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Archive for January, 2011

The New Vegas sun has set

You know, I, as a Fallout 3 fan think I feel about Fallout: New Vegas something like fans of Twilight must have felt when that film adaption came out a few years back. At first you feel a bit euphoric and generally forgiving; happy since new life is being forcefully injected into a property you love. But then as time passes and cruel reality sets in you start to wonder ‘wait, wasn’t that actually pretty bad?’. In the case of New Vegas, it was good, not great. The Twilight movie was actually pretty bad, but then the original novel wasn’t actually that great to begin with so I think my comparison holds. In both cases though I think the honeymoon period has ended and it’s time the record was set straight on this disappointing release.

In the first few weeks I was willing to let New Vegas coast along in my good graces. Bugs aside, because, hell, if I were to pull the game on its game-breaking issues and generally poor performance it’d be a much longer rant. Most of that got patched out anyway so we can forget about those painful first couple of months for now. I’d name the third Fallout on any ‘top 10′ list I’d ever compile, along with Oblivion, both of which share the annoying tendency toward bugginess with this game but its an order of magnitude difference. Anyway I slogged through the game, initially buddying up with Mr. House, and when it was done left it alone for a while. As is customary with me, at least.

Now it’s January and I have no inclination to return to the post-apocalyptic Vegas strip. In fact I’d more readily return to the Capital Wasteland or even the Shivering Isles, and have done in the time since. The fact is those bugs have left a bad impression in the back of my mind. I can confidently fire up my M11x and HDMI out 720P at 60fps for those games, while I’m left with a lingering question mark over New Vegas. More importantly though I have no reason to go back. Replayability was a major draw in those other Bethesda RPGs – both in exploring everywhere there is to explore and doing everything there is to do but also in revisiting the main narrative to make other decisions and explore other trees of consequences. NV has no DLC released to date and despite what I might have said late last year, the story wasn’t even that great. It wasn’t compelling, no NPC (or faction for that matter) was very interesting and it seemed like at every turn the game was undermining my choices. Killed all those Caesar’s Legion Legates earlier? Taken Boone to town on their camps and generally pissed on them whenever possible? Who cares. Later in the game Caesar is willing to forgive you. Did anything I do in my playthrough actually matter?

While New Vegas was more than happy to stand on the shoulders of its extraordinary predecessor, it made very little effort to stand up straight. In fact, I can’t think of a single merit to attribute to this pseudo-sequel except that Fallout 3 was good, and this doesn’t deviate too far from that game’s formula. But as time passes that little achievement seems less and less worth defending. And as this happens the little inconsistencies in narrative, the minor texture bugs and overall lack of polish seem to carry more and more weight. Those factional problems are highlighted by the fact that NV was meant to introduce more thorough reputation systems. My ass they did.

Speaking of systems either raped or squandered, what happened to VATS? Did it suddenly get relegated to uselessness for a particular reason? Between the amount of points things cost and the loss of some very useful perks, I never used the damned thing. Which is a shame since headshotting raiders with a plasma rifle and getting all my AP back for chain plasma carnage was one of the most memorable things about Fallout 3.

I feel a tad guilty about saying all this seeing as New Vegas was developed by the geniuses behind Fallout and Fallout 2. It brought back the NCR and introduced the Legion, but were they meant to be so boring? Neither was a fitting substitute for the Brotherhood on the other side of the US. And did you guys think about weapons or balancing or anything like that? And, hell, did you Q&A the thing?

There’s that cinema parlance that sequels are never good. Wisdom is that game sequels should always be better than the originals. Technically speaking, it’s like a craft. And why shouldn’t you do something better the second time? Sure it’s hard to write a great followup story but Fallout is about open-ended, free flowing and non-linear narrative. It’s about a world and populating it with meaning and fun gameplay. And in that sense it’s like a craft too. However you slice it, Fallout: New Vegas was not better than Fallout 3 and despite the expectations heaped on it, does not even stand equal to its forebear.

