Friday, September 11, 2009

Arkham Asylum, Fable 2, 9/9/9

I ended August with a bang. Lots of new games played. Lots of writing. Then I was called out on an emergency usability run for a week. I’ve quietly slipped back into relaxing and gaming at home and am looking forward to what September has to bring in terms of both game play and game creation.

My hope is to have some very productive down time. I’m not sure whether it will be another “30 in 30” idea or an effort where I focus more deeply on one or two tasks before being crushed by the onslaught of holiday titles.

For now, here are some brief thoughts.

Batman: Arkham Asylum

Wow. Loved the downloadable demo. Loved the first few hours of game play. Loved the entire story mode. Hate the fact that I got so sucked in that I am now rather pissed off that I can’t get the last stupid hidden item likely due to a game play bug. Those “chattering teeth” don’t appear on any map and were probably lost in some sort of combat chaos and dropped through the world never to be seen again.

The thing is, I don’t go “completionist” in many games at all. Really, Lego Star Wars and Ratchet & Clank are the only games in recent memory I can think of where I was motivated to try and find all the hidden pieces. Lego Star Wars required cheating. Ratchet & Clank used a similar (and AWESOME) technique to B:AA in that they let you find maps that hinted where hidden objects were. Great idea, especially when the core mechanic (smashing things for bolts or navigating the world as the Dark Night) is so darn fun.

I knew I was setting myself up for failure early on in Arkham Assylum because the whole “chattering teeth” mechanic seemed fragile. They were often hard to see, were sometimes placed in precarious or hard to reach areas, and did not appear on the Riddler maps. But, I trusted the game because it did so much to earn that trust along the way. Core game play was incredibly rewarding, acquisition of new gadgets gave me confidence that once inaccessible areas would become accessible, great save game and check point system…

Ultimately, though, I feel a little let down. I’m going to do a bit more research online, but it bugs me that I couldn’t find those last three sets of “chattering teeth” on my own after finding the other 240+ hidden items. Sigh.

Still – great game. Go out and play it and tell me that you don’t actually feel like the Dark Knight from pretty much moment one. Combine that with some cool moments that evoke Eternal Darkness and wow. Favorite game of the year for me.

Fable 2

Yes. I know. Another game that I should have played long ago. I just found the first one so infuriating that I held off as long as I could. I still remember vividly the scene in which I pressed the B button by mistake early on in the game and took out a huge chunk of innocent bystanders. Then the guards came and my progress was halted. And then I did it again. And again. Never once meaning to do so.

And I quit the game because in my world, a mistaken press of the B button should never accidentally cause you to do something so bad that it makes you have to restart.

This is especially true in a game where the B button is usually “cancel” or “back” when accessing UI screens.

Guess what? Fable 2 has me doing the exact same thing. View NPC details. Think I need to exit the gestures menu by pressing B one too many times. Blast all friendly villagers (including my wife) unintentionally.

Then do this several times spaced out over several hours of game play. Grr.

The game tries to help players by adding a “turn off friendly fire” feature. As a toggle switch. I still don’t know whether I want it “on” or “off”. I think I have it set right as no one seems to die now when I make the mistake. They just get pissed off so I have to dance and sing and entertain them for a bit until they forgive me.

Other usability complaints are, really, too long to list. Inability to select NPCs easily (I gave a ring to the wrong person on a couple of occasions), useless maps that are too cluttered and small (and, strangely, no access to a larger version of the map on the BACK button), a “smart” d-pad that reminds me of Clippy in that it never guesses correctly what I want and makes me fear using the d-pad because inevitably I punish my dog instead of using a health potion, a difficult to navigate item system that makes it tedious to try and use consumables, and a completely impenetrable magic spell UI. Completely impenetrable.

I probably would have quit at about the same point I did with the original Fable at about 4 hours in, except that my wife was with me and we were playing together. Really, I blame my schizophrenic character development to her prodding: I’m a polygamous lesbian defender of the light. After about 10-12 hours of game play I’m at that strange point where I’m unsure whether I’m having fun with the game or just strangely addicted to the Sims world I seem to inhabit. So, I’m going to take a friend’s advice and drive the story forward a bit and see if the game doesn’t pick up.

After all of the above criticisms, I actually am somewhat hopeful.

One thing that is completely and utterly worth noting (and I know others have) is the inclusion of social “presence” data. I turned on the “let anyone show up in my world” option and have been fascinated by the presence of little avatars throughout the lands that I wander. Sometimes there are clumps of them chatting to each other in various hubs. Sometimes they are off wandering just like me.

It made me think back to Little Big Planet and how social presence made an otherwise not very interesting game (to me – I didn’t like the feel of the platforming mechanics) a great experiment and step forward.

I really think (and hope) that ALL games eventually include social presence into their games (multiplayer and singleplayer). It doesn’t always have to be synchronous – I’m playing Fable 2 almost a year later, but with less popular games there would probably be very few people playing at the same time I was. But the idea would be that people could help each other through the game through real-time chat and asynchronous notes/messages/movies.

You’d need a reputation system – one that allowed people to express their inner gamer. From “trusted helper” to “the guy who shows you how to cheese your way through an encounter” to “the folks who find each and every hidden object”. You could navigate the world, calling in assistance from others as you like.

And you could contribute if that was something that motivated you. Contributors could compete on leaderboards for different kinds of advice weighted by quality of their contributions. It would be like meets Xbox Live (or PSN, Steam, etc).

No need for the controversial Miyamoto “autocomplete this puzzle” feature. Just follow in the footsteps of those who went before you.


So, I list this date for two reasons. First, I pre-ordered Beatles RockBand for Liza and I. She’s a huge Beatles fan and does like Rockband. I have the Guitar Hero instruments and such, so I’m assuming everything will work together just fine. Yeah, we don’t have 2 mics, but I doubt both of us will do much singing anyhow.

We also went to see the movie “9” today as a matinee. The reviews on RottenTomatoes mostly got it right. Visually and stylistically it had its moments. However, the story reminded me a lot of the kinds of weak story we often get in videogames. It may have started out with something really strong and compelling and cool. Something that was told through interesting and engaging action and character development.

But, instead, the resulting story was one that seemed like it had been cobbled together as mortar for the various set piece bricks. Moreover, the actual plot line – if thought about like a quest system you’d have in a game – was pretty boring. It mostly involved 3 locations with the characters tracking back and forth amongst them. Think: The bard asks you to retrieve the wine from the rat cellar. You kill the rats and retrieve the wine. You return the wine to the bard and he tells you that he forgot his ring there, too. And the cave now has more rats because you forgot to take out the queen rat who has been breeding like crazy during your journey back to the bard.


Jon said...

Hey Jason, which area are you missing the teeth in? (They won't appear on any map, but be sure to check Riddler's Challenges for the general area)

If it's Arkham Mansion, you probably missed them in the second floor above Warden Sharp's office - a lot of people seem to miss those, for some reason.

I don't consider myself a completionist either, but damned if I wasn't compelled to do so for this game. Solving all of the riddles are rewarding in their own right, but what finally transpires once you get them is... satisfying.

Great blog, by the way!

Jason Schklar said...

Thanks for the tip -- I found the teeth right away!

Glad you enjoy the blog.