Archive for the 'The Encounter With Dracula' Category
Monday, April 29th, 2013
The Encounter With Dracula Is Terminated is a long running and sporadically deployed series of articles about the gaming universe by long time Mode 7 community person Alex ‘malakian’ Hayes. Follow him at www.twitter.com/inspectorvector
Forsooth? FORSOOTH! The Encounter With Dracula Is Terminated! Part 2 of the encounter with Baldur’s Gate, however, is yet to begin! Stumbling in over a week late, the journey continues unabashed. This time, we jump right into playing the game from the beginning, which you may find surprising seen as I’ve already written 2000 words of this blogging epic. If you’re not up to speed with my (lack of) adventure thus far, you can and should catch up right here. Obviously spoilers will scale as I level up, so expect some minor ones here at level 2.
After an ambiguous introduction movie in which a demonic Viking threw a cowering man off a building, I was looking at the character creation screen. I made a male half-elf fighter, with the alignment “neutral good”. Apparently this means I must pursue justice with no particular regard for societal structures. I felt this to be an apt choice, as it reflects what I am doing right now in lieu of lucrative employment. Interestingly, the game warned of ‘consequences’ should this chosen path be deviated from. Next was a choice of combat and weapon skills to invest in. One was KATANA. It’s description basically said you probably won’t find one so think very carefully about investing in this. Below this, a second caveat: “WARNING: Katanas are very rare!”. After investing the maximum points I could in the katana skill, I put the remaining points into two-weapon style. I will not accept anything less than two of the best. My character was ready, and I joined him outside quite a rowdy sounding pub. It was at this earliest of points that I noticed that what I had presumed a tunic was very much akin to a purple summer dress. As if that wasn’t enough, upon the instruction to move, he was responding with “I shall attend to it in a trice”. So, fearing for my unconventionally clothed Etonian, I decided it was time to get him a gin and tonic, and proudly strode to the public house. After trying to gauge the opinions of three nearby cows. They weren’t in the mood.
As I approached the door, a primitive but impressively functional weather system kicked in. Thunder rolled and showers fell. I had been hurriedly instructed to buy what I needed at the pub in preparation for a hasty and unexplained departure, but my elf’s tastes were clear, and this looked no place to purchase an ermine toque. What could be in store for our hero? Well, luckily, the inside of the tavern was far more congenial than it had appeared to be. More respectable sorts than I’d expected stood around, behaving themselves in an similarly-skirted manner to our protagonist. Firebead, the fellow I chose to strike up a conversation with, lamented in spoken dialogue simply that it was “so hard to find decent folk nowadays…”. Noblewoman, another patron, loudly proclaimed “what a pleasure it is to meet a socially acceptable person such as yourself!”. I was now certain my Etonian elf would be fine here; I was in a village pub like any in the English countryside. After quaffing a few ales, I must confess I got carried away, and in my Bullingdon-style excess, smashed a lock off a box and stole a man’s gold. When I was ready to head back downstairs, the town guard accosted me, saying he would only let me go if I handed over all my gold to be used to benefit the library. My riposte of “up yours, you uppity bald virgin” was sadly met with a sharper reply in the form of being stabbed repeatedly, and my character opted for a truly Shakespearian end, shouting “My spleen! My life’s blood seeps out!”. I had learnt a valuable lesson about stealing, and tried again. I learnt the same valuable lesson about stealing and, after the second reload, took my leave of the inn to find adventure.
On the road, our hero’s adoptive father was quickly killed by some ne’er-do-wells who were after me, and I was to continue the world’s least sociable pub crawl by escaping in search of the Friendly Arm Inn. Crossing a forest, I picked up some stragglers who wanted help investigating an iron shortage, and met a suspicious wizard in a pointy hat who quickly returned to the bushes. Our hero announced he “grew torpid and required slumber”, so after camping in the leafy forest, the Friendly Arm awaited. That’s not a euphemism for deviance in the shrubbery. Well, it might be – I’m not quite sure what torpid means. It was here in the Friendly Arm that a bounty hunter tried to accost me with his unfriendly arms, and thus began my first real scrap in the game, introducing me to its semi-familiar combat. It uses the dice roll combat of Advanced D&D 2, and similar systems still rule the roost in many RPGs nowadays. If your magic stick does 1d6 damage, this means it rolls one dice which can land between one and six. Quite straightforward. Shortly after, it seemed my die would need to roll once more as a big orc in the pub said he’d crush my neck with his bare hands if I kept pestering him. Despite my best efforts at further pestering, he remained stoic in his warning and I had to move on. In trolling the troll, I realised that I was being a lot more annoying in my short time in this world than I choose to be in KOTOR or Dragon Age. Why is this? Well, it could be partly due to the somewhat less subtle writing, but I think the isometric camera has a hand in it. Psychologically, viewing angles can be important in how we humans relate to things we experience via the medium of the balls in your face. Pray remain decent, for it is your eyes I talk of. The high up, looking-down-on-things angle has long been associated with the viewer feeling uninvolved and distant, giving an objective, rather than immersive, view of the situation. The subject becomes of reduced significance when compared with a view from the more natural and equalising “level angle” view, and as the unseen observer, you gain a sense of omniscience from being able to oversee the whole situation. I certainly felt a greater disconnect between player and character than even the difference between first and behind-the-shoulder third person imparted. The upshot of this is that it was making me feel less personally responsible for my irritating actions. I had always found it easier to cause wanton destruction while playing GTA than during GTA IV, perhaps because I’m a coward who can’t stare into the pixely eyes of my victims. In fact, I gave up playing GTA IV upon realising that I was becoming bored during the third pub trip that I had attended to keep an uninteresting virtual man happy. If I’d kept on playing like that, the final mission would have probably been an gruelling shift selling low-res newspapers for an artificial news stand owner who felt under the computer-generated weather. Parents really should worry about a generation of children being trained to waste their lives attending boring social summons, emulating the politeness they’ve engaged in in violent video games. Anyway, back in the inn, I gathered the people I’d come to meet and pressed on to find out what was causing the iron shortage in a southern town. If my torpid half-elf is anything to go by, it’s probably vegetarianism.
Arriving at a town called Beregost, I agreed to protect a woman who was a self described ‘Thespian extraordinaire’ by attacking some thugs for her, but she had hoodwinked both them and us, and when confronted, attacked me. Our party mate Khalid got killed by a spider in a house, so we had to resurrect him at a temple. Tried to rest outside, got called a gutternapper, so headed out of town to become a leafygladenapper. It was about here that I died and restarted about 50 times. The first restarts were necessitated by a bug that, when I began to manage my inventory, caused the mouse cursor to irretrievably vanish and move invisibly in an unpredictable fashion. The large majority were due to my save file having stood my party right next to a Vampiric Wolf that was, to me at least, completely invulnerable. There clearly is some truth in the plots of all those trashy films and books that suggest the unholy hybrid of werewolf and vampire is a force to be reckoned with; as probably is the preceding coital dilemma. I dearly hope this is the only horror trope I encounter, for the sake of her majesty’s postal service. I finally got away, and after meeting a neurotic aristocrat in a large hat who deemed the air to be unpleasantly “THICK with manual labour”, headed back to Beregost town. A man in the pub blamed the bad influence of adventurers for his son’s untimely death, and I saved a wizard lady in distress. I now would head south to find the town of Nashkel as everyone in my merry band kept nagging me to do so. They were getting increasingly agitated about much-waffled about the iron shortage. My crustacean-based prediction had suddenly dovetailed together with this mysterious crisis – cast iron pillar boxes could indeed be being left at a perilously jaunty lean. I would need my wits about me. Also, hammers.
I’d looted a few things on the journey, so set about reordering the stuff Snow White and the Five Dwarves had equipped. Something immediately irritating was the absence of the party inventory, as would be found in a modern RPG. Each character instead has their own inventory and carrying capacity. This makes sharing potions a bit of a faff. It’s also problematic if you’re in public while playing, as whenever you select Xzar the wizard, he screams “STOP TOUCHING MEEEE”. Quickly finding the best gear you have acquired is also a dreary task, as each thing must bring up its details individually. The inexorable march towards simplification is often resisted by the stubbornly retro stalwarts whose long beards entangle forward looking developers, and although said beards can be a boon against…Well, Dragon Age 2′s development cycle, micromanagement is very boring in Baldur’s Gate and is something gamers are well rid of.
