Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Scramble & Housekeeping

I haven't had as much time for console gaming lately. Luckily a couple of competitive Scrabulous players have started playing their turns more often. We're quite evenly matched and I hope that they keep their commitment up.

I've also been giving Scramble a chance. It's another Facebook application "in the spirit of" Boggle. It's no Bogglific for several reasons, but it possibly has some legs. A couple of the design decisions I question:

  • Why are default games with friends multi-round events (5 boards)? Seems like this drags out games for longer than they need to go -- especially if one player falls behind and feels the lead is insurmountable (and thus loses interest and lets the game stall). Boggle is meant to be a series of rapid games where you're tallying wins vs. losses, not an epic struggle like Scrabble.
  • Why is the online matchmaking done via lobbies? That's so 1990s and is really far too intimidating an experience. I don't want to choose the wrong lobby and sit around and chat. I want quick matches like in Bogglific. Sure, jumping in was scary at first. But even after a disheartening loss, you've really only blown a minute of your life and can quickly jump back into another game.
  • I ended up joining a lobby for rapid games (with very short breaks in between). The flow was much like Griddle, which I wrote about a while ago. Very addictive. However you never really feel like you're playing other players because there simply isn't enough time for socializing (even a quick "gg") and it's not focused on the winner (another person) but how you ranked in the game, so it just doesn't feel like an interpersonal competition.
  • The game also doesn't feel as strategic as Bogglific because there are no penalties for fake words. This means that often the best strategy is simply to hammer keys as fast as possible without caring whether you'll take a 2 point deduction. Moreover, because common words aren't canceled, there are no real incentives to scour for unique words -- it's all about quantity.
  • There is no rating system (so you can matchmake with equivalent players) and the leader board seems to be restricted to your friends with no overall rankings.
  • Finally, I'm pretty sure I don't like the credit system. You can apparently buy words for credits. You get credits by inviting friends to install and play the application. Basically this incents poor players to cheese out wins by spamming their friends with invites, which doesn't seem cool.
I'm curious to see where Scramble goes from here. Numbers seem a little low and I wonder whether they can up the player totals by moving closer to the Bogglific model. To me, Scramble seems much more like a feature-laden Griddle which means that while it is a good supply of crack, it doesn't have the same legs as a competitive game as Bogglific has (er... had before it shut down).

Other housekeeping notes:
  • Tidied up my "Currently Playing" list. I'm trying to decide whether my next game will be Darkness or Call of Duty 4.
  • Tidied up my "Want to play, but not enough time" list. I'll definitely play some more Gears of War if Brian and I are online at the same time. Sadly our east-west timezone differences make this hard to do. I finished off my Carcasonne single player achievements, so it's time to move on to some other XBLA fare. Maybe a return to Puzzle Quest or maybe on to some new games on my radar.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

They're here.... And now they're gone!

Well, the undead have finally arrived in Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. I'm kind of sad about how the 6-axis functionality was incorporated into the game play (shake the controller when one of them jumps on your back) but it's not awful. Unlike the melee combos (which I could never master and thus never do hand-to-hand combat) I needed to figure out this maneuver in order to complete the initial encounter.

Oh -- and they answered the "how am I going to find guns in a dungeon with populated by the undead from the time of Sir Francis Drake". Nazis discovered the dungeon during WWII and left some sweet weapons and ammo behind. Say hello to my little friend... The MP40.

Then back to humans and... we're done.

Great game. Definitely Hudson Hawk with strong elements of Indiana Jones. It also made me think of how much cooler Crimson Skies could have been and makes me sad that there won't be a Crimson Skies II. I still remember cringing at one of the original visions for that game where you "play the movie" -- and now I'm with the impression that I did just play a movie and it was a great gaming experience.

I'd really have to put this game in the category of Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay and Eternal Darkness. The game mechanics in both of those games were fun. Not great, but fun. Yet both of those games really made me feel like I was in the middle of the movie and able to guide the lead with my thoughts and button presses.