As the malaise wears off, the stream of DLC trickles out, and the graphics age with time, people will likely remember Fallout: New Vegas for what it was; an expansion billed as a full game that coasted on the name and the success of the game before it. You know what it really feels like? One of those hackneyed farmed-out expansion packs from the 90′s like Hellfire for Diablo. They lack polish, are buggy and categorically inferior. But they fill a void until a true sequel comes out. Blizzard released Diablo II a year and a half after Hellfire and put that Siera-developed title to shame, relegating it to the anals of history where few whisper about it and no one counts it as canon. Let’s see how long it takes for Bethesda to take the reigns again and show how a sequel to the now-legendary Fallout 3 should be done. I think when that time comes, New Vegas will slink off into the background where it belongs.


The Garbage on T3.com

I have finally had enough of T3. I’m used to tech blogs having a playful relationship with the news they report. The difference is that T3 states everything with an absolute journalistic fervour and yet still manages to publish sensationalist garbage like their current string of articles stating ‘iPad 2 SD Slot confirmed’ – most recently in their News@8PM. The scoop is that the iPad 2 has an SD card slot, something that is not only decidedly un-Apple, but would also disrupt the careful price tiering ecosystem of iPad models. Further, this whole rumour is being built on cases at CES from 3rd parties that, by T3′s own admission, are most likely based on those vendors’ best guesses as to what the next gen tablet does or doesn’t have. I know that Apple rumours are red hot for page views and the like, but come on.

This isn’t the only instance where T3 has outrightly stated things that are controversial, speculative or just plain rumours and presented them as fact in a headline and they aren’t the only ones guilty of doing so. This instance is really just the final straw. Far be it for me to ‘un-subscribe’ to an internet source of news but the outrageous writing at a place that purports to be more authoritative than most has pissed me off one too many times. And heaven knows there a million other feeds to take its place.


Final Fantasy XIII-2? Square-Enix is a bunch of morons

Their heyday long past, you can see barely anything of the once venerable Squaresoft in today’s overstuffed, overindulgent mess of a company that is Square-Enix. Not content to simply make and release good games, they made the egocentric play of announcing three separate and oddly titled games in 2006; Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy Versus XIII and Final Fantasy Agito XIII under the unnecessary banner of ‘Fabula Nova Chrystallis’. While not the start of the company’s decline, this bold announcement did mark the studio’s pretentious obsession with Latin, and, in any case time has proved it was a dick move.

Final Fantasy XIII, the only one released to date, was met with critical and popular malign. It was shit. Technically, artistically and from a game design perspective. Most importantly for an RPG though, it’s storytelling was apalling. And I hated it. Versus XIII still has no direction, no released gameplay footage and no release window, despite being announced way back in 2006, and this being 2011. At least we know it’s still a PS3 exclusive.

Agito XIII, on the other hand, has been refocused and is set to release this year. Thank fuck for that. Only now instead of being part of one silly series, it’s part of another. The number ‘XIII’ has been dropped and the game is now called Final Fantasy Type-0, part of the Type-X series. Hooray. If this doesn’t confirm what we already knew – that the games in the ‘Latin series’ have nothing to do with eachother – it says that the new Square is still preoccupied with over-promising more titles than it can deliver, let alone deliver well.

Perhaps the most gobsmacking news of the day is that FFXIII, the game every PS3 owner probably wishes didn’t exist, is getting a sequel. I don’t think you could even ask for Final Fantasy XIII-2 at a K-mart counter without sounding like a moron, but that aside, who thought this would be a good idea? The game, not the title, that is. I’m sure we’re all in agreement on the latter. So who’s signing up for another romp though I-can’t-remember-where with that bunch of whiny pricks for hours and hours on end with nothing interesting happening? I didn’t think so. As blatant a cash grab as this is, I gotta hand it to the guys from the quadrilateral company; they sure know how to take fans for a ride.