A dilemma faced me once more. I had made numerous promises to go to Nashkel immediately, and Nashkel was being impatiently waffled of ad infinitum, but once I’d journeyed south through the clearings, the map presented me with a choice between NASHKEL and CARNIVAL. I don’t enjoy letting people down but…carnival. After choosing to head to the carnival, I was given a cut scene with spoken rolling text talking about how I don’t yet understand how my destiny is linked to the iron shortage from the Nashkel mines. The game really, really doesn’t want you to forget your destiny in Nashkel, to the point of incessant annoyance. As much as I felt I could choose to go to the carnival, I had the uncomfortable feeling that Bobo the Clown would be seething, spitting through gritted, stained teeth, and making certain I won the toy bear that had been stuffed with his soggy cigarette butts, surplus prize goldfish and old Kleenex.
The carnival, as it turned out, was not as jolly as I’d hoped. First of all a man tried to sell me a woman encased in stone with the promise of a magic scroll that could let her out if I felt like it. After I declined (I’ve got too many already), Lord Binky the Bufffoon cantered past and announced how “unposh” we all were. He even mocked my pronunciation of “what a fabulous carnival!” I know I’d traded my finery for some modest armour, but really, doesn’t breeding tell? I am posh. I keep saying “trice” for goodness sake. After discussing the merits of the Great Gazib’s Exploding Ogre act with a passer-by, I went into a tent to try and find the party atmosphere, and lo and behold yet another man had a woman on hand to threaten. There is quite an apparent use of women as a fragile egg that assorted bad men may easily apply a speeding teaspoon to should things not go smoothly, so if you’re a feminist offended by such clichés, you’ll be offended lots of times. Though, if you’re a female feminist, you probably won’t play Baldur’s Gate.
Back in the pokey tent, Zordral insisted his busty captive was a witch who needed to die as she may seduce local men, and told me if I took one step more he’d kill her with a spell. I began to gesture at him with my sword in a repeated arc like fashion that made his numbers alter until he fell over because of all the maths. Brentha thanked me for saving her and said she had no intention of seducing anyone, so obviously this was a COMPLETE waste of time. She also told me I should probably go to Nashkel, something that I was so grateful to learn that I went outside and smashed a chicken to bits in a fit of enlightened joy. I did get to see the aforementioned Amazing Oopah, the world’s only exploding ogre. Unfortunately he refused to explode so I had to kill him. I think at that point I’d ruined the carnival. I decided to atone by agreeing to help a man who approached me as I entered Nashkel, which, he explained, curried the favour of “the realm’s only miniature giant space hamster”, which I’m sure will be useful. As I continued down the street, Oublek the Bounty Officer assumed I was a man named GREYWOLF and gave me a pile of gold for ridding the town of a bandit. I agreed that I, GREYWOLF, deserved this, and went on my way with heavier pockets. Could this dishonesty possibly lead to any repercussions? Well, I’m sure it’ll be nothing that GREYWOLF can’t handle.
Will I ever meet GREYWOLF? Will an iron shortage be at all interesting? HAMSTERS? The Encounter with Baldur’s Gate will be on hiatus next week, but will return unabashed for part 3, where you can expect the answers to these questions and less!
 A joke - of course you ladies will want to play this rather than like, cooking or whatever.
Monday, April 8th, 2013
The Encounter With Dracula Is Terminated is a long running and sporadically deployed series of articles about the gaming universe by long time Mode 7 community person Alex ‘malakian’ Hayes. Follow him at www.twitter.com/inspectorvector
Lock up your daughters! Please; there’s no way I can get a voluntary female readership. Yes, unavoidably, inescapably, incorrigibly, The Encounter With Dracula is back, ready to take the Sledgehammer of Analysis (+7 analysing) to the Walnut of Isometric Gaming (weakness to analysing). So, with plenty of further ado, let me cordially invite you to join me on my greatest blogging odyssey yet, as I play through Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition with a hope to experience the ups and downs (while everything around me curiously remains the exact same size) of playing a classic fixed perspective RPG in the mobile generation.
As I was watching an episode of Michael Portillo’s ace railways programme, I had the idea of a sequel to my award-deserving sojourn through might and magic I-VI. Something in the bold, adventurous pastels of Portillo’s jackets stirred a sense of adventure in me. The thing is, like the union of a pressed salmon trouser and a sky blue blazer, the stars in the heavens seem to have aligned for this one. After already doing so for Wasteland 2, Inxile have run another speedily successful Kickstarter campaign for a spiritual successor to Planescape: Torment, an Infinity Engine-based cult classic that I’ve hitherto ignored. Similarly, Shroud of the Avatar: Something Something, a new IP by the Ultima guy who spent all the money he could have used to make it going to space, will have left the orbit of its Kickstarter goal by the time this is finished. Shadowrun Returns has shown off some alpha footage, and of course Project Eternity, which, until the aforementioned Torment sequel, had raised the most money by any game on Kickstarter. Personally, I’ve just finished my second play of Dragon Age: Origins and am well into my eighth (really) time through Star Wars: KOTOR, both being games with many of the genes of their isometric D&D predecessors still intact. More importantly, I’ve also been kindly gifted Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition, a re-release of the RPG classic that apparently saved computer RPGs from the clutches of fearsome dark lord Economically Unviable, the ultimate threat to the world of [insert your favourite fictional elf/pixie land in gaming's oeuvre]. He’s intangible, which makes him worse. This seems the ideal journey to take to continue my quest for existential enlightenment through dated CRPGs. So that’s the world we live in, and this is what we’re doing. To readers who are perhaps concerned about a change in the quality you’ve come to expect, I say simply this: The previous paragraph is not the only part you’ll read and be left thinking “this article is the product of a lot of colons”.
Long-time readers of The Encounter With Dracula – yes, all both of you – will know that it is a reliable bet that each article will start from a position of total, unassailable knowledge on each and every subject discussed. What shut up it is, you’re remembering it improperly with your brain. So, you’ll be amazed to learn that, in a TEWDIT first, I start from a position of total ignorance. The first order of business is to own up and say it: I’ve never played an isometric RPG. With the exception of StarCraft, I’ve never played an isometric game. I thought to suppose my five minutes watching Diablo 2 at age 13 qualified me as a seasoned veteran, but further research has informed me that while it used a fixed isometric perspective, it had some sprite perspective scaling magic that might mean it doesn’t quite count. Discussing this recently, I was met with disbelieving surprise, and then was dished the question “so isometric isn’t as popular as I thought?”. I realised I was inadequately equipped to put forward an opinion, so immediately killed ten giant rats in a neighbouring peasant’s basement in order to develop as a person and hopefully loot an equippable opinion from a felled rat’s internal cavity in the process. Strange that, despite the rows of visible houses, hers was the only door that could open, but I did not dwell. After a fine rat vichyssoise, I realised that the question of isometric’s popularity and endurance is an interesting one, especially in light of Kickstarter’s inexorable rise. A cursory look at the gaming release landscape of the past few years might well indicate that mainstream gaming’s interest in isometry is now a rigid body. Aside from the strategy genre, where a 3d semi-fixed perspective (the isometric view’s rotatable destiny) is a revered utilitarian ruler, I can really only think of Diablo 3 successfully championing the lofty angles of isometric gaming’s golden age. Titan Quest was similarly aerial in view but wasn’t really a huge hitter, and Dragon Age allowed players to pull the camera up to that position too, but…Well let’s be real, you just didn’t. I KNOW some goblins somewhere probably had to be heel-diggingly old school or found it tactically advantageous or something, so if you are thinking “I’m going to comment and say I did” then, as ever, you can send your comment right here: Yes that’s right. To your colon. My dizzyingly digressed-from point is that it’s a sign of the times that even Syndicate and Shadowrun’s recent middling reboots deserted, abandoning the third person entirely. The iso perspective in RPG, action and adventure games has been largely forgotten as the technological situation that constrained developers to it has been left behind. That is, until the sands were shifted by the recent trend of vintage developers keen to re-energize the old shit they made that people liked more than the things they’ve gone on to do. Kickstarter certainly proved itself to have a secondary and more profitable function as Kickperpetuator, and many of these projects, including those already mentioned, are now coming to fruition. It seems that, at least for many pre-existing developers, isometric RPGs are still very much a going concern in financial terms.
