gaming history. As in, I tend to kick his ass in most of the games we play against each other. So far, we've both played X-Com: Enemy Unknown and Persona 4 Arena together, and I've been the victor. He's better at Injustice, so he's itching to turn the tides.

0:35:00 Chris finishes his college and internship.
Another bit of context, Chris was working a white-collar job until it closed down. In order to keep working in that field, he went back to college in order to finish his degree. Now that's he's down with his Summer semester, he should go from no free time to 0.01 hours of free time.

0:36:01 Chris has been playing Firefall.
It seems like an interesting game, but I've become less and less enamored with Free-To-Play. They usually try too hard to get me to spend money to hold my interest. The only exception so far has been Marvel Puzzle Quest, and even that game has its own problems.
I'm also getting sick of the same tired quest design in these MMO games. Not everything needs to be a fetch quest or a collection quest.

0:47:20 Chris has played more Shovel Knight.
I will get this game at some point, but not right now. Everything I've heard about Shovel Knight is really, really interesting. After playing Ducktails awhile back, I'm more than okay with old school 2D platformers.

0:49:55 Chris has been training in Injustice: Gods Among Us.
And I demonstrate my ineptitude regarding fighting games. We then use this as a springboard to talk about Tekken and fighting games in general. The fighting games I tend to play are much more casual in nature, like the Naruto games, Soul Calibur, and Persona 4 Arena.

0:53:30 Chris and Sam talk about Titanfall DLC.
Titanfall is an interesting subject. Previously, I thought that the main appeal of shooters was their multiplayer modes. While I still believe that, Titanfall also serves to demonstrate why it is important to have a single-player mode, especially if the game is being sold for $60. The mental math going on in people's heads makes the game seem less valuable in comparison to something like a Call of Duty.

0:55:15 I played Kingdom Hearts 1.5: Final Mix.
And Sam happily brings up the trophy issue. I still can't believe I only have the trophy for finishing the game on Proud. Considering how long a typical Kingdom Hearts 1 is, that's still a huge slap in the face. I'm probably not going to play through it again for those trophies because I don't have that kind of time.
Overall though, the game is really, really good. Even though it was a PS2 game, 1.5 ReMIX makes it feel like a current gen game, if not in looks, then in play.
My impressions of Kingdom Hearts are recorded here. I also reiterate a few points from this article I wrote on Kingdom Hearts.

1:03:55 I played Dead Space 3 (and hate it)
That game... sucks so badly.
The story makes no friggin' sense. The combat is dull and tedious against Space Al-Queda and Space Lobsters alike. The textures on the faces look bad. It's just a mess. A dull, tedious, repetitious mess that feels like EA rushed it out the door to make a quick buck. And I haven't even gotten to the crafting system yet.
I don't want to finish this game, but I almost feel like I have to at this point.
The fact that this game happened in a similar timeframe to Mass Effect 3's abysmal ending is probably a large portion of the reason why EA is so hated.

1:15:23 I watched a bit of an LP of The Legend of Spyro: A New Beginning
I remember playing those games back in the PS2-era. The games aren't bad per se. The problem is that they do nothing notable. Both A New Beginning and The Eternal Night are just long corridors of endless enemies to kill. They do nothing to inject variety into the gameplay, which is a shame.
I am generally okay with reboots. However, if you're going to reboot something, you need to consider why it is being rebooted, and what fans like about. The Legend of Spyro is a decent story, but I do not get the impression that it needed to involve Spyro at all. It doesn't feel like Spyro in gameplay, story, or even the personalities of the cast. Everything feels off.
We briefly detour to talk about Remember Me. Sam's review of it can be found here.

1:21:00 I finished Season 1 of The X-Files.
I am eager to dive into Season 2 after watching Season 1. It's a very solid series and I understand why so many people love it. This show appeals to me in many ways. It combines crime dramas like Castle and The Mentalist with the crazy supernatural shit I can get in a show like Once Upon a Time or those insufferable History Channel alien shows, except good.

