Archive for the Games Category

Ghost Trick

Posted in adventure, Games on January 3, 2012 by link6616

Today (months ago) I did something amazing. I finished Ghost Trick.

Me finishing a game is kind of rare… And while I got it months ago it’s a solid ride. But to know about Ghost Trick, you’ll need to know about another series. A very well known series in fact, the Phoenix Wright series, well Ace Attorney series actually… but most people are more familiar with our first man.

The Phoenix Wright series suffers from great writing and bad pacing. Constant flashbacks from minutes ago, to long dry runs through mostly dull investigation sequences which admittedly do make the court battles great fun, but in themselves, can’t be help with great esteem. However, these moments do keep the series going and make the games great to play.

Ghost Trick, by the same people (mostly) is not as well written as the first but it is still well written. What Ghost Trick does differently is solid pacing. With lots of pressure and light situations mingled together, but clearly defined, the game does a good job of keeping you on your toes, but not just constantly doing that so you get used to it.

But the really cool thing Ghost trick is simple. It makes a part of adventures games you’d never think of the most fun part: moving the cursor. Ghost trick’s puzzles are essentially based on moving your cursor to the right place at the right time. Doesn’t sound like a challenge really, does it. But it is, mainly due to face you can only move to other objects very close to you.

This you are the cursor idea is just a fascinating bit of game design that I’ve only ever really encounter in two games, this and Knights in nightmare (the latter of which is an SRPG where you must dodge bullet hell patterns while inputting commands).

Ghost Trick was on of the most memorable games I played in 2011 and bought adventure games back to life for me.

Negotiating with SMT: Strange Journey

Posted in Games, RPG on May 26, 2011 by link6616

Ah Shin Megami Tensei, you keep reincarnating yourself in more truely goddess like ways. (For those lost on the meaning here, look up what the name means).

One of the more interesting parts of the older SMT games according to long time fans (who would have needed very good Japanese) is that in nearly every fight you have the option of talking to the demons you are fighting. It might be as simple as “Do you think I look scary” or as complex as “Why is your world so screwed,” and in theory at least you have to make a decision based on what you think the demon wants to hear. This is rather like the social links in the later 2 persona games where certain answers will advance the link better. Part of the problem here is that different demons of the same type respond differently to the same answers. So telling one Jack Frost you are here to play, and the other the same thing the 2nd might attack you and the first might join your party.

However, despite this inconsistency that does hamper the gamy element a little, it does present the rather nice notion that all these demon’s are unique, and mostly Jack Frosts will like people who want to play or aren’t afraid of mascot characters. And the uniqueness is a great notion to present because the negotiations are nearly always interesting the demons are relatively simple characters but enjoyable to talk too. This enjoyable to talk to aspect really is what makes the game shine, when you see a new demon I always try and talk to them because I want to know what they speak like, what kind of views do these demon’s mostly have? Are they pro human (rare), curious about us, or just hate us and would rather die than help?

One of the other interesting things that Strange Journey brings to light is that if you have a complex deep growth/formation system in an RPG, and a deep battle system, you risk making the game too hard to see where you need to improve. Was it my tactics or my planning that was wrong? By having a simple battle system you always knew failure was more from planning than in combat options, although you could still have made choice in combat causing you to loose, but those would be more obvious.

Here is an the interview that talks about this.

More later on Strange Journey most likely! (probably on how the low tech helps it stay creepy!)

The Longest Journey

Posted in Games on May 22, 2011 by link6616

I’ve finally finished up the Longest Journey, a PC classic from 1999/2000 and was totally unknown to me until I’d heard of dreamfall in 2006. A game I wouldn’t play until 2009.

TLJ is a classic point and click adventure and a great example of why the genre is both amazing and terrible at the same time. Using examination fantastically to both help characterize April and her own world. Her book shelf of books she tells us she’ll never read, to her childhood drawings that get her to tell us about her past. One of the key things the examination or looking element of adventures do really well is give characters a way to say things about their world or situation without being forced upon the player. If you had to examine everything and listen to it, it’d be a chore, but the option to investigate allows character development to go as deep as you want without being forced to sit through long monologues, or have dialogue choices just go ignored. Also, it helps define a character outside of conversation with people, as most people have personality even without talking to others.

