December 30, 2009
We’re writing about our ten favorite developers of the last decade. It’s a pretty unwieldy post to write. After arguing about who gets listed and at what rank for a few hours we settled upon a list. You’ll see the final product of that Friday. Here are a few companies that did not make the list, but were really close.
Having been the publisher for early Harmonix games, Tony Hawk, Call of Duty, and many franchises that were once innovative and fresh, we seriously considered giving them the nod. However a slew of crummy games, over-baring franchise sequels, and a general distain for their developers and consumers, we had to knock them off the list.
Ubi has some great games. Prince of Persia, Assassin’s Creed, and the Tom Clancy games to name a few. However they waffle on supporting some of their best titles, and while their main roster is great; none of their franchises are among our favorite time sinks.
For us 2k boils down to Bethesda. The other studios may release good games now and then, but again, they’re not our favorites.
We loved us some Dreamcast. We loved us some House of the Dead. We even enjoyed Mad World a bit. But fuck Sega in their Sonic hating asses. Whenever they make a nod to the hard-core crowd we get something better than average. We start to think Sega’s turning it around. Then they release another Sonic game and I have to cry. I can not, in good conscience, reward that behavior.
December 28, 2009
Borderlands, a FPS by Gearbox, is the next game in secession to emulate Diablo 2. That may give an idea as to what kind of game it is, a pure shoot-em-up explode-orama mixed with a piles-of-loot dungeon crawler. Borderlands executes this quite well, well enough to earn several game of the year nominations (and awards, depending on where you look).
The idea behind Borderlands is as follows: circle strafe while killing dudes, who then drop better and more creative weapons to allow for more entertaining ways to kill the next mob of dudes. That’s the game. If it were played in any other way, the other way would be the wrong way to play it. That’s it’s highest peak, though there are quite a few problems with it.
In their circle strafing fun, Gearbox decided it needed more depth, so they added an incredibly useless story to tie the quest lines together. They just added some lady’s face in the top right corner of the screen, which is, of course, completely ignored while circle strafing and killing dudes. The story itself is hard to follow, and forgotten shortly after each dialogue.
The 87 bazillion guns was a selling point for most people, and rightfully so. The player was guaranteed to never receive a duplicate item, unless it was from a boss. The weapons could do anything from starting fires, bouncing off walls, shooting in certain formations, and all sorts of combinations. If this system was not implemented, there would be no motivation for anyone to play it. Borderlands would be just a husk of a standard fps, that did nothing for anything in gaming.
The problem with the weapon algorithm is after forty hours of play, the player figures out each gun is exactly the same as the next in terms of how it works, the only difference is how flashy it is. If the number of possible guns were forgotten, how creative would they really be? There’s a few elemental mods, a couple of interesting bullet spread formations, and not much else. It’s really just your standard weapon lineup of shotgun, pistol, sniper rifle, assault rifle, rocket launcher. Realizing this makes the game’s entertainment value drop immensely.
Despite the game’s many flaws and shortcomings, you’ll be happy to play it for a good fifty-sixty hours, especially if you can run co-op with friends. I might add, the PC copy of it is a broken console port, and if you were to buy it; definitely go for the 360 version. The PC SKU is still fun, but the bugs and Gamespy client are a bit overbearing.
December 23, 2009
I’m back from a 21 day escapade in Brazil. One of my goals for the trip was to learn a bit about gaming culture outside the U.S. For some reason my wife-com-translator, Fe, was reluctant to talk about video games with random people in the tropics. Lacking actual sources, I decided to pretend I was a Brazilian interested in gaming.
My first step was to draft a budget. A friend of ours lives and works in Brazil. She has a bachelors degree and makes R$8 an hour. If she were extremely interested in playing video games she’d have maybe R$2,000 a year to spend. That sounds like a significant amount of money to spend on games, but as this image shows it may not go as far as you’d think. That Gamecube, the same one you or I would get in a box of Cheerios, costs R$900. R$1,000 for the PSP/Daxter bundle, that’d cost $200 if you could find some place that still sells it. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is R$50. Games be mad expensive in Brazil, yo.
So what’s a gamer to do? Cyber Cafe. These were all taken within walking distance of each other.
The day Left 4 Dead 2 launched I hiked over to World Game, hoping to find a computer capable of running Steam and some broadband. I took Fe along to help negotiate the transaction.
Me: “Do you have Left 4 Dead 2?”
Clerk: “No, not yet.”
M: “Do you have Steam here?”
C: “No, we don’t use Steam here.”
M: “Well, can I download it? I’ve already bought the game. I’d be glad to rent some PC time to try it out.”
C: “You can’t install Steam here.”
