Saturday, January 31, 2015

Impressions #23: inFamous: Second Son

The inFamous franchise has always been a popular one for owners of the PlayStation 3. Developed by Sucker Punch, the creators of the Sly Cooper franchise, inFamous used many common superhero tropes to create its own universe and world. Both of the games on the PS3 followed protagonist Cole McGrath, also known as “The Electric Man” and “The Demon of Empire City,” and his desire to grow and develop his powers in preparation to face “The Beast”. Those who played those games know that his story, in either of the second entry's two possible endings, comes to a very definitive end. Of course, that did not stop the creation of a new entry in the franchise for Sony's relatively new PS4. This sequel, inFamous: Second Son, is the subject for this week's article.

InFamous: Second Son is an interesting game, because it is one of the exclusive games that came out extremely early in the new console generation. As a result, it occupies this unfortunate space between superhero-sandbox game and PS4 tech demo. It also presented a large change in direction for the series in terms of tone. Though the game still feels very distinctly like an inFamous game, it seems like many of the best elements of that franchise were diluted somewhat. This all combines to create a game that, while satisfactory, does not quite live up to its predecessors.

But before we get into that, it is important to discuss the story of the inFamous franchise as a whole. In the world of inFamous, certain people are born with abilities that may or may not awaken. Referred to as “conduits”, these people, if their latent talents manifest, have fast healing, enhanced physical prowess, and the power to channel a particular material. This material can be anything in particular, even man-made. At the end of inFamous, the protagonist, in the canonical Good Ending, sacrifices his life and the lives of all conduits in order to save all normal people from a terrible, and highly lethal, plague.
Second Son takes place after this event. As it turns out, not all conduits were killed, only most of them. After these random people began to manifest all sorts of strange and powerful new abilities, governments began to fear them. Later on, the United States government began to take steps to fight against these “bio-terrorists.” As a result, the Department of Unified Protection (DUP) is formed. Headed by a concrete-wielding conduit named Brooke Augustine, and armed with technology to detect and combat conduits, the DUP have absolute authority to imprison or eliminate anyone who possesses the conduit-gene.
This is a remarkable change in tone from previous inFamous games. The PS3 titles were very comic book-inspired. It was mostly about people with superpowers going up against other people with superpowers. Second Son, on the other hand, is extremely heavy-handed with its political commentary. Allegories to the modern-war War on Terror are overt, obvious, and all over the place. Furthermore, these concepts are linked together by imagery of the police state, like an Edward Snowden-inspired social commentary. While I am not against politics in video game, in fact I often encourage it, the game seems almost afraid that the player will not understand the message they are attempting to make. I strongly feel that it would have better for Sucker Punch to be more subtle with the way they introduce and comment on these issues. Social commentary is far more likely to make a lasting impact when it does not sound, to the audience, preach-y.

Of course, being an inFamous game, the karma system makes a return. As the game progresses, players are given good and/or evil karma based on how they play, what they do, and what decisions they make in the story. Starting at neutral, Delsin Rowe will shift, over time, towards either a Good or an Evil alignment as karma is accumulated. Though the plot will follow the same rough path regardless of these choices, events will be altered to reflect karmic alignment. Further, certain upgrades to the player's powers will be either unlocked or blocked off depending on which side of the spectrum Delsin stands on. This is nothing new, and behaves much like it did back in the old inFamous games.
For a couple of years, I have been a major critic of this karma system. Back then, these choices were always between childishly-binary extremes. For example, in the original inFamous, one of the moral choices is to decide whether to inform someone that their wife died so that they will let allow the protagonist to advance, or to just kill them to get them out of the way. In the immortal words of Yahtzee Croshaw in his Bioshock review, back when these systems were more commonplace, “You can choose to be either Mother Teresa or a baby-eater, with no apparent middle ground.”
Some of the choices present in inFamous: Second Son still have this degree of cartoonish morality. On the other hand, many of the decisions that affect moral standing do not really seem to be all that different from each other. In a few scenes, Delsin comes into contact with other people that have powers. When his brother, who is a police officer, attempts to bring them into custody for crimes they have committed, the protagonist is given a choice. He can free the conduit, setting them on the path to redemption for good karma. Alternatively, he can free the conduit, allowing them to run-free on society and show the world how strong they are for evil karma. In either case, the player makes the exact same action. However, the only difference is in the logical reason behind the action.

Fortunately, the game plays well. Like the PS3 inFamous games, it is mostly an open-world sandbox where the player is free to use their powers as they see fit. The city contains many side quests, which players can undertake in order to wrest the city of Seattle, Washington, where the game takes places, from the DUP, much like the territory side-quests from old games in the franchise. However, there does not seem to be as much as there was in those entries. In fact, the game feels a lot shorter. It can be beaten, 100%, in a single weekend. Some franchise fans might be put off by that. However, with my busy schedule, and the various side projects that I have going on, I appreciated the fact that the game was a bit more succinct.
Unlike Cole McGrath, Delsin Rowe is not an electrical-conduit. In fact, he channels a very unique material. He channels others conduit powers, with the ability to absorb and use as many abilities as he can find. The first power he acquires is Smoke, followed by Neon, Video, and lastly Concrete.
Each power controls similarly, with different properties and upgrade paths keeping them apart. That seems like a missed opportunity, given that they could have made each power feel unique, and not just a small twist of familiar mechanics. The player can change these powers by absorbing the appropriate element, like smoke for smoke powers. I found myself more heavily relying on Neon, as that power allows one to run up walls and dash infinitely. Furthermore, neon signs are plentiful in the environment. Others may find more use from other powers, but I am willing to bet that most chose similarly, especially since Concrete does not become available until the game's final boss fight.

As I said in the introduction, Second Son feels much like a tech demo. Specifically, the game makes used of the PS4 controller's motion controls and touch pad in a way that strongly resembles the forced SIXAXIS integration seen in early PS3 games. Two large examples come to find. First and foremost is Delsin's desire to tag walls with his spraypaint art. In a couple of optional missions, Delsin can find a suitable wall and make the choice to paint it with happy, blue art for good karma or angry, red art for evil karma. In either case, the player will have to tilt the control and move it around to paint the picture, using motion controls. I would personally rather just use the analog stick as this just felt cumbersome. I even experienced hand cramps from holding the controller sideways a few times.
The other example comes from the liberal use of the touch pad. Some of these uses are good. For example, context-sensitive actions are all mapped to pressing the touch-pad down as a button. This is simple, intuitive, and easy to understand. The more damning use fortunately only occurs one in the game. In order to pass through a DUP checkpoint, players will, early on in the game, need to use the touch pad to move their thumb into position so that a machine can take a blood sample and test Delsin for the conduit-gene. (Spoilers: He gets detected.) Again, it feels forced and does not really work as well as the designer intended. It took me a few minutes to figure out how the mechanic worked, and it only occurs exactly one time. Aside from that one time, players will never need to use it to get through any content, mandatory or otherwise. In these respects, it feels like a tech demo, despite being an otherwise solid game.

As a fan of the inFamous franchise, I cannot help but be disappointed by Second Son. Though developed by the same people, and in some respects improving upon the controls of the PS3 games, many parts of this game feel forced. The story heavy-handedly attaches social commentary to a setting that makes it seem weird and out-of-place. Portions of the gameplay are very gimmicky, strongly resembling that of a tech demo, and not a real interactive experience. Lastly, the game seems unsure of itself when reusing the moral choice system of its predecessors. Fortunately, it does enough right to justify playing it at a discounted price. It is not a bad game, it just does not live up to what I come to expect from Sucker Punch. It is a good game to get for someone who already has a PS4, but not worth getting a new console for.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Interactive Friction: Episode 9: This Is Some Magical (Bull)Shit

In this episode, we dive headlong into a vat of terrible, terrible filler. Naturally, this makes us spend almost an entire episode talking about Final Fantasy.

I want to stress that there is nothing inherently wrong with these missions in terms of gameplay. They are actually very fun to playthrough. Everyone wants to be Indiana Jones, after all.