Let’s have a brief, shallow and probably unnecessary explanation of isometric in gaming. While it is a specific type of parallel projection, it’s basically become a byword for the half way point between a side on view and a top down view to project an almost 3d look for the player. Like the cubes everyone drew at school, it’s obviously limited by the fact it is actually 2d – everything remains the same size while you shuffle about on a pre rendered backdrop, for instance – but it’s a pretty cool technique considering the tech it emerged on in the early 80s. More than many genres, the RPG requires a world with some immersive depth, so the isometric view became a huge boon for 90s CRPGs such as Fallout, Diablo and of course, Baldur’s Gate. So it’s obvious why then, but why now? When fantastically detailed full 3d worlds are possible, do people really want this? The huge amount of monetary backing would suggest so, but I decided to do a little digging beyond the dollar signs and set out googling for the opinions of the dribbling masses in the wider internet world. Predictably, there were plenty of forums with a back and forth on the subject of how disgusting it is when someone uses the term isometric when they mean dimetric projection and so forth, but I wanted to get to the crux of how much people actually want iso games now. I finally found a few topics that were useful. One on the escapist forums in particular had a well attended poll, in which just under 200 respondents voted “yes” by a 8:1 majority in response to the question “do you think that isometric games have a place in modern gaming?”. I’m not purporting to have drawn too much from this statistic, as those with an enchanted axe to grind about something are always keener to respond to internet polls like this, so people who don’t care may have largely passed over it. Still, it’s a resounding result in and of itself. I don’t usually resort to vox pops, but some choice opinions from said poll were enlightening as to the gamut of grammatically poor opinions on the subject:
A self-confessed fan of isometric RPGs lamented “If someone put the money into making these games, it’s likely it wouldn’t sell”, quite a reasonable conclusion I thought, showing that absence from mainstream gaming has made even the faithful doubt their viability prior to the crowd funding frenzy.
Someone by the username totallyheterosexual aptly refused to entertain grey areas in the debate. Not so placid about judgements of decline, they exclaimed “Jesus fuck. Do you people honestly think that the camera view of the games defines its gameplay?”, overlooking in his excited rhetoric that the answer is actually “yes, most of the time it really does loads”.
A personal favourite was also proffered:“You can change the camera angles in chess, but the most popular one is isometric. So yeah, I think isometric is here to stay.”. A truly incredible way to justify the place of something in modern gaming. If it were true; it sadly isn’t. As the slew of green-lit IPs all seem to be setting up new universes where sequels are almost inevitable, what he has got right is that it seems isometric is, for a while at least, here to stay.
So the signs point quite convincingly to a substantial niche very happy to pay for the isometric experience. The fact that a deep isometric RPG is going to be a lot cheaper to make than the next Elder Scrolls or Witcher game might go some way to explaining why this essentially regressive game design is desirable. When I read the reviews, it became clear that character interactions, moral choices and plot progression were pillars of the nostalgic feelings that these games inspire, and if more of this kind of content can be delivered without having to get a 120 person team to head for the new unreal or frostbite engine, it’s certainly a boon for players who are focussed on that side of things. That the successful projects are so often from veteran developers is both reassuring and potentially creatively stifling, as although these new games have what can be presumed to be a firm hand on the tiller, they are certainly far outperforming any funding drives by new independent developers in the field. It’ll remain to be seen whether they can deliver fresh and interesting writing or expansive exercises in laurel-resting, facilitated by more route-one lore for the player to try and parse about how you must rise from rags to assorted-barrel-and-sack-found riches to defeat the worst Gandalf to ever comminate the Outer Hebrides.
What’s to come from this new generation remains to be seen, but Baldur’s Gate has long since been judged, and is seen as an important classic quite unanimously. So, perhaps I should actually launch it, two thousand words later. Journalism! I’m doing it wrong.
Tune in next week for a psychological examination of why I’m an idiot, some reluctant cows, summer dresses, gutternapping and more!
 Thanks to mode 7 friend Sid!
 Just found out this joke happened in an episode of This Week in Politics. For people not from the UK: This programme doesn’t achieve any deliberate humour.
 Any physicist worth his salt will confirm this is in fact hilarious and you didn’t realise.
 As per the introduction’s colon profuseness alert. It all dovetails together. For pedants who are thinking “The joke doesn’t work as actually you put that punctuation there, so it’s your colon” let me stop you right there. You are reading a local copy downloaded to your computer, so it’s yours, and I forego all copyright on that sentence. Thus we see further elaboration has confirmed another joke to be funny. It definitely has.
 This short phrase is what I always put forward to describe Tory chancellor George Osborne in any conversation where he is mentioned. It receives mixed reactions.
Sunday, October 18th, 2009
Delivered like a delirious monkey with an infinite set of those colourful fridge-magnet letters and a huge fridge...This is it. The play-through of the Might and Magic six pack, and my immediate feedback regarding it. It’s the very freshest The Encounter With Dracula Is Terminated! If you didn’t catch the build up to this crazy ride, you can do so right here.
A little background reading told me that, upon its release, the first entry in the Might and Magic series, ‘Might and Magic Book One: The Secret of the Inner Sanctum’, was extremely well received by critics. Things like the scope, freedom of game play and character choices (three things which are still buzzwords for many RPGs) were main reasons for the heaping of praise. My skillful preparation had luckily numbed me to how ridiculous the name was, so instead of writing ‘lol, gay’ at this point, I took an open minded approach while still bearing in mind the age of the thing.
When it comes down to brass tacks, though, might and magic I is rubbish. Unless you have some nostalgia for this kind of thing, it’s absurd. Instead of boxes popping up to tell you interesting things that the graphics don’t let on, when you walk face first into what is clearly a brick wall you get told ‘SOLID!’, while details like why you’re there or what you’re doing are left purely to your inference. Also you don’t need the 1990’s to have come and gone to realise that names like ‘Crag the Hack’ and ‘Swifty Sarg’ are just ridiculous. All you ever see of the characters is the names, too. While NES era J-RPG final fantasy had sprites for your characters, the battles in Might and Magic I are solely a text based affair. Couple that with dos box running it a bit too fast on my system, and you get convoluted lines of text about how Swifty has fired at a skeleton with a bow flashing up at the screen and leaving it so fast that it’s like having a very boring, nerdy seizure. It was about here I adopted my ‘play until I get killed’ reviewing strategy.
If this ever was playable, there is literally no point in doing so now. I wasn’t too disillusioned by this, though. I knew the very first was going to be a bumpy ride, but after a couple of hours I could take no more and decided to concentrate on the next entry in the series: Might and Magic II: Gates to Another World! It better contain at least one gate to a considerably different world.
The second I start Might and Magic II I am met with what looks like an elongated white jawa declaring himself a spirit of someone who wasn’t important enough for me to remember, and going on to say how I face battles innumerable. This upset me. I was really hoping for a more ‘battles easily numerable’ themed comment after the last game. Anyway so this game is a touch more palatable. If you’re at all interested in really classic might and magic for some strange reason, then this is the one to go for. It feels like the first and works in much the same way, except there’s a lot more visual, audible, and textual prompts. Seen as it has the same problem of the first in that places use repeating animations, it’s hard to tell this wall from that wall or this door from that door in the expansive bits, but luckily a compass is added in the form of ‘Face = N’. Nice. The graphical differences do a lot for the experience. There is a tangible day/night change, and seeing the adversary rendered poorly stops the text-battles from triggering a ‘too long; did not listen’ response. For a little. Sorry, what? Oh right, moving on…
One of the more positive differences is the increase in environmental feedback. While it’s still pitiful, it’s less so. A lot of doors you go through will have a brief description of what you’re facing in front of you, with a sprinkling of Y/N choices. This definitely does a far better job of breaking up the monotony of a game which has very little diversity to offer. While it is a much preferable offering to Book I, book II isn’t oceans away. It still retains the same core mechanics. The battles are still unanimated, the environment is still lackluster and repetitive, and the dialogue is so poor it’s unacceptable. The plus side of that is that it keeps it mildly entertaining. However, by the time I received this proposal…
The enormous gladiator Spartacus will mercilessly beat you for 500 gold. You will be stronger. Pay the brute (y/n)?
