Tyger, Tyger, burning bright

A den for thoughts and discussions on games, life, tigers and art.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Recent gaming - World of Warcraft

I have been spending a good deal of time exploring all the changes brought about by the Sundering, the physical game-changing layout of the old world to herald the updated content to be released with the Cataclysm expansion this December. What I find remarkable is that a MMO is built on the concept of a persistent world, and here's Blizzard deciding to change everything. Well, most of everything. A lot of the world has remained the same, but there are many areas that have become highlighted with giant chasms and crevasses, or where there was once wilderness there are now signs of habitation and civilization. Implementing the technology and code that allows for "phasing" where after you complete a quest, there's a change to the game world, cities can fall under siege, forests can be felled and new roads laid down where there was once nothing, and all this is wrapped around a more streamlined questing experience, leading players to the next area where they can find new quests, easing them into the staples of what the WoW experience will be like.
What I happen to like is the precedent this establishes for the future. The game state can be advanced and changed, a story can be told that unfolds, moving factions and loyalties around with but a patch. I am excited at the potential for stories to unfold. One example of drastic change is the loss of Alliance held points within the northern part of the Eastern Kingdoms continent. Granting the Forsaken Horde characters a more streamlined leveling experience included the utter destruction of Southshore, an Alliance bastion for years in the Hillsbrad zone. I would like to see in the months down the line some kind of reprisal for this humiliation and slaughter, where the Alliance decides that turning the town and its folk into green goo would not be tolerated. There is so much potential and I hope Blizzard sees fit to utilize it to the utmost.
As a player who has been with the game for 4 years, I may not have known it since the time of launch, but I did endeavor to exploring as much as I could, taking whatever quests available and witnessing all the sights for both factions. This Sundering gives me all that I once knew with a fresh light. There are many familiar quest chains, but more there are new ones in old areas, and best yet, old chains with different outcomes, giving me a smile that Blizzard gives nods to folk who may have done a quest a hundred times to see its most recent form has a twist to let the players know, "Sure, you've done this so much it's stale. So here's something new for you to have." I think that sort of sums up the idea behind the Cataclysm and Sundering before it. A game that's six years old is going to feel stale unless it gives the players something new, and here it doesn't just tack on a new area and give a series of quests, it reinvents its own wheel, adapting and changing the old with what they've developed for the new, and applying it in a manner that lets us know what was old is new again.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

I have not blogged much lately

Which may be taken as a sign of low activity in the realm of video games, board games, role-playing games and anything else. Which is partially true. I have been working on an art project, however on top of my usual duties. At any rate, enjoy your holidays! :)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Something brief

The holidays are fast approaching, and why not combine doing something good plus get a gift for a little one (or a tiger lover) in your life?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Staying relevant

As the number of page views and comments seems to indicate, rambling about my past favorite games and reasons why I think they are so great isn't working so I should perhaps move along into something more topical.
I play World of Warcraft and presently it is undergoing a lot of changes. A new expansion is due out next month and in preparation for that the persistent world is being sundered. While each of the previous expansions have created world events themed towards the expansion's arrival, it is this one where the actual in-game textures and surfaces are being changed from what they were about six years ago.  This isn't just a minor update towards higher end video cards either, this is a revamp of hills and valleys, creating new ones in many places with crevasses and volcanoes and flooding and all sorts of natural disasters! I've played the game for a long time, I've been present for world events before, but this one takes the cake in the level of overhaul of all the old content that many people have been asking for over the years. With the changes to the environment comes a change of the old quests. Previous bad guys just don't cut it in the grander scheme of things, a greater threat physically looms overhead, flying around and blasting down fire upon the populace. While I was critical of the trailer from a story stand point, it does display the sort of beast players will get to experience first-hand in their leveling experience, or so I am led to believe.
There is also a set of events going on right now, before the final sundering that interrupts the daily flow of city-based traffic. In a manner similar to last expansion's, "zombie outbreak", the home cities aren't even safe from attack, as great elemental threats burst out in the middle of city streets to be combated by characters of high level. (Lower level invasions are also occurring in every zone as well so lower level players aren't left out entirely) There's even associated rewards with a successful city defense, a chance to strike back at leaders of these elemental invasions. (Again, designed for 5-man groups of the level cap of 80, these four individual bosses have a ton of health, hit hard, have some neat aspects to their fights and will test most players even those accustomed to good group dynamics)
These invasions are very interesting to me to experience, and I'd rate this world event a good 8 out of 10. I am saddened that it is primarily aimed at the end-game player base despite being there with multiple characters, as I like world events that everyone can enjoy and rage over as it shakes up their previous way of playing. Some past events, like the opening of the gates of Ahn'Qiraj or the previously mentioned zombie outbreak, got everyone involved, high or low level. I highly anticipate the actual Sundering and gleefully await the chance to fly around the old world and survey all the dama-er, changes to each zone. I've sided with the Argent Dawn to drive off the Scourge invasion (twice!), to hold back the Burning Legion at the Dark Portal, chewed some brains with the zombie outbreak and now kick the primal forces of the elements out of my cities. Bring it on, Deathwing.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The next batch of favorites