1:22:50 Sam finished Yu Yu Hakusho.
I remember watching that show all the time as a teenager, back when Toonami was still a thing. I loved that show, but not enough to go hunting for it. It sucks that the last arc sucks, but truth be told, I excepted that.

1:25:12 Sam plays Counter Strike: GO
The way Sam talks about CS makes me want to stay away from it. I suck at multiplayer shooters, so I'd probably never do anywhere near competent in that game.

1:27:20 Sam plays Velvet Sundown
And challenges us to play it with him. Hopefully, we get to it, but it's always hard to tell with this group.
From the Giant Bomb Quick Look, the game looks interesting enough to take a look at. Just watch it, it's worth it.

1:31:15 Sam played some of Gods Will Be Watching.
And he is doing pretty bad at it. Don't feel bad, it's not his fault he's a noob. XD
In all seriousness, I should probably play that game so that I understand his plight.

1:32:55 Sam plays MOBAs. Lots of MOBAs.
We use this as a springboard to talk about implied pedophilia, actual pedophilia, tutorials, and many other issues.
Taking this chance to talk about horrible gaming communities, it's appalling to me that people can be so hostile to new players coming in and learning the game. Gaming, to me, is supposed to be a very inclusive hobby. I don't want people to be excluded, I want to invite them in. I mean, we were all new to games at one point. Why can't we sympathize with people who want in on the fun, but aren't as skilled.
And as for tutorials, I think the kind of tutorials one responds best to are reliant on what kind of learning one responds best to. Garrett and Sam seem to exhibit really different schools of thought. Garrett appears to learn better by having it explained to him, where Sam seems to learn by experimentation. Neither approach is invalid, but it is important to note that different people learn differently. Personally, I'm with Sam in that I am an experimental-type of learner. Since so many people learn so differently, tutorials are really hard to do properly. This also gets into the complexity of some video games. MOBAs are more complex than they probably need to be. Some people like Garrett are fine with just reading a lot in tutorials and secondary reference materials. Others like Sam and myself, would rather just play and learn as we go. There's no right answer. It's completely up to preference.

2:03:50: We finally wrap up the cast.
See you guys next week! :)

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Impressions #10: Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix

The fact the I am a fan of the Kingdom Hearts franchise is not much of a secret. Even after my critiques of the series, I still find myself coming back to it over and over again. When I found a copy of Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5: ReMIX for $19.99, I just had to make the purchase. Having spent much of my free time with Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix in particular, thoughts on the game are gathering in the back of my mind. Before I start, I would like to warn readers that I write this assuming you are already familiar with Kingdom Hearts, and have at least played the original release of the game. With that said....

When I started my latest playthrough of the game, I noticed that the Final Mix version of the original Kingdom Hearts changed the initial choices of difficulty. While the first version had only two choices: Normal and Expert, the Final Mix had three options. They were Final Mix: Beginner, Normal, and Final Mix: Proud. Having played Kingdom Hearts many times in the past, I decided to bring in some challenge by tackling the Proud difficulty. This became a choice I would regret at first, because the initial levels in the game are fairly brutal without Guard or Dodge Roll. Once the game opened up a bit, unlocking some magic and abilities, I changed my mind. On Final Mix: Proud, the game becomes much more about timing and positioning. If the player leaves an opening, the enemy will capitalize on it. On Normal mode, attacks do not inflict enough damage to be very worrying. Proud Mode is a different story. Foes can easily take out half of Sora's health with a single blow. As a result, I found myself utilizing magic and items a lot more than previous playthroughs of Kingdom Hearts, where I would mostly just attack, using Cure for healing. It added to the game in a way that I would have never anticipated.