…I was about sick of it, and hitting ‘N’, I strode out of the city, only to be met with a big box saying ‘DEATH STRIKES!’ and something to the effect of ‘A volcano has erupted and killed you’. Obviously if the volcano was graphically represented I may have had a shot at avoiding that one. With the only evidence of the eruption being the black box with the solemn news in it, I just took their word for it. As had happened once before, I’d been slain, and it was time to call it a day. At this point I’m at the end of day three, and my feelings towards the might and magic marathon I’d embarked on were no longer what they were. I was looking out the window longingly at couples walking, laughing with each other. I truly felt like a Might and Magic player. Tomorrow would be book three, and the mammoth task of keeping my boredom and vitriol from biasing my thoughts on it. Perhaps this will be just the breath of fresh air I need, I hoped.
Y. Y. Y!!
III: Isles of Terra
Might and Magic III was the first Might and Magic game of the 1990s. It was a less tedious experience than the prior two because of various improvements. One of the most noticeable is the Doom-style addition of party character’s faces along the bottom instead of the representations of the prior games: their names in white text. It really does make a difference to the ‘role playing’ thing to know you’re not just a few white letters. The expressions on your party character’s faces reflect their condition, and clicking on them brings up statistics nobody cares about. ‘Crag Hack’ has reinvented himself by dropping the ‘the’ from the middle of his name. Good to see him back. The battles take place differently too, with enemies visible in the world rather than the world freezing for a battle to take place. Battles take place much in the same turn-based fashion, but mouse-clicks of icons replace keyboard commands for things like attacking. Plot wise, you’re after some baddie called Sheltem. He was also the bad guy in 2 and continues to be a pain throughout the series. These really aren’t strong on story. I didn’t bother explaining for 1 and 2, so I won’t start now. A final strong point I will mention is the music. It’s got some basic polyphony going on, so it makes it…very funny.
The game is still atrocious by today’s standards, and unfortunately there was little to giggle at in this one. Judging in context I’d say this one is passable if you are a dwarf in purgatory. If not, keep on avoiding. Time for four!
IV – V
Four and five come together in some dual pack, as apparently installing both gave you the full experience. A bit of a PokeMôn blue/red type thing going on, I reckon. Anyhow, I think it is IMPERATIVE everyone watches the introduction to clouds of Xeen.
It is depressingly obvious by IV that there will be no surprises in this game collection. Each is just a face-lifted and revamped version the previous. At least with IV-V, you are dealing with the best of the bunch. The intro music alone sounds like it is lifted straight off the best prog-rock album that never happened. Truth be told, there’s not much more that needs to be written after viewing the intro movie, so I’ll keep it brief. What I will reiterate is that the 4/5 combo is much more tolerable to play than the previous titles and a semblance to fun games like Morrowind is clear. The added animation is welcome, and the spoken sound bytes from shopkeepers and such like aren’t too annoying and add some immersion, though the blue woman who sells you spells sounds thoroughly synthesised. Synth-women are the best you can hope for from this series, though. A drawback is the then-popular manual-based ‘look at line 5, word 3. What is the word?’ copy protection that pops up. Bit irritating, as now it’s enshrined in PDF rather than a tangible manual. Another thing that is annoying is the high pitched key press noise. Every time you press any key (including, and particularly problematic to the movement keys) a high pitch is emitted. You don’t walk continuously, oh no. You move forward in set distances as in all previous games. As you can imagine, after 5 presses or so you’re annoyed with the noise. God knows how furious I was with it when I gave up on this heap. Why? Just WHY? This is also a problem for….
Might and Magic: Swords of Xeen
I didn’t realise, but this collection included a seventh game (heavens preserve me. I can’t take anymore). This game apparently came from the mod community, and wasn’t true Might and Magic canon. It tries to plug a few bits of the V plot here and there, but isn’t really story driven. It’s entirely on the V engine, so more of the same here.
The bees, the bees. Oh god, the bees.
I was sat alone in the dark at the time I gave up on Swords of Xeen. I was sitting staring at thousands of words about this. I couldn’t take it any more, but one of the biggest entries in the series yet was still ahead of me. Now, I’m not a man of faith, but there are moments in everyone’s life when you think ‘hang on, that seems a bit too convenient’. I was at my lowest point, and, as I was firing up Might and Magic VI: The Mandate of Heaven, I was to experience one of those moments.
I couldn’t get it to work on my system. I was free. It was all over.
In more than the obvious way, I was quite happy not to have been able to play what could have been the diamond in the rough. It leaves me with room to say maybe, just maybe, it was all worth it to get to this point. If I knew how bad that point was, I might well throw myself into the aforementioned magic monster pit.
Looking back on the experience, it really was fearful. I had practically no human contact apart from IRC while doing this. I don’t feel right. I will not recommend this to someone who isn’t buying it for nostalgia, or really has exhausted every other experience known to humanity. It is tough, unrelenting, unrewarding, stupid, ugly, and has all the other unlisted qualities of Maggie Thatcher as well. Still, it has been, above all else, interesting. Seeing the difference between ‘then and now’ in what players would accept from a video game RPG experience was interesting in the way that old farming equipment is. People genuinely were happy to put up with this in those days. The influence of statistic based development is still clear in games like Fable 2, but the difference is nowadays they are used as part of an experience to pace it, whereas in the Might and Magic series it does feel like the statistics are the game.
For the price, though, I cannot write it off as uniquely dreadful, as anyone interested in a bit of RPG history and evolution can’t really go far wrong. If you’re nostalgic about these games, which I assume (by the critical reception of the time and Youtube speed runs) that many people are, then you’ve struck gold. For the rest of us, this isn’t quite the same joyous trove. I’d like to propose that if you are considering putting yourself through this for fun, you should instead take a dice and roll against an imaginary rat. If he rolls higher, you die, or vice versa. Move on to a crocodile, then god. If you win these rolls successfully, pretend you’re the king of the universe and be satisfied with your RPG experience. Please, don’t put yourself through what I have. There is, nowadays, simply no need to climb this mountain.
Tuesday, October 6th, 2009
What is that, flapping, caterwauling and plummeting towards us all like a concussed albatross? Yes, yes, that’s right! The Encounter With Dracula Is Terminated emerges like a bull from the mist for an extra special entry into the series that perpetually threatens to, but never quite does, fizzle out, much like a cheap extra-long sparkler that’s keeping you and your wife cold for fifteen minutes more than you’re comfortable with on fireworks night.
I have a confession, lady and gentlemen. I was feeling low. I was broke, and I had no games I hadn’t completed. I was about to nail Dracula’s coffin permanently shut when none other than Ian Hardingham told me about how, in a genuine occurrence, a female was asking where this very article had gone, as apparently my Prototype review was appreciated by one of the webs denizens. This denizen was a girl. Awesome. With this one, however, I have unfortunately agreed to shed any female readership. This is something I feel only those with big bushy beards may be prepared for.
So, like some crazy critical butcher, I’m slamming not one, but six game experiences on the cold hard slab of analysis this time. I say ‘this time’ instead of ‘tonight’ because, as I mentioned, this is no ordinary entry into the annals of TEWDIT; I am taking on not one fantastical monster, but hundreds. Nay, possibly thousands. Between now and the end of next week I am going to be putting my sanity statistic on the line in the name of unnecessary journalism. My stamina statistic will be tested through the rigors of a mountainous challenge that promises absolutely no reward whatsoever, save for an insight into the mechanical innards of classic RPG gaming. I will be, over the next week, spending a day playing each game in the Might and Magic six pack, recently released via mode7 friends and all-round bargainous archive GoodOldGames.com. I will be eating (food likely to give me gout), drinking (mead), and breathing (FIRE) both might AND magic for the next six days.
RPGs are hands down the best experiences I’ve had playing video games. I realised as I was watching the download bar throb, though, that I was particularly ill-informed when it came to the origins of this genre. Platformers? Sure, I had Donkey Kong and Prince of Persia. Shooters? I’d completed doom and Wolfenstein 3d before Pentiums had even dawned. The first RPG I really sunk my hours into came much later with Final Fantasy 7. I’d played Zelda of course, but I’m not going to count that for the reason that the traditional spinal column of RPGs, stat counting, was mostly absent. Obviously, then, despite playing lots of roles in the age of 3d graphics, I could not label myself KNOWLEDGEABLE about the genres origins. I’ve just labelled statistic counting as a backbone of classic RPGs, but how do I even know that? This thought unsettled me, slightly. Was the task I had just signed up for too much for a…a…noob? MAYHAP.
