Category Archives: Games

Game related posts

Games of the Year Picks for 2014 and My Year of Gaming

Despite the naysayers of the world… The year 2014 has been a vibrant year in video games. Continue reading Games of the Year Picks for 2014 and My Year of Gaming

Plea for Inquiry: PC versions of Blur and Split/Second NOT optimized

So I decided to send out the following as an e-mail to Kotaku’s tip line in hopes of someone taking a look into it… Continue reading Plea for Inquiry: PC versions of Blur and Split/Second NOT optimized

Gaming Agnosticism Looms Nigh

Gaming these days can be a touchy topic with some folks… There are those on the camp of “You game on the right machine (PC) or you get the #%*$ out!” and “Consoles are made to game, so less potential for stress and headaches!” I admit that in my younger days, console was the way to go. Buy the machine, buy software and (if needed) extra peripherals… Bam, finisimo! Sadly, my family feared the very idea of me building my own computer. Fact is, I built my first one when I was 17! All because they feared I was inept as a kid and failed to let me explore the vector! I digress… When I did build my first computer… It was a beauty by 2000’s standards. AMD Athlon XP Thunderbird, 1GB of RAM, and a 32mb DDR RAM ATi Radeon VE. The fun part was I got to see the schism in quality of a game from a PC version versus a console. Continue reading Gaming Agnosticism Looms Nigh

Shatter(ed) Dreams – A look at the inde game ‘Shatter’

In 1975 Atari released a game with the inherent influence of the timeless smash hit Pong. This game is known as Breakout! The gameplay, like many games of the time, was simplistic yet thoroughly entertaining. You bounce a ball off of a paddle and smash bricks one by one. Since it’s release, there have been a lot of games over the years that have been released in various formats. Cell phones, dollar store pocket games, even as extras in computer programs or some special package deal you get when you buy a new computer from one of many vendors all chipped in to help to not only keep this game’s memory alive but also gave the game the chance to evolve and keep pace with the constant evolution of gaming. While some kept the game simple, others attempted to emulate Breakout’s successor, Arkanoid.

Michael P. Welch forever set his name in the great stone of video game icons when he came out with his clone, DX Ball. Released in 1996 for the PC, DX Ball did what many others couldn’t. He took a classic and gave it a evolutionarily chronological make over without removing any of what made the game so great back in ’75.  The graphics were boosted to allow it to look as smooth and shiny as the original Unreal, gameplay challenging to both the casual as well as the hardcore gamers, and a soundtrack using a genre of music that was also beginning to get it’s start around this time. However, even with these aspects giving the game strength amongst gamers, the one aspect that completely overshadows all others… DX Ball was SHAREWARE!!!!!1!!!!11!1111!!11!!!1ONE!!1!1!1!1! For those of you who may not have been around during the 90’s, ‘shareware’ is a term for games that are not only free but also encouraged to be passed around any and all gaming circles as if it were crack or MP3s on a P2P network (yes, it was once legal to share PC games!). DX Ball has had three sequels released over the years, but none of them caught on as the original, seeing as DX Ball 2 was the only sequel that was also shareware.

Of course, as the years fly by DX Ball becomes more and more like the original Breakout. All but completely forgotten and left as a footnote in the pages of gaming history. That is, until Sidhe Interactive developed a game that has changed the face of Breakout forever with they’re independent game, Shatter! It takes its cues more from Arkanoid than it does from its more simplistic predecessor and then proceeds to blow the mind with its stylistic visuals, up-to-date graphics, impressive and creative music, and it’s intense gameplay. Rather than ramble on about just how much this game has changed the face of Arkanoid forever, lets dig a bit deeper and see just what makes this game so f@#%&$g epic, shall we?

Upon entering the game for the first time, you are met with how the 2.5D graphics enhance the game’s visual prowess. The opening scene of the tells the basic tale of this game, escape! What appears to be some sort of scientific testing causes an ‘accident’ to occur and thus we are thrust into the meat and potatoes of Shatter. From here, you are shown different methods of gameplay level by level. More specifically that of the game’s main strategy, the suck-and-blow method. With every brick destroyed fragments fly about. Collecting these fragments build your power meter. The use of the shards as well as an explanation of the power meter shall be explained later in this review. The ‘suck’ ability allows you to collect these fragments in abundance. It also allows you to control where the ball will bounce. This shall be referred to from here on in as the ‘bounce point’. You can set the bounce point using the suck and blow method as a means of enhancing how many bricks you can hit per re-collision with the paddle, or as the game calls it, the bat. Simply using the suck feature as a means of collecting shards is all but eliminated, as you could reposition the bounce point to an area where you are unable to bounce back the ball.

