The Best Games of 2008 Feature: Part Two – Adventure/Platformers

•January 11, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Well, the best shooter of the year has gone to Left 4 Dead. Yet another excellent and quality-driven genre is the platformer genre. The genre in its whole has evolved largely from the old style platformers, the collect-a-thon jump quests. Although some may criticize the genre as being repetitive and unchanging collect-a-thons since the beginning, now, the platforming genre boasts nice animations, great environments, and good combat mechanics too. Here’s a look at the year’s top platforming adventures.

1. Prince of Persia (Xbox 360, PS3)

Ubisoft’s reinventioning of the Prince of Persia kicks off with this amazing new game. Boasting pseudo-cel-shaded graphics, great textures, and nice animations, this game looks and feels as fluid as any good platformer should feel. Not only is the new look part of the reimagining of the amazing series by Ubisoft Montreal, but this reiteration brings a bit of co-op into the mix as well. You have a magical partner named Elika that supports you by providing backup magic and revives you when you die. The game itself looks like a living watercolor, and it has minimum pop-ups and framerate lag. It runs on a edited Assassin’s Creed engine, and the controls are similar, a button each for acrobatics, the gauntlet you use to maneuver on walls, your partner’s powers, and your sword. The major change to the Prince of Persia gamestyling is that in this new game, there is a larger focus on slower, one on one combat. There is a God of War-esque feel to some of the fights, as there are on-screen button prompts to trigger cinematic sequences. Although some may not like the game for its constant mollycoddling of the player and the drastic changes to the formula, for those looking for a unique and amazing platforming experience, this is surely a game to look at. I highly recommend this title.

2. Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts (Xbox 360)

Yet another reinvention of a classic series, this platformer is brought to you by the venerated platformers, Rare. This 20-hour game drastically changes the look-feel of the series. The stars of this platformer are the vehicles. Yes, the vehicles. Most of the game is spent building and perfecting your vehicular creations, and tweaking them to overcome challenges. The game at first looks like a child’s game, but the game is actually a very ambitious, polished title. The core of the game is classic Banjo-Kazooie, where you have to collect Jiggies and Notes. However, with the inclusion of the vehicles, the gameplay has a whole new angle. There are, of course, a few flaws, one being that the game is highly physics-based, which results in low framerate in parts. Anoter byproduct of the physics is that the ways the vehicles behave are startlingly accurate, resembling a Garry’s Mod vehicle or a similar one, requiring that you build the car, boat, or plane perfectly so that it can satisfy the different variables of production (such as whether it can withstand a crash or its torque). This results in a very high learning curve, which shouldn’t be, because the vehicles are supposed to be the main stars of the game, and shouldn’t be hard to master. One last flaw is the multiplayer, which is full of annoying sound effects and a poor lobby system. To build a good vehicle, you also have to go through the entire single-player campaign and collect enough parts for multiplayer. Don’t get me wrong, the game is a gorgeous, polished title, but it just tries to overachieve itself a little too  much. Check this out, it’s a very good game.

3. Mirror’s Edge (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)

This is a truly amazing platformer. Digital Illusions CE (DICE) has managed to make a first-person parkour game that is so fluid and visually compelling, it feels like you are actually the one running. The controls in this intuitive new game are simple, and it’s not that hard to link together platforming combos. The visual styling fits the story of an oppressive government, with most of the environment being pure white, with only one or two primary or secondary colors at a time. The game has you basically running along a breadcrumb trail in the form of red elements in the environment, may they be ladders, ledges, or poles. The main combat is a deviation from most first-person games. The combat isn’t based on shooting, but more of a time-based combo attack feature. The animations are fluid, with the main character, Faith’s body coming into the frame at parts. To those who get sick easily from games: beware. The first-person view is very accurate, with the camera following your moves exactly, even into dives and somersaults. The game, of course, has a few shortcomings. One is that the story is abysmal and the characters are not compelling. A cause of this may be the cutscenes that look like bad eSurance advertisements. Another flaw is the retarded AI. They just stand in one spot waiting for you to kill them. The environments are another problem. Although the visual style is compelling, the actual mapping is repetitive, and it seems you were “just in this room a second ago!” Another flaw is the multiplayer, that could have been SO GOOD. Imagine a parkour race in real time against other people! Well, keep dreaming. The only multiplayer is a leaderboard-based time-trials mode. Also, I feel that the game could have been more comfortable if developed with the Source Engine (it just looks and feels like it would be perfect for the engine), but that’s no problem, and not truly a flaw. Lastly, the final shortcoming is that the game is short (pun intended). The game could have been so much longer and hopefully, DICE will make a sequel that shows the true potential of the game. However, if you have any interest at all in this game, get it. It’s a truly innovative title that deserves a look despite its shortcomings.