The problem is that they just do not fit into the story. So far, Jason has been established as being someone who is willing to kill or cripple anyone who gets in the way of his friends. Every time he acts out of line in this section, Buck (and I had to Google that name) calls up his cronies and asks them to torture our friend Keith. So, Jason would probably have shot Buck stupid and forced him to lead him to Keith. It's hard to argue that Jason wouldn't, since murderous rage is the entirety of his character arc.

It's also difficult to justify how Buck didn't get the dagger by now. He works for Hoyt, the soon to-be-revealed main bad guy. It should be simple to get his men, which he apparently has if he can call them up to torture Keith, to get this dagger for him. Barring that, Hoyt has an army of disposable pirates that are fully-capable of doing the job. Really, it just shows incompetence on Buck's part.

Which is why this segment of the game feels so poorly justified. Not only does Jason not have a compelling enough reason to take this quest in lieu of more direct options, but Buck also doesn't have a compelling reason to outsource this quest to Jason. Also, remember that we needed this dagger to get Citra to help us find our friends, which we will have once we finish this quest.

It's a huge mess, probably better left cut out of the campaign.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Interactive Friction: Far Cry 3: Episode 8: I'm Done Having Fun

This is the part where the game artificially pads itself out by adding missions to the main story that do nothing to advance the plot.

There really is no other reason to have Oliver's rescue by a sniper section aside from the designers making it so. Honestly, what I suspect happened is that the designers had already created this segment, and the writers had to find some way to tie it into the rest of the plot. Sometimes, that style produces gems like Uncharted 2. More often than not, it creates segments like this.

It doesn't help that the Sniper Rifle you get in this section is one of the worst weapons in the game. Even the basic sniper rifle is more accurate that the one you receive in this mission. I'm not sure why they did that either.

As for the topic of Jason Dilweed's friends, it's so sad that they have a lot of personality in their backstory, but that never comes up in the main plot. It's such a wasted opportunity. The writers could have used those details to give us some attachment to them. Then, when Jason begins his descent into madness, they could contrast with Jason's new personality, to further highlight how far down Jason stoops. That would've been so interesting, but they didn't do that. That's the problem with this game. The writers missed so many great opportunities.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Texture Pop: Episode 25: Video Grenades

Another week, another episode of The Texture Pop. Unfortunately, Garrett was unable to attend this week because he was having some technical difficulties on his end.

Also, we had no viewer questions. If you guys want to send us some questions, comments, or feedback, go to and send us an e-mail. We'll be happy to indulge you.

Lastly, I deeply apologize for the terrible audio quality on this episode from both Chris and myself. We suspect it was due to my internet connection, but nothing concrete.

0:00:45 Gaming News
Microsoft Hololens Reveal
It has great potential, the story is accurate. However, the proof will be in the application.

EVO 2015 Lineup
Since Chris and Sam and more about fighting games than I, I'll let their commentary stand. I do agree though, that it is weird for them to put games on the list that have yet to be released. Since it takes time and practice to get good at fighting games, you'd think recent releases would put all the contestants who play them at a handicap, making them a little less entertaining to both play and watch.

0:13:10 Sam finished Valiant Hearts
I hear a lot of criticisms about Valiant Hearts in the same vein as those that Sam is making. I still have yet to play the game, though I have little reason to doubt all of these people when they are being so consistent in the critiques.

0:16:32 Sam play The Walking Dead: Season 2
Season 2 is not, strictly speaking, bad. It is a fine story. There are just a number of problems with it.

  • At this point, we are already extremely familiar with Telltale's brand of choices that feel like they should matter, but actually don't in hindsight.
  • The characters in Season 2, while not bad, do not compare well to the characters in the first season.
  • The main conflicts in the story, logically, aren't Clementine's problems. She could easily just walk away and be no worse off as a result.
It also makes it clear that Telltale has basically ceased, for better or worse, trying to fit in puzzles. It's more of a long-form interactive movie, where it takes every few moments to let the audience state their preferences. I can understand why fans of old-school adventure games are disappointed by it, but overall I think it lets them have stronger writing. The Wolf Among Us was a great example of this, but Season 2 just feel flat.

0:34:10 Sam finished Saya No Uta
Sam went into heavy spoilers with us before the podcast. Let me say that there is a reason he is vague here. It was quite interesting to listen to.
It's hard to convey why you like things like that without spoilers, so I sympathize with him.

0:39:50 Chris has finished Assassin's Creed 3 (and the Tyranny of King Washington DLC)
This. This is the conversation I've been waiting weeks to have. I hate this game so much that it hurts. Here, we take half an hour to just complain about Assassin's Creed 3's endgame and the DLC. Nothing I write here could compare to the sheer joy I take in knowing that Chris suffered as much as I did. Just listen to this. Really, just listen to this. It's that good.

1:04:10 I played a bit more Diablo 3 on PS4
I'm getting more and more convinced that loot fest games just really aren't my style. I find that it just seems pointless to continually play the game just for loot. Every single element is just about acquiring loot. I need something more than that from games I play.
Even the fighting isn't even that much of a challenge. On easy, enemies are pushovers. On hard, it's just sitting there while waiting for numbers to go down. I cannot say I find it particularly fun. If not for my friend, I probably would've stopped by now.

1:11:00 I played inFamous: Second Son and inFamous: First Light
I plan to release an article later this week about it, but overall I did not like it as much as I did the other inFamous games. First Light was better, in my honest opinion.
And, as an aside, the reason I repeated a lot of stuff early on in this segment is to catch Chris up since he was in the bathroom.
What I was most surprised to hear is Chris's complaining when I said that karma made a return. In previous discussions we've had over the years, Chris used to defend the system because it recreated the comic-book style super good or super evil. I guess something must have changed his mind in the years since our last discussion on this series.

1:40:00 Wrapping Up
Sam's article is here.
Interactive Friction, the collaborative project between Sam and I, is here.
My Deadly Premonition article is here.

Interactive Friction: Far Cry 3 Episode 7: Landmine Marathon

In this episode, we have an escort mission, because of course we do.

I make fun of the flamethrower mission, but it's actually a really fun mission. There's just something cathartic about setting flame to things. Of course, in real life, breathing in all the fumes from these drugs would result in the world's best high, but I'm glad they didn't go for that level of realism. Going this mission while dealing with Jason's trip would be a extremely unfun.

Towards the middle of this episode, we talk about needing Tapir Hides for an extended loot rucksack. Before we started the recording session, we went out to collect hides and create an extra weapon holster and extended rucksack. However, we got mauled by a tiger after we created the sack. Since we didn't save or reach a safehouse in that whole 30 minutes, we lost both upgrades. We weren't even in a mission at the time. It's strange because even by the point Far Cry 3 was released, designers knew that this kind of lost progress is unforgivable. There's really no excuse.

As for the escort mission, you all already how bad those things are. I don't need to detail what went wrong with this mission.

Missed Hoyt Assassination Opportunities: 1

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Interactive Friction: Far Cry 3: Episode 6: We're Still Running Everywhere

This week, we bring you a mandatory stealth mission. Because of course we do.

Let us recap what is going on in the plot so far. First, the island our protagonist and his douchebag friends skydive over is run by a group of evil pirates. When we escape, we arrive at a camp where we are given a tattoo, and told that we are the Ultimate Warrior. Using this pretense, we are attempting to rescue our friends.

Then, we decide that it would be best to petition the natives to help. To that end, we talk to their leader, Citra. After spending a few minutes trading insults, see agrees to help after we take an acid trip, acquire a missing dagger, and truly become the Ultimate Warrior. When we look for the dagger, we discover that we need to get the help of a CIA agent to track down sources of information about the dagger. We go even further than that later, with a whole Indiana Jones-inspired expedition questline.

Shamus Young once wrote a piece about how games tend to do this, in response to Neverwinter Nights 2. In essence, what we are doing in order to, theoretically, make our end game easier is takes significantly more time and effort than it should realistically take to just complete our main objective. After all, our goal is to save our friends and get out. Instead of sticking to that, we are embroiling ourselves in a conflict which does not exactly further our self-interest. It's not as bad as the example Shamus is talking about, but it is related and definitely the sign of filler content.