There are various bricks in the game, ranging from the standard stationary bricks, to brick that move in patterns, even brick where upon hitting them will collide with other bricks. The possibilities in this game for clearing levels seems endless. But this is only a more than direct impersonation of Arkanoid, as the game goes one step further in enhanced gameplay with its stage designs. The first level immediately reveals its innovations by taking the basic game board and flipping it 90 degrees to the right. Boards can vary from the simplistic up-and-down gravity-esque boards to boards that are circular rather than square in shape. A circular board presents a level of challenge similar to that of DX Ball, where the precise area of the bat collides with the ball can change the angle at which the ball is bounced back.

And much like Arkanoid and DX Ball, hitting bricks can also yield power-ups to drop. Collecting the power-ups with use of the bat changes gameplay, allowing the ball to become more controllable or giving the ball the ability to rip through every brick in its path. There are also power-ups to increase the number of shards dispensed per brick break, gives the power bar a significant boost, and the ever useful 1-ups. Unlike Arkanoid and DX Ball, multi-ball power-ups and ball size power-ups absent from Shatter as well as power-ups which yield negative affects. The multi-ball power-up is now an ability which can be used to increase the challenge of the game and allow you to break more bricks and clear levels faster. Using this feature also eats away at the number of lives you have. For each ball released, a life is dispensed; so unless you’re incredibly skilled at maintaining multiple balls in a single game board you’ll find yourself losing the game quick, fast, and in a hurry.

However, the simple action of breaking bricks in multi-versed levels would get boring to players that don’t have the basic nostalgic love for Shatter’s predecessors. Sidhe Interactive has thrown in yet another twist to this cocktail…boss battles. Yes, you read correctly! Boss battles are an element in the game that not only enhances the gameplay but also challenges your skill in the game as now, simply clearing bricks has become a less than secondary task. Bosses have their own life bar which depletes every time they are stuck with the ball is a specific area. This area is clearly marked by the game, but the real skill comes in being able to hit this area as bosses tend to move about as a means of defending themselves. Bosses also have bricks as part of their ‘bodies’ which allow you to further collect shards and power-ups. Some bosses even use their bodies to strike at your paddle, sending it back and preventing you from being able to collect fragments and power-ups as well as bouncing the ball back for a brief moment.

No need to panic, however, as Sidhe Interactive compensated by not letting you go at it with simple Breakout skill alone. As mentioned before, the shards from the broken bricks you collect fill up your power meter. The power meter is a very unique feature to the game that grants you the ability to use two key tools in the game. The first you learn is the shield. At times, bricks as well as bosses will be sent flying in your direction. The collision causes the bat to be sent off course and spins uncontrollably for a short time, which can prove to be rather costly in completing a level. The shield will destroy any stray bricks and protect you from incoming boss attacks. This allows you to continue your assault as you chip away at the bosses life meter, but depending on your basic Breakout skill and use of the suck-and-blow method, simple ball hits to the boss’ weak spot will take a considerable amount of time. Again, no fear, as you are given one more special ability…needle shot. You can use the power bar as ammo and send needles flying at bosses, thus increasing your chances at total victory. There is one more perk to the needle attack, once you are able to completely fill your power meter, you completely drain it and send a barrage of needles flying at your enemy in a Matrix style slow-motion effect. The needles are not exclusive to bosses, however, as you can also use the needle barrage method to quickly rip through bricks and clear levels in record time.

With all these perks in full effect, Shatter is enhanced one step further with its in game music. The music is created and composed by artist Module, and can be heard on such mediums as iTunes, Rhapsody, last.fm, Zune and AmazonMp3 and consists of over 90 minutes of original music to help tease and tantilize the senses during gameplay. Each level has its own ‘look and feel’, and the music reflects this with seamless and flawless effort. During the boss levels, the music intensifies and gives you the sense of dread and urgency similar to what you’d expect from any epic boss battle from games such as Prince of Persia or Unreal.

