Friday, January 6, 2012

Games I Played in 2011: Portal 2

What's this!? A post!? Isn't this blog dead and been dead for like 2 years? Yes, yes it was. Now I'm writing again. I don't know how often I'll be writing, hopefully often, though I don't imagine doing much on weekends as I stare a computer screen all week and try to get away from that on weekends. Either way, DEAL WITH IT. I'm writing now, so read on if you like.

Since the new year just ended, I'll be doing a brief post on each of the significant games I played in 2011. This doesn't necessarily mean games that released in 2011, but just games I played through out the year. Anyway, I'm starting off with Portal 2, a game that DID come out in 2011, and in my opinion, one of the best games of the year.

Writing and voice acting is what separates this game from the pack, more so than anything else. I’m generally and old-school guy, who feels that text in games is superior to voices, as text allows you to imagine the character’s voice and intonations, and voice acting drowns out the music. However, with Portal 2, the voice acting is what makes the game.

GLaDOS, voiced by Ellen McLain, was remarkable again but the two new characters, Wheatley (Stephen Merchant) and Cave Johnson (J.K. Simmons, the psychologist from Law & Order) completely stole the show. Instead of trying to explain how hilarious their dialogue was throughout the game, I provided two videos below that really highlight their characters:

Cave Johnson:


In case you don’t already know, Portal 2 is a first-person puzzle game. Your gun has two portals that you can shoot almost anywhere and you can walk through one portal to get to the other one. This mechanic is great, and once you add in turrets trying to kill you, gels that make you bounce or run faster, and light bridges that can be manipulated by portals, you get a game that keeps you thinking for hours.

The one problem I had with Portal 2 though was that it was over all too quick… again. The first Portal was more of an add-on side game to Valve’s Orange Box and it was understandable that it was only a couple of hours long when you also had all of Half-Life 2 on the same disc. Portal 2‘s single-player campaign takes about 8 hours long, which I guess is now standard for first-person games. However, my problem was not with the length but with the lack of how much they used and combined all of their new ideas.

Each zone in Portal 2 focuses on a particular new feature, whether it is the light bridges or the mid-air floating conveyor belt energy thingies. Once you’re done with that section, Portal introduces a new cool idea and almost completely abandons the old mechanic. It was only until the final levels that I started to see a combination of these ideas and I thought “finally, now the game is really getting started.” And then, in a flash, you go face the final boss and that’s it. Yes, I know there are user levels that really combine all the new ideas well. That’s great. But those levels never have new voice acting or are any way weaved into the story. The user levels are nice but not a good enough substitute for me.

Two-player split-screen co-op though. That was sweet. I can’t imagine playing the co-op levels again with someone else as I’ll likely recall all the old solutions but, they were fun while it lasted. While there were some times where my partner and I might bark orders at each other because one of us figured out the solution while the other didn’t, every now and then  we had the eureka moment at the same time, which was a very rewarding experience.

All-in-all, Portal 2 was one of the most enjoyable games I played this year. And aside from the first Portal, there is no other experience like it on the market. Definitely an improvement from the first game and I hope Valve continues this series with the same great voice acting with more complexity in the level design.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Rebooting the series: Megaman

Hey TSG! While this blog seems pretty quiet, I figured I'd drop in since I finally found some free time. I plan on documenting my experiences at Blizzard (for those who don't know, I got an internship with them this summer) when I find the time. For now, I just wanted to share with you a mini-article I wrote for a challenge.

Specifically, gamecareerguide has issued a challenging question for anyone wanting to take it: How would you reboot a series of your choice? Check out the link for the details. I figured I would share my idea - let me know what you think!

Series that needs a reboot: Megaman

Why? - Let's face it - the Megaman series has dilluded through the years into basic iterations on itself with little to no innovation. The series needs something new and fresh to attract more people than just die-hard Megaman fans.

How? - Take the basic mechanics of Megaman and apply modern game design ideas to it, with some innovations as well.