With that in mind, I decided to do a little research to clue myself up. I was hoping it would be as easy as in oblivion. You know, open the article, +1 INTELLIGENCE pops up, I can close it and get on with my day. Unfortunately, having to read ensued. Awful. Anyhow, I read through the wiki article on Dungeon, the first PDP-10 RPG based on Dungeons and Dragons back in 1975, and also a decent article on Gamasutra about the 1980-onwards era of computer role playing games. I’m not going to get too bogged down in the history of them now, but take a look at those links if you want to have a bit more of a detailed read about it. The summary is pretty much all of it stems from Dungeons and Dragons the board game, and the first games were white-on-black number crunching with nothing but text and lines. Not what I’d come to expect from mass effect, though anyone who’s played fallout 3 or oblivion will not have a struggle to see the link between this and the journal’s long pages of character statistics. The difference may perhaps be more apparent, though, between this and the point blank shotgunning of super mutants. While these early games were no doubt revolutionary, there were drawbacks.
Picture this, if you will. It is 7pm. Work is over. Candles are dimly lighting the room, and you’ve sat down for a board game that may last all night with three like-minded individuals. Who are fat. You are also fat. However, this is no ordinary board game. It’s a board game you’re playing with a plastic Viking hat on, and it isn’t trivial pursuit. What I’m trying to sum up here is that when dungeons and dragons made the leap from friends dressed as elves, props, and elaborate descriptions of the terrifying foe you must slay to ‘You have encountered A RAT. y/n.’ in blocky white text on a black screen, it isn’t hard to see how the genre’s titular role playing element could suffer.
It did suffer. The game was tedious, and could barely be called a game at all. ‘Role playing’ was barely discernible, and it lost the sociable element. At least when you’re sitting around with your three toady friends you can talk about fine elf bitches to pass the time. Lord knows, I do. Early shooters, for instance, were not replicating an experience as Dungeon was, so there was no similar drop-off in quality when (then poorly) digitising them. Another string lacking from the bow was the high 36k ram usage of Dungeon (lol), as opposed to the 32k of 1971’s text-based Star Trek. This kept it from becoming widespread amongst the computers of the day, as people would opt for Spock a lot of the time anyway. Not having something like Maze War launching the genre with somewhat of a bang, the computer game RPG at its origin was in a practically unrecognisable form.
With the original Might and Magics, we’re dealing with something that has the more recognisable visage of being a playable game (just about) while retaining the sensibilities (or lack thereof) of the traditional RPG and its board game ancestry. Herein is something incredibly interesting about the genre: Its transformation has been so much more dramatic than most others over its history. Crysis, albeit a vast distance away, is a predictably logical development from Maze War. Oblivion is not a predictable development from Dungeon. The journal, yes, but the entire game on top of the statistical foundation is something quite different. With this in mind, I realised I should seek the mindset of traditional role playing to begin my journey, as things were done differently back then. Luckily, I had long ago bought the 1984 single role-playing game-book ‘Deathtrap Dungeon’. Don’t ask me why. I’ve done stranger things in charity shops. Dusting off the book, I realised quite quickly that this was all the training I would need. I opened the book at random pages to gain a feel for the quality role playing I could expect. Here are a few excerpts:
NB: To make this a bit more FUN, this was a genuinely random selection at the time of writing, achieved through the age old method of opening the book and pointing.
114. The caveman is wearing a leather wristband with four small rats’ skulls hanging from it. If you wish to put it on your own wrist, turn to 336. If you would rather set off north again, turn to 298.
69. Ivy does not notice you opening the door. You slip out of her room, close the door quietly behind you and find yourself at the end of another tunnel. Turn to 305.
190. Your body vibrates wildly and you are unable to stop yourself passing out. Lose 3 STAMINA points. If you are still alive, turn to 50.
After much more in the vein of the aforementioned skull-adorned wrist band wearing, leaving Ivy and her tunnel (um…), and wild body vibration, I thought I was in as good a state as I’d ever be to begin playing Might and Magic I – Book I. NB. From hereon out I am playing the games. It was a terrible, terrible ordeal, so it may be just that to soldier through. I apologise. Believe me, I had it worse…
Tune in next week to read the exc(ruc)i(a)ting account of me playing through might and magic I-VI!
Monday, June 15th, 2009
Oh my goodness. Is it a flightless bird at high altitude? Is it superman with his clothes on upside down? Is it an 80 year old blind man redeeming his birthday gift of a trip paragliding? Whatever it is, it’s plummeting rapidly. Yes, you probably haven’t guessed it: It’s The Encounter With Dracula Is Terminated!
If you’re not thinking ‘what is this shit’, you might be thinking ‘whine whine whine, it’s all you do when you illegitimately post on this blog!’, but stop right there. Let it be known, I’m here today with a sunnier outlook. This post will be a charming review of my time with a new video game, and I aim to be positive. That game is Prototype. I got this a day before release in the intention of having a timely review up, but in the traditional ENCOUNTER… style (if you don’t know what that is, you’re probably one of the 6 billion inhabitants of earth), I decided to procrastinate instead of even simply playing a new game, which in itself is an activity that whittles away the practical hours. Sigh. Anyhow, a few days after release and I’ve pretty much binged on it. As such, I’m here with a shovel full of opinion to thrust into the gaping furnace that is your collective mind. (T.E.W.D.I.T Rule number 142: Always open with a poor metaphor. At least things can only get better.)
There is somewhat of an explosion of ‘sandbox’ games this console generation. The continued success of the GTA franchise combined with the large swing of focus in the western RPG genre towards players making their own choices are two contributions I can think of off the top of my head for this. The fact that developers have greater scope to take the gameplay off set rails due to hardware increasing in power this generation is no small contributor, I’m sure. With games like Crackdown, GTA IV, The Hulk, the Spiderman games and more recently Infamous on the market, it’s pretty natural to wonder how another run-about-a-city-and-smash-stuff romp can justify itself to the recession wearied gamers with one or more of these already (i.e. probably anyone with a 360 or ps3).
The simple answer is it can’t. Alright, the sunny outlook is over. Move along, Beatles fans. I can’t even get this far without being negative. But seriously, hear me out here. I’ve had fun with prototype. It’s been a lot of fun, in fact. It’s got its flaws, but it’s a pretty solid game. I’ll get on to that. The main flaw with prototype is a pretty enormous one, and it’s one every review I read overlooked. Playing Prototype shocked me, and it’s a shock I haven’t had since when I first saw ‘Limbo of the Lost’, the notorious point and click adventure game that was built nearly entirely from chunks of other games, with an added dose of fail. Needless to say, it was quickly pulled from shelves by the forces of epic fail. While Limbo of the Lost used parts of other code to make a new experience, Prototype is in some ways worse, using different parts to dish you exactly the same experience. This brings us comfortably to ‘the point’:
The entire game has already happened. What’s more, it was released in the past year. What’s more, when it was released, it was released BY THE SAME PUBLISHER. Why this hasn’t caused more of a fuss, I don’t know. I can only put it down to poor sales on the part of the game I’m about to chat about.
I’m one of the (probably few people) who thoroughly enjoyed ‘Spiderman: Web of Shadows. Web of shadows had its shortcomings, as it was a pretty expansive and ambitious affair. A lot of reviews slated it for a few bugs here and there and repetitive missions (which were a bit annoying), but the swinging mechanic was absolutely gorgeous. The impression of gravity when you ran off the side of a building and the physics to each swing were really marvelous and something I haven’t been as impressed by in any other game. Motion is, of course, a key aspect to the Spider-man character, and Shaba nailed it. It also had an interesting combat mechanic that consisted of fighting in mid-air, on walls and on the ground, and it really worked. You could slam someone into the air, jump up and fight there, and then throw them into the wall, zoom over and fight horizontally there, and it all gelled together nicely.
There’s a simple reason I’ve just got off the beaten track to talk about this, and that is quite simply that I’ve just about listed all the main differences between Spiderman: Web of Shadows and Prototype. The two games are virtually identical. The upgrade system is the same. The absorption of people is the same. A large amount of the powers are the same. The city looks identical. The plot is identical. The narrative structure of the plot is identical. The mission types are identical The enemies are identical. It’s STAGGERINGLY identical.