Could the combat have been better? Yep. The puzzling? Definitely. But I developed an attachment to the main characters of the game that was as deep as in any movie. The ending was truly satisfying (in terms of the story resolution moreso than the final battle) and left me looking forward to the sequel.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Uncharted: Upon further review

I'm quite enjoying Uncharted. I'm a little sad that I mostly fight humans and that I never feel very smart for solving puzzles because inevitably I bump into more humans guarding the areas I figured only I would be clever enough to find. Then again, I'm not sure how the fiction would work if I found myself in ancient crypts surrounded by undead with ready caches of bullets and guns.

It seems that the folks at Naughty Dog are doing their best to keep things varied under these constraints. I recently discovered the sniper rifle and my human enemies are becoming much tougher and have cool laser sights and such.

Really, the combat and puzzle solving isn't any better than, say, Tomb Raider or Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. But the story telling techniques used in the game are quite well done. I actually care about the characters. And, even though the plot seems to be a somewhat recycled version of Hudson Hawk (which I say in a good way -- I am one of the 5 people who loved that movie), the production values put into the game shine through in a way that I haven't experienced to date.

It's really worth going on the "Technical Dives" that are offered as unlockable extras where the developers go into how the cinematics were created. A couple of things worthy of notice:

  • Cut scenes are filmed in one take with minimal props and standard mocap equipment. It's kind of like watching a play.
  • Final rendered sequences then digitally edit the scene together with standard 2-shot and other film conventions to make it feel like it was actually shot like a movie (with multiple takes from different angles). It was a total "eureka" moment for me: Because the actor data were captured via mo-cap, the scene could be rendered in 3-d and cameras could be placed anywhere after the fact in post production. Very cool. This means that the cost of filming all the live actor data had to be minimal -- no moving of equipment... Just shoot it all in one take if possible.
I have a feeling I'm getting close to the end. The game seems to be foreshadowing some unholy enemy goodness, so I imagine it's going to start getting even more intense.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The pause that refreshes...

Whoops. I was about 15 minutes into Uncharted: Drake's Fortune when my PS3 controller ran out of juice. I guess it has been sitting there losing its charge since my last ramblings through Ratchet & Clank: Future Tools of Destruction.

Sadly the USB charger cord is way too short to actually play while wired (I'd have to sit a couple of feet away from a projected image > 100" diagonal). Between the crappy cheap cord and the crappy cheap controller, I'm left to wonder: Who made the bigger blunder: Xbox with "the Duke" or PS3 with the "cheap knockoff controller & cord"?

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune... Initial Experience

So far I am liking, but not loving Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. I guess I've always been more of a Ratchet & Clank guy than an Jak & Daxter guy -- the Insomniac games folks just have me better figured out than the Naughty Dog folks do.

The game feels a lot like a mashup between King Kong and Tomb Raider with elements of Prince of Persia. There's a strong narrative, and the game switches me between traveling with a buddy, getting separated from a buddy, and then meeting up with the buddy again. I really do love the "hints via your buddy" system that these games employ (e.g., they stop and look at things; they talk to you; they trigger events that move the plot forward). As an aside, I really must give props to King Kong where the character played by Jack Black carried a movie camera around and actually pointed the camera at the things you were supposed to look at. Both meta and clever at the same time.

I generally prefer female leads in third person adventure games for the extremely shallow reason that if I'm going to be staring at someone's butt for 15-25 hours, it may as well be an attractive female butt. That said, the character I play is entertaining (in terms of dialog) and really reminded me of Mal from Firefly in the opening game sequence.

Now that I'm a few hours in, I have a few points to make re: Initial Experience:

  • The difficulty setting was kind of catchy: All options were displayed (not hidden behind a spinner), with the default being "normal". There was also "easy" and "hard" and a locked "crushing" difficulty setting. Cheeky -- yet not at all confusing.
  • The game seemed to take a while to load and I worried that this would be a problem. As it turns out, loads are really pretty fast in this game which is great because there is a reasonable amount of dying during some portions of the game (more on this later).
  • While the writing, mocap, VO, and acting were quite good, there was a little bit too much of it in the first 15-20 minutes. Normally this is when I would want to start familiarizing myself with basic game play mechanics, but instead my learning and practice kept being interrupted by more cut-scenes.
  • The first major "dang" was that I was immediately dropped into a firefight without having an inverted aim and look. Whoops. This was (as per usual) very disorienting and not the kind of thing you want to learn while not under heavy fire. I await the day when the industry standard will be that all games that allow you to aim/look using the right thumb stick will include include in-game calibration (like in the original Halo). Interestingly, Uncharted supported independent horizontal and vertical inverting (as opposed to other games I have railed against for either not offering horizontal inversion; or worse tying horizontal to vertical inversion). However, they also differentiate between "aiming" and "camera". While this is very cool (in some games I actually do want normal camera and inverted aiming) I messed up at first because I only adjusted the aiming and not the camera. I initially thought I had exited the options screen without saving my preference (because the camera was still "normal") and only after some fiddling did I realize that I needed to set both to inverted (actually called "flipped" in this game).
  • I died during the first battle (5 minutes into the game). At first I was a little aggravated, but the game is very good about save points for the most part and quick loads are lightning fast. Learning by dying is actually OK in this game for the most part -- but, personally, I'd still rather not have the player die in the first hour or so.
  • The initial puzzles seemed overly artificial. In some ways I'm sure they were done this way in order to teach the basic world interaction and puzzle solving mechanics.
Other usability/playability notes:

  • The game really has a nice state of the art hinting system. At the L1 level my partner shouts out useful commands, investigates points of interest, and triggers sequences that progress the action forwards. On the L2 level, there are occasional on screen button icons suggesting that I interact with the world (triangle button) or with the diary that I found (select button). On the L3 level, whenever there is a pause in the action and the game is waiting for me to go somewhere in specific, the game will periodically flash the L2 button which directs my attention to the next location I need to reach.
  • Also, the autosave system is excellent. Not only do checkpoints seem logical and forgiving, but the load times are so quick that dying frequently (which happens at the occasional choke point) isn't as frustrating as it can be in other games. I'm not opposed to learning by dying. I am opposed to being penalized for dying.
  • Weapon combat is reasonably fun. It's very much in the Gears of War mode (run for cover; shoot from cover). There was also a bunch of attention paid to cool animations -- it's hilarious to watch my female companion blindly reach around a pillar and fire her gun blindly at the enemy.
  • Some other cool things about combat:
    • They added an interesting twist on aiming. By clicking the left thumb stick you can switch which shoulder you aim over. This makes it easier to see around things and seems especially helpful when targets tend to be grouped on one side of the screen because you can focus more of your attention on the more threatening side.
    • The AI and combat/level design make it so that while you can turtle a bit, it's not an effective strategy. There are enough variants of "baddie" such that they present a challenge when they attack as a mixed force. Some are much more gung ho and charge while others sit back and plink away. And, of course, if you turtle too much you'll get grenaded.
  • Two slight improvements to combat I would love to have:
    • Better audio feedback when I kill someone off screen or that is hard to see (Half life 2 did an awesome job of this).
    • Better music/visual cues when the combat sequence is over and it's safe to explore again.
  • There are a couple of downers, though:
    • I'm having a tough time with the hand to hand combat. The combos should be simple, but I can't seem to execute them correctly even though it should just be a matter of tapping square-triangle-square. I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong, but I tend to get slaughtered when I'm in close quarters.
    • Death by ladder. I managed to die a couple of times while trying to climb down a ladder. This isn't unique to this game, but I figured I'd mention it.
    • The Load Game interface isn't up to snuff. Load game slots contain no useful metadata at a glance. You need to hover over each slot and wait for the data to load -- there's no way to look at all of the saves at a glance and decide which one you want to select.
    • Stupid 6-axis controller. I'd rather have a controller that felt beefy and had rumble functionality then a gyroscopically controlled "leaning" mini game when I walk across logs.
Game polish notes:
  • I know I've said that the health bar is dead in another column. Uncharted recognizes this and does a great job of desaturating the world and playing up audible cues like grunts and gasping for air when I get hit.
  • The U-boat exploration mission was cool. In order to simulate the narrow and claustrophobic feeling of being in a submarine they used a very Resident Evil-like camera and control scheme (e.g., camera close, but stationary; controls are screen relative). This was augmented further by adding custom animations to my character whereby as he maneuvered through narrow walkways and port holes, he would grab or push or touch things in a very human way. It was a neat way of making a fairly linear journey seem pretty immersive and cool.