One would hope that this whole experience would instill some humility in Square. First off, if I were them, it’d teach me that I can’t make a good game while juggling a million projects at once. That’s even if I can make a good game at all- they need to realise these aren’t the glory days of FFVII and VIII. Secondly, it’d tell me to lay off the pretentious foreign namedropping and loosely connected titles. Who do they really think they are? When I heard that, on top of these travesties, there’s one called Final Fantasy: Dissidia – Duodecim, I felt like killing someone.

Franchises get run into the ground and developers get cocky off the back of a single success all the time. But none have been as lucky or ridden out a bad streak of releases as long as Square-Enix has. I think that if the company cannot turn around a few back to back blockbusters soon, and I don’t think they have a prayer, then their time might just be up. Those years-in-development projects don’t pay for themselves.

Then again, who am I kidding. For any of that to happen we’d have to assume being good had anything to do with how games from Square end up selling.


Where Does The Time Go?

The plan was to play through that Event Horizon-ish haunted house in space game, appropriately titled Dead Space, this month, in time for the highly-anticipated sequel Dead Space 2 on January 25th. I hate it when sequels are announced before I’ve had the chance for a proper jaunt through the original. Batman: Arkham City and Mass Effect 3 (and, hell, Mass Effect 2) are on that same list too. So, since I haven’t even started the necromorph slaughter as of writing, I wonder where does the time go?

I don’t have an answer and it’s painfully apparent that gametime isn’t the only thing that’s been bumped out of my schedule, although I am still waiting to have a second crack at that fiendish level ‘Omega’ in Super Meat Boy and my Steam account is filled with pretty things I’m convinced I won’t ever get around to playing. That’s a topic for another post though.


My Angry Bird Toys

Usually I’d be the snooty guy in the corner refusing to acknowledge mobile games, touch controls, instead feverishly gripping an old Mega Drive controller with a sick grin. That said, I was taken by Angry Birds. They’re funny, charming and I haven’t really enjoyed playing anything on the train as much since Puzzle Quest.

Anyway I went too far and paid a little too much shipping these over from the US and thought I might as well share them. These pics are up on Flickr too, so have a gander either there or below. The red bird was a gift and so I never ended up taking it out of its wrapping. As for the shadows, it was 40°C out here when I took these so could barely see the iPhone’s screen let alone tell where the sun was.


Chinese Factory Loses a Nintendo 3DS

Stolen Nintendo 3DS?

Forums over at TGBus.com are chattering about a supposed Nintendo 3DS production model that has reportedly been smuggled out by a factory employee somewhere in China.

From the look of these photos, the device could be more of a fingerprint magnet than we might have suspected. Further, wasn’t it supposed to be bigger than the current DS Lite?

Nintendo, as you’d expect, isn’t confirming or denying the legitimacy of the device. Suppose the only confirmation we’re likely to get is news of this enterprising employee jumping off the roof.

Source: [TGBus.com]


Gran Turismo 5: The PlayStation 3 Tradition of Silliness Continues

A big part of the console wars that used to be all the rage 3 or 4 years ago was the issue of the PS3′s Blu-ray drive versus the 360′s boring old DL-DVD. I think that if hindsight has shown us anything it’s that Microsoft was right in including DVD-9 in their current Xbox as Blu-ray has 3 serious problems. 1) It’s more expensive- drives, discs, everything. 2) It takes longggeeerrrr to load. And 3) Developers seem maniacally obsessed with filling it up. Flagship PlayStation franchises – quite a few, actually – have taken a bizarre quantity over quality approach to development lately and I dare say supporting BD’s as a format has had something to do with it.