All this to establish a sort of base of "where I come from"

1. Super Mario World

If there was ever a doubt about this platformer, let me put that to rest. Not only does it carry the wonderful tradition of the Mario games before it, but it adds in elements of item storage, world exploration secret path discovery and a rideable mount. Everything the Super Mario games did prior this one does as well if not better.

2. Final Fantasy 3

This was probably my foundation in the idea of "epic" story telling in a game. A plethora of characters which under went periods of change, loss and growth alike, genre staples, series staples and a fantastic experience of my younger teen years I'll always treasure.

3. Super Street Fighter 2

While the Genesis was the system of choice for MK, the SNES was my go to for the Street Fighter line. Better graphics and sounds, faster framerate and more complete arcade port experience. I actually liked all of them, but Super brought out an element that would become dominant in all Street Fighter games following, the super meter.

4. F-Zero

I was never a fan of racing games. I may have played a fair share of RC Pro-Am on the NES and that Off-Road truck one in arcades, but really I wasn't very good at racers and I didn't put much stock into them. Until F-Zero. High-speed racing combined with a unique (to me) plot and setting made this an attractive title for me to try and after hearing the beautiful music I was hooked on trying to complete every track just to get to the next.

5. Super Mario Kart

F-Zero but with Mario! Well, not quite, but it had enough similarities. The position of camera behind your character, some great tracks, some frustrating as hell tracks, a good musical score and an additional head to head competition mode with several tracks to play on. Also one of the earliest games to allow Bowser as a playable character.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

And now for something completely the same

1. Sonic the Hedgehog 2

So I got the Genesis bundle that came with this one and the first Sonic instead of the Joe Montana football game and haven't been happier for it. Both Sonic games were a welcome change of platformer excitement from Super Mario, however the greater depth added in the sequel (as well as probably the first example of drop-in, drop-out co-op play) puts it a little bit ahead of its precursor. Good music, good game play and a cohesive story, not much to say on this one beyond it was fun and awesome.

2. Earthworm Jim

This game came out on both 16-bit systems, however the Genesis version packed a bonus level. That reason alone makes this a favorite over the SNES version to me. A platformer shooter from the warped mind of Douglas TenNaple about a space suit mutating a common earthworm to fight against the evils of the galaxy to rescue Princess What's-Her-Name (A nice little stab at the genre staple there) that included great music and sounds, quirky and unique character design and very awkward humor. (Cow launching as part of level progression, wtf?) This game made me a fan of Mr. TenNaple's work and I try to follow everything he has developed since.

3. Mutant League Football

Speaking of sports games. While I was not a big time sports enthusiast, this one right here got my attention. I did end up with the Joe Montana game that had the digitized voice (Mon-tan-ah back ta pass), but this one will be my favorite title based on the idea of chucking a pigskin down the field to sweaty guys slamming into one another. Taking the idea of football to an over the top violent extreme, not only were there injuries, but also fatalities. the players themselves were skeletons, mutants or other types of alien monsters and the respective coaches themselves were just as off-the-wall. I hear the hockey game carries a similar amount of the humor and absurd violence, but the cartoon television series was a bit of a downer (Yet kept some of the violence).