Another thing I should mention are the scenes they added to the game's main story. Most of them detail Riku's involvement with the plot. None of the added scenes are absolutely essential to understanding the story. However, they do add a nice context to Riku's character and how it evolves over the course of the game. With these scenes, it is much easier to understand exactly why Riku joined up with Maleficent, and how she convinced him to work with her. Also, when Ansem takes over Riku's body towards the end of the game, the extra scenes help explain how he ends up on the other side of the door to Kingdom Hearts along side King Mickey. None of this is necessary for the plot to make sense, but it is nice to have the game explicitly answer these questions.
Aside from that, the story to the original Kingdom Hearts is all here, and it is as Simple and Clean as it was back then. The first game excelled at telling a simple, Disney-style story. It talks about friendship, heart, and the duality between light and darkness such that anyone in its E for Everyone demographic can understand. While later entries in the series will delve into the more complicated, Final Fantasy-esque storytelling, Kingdom Hearts started out differently, and the writing was better for it.

On a core level, this is the same Kingdom Hearts that I fell in love with way back in 2002. The combat feels grounded. I would not call it “realistic”, but it has a sense of plausibility that later games in the franchise did not quite recapture for me. Even today, the gameplay holds up extremely well. Hit detection is solid and the player has a lot of feedback with regards to when something takes damage or when an attack gets parried.
Having said that, there is key difference that I made a note of. In the original game, when Sora uses a technique like Ars Arcanum or Sonic Blade, he is invincible during both the initial attack and during all of the follow ups. In Final Mix, I noticed that during the follow-ups of either Ars Arcanum or Ragnarok, Sora is open to attacks, making both moves less useful overall compared to Sonic Blade or Strike Raid. I am not sure whether or not I appreciate that change. On one hand, the two moves are not as good as they used to be. On the other hand, not only were they overpowered to begin with, but their reduced effectiveness encouraged me to use other techniques instead. With the addition of new abilities and adjusted level up charts to accommodate them, the game feels fresh even for people who have already played Kingdom Hearts before.
Other notable changes help to bring the game into the modern age. In the original Kingdom Hearts, players needed to scroll down through the attack menu in order to select the contextual commands. The HD version of the Final Mix changes that by mapping them all to the triangle button in much the same way that Reaction Commands work in Kingdom Hearts 2. Follow-up attacks from Keyblade Techniques are also handled this way. Further, at the start of the game, players can choose to either stick with the shoulder button camera controls from the original game, or change it to the right-analog stick. When I saw the prompt, I personally switched it the the right stick as fast as I possibly could. These are both really nice convenience changes that improve upon the game by bringing it into the current gen. Shoulder button camera controls have always had issues, like their limited axis of effectiveness and general unwieldiness. Purists might be turned off, but I welcome the additions.

Kingdom Hearts always had a knack for looking good, even back in the PS2 era. Because of the game's use of bold colors and a stylized, cartoonish look, the game visually withstood the test of time. With the HD treatment, this is even more true. Everything looks fantastic with the higher resolution. However, given that this is still a PS2-era game, there are some noticeable graphical hiccups that games from that system were known for. For example, they did not have the technical ability to render a character's high detail face outside of cutscenes. When in gameplay, and even in some cutscenes, the faces on the characters are noticeably of lesser quality. As a port of a PS2 game, this is to be expected. Unfortunately, sometimes the higher resolution works against the game in this case. When uprezzing some of the textures for the character models, there are a few isolated cases where there is noticeable pixelation on them. Thankfully, it is no where near as bad as when Final Fantasy X-2 HD, where most character models had that issue. I only noticed in a few small, highly isolated cases. The pixelation is only a blemish on an otherwise highly polished piece of art.

Overall, Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix alone is well worth the asking price for the 1.5 ReMIX. As of the time of writing, I have yet to complete the boss fight against Unknown that was added to the Final Mix. I do not feel leveled enough to be able to fight him on Proud mode and right now I want to take a break from the game. I also do not currently feel compelled to play through Re: Chain of Memories. When it came out on the PS2, I purchased it and completed it 100%. As fun as that was, I do not feel like I want to do it again after doing it on both the GBA and the PS2. Nonetheless, I am extremely eager to purchase and play through the 2.5 ReMIX when it is released.