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Titanfall Beta Gameplay

 

One of the pleasant surprises that came along with my recently-acquired GTX 780 was Shadowplay. I suppose that deserves its own post but suffice to say since they allowed you to nominate a directory for background caching (rather than burn out your main SSD in record time) I’ve let Shadowplay do its thing and never looked back. Hence I have a deep catalogue of gameplay from Titanfall’s recent beta weekend to wade through and (very) slowly upload.

While the beta ran only 2 maps, a single titan and about half the overall range of weaponry and game types I think there’s a decent amount of variety in these vids. Skip to here for a particularly exciting end to a round of Last Titan Standing.

 

 

 

 

Thoughts on Titanfall

Get some.

 

It’s hard to fault Titanfall. All of its ideas are good and well executed, its pacing is great and there’s the a layer of polish that gives the immediate impression of a developer with a deft hand and a lot of experience in its ranks. From the few days I spent playing the closed beta last weekend I’m convinced I’m going to love this game and that it could be my early pick for GOTY.

If I had to explain Titanfall in simple terms I’d say it takes the best things from Call of Duty, Battlefield and, hell, Quake and adds in giant robots. A winning formula, surely? But I have a sinking feeling it’s not going to do that well, let alone ever grow to the size of any of those franchises. If last year’s Pacific Rim taught me anything it’s that audiences aren’t as enamoured with the idea of giant robots as I might have thought. In fact the idea seems to be even offensive to a lot of people. It’s not just the robots either. I don’t feel the progression has as much too it – or at least as many addictive elements – as something like CoD’s. Then there’s the AI NPCs – Grunts, Spectres and so on – that everyone seems to be up in arms about. I never thought having cannon fodder in a game of this scale could be a bad thing but yet again I find myself offside with public opinion.

I guess I feel there’s just writing on the wall for Titanfall and since I loved every second of the beta it makes me a little sad. That everyone’s hyped this up to be the second coming doesn’t help. The aforementioned games have their audiences and while I’m sure curiosity might lure some of them over in the beginning, how long they stay is a question I’m reluctant to try answering. All I can really do is cross my fingers and wait until March 14th.

 

RESURRECTION!

Gill

So after 2 years, like everyone’s favourite boss Gill, I’m resurrecting (!) this here blog because what a waste it would be to let it continue to wilt in the darkness.

That’s all, really. As ever it’s an ongoing experiment so let’s just wait and see how it turns out.

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Path of Exile Beta Impressions

 

Last year, when Diablo III was still a dot on the horizon and I was looking for things to tide me over in between, I discovered 2 things. The first is that in the wake of D3’s announcement an entire genre seems to have sprung up around this point-and-click ‘action RPG’ concept. The second was Path of Exile by Grinding Gear Games.

Have a gander at the video above. As I said in my last post this seems to harken to a visual style and skill economy more like the first Diablo than its by-far more successful sequel Diablo II. That is to say the game is suitably dark and aspires to realism while having a system where each class can effectively acquire and use all the spells in the game. (And incidentally, isn’t there someone in particular the last video in this post reminds you of?)

I’ve now had access to the betas of both Path of Exile and its mammoth Blizzard-developed contemporary and if something strikes me more than anything else it is that the difference between the titles (budget aside) falls mostly along those lines I’d previously identified. While D3 is characterised by a strictly controlled experience to the point that it would like you to pick from subsets of skills when mapping buttons (denying the ability to map anything anywhere as its predecessor allowed), PoE seems a lot more free-form and less structured.

One stark design difference is that in PoE you’re not shepherded from area to area by quests. Indeed it’s often the case that you should explore new regions on your own before finding things to trigger new quests or open up new dialogue opportunities with the NPCs in town.

Wanderings in PoE are also less aimless simply for the increasingly interesting loot you can expect to drop. Yellows (rares) and third up the tree from whites and blues (magic) do actually drop occasionally off rare and unique monsters when in D3 they don’t even consistently drop from bosses. Also since skills are itemised and socketable, it’s not unlikely to clear out a group of mobs and find Frost Nova just dropped for you.