We also talk a lot about tailing mission at the tail end of this episode. As many players of the Assassin's Creed franchise, also by Ubisoft, will know, tailing missions tend to be extremely poorly paced. More often then not, the tracked subject will take a super-convoluted path to their objective, ignoring a much more direct and simpler path. At the same time, the move at a snail's pace, meaning that you have to as well. Even if we know where he will go, we fail the mission if we just head directly there.

Impressions #22: Deadly Premonition: Director's Cut

I play games of all manner of strips. Platformers, shooters, RPGs, and many other genres. As a result, I have acquired many unique tastes. No game represents “unique tastes” any more than Deadly Premonition. Developed by Access Games, this title was, and is, the brain-child of Hidetaka Suehiro, more commonly known as SWERY. It embodies a style and tone all its own, distinct from almost every other game I have ever played. Though it still has flaws which cannot be overlooked, it is truly a gem of a game.

Taking place in the fictional town of Greenvale, Washington, Deadly Premonition follows the adventures of FBI Special Agent Francis York Morgan. He has put himself on the case of the murder of an 18-year-old waitress named Anna Graham. The reason is that it possesses an alarming amount of similarities to an unusual string of killings he has been investigating across the continental United States. Through many trials and tribulations, York must gather clues from various crime scenes to solve the mystery behind these deaths.
Like in Persona 4, I found the murder mystery hook worked extremely well for me. I love analyzing all of characters and clues to see if I can piece the puzzle together myself. This game has plenty of that. If the player pays careful attention to the story, characters, and clues, it is entirely possible to deduce the culprit early on. In that sense, the writing is extremely fair. The game does not cheat by holding back key elements of specific scenes until the last minute. Despite that, I did not completely figure everything out until the big reveal. I was personally quite impressed by the game's writing.

Another aspect to the game I give it credit for is its cast. Though I have never watched the show, I have it on good authority that the cast of characters was heavily inspired by Twin Peaks. Every character in the game has their own unique quirks and traits. In their own way, every one of them is memorable. At the same time, and I am still unsure if this is intentional or not, they all have something “off” about them. Either in the way they speak, their personality, or in their animations, the entire cast each have some way to invoke the feeling of the Uncanny Valley. As a result, while the town is memorable, and players will begin to slowly feel more and more at home as they play the game, there is an inescapable “creepy” feeling. During my playthrough, I found it oddly compelling.
This is especially true of York himself, who might be the most quirky. After all, the player does not even truly play as York. Rather, they assume the role of Zach, the personality inside York's head that gives him advice and helps to guide him in his cases. This persona helps by giving York someone to explain his thought process to, and a way to elicit response and interaction from the player. In a very real sense, Zach is a player cipher. Having said that, he has a history and background with York, that also gets explored through the course of the game. It is a very interesting tactic to bring players into the world, one I think could be applied to other games.

In terms of play, Deadly Premonition is very much like a life-simulator in many respects. As time marches on, Agent York grows more hungry and sleepy. The player is tasked with making sure that he eats and sleeps at regular intervals, to avoid exhaustion or starvation. Furthermore, story events only take place at specific times. For example, a character who needs to be interrogated will only appear at their location from 10:00 to 17:00 (the game uses military time for arbitrary reasons, just go with it). If the player does not arrive at the specified destination in time, they will have to try again the next day. Should they get there early, they will have to come back within the mandated timeframe. On the surface, it appears that this is to grant the player free time to explore the area. However, since I did not really have an interest in side content, I had my character pass the time in the menu. None of this is difficult, and food is pretty cheap, so it mostly serves as a way to become more invested into the town of Greenvale. To the game's credit, this endeavor is largely successful.
The other aspect of gameplay seems wholly unnecessary. That is, whenever York enters a new crime scene in order to gather evidence, he is accosted by what appear seem like zombies. These scenarios are never difficult, as most of them will die in a few (easy to make) headshots. Furthermore, although these segments are easy, the controls feel very clunky. York cannot even move and attack at the same time unless he uses a melee weapon. Should the player take the melee route, they should know that weapons degrade as they are used. Fortunately, defeated zombies have chances to drop melee weapons and ammo for ranged weapons, and the default pistol has infinite ammo. It appears to try to invoke many common horror tropes. At the same time, the player never seems to feel like they are in any actual danger. Since these areas also seem to take place in some alternate world, York does not even get hungry or tired in these sections. They just seem very tacked on.
At the same time, they do offer one good element as well. As York collects the clues in an area, he will continually profile the events of the crime. Initially, the profile will be very fuzzy. However, for each clue, portions of the profile begin to fill in. Once all of the clues are gathered, York will then have a complete picture of what happened, which will further the investigation and reveal new leads to progress the story. These scenes help the player to better understand York's deductive method, by observing the wheels turning in his mind. Though I do like this, this same level of immersion could be achieved better by removing the unnecessary combat.

Ultimately, Deadly Premonition is not a game for everyone. It has some minor flaws, but they are not what makes the game so difficult to recommend. What does make it difficult is the fact that it is so unique that it has the potential to off-put people looking for a more traditional experience. That said, some people, like those who appreciate Telltale's brand of storytelling, will feel right at home with Deadly Premonition. Others who enjoy a good murder-mystery inspired by Twin Peaks will also enjoy their time. So give it a try, but be warned that it may not necessarily be to your liking.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Texture Pop: Episode 24: "Oh No She Has Ovaries. Fuck What Do We Do!?"

At long last, the crew is all together again. As a result, we're all rearing and ready to go with our usual shenanigans.

0:02:02 Viewer Questions
"What do you guys think of Project Steam?"
I wish at least one of us took a more serious look into it. Unfortunately, this was a very disappointing answer to the viewer question.

"What do you guys think of Splatoon?"
This was a much better answer. Not much more to add aside from what was said. I need to see more before I can comment further.

0:08:55 Gaming News
Transformers Universe shutting down
We do talk a bit about MOBAs and microtransactions in this segment, which is an interesting conversation. Mostly because it shows our groups various levels of tolerance with regards to microtransactions. For example, Garrett and Sam don't really question paying $10-$15 for a skin. I, however, could not possibly justify spending that much on something purely cosmetic in a video game. There's just no way.

Evolve DLC/Special Edition Convolution
This reminds me so much of the Watch_Dogs special edition chart. It's so silly that it hurts.
Watch_Dogs is a single-player game, so as annoying as it was, it is not a big deal. Evolve, however, is a multiplayer game. This is a base-breaker, in much the way that map packs are in Call of Duty.

Shadowrun: Hong Kong Kickstarter
If you love Computer RPGs, you should definitely get in on this. I can't stress how good these guys at Harebrained Schemes are.

Uncharted 4 won't have 60 FPS if it "impacts the player experience"
The great frame-rate discussion continues.
This is a pretty big topic, because it hits to the core of what many criticize about AAA gaming. That is, the push for higher graphical fidelity over smooth play. That topic is one I cannot hope to do justice to in the annotations of a podcast, so I will let the conversation stand.

Publishers wanted male protagonist in Life is Strange
This conversation is where we got the title for this episode. I just find it odd that no other publisher was willing to let Dontnod have a female lead. You think they would learn by now.

0:48:10 Garrett has been playing Evolve
It pretty much confirmed what I was most afraid of. This is a game, a lot like Left 4 Dead. If you don't play it with a group, you should not be playing it at all. That's just not worth $60 to me. I don't find enough value in that.

0:49:09 Garrett goes on a movie binge.
Y'know. Movies. That's more Chris and Garrett's expertise, not mine.

1:09:00 I played Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep HD Final Mix (via the 2.5 ReMIX)
And that is it for the 2.5 ReMIX.

1:10:00 I played Deadly Premonition: Director's Cut.
Hearing about how the combat is thrown in because publishers really brings sense to the whole game. Now that I know that, it makes so much more sense.
It does make me want to watch Twin Peaks, as an aside.