Oh, and TLJ also tells one of the best stories any adventure game has ever told, builds it’s world fantastically through strong aesthetic design, voice acting, atmospheric music and pretty good writing. It gets a little wordy at times but you really are there for the story. It’s a pretty typical story of girl finding X things and facing a trial for each of them, filled with self doubt and by the end she becomes more confident in herself… However despite that it’s actually pretty well done, and has a slight self aware air to it, as since she’s from a world resembling our own, transported to a magical parallel, she’s read stories and is aware of the tropes of fantasy fiction. And this self awareness actually makes the tropes all the more enjoyable. One of the fantastic things TLJ pulls off is a feeling of culture. Even though you only spend a short time with each culture you encounter, there is a great feeling that is culture actually has a purpose outside of being your backdrop, even if sometimes an entire culture of people is represented as a single person.

But… this is an adventure game, so despite it being fantastic with all this other stuff you need a source of conflict, and we are in the adventure genre so it’s non violent mostly! This means puzzles. And TLJ likes to screw with you. With missable items and some puzzles that would make Monkey Island seem as ordinary as a table TLJ is basically an adventure game you’ll want to play with a guide handy at all times… Thankfully the gog version comes with a guide…

The Longest Journey really makes you think about Adventure games as an overall genre… Outside of them it’s hard to tell a story that’s not about fighting, but in order for the game to not be just a movie or a visual novel you need to do something. Adventure games chose inventory puzzles back when they were just text, and they’ve stuck with them. There are other puzzles, and some games without items like Loom, but mostly it’s inventory puzzles. When going back to play even the best adventure games, it’s hard to not want to just grab a guide before you start, because you know you are going to get stuck.

I think adventure games really need to start learning some new tricks. Heavy Rain despite all it’s hate from many gamers, it’s probably the best example of how adventure games can improve… It has some puzzles, but mostly it’s exploring and going, with your gameplay really just being pressing extra buttons to do things… Arbitrary yes, but strangely works really well. If you got into the story, the gameplay was just enough to feel like something you were doing, while at the same time never had it’s gameplay hold you back. Apparently LA Noire is similar in many ways but without the quick time events that many hated in Heavy Rain, and hopefully a better plot with less holes.

Dragon Age 2

Posted in Games, RPG on April 15, 2011 by link6616

Sorry for not updating for ages! I have a bunch of half written articles waiting to go up… and be finished… Anyway…

Recently, I’ve been playing DA2, I’m not usually one for CRPGs… I find them too complex. But, I got a new computer, and heard DA2 was more streamlined, and had really fun combat, so i gave it a go.

It’s really good. But as nearly everything has commented, it’s not the same as the first. With many changes that are obviously for console users, like the dialogue wheel or the lack of higher up camera angle. However, many of these changes do something that’s really important for me, and that’s streamlining the cRPG genre. I’ve tried many, many times to dabble with cRPGs, tinkering with neverwinter, icewind dale, diablo and many others, and to most of them, I’ve given up rather early and gone ‘it’s not for me.’ These games all seemed a little to complex for me and i hadn’t already learned how to play them, something, making their tutorials more a head ache than a help as there was just too much information to really deal with.

‘But surely you like complexity’

Yes, i do, I love it in fact. But there need to be stepping stones in all genres… And unlike JRPGs where there are several high quality ‘starter’ ones, and the FFs in a constant loop of being reprinted most older cRPGs are so antiquated that they are of no help in starting up with the genre due to some very outdated design choices. In other words, there is no way to get into cRPGs if you aren’t already in them and not prepared for a really tough learning curve. This is where Dragon Age 2 comes in, it’s quick, easy, but with a lot of the type of depth you’ll find in other cRPGs. This makes the easy to get into DA2 an excellent stepping stone to the better parts of the genre. DA2 starts to get you thinking in terms of skill trees, level ups, stat allocation, weapon choices in the ways more unique to cRPGs than JRPGs (in which weapons pretty much always just go up one path, always one right choice, cRPGs often present you with more equally good but in different way situations). And whats more, it’s getting you to do all that in a ‘safe’ environment. Given the small skill trees in DA2, it’s nearly impossible to screw your character up for more than a few levels without a lot of hard work.

