Things you should see.

Archive for March, 2011

The Office without Steve Carell

When it was announced some time back that Steve Carell would be finishing up his 7-year contract and leaving The Office, cynics predicted that the studio would renew the show without him for a season, it would tank, and finally it would be cancelled after that. I preferred to hold out hope that The Office would be accorded a Seinfeld-like exit, ending on a high note before, as is always the case, it descends into mediocrity followed by cringeworthy unbearableness.

Seems that was too much to hope for. Those classy fellows at NBC have decided to order up Season 8 sans-Michael Scott, although I really can’t imagine why. No offence to the brilliant ensemble cast, but Steve was the cornerstone of The Office. At best, it will be a very different show with Will Ferrell or whoever else sliding abruptly into Carell’s very big shoes but at worst it will be disgraceful display so sickeningly business-motivated that it just might sour my memory of what are now 7 genuinely good, and often legitimately great seasons.

Nothing to do now but wait and see what happens. But since the first part of the cynics’ prophecy has come to pass, I can’t help but think the rest will only follow in due course.

Credit for the caricature goes to Leonieves- check him out.

Mortal Kombat’s missing Motaro

The new Mortal Kombat game, now unambiguously banned in Australia, could have been forgiven in Goro were the only superhuman boss character included. Shao Kahn is integral to the story and playable (?) so there was really no way to excise him. Shang Tsung is presumably in and in his youthful, toned-down form. This leaves Goro as the sole four-armed boss character who the player can’t pick up and use. It’s what all PR to date would have had us believe and that would have been cool, if not ideal.

But I don’t think the rumoured final roster, ripped from the recent PSN demo, has escaped anyone’s notice. Assuming that the text files contained therein were not an elaborate hoax – and the MK Team doesn’t have the combined IQ to pull something like that off, I’m pretty sure – it seems like Kahn has been bumped up to proper final boss and Goro demoted. Seeing as the Shokan prince has a bio and an ending while Kahn only the former. Surprising me though was the inclusion of Kintaro.

History lesson; Kintaro was the savage lower-class, tiger-striped Kuatan fiend and successor to Goro who served as the second last challenge (mini-boss although not quite apt) in Mortal Kombat II. That was by far my favourite MK game and Kintaro my favourite MK boss. However the years have neglected him a bit. He hasn’t made a subsequent series appearance outside Shaolin Monks and Armageddon, but those games included everyone. All key characters, before and after MKII, have been seen a lot more frequently. I guess not many people apart from me actually liked the guy.

But now it seems that, like Goro, Kintaro has a bio and an ending in ‘Mortal Kombat (2011)’ which would seem to strongly suggest he’s a playable character. I’m of course tickled pink but there are two design oversights, I think, in this inclusion. First off, he was a badass in MKII. He was more of a badass than Kahn. I’d even go to the length of saying he was the most difficult fighting game boss ever. No, seriously. But now if he’s a playable character, and if Mortal Kombat: Armageddon has taught us anything, he will be a pale shadow of his former self in the name of ‘balance’, a concept which Mortal Kombat has none of to begin with.

However it also shines a very bright light on the only remaining significant roster omission in next month’s MK reboot: Motaro. If we’re assuming this game is a retelling of sorts of the original MK trilogy, why, or more pressingly how, can you go and include the boss of MK2 but exclude the boss of MK3? Goro was an iconic feature of the first MK game and is well known across gaming at large. His spot on the list was assured. Kintaro’s was not, but they’ve gone and included him anyway. As much as I’d hate to admit it, Motaro, a centaur of all things, probably has a bigger role in the MK mythos, and is so more deserved of a spot than the tiger-man. And yet he’s apparently ruled out. If it was just Goro then the list would have seemed less than ideal, but palatable. With only Motaro out it now seems like it has a single curious and bizarre omission.

That’s from an overall design perspective. It’s pretty obvious that if Motaro’s not in, it’s that there was a technical issue with him having four legs. But really come on? Is that any kind of excuse? They peddled it for Armageddon, and it didn’t make any more sense back then. Now, using Unreal Engine 3, there shouldn’t be any physics and or collision problems with a poorly-coded engine written in-house as there were in 2007. Still once it becomes known to the masses that the centaur general is sitting the game out, I bet that’s the line Netherrealm PR will trot out.