1:17:40 We detour to discuss Hotline Miami 2 banning in Australia.
I actually took the time to do research on this after the fact. As it turns out, the Adult rating in video games only allows for more violence. Sex and sexual content is still just as taboo.

1:19:25 I played Diablo 3 on the PS4.
Items and number, my friends. Items and numbers.
And no auction house.

1:25:25 I played Assassin's Creed: Unity: Dead Kings
It's not a bad DLC, but it's not particularly brilliant. It's pretty average. Still, the story does more in that one DLC than the main game did for Arno's character, giving his arc a bit more closure. If you've got Unity already, it's free so you might as well try it. However, it's not worth getting the game to play this DLC.

1:38:10 Chris has been playing Assassin's Creed 3!
That game is awful!
One of the things we hit on in this conversation is the optional objectives in Assassin's Creed games. I personally think that those perfect synchronization objectives are totally antithetical to what I want from an Assassin's Creed game. I want to be able to choose my own path where doing missions. Those objectives are the opposite of that, because it makes players conform to one strategy. This was worsened by the excessive linearity of the missions as well.
The collectibles were also really pointless, because they were mostly for trophies without much of anything in terms of in-game rewards.
Overall, the game sucks. Don't play it, watch it.

2:01:35 Sam watched some anime.
Like how Chris and Garrett are the movie guys, Sam is the anime guy. I'll leave that to him.

2:16:50 Sam and I record some Interactive Friction
And we talk about it. You, on the other hand, should go watch it.

2:20:20 Wrapping Up
You can check out my Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep article here.
Sam's site is also here now. Remember to update your bookmark.

Interactive Friction: Episode 5: Why Can't We Be Friends?

In this episode, we actually make some very piercing commentary on this game. This is probably our most insightful episode yet, and it's definitely one of the best.

I actually really like the idea of Liza's character. She's by far the most grounded of all the characters in the game. She understands more than anyone else the sheer gravity of the situation at hand.

The problem is that we aren't in a real world scenario. We are playing a video game. As a result, there is some dissonance between her being a real person, and Jason being a goddamn video game hero. This could have been really interesting if the game acknowledged a bit more, but it almost feels like an accident.

The ultimate problem with Far Cry 3's story is that the premise could have been used to write any number of excellent plots. However, the game takes almost none of these opportunities. Liza and Vaas both take turns pointing out that Jason is ostensibly a rich, white boy pretending to be an action hero (in their own way), but this becomes less and less of a plot element the more the game goes on.

The conversation Sam and I have in this episode really doesn't need me to tell you this. It stands out on its own. If there is only one episode of Interactive Friction that you watch, it should really be this one.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Interactive Friction: Far Cry 3: Episode 4: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dilweed

In this episode, we finally fixed the audio issue that we were having before. Now, our audio should be balance. Also, this episode is longer than we intended as not much of note happened in the beginning episode. The same thing occurs towards the end, which is why we fast-forward through a lot of it.

Since we brought up first-person driving in this episode, I want to take a second to elaborate a bit more on why I disliked it in this game.

The only reason I bring it up now is that shortly after the time of this recording, I played Deadly Premonition: Director's Cut. That game also had first-person driving, but I didn't mind it as much as I did in Far Cry 3.

I can think of a few reasons for this. First, Deadly Premonition's driving feels a little slower than it does in Far Cry 3. While that seems counter-intuitive, it means that in DP, I have an easier time seeing where I am going while driving. Also, it is still significantly faster than walking.
Meanwhile, in Far Cry 3, the cars go so fast that the scenery, at least for me, just zooms passed me. This makes it much more difficult to navigate,

Another reason I can think of is that Deadly Premonition allowed you to have conversations in the car, which passed the time. Although car rides were not that long, the conversation made them zoom by even quicker. In Far Cry 3, there is nothing to pass your time.

I'm curious to hear what people have to say about first-person driving. If you have some thought leave a comment either here or on the YouTube comments. It is probably best that you use the later because if you fill out the comments wrong on Blogger, it has a tendency to eat your comments up.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Interactive Friction: Far Cry 3: Episode 3: Jason in Wonderland

We continue our playthrough of Far Cry 3 by sneaking onto a ship wreak after tripping our on drugs.

This is one the first drug-induced hallucinations that we will experience in Far Cry 3. It also happens to be one of the most pointless hallucinations in the game. Very few things of note actually happen during the scene. My gut feeling says that they only had it to introduce the concept of psychedelic mushrooms on Rook Island before we got into the more intense trips later in the game. Even still, I think just having a drug dealer on the island is introduction enough without Alice in Wonderland nonsense.

We also get the scene where Jason's dead brother Grant shows up in his vision, telling him that he's good with a gun. If done with a bit more of a subtle hand, then it could have been a very interesting start down Jason's path to madness. As it stands, like with the beginning of the game, it is done with such a heavy hand that it feels like the writers are insulting my intelligence.

Later on, these hallucinations will be a bit more important to the story, but they also their own problems as well, which we will see later in the Let's Play. For now though, while that mission only took 5 minutes, it really does not seem to serve a large purpose beyond introducing drugs.

It is also interesting how quickly this game goes by when we are only worrying about the main story, and almost completely ignoring the side content. Games developed by Ubisoft tend be like that, I've noticed. Most of the game's reported length comes, for better or worse, from all of the side content that liters the game world. In our own playthroughs, Sam and I didn't get to the stealth mission in the boat until about 5 hours into the game. Considering that we are barely over an hour into the playthrough, that means most of my time was spent capturing towers and outposts, because I did none of the other side stuff until I needed the mission-exclusive hides for crafting.

Impressions #21: Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep HD Final Mix

Since I finished Kingdom Hearts 2 Final Mix, via the Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD ReMIX, it is only natural that I go on to the other playable game in the collection. Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep came out during an interesting period in the history of the franchise. During this phase, there was no sign whatsoever of the appearance of another main-series game. In order to serve the duel purposes of expanding on the franchise lore, and to capitalize on its popularity, Square-Enix kept releasing side games. Despite their status as side stories, many of these games tied quite strongly into the main plotline seen in the numbered entries. Games like Birth by Sleep on the PSP and Dream Drop Distance on the 3DS, among others, are some of the games I am referring to.

Though originally a mere PSP game, Birth by Sleep is still considered to be a very important game in the franchise. So important that, combined with its status as a prequel, gives it the common nickname of “Kingdom Hearts 0”. Not it only does it give context to what Sora and company need to do in the eventual Kingdom Hearts 3, but it explains many of the plot elements from previous games, and how they are woven together. Questions like “How did Kairi make it to the Destiny Islands?” and “Why was Riku the keyblade's chosen one?” are answered in the narrative of Birth by Sleep.
And on that subject, the narrative is also interesting for how it compares to other stories in the Kingdom Hearts franchise. It is told from the perspective of three different characters: Terra, Ventus, and Aqua. The three of them begin the narrative as close friends, training in the Land of Departure to become Keyblade Masters. Through circumstances out of their control, they each find themselves investigating the appearance of a mysterious new group of monsters, collectively referred to as the Unversed. Each of them set out separately to look into the phenomena, and each of them have their own perspective on the events at hand. The only way to fully understand the plot is by playing each character's campaign from start to finish, then the Final Episode afterward.
Which transitions nicely into one of my biggest problems with the story. Though I really like the way the story is told, and I find the concept of playing the same story from multiple perspectives interesting, the plot strongly hinges on the fact that the three main characters do not speak to each other. Without spoiling the events of Birth by Sleep, the villain's grand master plan relies heavily on the characters simply not telling each other about dangers they are already aware of. If at any point in the game where the characters meet up with each other, they just said “Let's stop to review what we've learned so far,” the villain would not be able to gain any headway whatsoever. Had they simply compared notes, none of them would have been caught off guard by what occurs in the finale. Even when the group realizes what is coming, they still opt to let it happen.