Funny thing to say against D3, the quintessential loot-driven game if there is one, and something that might not even be necessary later in the experience, but the loot itself was quite boring. The range of

I didn’t mean to ramble about Diablo in this post as much as I did since I fully intend to writeup that constantly-changing beta in its own article. But really, when comparing this games and others like Torchlight 2 there’s little sense in ignoring the gigantic elephant in the room that will steal players and press attention away from the smaller players however you slice it.

Anyway, next up for PoE will be my opinions of the 5 thus revealed character classes. So far I’ve been playing and liking the Marauder class as well, but to close off here are some more videos of my Witch.

 

 

[Review] Darksiders

I’m sitting here wondering what my counterpoint to the glowing review I’m about to give Darksiders could be. It’s a stretch but maybe the art direction? Might that be a bit too cartoon-y for my taste? Maybe that playing the horseman of the apocalypse who goes most of the game without a horse is illogical in the extreme?

These would all be straws to grasp at since as far as I can tell Darksiders is the perfect game, or at least as close to perfection as can be reasonably expected. Core gameplay is satisfying, there’s solid exploration and replayability, production values are astronomical and it’s just the right length. I honestly can’t think of a place where development misstepped and so if this ‘review’ reads more like a list of things that the guys at Vigil Games got particularly right let me apologise in advance.

Bosses

Sucker for a good boss fight as I am, this game had everything I needed. The Jailor and Tiamat, the first bosses in the first world set the tone for those to follow; big in scope, multi-phase battles that rewarded knowledge of the mechanics you’d been using in the lead up to the encounter with an admirably minimal amount of QTE. Take a look at this and you’ll see.

Combat

One button combat. I thought you couldn’t really cull it down past the two-button ‘light and heavy’ approach every title and its dog uses today but Darksiders found a way. Direction buttons and timing are what dictate the attacks and admittedly there’s a retinue of secondary weapons accompanying the awesome ‘Chaoseater’ but you can mostly forget about them when cutting throught he rank-and-file. And hell if it’s not satisfying.

Exploration

Collectathons and the like that have crept into every other game have never been my favourite ways of padding length. Luckily, although there is a retreading fetch quest in the game’s final act, all the new abilities War has obtained let you see the world in new ways using that great design template Metroid pioneered (not a certain other Nintendo title I won’t deign to mention).

Story

While every new IP goes to some length to establish its world and backstory (gravitas and all that) Darksiders appears to have gone an extra mile. It manages both to establish a deep canon and mythology with a greater looming conflict while also making the self-contained story in the game also feel like the war to end all wars (pun intented?).

Now here’s where I might surprise you. The truth is, despite all its achievements, I wouldn’t pay top dollar for Darksiders even had I known how good it was going to be. I said it wasn’t too short and wasn’t too long – about 10 hours. The perfect length. And yet is that worth an $80 asking price? Not that I intend to quantify games by how many hours it takes to get from end to end but I really think this kind of experience is grossly overpriced as is.

That’s why I feel a new IP like this one is such an odd proposition – clearly no expense was spared in this delightful production and yet, even for perhaps their target audience, there was never any real opportunity for a massive return. Sure they pulled in enough to greenlight a Darksiders II, but  it wasn’t on any top 10 lists for revenue. As I said in my review for Splatterhouse I’m more than happy to pay $20 for these games and indeed I’d reckon Darksiders is worth more than that game was. How much more, I couldn’t say, and that’s the problem.

I’ll close by saying Darksiders is a phenominal breakthrough title that lays foundations for what is no doubt going to be a cracking sequel come June. And for that reason I’m glad someone is buying games like these at release for full RRP even if that person isn’t me.