Both games revolve around you being a super powered person in a city which is victim to an increasing spread of viral infection transforming the inhabitants from normal repeating models walking up and down a pavement to aggressive zombies, and in latter stages to big beasties that jump out of hives. In Spiderman the virus is Venom’s fault, and in Prototype it’s the military’s. The same thing happens to the letter. Both games open with you at the end of the narrative in the middle of the action and plenty of days into the infection. You have a bit of a scrap in a war-torn (and, for some reason, fair lot redder) city covered in zombies, monsters and military people shooting at them. Soon after it cuts back to happier times, and you end up working your way back to that point from the previous days, as the infection gains pace in the city until it’s pretty much 100% infected . In both, you’re already infected, but can control it to your advantage. Both revolve around the choice of siding with humanity or the viral infection.
The missions are dished out exactly the same way: You’re in free roam mode until you go to a character and get them, but between you can go to places on the mini-map to do challenges like kill so many enemies in so long, or get from A to B quickly, etc.
You shape shift between powers in both, so that USP is out the window for it, but the one aspect of Prototype that is a bit unique and fun is the absorbing people and taking their identity. Getting rid of the preconception that you can’t stick your hand into a mans back while no one’s looking, absorb him in a big biological mess and then parade about as him frees up opportunities for some cool gameplay. Sneaking into military bases by stages is the main use: Get one guy, become him, look for the guy with the next level of clearance, etc. That’s pretty much only use the game makes of it really, but it is fun to do it the first few times, and definitely adds to the experience.
What’s not so cool is the writing. It is probably the worst and most unacceptable I’ve seen in a recent video game. It is so, so cheesy. You just can’t build a character around the spurting out of stupid sound-bytes such as ‘You keep coming, I’ll keep killing!’ unless that character is Sylvester Stallone, who, in a cut Rambo moment, punched a man’s head off. He can say it. Similarly lame is the amount of prompts you get to ‘experiment with different combos’. ‘Why not experiment with new combos to see what is most effective’ is a hint you see pretty much every 5 minutes. That just isn’t a hint. People do that anyway in games where you have a linear move set.
One of the points I have to pick up on from the IGN review is the reviewer moaning about texture pop-in. This just was not a problem for me. I don’t know if he put up a review done on a low-end pc in the 360 section, but the critics 10 out of 10, GTA IV, has hugely more noticeable pop-in of details like bins and boxes on the roadside as you’re driving along at even conservative speeds.
I’m afraid prototype is getting two out of five Kim Coates heads. It would be a good game had it not been for the fact it is identical to Web of Shadows. If you haven’t played either, go for web of shadows. The bugs and gripes about web of shadows are just as prevalent in prototype, but it’s a better game if you’re going to look past them in either. Prototype for me has been enjoyable as more of the same at a slightly lower quality.
You might notice this has been a pretty straight laced one for TEWDIT, but to be honest, I found the experience pretty sobering. It’s certainly ruffled my feathers to find out that a big player like Activision is willing to publish two nearly identical games, and more importantly, no one seems to notice or care. I sincerely hope this is something we won’t be seeing more and more of, because seriously, if Prototype was DLC for Web of Shadows I doubt it would have been out the scope of a decent expansion, it’s that similar. Shape shifting into someone else’s game entirely is probably the greatest power Prototype has to offer.
Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008
If there isn’t, perhaps there’s another explanation as to why so regularly I have to deal with reams and reams of identical opinion. What’s particularly perturbing is how often said opinion evokes a feeling in me only akin to having copies of batman: Vengeance thrown at my eyes for 10 minutes a pop. Hello by the way. Welcome to this centuries copy of The Encounter. You may think this entry is sporadic and extremely late, but our readers from Greenland will tell you that weekly editions have (since the last internet post) been dispatched by town crier, and the feedback shows the heralds were very well received over there. They like that kind of thing. Sorry to the rest of you, but retro methods are cool, right? Of course they are! Anything retro is! Just take a walk through Camden town; you’ll see three trendy ladies shooting up bubonic plague at any time of day! Let’s do this shit.
Crivvens! The logo we all know and love! I hear your cries! Or perhaps they’re from Archa’s hot sister, whom I’ve kidnapped…Either way, I hear some cries. Anyway, Fear not, there is no heinous mistake – this is a special stormtrooper commander figurine edition of TEWDIT. It’s great to have a new friend. I’m pretty sure Ultra Magnus will get along with him. I’m just hoping the three Lego men will be welcoming. Still, I’ll work out my own friendship problems in my own time – I should tell you how we met!
It was a rocky start for me and Mr Trooper. We weren’t always friends. When we first met I was buying Lucasarts’ latest console tour de force (lol) Star Wars: the Force Unleashed. While I was paying I noticed the bag handed to me was a little bigger than usual, but for some reason didn’t think much of it until I was on the bus with my fellow university students. Then I took a look in the bag, and, before considering the reaction my peers might have, pulled the man you see before you out. Now in hindsight I know the sniggers, pointing and yells of ‘what a big twat’ must have been intense jealousy of my awesome pal, but at the time I hurried him back into my bag. I was ashamed. I didn’t want to be seen cavorting with a man a small fraction of my size! Still, fate had brought us together, so I decided to break the ice. ‘Hey stormtrooper commander figurine, have you read about this game? It’s got digital molecular matter, and the reviewers are saying the storytelling is fantastic! Well beyond anything the prequel trilogy could offer!’
It didn’t take many small beers before I realised I was hanging out with a pretty neat guy. All my preconceptions had gone out the window, a bit like when Edward Norton is in prison in American history X. The rich tapestry of my new pal’s character didn’t take long to dwarf that of the force unleashed’s protagonist. The sparse dialogue, vacant looks and one dimensionality of this guy are astounding. Stormtrooper commander did such a funny impression of him at one point, just staring forward blankly. I guess it was pretty easy for him as he’s made of plastic, but oh man, I was in FITS. We laughed together as the pseudo-deepening plot seemed to be being weaved around him by all the other characters’ acting, and desperate attempts to make out he was more important/relevant than he was. As stormtrooper put it, “it’s like imagining Noddy Holder running into the Houses of Parliament and being taken seriously in a debate on NHS funding”. Except at least with that example NHS could be seen as an acronym of ‘Noddy Holder – Slade’, making it a bit more feasible. I can’t think of a single reason why the secret apprentice is relevant beyond smashing things. We kept placing bets on which parts the protagonist actually knew what was going on in. Good times. In the latter stages you’re being constantly told you’re arranging the origins of the rebel alliance. I do not remember doing this, or watching the main character do it in cut scene form. It just happens and we’re told through other more talkative characters that apparently he has done it. It’s all his doing. Of course, the route that brought us to it was invariably through smashing people. I think I ‘spoiled’ there. I don’t deliberately set out to give any spoilers away, but I don’t care about ruining plots that I consider junk, so if you have any complaints please send them up your bum.
We were both pretty shocked that there were a bunch of noticeable back steps in AI since the Jedi knight series. These included enemies not dropping weapons when shaken about (leading to hands up surrender or frantically searching for a weapon again – great little behavioural patterns), no minor limb severing despite having a ’12′ age certificate (Jedi Knight 2 didn’t, and JK: Academy had no certificate either if I recall correctly – if I’m wrong on that, please send corrections up your bum).
I didn’t want to sour our evening by showing what a geek I was, so I didn’t mention to stormtrooper about all the reviews I’d read, but it was something that had begun to get my goat. In fact, it wouldn’t be an over estimation to say my goat had been force gripped. No matter which major review site I went to, all I’d hear was ‘GREAT storytelling, gameplay suffers from camera issues’. In reality, the story is borderline pathetic and the camera isn’t bad at all. The story reeks of being tagged on, or as it is between trilogies, jammed in, and does its utmost to remove every last scrap of dignity and enigma from Darth Vader – a goal Lucas seems to have been relentlessly pursuing since the prequels. The digital molecular matter might as well not be there either, as so few bits actually use it due to processing constraints that I probably wouldn’t have noticed this groundbreaking technology unless I’d been told that it was there.
Nevertheless, some fun was had during our time with the overblown hack and slash platformer. We threw a few baddies and goodies around and zapped a few more…I suppose we can’t complain! Though, as The Witcher: Enhanced Edition has just been released, I can’t wait to have some real innovative gaming sessions with my new pal! See you soon guys, thanks to my new friend I’m finally going to be able to make use of those really small plastic pool tables that they sell in news agents sometimes. I never knew why they made them before!