4. LittleBigPlanet (PS3)

This also, is a very good and innovative title. This game brings gaming back to its roots as a 2D platformer, but with a twist. The main gameplay quirk is the third dimention of background, middleground, and foreground. The gameplay is based on these multiple planes of movement, and although the auto plane switching can be inconsistent, it doesn’t change the overall experience whatsoever. The art and visual style are charming and cute, with everything looking handmade from objects you can find at home. The levels are detailed and nicely put together, and what’s amazing is that the levels are all designed with the same in-game level creator you can use to create levels yourself that you share online with others. The music is cheerful and varied, and truly makes the game feel like a pure fun, innocent title. Even if the game was released with just the story mode, it would still have been a very compelling experience. The 6-10 hour adventure calls you back for more, making you want to go back and unlock new items, costumes, and more. The campaign even has a co-op mode, which really encourages some real co-op moments. Of course, the source of the hype train and the main star of this game are the creation tools, which are as moldable and flexible as the Source Engine by VALVe. You can truly create anything and put it into your game, may it be a giant toast monster or a duckroll. Another great feature is the ability to save prefabs (prefabricated items) made by you and others. The great thing is that since the learning curve is obviously more intense than some other titles, the excellent tutorials are there to help. Another great feature is the co-op creation feature, where up to four people can create a level at the same time. However, one issue (of course) with the creation tools is that there is no way to save states instead of having to undo over and over again. Obviously, this is not a huge problem. This game is truly the redefinition of the 2D platformer. Get it if you have a PS3.

And the winner is… LittleBigPlanet. I was torn between Prince of Persia and LBP, but I felt that a game that not only is a good platformer, but also has endless replay value through creation tools and user-created content should come out on top. Congratulations Sackboy, you are the champ.

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CES 2009: Razer’s new Mamba mouse!

•January 8, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Meet the new constant in PC gaming technology. The Razer Mamba. If looks could kill, you’d die from a glance at this beast. It boasts a 5600 DPI 3.5G laser, and a 1ms wireless response time! Yes, that’s wireless latency! On top of that, it’s all ergonomic! Check it out.

Check this out!

Check this out!

Peace!

-Panzer XiII

The Best Games of 2008 Feature: Part One – Shooters

•January 8, 2009 • 1 Comment

Hello everyone! Well, this article is a bit late, but the facts remain… 2008 was a great year to be a gamer. Whether you enjoy the hardcore shooter or an occasional casual experience, this past year had a lot of fun-packed content ready for your entertainment. Here’s a look at the top shooters of this past year.

1. Resistance 2: United We Fall (PS3)

Resistance 2 is the successor to the wildly popular first game, which was a launch title for the Playstation 3. The game builds on the initial game’s success, bringing back all the original, amazing weaponry, and introducing a lot of new ones, including the Wraith, which is pretty much a big, freaking, machine gun. The stars this time around, yet again, are the weapons, and Insomniac has wasted not one iota of effort into making this game the most comfortable and fun experience. The game may arguably not be as good as the predecessor, with a two gun loadout and not as much strategy. However, with the good single-player campaign and the amazing 60-player multiplayer, this is one shooter for the console that must not be overlooked.

2. Gears of War 2 (Xbox 360)

Gears of War 2 is also a successor to a successful game, Gears of War. Marcus Fenix and co. are back in action as they try to save the world yet again from the Locust Horde. The gameplay is more polished that the first one was, with different ways of using existing weaponry (chainsaw duels!) and powerful new weaponry that satisfies with every hit. The multiplayer this time around has improved, with different modes such as the Horde mode, where you kill wave after wave of Locust. If Resistance 2 is the premier shooter for the PS3, this is the Xbox 360 equivalent.