4. Mortal Kombat

Another game that launched for both systems simultaneously, and the Genesis one ended up being superior. Not due to the sound or graphics, oh, but that infamous hidden cheat. See, when MK moved from arcades to home systems, there was a big legal stink about the level of violence in the game. Blood flying with crazy uppercuts, dismemberment, impaling, all the stuff MK was made famous for certainly should not be allowed in our own homes. So, when Akklaim got the rights to port to the home systems, they made the blood turn gray (for sweat? I dunno) and toned down all the Fatalities (Johnny Kage's Foot-in-chest of dewm!) Except for the Genesis. While on the surface it played the same, but after entering "ABACABB", you could now send the blood flying, rip out hearts and tear off heads with impunity. Take that, censorship!

5. Disney's Aladdin

I seem to have based my picks upon which system I got the game for on a lot of these, huh? See, Aladdin also came out on the SNES as well as the Genesis and again, while the SNES boasts better graphics and sound quality, it is the Genesis version that had animators incorporate their drawings directly into the game. This lends a greater feeling of fluidity and similarity to the movie. Also, Aladdin had a sword in the Genesis version. Nintendo sure did its best to try to distance itself from more mature themes, didn't it?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Top Five continued, NES edition

1. Legend of Zelda

C'mon. Open world exploration. A story of a boy hero against a powerful evil. Sub-item inventory, an expansive overworld filled with dungeons, secrets hidden all over and a second play through that changes the layout of everything. The Legend of Zelda is not just one of the best NES games, but one of the best games of all time.

2. Final Fantasy

So, if LoZ is one of the best, here comes another fantastic game to also wedge in a spot. Now, here we have an argument about the quality of early RPGs, and Dragon Warrior being earlier, but that doesn't quite make it better to me. Form a party with different class skills, massive open world to explore (especially once you obtain the ship and airship) and a sprawling story that spans thousands of years. Here is established some of the franchise staples, excalibur sword, the aforementioned airship, an engineer named Cid, white and black schools of magic, four elemental fiend/bosses and a beautiful musical score. However, the complex and convoluted story can put some folk off, and the small clues on where to go next at times can be frustrating.  Still a fantastic game for its time.

3. Mega Man 3

While for most the second game in the series is the one that turns it around from a platform shooter that might have faded into obscurity and instead makes it even more lovable with a more in-depth plot and even greater character design and I would not argue it. However as per my criteria, I never owned MM2. I did own MM3 and I love it just as much, if not more. There's hints here of the decline of robot masters, however (Top Man, really? Hard Man? *siiiiigh*) it still holds up as a great platformer and the addition of Rush adds charm to the sub-items that have appeared in prior games. (I can do without Flip-Top and Beat, however)

4. Chip and Dale's Rescue Rangers

Another fantastic Capcom game to come along, this one taking the Disney license of, what I admit, to be one of my favorite TV shows growing up. (In fact I loved most of the "Disney Afternoon" line up. Gummi Bears, Ducktales, Rescue Rangers, Talespin and Darkwing Duck) I think it might have been due to the success of the Ducktales game that led to this gem. Platforming at its finest but more importantly, 2-player simultaneous play. In a platformer! Unheard of and remarkably well done.

5. Gyruss

What? Not Gradius for best space shooter? While the Vic Viper clone is one of the earliest and best shooters around for the NES (followed by 1942 and 1943) again, by my criteria, this is the one I owned and the one I played the living heck out of. It's a fantastic game anyway, with a perspective that was reminiscent of Tempest (a favorite of mine from the arcades), a rocking sound track and some intense boss battles (I'm looking at you Jupiter) lead this one to be my choice for a favorite.

Honorable Mentions:
Super Mario Land. Yeah, I know, not in my initial list and to be honest while it ate up a lot of my hours as a kid, there was only so many times I could play it. Once you learned about warp zones, did you ever visit world 2 or 7 any more?
Dragon Warrior. The first console RPG to give us the genre standards of magic, fighting, SLEEP spells and of course, money and experience grinding. I just think FF does it all better.

Must Avoids: Yeah, I had Deadly Towers. I was snowed by the cover art. Shush. I also had Rush 'n' Attack. That one is pretty terrible. I'd like to see an Until We Win on it due to the 1-hit kill your character suffers against an onslaught of rocket pack wearing bad guys shooting at you while your only weapon is a fricking knife. You're gonna die, a lot.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Additional information required

To better explain my choices from the prior top five listings, I present them in sections.