Proposal - The new Megaman is same as the old at face value - you still play as the Blue Bomber and he platforms through 2D levels with his Mega-Buster and gets upgrades along the way. Everything else is evolution from there:

-Megaman is extremely modular. In the beginning he can only move, jump and shoot. EVERYTHING else is an upgrade. His dashes, double jumps, weapons, health expansions, and so forth are all found as upgrades throughout the game. Similar to the mechanics of the Battle Network series, he collects upgrade chips to install onto his armor. Some will be story-based, some randomly dropped by enemies, some hidden away in alcoves. His armor systems have a memory limit which constrins how many upgrades he can have, though his armor will expand its memory at several points in the story. Players switch in and out abilities at specified upgrade stations.

-New abilities. The upgrade system allows for some cool new abilities as well. Hover boots, jetpacks, invisibility - there is tons of room for imagination here.

-Weapons and abilities all share a common energy supply, which replaces the concept of an energy bar per weapon. This can also be expanded, like health.

-Open world. Think Super Metroid. Lots of room for exploration, hiding upgrades, and having multiple paths to choose in the game. Combine with the upgrade system to have an intriguing "Maybe I can get to there with these abilities" approach that increases replay value. This allows there to be harder levels (to satisfy the Megaman hardcores) and more casual levels.

-Varied missions - It's not just a level with a boss in a garage at the end anymore. While some areas will have bosses, others will have objectives like searching for an object, defending a point, and running through an area fast. Not everything will be required, so again the developer can make tough challenges optional but with enticing rewards.

-Co-op - Why hasn't this been in a Megaman game yet? At any time outside of a mission a second player can join. His Megaman will have all maneuverability upgrades so he can keep up with the other player, but will have limited weapon selection. With a second player the game will automatically scale up enemies and bosses and unlock co-op based missions. Co-op will focus more on enemy blasting than platforming; as LittleBigPlanet has shown, extreme platforming and co-op can cause camera issues.

I think these changes will appeal to both new and old. Hope you like it! I encourage you to enter it as well if you have a cool idea.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Top 52: Legend of Zelda (#24)

Whew. School is over so now I can finally get back to writing consistently. Junior year in NYU really at up a lot of time. I'm sorry for abandoning you, my faithful readers. Anywho, I'm continuing the Top 52 segment, with a classic that released before I was even born: the original Legend of Zelda for the NES.

Title: Legend of Zelda
Console: Nintendo DS
Release Date: 08/22/87
Genre: Action-Adventure
My Ranking: #24

I remember holding this golden cart in my hands when I was about four years old and my brother explaining to me that Zelda is the princess and that the main character's name is Link. I was then confused as to why the game was called The Legend of Zelda but I immediately didn't care once I actually started playing.

The NES Zelda for the first game I played that enabled me to wonder around and choose my own destination. Being four years old at the time, I was a bit overwhelmed but, I enjoyed going to different areas and whacking monsters with a brown 8-bit object that was supposed to resemble a sword. I was also fond of placing bombs and watching walls and enemies go poof.

I only really appreciated this game when I was older however. Hints as to where the next dungeon is were often cleverly cryptic and you would only be able to beat the game if you used all of the tools available to you. The game forced you to be on point with every item you got, from the boomerang, to bomb, to arrows. You also needed to have a strong ability in reading maps, trying to guess where the developers would hide a key or item.

Zelda, in 1987, was ahead of its time. Gone were the linear gameplay elements and replaced with a action-adventure, puzzle, RPG game. Even today it's hard to properly define what kind of game Zelda games are as they break the molds of traditional genre. It's also interesting to note that the Legend of Zelda was the first game game that allowed you to save your progress.

The Legend of Zelda, unlike other installments in the series, is really damn hard. Hearts are hard to come by and if you don't know where your going in a dungeon--which is always the case--chances are you are going to die. Bosses were challenging not only because you had to figure out the best way to beat them but also because if they hit you, you could lose multiple hearts.