3. Left 4 Dead (Xbox 360, PC)

Left 4 Dead is a new zombie shooter brought to us by the makers of Half-Life and Counter-Strike, VALVe Software and Turtle Rock Studios. This game is amazing, with 4 player co-op modes and a 4v4 zombies versus humans mode, where you can play as the Hunter, Boomer, Smoker, or Tank. The game encourages as much co-op as possible, where if you don’t stick together, you will die. Quickly. As of now, the game is going strong on the PC front, however, the server system is not very good, and players constantly experience 150-900 ping servers because the game picks a random server for you. Hopefully this issue will get fixed shortly. Another shortcoming is that there is no storyline at all, besides “we have to get to [PLACE] and don’t get killed getting there!” But, in the end, who cares, when the name of the game is killing endless waves of a neverending zombie horde?

4. Call of Duty: World at War (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)

The top World War II gaming franchise returns with a new installment of the War to End all Wars. Treyarch has made this title, which is a motley “best of” compilation of all of WWII’s glorious campaigns. The four-player co-op mode is still here, as well as the amazing CoD4 competitive multiplayer, where you level up to unlock weapons and perks. The kill streak bonuses are here as well, 3 kills netting you reconnaissance, 5 kills netting you artillery support, and 7 netting you a pack of rabid attack dogs (sweet.)! There is also an unlockable “Nazi Zombies” mode, where, you guessed it, you kill Nazi zombies. This is an able addition to the franchise that will tide you over until Infinity Ward returns with Call of Duty 5.

And the winner is… Left 4 Dead. This game is revolutionary, encouraging teamwork on both sides of the equation. Playing as a Special Infected is one of the best experiences in gaming, and this game gives it to us. Zombies must work together as well as humans to achieve their respective goals. Although the story is non-existent, who cares when there are this many zombies?

FusionFall: Cartoon Network’s new MMORPG.

•January 8, 2009 • 3 Comments

Hello everyone, and happy new year! Today I have been taking a look at Cartoon Network’s new MMO, FusionFall. The game is set in the CN universe, which apparently is the universe where all the shows’ homes are collaborated into one place. The game is browser-based and uses a nice 3D engine to render the decently pretty cel-shaded world. Some of the environments put me into a nostalgic daze, and I remembered watching many of the shows whose neighborhoods made it into this beta release.

I have been scornful as of late at some of CN’s shows, as some of them seem to me not as good compared to the old shows of our childhood, such as Dexter’s Laboratory or Cow and Chicken. However, CN seems to have made a very good decision as to including only the very best of these shows, and adding a slightly edgy, darker look to all the characters. Most of the characters have either aged or changed into a more realistic version of their television counterparts.

Dexter from the FusionFall universe. Note the character detail.

Dexter from the FusionFall universe. Note the character detail and slight anime-ish stylization of the overall look-feel.

The personalized character models are nicely cel-shaded, and pretty detailed, especially for a browser-based game. The animations are decently fluid, and the character doesn’t look like a base jumper when he jumps.

The gameplay is decent, especially to the target demographic, young children that watch the channel primarily. The controls are fluid and responsive, and the programmers did a good job of doing a WASD + Mouse control configuration, as opposed to a less comfortable arrow key-based control scheme. The gameplay honestly reminds me of World of Warcraft, albeit an overly-simplistic version.

The story is about how in the near future, the CN universe is attacked by “Fusion Creatures,” which can range from your everyday monster to alternate forms of all the CN’s familiar characters ranging from Eddy to the “Numbuhs” of the Kids Next Door.

The game primarily features a multitude of fetch quests, mainly based on a form of “go from Point A to Point B, get Item A, and come back to Point A.” These quests can get repetetive, however it shoudn’t be a problem due to the fact that the game is targeted to children either just starting their gaming lives or just having some fun. There are also platforming segments based on jumping from block to block which are mainly inside the “Fusion Sectors” of the maps.

The combat mechanic is simple and easy. The combat is a hybrid of a third-person shooter and  an MMO, with auto-target. The damage is all done, both ways, with hitscan-based weapons that either hit, or… hit (as long as the targeting reticle is on the monster). Of course, there is no player versus player combat, but perhaps after the full release, there will be a hearty patch with some PvP included.