This generation of games don’t need 50GB’s of Blu-ray. There, I said it. Between development costs, hardware processing restrictions and the fact that the drive in a PS3 only reads at 1x, Blu-rays are not necessary. So I found it curious when the first claims came out from Kojima Productions in the lead up to the release of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Apparently their game was not only so big that it needed a BD-ROM, but there was not even enough space left over to include a Japanese voice dub. Not to open a debate about how bad MGS4 is or isn’t compared to the previous games in the series, it definitely was shorter. And by that I mean there was less actual gameplay. A lot less. It was also disjointed and the level of difficulty was inconsistent to say the least. But who cares. By sticking uncompressed 5.1 audio and an overwritten script on a disc, they managed to eat up a lot of space. A lot of pre-rendered video helped hit that as well. I’d summarise this by saying MGS4 was filled with media but not real gaming content. The ill-received Final Fantasy XIII took a similar approach. Lots of repetitive fights, lot’s of inane chatter, and passable gameplay stretched lengthwise outward to the point where it was, well, no longer passable. Of concern is that both Final Fantasy and Metal Gear Solid had been praised and innovative franchises in PlayStation’s past- to see them both stumble on the same point is more than a coincidence in my books.

Gran Turismo 5, which I have had the questionable pleasure of getting to know lately, seems to suffer the same curse as the other PlayStation mainstays. Here we have a game with a great deal of content. However none of it seems thoughtfully put together and the experience itself seems rough, to be kind. Marketing highlights the game’s 1000+ cars, however 800 of them are just lifted straight from Gran Turismo 4 on the PlayStation 2- low polycounts and lack of interiors left in tact. Now, if we cast our mind back to Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec, the last time GT had a generational shift in technology, the devs chose to cut the car count significantly. They could have borrowed outdated PSX assets from Gran Turismo 2 and had a massively inflated car count, but they chose not to. Why then in 2010, after the game has been in development for years and years, is the a shift in tact such that we should include more stuff on the disc, whether or not it’s up to scratch? I think this has a lot to do with simply filling the disc, or at least giving the impression that you get more with a PS3 game on a Blu-ray.

To be frank, I blame Sony for this practice. SCEJ in particular. No doubt someone up the chain felt the need to boast that the excessive 50GB were actually useful for games and that filtered down to developers. In the process we have seen sub-par games bloated with media, not content, and although BD-ROM’s aren’t wholly to blame for that, Sony’s need to push them certainly played its part.


Shao Karnage: Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 for iOS

Following on from my last post about the Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 port for iOS that was only revealed at the last minute before its actual release, I thought I’d put up some impressions.

Content-wise, the game is scant. You get the above characters, which is fine for a downloadable game, along with Ermac and Jade as unlockables. A good mix of MK3 stages are included and on top of the standard arcade mode, there’s ‘Shao Karnage’ which is basically a deal-the-most-damage-for-points stage against series boss Shao Kahn. I found the name a clever pun as well.

Gameplay is very similar to Street Fighter 4 for iOS in terms of controls. You get onscreen buttons for Punches and Kicks, as well as Run and Block and a dedicated Special Move button. Things get a bit cluttered there. AI is nothing to write home about; you can Ice Ball and uppercut as Sub-Zero all day long. Well timed uppercuts from a crouching position are all that’s needed to take down Motaro and Kahn too- they’re both in but unplayable as best I can tell.

What puzzles me is the 3D modelling here. You would think that a port of a 2D arcade game would involve the original spites and any recent iPhone is at least capable of that. Instead we get everything remade in 3D. Characters are redone, perfect in terms of frames and hitboxes as best I can tell and stages too are completely recreated with polygons too. The question is, why would anyone go to the trouble of what could easily have been a copy and paste emulation port? 

I’m enjoying this mobile release as much as I can, but it’s really served to pique my curiosity as to why so much time and effort was needlessly invested in it. It’s only a hunch, but could it be the promised Mortal Kombat HD Arcade Kollection is not, in fact going to be re-shooting real actors for 2D sprites, as is currently thought, but rather going for an all out 3D approach? There is a 3D sticker on the leaked PS3 box shot so who knows…


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