Atari 2600 -
1. Pitfall
Who doesn't like Pitfall? One of the earliest running and jumping games with different obstacles over the course of various screens. Sure the underground was static, but the background of the fores had the number of trees change. However the highlights include lakes, pits, crocodiles, campfires and swinging vines. It also had open world exploration, you could go left or right from the get go.

2. Yar's Revenge
A shooter at the core. Blow away the enemy shield and hit their weak point. Except your ship could collide with the shield and "eat" bits out of it, and in fact had to do that to create the shot necessary to blow up the enemy weak point. And there was a worm-like enemy thing trying to hit you to kill you. You could hide out in a "neutral zone" to prevent its touch from hurting you. The enemy also had a super cannon that would shoot at you from out of their weak point, tracking you to a degree, forcing you to stay mobile. The super cannon shot can kill you even in the neutral zone. Oh, and the instruction manual even had a 6 page comic book in it to explain what was going on. This game was pretty epic in its day.

3. Asteroids
Speaking of shooters, this one holds a special place in my heart simply because I "flipped the disk" on New Year's day back in 1985. What does that mean? I scored so many points that the game couldn't keep track of the value and reset to zero. Also one of the great-grandfather of space shooters in our day.

4. River Raid
I sure do like shooting games for the old Atari. This one I praise the laurels of being a top-down style shooter with an evolving background track to fly in, with all manner of enemies and even including resource management (a refillable fuel gauge) as your timer for how far you could go and high you could score. It even had a sequel.

5. Combat!
Last is my favorite  competitive title, what other game has two tanks shooting at one another in a small maze-like arena where their shots can potentially bounce off the walls, the tanks could turn invisible, or you could exploit shooting through corners to hit the other side of the screen?

A few honorable mentions for me are also games like Congo Bongo (another platformer with some complex jumping parts), Pac-Man (Yes, its a lousy port, but the general gameplay was the same and that's all that mattered to me at my age), Defender (Flying, shooting and picking up those always imperiled citizens)

Games to avoid? Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. (The opening screen seems to have an invisible pit that drops you into a room with an unkillable foe who will eat you if you can't escape, except you can't seem to escape otherwise), E.T. (though I have beaten it, on many occasions, and didn't see what the big deal was about how bad it was) and just about any game that is one screen of static placements versus an onslaught of foes (not Missile Command or Space Invaders, but something like Atlantis)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

From a suggestion

Listing off my top fives of each game system. Very well.
While I may own more systems than what I present below, these are the ones I played enough of to have an opinion on being some of my certain favorites. The list is in no particular order. Part of the criteria was actual ownership and/or completion of the game. (So some titles like Fable aren't on the list despite them being great games for the system in question)

Atari 2600 -
1. Pitfall
2. Yar's Revenge
3. Asteroids
4. River Raid
5. Combat!

Nintendo Entertainment System -
1. Legend of Zelda
2. Final Fantasy
3. Mega Man 3
4. Chip and Dale's Rescue Rangers
5. Gyruss

Sega Genesis -
1. Sonic the Hedgehog 2
2. Earthworm Jim
3. Mutant League Football
4. Mortal Kombat
5. Disney's Aladdin

Super Nintendo Entertainment System  -
1. Super Mario World
2. Final Fantasy 3
3. Super Street Fighter 2
4. F-Zero
5. Super Mario Kart

Playstation 2 -
1. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
2. Kingdom Hearts
3. Marvel vs. Capcom 2
4. Prince of Persia: Sands of Time
5. Silent Hill 2/Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3

Microsoft XBox -
1. Halo
2. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
3. Doom 3
4. Star Wars: Republic Commando
5. Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth

Game Cube -
1. Soul Calibur 2
2. Mario Kart Double Dash
3. Super Smash Bros. Melee
4. Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
5. Resident Evil

Microsoft XBox 360 -
1. Red Dead Redemption
2. Borderlands
3. Batman: Arkham Asylum
4. Super Street Fighter 4
5. Mass Effect 2