The only real problem with the game is that it lags quite frequently, either due to server latency, or due to FPS spikes caused by the engine. All in all, these problems are minor and aren’t very significant. Also, since the game is targeted towards children, each name is individually filtered for obscenities and at first, your character will be given a temporary number.

This game is fairly enjoyable, and will prove to be a mildly addicting distraction to those in need of a simplistic MMO. If you remember the good old days and feel nostalgic about the old cartoons you used to watch, do yourself a favor, and check it out. Bring your kid.

-Peace out…

Panzer XiII (Yes, a revert back to the old name.)

FusionFall

FusionFall

New Team Fortress 2 Update!

•December 26, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Hello folks, and a very Merry Christmas to you.

Recently, TF2 has recieved a major update that is a quickfix to some major class imbalances, and a mini Engineer buff as well!

The update in a nutshell:

  • Not only sentry guns, but also dispensers and teleporter systems can be upgraded to Level Two and Level Three.
  • Spies can now regenerate cloak by picking up ammo or getting it from any source of ammo (dispensers, spawn cabinets).
  • Medics’ HUDs now display what state of distress a person calling for a medic is in.
  • Crit kills how have a nice red glow to them on the kill display.
  • Players who are overhealed now have a nice “+” swirl around them.
  • And the star of the show, Demomen’s stickies can now be broken by shooting them with a bullet based weapon. Basically, any hitscan gun.

My thoughts on this are that it all is a nice package, a nice little update to tide us over while we wait for the next major class update, which is set to be the one and only Scout. I only have two real problems with the update. One is that all teleporters continue to glow even if their respective exits were destroyed. Also, when a player is overhealed, it looks like the Spy’s disguise smoke at first glance.

All in all however, this new update was a very nice surprise.

Happy Holidays,

Panzerschrek

Gaming Lagoon

How not to screw up an MMO.

•December 23, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Hello everyone, and happy holidays. May all your wishes for this year come true and may your days be merry.

Today, I’d like to delve into the mysterious, fantastical world of MMORPGs. MMORPGs, for those who don’t know, are Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games. These days, that may conjure an image of WoW raids or perhaps Guild Wars PvP. However, although WoW is dominating the market as of now, many other MMOs have a fair share of the population themselves. Such games may include Guild Wars, Warhammer 40k, or free games such as MapleStory or RuneScape.

For some of these, the only reason that they are not getting mass market share is because of some common issues that don’t make the game as fun as it could be. WoW as of now, maintains a perfect balance of gameplay. However, while other MMOs such as MapleStory are popular, their gameplay and community is absolute garbage. Many MMOs these days share some common problems, and I’ll be discussing some of these common problems.

Balance the classes.

One of the main problems in some MMOs these days is that some classes are WAY overpowered compared to the rest of the population. A textbook example of this is in MapleStory, the assassin has a skill that can be used up until level 70 that does a double hit, with 150% of the damage of your regular attack stat. However, the Gunslinger class does this exact same thing, but only with 80%.

Balancing classes doesn’t mean to take the average attack and make sure it seems reasonable. It means to either give all classes the same overpowered attack, or to give them all the same underpowered one.

Don’t make useless classes.

In some games, there is just one class that is absolutely completely bOrked that there is absolutely no point in using it. In MapleStory, there is a warrior called a Page. All of their attacks are elemental-based. One problem: all boss monsters are elemental-resistant. In a game where there is no PvP and only PvE, this turns out to be an extra-retarded outcome.

There are a couple ways of fixing this problem. One way is to make some boss weak to certain elements. Another way is to make more elemental-based weapons. A third way is to buff the class itself, to do more overall damage. This way, this and other classes would all do similar damage.

Taking that example, if there are any useless classes, you can take a look at the weaknesses of the class and either buff them or balance the gameplay to fit the class more, while still maintaining that delicate balance of other classes as well.

Unless the game is Pay2Play, don’t give paying players too big of an advantage.