Admittedly, these are the same reasons many people will find annoyance with DA2, it’s a simpler game that’s harder to do badly in. But, it’s playable by more people who’ll be able to move on to the more complex and interesting without being bombarded, and they’ll also know why it’s fun, what kind of decisions they are actually making and so on…

DA2 is a great stepping stone RPG, and while it might not be a great sequel to DA:O it’s one I think the genre really needed, and needed a big name attached to.

Why I collect games.

Posted in Collection on February 5, 2011 by link6616

Collections are important, and as child I was exposed to a mighty collection of books my father owned. It was often joked about how many books he had. They covered a large range of topics, styles and cultures. With books like the Koran, CS Lewis, Discworld and the Bible all sitting side by side. I never saw most of them being read, but they all had pride of place on shelf. Books of all sizes, colours and themes.

But it’s not just about knowledge, or even about reading them in many cases. It’s about passion.

The one thing my father’s collection of books taught me wasn’t to catalog obsessively, to never touch these things to maintain their value or anything like that, these books were collected solely out of a passion for the things they contain or represent. They’d be lend out to people, they’d be off the shelf for weeks being read all over the house, the collection didn’t sit behind a glass cabinet not being touched by dirty little children. The state most big collections live their entire lives in.

It was an exciting place to explore and wander through, and because I could explore that world, and get the context of that from my father, I have a great respect for books, various authors and so on.

I’m a passionate gamer, and I want to create that kind of environment for someone else, and that is why I collect.

Persona 3 Portable

Posted in Clean up needed, Games, RPG with tags , , , , , , , on November 9, 2010 by link6616

I finally finished P3P! I’ve enjoyed it quite a bit, but thought I’d put off writing anything about it until I finished it, for now, here’s write up which is in need of a clean up, but should be presentable enough.

If you are reading this blog, you are probably familiar with P3 and its 2 spin offs FES and Portable, both of which are better than the original in different ways, but build off the original game in different ways.

FES is an expansion on the original adding an extra chapter to the main story at the end called “The Answer” which supposedly stars Aigis and features an interesting, grindtastic story that feels like a fan fiction, a good fan fiction, but fan fiction. I’ve never played FES or just P3, but I have it on good authority that one of the more interesting things about The Answer game play wise was that it really pushed the rules of the game, as Persona 3’s knock down system was abuseable, but also forced you to wrestle with AI, which was very predictable and thus the battles were puzzles which the goal was to make your party AI get into the right flow. This can either be interesting or insanely annoying depending on how you felt about the AI in the first place.

P3P takes a very different approach, and ditches the added “Answer” but keeps much of the extra content it added for the main game. However P3P changes up a bit aswell. Aside from adding the Female main character, which gives the already deep and well written P3 cast more depth it also changed the battle system quite drastically. It basically drags P4s battle system and places it into P3. To those who haven’t played p3 like myself, this feels pretty natural. However it does change the dynamic of the game a little, shifting from setting up the situation you want to just doing what you want (p3p allows manual control of party members). This coupled with the change to the stamina system which in p3 was designed to prevent you from grinding too long in the Tartarus basically doesn’t exist in p3p. You can become tired by having a character die and be brought back to ground floor dead, or by going to the tartarus every night many nights in a row.

That change prompted yet another change to P3 which is times, in p3 you had your afternoons, evenings, and late nights free to do things, this allowed extra study among other things, however, given that in a single Tartarus trip you can get through a lot more of the tower your Late Night time period is simply removed from the game. This can make getting Academics harder to get to max than it was in previous P3 games, however, as a plus, the fact you don’t need to worry about stamina as much makes the game far more accessible.
The change to a portable, also creates one extra change to the gameplay, the over world is gone and the game outside of tartarus is simply moving a cursor over people and things to interact with them, rather than exploring 3d environments, this drastically improves pacing for these times, but does reduce atmosphere, and the game feel more like a visual novel during these moments (which can be a good or bad thing depending on who you are.

In persona 3, your character has the ability to fuse and use multiple personas, making him the jack of all trades, switching and fusing persona is requirement to playing the game outside of self set challenges. Fusing Personas together creates new persona, however, even though you can often see you could make a new persona which are much higher levels than you, only those with a base level lower or equal to yours can be created. However, there is a way to get around this, and it’s through the system that makes persona 3 and 4 some of the more unique RPGs in a long time; Social Links.