Friday, February 15, 2008

FIFA Street 3 Demo: Fails to impress...

Great concept: Small court adrenaline soccer that should play like NHL Hitz or NBA Streetz. While the game may deliver as well as those titles once one gets up to speed on the game play mechanics and controls, the initial experience was rather lacking. I ended up losing my first game (default settings) 6-0 and felt pretty ineffectual throughout.

Problems with demo initial experience:

  • The default difficulty seemed a little high. I got slaughtered 6-0 and was pretty much unable to get any offense mounted. My opponent was also aggressive enough that I didn't have much time to actually goof around and explore the controls further than basic left thumb stick and face buttons.
  • The learn as you play hints were limited to two help text billboards in which the game pauses and displays text explaining the basic controls. While the billboards were displayed at just about the right moment (after I'd mashed around for a bit and figured out the basic move, pass, shoot controls), they were not helpful because they merely labeled the face button controls that I already understood via mashing face buttons.
  • I'm not sure what to think of the actual game shell flow. I understand the desire of the developer to show me all the cool options available in the full game, but because I couldn't adjust any of the options I basically learned that game menus were things to simply click through without reading (which probably exacerbated my issues with the pause menu UI that I detail in the next section). Moreover, because there was only one game mode, all the demo really needed was a "start" button that launched me into a match -- no need for all the additional A presses.
  • Related to the above point, while it was clear that there were different game options and arenas to play in, I was only allowed to see 2 teams and one arena and I could only play a standard 5 minute match. It would have been nice to see a bit more content or have a few more options. Perhaps more importantly, it would have been nice to include the tantalizing "practice mode" option so that I could have learned how to play the game.
More general problems:
  • While the pause menu UI is flamboyant and colorful, I had no idea that you could actually do anything useful (like review the control scheme) because it did not look interactive. It basically looked like a pause screen where you could only unpause by pressing A or B. I actually failed to exit the game (and launched a rematch by mistake) because I didn't realize there were menu options.
  • Why would player switch (defense) be mapped to a shoulder button instead of a face button? Almost all sports games I've played map the "switch player" function to either A (Xbox) or X (PS). This is a high use, high importance feature that should not be banished to the nether regions of the controller. Moreover, neither Y nor X are mapped on the Xbox controller -- there's no reason to require should button presses when those primary buttons are free. For shame -- I didn't even realize you could switch players until the game was almost over.
  • I couldn't figure out how to fill the power bar using default mashing controls. My opponent was constantly doing cool moves and building up its power bar. Me, not so much. Turns out that you need to do things like waggle the right stick and... well... I'm not sure what else in order to power up. This is very different than a game like Hitz where you just do lots of shooting and checking to power up. I can understand layering risk-reward onto the power bar and having more tricky maneuvers (when successfully executed) result in bigger power bar replenishes, but the beginning masher should still have access to these power moves.
  • Related to the previous point, why do the core mechanics for such a whimsical game need to be so complex? This kind of game should be accessible and enjoyable by all -- yet it seems like I am going to have to learn to execute a lot of complex sequences and patterns in order to pull off some basic strategy. I have no idea whether there are more basic and accessible control schemes available to the player in the retail game, but there doesn't appear to be this option in the demo. Many sports games try and accommodate more casual users by providing lighter weight schemes for players who want to have fun and do cool things right away instead of having to master the controller tap dance.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

More housekeeping...

In preparation for a weekend of rotting and gaming, I have decided to do a little housekeeping in the right column. Mostly I just shifted around a few entries to make sure they were in the right bucket and removed a couple of duplicates.

Next up: Deciding what the menu of gaming will look like for the weekend.