Wednesday, June 11th, 2008
Good heavens, is that the famed vampire icon we all fear when we get up to urinate at 3 A.M near any second floor window? Not anymore, ladies and the rest of you I don’t care about. The encounter is terminated! That’s right maharajas, it’s time for some opinion in the form of my uninterruptible (n)every-so-often ranting that I like to dub…THE ENCOUNTER WITH DRACULA IS TERMINATED!
Right. Firstly, I’m not going to apologise for not writing one of these sooner. James Bond doesn’t phone to say he’s going to be late for tea. Secondly, I have a lot less to do nowadays so expect to have to scroll through varying lengths of text to get to the actual news on this blog – there’s a new sheriff in town. I’m not actually new, but that works for most of you who’ve probably forgotten who I am. My name is Alex and I would like to share with you my opinion on a probably done-to-death issue. That’s the beauty of the encounter with Dracula you see: I can post it before anyone notices. Essentially, this means you all have to suffer the late-to-the-issue opinions that I put up here whether you’ve sped on to the next hip fad of drinking iced marmiteachinos and styling the hair on your forearms or not.
I’ll stop beating about the bush, as I said to your collective mother last night, and get to the crux of this. Grand theft auto IV. It came out around this time last month and I think a month of playing it regularly is a fair time to judge something like this. That’s what I think a lot of the starry eyed reviewers have passed up upon when reviewing GTA – seeing how fun it is a little later. Obviously the insatiable gamer demand for a quick criticism has to be satiated by the main sites, but they should account for the immediate Cupid’s arrow they might feel when kicking someone in high definition and not just assume getting to the end of the main storyline means that’s all they need to absorb from it. So without further ado, let’s get on to the judgement in question.
I think Grand Theft Auto IV is a 6 out of 10 game, being kind. Before we go any further, you may think at this point “well, all has been said in favour of this great game, so malakian is just being controversial for the sake of it!”. If this thought is scrolling through your head like a html marquee, this is because you’re an idiot. I’m being realistic (for a change) about a product that has rested on its laurels so heavily, you can practically see a Rockstar Games-ass shaped indent in Grand theft auto III.
A widely debated issue that gripped forums everywhere recently was the driving. “It’s realistic! That makes it better! Why can’t you understand that? Boo hoo. If you don’t enjoy it, it must be because you suck at it! I like the driving so much I fuck the virtual exhausts.” – (verbatim quote from millions of vapid twats). I’ll level with you here, when a game mechanic isn’t fun, that’s a prophecy self fufilled. It’s not fun. I could sit here and read Some Coding Bullshit FOR DUMMIES LOL and whip up a really realistic simulator of opening a letter in the morning only to find that it’s a phone bill that’s 20 pounds over the usual whack because you’ve had to argue with a clod about why you’ve received the eleven-teenth threatening invoice from FedEx for a parcel that’s long been paid for and delivered. I’m going to take a short break at this point to write fedex on a cereal box and hit it with a hammer. Right, back to the fray. Most elements of GTA are crudely unrealistic, and the driving is no exception – except in that it isn’t deliberate. The main flaw with the argument I’ve mentioned here is that it ISN’T realistic. It doesn’t take a bitter 20 year old without a driving license to know that turning a corner at 10 miles an hour shouldn’t have me yanking the handbrake so hard that Steven and George’s milking of the last bitter drips of cash from Harrison Ford’s withered teet pales in comparison.
I’ve just realised I’ve got bogged down in mechanics. I don’t want to do that. I want to moan about Rockstar. I can’t be bothered to find a link to it, but one of the developers complained about GTA’s graphics being knocked, as when you take into account everything else they’ve managed to do, it’s so impressive.
What they’ve done, aside from the graphics is…well…um…they’ve..well…made another carbon copy gta. The chat radio stations, one of the high points, have declined in quality and have descended into scathing satire of the right that is so blatant it makes a lefty like me cringe, and cornucopian usage of words like tranny and abortion. Not really high humour. It’s not I’m offended or anything, it’s just very cheap shot “we’re fourteen and being rude” humour.
To be frank, what’s caused this mess of a post and, more root-of-the-problem, made me angry is that I got caught up in the hype. As far as video games go, I’m not sure why, but I am far more susceptible to hype and opining than I am in any other form of consumable media…But that’s the subject of a whole other Encounter. I feel disgusted with myself, as I claimed to Paul Taylor of Mode 7 and Nervous_diplodocus_rearer fame that it could be a ‘9.5 game.’ This was the first day I had it and was overwhelmed. Soon the veneer of what seemed to be remarkable physics trickled away, leaving the reality that although it looks impressive if you drive lightly into a character and witness them trying to right themselves balance wise, if you walk into them they’ll, instead of righting themselves as you would from a trip, fall over and behave like a corpse in water until they spring back to life aggressively after laying for a second or two sliding slowly out on the pavement. The driving AI is absolutely appalling still, and the police are ridiculously complacent and aggressive for alternating stupid reasons. Though I guess that last one is like the L.A.P.D anyway.
On the plus side it can be quite fun and look quite good.
As a footnote, I wrote this four days ago and got so irate I had to stop writing it and play a sweet-ass innovative game called The Witcher. Luckily, since then my computer was involved in a bit of an altercation while file transferring to my mac, during which it went wrong while I was in the bath and started looping a bit of Peace Train by Cat Stevens at near full volume on my 7.1 speakers. I think that’s contributed to a calmer disposition.
I was going to write more about how great the Witcher is, how it deserved such higher scores, and how I saw similar promise in a (similarly non-major publisher, polish developed RPG) title called Two Worlds, but after hearing the word ‘mayhap’ five billion times in the first ten minutes of dreadful gameplay, decided I would rather pour glass into every orifice than play another minute. But I’m too tired. Whatever. I’ve had too much pear cider today. This Encounter is terminated.
Friday, July 27th, 2007
Well, as some of you may have noticed, I haven’t been checking in as much the past eon. This is because I was in sunny California, had exams, and then got drunk all the time. Note to peoplez: I am going to rant on again now. The Encounter with Dracula is BACK, and will be updated FAR MORE STUPIDLY and FAR MORE REGULARLY until further notice.
To justify why I’ve been so lazy updating, I’m going to pull out and play this card: I am a person who struggles to grab a first idea when composing something. Be it a song, picture, essay, blog post, whatever, soon as I have an idea I can roll with it like a katamari, but until then, I just tend to not bother. Anyway, today I decided it’s bloggin’ time, so I am going to make an outrageous statement in this vaguely video game orientated and oddly titled diatribe. Maestro, if you’d be so kind.
Video games and their short term future prospects, as in right now, are utterly boring. I decided to have a peruse of the usual suspects for big game news, and I couldn’t get the sound of bouncing tumbleweed out of my ears until I listened to the Barkley shut up and jam theme tune. I truly cannot find anything I find remotely interesting, especially on the pc, in the short term future of mainstream video games. Are the major publishers aware that the industry is currently less exciting than Bill Oddie? I do not know how long this stretch of nothing but solely sequel/tie in/RTS can last, but it seems as if my dual core pc is really going to waste on the current array. It’s moments like this, however, which really give me faith in the viability of independent games in the market.
So, as I found the world of overpriced video games drab, I decided to take on the internet game Paul blogged about a few days ago. The game is called Rose & Camellia, and all I can say is if someone doesn’t make the Wiimote compatible, Nintendo have wasted a console.
The objective in Rose & Camellia is simple: Slap your increasingly stern opponents IN THE FACE. As I don’t have the necessary plug-ins or whatever to view the page in its natural form, all the text around the game window appears as “??????????????” on my screen…It really couldn’t be more fitting, as if I wasn’t thinking “what the fuck is going on?” then I was virulently slapping someone’s cheek. A bit like real life, actually.
The music is the first thing to hit you, and it sounds like a vague mix of Japanese and classical music formed from synth piano, synth guitar, and synth pile of total shit. There are two main modes of play. The two sections are respectively “She beats you!” and “Beat her cheek!” During “She beats you!” the player must skilfully follow the indicated path with the mouse to evade the opponents slap. If The Matrix was actually Pride and Prejudice it would probably look a bit like this part of the game. The other side of the coin is “Beat her cheek!” and…um…in it, you beat her cheek. You beat it GOOD.
All in all there isn’t that much to recommend Rose & Camellia for as a game, but unless you’ve been violently sexually assaulted or been to the Tate modern, there really isn’t an experience like it.
More on the issue of slapping cheeks same time tomorrow.