That aside, having three different playable characters is an overall boon for the game. Since each character has a different playstyle, the game naturally varies the gameplay just by forcing the player to play through each campaign to get the full story. Terra, while slow, is the heaviest hitter in terms of physical damage. His exclusive moves tend to lean towards the Earth and Darkness elements and powerful physical strikes. On the other hand, Ventus takes a more balanced approach with regards to physical and magical attacks, with a larger focus on speed. Lastly, Aqua is in the middle of the guys in terms of speed, but she is easily the best at magic. Though the campaigns can be technically played in any order, it is most recommended that Terra goes first, followed be Ventus, leaving Aqua for last. This is because Terra's lack of defensive/evasive options makes him significantly less fun to play than the others. Furthermore, the plot seems written with this order in mind, as they seem to visit the various Disney worlds in this order.
One of the more clever things they did was have each character visit the same worlds as the other characters. However, they all visit the same world at different times. As a result, each world's plot, like the plot of the overall game, can only be fully completed by going through it with each character. Generally speaking, Terra tends to visit worlds first. As the dark-hero of the three, he often gets hoodwinked into working with/for the villain of a given world. Ventus tends to follow after him, helping to clean up the resulting mess. Aqua then shows up last to tie-up loose ends. Some worlds follow a slightly different pattern, but that order is true for most of them. This gives off a very natural sense of progression with each world's writing. And each scenario tends to more naturally tie into the themes of the main story and/or the friendship between the three leads, which fixes a major problem I had with Kingdom Hearts 2.
On top of that, when there will occasionally be scenes where multiple playable characters are present. However, the player will only witness the part of the scene that the character they are playing as saw. Meaning that even when re-watching a scene from a new character's point-of-view, there will be a new take on it, which is a very nice touch that can be easy to overlook. Each campaign is also only about 10 to 15 hours long, so combined the game will last about 30 to 45 hours for story completion, depending on what difficulty it is being played on. This is about the length of a typical Kingdom Hearts game, so the developers managed to avoid the common trap of allowing multiple campaigns to artificially lengthen the game. On top of that, the three characters develop separately, so what one does with one character will have no effect on the other two. Overall, the presentation is excellent, and the game is very well paced as a result of splitting up the plot between three heroes.

The game also plays very well. Despite originally being on the PSP, it feels like a full-fledged Kingdom Hearts title. As one would expect, fights occur in real-time. The big twist with Birth by Sleep is that skills and spells do not cost MP to perform. Due to the memory limitations of the PSP, the game utilized a Command Deck system. Players could set up to 8 commands in their deck to be used at will. After using a command, there is a cooldown period before it can be used again. New commands can be acquired as enemy drops and in treasure chests. Old commands can also be fused into new ones. This allows players to better customize their character's layout and skillset.
The other new addition is the Shotlock system. Along with the commands, each character can also equip one of many possible “Shotlocks”. Then can then use this command to lock-on many targets at once, and shoot a volley of projectiles at all of them. The player character is also invincible during a Shotlock's execution, so it has defensive purposes as well. Though many of the bonus bosses have moves to reduce their effectiveness, shotlocks are a mechanic I found frequent use for across my entire run of the game.

Now that that 2.5 HD ReMIX has placed it on the PS3, the game controls better than it ever has. Since a PS3 controller, unlike a PSP, actually has a right analog stick, direct control of the camera is now possible beyond simply locking-on to targets. Another addition to the controls is that the L2 and R2 buttons, which are again not present on a PSP, can be used as an alternative to the directional buttons for scrolling through commands, making it easier to scroll through the Command Deck while moving. Furthermore, all of the Final Mix content, like the Secret Episode unlocked after playing through all three campaigns and beating the Final Episode, is included as well. Along, with the Secret Episode, the addition of Critical Mode, the equivalent of Super Hard mode in other games, allows skilled players to replay the game with a new challenge.

The other well-known pieces of new bonus content are contained within the aspect of the game that was significantly worsened by the HD ReMIX. One of the biggest feature touted in the PSP release of Birth by Sleep was the Mirage Arena. In this location, players could join up with others, via Ad-Hoc connection, and either work together to complete arena missions, or compete against one another in combat or one of the minigames. The bonus bosses, Armor of the Master, Monstro, and No Heart, are additional co-op missions that were included in the Final Mix.
The PS3 version of Birth by Sleep: Final Mix made some changes to Mirage Arena. Because the designers wanted to divert more resources towards developing Kingdom Hearts 3, they opted to not even try to get online multiplayer working in the 2.5 ReMIX. In fact, there is no multiplayer included whatsoever. Mirage Arena is now a 100% Single Player experience. As a consumer who purchased the collection, along with a friend, partially in order to play Birth by Sleep online with other players, this came as a supreme disappointment. In fact, it pretty much erased any desire I had to fight the bonus bosses. I understand the reasoning behind the decision, but I cannot deny that what once felt like a major feature being reduced to an afterthought really hurts the game in a big way, especially since much of the game was structured around its presence.

Despite this glaring omission, Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep HD Final Mix is a wonderful addition to the 2.5 ReMIX. Though I would recommend purchase of the 1.5 HD ReMIX first, Birth by Sleep does serve as a pretty good entry point for the franchise, as it takes place before any other game in the series. Along with Kingdom Hearts 2 Final Mix, and the ability to watch Re: Coded without actually having to play that terrible game, the $40 price tag is easily justified for series fans. The two collections combined contain every single game released in the franchise aside from Dream Drop Distance. As a result, they are a great way for people trying to play catch-up to get the most bang out of their buck.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Interactive Friction: Far Cry 3: Episode 2: Now, I Will Teach You The Takedown

We have been made aware of the audio issue where Sam's audio is significantly quieter than my own and that of the game. This episode was recorded before that issue was made apparent, so we didn't fix it for this. (It will be fixed for Episode 4 and all episodes following it.)

We spend some time in this episode interacting with the game's hunting and crafting systems. Like I said in the episode, this is one of those acceptable breaks from real world logic. In the real world, you could use pretty much any animal hide to make the pouches, quivers, and holsters that you would need to hold everything. Leather is leather, no matter what the source is.

However, the game requires you to use the hides of specific animals to create specific holsters. The obvious reason for this is that it would otherwise be far too easy to just craft all the holsters in the beginning of the game. Since different hides are required, the designers can better control your progress in this area. Furthermore, it means that the player, as Jason, needs to grow in skill, to the point where no animal in the jungle is a threat to them. You earned that 4th holster, because you successfully killed a bull shark to get it.

Besides, most players probably won't even question it, so it's not a huge deal regardless. Even still, things like the distinction between Boar and Pig hides further stretch the credulity, even when you give the gameplay concession that you need different hides to create different holsters.

The whole element of gunfire not ruining the hides of your hunts is also another concession just to make the game more interesting. Otherwise, your arsenal would be limited strictly to the bow and melee weapons when hunting. Unlike other games, the bow is pretty much your only non-firearm ranged weapon. You get no throwing knives, crossbows, traps, or anything of the sort. If firearms couldn't be used to hunt, your entire weapon selection would be worthless.

The other major crafting items you obtain are the special leaves. All of the plants in this game are divided into colored leaves. Green leaves are used for medicinal purposes. Yellow leaves produce drugs that improve your hunting abilities. Red leaves are used to make combat enhancing drugs. Blue leaves are used in drugs that improve exploration. And lastly, White leaves are used in the creation of "Special" drugs. I have never actually seen a recipe that requires the use of white leaves, but I imagine they would have some pretty powerful effects. If anyone has any information in that regard, feel free to comment either here or on the YouTube comments of the video.

With those leaves, you can make some pretty powerful drugs. For example, a few green and blue leaves can be combined to make a drug that lets you breath underwater for a short while. As with the hunting, these drugs are an acceptable break from real world mechanics. In the real world, these drugs would be extremely useful. Such knowledge to create this drug, would be coveted by athletes around the globe. Still, these drugs need to have powerful, noticeable effects or players wouldn't use them.