PlayStation Vita Impressions – Interface

A number of years ago, Sony introduced an at-the-time revolutionary new interface. It was the XrossMediaBar (XMB) and its stated intention was to navigate a breadth of devices cohesively while supporting a wide variety of inputs. Touch, for example, was something the XMB was supposed to do down the road. PS3s, PSPs and Bravia TVs have all come and gone with this interface and it’s come to be a sort of Sony hallmark in vastly different sectors of consumer electronics. I like it.

Fast forward to today and we have the PS Vita and it’s ‘LiveArea’. I’ll say right now that I can’t stand it. It looks too childlike, is far too clunky to use and abandons too much of what Sony’s built in the past. I’m not sure what, if any, device this interface really suits but it’s certainly not a gaming handheld aimed at the hardcore. In fact, from the pull-down-to-unlock lock screen (which is entirely unnecessary) is seems like Sony’s designers have just pulled in whatever touch-based ideas from wherever they felt like with no regard for the product as whole.

First off the icons are too luminescent, too shiny and the backgrounds too vibrant. This is not just a taste thing- they push the otherwise impressive OLED beyond what it seems to be capable of. Colours side-by-side seem to have too much contrast and the reflections and shadows on the icons show far too much aliasing. Maybe this would have looked better on a higher-definition display, but even the Vita with 4x the effective number of pixels of a PSP (which had no problem showing off a smooth XMB) makes it look amateurish and unfinished. I can’t help but get the feeling this was done on a computer monitor and never tested much on the display that would go into production units.

A lot of interaction design talk of late has gone into visual paradigms and whether it is important to mimic real world gestures and textures for touch or whether that just obscures things. LiveArea, with all it’s page switching and dog-ear pulling combined with buttons and zooms is just horrifically inconsistent. At times, with regular menus and most of the stuff you find in-game, it seems like you’re going to pull out and find a clean, funtional XMB waiting for you. In actual fact you’re just going to be dumped where you started, a bunch of icons and a swathe of screen-wasting pages for active apps that not only takes up more space than it should, but is incredibly labourious to swipe through.

The problem with this really is clutter. Want to multitask? Well you first have to hit the physical home key, then swipe across pages to find what task you wanted to open. Or just go back to the panes on the left and find the icon for what you want to do. Isn’t that one step too many? Do you really have to go all the way out to the main interface to do anything? Couldn’t some sort of overlay be superimposed on the current application instead? An overlay would also solve the problem of showing all open apps on one screen, instead of having to sweep through page after page not really knowing what’s next (they’re ordered by recent activity… most of the time) or how many pages will need to be turned before you get to what you want.

As a real kick in the face none of these pages actually close on their own, even if the task or application is no longer running. It’s on the user to manually pull down each dog-ear to close an app’s page before the sheer number of them becomes unmanageable. What makes this even more ridiculous is that every other app requires closing off of others. Want to open a web page while playing a game? Gotta close the game. Want to reply to a message from a friend while doing something else? You have to come out of that, and flick your finger across any number of dead application pages before you get to the page where you left the messaging app open. Finally, as far as I can tell, there’s no option to skip all the way to the rightmost page, to quickly get back to the starting point or to close everything that’s open with one stroke. The result is inelegant and detracts a lot from the overall impression the PS Vita might give in other areas.

Do I think a touch-enabled and -optimised XMB would have been a smarter, cleaner and more impressive UI to have installed on the Vita? Absolutely and nothing would impress me more than a 2.0 choice which gave a choice between the two. Of course that’s never going to happen – LiveArea is here to stay. But so long as it is, it undermines the Vita’s hardcore, mature market positioning and smacks of a cheap kiddie-friendly interface that abandons generations of visual heritage and sets the Vita on its own, away from the rest of Sony’s CE family. That may well be intentional but I ask this; if you’re going hardcore first and casual later, what real sense is there putting something as Play School as the LiveArea front and centre on day 1?

I call this just the latest example of Sony’s right hand not knowing what the left is doing.

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