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The time has come

To speak of video things. Of games and rules and master chiefs, power-ups and (golden) rings.
Thus I offer my opinion upon the video game Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

I refuse to call this a Castlevania game. Do you like the climbing and rappelling of Prince of Persia, Assassin's Creed and Dante's Inferno? How about God of War's combat? Shadow of the Colossus' fights with Titans? The light/dark magic combo system of Dante's Inferno? The massive amount of item upgrades to add new powers to cross earlier puzzles and gaps found in games like Darksiders and Legend of Zelda? If you said yes to all of that, then you might enjoy Castlevania: Lords of Shadow.
Let me begin with where I come from, in the NES era. What are Castlevania staples to me? Stupid whip tricks, fighting all manner of horrible monsters, giant sprawling castle levels (without much else), fighting vampires and especially having the end boss be Dracula (Or at least a powerful vampire of some kind)
Now for this iteration. Are there whip tricks? Sure. Focused attacks and AoE style attacks with a bajillion upgrades to the basic X,X,X (Or Square, Square, Square) stuff we've seen before and barely any of it really matters, save getting you locked in a combo string animation, setting up to be counter-attacked with ease. you don't need to learn the flashy upgrade attack move, "whip it 'til it stops moving", is perfectly acceptable. 
However what drags this down even more is the reliance upon Light energy, a hit-without-taking-retalitory-damage semi-combo system to build up potential for magic power, and Dark energy. What the shit?! Pick a special style of fighting mechanic and stick with it, don't fill my screen with a life meter, a combo gauge, and two different magic meters!
Tapping the Right trigger when there's a context sensitive whip grapple point within range makes you swing like Tarzan or move up or down like a mountain climber. That factor isn't so bad and I like seeing it. It brings me back to the Super Castlevania days on the SNES and that one room that rotated around.
Are there horrible monsters? Uh.. werewolves. More werewolves. Giant wolves. Goblins who throw bombs. Trolls. Some titanic statues. Where the fuck are my vampires (and an appearance of Death)? Oh, chapter 4? They're not the end boss? A necromancer and (spoiler hidden in white text) SATAN is?! Really? No, seriously? Really? When have they -ever- been the last guys in a Castlevania?!
The visuals are beautiful and the character design (except for the derp human faces) are well done. The music is exceptional (though sometimes plays at odd times. Heart-racing musical score while I'm trying to find the right way to go through a monster-less series of walkways?) The voice acting, however, outside from Sir Patrick Stewart is atrocious, especially Gabriel's.
I could strangle who ever thought a fixed camera was a good idea. In a game that involves platformer style jumps in spots, and especially trying to hint at there being times to wander off the otherwise linear path to look for secrets, having the camera set in a certain way and unable to look around to plan how I'm to make it to the next checkpoint is frustrating. I do so enjoy having a camera pan up to gaze at a giant statue boss' junk and not the surrounding scenery to see what I'm caught on.
The game is pretty hard too. I often let the game go on "Normal" difficulty, as that is, to me, how the game is anticipated to be played the first time by most average gamers. Well, "Normal" means you die in three to five hits from regular enemies and 2 to 3 (if you're lucky) from bosses. Oh, but don't mess up the quick-time event for killing the boss else it's instant fatality in a lot of places.
So, to rate this game:
Graphics: 8/10 (Beautiful, but also seeming to be standard of the genre)
Sound/Music: 6/10 (Music gets a high score, but the dialogue drags it down)
Gameplay: 5/10 (Whip tricks are neat and flow well, but everything else bogs it down)
Story: 2/10 (Castles. Vampires. Belmont. Don't deviate from that.)
Overall score: 5/10 (If you're a fan of this current genre of action-adventure games and want to play one that includes just about every unique element from them, then you'll like this game. Otherwise stay away)

I love chocolate!

And who doesn't? Seriously, chocolate after going through several processes is one of the most delicious foundations of our modern world's sweet-tooth fueling industry. So, as my first post here instead of the over used first program many an aspiring code-monkey may be told by a teahcer to use, I will not say, "Hello world!" but rather a link to this: Tiger Chocolate bar.
These delicious little buggers have been a delectable treasure and guilty pleasure of mine for years, and now I share them unto the world at large. Well, whatever small section of that happens upon my web log anyway.