Hundreds of games owe their success to the gameplay elements pioneered in the Legend of Zelda. Any open world environment game like Grand Theft Auto III, or the new Prince of Persia, have Zelda to thank for their gameplay style. If you haven't played this game, play in on Nintendo's VC; you won't be disappointed.

My Top 52:
#52 --- Star Fox 64 (N64)
#51 --- Kirby's Adventure (NES)
#50 --- Roller Coaster Tycoon (PC)
#49 --- Grand Theft Auto III (PS2)
#48 --- Metroid Prime (GC)
#47 --- Halo 3 (Xbox 360)
#46 --- Bomberman 64 (N64)
#45 --- Guitar Hero II (PS2)
#44 --- Super Street Fighter II (GEN)
#43 --- Pokemon Puzzle League (N64)
#42 --- Soul Calibur II (GC)
#41 --- Gears of War (Xbox 360)*
#40 --- Elite Beat Agents (DS)
#39 --- Call of Duty 4 (PS3)
#38 --- Super Metroid (SNES)
#37 --- The Orange Box (PS3)*
#36 --- Metal Gear Solid (PS)
#35 --- Doom (PC)
#34 --- Super Mario Kart (SNES)
#33 --- Mischief Makers (N64)
#32 --- Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii)
#31 --- Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (SNES)
#30 --- Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Justice for All (DS)
#29 --- Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (GC)
#28 --- F-Zero (SNES)
#27 --- Katamari Damacy (PS2)*
#26 --- Mario Kart 64 (N64)
#25 --- Tetris DS (DS)*
#24 --- Legend of Zelda (NES)

*- Denotes highest ranked game for that console

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Escapist: Review of Mirror's Edge

Okay, so no one has updated in forever. However, I just found this on a recommendation from a friend and felt it necessary to share.

A superb review of the game Mirror's Edge for all to see. Basically encapsulates every feeling I had about the game, but does it in a way that is fifty bagillion times funnier than I ever could.

The website's other similar "Zero Punctuation" game reviews are highly recommended.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The St. Dead Space Massacre

I hate Valentine’s Day. I mean I really hate it. I’ve only had one good one in my entire life. The rest have been mainly depressing and unpleasant as I get to look on as the happy couples around me get all love-y and there’s not a damned thing on TV that doesn’t involve love in some way. So I decided to vent all of that pent up anger and hostility. I’ve also meant to write a review of Dead Space but up until now I couldn’t really express how it made me feel. You've been warned.

Dead Space sucks. It’s a pathetic rip off of other horror games and not a very good one at that. Everything they did in Dead Space has been done before and has been done better by the games that did it. They took everything of value from System Shock 2, Resident Evil 4, and Doom 3, and then ditched any attempt at real creativity. They stole the setting straight out of Doom 3. The only difference was that Dead Space at least got the damned flashlight thing right. The combat’s straight out of Resident Evil 4 but not as smooth or user friendly, and you actually have less inventory space. Finally, the attempt at horror is a sad imitation of the work of art that System Shock 2 was. It’s like comparing H.P. Lovecraft to Dean Koontz. And frankly, the story and suspense is terribly predictable.

The suspense is completely ruined by badly timed music and poor game design. In a lot of suspenseful games, the designers will use the music as a way to build up tension and to scare the player. The music might rise suddenly as you open a door to reveal only emptiness beyond it, further building the suspense. In Dead Space the music track misses these subtle tricks completely. It sounds like they stripped the soundtrack from another game and didn’t change it up. The music doesn’t really feel attached to the events in the game unless you count cut scenes. You might find yourself wandering down a well lit hall when the music suddenly bursts forth in an aggressive series of notes. However nothing else in the game builds to this and nothing jumps out so all it really does is numb you to any successful use the music might be put to.