This is all assuming that those leaked factoids were genuine, of course. The demo build was supposedly quite old but I never believe that. Why would you wait till a month out from release and publish demo code that’s a year old? I think devs consider it carte blanche for framerate hiccups, muddy textures as well as anything more serious – they can just say it’s all fixed in the final shipped version. In any case there won’t be long to ponder this. I really just hope that if a game dev claims, in 2011, that they cannot manage a character with the lower body of a horse the community hangs them out to dry. Because they’d deserve it.

Closing off the demo looks fine – definitely not a solid game but that will be a different rant. I think I’ll have fun with this game either way, pending incidents with customs, but it doesn’t hold a competitive candle to Super Street Fighter IV. Between all the infinite combos and arbitrary nature of what’s safe and what isn’t I don’t get why more people haven’t declared it’s broken-ness already. *sigh* See you in April, boys.

[Review] Dragon Age II

Dragon Age II is an average game. Let’s get that out of the way first. Normally I wouldn’t go out of my way to rag on an average game, but DA2 systematically strips out all the promise, mystery and depth that Dragon Age: Origins went to great lengths to establish. In every way but one this is an inferior title to its predecessor and it’s just baffling. Clearly there were budget and timing issues at work but the drop in quality and quantity in this sequel is so brazen and so staggering it leaves me little choice but to chalk up this mess as possibly the biggest disappointment of 2011. And it’s only March.

Looking at the large scale of the game, the overarching narrative blows. Is 15 hours enough time to make a fair judgement of something like this? If not, it should be. There is nothing driving the momentum of DA2’s plot and characters are shifted up so often that it’s hard to establish any real camaraderie. There were many significant plot threads and narrative cliffhangers that Origins and Awakening left us with, and, while I may be wrong, this game has no apparent desire to address them in any meaningful way. Thedas was positioned as an epic world with a rich history and the bulk of its mysteries yet to be discovered. It’s probably less charitable than the game deserves to say this, but DA2 essentially pisses all over the mythology that was built up for all those years that DAO was incubating in development.

The much talked-up ‘frame narrative’ is also a concession on the writers’ part. As far in as I am I feel confident in saying it doesn’t add anything except the ability for the developer to jump around a timeline recklessly and relieve themselves of a lot of expositional and continuity concerns. It also offers a get-out-of-jail-free card in the sense that any detail in DA2 can be written off as exaggeration or discarded Usual Suspects-style as an en masse fabrication and pave the way for future retcons that might be necessary. Also a talking player character and shift in visual style? Gives me the feeling that this may have been originally intended as a further expansion or spinoff, rather than a full sequel, but more on that later.

On the small scale of things the dialogue and witty banter between teammates that I loved so much in Origins is gone. Well, not gone, but certainly stripped down to a bare minimum. And even then it’s never as witty as the lines written for Alistair or Anders. They were gold. Nothing approaches that quality in DA2 and while it’s never an overt shortcoming, it does detract something that series veterans are in their rights to expect.

Although it’s not all bad. For those decrying DA2’s new take on RPG combat, I rather like it. I found the implementation in DA:O mired in its supposed reverence to Baldur’s Gate and not nearly fluid enough for the year in which it was released. That said, I would never have wanted them to take out all the tactics and actual thought that went into surviving one of the chaotic brawls in Origins, but that’s exactly what happened. Skill trees are stripped bare and outfitting and AI behaviour has been taken down a notch in complexity. Surely between the two approaches there’s a happy medium, but DA2 just goes too far.