  • Uncharted: Drake's Fortune: I know nothing about it other than it has been highly reviewed and will give me a reason to dust off the PS3. It should arrive today from Gamefly.com.
  • Arkadian Warriors: Hopefully I can convince a friend or two to try some co-op.
  • Call of Duty 4: It is going to be insanely fun. I'm just holding off for now for a lull in the action. I also need to review its initial experience again because it has a behavior-based system of helping the user decided on the best difficulty level.
  • Darkness, Puzzlequest, and miscellaneous XBLA and trial versions sitting on my 360 hard drive.
  • And, possibly, some board gaming if I have a desire to be social.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Grayed out abilities & lame boss fights... But reasonably cool ending none-the-less

Well, I'm done with Mass Effect for the near future. Maybe (maybe) I'll try and cheese out another achievement or two, but I should probably move on.

Like Jade Empire, I enjoyed this game despite its many flaws. I do feel slightly betrayed because I feel like I made a bunch of internally consistent choices that resulted in a disconnect between my character and my choices. I played a principled renegade -- yet my choices denied me the opportunity to intimidate Sarin into giving up in the final boss battle. The dialog option I wanted most was grayed out even though I had harvested enough talent points to max out my intimidate skill. Sadly, I couldn't eke out enough renegade points to unlock the slots. Of course, insult was added to injury because immediately after killing Sarin I made a plot choice that netted me the renegade points I needed to unlock the talent slots. Sigh.

The worse betrayal, however, was the fact that I needed to choose the xenophobic response at the very end: Humans should take the lead in the war against the Reapers. What I really wanted was the disbanding of the Citadel and a multi-species force. Heck, my love interest was a non-human... I dig the inter-species mixing.

For a game that is so dialog heavy and story and character driven, I feel a little let down. I'm happy to have completed the game and look forward to a sequel. I just hope that it gets the polish and depth of character development it needs to truly deliver on its promises.

I scored twice tonight...

Once in my hockey game.

Once in Mass Effect. I managed to complete the "paramour" achievement by sleeping with sexy Liara. As I tend to play female characters in 3rd person games (I'd prefer to stare at a female behind for 30 hours than a male behind), it was rather... er... steamy.

I wonder if the game supported the male Shepard + Kaidan romance?

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Devil May Cry 4: Trial Version

I should mention that the Devil May Cry series never really appealed to me. Too button mashy and too much flipping between character-relative and screen-relative controls for me to enjoy exploration and combat; and the mood, story, and setting isn't enough to offset those issues.

That said, it's a popular and well-hyped series, so I jumped in on the trial version.

I started by just mashing the A button until I was dropped into game play. I wandered through the environment and kind of paid attention to the occasional "tip" billboard that appeared. Combat was not that exciting to me as the enemies weren't that impressive and basically I just needed to mash buttons until they died. There didn't seem to be any need for strategy (just don't use the gun because it seems useless) at this point.

Navigating the world was more challenging than it needed to be. I found myself playing the minimap (instead of finding my way by landmarks and lighting) to figure out where to go next. This was especially helpful when it came to locating doors. Doors generally did not stand out at all (looked bland; weren't lit well) and gave no indication that they were interactive. I eventually started smashing everything and accidentally opened a door by using my "B" attack (which is also the command to open doors and interact with objects in the world). I'm hoping that the level design doesn't have me opening doors during combat when I mean to attack...

While it is tough to tell what you can and can not interact with in the world, it certainly is fun to smash things. Not as rewarding as in Lego Starwars or Ratchet and Clank, but fun enough.

I wish I could understand the appeal of this game. I'm not sure whether the trial version would appeal either to noobs (the combat went from rather dull to almost impossible with no real ramp up) or experienced players (the combat didn't seem very over the top). But, I didn't get very far, so it's possible that the really cool content came further along in the demo which would be rewarding for people who played the previous versions.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Finished (but not finished with) Beautiful Katamari

I have to say that I am somewhat disappointed with Beautiful Katamari. I so wanted to have a game that my girlfriend and I could get into together, but its utter disdain for the casual player was infuriating.

While the 3d game shell was pleasing (I love the parade and dancing features) it was impenetrable to my girlfriend. While it was cool to have many cousins, it was unclear what game play impact they played. While the core game play was enjoyable, it was constantly interrupted by camera/control flaws and annoying (and insulting) popup dialogs.