Social Links are a really clever and neat system for many reasons. These links are on a purely mechanical level, just give a persona of the same arcana as the link an XP boost which might cause them to level up multiple times right after making it. However, the social links also help create interest in the world around you. They provide both substantial mechanical advantage, and also the the main tool the game gives you to spend time with the well written and interesting NPCs, which in most games would go totally ignored. A social link is made up of 10 ranks, covers a significant issue for the character, and often results in being best friends or a relationship. While the structure is simple, and quickly becomes apparent, these characters stories not only serve as a great foil for the fantastic adventure you are on, but they are genuinely believable characters (mostly), with slightly exaggerated but still quite real issues.

The desirability of these social links create a tension though, in order to get many of the links you’ll need to have high courage, academics or charm, which require a lot time invested either in the evening when you could be training in the tartarus or the afternoon where you could be developing social links. This creates, in theory, a bunch of interesting choices for how players choose the manage their time between all these activities. However, it is possible to max out all the social links and stats in the game, but you’d need a guide to do that.

Persona 3 really relies on the fact you are shifting between all sorts of different things though, as the school days and social links can get tiresome when done for hours, as can climbing the tartarus. However, when you’ve got the flow going, and the ease to switch between all these interesting but tiresome activities, you have a game that is able to change it’s tune when you need it too, and that, is possibly one of the strongest things about it…

You’ll notice at this point I’ve covered very little of the plot, and that’s mainly because anything in the plot worth saying is either really obvious, makes little sense out of context, or will ruin the surprise. The plot is however well told, with the core cast being an interesting diverse group of people who’ll you enjoy being around even if you don’t like them all. They all raise a lot of questions about life, and social interaction, and while it does get a little melodramatic at times, the characters remain believable as possible given the rather bizarre life thus to onto them. If you’d like to have a good write up on the plot, http://gamecareerguide.com/features/908/game_narrative_review_persona_.php

is a good one.

I’ll probably clean this up later… but I think it’s good enough to post for now. Suggestions welcome in comments, as well as questions on what I haven’t addressed well enough.

Final Fantasy: 4 Heroes of light, classes

Posted in Games, RPG with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 18, 2010 by link6616

Wow… I have no idea how long I’ve been playing this for but it’s still amazing. It’s still everything I hate about RPGs but done perfectly. I love it…

Before though, I said that the classes didn’t seem to matter that much. But at that point I hadn’t really been able to do much with them. Classes in 4 heroes take a few of the better steps out of Wild ARMs XF’s book with class benefits being super apparent from the get go.

If your character has never been a white mage before, and 50 levels later you want him to be one, he’ll be an awesome white mage. He COULD be better if you upgrade his white mage crown (what you use to change jobs) but the overaching abilities that make white mages good, he has…

So, how do classes work you ask? Well, throughout the journey you collect ‘crowns’ representing jobs, each job has 3-5 levels. Each level grants (so far) one ability. These abilities are basically spells without you needing to have a spell book in your inventory. Along with this, most classes have a passive ability of some kind. White and black mages make their respective colours of magic cost 1 ap less (which makes level 1 magic like normal attacks), Slave-makers don’t use AP when they use an item and so on.

Typically the first active ability and the passive work enormously well alone that even without upgrade you’ll still rock as a class… The level 1 white mage ability for instance allows your next healing spell to heal everyone (costing 1 ap and a turn to cast this first though). This alone allows anyone to very quickly become the party healer. The level 2 ability costs an extra 1 ap and also increases the power of the healing, making it more useful yes, but by no means essential… The class upgrades are much less required as they are just helpful. And given these abilities cost more AP than the last, it’s often questionable how valuable they really are.

Classes also change your stats, and in this game, very small number changes make big differences, so while classes do not affect what you can equip to each character you are probably not doing your white mage any favours by not upgrading her spirit, nor your fighters by not giving him the biggest axe. However, because you can equip what you want, you still retain a large amount of customization…

What’s really great about all these is that it’s very difficult for your character to feel samey like they do in many other RPGs without setting up each character as the same class with the same equipment. Every class makes the characters feel entirely different, and your equipment more so, so your white mage in dungeon 1 feels different to the same white mage dungeon 2. This doesn’t mean the game is constantly throwing lots of confusing random junk at you, it’s simply that the very minor changes impact your play style a lot, but in very predictable ways.

I’m not sure what’s going to be of merit to discuss next… But I’m looking forward to finding out