For any of you nostalgia freaks out there, you may make note of a failure to mention the Ricochet series from Reflexive Entertainment, developed back in 2007 just two years before Shatter. In all honesty, Ricochet could be seen as a reimagining of DX Ball, as the graphics and gameplay are similar if not identical. Where Shatter exceeds Ricochet is in the gameplay, as Sidhe Interactive created something with more of a progressive aspect to Shatter. One could also make mention of the fact that Ricochet is adding to it’s levels each week, thus increasing game replay value, Shatter is a relatively short game. However, this is not as much of a ‘short’ coming for Shatter one would think. Shatter was originally released for the PS3 via the Playstation Network back in ’09 and released this year for the PC via the gaming network Steam. Currently, Ricochet is only available for the PC also through Steam. The game’s small size is also a valuable merit, as it downloads in little to know time at all. One more thing to consider is while Ricochet was released in ’07, Reflexive Entertainment has had valuable time to establish a fan base as well as the ability for its players to download updates and new level sets. Shatter is still in many ways a relatively new game and is still developing its own fan base. And with Shatter being a part of the Steam network, addons and updates are much simpler, as Steam has a reputation of offering excellent deals for game updates. A prime example of this is with the Left 4 Dead updates being available on Steam for free while XBL gamers had to pay for the same updates.

In conclusion, Shatter picks up where many others left off in the evolution of Breakout by not only updating the graphics, gameplay and music but by surpassing all it’s predecessors with something innovative by all aspects of the term. Should you come across this game via Steam or PSN, definitely pick it up, for it is more than worth the price!!!

The Orphan

References:

Shatter’s official website
Sidhe Intereactive’s forums
Steam’s store
Wikipedia

Need for Speed World Beta Thoughts

These aren’t final thoughts… but it’s more my current evaluation and hopes for later on.

So… today I got my invitation to play in the Need for Speed World beta. I will say, it’s a little interesting seeing MMO aspects in a racing game. The selection of cars is quite sparse but it is a beta… However, balance is an issue that I hope they address as I hated ending up dead last in the first few races. Controls really need work… The awkward scheme of driving with the arrow keys, hand brake to be operated with space-bar, and power ups to be managed by the 1 – 4 keys on the number row… It just doesn’t work. The inability to configure a controller properly really irks me… As the 360 controller works, but the only buttons that work are the left analog stick to steer, A for your throttle, B for your hand-brake, and X for your brake pedal. The directional pad sadly doesn’t work, as it would be nice for managing the power-ups…

Multiplayer is a little broken… That being said from me trying to join a few races and it can’t reconcile the users together. The single player races need some work on matching up the level of opponents… I mention this as the Lotus Elise later on and I am somehow matched up to 2 Nissan GT-R (Tier 3), 2 Lamborghini LP640 (Tier 3), and a few cars around my tier (Tier 2). The gameplay is a little frantic, but well thought out… The power ups are pretty balanced out. I would rather they work like the question boxes a la Mario Kart, but that could change. Graphically, the races feel pretty cinematic at some points.

Kudos to the Need for Speed folks for venturing into the multiplayer realm. The leveling system will definitely have to be cleaned up, as leveling up for more car access and a few skill points is rather weak. Hopefully a tuning system will be in place, cause I’d love to hop-up cars with better engine parts, turbochargers, superchargers, etc… On top of that, adding in things like adjustable suspension, being able to custom tailor out the attack-angles or racing wings would be nice too. I look forward to the development to the Need for Speed World off-shoot and leave you with a screenshot of me taking on my computer opponents.

Driving my starter Mazdaspeed 3 in a race

Shoot-Out – Battlefield: Bad Company 2 vs Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

A while ago, I picked up both Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and Modern Warfare 2 (to be abbreviated as BC2 and MW2 respectively). Sadly, most of the big commercial blogs were riding the crotch of MW2 but the one fundamental fact they didn’t understand is that both games are quite different from each other. I want to take a more critically personal evaluation of the games as I want to be fair to both games. I’ll say this right now… I rather like both games, but for different reasons.
Continue reading Shoot-Out – Battlefield: Bad Company 2 vs Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

Machines and Logic Bombs

Lately I have been debating over 2 cases to upgrade Byakko to… The Cooler Master HAF 932 or a Cooler Master Sniper Black. Cooling is my primary focus as heat dissipation is a primary focus for me as keeping a hot system cool is definitely important. I know I have a Phenom II x4 945 processor upgrade, a Corsair H50 cooling system, a Corsair HX power source, and a Radeon HD 5770 (XXX Edition from XFX) as pending upgrades. Definitely huge upgrades for sure. So keeping cool and functional is definitely vital… Plus I do want to push my gaming to the limits.

The logic bomb of the weekend is the matter of my sister. I have no clue why she thinks I care or am part of the loop with my family… but this weekend she suddenly tells me an aunt of mine died over the weekend and then vanishes. I mean, she’s basically cast me out because I am some sort of loser with no diploma and degree after my name… Which boggles me… Why would a person shoot me dead as an outcast yet then try to socialize to me about matters of a social system I have no shred of care for? It’d be like convicting a person with being a pedophile but a month later telling them to go to a Chuck-e-Cheese and babysit a party full of children. No offense to people who are logically incompetent, but… FOR GODSAKE DECIDE HOW YOU WANT TO OSTRACIZE SOMEONE PROPERLY! I mean, I don’t think it’s hard. You don’t go “I never want to speak to you again, ever!” and then an hour later go “Hey, what up?” It defeats the purpose.