And, after beating the game, why can't all "eternal mode" be unlocked for all the game levels so my girlfriend and I can play the content in peace?

I think I'll probably try and cheese out a couple of more achievements (and unlock at least one "eternal mode") and then return to the rest of my queue.

Achievements I still want:

  • 80% Collection (I'm so close): 40 points
  • Katamari Perfectionist: 100 points
  • Online Roller: 5 points (may cheese out some more online ones if they're easy)
  • Non-Stop Roller: 30 points
  • Responsible Roller: 30 points
  • Maybe I'll find some more cousins and prizes

Monday, February 4, 2008

Board Gaming: Catan & Lost Cities

Today was definitely a game of gaming. In addition to some Beautiful Katamari and XBLA trial versions, I watched the Superbowl and played the "analog" versions of Catan and Lost Cities.

As per usual, Catan took way longer than usual. It was a fun game that was exciting to the end. And it was fun to play in person with good friends. But still I can't help but think that I like the swifter pace of the electronic version. It's a tough trade off. I actually had much more fun playing Lost Cities, which is a great 2 player card game. It's quick and seems to have a bit more depth than Shotten-Totten, with the main trade off being that it is a bit more spreadsheety and requires pencil and paper to score.

All three of these titles qualify as the classic "quick to learn, difficult to master" variety of German strategy board games. The mechanics are crisp and simple and games can be turned over relatively quickly if people are in it for fun and not computing every last possible cell of the spreadsheet (which is what happens when you play against pro board gamers). Each of these games have just enough randomness to keep them interesting and entertaining (and sometimes frustrating) and yet more than enough strategy to engage the brain.

One of the things I like the most about these games is that they are easy to teach in a sandbox tutorial mode. Simply explain the basic mechanics and then run through a few turns (or a game) for practice and players will quickly grok some of the basic strategy and learn the few avoidable "never do this" kinds of mistakes. No need to run through the boring process of reading rules. Just learn as you play.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

More Misc Trial Versions

I quickly bolted through a bunch of XBLA trial versions. Here are some thoughts:

  • Omega Five: Fun for a Japanese old-school arcade game. The flow was nice, but the default difficulty might have been a little high. It was hard for me to tell how difficult the achievement points were to gain -- many of them seemed a little hard core, but there also seemed to be some interesting and achievable ones. If it was the only game out there for XBLA I'd probably pick it up for $5. Unfortunately there's too much great content for me to pick this one up.
  • Chessmaster Live: It's chess. I'm not a big player either in analog or digital. It's a shame that this version doesn't seem to have been optimized for console play. I found the in-game UI to be unnecessarily confusing. It was hard to tell which unit I had selected; it let me attempt to move to invalid locations; it was hard to tell whether my move was accepted; it was hard to tell whose turn it is; etc. I did check out the "puzzles" section and it looks like there are a variety of puzzles designed to help you improve your thinking and skills as a player. Sadly, they also suffered from a lack of attention to UI design. If I were more into chess I would consider paying a couple of bucks for it -- but, honestly, chess should pretty much be free unless it has some serious hardcore features for pros or a great teaching and matchmaking system for newbs like me.

Tron: The Trial Version

Er. Terrible demo. Where do I begin?

First, I do love the original Tron video game. Great fun, brings back fond memories, and it would be something I would love to pick up and play more of.

Sadly the current XBLA version doesn't seem like it will be worth a purchase. The most damning design choice: Somehow they decided to have the right thumbstick emulate the original dial control for aiming. It simply doesn't work. I felt stupid, incompetent, and unable to direct my shots where I intended them. Why they didn't just emulate the dual stick control of Robotron, I have no idea. Yes, changing the control scheme would have meant rebalancing difficulty levels -- but honestly, they needed to do that anyhow because the current "dial" implementation is so wonky.

While it is possible that I could overcome (and maybe even enjoy) the right thumbstick as dial model, it was impossible for me to tell because the trial version was ridiculously short. Less than 5 minutes into the game it reset and prompted me to purchase the game.

Next, please.