I do not have a problem with hunting mechanics. I just find it interesting to analyze how designers try to keep in the real world, and what concessions they make for the sake of player enjoyment. It's something to think about.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Texture Pop: Episode 23: Big White Balls

This episode was... interesting. In hindsight, a lot of us were just really tired when recording it. Hell, Sam had just gotten home from work when he got on, so he was spent. Still, I think we did a decent job with this one.

I need to work more on my hosting, though. And my incessant need to keep rambling on about nothing. I swear these things wouldn't last two hours if I could reign myself in.

0:00:00 Introduction
Pretty simple intro.

0:00:50 Viewer Question
"What would be some of your favorite art design in games?"
It was a tough question to answer, because the stock answers are usually Okami and Vanillaware games. They are the poster children for how art style can make games look fantastic.

I feel like we all did well in answering this question, despite not having those freebees. In retrospect, I would also like to mention the art style of Supergiant Games, known for Bastion and Transistor. They were not just great in terms of soundtrack, but they're both very beautiful games.

0:05:40 Gaming News
We already kinda talked about it last week, so I have nothing further to add.

This is really only news because Square-Enix isn't known for being timely about releases. Fans like myself are accustomed to waiting for years after a game's announcement.

It's honestly about time this happens, if it is indeed the case. Honestly, I don't think that model even works anymore. WoW and EVE can cost by on legacy subscriptions and brand recognition, but newer MMOs don't have that luxury.

This makes more sense than the old plan they had. However, for the reasons we discussed in the episode (like lack of demand, strong competition, and poor infrastructure), I still don't think it has a chance to succeed.

The PSP had such potential, but it only got a very limited catalog in its lifespan.

I'll let Garrett explain it. League of Legends stuff goes straight over my head. X_X

I will say, that I would love to learn more about the process behind how the developers of games like League work on patches and updates, from identifying problems and things that could be worked on, to figuring out what can be feasibly done to fix the problem, to actually implementing the fix.

0:31:00 Garrett got Minecraft working on his computer
I think the biggest takeaway from this discussion is how amazing it is the Minecraft runs on Java, and such a primitive version of it at that. As someone who studies Computer Science, I would never program a game, especially one that large, in Java. It's easy to program, sure. However, it is so slow because of the way it handles memory and garbage collection. This is why most game developers just C++ (or an engine built on C++).

0:35:32 Garrett played more League of Legends
Sam is always saying that the reason the LoL player-based is so toxic is because a single match takes way too damn long. I think there's truth to that, especially after hearing Garrett's stories.
People take their video games WAY too seriously.

0:38:35 Garrett, Chris, and I talk about college.
A lot of people will tell you that you need to work super hard in college to get a 4.0, so that people will recognize you. That mentality will destroy your mental health in college. Just go for a B instead. For me, it gives me enough wiggle room to do things like this podcast and my blog, while allotting enough time to do my work.
Since I'm in my final semester before I get a Bachelor's Degree, I take this time to dispense college advise to people starting out.

0:51:20 Sam talks about The Song of Saya.
And dear god, does it sound creepy. I've not much more to say about it.

1:05:09 Sam got an Xbox One and talks about controllers.
I do like how both Sony and Microsoft dramatically improved their controllers, compared to previous generations. I can't speak to the Xbox One, but Sony's controller for the PS4 just feels so much better in your hands.

1:06:30 Sam played some Persona 4 Ultimax (with me)
And he uses Marie, which I can't use.
Sam also inundates us with anime stuff.

1:09:05 Sam played Valiant Hearts
I wish I had more to say about it, but I've yet to play the game myself.

1:12:45 Garrett brings up the Steam sale
And pretty much everyone agreed that the sale was pretty sad. The sales were pitiful, and the games I did want didn't go on sale for deep enough discounts to buy.

1:14:50 We discuss Awesome Games Done Quick again.
One of the things I find most fascinating about watching speed-runs is that said runs do a fantastic job revealing the many glitches and exploits in the games we play. These help guys like me better understand exactly how many of the features seen in the games we play are implemented. It's very interesting.

1:23:10 Chris has been playing more Destiny.
Every single time, we mention Destiny. It's truly amazing.
Not as amazing as how empty Destiny is, but amazing nonetheless. But you already know about all of that.

1:35:04 Chris has a rant about next-gen and the Wii U.
Really, just listen to it. It speaks for itself.
We also take the time to discuss the state of affairs for each of the major consoles out right now, compared to their predecessors at around this time last generation.

1:45:05 I mention Interactive Friction.
It's the new project that Sam and I are doing. The first post is here, so check it out.

1:47:25 I played Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep Final Mix, via the 2.5 HD ReMIX.
And it feels so much more comfortable to play this on a big screen, using a PS3 controller, than on a PSP.

We also take this chance to discuss Kingdom Hearts lore. The problem with Kingdom Hearts lore isn't that it's hard to understand. It isn't. The problem is that there is too much of it. There is so many plot details to memorize, that fully understanding the lore involves tons of memorization. Furthermore, there are details that aren't in the games, but it outside source material. As a result, it is damn near required to read a wiki to keep track of everything. Dream Drop Distance does well by including summaries of the stories to every other Kingdom Hearts game before it. I wrote an article about lore in Kingdom Hearts 2 as well, which you should check out.

Then, I discuss the terrible mini-games this game has. Kingdom Hearts has always had the problems where most of the mini-games just simply aren't fun. Birth by Sleep continued that trend.

Lastly, the video on the Kingdom Hearts lore I mentioned, by GameTrailers, is here.

2:08:30 Wrapping Up
Good night, guys.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Interactive Friction: Far Cry 3: Episode 1: Work on Your Shooting

Welcome to this new joint venture between myself and my cohort Sam Callahan, from The Texture Pop. Those of you who watched shows like Spoiler Warning, or my first such venture, Disclosure Alert, already have an idea of what this will be.

Like those shows, this will be using a Let's Play format to discuss the many elements of the game. These discussions are completely unscripted, off the cuff conversations, based on what is going on in the game. Spoilers for the game are to be expected as a result. For example, if we end up talking about the game's ending just because that's where the conversation is going, we're going to just let the conversation takes its course.

Our first game, because it's a game that both of us wished to cover, is Far Cry 3.

Now, without further ado, we present the premiere of Interactive Friction.

I'm going to be honest, the intro cutscene already really made me dislike the protagonist, Jason Brody, and his friend. The kind of people who go out and party all the time, drinking heavily and preforming dumbass stunts, are not the kind of people I like to associate with in real life. I am sure that they aren't bad people, but they annoy me.

Another thing I want to mention about the primary cast is that it seems like it would make more sense for Grant to have been the protagonist, instead of Jason. After all, he's a trained soldier for the US Military, back from his tour. He would have already known how to kill, and it would be more fitting for him to be treated as a warrior. Jason's shift from nobody to warrior is so abrupt that it strains credibility.

On the other hand, Vaas serves as an extremely interesting secondary protagonist. You could be forgiven for thinking he's the real villain, but he's not even the second-in-command. The actual villain is significantly less interesting, which makes the second half of the game really unsatisfying.

Another noteworthy thing that we talked about in the episode is how little sense it makes for a slavery/ransom operation this big, who took so many large, noteworthy targets, to remain operational. If they have stayed in Rook Island for so long, they would have been invaded and stopped by various governments long before it got this large.

We also meet Dennis in this episode. This whole scene with Dennis leads to a whole bunch of problems. He gives Jason a tattoo, then says that since he was given a tattoo, he is going to become a legendary warrior. Then, he gives Jason a machete and money for a pistol, because why not.

There's also a fun fact with the line "You have the right to take my life, but know that I will also take yours." Originally, Jason was going to go for a pistol he already had on him before Dennis pointed that machete and spoke that line. In that context, the line makes sense. Now, it feels out-of-place, even when you consider how dumb the rest of the scene is.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

#82: Kingdom Hearts 2: The Worlds At Large

Lately, I have been replaying Kingdom Hearts 2 via the Final Mix in Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX. As many of you are probably aware, I am a very big fan of the franchise. To that end, especially now that I am replaying the core games in the franchise, I have been thinking a lot about the franchise. When reflecting on many of the plots and central premises of the series, I began to notice some issues. Though I do have a love for the franchise, I must acknowledge the gripes I have with it. It is one of these gripes that I wish to more closely analyze this week.