Shooter Games and Where I Stand

I’ll confess… I love the first-person shooter (abbreviated with FPS) games a little more than RPG’s some days because of the fact that when I score a kill, I feel great from hunting my opponent down in game. I was schooled a little with Doom 2 and LAN games on the middle school’s networks… But my “formal” training was during the days of Quake (1996) when my friends would hijack my junior high (9th and 10th) school’s LAN just for us to play when we blazed through our school work faster than our inept peers in computer classes. This would even continue through my senior high (11th and 12th) years  when I was in AP Computer Science class as well.

Through out the “training” I’d still get into the games that were coming out for home consumption. I know soon after Quake came out, I’d venture onwards. Quake 2, Blood, Hexen, Hexen 2, and then the Half Life series. When people began to modify the Half Life engine and came up with Counter-Strike, it got my attention. A game that was tactical and challenging in the FPS genre. For once, I couldn’t take the same tactics like I did with Quake and Quake 2 of going bat-shit insane. It make me a more tactful shooter fan… Then Unreal Tournament (1999) entered my world and made arcade shooters refreshing. It wouldn’t be until about late 2002 that my PC couldn’t keep up with PC gaming anymore. I lamented that day… I would then have my many years of Guild Wars to keep my sanity around, but that’s another story.

Then April 2009 hit and I built my gaming machine, Byakko. I would finally have a machine that was strong enough to play my Source powered games without choking on itself. From there… I began exploring what the new era of gaming had to offer me. The funny thing is… Nowadays, shooters have more cooperative modes than they did in the past. However… the fight over arcade style and realism style have still remained with even some blending. I know my initial dive would be Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead. Eventually… My dear friend Ivy (not my staff/guest editor, oddly) had said I needed to give Call of Duty a try, cause she’s rather fanatical about the franchise… So Ebongrey had surprised me one day with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and I admit… I was rather charmed by the tactical, yet arcade-style game play. Granted, military war simulations should be a little more tighter with tactics… but sometimes the casual part makes it nice for days you don’t want to get too involved in. While the Left 4 Dead franchise focuses on tactical gameplay with cooperative tactics (be you human or zombie team) and Team Fortress more on the arcade side. I sought for more. Borderlands caught my eye as a fun from merging the great part of an MMO (“phat lewtzing” or items) with a FPS game… Which brings to the main point: Where do I, Zero, stand on shooter games?

My dear friend Ersatz a while back had got me into Bioshock as he realized I do appreciate a good story. I spent close to probably 20 – 30 hours in Bioshock just absorbing story and finding secret weapon upgrade stations via the Fontaine Futuristics “Power to the People” machines. When Bioshock 2 came out this past February 9th, I played the ever living hell out of it. Sure, it took me 28 hours to complete the story, but probably one of the best stories I have ever played. The multiplayer is interesting, but as 2K had made a big disclaimer of that portion of the game was more bonus material than their primary directive. The short-comings of the multiplayer are (in my opinion) the flawed controls for PC. The story modes control set-up is great! It all makes sense… yet on the multiplayer one, they didn’t let you use those, it’s completely  messed up. If you have a gaming mouse that has side buttons for your thumb and loved assigning commands in Bioshock 2’s story mode, the rude wake up call… Not usable in multiplayer. The mouse wheel is also not assigned by default to the duty of cycling through weapons like in story mode, but it’s designated to a key. The final issue is that servers and matchmaking are peer to peer while using the Games for Windows Live system to “match” you to appropriate players. For the fun moments I have had in it… It’s a refreshing arcade style shooter on the multiplayer side of the coin.

On the tactical side… Battlefield: Bad Company 2 has really wet my whistle on that front. The Frostbite Engine that powers the game’s environments is really something. The big thing that has really sold me on the series is the destructible environments as well as being able to try everything in the PC Beta as an incentive to pre-ordering. The ability to use vehicles and perimeter defense weapons are there much like many of the other Battlefield games. However, for a modern combat FPS simulation, I have reason to believe that it may possibly usurp the throne from Call of Duty (6): Modern Warfare 2 on the PC from the fact that there is a dedicated development team for PC. Rather than running the game from the xbox 360 version through an XNA translator and coming back out as a regurgitated console port for PC… The PC version of BC2 is its own animal compared to its console cousin. I like the 4 classes and how there are proper ways to use them. The whole ideal that kills don’t make a player and even tactical assists (healing, spotting, repairing) still score you points is great! Should EA and DICE really work hard to keep BC2 tight and clean, this may be the game that upsets Activision’s hold on the PC gaming realm with Modern Warfare 2. I think Hip Hop Gamer’s show (episode here) said it best…

I will say that Alien vs Predator gets an honorable mention, but I will shoot the technicality that you must have some aptitude for the movie realms to love it.