M: “Why not?”
C: “All of our software is pirated, your account will be banned.”
That’s right, all of the software at this business was pirated. I took a closer look at the Xbox/PlayStation/Gamecube games that were set out for people to rent. The discs had the name of their illicit product etched upon them with a black sharpie. The only apparently legitimate software in the store were the over priced retail copies collecting dust behind the counter. Oh, I see how you do, Brazil.
While walking around I became entranced by news stands. Much like New York City, Brazil is coated in street booths vending cigarettes, news papers, magazines and (now this is key) old PC software. Sure, there were your OXM or OPM equivalents with demo disks; but periodically you’d find full retail games in magazine sized packaging. I spent R$10 on Medieval Lords, a game I had never heard of before. For R$20 I could have picked up Hitman: Contracts. I may be cynical, but I don’t think this type of purchase is typical for the Brazilian gamer.
December 22, 2009
So, what’s changed? This site should now load correctly for both Internet Explorer users who visit. Some back end things have changed, but that should be transparent to you.
It’s also worth noting that I have a day job again. As such I can afford to play games a bit more. However I’ve decided the old format of daily news and weekly reviews is crap. The style of my reviews was crap. The game journalists I enjoy reading present their topics in a more conversational tone.
My new year’s resolution is to post three times a week. Obviously this week and next will be a ‘best effort’ arrangement, but after the hangover subsides be sure to tune in Mon-Wed-Fri.
December 17, 2009
This site could have been a shrine for Left 4 Dead. I was entranced with the game from the day it came out to the day I left for Brazil. I’d play nightly; I developed maps and tools to modify the game. I literally knew it inside and out. That love may have worked against the sequel.
For example, the hunter does not feel the same. In L4D he’s a little floaty, and he pounces in an arch. In L4D2 he feels like an unguided missile. His jumps seem faster, and there is less time to maneuver him. Part of that is because the new maps aren’t built to allow hunters maximum damage.
That may have been a concession for the survivor team. With three new special infected and the quirky uncommon infected to think about, survivors have their work cut out for them. In a single player or co-op campaign any difficulty above normal the situations to keep on top of may prove to be unwieldy. In versus, however, the uncommon and common infected are easy to ignore.
I enjoy the director panic events in L4D2. The beginning of the event and the end are typically not in the same place. This forces the survivors to run through a huge wave of zombies. In campaign mode this is a huge challenge; you can never be sure that you’ll make it through.
The new weapons aren’t everything I’d hoped for. In your secondary slot you can carry up to two regular pistols, a desert eagle, or a variety of melee weapons. The melee weapons have varying degrees of damage, effectiveness, and gore. The primary weapons basically break down to hunting rifles, machine pistols, shot guns and a variety of amped up versions of them. In my opinion the variations within those six groups is negligible. Some of the assault rifles fire in different spreads and bursts, but most of the time you’re shooting at enemies in close range so it doesn’t matter.
All of this changes the way a competitive game plays out. In L4D the infected team tried to keep the survivors off balance or separated while launching a continuous assault. In L4D2 before any assault can begin you must first force the survivors to stop or at least distract them at a bottleneck. The new method Valve employs for crescendos allows for a few minutes of the old gameplay. Thankfully these events happen frequently enough that at least once a map the infected get a chance to lay in to the survivors.
December 12, 2009
I’ve finally gathered enough real life PC gamers around me to have a LAN party. After nearly 15 years of computer games I can finally play in the same room as my team. To say I’m excited is an understatement. This last week of preparation has highlighted the parts of my past time I enjoy most.
We have seven to 20 people coming to a hotel conference room which is sure to have crap internet. We spent a good deal of time speculating on how we’ll get everyone interconnected and online. I researched wireless bridging for hours. Tomorrow, before anyone loads a game, I will have a sense of accomplishment. That feeling will come from a skill set I can apply directly to earning real world money. I have never gotten a paycheck for setting up an Xbox 360.
A few of us got together online to get our Modern Warfare 2 characters up to snuff. Three or four guys working together are a pretty formidable force in a twelve man game. Steam allowed our group to talk together and ignore the banter of the random people in close virtual proximity. I feel a bit closer to this group of people, even though we were just wasting time, scattered in our own homes across the city.
On the topic of growing friendships, a couple of people I’ve only known over the web will be attending. Over the years I’ve come to know a lot of people without actually seeing their faces. I’ve given and received gifts to lines of text that claim to physically exist in cities I’ve never been to. Tomorrow the wave forms called Gnarf and Sym will collapse into Dan and Scotty. It’s odd that there will be faces associated with the anonymous handles I’ve known for years.