Specially, what we will to examine are merely a few of the game's premises. They are as follows:
  • All worlds were all once part of a larger, united world.
  • Events in the past separated and segregated the worlds, with impassable walls of light.
  • “Special help” is required to bypass these walls and travel between worlds.
The more I think about it, the more I realize that many scenes in the mini-plots of the various levels call these central tenets into question. Some of the small details in these scenarios call into question, if not outright contradict, these three central tenets.

As an example, let us examine the scenario for Beast's Castle in Kingdom Hearts 2. This level comes from the classic Disney film “Beauty and the Beast”, and, as one would expect, takes place in the castle, owned by the Beast, from the movie. The castle serves as the entire location for the world, as indicated by the title. It is also home to not just the Beast, but Belle and the servants that were transformed into furniture as well. At a specific point in the scenario, the Beast asks Belle to leave the castle because he feels that he no longer deserves her.
For the purpose of this article, we will not be discussing character motivations or anything of the like. Instead, our discussion will mostly stick to the logistical issues regarding this request. Primarily, the issue at hand is that even if Belle wanted to acquiesce, leaving the castle, she has nowhere to go. The entire world she lives in begins and ends with the castle. Without some form of outside assistance, she has no way of leaving to another world. The only way she would be able to go to another world is if she hitched a ride on Sora's Gummi Ship. Since Sora and company are not allowed to “meddle in the affairs of other worlds”, this is not an option.
The other way to approach is to assume that there is a second part to this world that we never see in the game. Though I suppose it is certainly possible, it seems extremely unlikely. After all, the title of “Beast's Castle” implies that there is nothing else to this world. If there was, then the title would logically be a bit more broad, describing an entire town or village. Again, this is not to criticize the notion of Beast asking Belle to leave. This is merely exploring the fact that this request implies, in the best case, a whole different element to the level that likely does not exist.

Atlantica is also another problem spot that opens up this type of conversation. This world, like how Beast's Castle draws from “Beauty and the Beast”, takes inspiration from “The Little Mermaid”. In Kingdom Hearts 2, Ariel falls in love with a surface-dweller named Prince Eric, just as she does in the movie. Like the case of Beast's Castle, this raises some logistical problems with the base premises regarding the worlds and how they are separated.
Chief among them being that Prince Eric seems to come from nowhere in particular. Here, we encounter the opposite problem that we encountered in the Beast's Castle scenario. Instead of trying to explain how somebody leaves the world, we are trying to understand how someone could have entered it. Like before, it has been established that one cannot travel to other worlds without special help. Though it was possible in the original Kingdom Hearts, since the darkness destroyed walls between worlds, this is no longer the case. At the time of Kingdom Hearts 2, the impassable walls are present once more. Even with the ship Prince Eric sails on, he would not be able to travel to Atlantica from an outside world.
The other possibility, similar to the case with Beast's Castle, is that he hails from a location in the world not known to the player. Again, this is technically possible, but unlikely. Were it the case, there are additional questions raised. It would call into question Sora and companies need to transform themselves into sea creatures to blend in with the locals. After all, were there to be a whole area of surface-dwellers, one would just land there instead. Furthermore, the title, like in Beast's Castle, implies that the sole domain of this world is King Triton's undersea kingdom. Therefore, I would logically have to conclude that this hypothetical location that Prince Eric comes from is unlikely to exist.

Now, the existence of the contradictions does not necessarily mean that the storytelling, or even the plot itself, is invalid. What it does indicate is that the developers at Square-Enix had difficulty either in keeping track of their lore, or adequately explaining it to the writer(s) of these scenarios. This has been an issue for Square-Enix for quite a while. For better or worse, Square-Enix, and particularly Tetsuya Nomura, has now become infamous for convoluted plots and writing. While I do appreciate the desire to make intellectually stimulating stories that cause fans to audiences to think about them, the plot to Kingdom Hearts is frequently criticized for the many elements that can be astoundingly hard to keep track of without assistance. Still, the games are extremely fun to play. As for the 2.5 ReMIX, the added content makes it easy to recommend to anyone who has an interest in the franchise, regardless of whether or not one has played these games before.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Texture Pop: Episode 22: Eat All The Wine

This is an interesting episode. Garrett and Sam were each out for various reasons. (You know how it is with various reasons.) As a result, it was just Chris and I. This is not the first time the two of us have recorded something by ourselves, so we knew we would be able to handle it.

0:00:00 Introduction
We have a new (unknowing) sponsor, in personaforums.txt. I follow a lot of strange ".txt" accounts.

0:01:15 Viewer Questions
The guys who sent in questions this week got shafted a little, because only half the cast was here to answer. Still, Chris and I handled our own. This section went by pretty quick this week.

"I want to know if any of you guys have come into contact with a game called The Zoo Race?"
Like I said in the cast, only from the JonTron video.

"Have any of you guys seen that movie, El Arca?"
Nope. And given what I learned in this podcast, I don't think I want to.

Remember, if you wish to send in questions, comments, or something you'd like us to talk about, send it into or submit it to one of the group's various social media accounts. They'll in the YouTube description.

0:07:00 Gaming News
Aliens: Colonial Marines was pulled off Steam
I wish this was Steam doing something to clean up their storefront. Unfortunately, this is mostly about contract disputes. Those are too messy to really get into, because the legal-speak can be difficult for a non-lawyer like myself to parse. A lot of games are in limbo because of that very thing.

Mighty No. 9 is nearly finished
We discuss a lot in regards to this news.
But I'm genuinely interested in hearing what people think about whether or not Mighty No. 9 is a rip-off of Mega-man or not. It's an interesting question.
And now I know Inafune didn't make the franchise, he's just well-known for his work on it. Good to know.

Final Fantasy XV (and female Cid)
I am personally completely okay with the prospect of a female Cid. The only through-lines with Cid is that there is always a character in Final Fantasy named Cid, and he's always a technical expert relative to the technology of the world he inhabits. I see no problem with a sex change, providing the other attributes, which are common among Cids, hold.
BTW, Dukes of Hazard was the movie franchise I was thinking of during this segment. I have no idea how I forgot. The outfit brought back memories of seeing those kinds of movies. Watch the trailer in the link above, and you'll know why.

Awesome Games Done Quick 2015
It's a spectacle to watch, and still on-going as of the time of this publishing. You guys might be interested in checking it out.

0:29:00 I beat Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth.
For the record, I did not even achieve 100% of the game. I wrote an article about my feelings on the game's pacing. Overall, it's a good game, but you need to really like old-school RPG design to enjoy this game. Liking Persona 3 and/or 4 isn't necessarily enough. It's mostly a gateway Etrian Odyssey game, with a Persona wrapper.

0:36:30 I watched Kingdom Hearts Re:Coded (via Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX)
It's so pointless, that I feel extremely annoyed by it's existence. This should have been a small novella at the most, because there's not really enough story to justify it. Fortunately, I didn't have to play it, because 2.5 only has the cutscenes (which is the less painful way to consume this media).
Most Kingdom Hearts fans hate this game for a reason.
It was also 5 hours long, longer than it took me to watch 365/2 Days in 1.5 ReMIX.

0:41:10 I just beat Kingdom Hearts 2: Final Mix (via Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX)
I have gone on record several times, criticizing the writing on Kingdom Hearts 2. Atlantica, for example, is distilled awful in one segment of the game for a variety of reasons. In a more general sense, it went from a Disney-plot with Square-Enix characters to a Square-Enix plot with Disney characters. The difference is noticeable.
But it plays just so well. And there is a ton of new content added to Final Mix. Even people who 100% completed Kingdom Hearts 2 back in the day would be well-served by purchasing the 2.5 ReMIX. It's worth it for this alone, but the addition of Birth by Sleep makes it a must-buy.