Yet again, MapleStory fucked up. With their Nexon Cash system, paying players have such an overpowered advantage over their non-paying friends. In a direct quote from Nexon, “paying players will not have an advantage over those who do not.” Well, I suppose getting fifty times the money and items, and double experience isn’t really an advantage, huh.

Well, it’s too late to fix that. Crap like this just ruins the in-game economy in to worse than a recession, where the paid currency is worth more than the in-game currency. That’s absolutely retarded.

Grinding doesn’t add longevity.

In many MMOs these days, the primary means of leveling up is grinding, or continuously killing until your eyes bleed and your head leaks out of your ears. This is especially true on… you guessed it, Maplestory. The main way of leveling is grinding, closely followed by quests that follow this template:

Kill X monsters, Kill X monsters to get X items, or Kill X monsters to get X items to get the boss, then kill X boss to get X items.

And all you get for your two hours is a shitty item.

How to fix this? Well, take a look at WoW. Do. More. Raids. People like playing with other people. Make more and bigger quests that actually are fun. And seriously, don’t make the final level’s EXP equal to the maximum allowed by programming standards (over 2 billion)!

Include PvP.

One of the biggest mistakes an MMO can make is not including any player versus player combat. The best parts of some games are the PvP content, because it gives an outlet to actually see how good your character is. If there is PvP, players will spend a lot more time getting gear and getting stronger. And of course, a shitty makeup for PvP shouldn’t be a set of minigames based on, yet again, grinding.

Well folks, that’s it for today. Happy Holidays and stay warm.

Have fun,

Panzerschrek

A look at videogames in an artistic form.

•December 11, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Hello everybody, hopefully your wintry months are going well! What with the release of some of the best fragfests ever, I’m sure many of you are busy curb-stomping some Locust or liquifying zombie brains. Some people view games as fun, distracting ventures from the mundane path we call daily life. Some view games as a way to pass time on the bus. And some, such as former attorney at law Jack Thompson, see them as a violent, training medium for tomorrow’s terrorists. Yet, they are rarely perceived as a form of art. As we walk into yet another year of perhaps some of the greatest gaming, let’s take a look at games in a way that they rarely are looked at, in an artistic form.

Games today have really evolved from their 8-bit counterparts. What used to be five-sixths of a yellow circle eating dots has now transformed into deep, polished characters with life breathed into their digital bodies. What used to be a simple landscape of bricks and blocks has now turned into believable, detailed areas worthy of the term environments. What started as a simple message of “Destroy all ships!” has now changed into deep, convincing plotlines that are actually viable. In all, gaming in general has evolved from a distraction, into what we know it today, a form of art.

Gamers as of recent times have much higher standards. We not only want your everyday, vanilla collect-a-thon platformer with a colorful animal with special moves. We want a game with a plotline worthy of a novel, characters worthy of Hollywood, environments worthy of the Discovery Channel, with innovation on top of all that. In today’s world, gaming has turned into a medium like all others; a quality-driven, artistic, thrill ride. Even five years ago, games were regarded with a sense of scorn; “mainstream” media like movies and books turned their nose at gaming, seeing it as a small distraction, pale in comparison to the quality found in other forms of media.

Yet, if movies, music, or MTV can be art, so can games. One way to look at this is to think of this in a different perspective; one that doesn’t dwell on petty definitions or facts, and argues a more direct approach. Art is something to be appreciated, which depends on personal taste. One may not like Picasso, but may support van Gogh. One may dislike rap music, but may be a fanatic of rock. One may be a fan of one type, or genre, of art. Similarly, this can be said of games. RPGs may be your thing, but mine may be FPSs (for the record, I enjoy both). A very obvious show that gaming can be considered an art form is that it is starting to fuse with other forms of art; particularly music. Don’t believe me? Come back after you see a Rock Band advertisement.

Gamers today aren’t held in much scorn as the gamers of yesteryear were. What used to be a basement-dwelling nerd has now evolved to envelop everyone from the casual game loving soccer mom to the sports loving, Guitar Hero player. While some may look back at the past with a sense of longing and nostalgia, many look at the present and realize that this is the now, the acceptance of gaming as mainstream media and art.

Just my two cents, folks.

-panzerschrek

P.S. On a completely unrelated note, Duke Nukem Forever is actually coming out!