Wednesday, April 11th, 2007
It’s time for that exuberant extravaganza of e-opinion, th’ncounter with drac’! This week in hip abbreviated title mode. Also, apologies for being extremely late with this one. I don’t want to blame 9/11, but it certainly didn’t help.
Picture this: I get into my house and get a phone call. Excited, right?! Well, that’s just what happened. Anyway it’s an old friend asking if I would like to partake in some NES games and beer for the afternoon. He says he’s struggled with the video game tie in of ‘Gremlins 2: The New Batch’ for a few hours and is getting irritated with the dying animation of the furry hero spinning around and falling over, seen as he’d died about 100 times. Now I’m a man who’d just taken multiplayer Gears of War down on the hardest setting, so introducing a few bad two dimensional animations to the expanded properties of deck chairs couldn’t be too difficult, I thought. Well, as usual I was completely wrong. The game is completely impossible. It is 6 levels long, according to the internets, and playing for a good 3 or 4 hours I could not complete it. I barely made a dent in level 4. It is just one mean game. This escapade triggered two thoughts: One was that ‘games nowadays are easier’. The second was ‘I wonder why games nowadays are easier, yet often just as repetitive and annoying.’
Immediately you might think that a game in those days would take about ten minutes to finish if it wasn’t gut wrenchingly difficult, but this can’t be the sole reason. For a start, the game is clearly identifiable as residing in the bracket of – what in more recent years has become a sordid group of ne’er-do-well titles – movie adaptations. Not too long ago I bought a movie tie in video game. Spiderman 2 for the PC, it was. Despite no alternative title and a multi-platform release of a different and reasonably fun game, this was not actually the one all the consoles got. I bought this one day and had it done within 2 hours (A day which, incidentally, began with me having £30 and ended with me thinking that if I had a blog then my ‘current mood’ setting would definitely be hearing all about it. That’s another story, though.)
Anyway my point is that, even with games recently like Fable, they can still be very short lived. The only thing that has changed in regards to short games is the terrible difficulty has been removed, for better or worse. But what has been added to keep this balanced? Is it lo salt? Nay, it’s worse.
On ye olde consoles, games were made longer by obstacles to overcome such as insurmountable amounts of angry faced enemies, jumps that would pose a challenge if the controls weren’t totally irresponsive, and never having enough health. Nowadays it seems that, to try and lengthen the playing experience, developers will do one or more of the following:
I feel compelled to warn you this list is full of things that can easily be considered NOT COOL.
- Make you retrace your steps. Seriously, this happens so much more since the advent of 3 dimensions. Always when I’m playing an unrewarding game I seem to be backtracking for that missed inventory item at one point or another.
- Give you guns with no bullets. Lots of games do this, particularly the ones trying to be really spooky, immersive or serious. Back in Gunstar Heroes day you had infinite ammo. The game was still a challenge, but the bad guys knew you were packing heat. In many volatile situations nowadays you’re likely going to have to club your enemies with a shotgun, but for all the technological advances, you don’t get that option. You just have to run past every enemy. Exciting. Spooky. That guy nearly brushed me.
- Make you accompany a useless female or child (sorry females and children, but it’s a stereotype you cannot deny exists in video games) with terrible AI that will meet any supposed peril extremely quickly. I’m not playing Kindergarten Cop, so just let me hide them in a cupboard until I can sort the situation out myself.
- Find a save point! There is literally no point in a save point. I read a decent analogy on the internets a while back on the subject of save points: What if Microsoft Word wouldn’t let you save until you’d finished a few more paragraphs? The correct answer is it would be lame. Fuck that shit.
- Pseudo-free roaming bits. Let’s get one thing straight, no video game of this generation is free roaming. Might seem a bold claim, and perhaps something that will change in the future, but all video games have one thing in common, and that is that the player is making the choice of what moves the character makes (as a fan of Phoenix Wright I know there are exceptions to this if you take it literally, but even in puzzle games you’re calling the shots). Basically games need user input. The difference with “free roaming” is, apparently, that you can choose what to do. This means you choose to make your character do something from a select bunch of things that the developers have chosen for them to do. But, you get to choose the order. Hurrah. In my earlier example, Spiderman 2, the game expanded its play time by in between bits of the linear story making you do a number of “free roaming missions” before you can proceed. Personally, “My girlfriends kidnapped! I’ll just see if I can’t finish a few scripted return-the-handbag-to-old-lady dot chasing missions before doing anything about the pressing situation” doesn’t seem like a very cool super hero sentiment to me.
These things are a plague on modern (particularly console) gaming IMO, and whatever point I was making and have forgotten, they should not be regurgitated. It seems rather than learning from mistakes they decide to put new ones in instead. These techniques all deprive a game of its ultimate focus – being fun to play. Padding it out with dross until it’s as big as the guy in the picture below won’t make it a better game, and it’s time some developers realised that.
Rant over…Back to making my Wiimote operate my drug paraphernalia…
Thursday, March 1st, 2007
Oh yeah, It’s time for The Encounter With Dracula Is Terminated! This week, I’ve been hitting the ‘post-cyberpocalyptic’ streets of Neo-New York in Chef Boyardee’s Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden, Chapter 1 of the Hoopz Barkley SaGa.
The Chaos Dunk, an incredibly powerful “jam”, has become a threat to the balance of chaos and order in the world. In response to this danger, it was decided that basket ball would be outlawed and a purge of basketballers would take place. It did, and “B-Ballnacht”, a day still fresh in the minds of the few survivors, wiped out thousands and thousands of the worlds greatest ballers. I feel really compelled to just point out before we go any further that this is actually a real game, and that I haven’t made it up in an irreparable lapse of what to write in this week’s article. Charles Barkley, one of the few survivors, lives with his son Hoopz. It’s a meagre existence in a ruined, crime ridden New York, but it just gets worse when “a Chaos Dunk rocks the island of Manhattan, killing 15 million!” Your guess is as good as mine.
With Manhattan destroyed, the finger is pointed at the protagonist, Charles, as he is the only one capable of such a stern dunking. When a sell out Michael Jordan arrives with the b-ball removal squad to take you down, you are a man on a mission: Clear your name and find out what the motherdunk is going on behind the terrorist organisation B.L.O.O.D.M.O.S.E.S, who are orchestrating these shenanigans. To be honest, you’d probably be forgiven for asserting that it’s time to slam and/or jam, and that’s EXACTLY WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN.
As we’re both suffering from synopsis at this point, let’s slam and j…Lets get right to it. There is one thing that shines above all others in what makes this game the fucking master and that is the titles to its musical score. These, which incidentally sound like eighties moody synths being smashed into an Amiga, are as follows. Okay, so you’ll no doubt be containing the proverbial lols when you see the generic “boat1.mid”, but…But…..“Super! Super! Gay! Gay!” and “Click here for moustache rides” are worthy of more than note.
The game plays and looks a lot like a very simplified Final Fantasy VI, as does anything made with the RPG maker in question. Ain’t no bad thing, though. It’s a winning formula for telling a ridiculously over dramatic story about some exploding basket ball shit. The story itself, though, IS the genius/insanity line. Everything about it is so appallingly dumb yet awesomely fantastic. The indie game scene is fruitful and creative, I know, but come on. We all wish we’d carried on from where space jam left off…I think.
I’ll be honest, as much as I find it hilarious that Michael Jordan is the equivalent of Darth Vader, I found the reams of basketballer pseudo-history a bit perturbing. This is probably because I’m British and have no recognition of these people beyond the super famous names. Still, even if I knew who they were waxing lyrical about, I wouldn’t want to hear about how each one used to be a wild mamma jamma for a few paragraphs before I can LOOK TO THE CYBERDWARF. I’m afraid it’s going to be knocked a Kim Coates head for this. What it does score points on, however, is the fact that the save points lambast you with irate fury that some people on the internet are abusing the portmanteau “vidcon” by adding a space, and that square-enix are now selling machine guns.
This game isn’t bringing anything phenomenal to the table game play wise – it’s a generic looking, generic playing RPG maker RPG. Still, that’s not what matters. What matters is that this is the first short chapter in what promises to be the best balance of unexplainably, inexcusably retarded and complete best-enjoyed-drunk joy that an RPG can offer. I strongly suggest checking it out if you’re willing to accept space jam happened and you have an interest in, um…Saving the planet from an evil basketball. I know I do.
SCORE: 3 out of 5 Kim Coates heads.