Turning Point: Fall of Liberty -- Demo

What a fun little demo. I got stuck at a couple of points but still it was an enjoyable 10 minutes or so. I'm not sure it would have been accessible for a non-FPS gamer (there were no basic commands tutorial prompts) but the default difficulty was perfect for me. It's a great example of how throwing the player right into the action can work so well -- it was a white-knuckled ride to the finish line.

I also really like where games are going in terms of health status. No more health bars or health kits, just on screen visual cues when it's time for you to back off and take cover. In this game the world desaturates and starts to gray out as you take more damage. You know when you're full health because the world is full of vibrant color again.

Definitely adding it to my Gamefly Q. I've played too many WWII shooters to buy a new one.

A couple of quibbles:

  • I was allowed to fall and die about 10 seconds into the demo. No, I'm not opposed to player death. But it's probably a good idea to let the player learn the controls in relative safety without having to fear the reload for at least a few minutes.
  • There was a cool hand-to-hand minigame. However, the controls were hard to see (small d-pad labels in the bottom left of the screen). When you're in a life or death struggle with a Nazi soldier -- and he's staring you in the face -- you probably won't be able to pry your eyes away from the main action to see the d-pad indicators.
  • There were a couple of level design issues where I wasn't quite sure where to go next. I almost gave up once as I needed to search and mash buttons for over 2 minutes to figure out where to go next. While a tutorial catch prompt would have also prevented failure, this most likely could have been solved with lighting and in-game signage.

More Beautiful Katamari

I'm starting to garner some achievement points and generate larger katamari so the game is getting more fun. At the same time there are just some fundamental flaws in the game that are getting to me:

  • The derisive King. Why does he always have to belittle me? Yes, at some point I might get really powerful and be able to teach him a lesson... But really, does the antagonism need to start right from the beginning when I'm just trying to learn the game?
  • I think that the level designs are more complex than in the first version. This means that often I am bumping into things I don't want (if I want cold items and I bump into hot ones) or I am fighting my camera as I try to navigate out of a corner.
  • Dialog (that I need to interact with to progress; that blocks part of the screen) keeps interrupting game play. Why the game doesn't pause to let me listen to key plot lines, I don't know. Moreover, there is no good way for me to pay the requisite amount of attention to the warnings and other notifications that go on while I play. The game is simply too tense and chaotic to listen and pay attention to text placards.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Triachnid: Initial thoughts

Triachnid was mentioned as a must-play on a recent Independent Games Festival roundup, so I decided to give it a try.


I love the music. It is soulful and triggers emotions that I attribute to this very artificial looking creature (basically a collection of physics objects). Clever.

The controls are a little cumbersome. I find that my instinct is to jerk the mouse in the desired direction which makes my mouse cursor fly off the screen and drops the current leg I'm trying to drag. That said, I can see the potential for interesting puzzles and imagine that if the content is good I would eventually be able to master the controls.

Unfortunately this release was hampered with various initial experience issues:

  • It relied on me reading and understanding an initial text placard. I wasn't sure what the whole "balance" mechanic was about or how I was supposed to use it. Later placards didn't make clear what objects (like "eggs") looked like and didn't seem tied in concrete ways to game play events or in response to actions I tried.
  • Learn as you play prompts allowed me to fail -- and then forget what I was supposed to learn. This locked me off from a huge portion of content (grabbing and holding larvae in my mouth) and may prevent me from completing some required tasks (I don't know yet).
  • The initial level design seemed more like something I would get part way through the game. In other words the initial difficulty was too hard which led to some boring and frustrating moments (going up steep hills, navigating puddles). Yes you don't want a boring initial experience of just flat or down hill running -- but there is something to be said for layering on environmental challenges in a more distributed way.
  • And, sadly, I failed to complete the first level. I couldn't figure out how to exit the level without dying. I'll try again a couple of times, but sadly I think I'm done with it.

Just voted for the Game Developer Choice Awards

I guess I've been having a good gaming year as I knew about almost all the nominated titles and had played most of them.

I do need to check out some of the downloadable nominees: I still haven't played Everyday Shooter. That said, I was happy to cast my vote for Puzzle Quest. At some point I hope to return to PQ after I knock down my Gamefly Q.