The worrying thing about DA2 is that it seemed crafted in a such a way that it could cut corners from the beginning, not as a last-minute ditch effort to get the game out on time. Being centred around a single city? Being told through its ‘frame narrative’? These are all conscious core design choices made with the apparent intention of getting a sequel to DAO out the door as soon as possible. Promises of 2 years’ DLC support for that game be damned! Or could this all be a hint? Could the game now known as Dragon Age II originally been a DLC release for DAO? Although the hackneyed new combat system suggests otherwise, the production’s deliberately narrow scope suggests so. Otherwise could it have been some manner of spinoff? The new combat supports this theory and its decidedly console-esque stylings suggest this could have been a console-only affair at one point. Both disc size and the subsequent hi-res download for PC both point in this direction…

But this is all idle speculation. The harsh reality is that we have an RPG that’s not bad but is an utter letdown considering what came before it. I just gave up on the appalling Infinite Undiscovery – which was magnitudes worse than DA2 – but it was a new franchise and the dirth of shocking titles Square-Enix likes to publish didn’t exactly temper expectations for much more. I wouldn’t waste the time condemning that garbage. DA2’s difference is that its predecessor setup a game and a world with so much potential that 2 years ago there were few things I was anticipating more than a sequel. Now that sequel is here and it doesn’t even maintain the set standard; it falls short. It’s unacceptable for a great game’s sequel to be anything less than greater, and to be categorically worse is unconscionable.

I’ve tried not to let this be a knee-jerk reaction to all the changes and really don’t want to jump on the Dragon Age 2 hate bandwagon but I have no motivation to pick up the game at this point and press forward. Comparing this to the all night DAO marathons from 2009 it’s just sad. I don’t know what was happening at Bioware when this was being made but they have a lot of work to do if they hope to kindle any interest for a Dragon Age III.

Grade: C

My Return to Xbox Live

Things were simpler a year ago. My original launch 360, bless its soul, had RROD’d on me, I had a decently powerful C2D GTX 260 combo in good working order and I’d recently picked up a cheap Slim PS3 from Japan. My PC had become my primarily platform, thanks mostly to Steam, and the PS3 served as backup for those pesky console-only titles. I thought I had the best possible setup. I was wrong.

I’d tried to live without it for the longest time but now I realise that this last year or so I’ve really been missing Xbox Live. Missing my friends, one button invites, achievements with APIs that can follow me around the net. There was a measure of substitute with Steamworks, although only some games used it, and barely anything cohesive on PSN. In fact my year of Super Street Fighter IV on the PlayStation was one of the most frustrating experiences ever. Getting people into a game and accepting invitations from others… could it have been any more convoluted? Even though the PS3 version of the now-banned Mortal Kombat is getting fighting games favourite cameo with the inclusion of Kratos, my gut would feel yucky buying a multiplayer fighter for Sony’s mess of a machine.

And on a completely unrelated note, Forza Motorsport 3 is absolutely a better game than Gran Turismo 5 although I fear that argument warrents its own article.

So starting to think that the Xbox 360, as a platform, offers a better overall experience is an interesting conclusion. I’d previously considered PC to hold that accolade, and comparing Dead Space 2 on console to PC there really is no discussion about technical proficiency. Textures and resolution are paltry by comparison. However if you take matchmaking and DLC into consideration, I wonder how much weight that extra visual fidelity actually caries?

Against the sheer fragmentation of platforms and standards on PC – EA friends list, I’m looking at you – I’m beginning to see the graphics as less and less of a consideration. Not that its mode was worthwhile to begin with, I never once played DS2 online on the PC. And, by pure arrogance on the publisher’s part, I’ll never play the ‘Severed’ DLC. Thanks a lot guys. Even Steam seems to now show contempt for its customers – again most likely by publishers’ edict – by charging ludicrous prices for games. can now match day-and-date better prices for 360 versions of new releases than Steam can despite being exempt from printing and licensing overheads.

Half the fact that the cohesive nature of the Xbox platform feels so good is undoubtedly that the situation on the PC is so broken. Nevertheless I’m switching over to the 360 as my primary, despite it costing me a new console, some visual bells & whistles and despite costing me a yearly subscription to boot. Certainly wouldn’t have anticipated declaring this a year ago, but for the bunch of reasons I’ve mentioned – and no doubt a bunch more – I’m not regretting a thing.

So come on friends, add my Gamertag Ichorid4.


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