For my official stance on shooters… I do enjoy arcade style “twitch shooters” as well as the tactical side. I will say that the future of shooter games will really depend on how publishers market the games and as well as remix gaming mechanics.

Current Active Shooter Game Cycle: Battlefield: Bad Company 2 beta, Bioshock 2, Call of Duty: World at War, Left 4 Dead 2, Team Fortress 2

The Best 13 Day Holiday Sale Comes to a Close

As some of you dear friends know… This year, my holiday gift giving theme was “The Gift of Game” because of how important games are in my life as a tool to destress out from my life. The games, of course, would be delivered from the digital Santa Claus of the computer gaming scene: Valve Software’s Steam Store. Some of you got deeply serious games like Borderlands, while some of you a silly game of Zombie Bowl-o-Rama. Though… The thing I wasn’t expecting: to be gifted back. It was really a fun thing as my measly collection of The Half-Life Holiday 2005 box, The Orange Box, Left 4 Dead, and a few random games here and there totaling around 30 games… Some how exploded to a grand total (as of this afternoon) to 85 games. Of course, I also facilitated some of the growth by seeing some of the games being on sale for a wild $1 to cheap ones for $15.

Of all my gaming years, I was a “console gamer” as I never could build out a computer gaming rig that could even take the power of games. For that, I paid the price in console games. With console games, it’s rare to find fire sales where a game could be reduced down to almost 90% off. Which in turn meant my money as a student/working-man never went far for my purchases. A couple games for the tune of $80 may only last me barely a month total… When Steam came back in full force with my life back in late May of 2009, it made me proud that Valve took their online product key storage model and added a very worthy and easy to use gaming store. That was about the time I had bought up The Orange Box for PC to get Portal and Team Fortress 2 for the price of $30 (about $6 a game for the package deal). After buying my first ONLINE purchase via Steam, it was just amazing to see that since the inception in 2003 has grown so well polished. It was like the Apple iTunes model but for gaming and with TONS less restrictions. I know some naysayers will bemoan “God, Steam is a TERRIBLE platform!” but at the same time I am also willing to say I have tried some of the other digital store models and they are sub-par and worse with how much the games are locked up. The big advantage with Steam I had noticed once I became more active with buying on Steam was occasionally, they do hold “Mid-Week” and/or “Weekend” deals where games are just blitzed priced to move fast! Probably one of the best moves are the “Free Play” weekends where Steam will pick a game and just declare “Play this all weekend from Friday 11am – Sunday 1pm” (times are in CST) as well as discount the game should you like the free full-version trial.

Then came my first holiday sale on Steam… They started the day before Thanksgiving (US) with a sale that lasted until 11am Black Friday. Then had a sale Black Friday, Saturday, and ended Sunday. During that 5 day sales blitz, some of the games had insane pricing… I managed to snag a few games for an early Christmas delivery for friends of mine, but I lamented that I missed out… Little did I know what Valve was going to drop on us around December 22th. Around 5pm that day (12/22/09), Valve did something I didn’t think was possible, they announced the Steam Holiday sale that would be going on until January 3rd. Thirteen days worth of 24 hour sales and with some standing offers that were good until the end of the sale. Publishers like 2K games, Square-Enix Europe/Former Eidos Interactive, Atari, EA Games, Valve themselves were major players. To also level out the market, indie games (independently made/published games) also got some time to shine from their wonderful values. Sure there were some days I missed out, but… The final round yesterday was great. It was the “encore” sale, 7 of the best 24-hour sales deals would return for one last purchase. However, it makes me sad just knowing I won’t see another big PC gaming sale for a good while.

Thanks Valve for making this a great holiday season for me and my friends. We may have had bleak Christmas holidays, bickered with family, or were just trying to escape for a pleasurable New Years Eve celebration… but your sales for the last 13 days gave some of us something to look forward to when we woke up or got off of work.

(Factoid: As of this moment, per the Steam Calculator with Robin Walker of Valve Software who buys every game on Steam… there are 808 games in the catalog.)