I must also confess that I took the whole "What do they eat?" thing from Shamus Young. I've mentioned him before, but you should check it out.

0:54:30 I finished my Holiday Movie Binge
X-Men: Days of Future Past and Kick-Ass were alright movies, but not great.
Guardians of the Galaxy, however, was an awesome movie, and a great finale to my holiday binge.

1:01:50 Chris has been playing more Assassin's Creed 3.
And I am loving every single complaint he has towards this game.
There are interesting things to it, but most of the game is so terrible that it's not worth it.

1:08:15 Chris has played Wolfenstein: The New Order.
It is legitimately surprised at how good this game is. As Sam has said before, it almost feels like the Wolfenstein brand name does not severe a game this good. It's well-written, plays great, and brings up some interesting points.
Still, it does have some flaws, and we call a few of them into attention here.

1:16:00 Chris has been playing Destiny...
...and he enjoys it. And there's nothing wrong with that. It's a solid shooter. I can vouch for that from my time with the beta.
It just feels empty. There's not a lot there. That is the part of the game that is lacking.
There are also just so many strange design decisions. Chiefly among them is the fact that you cannot access the game's lore in-game. You need to go online to view them. That just doesn't make sense.
I would love to have been there to see how these design choices were made. It has to be incredibly fascinating.

1:28:20 Wrapping Up.
In which I encourage Chris to embrace his tastes in gaming.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

#81: Persona Q: Shadow of the Pacing

There is an interesting thing about saying that I will not play anymore ATLUS games for a while. That is, “a while” is a relative term. In this case, it means “until another ATLUS game comes out that I want to play”. With the release of Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth, that time came much sooner than I anticipated. This game represents an interesting new take on the Persona franchise. While it is a crossover between Persona 3 and Persona 4, it is also a crossover in terms of mechanics. The makers of the Etrian Odyssey and the Persona franchises co-developed Persona Q. As a result, Persona Q represents a synthesis of the two franchises' mechanics and design ideologies. In many ways, this improves upon the gameplay. In other ways, there were a few setbacks. One of these setbacks is what I wish to talk about this week.

The problem I am referring to is one that JRPGs frequently get wrong: The pacing. Far too often, RPGs do not know how to properly pace themselves out. As a result, the game begins to grow stale too early, making the rest of the game more of a test of endurance than an enjoyable pastime. Persona Q suffers this as well. Around the time of the 4th of the game's 5 dungeons, the game began to drag on. I found this particularly peculiar because I had played through the entirety of Persona 3 and 4, approximately 70 hours each, and enjoyed my experiences even to the very end. With Persona Q, I was getting tired around 50 hours in. Though the game is certainly fun to play, there can very well be too much of a good thing.

In Persona Q, dungeon-crawling is basically the only thing that the player does. As foreshadowed by the title, players must explore the various labyrinths, all based around specific themes, and beat the boss at the end of each one. Each labyrinth is composed of a series of floors. In each floor, there is some form of gimmick that must be worked around in order make it to the next level. Each gimmick is usually pretty simple on its own. The difficulty comes from the fact that the floor is typically fairly large. If the player is not doing any of the side-quests in the game, a typical level will take approximately one hour to fully explore.
On top of that, since the play is largely inspired by Etrian Odyssey, the player is responsible for drawing, marking, and maintaining the map of the current floor as they progress. Assuming the player's map was drawn with sufficient detail, solving the gimmick of the current floor should take about 10 to 15 minutes. Combined, this means that at a minimum, it will take approximately 1 hour and 10 minutes per floor, assuming that the player is only aiming for completion. Since the typical labyrinth is 4 floors long, followed by one last floor for the boss, it will take almost 6 hours to explore. That is six hours of playtime with little in terms of variance in scenery, enemies, or gimmicks in the labyrinths.

To contrast this statistic, Persona 3 and Persona 4 operate differently. Though the two games present dungeon-crawling differently, they are similar in their approaches. Persona 3 has one single dungeon, the tower of Tartarus, that players ascend gradually throughout the entire game. The tower is composed of six different blocks, each with its own decor. Further, each block is subdivided into smaller chucks of about 10 to 15 floor, with its own assortment of enemies and a mini-boss at the end of each level. The floors are procedurally generated. On each floor is a randomized assortment of treasure chests and monsters. Furthermore, there is a staircase that advances to the next floor.
Persona 4 does not use the imagery of ascending a tower, but the style is quite similar. There are a series of dungeons that the player needs to explore. Dungeons are approximately 10 floors in length. At around the middle floor of each, there will be a mini-boss, with the actual boss awaiting at the final level. Despite this difference, the rest acts much like Persona 3's Tartarus, with procedurally generated layouts for each floor.
A given floor of a section of Persona 3's Tartarus, or a dungeon of Persona 4, will take approximately 10 to 15 minutes total, including exploration, combat, and finding the exit. With a worst-case scenario estimate of about 15 floors per section of Tartarus in Persona 3, or dungeon in Persona 4, this means that it will take about 2 hours and 30 minutes to complete any one section. This is less than half of the time required to complete a labyrinth in Persona Q.

Having said that, it is crucial to note that while it takes less time to complete one dungeon, there are many more total segments in Persona 3 and Persona 4. As a result, the total time spent exploring these areas is, at the very least, comparable. The difference is in the pacing of the player's progress. Since the player is completing these individual segments faster, they get the feeling that they are making steadier progress. In truth, there is no real difference in the amount of progress afforded by a single play-session. However, the impression is that players are clearing areas in Persona 3 and 4 faster than they are in Persona Q.

There is another way that Persona Q failed at pacing out the game. At the game's core, there is only one activity: Dungeon-crawling. The game is distinctly lacking in terms of variety. Aside from exploring the labyrinths, the player can take Strolls around the culture festival where the game takes place in order to talk with party members and watch them interact with each other. Further, they can partake in Persona Fusion, a franchise staple. Aside from buying and selling equipment, items, and materials, there are also a number of side-quests that can be taken. These quests involve doing small favors for other party members, or locating specific areas and/or defeating specific opponents in the labyrinths. Since these side-quests often lead to players reentering the labyrinths to do further exploration, they add to that poor pacing. After all, since players are already in those labyrinths for several hours at a time, letting them take a break from this by sending them back in, often to the very floor they just advanced from, sounds a little silly.

By comparison, Persona 3 and 4 allow players to spend about as much time outside of the dungeons as they do inside. When not exploring these locations, players can, as in Persona Q, manage equipment and fuse personae. However, they may also spend time with other characters in the game world to build relationships, which can be drawn on to power their personae in fusion. As many of you know, this Social Link system is a mainstay in later games of the Persona franchise. Alternatively, they can spend time improving their social stats, like Knowledge or Courage.
Both games also offer a diverse set of side-quests. Though some of them require players to delve back into the dungeons to find specific items, most of them involve exploring the town. Some involve looking for people wandering around on specific days. Others involve finding an item in the area. Overall, since most of these excursions do not involve dungeon-crawling, they improve the pacing by giving players a way to take a break from the usual exploration, while allowing them to better prepare for the next time they enter a dungeon.

Ultimately, though Persona Q, Persona 3, and Persona 4 take around 70 hours each to complete, the former is paced significantly worse than the later two. This is something that only makes itself apparent after investing large quantities of time into each game. Otherwise, these pacing issues are much harder to pin down. Persona Q, while still a very solid RPG, is a difficult beast to recommend. It is only really worth playing if you are a huge fan of either Persona 3 or Persona 4, preferably both. Further, it feels much different than a typical persona game. Though I have not played Etrian Odyssey, I have been told that the additions and changes to the series formula were mostly taken from that franchise. As a result, the game is best for those who enjoy Etrian Odyssey, or are interested in the series. I believe that may be where I failed to meet the prerequisites, as those elements did not appeal to me. If you are not that interested in Etrian Odyssey, I would honestly recommend passing on Persona Q, as you are not really missing much in. It is nice, but hardly necessary, to see the Persona 3 and 4 casts interact in their respective primes.