Similarly, the level design is piss poor. To move about the ship, the mutant zombies you’re fighting use the…wait for it…air vents. This would make some sense except there are 2 types of air vents. Vents with their covers intact, and vents with broken covers. The monsters will burst forth from the covered vents EVERY GOD DAMNED TIME, and never emerge from the empty vents. You can enter a room and instantly predict where every monster is about to emerge from and be 100% correct. Now the monsters you fight in Dead Space are zombies, but their weird parasite infested space zombies so head shots don’t work, so you have to cut off their limbs. Luckily the ship’s just packed to the brim with odd laser cutting guns that don’t seem to have any real use outside of dismembering space zombies. Now this might make you think that aiming these cutting lasers is really important as you have to slice off every one of the zombies’ limbs to take them down. Well if so then you have far too much faith in these developers. No, you can pretty much just point the guns at the monsters and fire until they fall to the ground. Aiming does damn near nothing. Another big aspect of the game is that the corpses of the crew laying about the ship might rise from the dead at any moment, and damn is this ship covered in corpses. However this too is thrown together with idiotic abandon. Normal corpses look like…well, corpses really, and the zombies look like multi-legged insect people zombies. Well say you walk down a hall and see two normal corpses. Well, to be careful you cut off their limbs and move on. If you come back later you will actually see a new corpse lying between the 2 old ones, but the fact that it’s a zombie isn’t even hidden as there are long scythe legs sticking up in the air. So the surprise is ruined and you can blow them away from a distance every time. In fact, as you play this game (assuming you ignore my advice and waste you money) if at any point you think “you know, I bet a monster would pop out here”, then guess what, a god damned monster’s about to pop out of there.

Even the god damned plot is ripped off of System Shock 2. There’re some parasites found on an alien planet and there’s an attempt by a group on the ship to take them back to Earth to infect it. Same damned plot, right down to the “twist” at the end. The only difference is that Shodan did it with more style. And if you are unlucky enough to have given the damned PC port a chance, then I pity your sad ass. Think back to the ungodly heinous PC ports of console games from the late 90s. Well this one is worse. The controls are crap and there’s no way for you to fix them. On the PC the HUD is torture and the graphics are crap. I have a PC that can run Left4Dead at very high quality graphics with no lagging, same for Bioshock and Fallout 3. I loaded up a borrowed copy of Dead Space for the PC and the graphics were crap. The anti-aliasing was broken, the bloom was hyperactive, and the motion blur was just off. And I’m not the only person to experience these problems. However, EA’s response to these problems was pretty much “Fuck You, you should have bought the console version.” Well, not literally, but clean it up PR-wise and that was their message.

So here’s my recommendation. Don’t buy this game. Don’t even rent it unless you can get your hands on a copy cheap. Hell, if you somehow know any of the people involved in its design, walk up to them and crack em upside the head with a bat. A good solid bat, none of this aluminum crap*. Instead go play System Shock 2. It’s a PC game, but it’s old and will run on practically any system that’s around these days. It’ll scare the shit out of you (Bioshock is the “pg-13” game by the same developers, while SS2 was as “R”) and you will be better for it. Then again Halo’s somehow become one of the “greatest games of all time” and if that trend in gamer taste continues you can all expect to see me one of these days, perched up in a clock tower with a high-powered hunting rifle and a CD player running J-Pop in a continuous loop. You’ve been warned.

*Please don’t actually commit assault based off of what I’ve said. Because if you do, then my ass’ll get sued or thrown in jail for suggesting it, and then I’ll have to come for you. And I’ll be piiiiiiiiiiised like you wouldn’t believe.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Flashy Friday: Squares 2

In Flashy Friday segments, normally I just give the picture of the featured game, a brief description and then a link to go play it. This time Flashy Friday is a bit longer since I have a particularly cool story about this one.

I remember playing Squares 2 a couple of years ago after stumbling upon it at ebaumsworld (remember that crazy site?). It was a simple flash game really. You control a black square via the mouse and your job is to collect other black squares and avoid red ones. The squares shoot from all sides of the screen so the game gets pretty intense with all the squares zipping back and forth. In addition, as you pick up black squares you get bigger in size, making it easier to pick up black squares and making yourself a pretty big target for red ones. There are also power-ups and power-downs you can collect, ranging from brief invincibility, to making your square even more gigantic.

Squares 2 wasn't easy by any means though. You need to have really quick reaction time in order to keep raising your score. On top of all this, Squares 2 has a pretty sick beat going on in the background that fits perfectly with all of the moving squares. The music is incredibly addictive and the coolest effect is when you get the slow motion power-up, causing the music to fade so only the percussion is audible, and then have the music come back in full when the slow motion wears off. Needless to say, I liked this game, and I know a lot of other gamers who have.

Fast forward to two days ago. I'm sitting at a table at one of PLAY's weekly game night meetings. This tall dude with a fro is sitting next to me with an Yngwie Malmsteen shirt on and I'm listening to Steve Vai on my headphones. He hears the music, asks me who it is, and we begin exchanging progressive metal artists that we both enjoy. (We both agreed that Yngwie is overrated).

We eventually ended up talking about out majors/concentration, and I tell him I'm in video game production. After hearing this, he tells me that he just started selling this flash game for iPhone, a flash game he made a long time ago. He needed some help marketing it, and I told him to get on various forums, get in touch with a couple of contacts I have, post the game on newgrounds, addictinggames, and kongregate, etc. All the meanwhile I realize we haven't even properly introduced ourselves or that I haven't even seen the game yet.

He tells me his name is Gavin Shapiro, and as I typed his name into facebook, my long-term memory twitched. Where the hell have I seen this name before? I think nothing of it and I ask him what the name of his game was. He says "you've probably never heard of it, but it called Squares 2."

I had this moment of sudden realization, kinda like the moment Edward Norton had in Fight Club when he finds out who Tyler Durden REALLY is. I had what some people would call a moment of clarity.

So I had a little geek out moment when I found out this guy made this game. I ended up telling this information to everyone in games club, and I'm pretty sure I made Gavin a little embarrassed. Little did he know that he was a mini-celebrity since a lot of people have played his flash game and really enjoyed it. So this blog entry is part normal flashy friday and a bit of a shout-out to Gavin.

Click here to play Squares 2 right now.

And if you happen to have an iPhone, look for Squares 2 in the app store. The game is only $0.99 and you'll be able to compare your scores on a global leaderboard. Not only will you enjoy the game, but the money will go to Gavin for developing this awesome flash game.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Presidential Flash Games

If you check out the politics tag on Will and Beyond, you'll see that I have Obama fever.  How can I work that into a post here on Table Salt Games?  How about some Obama flash games.  Kongregate links are given whenever possible.  Be forewarned that none of these are as good as you'd find on Flashy Friday.

The Good:

Campaign: General Election: Fun strategy game where you have to win over all of the regions of the US using your candidate and staff.  Staffmembers include the Spinmeister, Fundraiser, and the Operative.  Slinging mud and launching negative campaign ads are two examples of fun attacks you have.

The Mediocre:

Polimon: Politics + Pokemon = Polimon.  Walk around the country activating states while you run into random battles with evangelists, political conservatives, etc.

Super Obama World: A Super Mario World knockoff.  Instead of mushrooms making you grow big, slices of pie (huh?) make you wear sunglasses.  Don't collect coins, but rather American flags.  Levels such as "The Real America" and "I Can See Russia from my House!".  Unfortunately, I got to the end of one of the levels, and nothing happened...

Race for the White House: Very easy.  At some point in the beginning I ran past McCain and never saw him again.  Collect money, avoid campaign road blocks, and don't kill birds unless you want to lose the green vote.

The Bad:

Hilary vs. Obama: Do like clicking a lot?  As long as you don't expect anything other than clicking, this could be the game for you!

Obama vs. Joe the Plumber: Punch with M, block with B.  Yeah, that's it.  As tired as I was of hearing about Joe the Plumber, this still isn't very satisfying.

American Chess 2008: Are all of these games just bad attempts at fighting games, 'Obama vs. [insert opponent's name here]'?

Barack Obama Race for the White House: Not a fighting game, but still.  Looking for a bad Puzzle Bobble knockoff?  Here you go.

And on a completely unrelated note, here's a inexplicably fun Monopoly knock-off.